Celebrating Heroes in the Animal Rights Movement

Debbie Adler

Los Angeles based cookbook author and entrepreneur Debbie Adler has transformed the obstacles in her life into a multitude of successful ventures.

A self-taught vegan who satiated her craving for a delicious healthier cupcake by opening up the first vegan and gluten-free bakery in Los Angeles is now showing people all over the world just how sweet a healthier lifestyle can be.

Featured in Glamour Magazine, Sweet Debbie’s Bakery offers a dessert of the month sweet treat available for delivery and shipping nationwide and this is just one of the many perks available when you become a member, in addition to free weekly recipes, online courses, meal plans, and cooking demos.

Inspired by her son Shahn, Debbie’s first award-winning allergy-free and organic cookbook Sweet Debbie’s Organic Treats was voted “Best Gluten-Free Cookbook” by Delicious Living Magazine, a “Favorite Book” by Gluten-free & More Magazine, and a “Best Vegan Cookbook” by Green Vegan Living. Her second cookbook Sweet, Savory & Free was named “Best Vegan Cookbook of the Year” by Naked Food Magazine, and her most recent, The Mediterranean Plate takes things even further by highlighting delicious yet simple recipes free from gluten, salt, oil, and even sugar.

Debbie agreed to step away from her convection oven to tell us a little bit about her journey and how she has been able to inspire thousands of people with her infatuation with healthy, plant-based food.

Currently based in Los Angeles, CA., where did your journey begin?

I grew up in Queens, New York. My grandfather was a Kosher butcher so there was always meat in the freezer (and we had two of them). It never dawned on me that this was causing so much harm and suffering to animals. I didn’t make the connection until much later on. My parents never allowed me to have pets so I didn’t develop an affinity for animals until my son begged me for a dog when he was two years old. I was actually afraid of dogs, but his insistence propelled me to get one anyway. And boy, am I glad I did. The minute my puppy sat on my lap, I became an animal activist right there and then.

At what age did you become vegan?

I became vegan at the age of 31.

How was veganism introduced to you?

I was never formally introduced to veganism. I just didn’t like eating meat anymore so I stopped. But I was formally introduced to a whole food plant-based lifestyle in 2015 when I read The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. The gist of that book is that a Whole Food Plant-Based lifestyle helps prevent and reverse disease and should not include any salt, oil, or sugar.

Did you have any vegan family members or friends to inspire and support you?

No, I never had any vegan family members or friends until recently.

Please describe some of the struggles you’ve encountered along the way.

My struggles occurred when my son was born with severe and life-threatening food allergies. This became an issue because most of what he was allergic to were things like nuts and seeds, legumes, and beans. As every vegan knows, these foods are the bedrock of a vegan diet. I had to learn to come up with alternatives to these items so that my kitchen remained safe for my son. I became so good at swapping and substituting ingredients, that the publishers of The China Study asked me to write a book that was vegan and allergy-free and that became my second award-winning cookbook Sweet, Savory & Free.

What is the most significant experience you have had that has helped to shape your life?

Having my son has been the most significant experience of my life for many reasons. Firstly, my belief in my body’s ability to do anything I ask of it was fulfilled when I got pregnant at the age of 45 with no intervention. That helped shape my belief that if you truly, madly, deeply believe in something, more often than not, you can manifest it.

Secondly, when my son was born with severe and life-threatening food allergies, it forced me to reassess how I make food and how I was going to navigate keeping him alive.

Thirdly, my son’s enthusiasm for life injects me with a renewed sense of optimism, and his innate love for animals directly affects how I came to live a life of animal activism.

His being in my life has shaped me into who I am today.

Can you describe 3 major benchmarks in your story that are responsible for where you are today?

  1. I left the world of being a CPA on Wall Street to come out to California to be an actress.
  2. I became an entrepreneur instead.
  3. Having a child with severe and life-threatening food allergies changed my life.

What other activists inspire you or have inspired you?

Jane Velez-Mitchell of Unchained TV inspires me, and the young climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.

What is an average day for you?

An average day for me starts with a matcha latte and taking my son to school. Then I exercise by doing a combination of yoga, pilates, strength training, and walking my dog.

Then I go to work. If bakery orders need to go out, I do that. Then I sit down at my computer and figure out what new recipes I’ll share on social media for that day. I usually write an email with a new recipe for my followers for the following week and then I think about my larger activist goals and how to achieve them. Then I’ll go home and make dinner. If time allows I’ll watch a documentary with my husband.

