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Vegan Shakers: Interview with Karin Ridgers Vegan Views 96 (Spring 2003)

Karin runs Vegan Essex (see Info and Links: Vegans in your area for details), Viva! Essex, is a Vegan Society local contact for Essex, is on the Vegan Society council, is a TV and radio presenter and an actress. She's an ideal candidate for our Vegan Shakers column… Interview by John Curtis.
photo of Karin Ridgers

You appeared on a TV programme last year organising a school reunion. Did you mention on the programme that you were vegan?

Yes I mentioned it in the programme that I was vegan and a lot more in the un-edited version too! I organised a school reunion 6 years ago, and I organised another one last year. It was lucky enough to be picked for a Channel 5 documentary "School Reunion". 250 people came, and all of them enjoyed a vegan buffet by Cavanaghs Catering Company who are also vegan. There were 3 of us organising and it was my idea initially. The day I left school I said to myself - "right give me 10 years and I'm going to organise a reunion" - and I did!

The reunion took around 7 months hard work emailing, contacting press and radio, designing & putting up posters, sending out tickets, organising the food, the school, the teachers - even the bouncers! We also had our own website. It was such a stressful time! The TV programme followed me and a few other people. Everyone had different reasons for wanting to go back to school! A few girls wanted to show off, one guy used to get beaten up and wanted to confront the bullies, the school heart throb and Andrew Ridgley look alike wasn't the heart throb he used to be and was gay!

You think you are all grown up but going back to the school and seeing all your old school friends just transports you back in time. The 'hard nuts' still hang out in the toilets, the posers still pose! And the boffins still look like boffins!!

What were people's reactions to the vegan buffet?

I didn't tell anyone the food was vegan - I just wanted people to enjoy the food without any pre-conceived ideas. It was nice as a few people did ask me before hand if there would be vegetarian food as they were veggie! (But no vegans!).

When and why did you go vegetarian?

I went veggie around the time that Viva! was launched in 1994. My Dad has been veggie for around 20 years, but never forced me or my three sisters to be vegetarian. I read a booklet that described meat as flesh. It said that we have long intestines, and flesh clogs them up. I realised I was eating the rotting flesh of dead animals - suddenly I made the connection. It was as if I had just woken up. I tried to find out more, and came across Viva! Now, I say to my Dad, "why didn't you make us go vegetarian!"

And vegan?

I hope I won't upset your readers by saying this, but I began to realise that vegetarianism is a complete cop out. If you care about animals, the environment or health, you simply have to be vegan. There is so much cruelty in the dairy industry. Three years ago, I helped Jo Ann, who organises the Vegan Prisoners Support Group. I thought, my God, people are going to prison for their principles. I have to be vegan too.

I started to move towards being vegan several years before. I stopped eating eggs and started to use soya milk instead of cows' milk, although I still ate cheese and dairy-based chocolate. There are now so many alternatives that there's simply no excuse whatsoever than to be vegan. I discovered vegan sour cream over the weekend and someone sent me the recipe for egg-less lemon curd too!! I think being vegan is in my genes! I have three younger sisters: Debbie is vegan, Carol is a strict veggie, and Sharon, the youngest who is 20, is "mostly veggie".

For World Vegan Day last November, Vegan Essex, which you run, held a celebration event that attracted 350 people. Most local vegan groups would struggle to get 35 people to come along to an event like that. What's the secret?

Organising it was very hard work and took over my life. But I enjoy organising things, and the stress it brings! It was about spreading the word about something I believe in, saying veganism is so easy, kind, and is healthy. National Vegan Week and World Vegan Day are great media hooks that we should all be making use of! I did as many radio interviews as I could and hopefully planted a few seeds! More than 2,000 leaflets & posters were sent all around Essex promoting it and World Vegan Day. We had full and ˝ page articles in most of the local press and some London papers about it.

Cavanaghs Catering did some of the catering and the ticket included food from Leeora Sunshine Foods. Redwood Foods, Vintage Roots and Trudy Chocolates were also involved - so everyone could try vegan 'meat', wine and chocolate! We had a lot of media there & Benjamin Zephaniah came along. A positive party atmosphere promoting veganism

How much did you raise from the Essex WVD celebrations + what charities/groups got the money?

Most stalls raised a fair few £100's and in total we raised about £1500!! The food and a few other expenses had to be paid. We are using some of the money for our group to promote various aspects of animal rights & veganism, gave some to Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, The Bear Bile Campaign, Viva! & The Vegan Society.

