Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alicia Silverstone's Vegan Challenge

On Wednesday evening, I went to Powell's City of Books for a booksigning and talk by actress Alicia Silverstone. I had no idea what she was going to talk about in advance, just that she had a book out and this was a rare opportunity to see a Hollywood celebrity up close in Portland. I've liked her since I was a sailor in the Navy watching European MTV and being mesmerized by the young lady who appeared in three Aerosmith videos: "Amazing," "Cryin'" and the best of the trilogy: "Crazy." From music videos, she transitioned to movies, with one I remember being excited to see but disappointed afterwards. She played a Lolita-esque young girl who wrecks havoc on an older man. She seemed to compete with Drew Barrymore for the same type of roles.

She starred in her biggest hit, Clueless in the summer of 1995. My sister loved this movie and I've watched it with her. It wasn't bad for a "chick flick." Then she made headlines when she landed the role of Batgirl in Joel Schumacher's disasterous Batman and Robin film in the summer of 1997. That was not Alicia's fault or even George Clooney's, but the director who simply added too many characters to the film (three villains and Batgirl, all of whom needed a backstory). I can't think of any films she's done recently but I must admit that it was her celebrity that drew me to the booksigning.

A Powell's employee laid the ground rules. No flash photography, no videos, and most important, no questions about celebrity life / Hollywood / movies. Pretty fair. Only questions concerning her book's topic were allowed. The audience was one of the larger ones I've seen, as I expected thus why I went early to get a seat.

The book Alicia is promoting is a diet book, which did not really interest me in the slightest (at first, but her enthusiastic and sincere talk sold me on it). You can see the cover below:

She came out and spoke at length about her choice to become vegan around age 21, and eventually move to a macrobiotic diet. This topic perked me up (because I had assumed she was talking about dieting to lose weight), as I have been slowly moving towards a more environmentally sustainable diet and consume less meat. Giving up chicken and salmon is difficult for me, though. However, I've eaten some terrific vegetarian meals and if I knew how to prepare them and made the time to learn some recipes, it would be easier to eat a meat-free diet. I didn't know where to begin.

Alicia gave an excellent presentation and spoke in a natural way. I could hardly believe that she was a famous Hollywood actress. Yes, she is as beautiful in person as on the silver screen, but after the initial awe factor of seeing a celebrity in Portland's bookstore, she quickly became familiar as though you know her like one of your friends. A real person, lacking the kind of pretension you might expect of someone with her level of fame.

She was quite passionate about the importance of changing your diet for multiple reasons and made the case for each point: health; ethical; environmental; and even fun reasons. She described how her health changed for the better when she changed her diet. Her skin just glowed to the point where people noticed. She had more energy. Her allergies and asthma went away. She rarely gets sick, and when she does, it takes only a day to get over it through some natural remedies she discovered works for her.

What I really liked about her presentation is that she made clear that her reasons for becoming a vegan might differ from someone else's reasons, and that it was all fine. She even said that it was fine to gradually move in the direction of veganism, for the less meat we consume, the better for the animals and the planet. She emphasized not being judgmental about it and enthusiastically described how delicious and fun the new foods she consumes are. She mentioned eating at the Blossoming Lotus in the Pearl District before her lecture. It was good to see someone so passionate about promoting a healthier lifestyle. Her enthusiasm was contagious, as she sold me on her book and making the change (gradually).

Though she did mention a few famous people she's worked with and knows, it was all in the context of food and the embarrassment she felt revealing to others that she's a vegan. Her way into veganism was because she loved animals since she was very young. In fact, as a girl, she felt self-conscious when eating lamb because her brother would make baa-ing sounds as she ate. Awww.

The questions people asked all dealt with vegan diet and making the switch. Its a good thing that no one violated the rules, because its respectful to her as I'm sure she gets tired of the Hollywood talk and questions. Though I've only seen a few of her movies, I thought her presentation on a vegan lifestyle was far more interesting than anything else she might have said about her Hollywood career or celebrity gossip. She's an environmental activist, as well, and she really seems sincere about her passions. You won't find her in the tabloids. She lives her passions and that's refreshing in a celebrity. She's much deeper than I thought she would be, and even her spirituality seems universal, based on a few comments she made (she had mentioned good karma, "the universe", intuitively figuring out her body's needs and meditation). I really liked that.

Because of her inspiring talk, I decided to buy her book even though it was kind of pricey ($29.99), which means that I won't be getting Senator Ted Kennedy's book this month. I've been wanting to change my diet for a couple years now but didn't know where to start. As I looked through her book, I was impressed by her easy to read manner as well as sense of humour. Plus, I liked the mix of information. She offers personal stories, scientific facts, environmental statistics, advice on how to get started, and even plenty of recipes with photos of the mouth-watering meals I could soon be trying for myself. The style of the book is just a good place to start because she makes everything look less intimidating.

