Up close and personal with Sean O’Callaghan aka Fat Gay Vegan
The fifty year anniversary of Pride has been a momentous one, with activism and celebrations running all month long, from local events, parades and festivals, to the penultimate Pride in London. Tackling any form of inequality, whether human, animal, or nature-based is vital in a world where we want to see positive change, become permanent change. We sat down with long-term vegan and LGBTQIA+ public figure Sean O’Callaghan, best known as Fat Gay Vegan, to discuss his vegan journey, the importance of liberation movements such as Pride, and his upcoming events and ventures.
V-Land UK (V-L): Hi Sean, thanks for chatting with us today, we’d love to hear how your vegan journey began.
Sean O’Callaghan (SO): For me, like many vegans I imagine, my choice to live a more compassionate lifestyle was rooted in wanting to protect animals. I was vegetarian before I became vegan and back then I thought I was the height of compassion; I genuinely thought there was nothing else I could do as a vegetarian that could do more good for animals. Fast forward a few years as the internet became more prevalent in our lives I started to have access to more information, it was then that I began to see the realities of dairy farming and egg production. There wasn't a lot of vegan messaging out in the world like there is now, so it was thanks to the information that I found online that stood out to me as saying; ‘If you care about animals here’s something else you can do.’
For me, it was a real awakening to go from vegetarian to vegan, and once I understood, and the information in my brain matched the desire in heart, it was easy to switch from vegetarian to vegan. I felt guilty that I hadn’t realised sooner, I was still using products that weren’t vegan at the time, such as toothpaste and hairspray etc, but we are all on our own journey, and we all wake up in our own time, but that was over twenty years ago for me that my vegan journey began.
V-L: Twenty years is an amazing achievement. You wrote a book about your journey, Fat Gay Vegan; Eat, Drink and Live Like You Give a Sh*t, what made you want to share your journey with others?
SO: At the time I was helping support independent vegan businesses, working with different vegan brands, writing my vegan blog and running vegan events, but I’d had a desire ever since I was a child to write a book, I just didn't know what shape that would take. So when I was approached by a publisher here in London, saying that they liked the way I approached veganism, moving through the different types of social justice concerns that people could have, whether that be veganism or anti-oppression, they asked if I could write a book around those themes, a ‘Fat Gay Vegan’s guide to life’ as it were. The Fat Gay Vegan book was my manifesto of how to get the most out of being a compassionate person, and how to share that compassion.
V-L: That’s very inspiring. People are gravitating towards veganism more and more each day and books like this will no doubt help get the vegan message out there.
SO: For many people, it’s how we’re raised, until we see or read something that resonates, we don’t know any different. In my book there are stories from my childhood, where I talk about not knowing any different. As a child I was taken to the circus to see animals, I was raised seeing people fishing as I grew up in Australia near the beach, I witnessed people betting on the Melbourne Cup and horse racing, and saw the amount of animal food waste at Christmas time and at family gatherings. It was such an ingrained part of my cultural experience, to undo that conditioning was such a big job, but I was happy to do that job. Once I was aware of the reality, sharing my story was always going to be the next step for me.
V-L: What’s the feedback from your book been like?
SO: I think the stories within the book really resonated with people, because, I didn’t just say, “Here’s why you should be vegan, go vegan.” The book was built around my own personal stories, and personal stories of my friends and our shared history. I asked my friend Michele to talk about what it’s like to be a disabled person and to be vegan, and to live a vegan lifestyle. I talked to my friend Helen who used to come to my events regularly, she was vegetarian for many years and she talks about her experience of being accepted into the vegan community and being able to come around to veganism in her own time, without feeling shame or ridicule. The book talks about why it’s good to be vegan, but also the other challenges we face as vegans and why we should be fighting all forms of oppression.
We don’t just have to be vegan. We don’t have to pick or choose one battle.
V-L: We couldn’t agree more, it’s vital that we attain equality for all living beings, human and animals alike. If enough people make their voices heard, we stand a bigger chance of making positive, permanent change. With that in mind, did you celebrate Pride this month?
SO: I celebrate pride every day of the year. I live in Soho in London so if I look out of my window, there are rainbow flags every day of the year, I don’t have to choose which days I celebrate. But I do like to elevate ideas and voices around what Pride means. Pride isn’t just a celebration, it’s a protest, and I got to explore what that protest means in my first column with Plant Based News, entitled LGBTQIA+ people are for life, not just Pride month, which went out earlier this week. The piece is about how brands use pride month to market to the LGBTQIA+ community but often forget about us the rest of the year. Much like how greenwashing happens, ‘pinkwashing’ happens in June for Pride month, and then brands may not be as mindful about LGBTQIA+ communities the rest of the year.
What was important for me was to voice that Pride isn’t just a celebration, and why it’s important for us to fight for rights, not just to celebrate who we are, but to fight for protection for ourselves and our communities, because this is where Pride was born, and that’s why it was necessary, and why it is still necessary. For me, celebrating Pride is about perpetuating why we do it. Getting behind it and saying; this is why we needed it in the past, this is why we need it now, and this is why we need it in the future.
Much like what happens with veganism and how the message gets watered down by a lot of people, and the original intention of veganism can often get forgotten, similar things can happen to other social justice movements, such as Pride. People think it’s just about having a gay bar or a drag queen where you can go and celebrate, and yes that is important, but the underlining struggle needs to be recognised and dealt with, and not forgotten.
V-L: We think it’s great that you spoke out about this, many of our team are a part of the LGBTQIA+ family and Pride is a movement that is close to all of our hearts, especially our founder Will and his husband Martin.
V-L: Are there any projects you have in the pipeline that you’d like to share with our readers?
SO: I’m really excited to be working with a company called Nxt Lvl Pza which is a new start-up vegan pizza company which is opening delivery kitchens around London. It’s about making vegan pizza accessible and affordable for everyone. It's a completely vegan company, the pizza itself is delicious and I’m really happy to be working with them. I get to be Fat Gay Vegan in a professional setting so I get to go to corporate-style meetings and give my opinion which is really fun. We’re having our official launch party in Hackney in the coming weeks so people can look out for that.
I also work with a fantastic company called Vegan Culinary Cruises, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to have our first departure due to the pandemic. We're hoping to launch a hotel based land tour next year in the National Parks in the USA to ease people into feeling safe about travelling again, and hopefully we’ll get the cruises up and running not too soon after.
I also run London Vegan Social, running various social events for vegans in the London area. We have social gatherings and karaoke, a vegan board game afternoon once a month, an LGBTQIA+ karaoke evening, and last week I hosted my first Vegan Business Owner Social where independent vegan business owners could network, share stories and help each other out. People can find out more about London Vegan Social meetings on my blog.
V-L: The events sound great, we’ll have to pop in for a karaoke session soon! It’s been lovely hearing about your journey and everything you have coming up Sean, can you leave our readers with one sentence on why people should go vegan?
SO: Sure. It’s an easy way to do better.
We couldn’t agree more. Want to keep up with all things Fat Gay Vegan? You can sign up to the mailing list, or check out his vegan blog, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook for all the latest news and events.
For more exciting interviews with inspiring vegans, check out our interviews section. Next week we’ll be chatting with The Vegan Society on a life-changing campaign for vegan students in UK schools. Have a fav vegan individual or brand you’d like us to interview? Let us know on Instagram or Twitter.