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Guest Post: Steve’s Vegan Journey


Me in 1988 with my best pal Hudson

The following post is a by my boyfriend, Steve, about how he came to be vegan.  I’m really proud of him and happy to post this on his behalf:

I’m Steve and I love animals.  I think that’s important to say first. I’ve always loved them. As a child I adored our two cats. When we got our first dog, when we brought home our guinea pigs, when we first brought home Bonnie (our rabbit). I’ve always loved them and each of those moments are very special to me. I would play with them, adore them, draw them, talk about them. They were a huge part of my life. As a child growing up I just always had a strong connection to them. However, there was never a connection between what I was eating and what I pet at a petting zoo or a farm.

While I’m a vegan now, I wasn’t always that way. I certainly wasn’t. I was your average kid eating fast food hamburgers and whatever meat products my family would have for dinner. I never questioned any of it. I was an average adult continuing those actions as well up until fairly recently.

In school, at least from what I could remember, there was never anything taught to us about farming or animals. I must have assumed that what was on my plate died willingly, or died of natural causes before being sold in the store. It never occurred to me what terrible tragedies these animals were put through on a daily basis just because of us. I’ve never considered going vegetarian. But then again, I never knew why people chose not to eat meat in the first place. Why make that choice in your life?

However I’ve been exposed to it since a young age. Since as long as I could remember my Aunt was vegetarian. I remember forgetting this once when I was a child, and while we waited for a holiday dinner at my Grandma’s I asked if she wanted a piece of chicken while she waited outside for something. I was young, and I must have forgotten, and she was quick to tell me “I don’t eat that, I’m a vegetarian.” Although I feel a bit better now about that, as I’m a vegetarian as well (and a vegan too), I never asked myself, why? Those questions wouldn’t arrive until years later.

My path to becoming vegan was not a direct route. In my life I slowly came across more and more people who were vegetarian. Now I didn’t have a personal problem with that. You eat whatever you want, as long as you’re not telling me what to do I could care less with what you eat. But that didn’t last forever. I began a wonderful relationship in the summer of 2009 that would directly change and influence my views on animals, meat, dairy, and much more. This was with my girlfriend Allyson. She was vegetarian when I met her, and would become vegan while we were dating.


The delicious seitan philly cheesesteak from Good Karma Cafe in Red Bank

Food was just the start

The notion of her not eating meat wasn’t a big deal to me. When we went to eat we would just find places that had something she wanted. Although it meant I had to avoid eating at places I would have preferred at the time (like a BBQ place or something more meat heavy), I was willing to sacrifice that. Even before being vegetarian she would introduce me to new types of foods, Indian cuisine being one of them. Now I’m a wuss with spicy food, I can’t handle it at all, no way. But I was cautiously introduced to this whole new group of food that I now enjoy. Thai food was next, and soon my tastebuds were evolving.

Of course when dating someone who is vegetarian you are bound to eat at some veggie-only or vegan places. I always found something to eat at these places, I didn’t starve, not at all. In fact, the food wasn’t bad. I actually liked what I was eating! It intrigued me greatly that something that was not meat or chicken, could taste like it. It blew my mind.

An early instance of this was eating at the restaurant Veggie Heaven in New Jersey, a vegetarian Chinese food place with mock-meats, poultry and fish. I honestly thought they made a mistake when the brought out my fried rice with pork. Yes the pork maybe tasted a bit closer to chicken or beef, but wow. I honestly thought they served me meat by mistake. Of course my mind realized it was my tastebuds that were being fooled.

A next notable encounter was at Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar, New Jersey. There I shared an appetizer of fake chicken nuggets with Allyson. They were amazing, they tasted just like chicken. I told her then, if this type of food was available to me, I would be vegetarian. Little did I know, it would only be a matter of time before I eat those words.

More and more we would eat at vegetarian or vegan places during our travels. I admit sometimes I would have preferred to go to a non-veggie place to eat, but each time I sat down and had a meal I enjoyed it. I was missing meat less and less. But that alone would not be enough to change my meat hungry ways.