Are you going to do it again this year?

Yes, but I hope to delegate a bit more this year as it was really hard work!

How did you get all the prizes? They included merchandise signed by Moby, Boy George and Depeche Mode, breaks at Brambles B&B, Paskins Hotel and Wildlife Hotel.

My mother in law is a friend of the Mum of one of the members of Depeche Mode. She asked their agent and they sent lots of stuff. For Boy George, I spoke to Dragana Brown who wrote a book on macrobiotic cooking with him. In return for the weekend away breaks and other items I handed out leaflets so hopefully the companies gained extra custom too.

Why did you start your own group?

I tried to start a vegan group in Essex about 9 years ago, but there wasn't much interest. I tried again around 3 years ago and there was lots of interest. They are a great bunch of people and I have met some of my very best friends. We get between 8 to 20 people at our meetings. Our main purpose is to campaign. We organised a Viva! demonstration against Adidas in February and 23 people turned up to help - an excellent turnout for a local group. We are social too and like to combine fun events with fundraising. Viva! Essex is Vegan Essex - we wear a few hats depending on what we are doing!

What campaigning have Vegan Essex done recently?

Here's what we did in 2002…

We supported Hopefield Animal Sanctuary by fundraising and donations, especially our football match in the summer: The Vegetarians vs The Vegans! We had a good turn out. The boys practised every week for months beforehand! We also supported The Retreat Animal Rescue in Kent and attended their fundraising events. We also support the 2 rescued horses Louis and Dommi and raise money for their keep.

We supported national events such as Animal Aid's Christmas without Cruelty, Viva!'s Rally against Factory Farming, Viva!'s Kangaroo/Adidas Day, Anti Fox hunting, Anti Macdonald's, and more. A few of us supported The Vegan Society AGM & social. I spoke to all the Vegan Society local contacts in the meeting & am delighted that, finally, we got Moby on board as a patron for The Vegan Society. We had a meeting/get together with other main group leaders in Essex including: Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Southend Animal Aid, Southend Veggies & St Francis Foundation. Our members also support London Vegans.

We collected vegan food, toiletries, soft toys and vegan information as a massive hamper for a homeless centre based in Southend this Christmas. We also visited the shelter and met a few of the people that run it.

We organised 10,000 specially Essex designed Vegan Society leaflets - these went out through the local media & restaurants and hopefully encourage other members to do the same. We handed out 100s of anti eating turkey leaflets at the Hopefield Christmas Carol service and had 100s displayed in local health shops. We had various stalls including boot fairs, street stalls.

I did pre recorded radio interviews with: Passion for The Planet (London, Essex & Kent), Soul City (East London & Essex), Dream 107 (Essex) & took in vegan food, Phoenix FM, BBC Essex & took in vegan food, and Essex FM.

You have a Veggie Guide to Essex. Did you write it?

Yes. It's something I wanted to do for ages as I hoped that it would bring more publicity to veganism. I had help from loads of fellow Essex veggies. The guide is part of the brand new Vegetarian Britain by Alex Bourke and is also on line on our website www.veganessex.org.uk.

How did you get to interview the vegan rock singer Bryan Adams for the Vegan magazine last year?

It took a lot of perseverance. I said things like "you're such a good advert for veganism, I have to speak to you!" I started by posting him Vegan magazines and writing to tell him about the work of the UK Vegan Society. After catching his attention, the interview was by a combination of email and phone conversation. It's the same with MOBY in the latest Vegan magazine.

You're on the Vegan Society Council. What does that involve?

The council meets around every 6 weeks and we discuss the running of the society and how to promote veganism. We now have events all over the country for members and local contacts. We visited Wales in March and had the biggest event so far. There are also other meetings such as the Strategic Planning Day where we decide on what to focus on for the coming year.

You're also an actress. Tell me a bit about this and your radio & TV presenting.

I ran a small theatre company with a good friend and one day I just thought, "what is the point! All I want to do is promote veganism!" So I gave up running it and my theatre acting to run Viva!/Vegan Essex. I still do some film work; however I am really focused on TV presenting and am working on combining my 2 passions - presenting and veganism. As well as local TV last year I worked with Channel 5, The Discovery Channel, BBC, and made my own pilot TV programme! For more info, see www.karinridgers.tv.

Any future plans?

I Just want to help veganism become mainstream and have my own vegan TV programme!

Keep up the great work Vegan Views. I am honoured that you wanted to speak to me! Thank you! Karin xx

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Cross-reference: Why I'm Vegan