Interview with Conservationist Elissa Sursara

Elissa Sursara is an Australian actress and animal rights activist, born February 14, 1988. She is of a growing influence in the animal rights community and is based in Los Angeles, California. She is a long-time ethical vegan and promotes an abolitionist approach to animal rights as well as a biocentric world view.

Interview by Joseph Smith:

JS: What made you become vegan?

ES: I didn’t know much about modern food production as a child. My thoughtless conclusion was that animals roamed pastures and were ‘humanely’ slaughtered – an admittedly terrible postulation. I assumed that a diet with the inclusion of meat epitomized health and I believed that because it’s a customary thing to do, it was justified. Cogent packaging fooled me; I trusted that a picture of a happy cow on a tub of butter was a reliable representation of farming and didn’t recognize it as propaganda. When I was fifteen, I was shown footage of cows on a dairy farm that were poked and probed with an electric rod and sodomized before slaughter. The footage bridged the gap between right and wrong, created a connection to animals and greatly changed my life. I became vegan immediately.

JS: Is it difficult to be a vegan in the entertainment industry?

ES: Veganism isn’t something that will dictate your success in the entertainment industry – it’s neither a plus nor a minus. Some of the industry’s most distinguished entertainers are vegan; others aren’t.

JS: What is your view of consuming small amounts of animal products?

ES: Veganism is about forgoing the use of animals wherever possible. Asking vegans to stop driving their cars and using their computers because these items contain diminutive amounts of animal product is an impossible request, because boycotting such things is not viable with productive life. However, asking vegans to refrain from consuming food cooked with animal stocks and to politely reject cheese at meal times is within possibility and should be more seriously – if not always – encouraged.


JS: Do you find vegan cooking challenging?

ES: The task of cooking for myself was slightly more challenging in my early days as a vegan, but I was fifteen and lacked the motivation to prepare and bring a meal to fruition. After some initial failures, I conquered vegan cooking and quickly fell in love with it. As an adult, I see cooking as a chance to truly think outside of the box and experiment. I’ve grown to love farmers markets and organic produce; I love my culinary creativity and the feeling of conquering new recipes and I’m excited by the chance to cook.

JS: Do you have any culinary specialties or a favourite meal?

ES: My signature dish is vegan korma. It’s something I execute very well and it’s become quite the crowd pleaser. I try to avoid recycling meals (a facile goal considering the abundance of vegan choices) and for that reason I am unable to nominate a particular favourite. I’m very attracted to chickpeas, ginger, onion, coriander, lentils, spinach and chili; so Indian food is always a first choice.

JS: How do you maintain your health as a vegan?

ES: Veganism fights a bad rap when it comes to health and practicality and I blame the vegetarians of the 70s; they congregated together to eat brown rice and broccoli, never daring to try something new or understand their basic dietary needs. I think a lot of the problems vegans face regarding their health stem from the fact that they don’t quite exhaust the variety, or that they, not unlike many meat eaters, are poorly informed about what foods provide what nutrition. A plant-based diet is incredibly healthy, but you must incorporate all the right things. My day-to-day plan consists of five servings of grains and starchy vegetables (cereals, rice, pasta, quinoa, yams, potatoes and bread), three servings of legumes and soyfoods (beans, tofu, tempeh, fortified soymilk), one or two servings of nuts and seeds, four servings of vegetables and two or three servings of fruit. I drink a lot of water and I love to make fruit juice smoothies. I eat well, but I consume a moderate amount of fat. I find it hard to resist vegan treats and comfort foods, whether they be deep fried oreos, samosas, pizza, chili cheese fries, burgers, ice cream, sorbets and nachos, so I make an effort to combine my eating habits with regular exercise. I supplement regularly with a chewable supplement to make sure that I’m meeting all my requirements (B12, Iodine, Vitamin D) on days where I’m unwell, haven’t eaten much or haven’t eaten very healthily.

JS: What are some of your favourite vegan restaurants?

ES: The cool thing about vegan food is that even take-away options are relatively healthy, making my affection for vegan restaurants, bakeries and cafes more admissible. I enjoy eating at California Vegan (I love their Pad Thai, Kung Pao, Spicy Eggplant and Thai Yellow Curry), the Las Vegan Bakery (because they make the best hand cut potato wedges), Lord of the Fries (I favor their onion rings “Munch Box” and vegan burgers), Red Bamboo (I often find myself thinking about their Barbecue Buffalo Wings, sesame garlic dipping sauce and vegetable and spinach dumplings), Govindas (who make the best savoury vegetable puffs and pappadam), Loving Hut (for their Beijing Black Bean, Laksa, Lasagne and Mushroom Carbonara) and, of course, Madeleine’s Bistro (because I love a good Bistro Box). My favourite vegan bakery is Vegan Treats, home of the best Peanut Butter Bombs, French Pastries and Doughnuts in the world.

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