The hens at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary

Farm sanctuaries

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was the first farm sanctuary I have ever visited.  Allyson was doing some writing for school and through a winding road of articles and talking to people she would meet someone involved in protesting the local bear hunts. William was apparently one of these protesters who would get taken away and locked up for protesting, and thankfully quickly released. He and his wife run a small sanctuary in New York and at first I was not too, too interested in going. However we ended up driving there for a visit to meet William and his wife Ellen. Boy did I not know what I was getting myself into.

The surrounding area was beautiful, big trees, open land, hills and scenic views at every turn. A perfect place to have an animal sanctuary, or even just a house. We parked our car and walked around some small trees and shrubs to the entrance to the sanctuary. A photographer was already inside talking to the owners. We we greeted by this friendly bunch and introduced ourselves. A sign was hung outside that asked you not to consume meat or dairy products on the grounds. This would be my first animal sanctuary tour, and boy were my eyes about to be opened wide.

The Safe Haven sanctuary has a good size piece of property to work with. However when I say it’s small, that is only in comparison to the later sanctuaries I would visit. But that’s not a bad thing, not at all. It seems to be a good size for the animals they had living there. As we exited the house we were greeted by the sounds of the goats, chickens and sheep talking to each other. Along the way Allyson would be asking plenty of questions related to the sanctuary overall and by this I learned more than I ever thought I could about these animals.

Our tour started when we were greeted by a large golden retriever. I believe Daisy was her name, she would follow her master during the tour and bark whenever she felt like it. No matter how many times he asked her to stop, she would continue as she pleased, but we didn’t mind. Will spent some time introducing each being. The chickens collected themselves under the wooden bench near the goat pen as we walked by. Cluck, cluck, cluck. They fluttered about sending dirt and dust in the air while flapping their wings. We were told that this was a dust bath, one of the favorite activities of a hen or rooster. It helps keep them cool and they absolutely love it.

I learned about these creatures differently than one may expect. It was not by shockingly violent, cruel videos or in-your-face extremism by others. No, not at all. This was by kind, gentle guiding hands and information based on facts and science. A very direct way of trying to reach me which proved very effective.

Will shared stories of these animals background and their conditions. How they got there, what injuries they may have, why they needed to be helped, etc. Each story got me thinking more and more. One of the most touching items was about the birds. I learned that the turkeys and chickens we see in the stores and on farms today are modified and engineered to be fatter and more meaty for us to kill and consume. Dark or brown feathers are not desirable by the meat industry, so these white “broiler hens” (as they’re referred to) have been in-bred and modified to be this way. White and pale. These animals are simply not designed to live a long life. Factory farms aren’t merely breeding these animals and killing them, although that itself is horrible enough, the truth is much worse.

These factories are engineering these animals to grow faster and be heavier so they can raise them and kill them as fast and efficiently as possible. Less time equals more money. That’s all this is about, profits. The birds are de-beaked and de-toed, a process that mutilates the animal without medical treatment or care, usually using a red-hot heated wire. Why do this? To prevent fighting and attacking. These birds are in such cramped conditions, that fighting is inevitable. They do this to prevent further damage to their final product.

That’s all these animals are to these farms, a profit. The male chickens are destroyed as beautiful little chicks because they are simply undesirable. Someone, somewhere, has decided that they have no use for them. They can’t lay eggs and they are not fat enough to be used for meat. And because of that, they are unceremoniously murdered or left for dead.

Another moving story was about the turkeys. These turkeys suffered the same de-beaking and de-clawing as the chickens. However one of the particular turkeys was doing something that Will pointed out to us. She was making a nest. She wanted so badly to have babies and make a nest, her body was telling her it’s time to do this. However, due to the way she was bred, that is impossible for her. However, this animal was continuing to do as it would in nature, without the knowledge that it’s body has been tampered with to make her mission impossible. In fact some birds are so overgrown due to inbreeding and hormones that they can have difficulty laying eggs. An egg can become lodged inside the animal, eventually rupturing and causing infection, and sometimes death.

The goats were next, Duncan was a beautiful creature who came up to the fence and said hello. One of the roosters clucked around in the goat pen, Will noticed this and mentioned that the hawks in the area would likely be intimidated by the goats and not bother her, although he still kept a watchful eye. A pair of ducks had a nice pen with a little pond. One of these mallards recently had a friend pass away. However they quickly found him a friend in the most amazing way he just wandered onto the farm, likely from a nearby shooting range. At the range these ducks are raised in darkness, so naturally when they open the pen they fly out. When they do they are greeted by an array of bullets from hunters who consider this a sport.