I waited in the line for her autograph. When I got to her table, I thanked her for her enthusiastic talk and mentioned that I have been wanting to change my diet for a few years now but didn't know where to start so I was happy that she decided to make a book like this. I also told her that salmon would be very difficult for me to give up. She said that it was okay, to gradually move into it by giving up other meat and the new diet will make me feel great that it will be a natural evolution. She signed the book: "Nicholas, Thank you so much for being so sweet. Thank God for you! Alicia." Wow, that was really sweet of her! She mentioned her website ( to log-in, meet others, read the stories of their transformations and perhaps add mine as I undergo this process.

After she signed my copy, we shook hands and I wished her success with this book. I walked out of there beaming. I'm actually excited to try this new diet. Since I've moved to Portland, I've been undergoing quite a few changes. A lot of it has to do with job dissatisfaction. But this dark period of my life has its good points, as I have put a lot of old beliefs "on the table" for reconsideration. I guess I'm in the process of a new me. Phase one has been the spiritual side of it, with a regular meditation practice. The next phases include a change in diet and a physical fitness regime. Hopefully a better, healthier, fitter me will emerge from this fifth dark night of the soul into a successful sunny period of my life. I am grateful for someone like Alicia Silverstone using her fame for a good purpose, by writing a book about making a major lifestyle change that is good for the planet. To me, this is exciting. And I can't wait to try out some of the recipes she includes in the book.
The above photo is from the Aerosmith video "Crazy", which also featured Liv Tyler, daughter of lead singer Steve Tyler. I loved this video since I first saw it because of the two young ladies having fun on a road trip. My favourite little scene is when Liv is filling the car with gas and kind of shaking her behind as she does so. An old man watches her and then the two girls just bawl out laughing. It looked like they had fun making that video.

The role she's best known for (still) is from Clueless, which was a modern telling of a Jane Austin novel. Alicia popularized the phrase "As if." One thing that surprised me was that I knew a few guys on my last ship (the USS George Washington) who actually went to see the movie in theaters. Alicia Silverstone was popular among sailors, probably because of the Aerosmith videos. I didn't see it until I moved home and my sister loved watching it all the time.

Finally, the other famous role Alicia played, Batgirl. As I said above, she's not the reason the movie was a disaster. It was entirely the director's fault for introducing too many new characters. Its a flaw of Hollywood sequels to up the ante. Instead of focusing on a good story with one villain and maybe one sidekick, directors think they have to outdo the previous one by adding even more characters. This results in split screen times for all the characters and weakens the film. Batgirl might have made a more interesting solo film, but even the makers of the Catwoman movie managed to mess that one up.

I have no idea what Alicia's future film projects might be, but I'd love to see her pick some good movies. She and Drew Barrymore would make natural "sisters" in a movie. Most of all, though, I hope she keeps up with her passion for environmental activism and promoting the vegan lifestyle. The more people know about the impact meat consumption has on our planet's sustainability, the better off we'll be as a species. I know she speaks the truth when she says that vegetarian meals can be as delicious as any steak. And once you get used to the new diet, your tastes will change. She gave an example of quitting smoking. She used to smoke a pack a day. After making dietary changes, she could no longer smoke a cigarette without choking. Its like that...a change into our best selves.

Like I said, I'm really excited to move into this new dietary practice. I'm sure there will be stumbles along the way, but I won't beat myself over it because my main goal is to consume less meat. The cows and chickens will thank me for it. Salmon, though, won't have it as lucky.


Margie's Musings said...

It sounds like an excellent book and a healthy one. From someone out of Hollywood, that's a huge change.

NickUSCS1861 said...

Interesting blog entry. Nice to see some celebrities have more to contribute than we figure. I hope the book inspires you. Jennifer and I will not likely give up fish because we like it so much. But, we don't eat a lot of meat, primarily because of the time it takes to prepare it.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Fascinating post. Maybe all this delay stuff in Portland has a purpose, after all, Sansego.

Sansego said...

The problem with fish is the mercury levels, though. I agree that eating meat takes a lot of time to prepare and cook it.

As I read her book, I feel excited about this change. Unfortunately, though, I'm thinking that her book was written with mostly women in mind. I bet she didn't think many guys would buy it. I didn't intend to buy her book. I went to her lecture because of her celebrity. She could have written a book about being "clueless" and I still would've gone, but her enthusiasm for a vegan lifestyle really convinced me to buy her book. I did not expect that. I'm definitely impressed with Alicia Silverstone.