Sayward Rebhal, the creative mind behind the blog Bonzai Aphrodite, is one fun, truth-telling, loving mama. Author of The Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide, Sayward provides support, guidance and community to other vegan mothers.
Allison Rivers Samson: From food to cruelty-free fashion and chicken-rescue, your blog covers so many important veg topics! When did you start blogging, and what is your mission with your blog?
Sayward Rebhal: I started my blog at the very beginning of 2009 – February 1st was the official launch date, I think. So, 4 ½ years ago! I really just wanted to find like-minded people to connect with, and to share the things that I love and the things that I think matter most in the world.
Okay, so for fun I just went back and read the “Mission Statement” that I wrote in 2008, as I was first conceiving of Bonzai Aphrodite. Here it is: "To build a community by offering both information and inspiration, in a positive, encouraging, and inclusive environment."
And yeah, I think that’s pretty much exactly what I did!
ARS: You sure did! I'm so thrilled that you wrote a book about vegan pregnancies. What is the #1 piece of advice or guidance you would give to pregnant vegan moms?
SR: Community is key. You’ll probably get a lot of doubters and naysayers trying to convince you that you need to eat animal products X, Y, and Z (that would most likely be red meat, cow’s milk, and fish/fish oil). It can be hard for even the staunchest of vegans to not let some of that fear creep in, since it’s no longer just yourself on the line. Suddenly, you’re responsible for growing this whole other human - and not just any human, but The Most Important Human In The History Of The World! It’s a lot of pressure.
So, finding supportive, empowering, lift-you-up-and-have-your-back community is just essential. If there’s already a big vegan presence in your city, then potlucks and events are a great way to meet other vegan families. Meetup.com often has family-friendly or even family-centered vegetarian and vegan groups as well.
If you’re maybe the only vegan you know in your town, then get on the internet and find a virtual community! There are tons of vegan mom bloggers out there, and lots of veg-friendly forums with family-centered chat rooms (the PPK is my fave).
Really, I think that as vegans, finding community is pretty essential to our well-being. And becoming vegan parents just magnifies that by a million. You’ll need someone to commiserate with – trust me!
ARS: So true. Being a vegan mom is an incredible honor for me. What's the best part for you, of being a vegan mom?
SR: For me, the best thing about being vegan in general, is that I get to live in a way that completely reflects my inner truth. That my values of compassion and kindness and non-violence are expressed in everything I do. I never felt like I was living authentically until I became a vegan, when I allowed all my walls of cognitive dissonance to crumble down. That’s when I finally met myself.
And the best thing about being a vegan mom, is that I get to teach those values without qualification or contradiction. There’s no “This animal is a friend . . . but this animal is food” or “Violence is wrong . . . unless it tastes good.” It’s clear to me that veganism provides the only framework for parenting that is both logically and ethically consistent.
I once wrote a piece for VegNews called Veganism Is For Mothers, and I closed with the lines, “Veganism is founded on compassion, and compassion is the guiding light of motherhood. To me, they are just two shades of a common color, and I feel so grateful to have found the both of them.”
I think that pretty much sums it up.
ARS: Yes! Alright, top three vegan recipes everyone should read on your blog.
SR: Easy! First would have to be The Tahini Sauce That Done Stoled My Heart, because it really did steal my heart and change my life and I make it ALL the time. I put it on everything from salads and greens/beans/grains bowls, to pastas and roasted veggies. I use it as a hummus sub for crudités, and I use it as the dressing I slather onto my kale chips, pre-dehydration. This stuff is my mana and I adore it!
Next is the Ohmigod Vegan Alfredo Sauce because for serious, oh. my. god. It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever created and I don’t let myself whip it up very often because when I do, I can make entire vats of pasta disappear. Like a dang magician.
And finally, How To Make Sauerkraut At Home. This was my first (and simplest) fermented veggies recipe, but really I’m a fan of any and all fermented foods. They’re exceptionally healthful with increased nutrients and of course the beneficial probiotic bacteria. Sauerkraut is so easy to make and so incredibly good for you. Plus it makes everything taste better!
ARS: You recently had a deeply personal post that blew up on the interwebs. How has that experience affected your blog, your writing, and your readership?
SR: Earlier this year I wrote a post about facing failing health as a vegan, where I spoke very openly and honestly about the internal struggle I went through when I became ill. I was sick for years with no one able to tell me why, and it wore me down, it took me to the very limits of my commitment. It made me question everything I thought I knew.
As vegans, we often feel like we need to be shiny-glowing-perfect examples of resplendent health at all times, or else we’re somehow failing as vegan advocates. For me, being a semi-public person and a face in the vegan community, I was horrified and ashamed when I got sick. But more than that, over time I actually began to doubt the validity of veganism, because I couldn’t figure out how to get better. The whole experience – and I did remain vegan – left me with a heightened sense of empathy and a deeper understanding that perspective is everything. It’s a long story and there’s a lot more to it, but I definitely think it’s worth a read.
Going through what I went through, and then deciding to actually share it, has had a huge affect on my blog. I write a lot differently than I used to, a lot more honestly. Like so many (almost all) other bloggers, I used to only publish the good stuff. I wanted my blog to be a happy place, so I would self-censor to keep thing upbeat. There are a lot of problems with that, and I explore those issues at length in the piece I wrote following my post on failing health (you can read that piece – “Positivity // Authenticity” – here). Since then, my goal in my blogging as well as in my own life, is to be authentic above all else. And it’s been a revolution. It’s changed everything.
I don’t want my blog to be a glossy catalogue. That’s untouchable, and what I’m after is real connection. So my writing is still fun and upbeat because mostly I am fun and upbeat. Except when I’m not, and I’m no longer afraid to share those parts too. I think people want that – people want realness and connection. We’re all sort of starved for it.
Anyway, that’s been my experience so far. It’s all new and there’s no model so I’m just sort of making it up as I go along. But hey, that’s how I roll!
ARS: I love your writing, and your authenticity, and you! Do you plan to write another book? If so, how imminent are your plans and would you stick to the parenting topic?
SR: Another book? Yes, almost certainly. Imminent? Not very. Right now I’m focusing on building my new business as a Vegan Lifestyle Coach. As a VLC, I work (online and by phone) to help people transition into, or more fully experience, a plant-based lifestyle. It’s such a rewarding experience and I’m having a blast, so that’s where my priorities are these days.
Thank you so much, Sayward.
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