Before we visited the sheep I got to meet a very special animal, and she was really something. The photographer was inside a small barn, down on one knee with his camera lens protruding through an opening between two sliding doors. What was he being so careful on capturing? Was he spying on a sheep? No – they obviously weren’t too shy. Stepping closer to him I got a peek of what animal dwelled inside.

It was a rabbit! A beautiful little white rabbit with black spots. She was sitting quietly in the back of her large room, filled with chewed on twigs and wooden platforms. Her holes and burrows were littered around and you could see some dirt on the back of her legs. She seemed so kind and sweet. Years later it would sadden me greatly when I learned of her passing. However it was clear she lead a happy life, the story on the sanctuary website says she would pass through a tunnel to her other animal friends (a tunnel she dug obviously), but always return to her barn at night. But when I visited she was very much alive. When the photographer stood up we chatted a bit, and the rabbit hopped about in her pen before relaxing in a corner.

We then moved onto the sheep. There were four or five of them in a larged fenced in area. Will unlocked the gates and dug through a box coming back up with a huge collection of hay. The sheep knew it was feeding time. He placed the hay in the large feeder and all of them came over for their lunch. Will discussed how when one of the sheep recently passed away, that the others seemed depressed. That got to me as well. People often assume something is not intelligent because it may not have the raw brain power we do, or may not seem to act “smart”. But it was clear to me that these animals were beautiful beings with their own personalities and traits. It’s impossible not to see. Anyone who blindly believes that these creatures are all the same are truly blinding themselves.


Some of the wonderful sheep at Safe Haven

Loving animals and animal education are the stepping stones of becoming vegan

Safe Haven was a great experience. But I’m sad to say I didn’t go vegetarian just because of that, although it did make me think a lot about my experience there. I did cut down on my meat and egg digestion. But the next few visits to more sanctuaries would see an even greater decrease.  We would soon visit the famous Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Also Located also in upstate New York, this sanctuary was gigantic and made Safe Haven look tiny by comparison.

This was the first time we visited the place and wow, what a sight. You arrive down a small road and arrive at the owners house. In the distance are gigantic hills and beautiful sights. An impressive solar panel is in the distance, sharing space with some of the resident goats and sheep. Here we got to see even more wonderful animals. Rabbits, pigs, cats, dogs, goats, chickens, and even cows. All happy in their own new environments, truly safe from any cruelty or harm they may have previously encountered. We just happened to catch a tour by Mike Stura, a wonderful person and animal rights activist that takes his title very seriously. I’ll never forget the first part of the tour, or any part of it  for that matter. The way Mike spoke to everyone was in a calm but commanding manner and that moved me. Anyone could get in your face and yell at you why you should do this or shouldn’t do  that and make you feel bad. But Mike wasn’t that person. You could tell the passion he had for these animals and why he was spending his time taking us on tours and talking to us. He was all about education, and you could tell he deeply loved these animals.

Our first stop on the tour  was to meet the chickens and he echoed the stories of the terrible practices done in the industry to these birds. He showed the battery cages on display that held 3 or 4 full-size chickens crammed in a tiny wire cage. This cage was designed purely to fit more birds in one place, meaning more profit for the egg and meat industry. We learned that egg laying hens don’t lay tons of eggs forever. After as little as two or three years they’re ‘spent’ and the production of eggs drops dramatically. It’s at this time where these chickens are “thanked” for their loyal service by being killed. There’s no factory farm that has a section of older hens to live out the rest of their days, they’re slaughtered. There’s no mercy for these animals.

While there a hen laid an egg right in front of us, when asked what they do with them. Mike explained that the eggs are fed back to the birds. This was intriguing to me, but as he explained, the birds go through such a hard time to produce the egg, eating it helps them regain some of the nutrients and energy they lost during the process. This would be later echoed at other sanctuaries we would visit. As the day progressed we visited the turkeys, the ducks, the pigs, and then the cows. Each was a real treat, we all had a great time seeing animals and petting them and taking photos.