Reflecting as far back as your childhood, what attracted you to the food industry?

I was never interested in the food industry until I opened up my bakery in 2006.

What has inspired your love of food? Vegan food?

My love of food is inspired by my hunger pains when I haven’t eaten. As far as I’m concerned, there is no other food other than vegan food.

What keeps you motivated?

What keeps me motivated is my love for animals. 

Would you ever open a vegan restaurant? Why or why not?

I have no plans to open a vegan restaurant. It’s a very tough business and people like to complain a lot about their food.

How do you describe your style of teaching how to cook vegan food?

Show and tell.

In your own words can you explain why vegan food is so important to the animal rights movement?

It’s very important to the animal rights movement because it advocates for the ethical treatment of animals. By adopting a vegan lifestyle, people are automatically reducing the suffering and exploitation of animals.

It directly affects what happens to animals. With no animal consumption, the animals wouldn’t be suffering. I read an article that said one year of veganism for one person saves the lives of 108 animals. That hits people!

In an effort to inspire others, what would you say is the best way to go about suggesting to local restaurants in one’s area to add a few vegan options to their menus?

I think the best way to ask local restaurants to add vegan options is to mention to the manager or owner that you’re a loyal customer. Then suggest some possible vegan options you think would be popular and that would sell well.

What are the top 3 life lessons you have learned being an activist?

  • I’ve learned that action is the antidote to despair. 
  • It’s imperative to join with like-minded people so you feel empowered.
  • …and it’s important to be a good listener even if you don’t agree with the other side.

What do you think of the present state of the AR movement and the vegan community?

I believe there has been an increased awareness of the ethical treatment of animals and the negative impacts of industries such as factory farming, animal testing, and fur production.

Many vegan individuals and organizations are now actively advocating for the rights and welfare of animals, pushing for legal reforms, and raising public awareness.

Also, the vegan community seems to have been growing steadily, which has led to more vegan options in restaurants and grocery stores. Influencers and celebrities on social media have played a significant role in the spread of animal rights awareness and veganism. 

How important is veganism to planet Earth’s future? Why?

Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The production of meat and dairy uses up enormous resources such as water and land and it also emits methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. When people adopt a vegan lifestyle, these effects are mitigated considerably and this preserves the natural ecosystems.

What events have you attended professionally and/or had a chance to speak?

I have spoken at the Food Allergy and Awareness Conferences and the Gluten-free Expos and I also annually attend the International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference.

What advice do you have for young activists just getting started in the movement?

I think young activists should present the truth about the exploitation of animals by presenting the facts. They should call out the environmentalists who still eat meat by showing the connection between animal agriculture and climate change. 

What advice do you have for activists who are frustrated with the movement?

If you’re a frustrated activist it’s okay to take a break and recharge. When you’re depleted it’s hard to fight for others. 

What would you change about the movement and how we interact with each other?

I wouldn’t change much, other than to remind people to always treat people with respect. Even the people who don’t agree with you.

What are some additional challenges you feel the movement and the vegan community are experiencing?

There is the challenge of social acceptance because veganism defies prevailing norms and traditions around food. Convincing others to adopt a vegan lifestyle can be met with skepticism and even hostility at times.

What frustrates you the most about your work? How do you overcome it? 

What frustrates me most is sometimes having to deal with people who lack knowledge about vegan nutrition yet claim to have all the answers and insist you need to eat animal products to be healthy. I overcome it by respectfully ignoring them.

Do you experience compassion fatigue? How do you self-care?

I actually don’t experience compassion fatigue. I just hold my love for the animals and the pain of their suffering in my heart simultaneously, at all times. I take care of myself by doing yoga, pilates, ballroom dancing, and taking my dog on a daily walk.

Any exciting new projects on the horizon for you?

I will be focusing my efforts now on getting slaughterhouses to transform and start curating plant-based meat. This way no one loses their job and the animals don’t lose their lives. Stay tuned! 

Follow Debbie on Instagram and Facebook.

You can also check out Chef Debbie’s website and everything it has to offer. 

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Celebrating Heroes in the Animal Rights Movement (CHARM) is a micro-program of Farm Animal Rights Movement FARM.
Do you know an ethical vegan who practices an abolitionist approach to animal exploitation, still active in the movement, has an interesting story to tell and is an unsung hero to animals and their vegan community?  We would like to hear about them.
 Suggest a candidate for a future CHARM feature below.

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