Vegucate Yourself: An Interview with Filmmaker Marisa Miller Wolfson

By: Michele Wolfson

If you haven't heard of filmmaker Marisa Miller Wolfson yet, then you should get to know more about her right here, right now. Her film called Vegucated tracks the lives of three meat and cheese loving New Yorkers who pledge to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks.

One great aspect of this film is the way it balances the issues tactfully and thoughtfully while also including many humorous moments. Marisa and I have a couple of things in common; we both have the same awesome last name, and both believe that when it comes to animal rights it's important to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk as well. Those of us who feel that real changes need to be made in the food industry have to actively seek ways to make those changes happen.

I caught up with the vegan educator over lunch at 'Snice, a delicious vegetarian cafe located in the West Village for an interview and here's what she shared with us:

What originally inspired you to create this movie?

What actually gave me the template for the movie was watching "Supersize Me."  When I was watching that film I thought, okay, Morgan Spurlock could detox on a vegan diet, why doesn't someone make a film that shows the reverse of that? In "Supersize Me" we are shown what not to eat, but I wanted to make a film on what we should be eating while also including ethical reasons because Spurlock's movie is mostly about health. The animal ethics are a huge reason for why I went vegan.

And then I was working at Kind Green Planet, the non-profit and my boss Mary and I were at Candle 79 and I was telling her my idea and we thought it would take a year to make the film... and it took 7 years. We had never made a film and I had never taken a film class but our hope is that our film has enough heart.

Your movie premiered this fall in Toronto and then all over the states. What has the response been so far?

It's been incredible. We knew it would go down well in Toronto just because that was during the week of the Toronto Vegetarian Food Fair, which is the largest Veg Fest in North America. We ended up with a record breaking crowd there, which was exciting, but it was when we started going to the Midwest that I started feeling really good. You know, when we had our U.S. premier in New York it was mainly friends and family that came out to support us whereas the next day when we were in the middle of nowhere in Warrensburg, Missouri, showing it to an audience that was 95 percent non-vegetarians and the feedback was very positive.

The best compliment though was from a farmer's daughter who was at the Minneapolis premier. She said that her parents run a factory farm and she was blown away by the film and really appreciated how respectfully we treated the issue and how much compassion that we had for the farmers and that was the goal. It was not to criticize anyone or judge people and put them out of business- it was about shedding light and making a statement that we are all in this together and how important it is that we go in a more compassionate direction together.

The film goes beyond promoting Veganism as a healthy lifestyle choice by exposing the viewer to urgent environmental and global issues that we face in today's world. What are some positive ways that would help reverse the damage that has been done? 

1. People need to know that the food and climate change connection is so strong. Particularly animal agriculture is one of top most significant contributors to the world's environmental problems at every scale from local to global.

2. Make personal choices that are in alignment with your beliefs. If you care about the environment, then know that switching from a normal car to a hybrid actually creates less of a change than switching from the American diet to a vegan one. So on a personal level, people should go as vegan as they can. And even if you aren't vegan but don't agree with factory farming, then it is crucial that you don't support factory farming because then the market will react. Vote with your dollars because it's not enough to just say that you don't like factory farming. Talk is cheap. We need to walk the walk as well.

3. Get involved in your community. Know where your representatives stand on these issues because we have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to farm policy.

What have been the greatest rewards from making this movie? What has been some of the greatest challenges?

Well the rewards are when I get emails, and I just got one on my way over here, when someone decided to make a change. When people say they've decided to go from veg to vegan or people go from eating meat to eating a completely vegan diet. Even when people say "I'm going to eat more vegan" or "I'm going to do meatless Mondays." Whatever it is, that's the most important thing because it means that you are making an impact.

Seven years and so much money, oh, people have no idea how much money goes into making a film. You stop and think, "Oh my gosh, I could have bought a house with this!" And, yes... you could have bought a house, but you could also try and change the world. When I am actually seeing the affects of the changes made and reading about them- there is no better feeling in the world.

The challenges have been, many. Every part of the process as a total newbie has involved me scratching my head thinking "Oh my gosh, what now? How am I going to get through this next phase?" And we're doing that now, but we just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

What are your favorite vegan foods to munch on that people need to know about?

Kale chips, which I love! They are becoming more popular now than ever before. You can even make your own. I never munched on kale before I went vegan and I love it now. I do love a mushroom, walnut pate. I have one in my fridge right now. And any form of the chickpea. I love hummus, you can put dill in there or cilantro if you like it, there is just so much that you can do with chickpeas. I love avocados and dark chocolate! "So Delicious" Ice Cream is phenomenal. That should be the first vegan ice cream that you try. All of their flavors are amazing and not all of their flavors are soy, there are also coconut based ones.

What advice do you give to people who say they are having a difficult time sustaining a vegan lifestyle?

Well I try to figure out what the problem is. Sometimes it's not knowing where to shop for food or not knowing where to go out to eat. It's usually not a concern about getting the proper nutrition, but it's most often about people not knowing what to cook and how to get their family socially through this. Here are two solutions:

  1. Get vegucated! If you have this kind of third party information in a 76-minute film, people will process the information more easily than committing to something like reading a 200-page book.
  2. Get social. Leave your comfort zone and seek out other like-minded folks whether it's through a meet-up, vegan drinks or getting involved in a local veg friendly organization. It's important to have the emotional support.

Be sure to check out a free screening on February 22nd at Whole Foods Tribeca where there is a Wellness Club. Everyone is invited to get a whole-foods, plant-strong, all-you-can-eat delicious dinner starting at 6 pm. Guests can get dinner at any time between 6 and 8pm. The movie will start at 6:15. After the screening, there will be a Q&A film subjects Ellen and Tesla plus the writer-director Marisa.

There will also be a screening at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival on March 3rd. Click here to digitally rent/buy the film!

For more great interviews, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)