When we got to the cows seeing the veal crates was shocking. I never was a big fan of veal and I can’t recall the last time I even considered ordering it. Of course after seeing this I would never have it again. But seeing this terrible contraption, made for the sole purpose of constricting the movements of a baby animal was heartbreaking. Thankfully Mike balanced this sad scene calling his big buddy Dylan over by raising his arms and calling his name. Dylan came running from out in the field to greet his pal Mike. Dylan is a rescued veal calf, who was no longer a small calf but a giant.  He was the largest cow I had ever seen, I did not know these animals could grow so large! Of course they are often never given the chance to. He was sweet and playful and ate greens right out of our hands. Mike walked in the pen and gave him a great big hug.

We left the farm that day and we learned so much, but I am again ashamed to say I was not vegetarian just yet. Although another severe plummet in my animal intake occurred. We would go back to Woodstock again, and afterwards, returning home I stepped out of the car and announced to Allyson that I was never going to eat red meat again. From then on it was a very slippery slope. I had never liked to eat fish, besides the rare tuna fish sandwich – so that was gone as well… So what was left on the meat side of things ? Chicken. That didn’t last long at all either… I’d had veggie and vegan chicken nuggets and patties, and realized that would be very easy to substitute. The last piece of animal flesh I unfortunately consumed was a poultry sandwich at a burger chain.


Petting one of the beautiful calves, Mike, at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY

One small step can lead to an enormous journey

In August 2012 I started my vegetarian experiment. The first few weeks were a bit rocky, but living with Allyson helped. We had always made a lot of meals together and she was always very supportive. I had my weeks of vegetarianism before. I think the most I’ve gone was 2 weeks, usually caving at the office cafeteria and eating a sandwich with meat on it just because there was nothing “better” to have. But this time I tried hard, I knew I could do it if I really tried. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Before I knew it I was 3 months in and I felt great. Then six months, and a year almost snuck up on me. I was vegetarian and I felt great. I lost a good deal of weight in the process and I was no longer eating the animals I cared so much for.  Of course, making new animal (and people) friends, like those at For The Animals Sanctuary didn’t hurt either.

I was never a big milk person at all, but I loved cheese. That was going to be the hard thing to give up if I were to go vegan. I thought I couldn’t do it. Just like I thought I could never be vegetarian. However that too, would change. I slowly started trying vegan cheeses – as Allyson went vegan I sampled her food and wasn’t turned off by it. Yes the vegan cheese doesn’t taste exactly  like real cheese, but it’s close – very, very close. And there are many different ones to try and always new types entering the market. And when you haven’t had cheese in a week or maybe a month – it tastes even better. Knowing there were a large variety of non-dairy cheese available helped. But realizing the suffering the dairy cows went through pushed me to being vegan even quicker.

You see cows don’t just produce milk 24/7. No animal produces milk just for the heck of it. They produce milk for their young, for their babies. So how do we get so much milk? We artificially impregnate them. They produce milk, and we steal it from them to sell it. What about their babies? They are ripped from their mother after birth, literally. The baby calves remain so thirsty for their mother’s milk – the milk designed for them but taken from them. The most heart wrenching images of this were in the recent premiere of ‘The Ghosts In Our Machine’. A scene shows a bucket of milk given to a calf. Before he finishes a worker takes the bucket, dumps out what precious drops were left inside, and walks away. The calf turns around to other calves his age. They instantly lock mouths, desperately trying to get more milk from each other’s mouth.

There are no families on farms, only profits to be had. The female babies are kept in the factories and given the extreme bare minimum of their Mom’s milk that is required to survive. The males are undesirable and often killed or left to die as they become anemic and deficient in the nutrients they need to survive. They are often sold to veal manufactures. These male calves are destined to be tied inside a cramped box, unable to walk around or move, so they stay tender until their untimely death at only a few months old. Never seeing their mother again, never knowing love, compassion or the warm touch of their Mom’s body.

Knowing that buying these meat and dairy products helped support these farms abuse these animals made me go vegan. Vegan butter and cheese were fine by me. I didn’t need the “real” thing just to indulge my taste buds temporarily, while an animal suffers due to my particular taste for an item. There were other options available, smarter options.

