Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.
In 2016, Diana Edelman founded Vegans, Baby (vegansbaby.com), a website that features profiles of local restaurants dedicated to, or simply supportive of, vegan, vegetarian and other plant-based diets. She also hosts vegan food tours, promotes cruelty-free beauty and fashion choices, and works with local chefs and restaurants to become more vegan-friendly and participate in special dining events throughout the year, including the monthlong Veganuary campaign.
The former public relations executive and travel blogger is also a prominent writer on vegan and animal rights issues who regularly speaks on those topics at conferences around the world. And she recently co-founded a company called Pure World Distribution, which distributes vegan food products to local restaurants and retailers.
Over breakfast at VegeNation, she spoke about the journey that brought her here.
Review-Journal: When did the treatment of animals become an important part of your personal and professional life?
Edelman: For my birthday, my dad said, “I’ve got (frequent flyer) miles. Where do you want to go?” I had just read “Water for Elephants” and I said, “I want to hang out with elephants.” So I started asking people where a good place to go to hang out with elephants was, and everybody said Thailand and Elephant Nature Park (in Chiang Mai). So I booked a volunteer trip there.
When I was on the bus on the way there, I asked, “Do we get to ride elephants?” And the guy got really quiet and looked at me and said, “No, you don’t. These are rescued elephants.”
I was sad for a half a second, and then we went to the park and saw these elephants who had been abused. Their backs were broken. And you just can’t imagine that this huge animal has been through this abuse because of us. (One) day there was an elephant dying, and we had to go make this elephant more comfortable. And I said, “I have a platform where I can make a difference. I’m going to go write about it and tell people about it.”
So I came back to Las Vegas and started telling everybody I could about it and writing about it wherever I could. But I was really unhappy here. So I messaged (Elephant Nature Park founder Sangduen “Lek” Chailert) and said, “I think I’m going to move to Chiang Mai. I really want to help you. I don’t care if I’m scooping poop or cutting bananas or watermelon for the elephants. I just want to come and help you.” And she wrote me back and said, “I really like your writing. Why don’t you come here and do PR and social media and work for me?”
Were you vegan at the time?
I wasn’t even vegetarian. I ate steak and cheese. But then I moved to Thailand in July 2012, and my first week there I was driving back from the sanctuary in a van, and I looked out the window and there was a truck full of pigs being taken to slaughter. I don’t know why that’s the time it clicked. But all of a sudden I was like, “Nope, I’m done.” That was July 2012, and I haven’t had meat since.
I didn’t do vegan for another three years. I wish I had. All my friends around me were vegan. I worked in animal rights, but you need that click and I never had it. I just always made excuses like I love pizza, I could never give up cheese, I could never give up eggs. It took me until I moved back to the States after four years abroad (to go vegan).
How did that happen?
I was with a friend of mine in Spain who was vegan, and she said, “You should go vegan.” I didn’t think there were a lot of vegan restaurants in Vegas. So she said, “Diana, what do you want to do when you get back to Vegas? Go vegan and write about it.”
When you started Vegans, Baby, was anyone else covering that scene locally?
There were one or two websites that had information, but it wasn’t up to date, so I was kind of surprised. But it was a blessing, because then I got to do it.
How was it received?
I had my launch party here in May 2016 and 30 or 40 people showed up. I started cultivating a community. I started the social media handles, I started going out to eat every day, and it grew over the past two years. I did an event in April 2017 at Urban Turban, and 150 people showed up. And it was so rapid after that. When I spoke in Miami (recently), a girl said, “Oh, my God, I follow you!”
You reach out to chefs who serve meat to create allies. Is that the norm in the vegan world, and how do people react to that?
What I learned when I was with Lek is that you can make a lot more change by being kind and compassionate than by being nasty and aggressive. So I have always gone after change by her model, where you just have a conversation with somebody. You don’t attack them for their viewpoints. You don’t tell them what they’re doing is wrong. And you don’t show them horrible videos. I’ve seen the videos, but that’s not what made me go vegan. What made me go vegan was realizing that it was fun and I could eat well.
There are a lot of different ways people approach veganism. I go at it from the idea that in order to make change, people have to want to talk to you and listen to you. People aren’t going to listen to you if you’re just talking at them. So my approach has been to reach out and just have a conversation.
More Diana Edelman
— If you had $1 million?
I’d set aside some money for me and my parents and brother, then donate the rest to animal rescue organizations like Goats of Anarchy. If you haven’t seen their Instagram, check it out; you’ll fall in love with the special needs goats.
— Favorite article of clothing?
I just purchased this ridiculous denim trench coat at a vintage shop in Toronto and I can’t get enough of it. It’s like wearing a Snuggie.
— Most recent music download?
I’ve been a longtime lover of Imagine Dragons, so as soon as their new album dropped I downloaded it. “Digital” is currently on repeat in my car.
I’ve got two cats I rescued in Thailand. I promised myself that I’d make sure they had their best chance at life (one of them was dying when I rescued him), so they’ve traversed the world with me, moving from Thailand to Madrid and, finally, Vegas.
— Places you always take visitors?
I love street art, so whenever people come to visit I always take them downtown to see how vibrant it is. We go there and then hit up VegeNation after.
— Favorite sport?
Hockey. Little known fact about me: I started my writing career in sports journalism covering hockey in the late ’90s.
— Most notable recent achievement?
In early November, I traveled to Miami to speak at the Seed Summit, a part of the Seed Food and Wine Festival. It’s been a dream of mine to participate in this summit that engages vegan and conscious entrepreneurs, bloggers and more, to be a part of it and speak on a panel with some incredible people about how to make change with positive messaging. It was truly an honor.