Lorena Elke, our Research Consultant, conducted the following interview with Seba Johnson:
LE: You have mentioned in numerous interviews and articles that you have been “vegan from birth”. This speaks a great deal about your relationship with your parents, especially your mother. Can you talk about your relationship with your mother and how she inspired your early activism.
SJ: My Mother was a vegan before I was born. I’ve only known a vegan life and have been constantly teaching others of the joys and benefits of being a vegan, as I know not otherwise. My father, who took no part in raising me, died of diabetes in Africa several years ago – he was not Vegan. Life with my Mother was always an adventure. She would take us to protest the treatment of animals in zoos and the circus instead of just gawking at the confined animals’ sad situation. Since my Mother is an artist and poet, some of my fondest memories were when we’d design and paint our own signs the day before protests … “Let Birds Fly – Not Die” was one animal rights poster I made when I was about 11 or 12 years old for the hideous annual pigeon shoot in Hegins, Pennsylvania. It was at that protest that I saw how blatantly cruel humans can be to helpless defenseless beings. Seeing the bloody birds frantically flapping their wings on the ground after being shot from the sky once released from cramped cages made my heart sink. I don’t think my faith in humanity has been restored since then – it is and always has been by surrounding myself in nature is where I find true beauty and a healthy balance in life. While growing up mostly in Maine, several times out of compassion my Mother would buy a live lobster from the crowded glass bins in the supermarkets only to set it free back into the Atlantic ocean nearby. She said when she was a kid there were lobsters everywhere near the shore, whereas now fishing boats have to go miles out to sea to find lobsters. As an adult, I THANK my Mother profusely for being extremely honest with me as a kid and for never hiding the truth about milk, “meat”, animal experimentation, and all other atrocities people commit on animals for so called entertainment or “sport”, “leather”, wool, fur and beauty products. The most indelible memory I have of what inspired my early activism were the images I saw in the Animal Rights type pamphlets (and later VHS tapes) that were mailed to the house. Those black and white photographs of pain-ridden bunny rabbits and monkeys strapped in contraptions with wires protruding from their heads solidified my understanding as to why we were (ethical) Vegans.
LE: In an interview in Viva La Vegan!, August 2013, you talk about how you retired from Olympic alpine ski racing before your prime because of the racism you experienced. Do you think there is an intersection between nonhuman animal oppression and other oppressions, such as racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia?
SJ: There is speciesism and that is about as cruel as it gets because it sets the stage and practice for cruelty amongst human beings. When I was discriminated against, it was either for the reason of my being a vegan or because I was a person of color, yet the discrimination was shrouded as being one and not the other. Oftentimes it was for both reasons without admittance of discrimination. Discrimination is discrimination – as abuse is abuse … regardless of an animals human or nonhuman form, gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation or level of intelligence/knowledge it should be our birthright to LIVE our lives peacefully and harmoniously without inflicting pain on others. People who inflict intentional pain without moral or ethical regard for other human or nonhuman animals are just reminders of how much further we have to go until oppression is completely eradicated. I may have retired from Olympic competition because of the prejudice I endured and because I would not compete in a country that had just resumed their practice of commercial hunting for minke whale … but I know in the depth of my heart that my experience pales in comparison to the experiences billions of animals are forced to endure every year. What keeps me going is the idea that one day ALL oppression will be replaced with a sincere love and respect for ALL living beings, their actual self included.
LE: As vegans we are often questioned about our health because of our food choices. As a vegan athlete, what message would you like to give to people about living a vegan life well?
SJ: Simply stated, the strongest and longest-lived animals on earth are vegan. The strong oxen, who helped build human societies with their strength only devours greens, grains, herbs, etc. The gorillas who have bodily makeup much like humans are vegans since birth and can live long and healthy lives without medicines when in an environment where their vegan food is abundant. Also elephants are big strong magnificent creatures with sturdy bones and are vegans and live over 100 years. Most high-end athletes eat a vegan diet high in plant protein and that attributes to their success. Humans who do not eat fish can enjoy high mineral content of edible seaweeds from clean oceans and be strong. Other than their clean plant-based eating habits, there is so much we could learn from these vegan nonhuman animals – they also happen to be the most non confrontational and beautiful!