10 Questions for a Vegan – Stephen Rykwalder
My latest Q&A is with Stephen Rykwalder, the passionate and powerful voice behind the Instagram account @meatfreemafia. He is an influential advocate and activist and a very strong ‘voice for the voiceless’ animals. Stephen became vegan when he first made the connection between what the innocent farm animals go through at slaughterhouses and his sister’s murder from years ago. Because of this connection, the death of his sister has continued to fuel Stephen’s passion for animal rights activism and a desire to spread awareness about veganism and the plight of animals.
Once he became vegan, Stephen created the moniker “Meat Free Mafia” and began educating others online about the horrifying plight of the animals with a no holds barred approach which quickly gained him followers. Soon after, he began selling t-shirts promoting his message and donated the proceeds to various animal charities and rescues.
Currently, although Stephen no longer sells t-shirts, he is very focused on his activism, education and volunteer work. He has been involved with all kinds of activist work from attending pig and cow vigils to the Cube of Truth with Anonymous for the Voiceless to volunteering at animal sanctuaries. But one of his favorite forms of activism is through educating online. He feels platforms such as Instagram allow him to have a much larger and far-reaching impact that he would not otherwise have…as he is able to reach many more people
Stephen is currently based in Florida, living with his two adorable and very loved cats, Simba and Elsa (see below), and working remotely as a CPA, managing about 100 small businesses.
Interestingly, Stephen was originally going to work for the FBI, but upon researching further, he discovered that the FBI considers animal rights activists a top terror threat in the country. It was because of this that he wrote them a letter rescinding his acceptance of their offer to become a Special Agent.
Stephen truly believes that it’s his duty and responsibility to be a voice for the animals above anything else on this planet. An admirable pursuit!
What inspired you to become a Vegan?
I went vegan when I connected the suffering of the animals we eat and exploit to the murder of my sister. I decided that while I couldn’t save every animal, I refused to be the reason any of them suffer. That became the slogan I choose to live my life by. So I became vegan purely for the animals.
A little backstory – when I was 19 years old, my sister was murdered which profoundly impacted me. It wasn’t until I was 27 years old that I was eating a burger when it suddenly hit me that I was eating the animals I had seen in a documentary about a week earlier. This made me feel sick to my stomach and as I reflected, I realized that to these animals, I am no different than the man who killed my sister. I also realized that the pain I felt in losing my sister was identical to the pain I felt when my cat got hit by a car on Christmas Eve when I was a young boy. I put the burger down at that moment and never touched meat again.
Knowing how much my sister’s death ripped through my family, I couldn’t fathom doing that to other living beings once the connection was made. Although I stopped eating meat then, I didn’t know about all the other horrors that animals go through. About a year later, I wanted to challenge myself, so I started researching more about veganism. As soon as I learned about all the other industries that I was still supporting such as the dairy and egg industries, I instantly began replacing everything else in my life with cruelty free and vegan products.
How has Veganism impacted your life?
Going vegan is by far the best choice I’ve ever made. I felt like I didn’t know who I was or what the purpose of my life was before going vegan. Since starting my vegan journey 5 years ago, I feel so much more connected to the universe and everything around me. I have a greater appreciation for all life and the beauty of nature. I often just sit and admire insects now or see an animal and I’m instantly grateful that I don’t feel I’m above them anymore.
Aside from that, I feel stronger and healthier than I ever was before. At 33 years old, I’m lifting better in the gym (without pre-workouts or caffeine) than I was at 21 years old with both of those things.
I feel like I have gained so much spirituality, emotionally, and physically that I can’t even put it into words. It was definitely unexpected, since I thought I would end up malnourished when I initially went vegan. I went vegan purely for ethical reasons, but discovered so many other benefits as well.
What does a typical day look like – breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert?
Right now I’m on this weird split where I eat carbs one day and protein the next. It’s not full elimination, just my focus for the day, mainly due to the way our bodies release specific enzymes to break down and digest each.
Breakfast is the same every day with cut-up mango and papaya, as well as a smoothie made with spinach or kale, banana, carrots, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
Lunch on carb days is a lot of white rice and lunch on protein days is pinto beans, black beans, and chickpeas mixed with salsa and jalapenos.
Dinner on carb days will be something like spaghetti, baked potatoes, or occasionally pizza, vegan style. Dinner on protein days will be something like a heaping plate of Gardein meatballs, Beyond Meat Beyond burgers, or something similar.
After workouts every day, I do protein smoothies with chocolate oat milk, banana, Orgain or Vegan Smart protein, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and nutritional yeast.
On weekends I splurge and eat out a lot at nice vegan restaurants. Breakfast will be vegan pancakes with blueberries, lunch is an açai bowl, and dinner varies.
Dessert when I have it is either vegan ice cream bars or 5 cookies (just like Oreos but without the palm oil) soaked in my chocolate oat milk.
What do you typically eat when you’re on the go or traveling?
I tend to only travel to vegan-friendly cities now, but when I am in areas that are not so vegan friendly, I find smoothie shops, juices, and Taco Bell, where I order the cheesy bean and rice burritos from the dollar menu. The trick is to tell them to make it “fresco style”, which means they take out the cheese and replace it with pico de gallo. Make sure to mention you also don’t want the jalapeno sauce, as I don’t think it’s vegan.
Can you recommend any favorite Vegan (food /fashion /grooming) brands?
Food – Just (mayo, cookies), Gardein (substitute meats and other things), Beyond Meat (substitute meats), Follow Your Heart (vegan cheese), Field Roast (substitute meats and Chao cheese), Kite Hill (cheese and yogurt), So Delicious (ice cream and yogurt), Vegan Smart (protein powder), Orgain (protein powder),and Violife (cheese).
Shoes: Aldo, Guess, Osiris, Etnies – all have vegan selections
Clothes: Meat Free Mafia 😉 just kidding, but no suggestions here.
Grooming – Every Man Jack (deoderant), Tom’s (toothpaste), Hempz (body lotion), Method (body wash and hand soap), Giovanni’s (shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products)
Favorite stores to shop Vegan (online / brick & mortar)?
I shop pretty mainstream, so Amazon and Google are great resources when I need something. Aldo, Guess, and Osiris are great for men’s vegan shoes.
Do you have a favorite Vegan restaurant?
That’s tough! Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles, but Planta Burger in Toronto and Planta in Miami are both really good too. And if you’re in Portland, OR, don’t miss out on Pizza Creature. It’s not a vegan place, but their vegan pepperoni pizza is better than any I’ve had anywhere else.
What gives you inspiration? (documentaries, books, websites, cookbooks, etc?)
Nothing gives me more inspiration than someone arguing against veganism on my Instagram or in person. It lights a fire inside me that fuels my research and activism even further because it makes me realize how much ignorance and lack of knowledge there still is around veganism.
Favorite animal sanctuaries or animal rights / environmental organizations?
I love organizations that seek to spread veganism on a global scale or work towards changing legislature to give animals the rights they deserve. Some of my favorites include In Defense of Animals, Animal Equality, Mercy for Animals, Vegan Outreach, and Animal Legal Defense Fund.
What is your best advice for those thinking about going Vegan?
Stop listening to people who have never questioned anything in their lives telling you negative things about vegans and veganism. Instead, try to surround yourself with people who are more understanding and want to help you with your vegan journey.
“I try my best not to support anything that relies on the exploitation of other living beings.” ~Stephen Rykwalder (Meat Free Mafia)