Elissa Sursara Interview

Conservationist and broadcaster Elissa Sursara talks to us about animals, veganism and her guilty pleasure.

We know you are vegan, can you tell us a bit about what motivated you to become vegan?

When I was a teenager, I watched footage of factory-raised animals being led to slaughter, of cows bellowing for one another as they died horribly, and it wasn’t difficult to see that not only had those animals suffered during their miserable lives in cemented factory farms, but that these animals also suffered, if not more, during slaughter. I learned that instances of cruelty toward farm animals were widespread and commonplace, and that as someone who was regularly buying meat and dairy, I was contributing to the world’s largest slaughter of animals. I realized that as a consumer, I have incredible influence over the treatment of animals - whether it’s animals used for food, entertainment, and clothing and even laboratory experimentation – and that the first place to start was my dinner plate.

How long have you been vegan?

I’ve followed a plant-based diet since I was fifteen. The physical benefits have been astounding and medically, I’m healthier than most people on a standard, meat inclusive diet. My hair is healthy and long, my body is resilient, I have strong bones and lots of energy, but the real reward of transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet is the peacefulness it brings knowing that you no longer contribute to the systematic suffering of tens of millions of animals around the world.

What is your favourite indulgence?

My guilty pleasure is probably the entire Veggie Grill menu – I’d snack there every day if I could. I love the Veggie Grill’s sweet potato sweetheart fries, steamin’ kale, crispy “chickin” wings, and strawberry lemonade, and they’ve got the tastiest spicy vegan mayo I’ve ever had!

When people learn that you are vegan, what is a typical question they ask and how do you respond to them?

I’m constantly asked, in exasperation, what do vegans actually eat? The answer is simple: Does it come from an animal? No, eat it. Yes, don’t eat it.

Tell us a little bit about what you hope to accomplish for animals through your work.

I’m motivated by the protection of animals, and I focus on building social and political structures to expand the awareness of environmental issues affecting not only wildlife and their habitats, but domestic animals too. I’ve had success independently and through partnerships in creating a mainstream and public forum for animals and the environment, and my hope is to continue educating the public and connecting humans and the environment.

Do you have a favourite place to eat out?

My favourite city to eat vegan is most definitely Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles has some of the greatest and trendiest vegan restaurants and bars and the city itself has done a wonderful job at removing some of the stigma attached to vegan food – vegan food in Los Angeles is fun and creative, and most importantly, it’s delicious. More broadly, it’s not difficult to stick to a vegan preference, even at non-vegan restaurants. In many cultures, vegetarian and vegan food is quite prominent, making it surprisingly accessible and skillfully prepared. When I’m travelling or not familiar with my surroundings, I look for restaurants with a cultural preference or emphasis on plant-based foods, and these dishes are commonly found in Thai, Vietnamese and Indian cooking – so I favour and frequent those.

What do you do to stay fit?

Admittedly, I’m not dedicated to maintaining my fitness, but I certainly make an effort to keep active and stretch my bones. My lifestyle is busy and unusual and there isn’t always time for a strict or vigorous workout routine, but when I’m conducting fieldwork and on my feet, I keep particularly active. I get most of my exercise in my down time, whether it’s surfing or bathing at the beach, kayaking or taking nature walks. I’m also prone to stress, so I make an effort to meditate and practice yoga as a method of relaxation, which consequently helps in the strengthening of my muscles.

You’ve travelled to many places around the world due to your work, how do you see these different places evolving from a vegan perspective?

In many capacities, human beings are starting to make positive changes for the environment and as a result, those changes positively affect threatened and endangered species and habitats. We’re buying less paper, pressuring political bodies to protect more species, conserving water, recycling more and are growing more conscious of our carbon footprints. Although indirect, I personally believe these changes correlate with veganism in the sense that we’re consciously sacrificing, appropriating and improving our behaviour to benefit the greater well being of animals.

Paul Watson named this the Elissa Sursara iceberg in her honour

Who in the public eye do you admire and why?

I’m inspired by my peers and by the leaders in the conservation movement, of Jane Goodall, Paul Watson, Alexandra Cousteau – and I’m lucky enough to say that some of these are people I get to work with in my own career. These are people who’ve made considerable ground for animals, our environment and our oceans and do such an inspiring job at educating the mass public.

Tell us what you like to do in your spare time?

I zone out almost completely in my spare time and I find it’s a great method of unconventional therapy. I listen to music, I watch movies with my friends and I spend a lot of quality time with my family. I love to be outdoors, so I do a lot of water activities like diving and boating, or mountain hiking, and I love to cook.

And finally, tell us what you hope your life will look like in 5 years time?

I’m focused on expanding my role as an environmental broadcaster, and strengthening my presence in writing, film and other media, as well as continuing to work scientifically and socially with other organizations, individuals and publications as a correspondent and spokesperson. In five years I hope to be able to look back and see that I’ve made a significant impact on the conservation movement and to know that I’ve enriched the lives of animals around the world dependent upon a human voice.