While it may seem like I became vegetarian and vegan to help myself, that is far from the truth. Yes it helped me be at ease with my own choices in life, but I did it for them. For those who lack the audible voice to tell the world what is really going on. For those that can’t protest, spread the word, or expose the cruelty in these factories. I did it for them. I did it for the animals.


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Chickpea Spring 2013 Issue

Photo courtesy of Chickpea Magazine

Photo courtesy of Chickpea Magazine

Happy Spring everyone! Although it’s still been slightly chilly here in New Jersey, the days have turned longer, and the sky has been clearer than usual lately. Spring is definitely finding its way here, slowly, but I definitely see signs!

And as New Jersey itself still thaws, I’m happy to share that an article of mine will be appearing in the Spring 2013 issue of Chickpea Magazine. Chickpea is an independent magazine, run by Cara Livermore and Bob Lawton. It is a gorgeous magazine, with details in everything from the photo designs and lighting, to the hand written text designs. Chickpea is a great magazine not just because of its gorgeous, vintage looking photos either. They are amazing because their aim is to foster a publication for vegans to share their own experiences, like an open forum, which really adds to a sense of community for vegan photographers, writers, and just about anyone artistically inclined. Which is why I reached at the chance to contribute.

My article is written as a travelogue for New Jersey, which in the past year, has become to me a stand out as a place to live as a vegan. With such wonderful things as The Cinnamon Snail food truck, the For The Animals Sanctuary, and a host of great restaurants all over the state, New Jersey is a great little vegan state. It often gets overlooked, its meek and tiny and most people think of NJ as a giant oil refinery, when in fact it has plenty of gorgeous nature landscapes tucked away in all corners of the state, from North, to South, to Central Jersey.  I can definitely say sometimes you ignore something around you for so long, that at some point you open your eyes, look around you, and feel a sudden rebirth in perception, like you’ve breathed in new, fresh air. Photos for my article were taken by Steve, who went on some day trip adventures with me to take these photos in the freezing cold, we we tried to capture New Jersey when its on the cusp of waking up to Spring once more.

You can preview the Spring issue of Chickpea here.  The nature of the magazine is so intricate, I would recommend picking up a print copy to see how beautiful it is, and just to support a hard working group of people working on a great project. Right now the pre-sale price is $16, so be sure to pre-order before it goes back to its retail price. And if you don’t want to order online, they will be sold at Anthropologie stores across the country this month! Chickpea is also carried in some independent book stores across the country, so check their stockist page for more information. Help foster the vegan community by taking a look at this project. Perhaps you’ll want to take a trip to New Jersey sometime because of it!

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Veggie Bunny in London and Paris


Some kind of tree


Picture seeing your all time favorite musician or singer in Paris, but instead of performing in a typical concert venue, the show is in a circus tent, and that circus tent is on an island, and as you watch the show, outside its snowing. This is what we saw February 24, when we went to see Björk perform during her Biophilia residency.  Of course, it was extremely odd going from a spontaneous idea to physically being there, but I still look back in shock that I actually did this, and that what I saw was as beautiful as I had hoped. This was the fifth time I had seen her, and she’ll never know how far I traveled, how strangely and personally important that specific journey was for me.

But this trip I went on became more than just this Björk show. It became a small but wonderful trip with my boyfriend, Steve. We had never been Europe together, and more importantly, never went on a totally short-notice trip, so there was a level of excitement that pushed the trip. We also tried to approach the trip from a relaxed perspective, and to see where streets and our instincts took us.

Since this is Veggie Bunny, this post will focus on the aspect I know everyone cares about: the awesome vegan stuff! London and Paris were both perfect spots for a veg-couple (that’s right, veg-couple, ’cause while I am vegan, Steve’s been doing vegetarian since Labor Day and hasn’t looked back since). In terms of easy access, London was incredible. You could walk a few blocks and eventually find yourself by a vegetarian restaurant, and if you went to a regular restaurant, there were many, many vegetarian options.

Paris, while a bit difficult to navigate in terms of veg stuff, had just as much stuff as London, if you looked hard enough. And once you kept an eye open, you’d find just what you were looking for. We stayed in the 10 arrondisement, by the Canal St. Martin, in a room off of AirBNB. This area is up and coming, and completely charming and lively and full of great veg options, including two vegan restaurants (Soya and Sol Semilla),  an organic supermarket (Naturalia), a juice bar (Bob’s Juice), a farmers market on Sundays, and the best bakery in Paris (according to our host).

