Interview! Nathalie VanBalen, Author of Happy Thanksliving!

We are so stoked on Nathalie VanBalen’s vegan Thanksgiving zine, Happy Thanksliving! It’s a coloring book-style zine. It’s pro-animal. It’s super friendly and super cute and totally essential for this year’s cruelty-free Thanksgiving.

We talked to Nathalie about veganness, zine-making, and her other book, the equally awesome vegan children’s book Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice. See Nathalie’s responses below. See Nathalie’s book and zine here

Q: Okay, to start off, tell us a little bit about how the zine came to be. When was it and what were you doing in your life when you first got the idea for Happy Thanksliving?

A: I work at a school here in Nashville with k-3rd graders, and they are all wild about my made-to-order coloring sheets. (“Ms. Nathalie, do you know how to draw a mama slug scuba diving with her toddler slug?”) I think they’re really fun to draw and I have wanted to make some kind of coloring book/zine. In mid-October I started thinking about the holidays, and Thanksgiving can be a tough one. I have many warm, fuzzy, family-loving feelings about the holiday, but Thanksgiving also facilitates and represents so much violence. I thought, “Wow. The world really needs more veg-themed Thanksgiving books for kids.” So I sat down after dinner and wrote the Happy Thanksliving! poem. I love to rhyme and it all came out easily. I was really feeling it. I cancelled all of my plans for a week and made the whole thing. I listened to tUnE-yArDs, old-time music, and lots of vegan podcasts. I did some research on turkeys and Indigenous peoples. I took breaks to dance.

Alt text

Q: We really like how you framed pro-animal/cruelty-free stuff in a sweet, good-hearted, friendly way. It’s in no way alienating and I think that’s the kind of stuff that wins the non-vegans and non-vegetarians over. Was this a conscious thing from the beginning?

A: Yes. I want to make things that raise important questions and spark dialog. At times I am overwhelmed with pain for oppressed animals. While I certainly think there is an outlet for anger, sadness, and frustration, I see that kids respond well to vibrant, inquisitive, creative compassion. When I made Happy Thanksliving! I wanted to express that we don’t miss out when we choose non-violence; instead, our celebrations become more meaningful and full of life.

Q: When did you go vegan? How did it happen?

A: In elementary school there were times when I felt really uncomfortable with the idea of eating animals. I would try going vegetarian, but it never stuck for long. As a teenager I began learning about factory farming and decided to stop eating animals for good. My parents (who are now mostly vegan) supported my choice, but living in suburban Ohio I didn’t have many resources. As I entered my college years my compassion grew and I was given more tools for thinking critically about the world around me. I saw connections between violence towards animals and other forms of violence. I started buying and preparing my own food. I could no longer justify consuming someone’s milk or eggs (even if they came from what I considered a “friendly” farm). Each bit of new information reinforced my choice. The dots were connected, and KABLAM! Vegan.

It was during this time that I was getting to know my partner, Ki. While I was busy learning about the ways our food choices impact others, he was busy learning about the ways they impact ourselves. For years, Ki had been passionately researching and synthesizing information about eating and exercise. He had such a rich and inquisitive understanding of human health. He also ate animals. Over time we have learned from each other, merged our methods, and now we work together to create delicious, exciting, nourishing, compassionate, plant-based meals in our home!

Q: You have another book that we here at Microcosm really love. Tell us a little bit about your book Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice. 

A: Garlic-Onion-Beet-Spinach-Mango-Carrot-Grapefruit Juice is a silly story that raises questions about eating animals. After purchasing an Ultra-Mega-Super-Xtreme-Juicemaster 5000, Aksel and Krog (two “totally pumped” vikings) are enthralled with the world of juicing. When they learn that yellow-spotted snail shells make a super-nutritious juice supplement, their thinking friend Thora stands up for the snails, asking: “How does it feel to be food?”

The characters in this book are dolls that I make by hand. I like that kids can play with the characters to continue the story in their own way. I made the first version of this book in 2008 when I was a student at Denison University, and self-published the title in 2010.

Q: Where can people get the dolls? They’re super cute.

Alt text

A: Thank you! The dolls are available through my website, I think the tweeters are super-cute. I also really enjoy using fabric markers to draw Thora’s heart and brain, as well as Aksel and Krog’s eyes. 

Alt text

Q: Finally, any ideas for what’ll be on your own Thanksgiving menu this year?

A: Winter squash, sweet potatoes, and greens! I volunteer at a vegetable farm in Nashville and most of my friends are growers, so I am swimming in a sea of fresh, fall veggies. My partner Ki and I will be hosting a vegan Thanksgiving feast, and I imagine our meal will resemble that in the zine. Plus a raw pecan pie and some kimchi or kraut!