Meet our next vegan muse, Christina. She recently went back to school to study Energy/Environmental Policy at Columbia University. She is also a Writer/Editor for Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs' Communications and External Relations office.
Where do you live?
NYC (before the pandemic). For now, I’m hanging out in Atlanta, Georgia.
Where are you from?
Most of my childhood was spent growing up on the U.S. military bases in South Korea. It was a unique experience learning in intimately sized classes with other military brat friends and teachers who felt more like family. After school, we’d head outside of the base gates to take piano lessons (every Korean mother invested in this), grab traditional snacks sold in the outside markets, spend the afternoon singing in a karaoke room, or go window shopping downtown, a bustling area resembling Koreatown in New York City. The humans I met growing up in Daegu and Seoul are still some of my closest friends today, and I was also incredibly lucky to be able to visit my expansive family (on my mom’s side) so often over those years. Nine aunts and uncles -- and countless cousins -- always made for fun and loud holidays, full of too much food, drinks, and “Go-Stop,” a Poker-like card game.
Being a third culture kid (in the sense that the military base life was its own experience, separate from the American or Korean cultures my parents grew up in) didn’t always feel the most stable -- and resulted in unique culture shock when I finally moved to the U.S. to attend college. But I’m so glad I was able to grow up among all different kinds of people and perspectives, and that there’s an overwhelming sense of home every time I land at Incheon airport.
How long have you been vegan?
Since the summer of 2013 -- nearly 7 years!
Why did you decide to go vegan?
I went vegetarian after coming across PETA’s “Meet Your Meat” slaughterhouse video back in high school but often retreated to eating meat in the years following. It wasn’t until my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness in the spring of 2013 that I considered veganism and animal rights with a more informed and willing perspective. In my search for any holistic cure that might help us defy the odds, the books “World Peace Diet,” by Dr. Will Tuttle and “The China Study,” by Thomas and Colin Campbell turned up. Before I knew it, we were growing wheatgrass on our balcony and my whole family (mother, father, sister, and myself) went on a green juice and mostly whole foods vegan diet together. I’m convinced this contributed to my father recovering so well from his surgeries and chemotherapy -- and at least in part why he’s still with us today.
So, my father’s illness was the impetus to my vegan journey, but what keeps me in sustained alignment with this lifestyle is the opening of a deeper consciousness I unlocked at that time of life. Seeing a family member you love in physical and mental pain every day is incredibly difficult -- to understand the similar suffering I was inadvertently causing sentient beings in the food system, then, was unbearable. I recognized that my consciousness is intertwined with theirs and that they deserve equal consideration to their own lives and well being.
What's your favorite vegan dish/restaurant?
I WISH I could be frequenting some amazing vegan restaurants right now! As soon as COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” orders are safely lifted, the first places I’ll be visiting in NYC are jajaja and Modern Love (plant-based Mexican and comfort brunch food). For the years that I lived in LA, Real Food Daily (heavenly burgers), elf (Mediterranean style gourmet dishes), and Shojin (vegan sushi) were some of my favorites. I also really love a simple spicy soft tofu stew made in my pj's at home.
(Left: Shojin, Center: jajaja, Right: Real Food Daily)
Tell us about what you do!
Before returning to student life, I was managing campaigns at PETA, building coalitions of activists, creatives, and business owners to make the case for sustainable, animal-friendly practices in fashion. We negotiated and forged partnerships with high fashion and mainstream retailers on various aspects of making fashion more ethical, collaborated with celebrities like Joaquin Phoenix, Alicia Silverstone, and Tim Gunn to raise the specter of vegan fashion and awareness about the damaging effects of animal-derived materials on the environment, and planned outreach events like panel talks and competitions with fashion design universities. Through our efforts, we witnessed transparency and compassion for animals becoming more integral factors in companies’ social responsibility measures, which was incredibly rewarding.
Until recently, I also served as a military intelligence and public affairs officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.
You recently went back to school. What are you studying and do you already have a plan after finishing the program?
I’m studying energy and environmental policy at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. Hoping this will set me up to work in climate change policy (at the local, federal, or multilateral level) or lead corporate sustainable development at an innovative food or fashion brand filling important gaps in society.
What would you like to see in the world 10 years from now?
Sustainability and social and environmental justice woven into the fabric of our systems and institutions. We have to get closer to full decarbonization of our energy systems, to include the restoration of our deforested areas if we’re to avoid the most dangerous effects of human-caused climate change.
Who is YOUR muse and why?
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez because of her fearless voice for people and the planet. She consistently speaks truth to power, no matter how inconvenient or what special interest pressures attempt to sway her. Watching her, this young woman, the likes of whom you don’t often see in positions of power, speak her mind thoughtfully, passionately, and with justice and prosperity for everyone as her motivation, gives me hope for our generation - and the confidence to flip tables myself (gracefully, of course). :)
Within the animal rights movement, Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals’ work inspires me to no end. She willingly enters dark corners of despair time and again to accurately and powerfully tell the story of how we exploit non-human animals, the unfortunate story of our time. She’s an angel on Earth. I hope that all will check out her work to see clearly the harsh reality of our commercialization of animals.
Where can people find you online?
All over, and I’d love to connect! Say hi on Instagram @christinajsewell, Twitter @bravehrthabitat, or via LinkedIn.com/in/christinasewell