I owe a lot of my vegan-Paris discoveries to a recent issue of VegNews, but more importantly, a wonderful eBook on Amazon titled Vegan Paris. For only 3 dollars, the book was an incredible resource, written by a long-time resident of Paris. I highly recommend this guide if you are a vegan in Paris!

Top of Eiffel Tower

At the top of the Eiffel Tower on a very, very cold day

To view some of our vegan discoveries (lots of photos), continue reading!

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Vegan in New Jersey: Rutherford

Courtesy on NJ State Site

Gosh it’s been a while! Things have been a little hectic in my life since Christmas, so I haven’t had time to really sit and update the blog. Between all of the events which have happened over the past few weeks, I spontaneously planned a trip in February to Paris, to see my favorite singer of all time, Bjork, perform one of her Biophilia shows. Her next residency will be in Paris, and for this show, she’ll be performing in a circus tent on the river Seine, on I’le Seguin. Steve  & I decided to also fit in a small stop in London. So I look forward to updating this blog with any relevant vegan finds in both of these cities!

Today is the first post in a new feature series on being vegan in New Jersey.  The little state that you could easily travel across in half a day. You can go from the city like landscape of North Jersey to the shopping mall spree of Central Jersey in an hour, followed by a quick trip to the shore, and if you’re not tired, even cut across to the Philadelphia area.

In these features, I’d like to focus on areas of the state where you may find stand out resources as a vegan. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve talked to who had no idea what kinds of options they had, or that something so good was actually so close to their home. Some places just pop up, or you have no idea besides word of mouth. There are always vegan friendly places opening up in NJ, and the best part is, they are typically small businesses owned by passionate people.  These places will range from restaurants to quick service/deli type places, to clothes and small gifts and  body care, juice bars and  chocolates, the list goes on.

The good news I should add to this feature is that I will also be writing an article on New Jersey for the indepedent magazine Chickpea. This feature with also include photos by Steve, and will appear in the Spring Issue. So keep an eye on this!

I’d like to begin in North Jersey and work my way throughout the state until we are all the way to Cape May! Today’s first town is the town of Rutherford. Rutherford is a peculiar little town that is very suburban, yet is so close to New York City that it feels like a missing borough. The area is very hilly, so much so that at certain points on high roads you can clearly see the skyline of New York. Most people associate the town with nearby Giants stadium, the Izod center, that crazy Xanadu mall, and Medieval Times. At least, I used to.

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Help Restore A Veg-Friendly Restaurant On The Shore

Photo courtesy of Living on the Veg Facebook

During Hurricane Sandy, many businesses along the Jersey coast were destroyed, and with that many people’s sole incomes and their shops which they worked so hard to obtain and maintain. A local vegan restaurant located in LBI, Living On The Veg, was one of these businesses.

Living On The Veg is run by Lauren and Rob Ramos. Their restaurant was hit with over five feet of water, causing damage that has left them closed since.  Not only was their restaurant hit, but their apartment and only home as well. Living On The Veg was not covered by hurricane insurance, and so Lauren and Rob are left with the unfortunate situation of having to rebuild everything in their lives.

A donation site was set up to help recover the costs needed to renovate and rebuild Living On The Veg. You can find the donation site here.

Many, many wonderful businesses were wrecked by Hurricane Sandy. Just driving down the barrier island, through Sea Brite, is a very emotionally taxing drive. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have something like your business taken from you in such a helpless way. If you want to help, it’s hard to just choose one place and know there are hundreds more.

However, even small donations to various places goes and reaches far and beyond. Helping a business like Living On The Veg with just twenty dollars will add up to the donations of others. You can see it as a potential dinner you may have had there anyway!

Thank you for taking a look. Living On The Veg is one of countless affected businesses, but it is itself  unique place, that cannot be replaced. In New Jersey, it’s important to help keep the vegan community standing as well, so that we can encourage a wonderful place like this to thrive. Hopefully by the summer they will be at a place where they can start anew.

Happy New Year! Veggie Bunny will resume regular posts this week. We look forward to 2013 with you!

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