Welcome to a week of guest-written features here on Our Hen House! To start us off, we are joined by the talented Sayward Rebhal, who is giving us a very special inside glimpse into Victoria Moran‘s much buzzed about program, Main Street Vegan Academy.
Main Street Vegan Academy Will Change Your Life
by Sayward Rebhal
I didn’t quite know what to expect the first time I knocked on activist and author Victoria Moran’s front door, all jet-lagged and jitter-nerved on that blustery winter day back in February.
Okay, so that’s not entirely true. I’m the kind of lady who does her homework, which means I’d emailed and picked the brain of every Main Street Vegan Academy (MSVA) graduate I could. So I actually knew enough to know that I was in for something special. I could anticipate the general way that class would be structured, I already understood that the guest lecturers would vary but the caliber of their acumen would not, and – most importantly – I had already planned out which desserts I should order at every restaurant we would visit. So, in a way, I knew quite a bit. But as it turns out, I really had no idea what was in store.
MSVA is the brainchild of the brilliant and prolific Victoria Moran. And man does it deliver, in the form of an intensive crash course of Awesome. The full five-day program is offered four times a year, with tuition at $1,495. Geared toward a variety of students – from folks (vegan or not) looking to deepen their knowledge of plant-based living, to anyone interested in learning how to spread that knowledge to others – the curriculum covers everything from nutrition, to how to work with clients, to ethical fashion, public speaking, vegan history, raw foods, ayurveda, food demos and presentations, and animal rights theory. Oh yeah, and when you graduate, you’re certified as a Vegan Lifestyle Coach (VLC).
Clearly, there’s a lot of material to cover, so MSVA doesn’t mess around. Not for the faint of heart, ya hear? You’re expected to hit the ground running and don’t you even dare think that you’ll stop. With days beginning at 7 or 8 a.m., and group dinners that often go past 9 or even 10 at night, you log a lot of hours in those five short days. It’s ruthless – and very rewarding.
Each day starts with a home-cooked breakfast prepared by Victoria herself (and her assistants). There’s food, tea, and chitchat … and then it’s time to get down to business. Formal class is held in Victoria’s living room, in the comfiness of squishy sofas and overstuffed chairs. Guest lecturers are scheduled back-to-back on most days, and many of them project their presentation on a drop-down screen. The atmosphere is both intimate and intellectual, making it perfectly conducive to true learning.
My class was composed of 11 eager students hailing from all across the country, and even around the globe: me, a writer from sunny California; another, a reverend from Texas; a third, a Jivamukti yoga instructor from North Carolina. One ambitious jet-setting personal stylist came all the way from Qatar. We heard talks given by “LaDiva Dietitan” Marty Davey, MS, RD, LDN; ethical fashion icons Joshua Katcher and Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart; outreach coordinator of Vegbooks, Jennifer Gannett, environmental advocate Michael Parrish DuDell; esteemed dessert chef Fran Costigan; vegan lifestyle coaches Dianne Wenz, Alicia Leeds Meyers, and Jaime Karpovich; historian Rynn Berry; social media maven Sharon Nazarian; and, of course, Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House – who gave a talk on animal rights and the basics of animal law.
Something that’s unique about MSVA, as opposed to what you’d experience at a VegFest or other event, is the scale. It’s you and a handful of other students, face to face with these incredible teachers, in a cozy room, just shootin’ the shiitake. The opportunity to spend that sort of quality time with so many amazing vegan movers and shakers is truly what sets MSVA apart. And it is, in my opinion, the most valuable component of the program.
But MSVA isn’t all just lounging around in living rooms. There are also plenty of field trips that take you all around New York. Our class got to chat with the purveyors of fancy vegan coats at Vaute (formerly Vaute Couture) in Brooklyn, stop at the acclaimed bakery BabyCakes for gluten-free pastries, and get our green on at a little East Village raw boutique called High Vibe. Future students may also venture to other ethically minded places, like vegan shoe store MooShoes, the fragrant Dual Specialty Spice Shop, the workplace of a cruelty-free cosmetics specialist, and on and on. One of my favorite field trips was a tour of a Harlem grocery store – which resembled a store you’d find in most places in the country – where we learned how to walk our clients through the ins and outs of healthy shopping.
When we weren’t in classes or taking trips, we were eating our way through the city, savoring the famous raw lasagna at Pure Food and Wine, chickpea fritters at Blossom, and seitan piccata at Candle 79, which so many of us had only dreamed about for so long. MSVA is indeed as much an adventure for your palate as it is an exercise for your brain.
By the time it was all over, I was reeling. I had learned so much and had been exposed to so many incredible opportunities that it was hard to take in the overwhelming magnitude of the full experience. This was true to such a degree that I almost forgot that MSVA wasn’t just an experience I had been seeking. It wasn’t until the last moments of the last day that I remembered – I was also leaving New York with a diploma!
So maybe you’re wondering what a Vegan Lifestyle Coach is, anyway? Quite simply, a VLC is trained to help people become and stay vegan. We are guides, educators, and motivators. We offer information and inspiration. We can help you cut out cheese, stick to your grocery budget, lose weight, or cruelty-free-ify your bathroom cabinet. We can’t diagnose or treat disease, but hey, that’s what healthcare practitioners are for. We do the rest, the lifestyle stuff.
In the six weeks since I’ve been back in California, I’ve begun to use my degree to work with clients, helping them embrace veganism with a full stomach and a full heart. As expected, I am finding this work exquisitely rewarding – and it never would have been possible without MSVA and the guidance of Victoria Moran. Helping people make the changes they desire, to become the kind of person they imagine themselves to be? Well, it just fills me with gratitude. And think of the ripple effect!
Sayward Rebhal is a writer, a mother, a mover, and a maker. She recently became a certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator. Sayward lives in Southern California, where she worships the sun on a daily basis. She is the author of Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide (Herbivore, 2011), and she blogs at Bonzai Aphrodite.