Interview With Anji Bee of Happy Healthy Vegan.

"I’ve always been an anti-establishment kind of person. Having been a part of the hard core punk scene as a kid and living my whole life in various underground or outsider scenes, I’ve long been exposed to “question authority” types of thinking. It’s really more that I felt this way towards society that drove me to veganism than the other way around." -Anji Bee

Anji Bee is one half of the YouTube duo, Happy Healthy Vegan. Together with her partner Ryan Lum, they have created a channel dedicated to promoting vegan health. Anji and Ryan have also been creating music under the Lovespirals moniker for over a decade now. With the rise in veganism and new scientific data creeping into the mainstream strata about the validity and long term benefits of a plant-based vegan lifestyle, we are beginning to see more and more people give up animal products and begin a new, cruelty free journey.

I had the opportunity to speak with her about how she began her journey as a vegan, music, and spirituality.

Prox: For those unfamiliar with the channel, what were some of the key factors in your decision to become vegan? Could you discuss your journey for us a bit? Was there a pivotal moment that made you say “ok, enough is enough”? 

Anji: I bought a 7” single by a band called MDC when I was in High School that contained a brochure titled, “Are You Really That Hungry?” It laid out a solid argument against eating meat, bringing up the fact that our starving third world populations could be fed by the staggering amount of grains Western culture used to fuel the cattle business, as well as the deplorable treatment of animals bred for food. I decided to go vegetarian right then and there. This was in the eighties, when even PETA was pushing “GO VEGETARIAN,” rather than vegan. Much later I learned about the health benefits of omitting dairy from your diet, and because I was already suffering due to lactose intolerance issues, I knew I had to take the next step. By this time, too, the Internet had made it much easier to learn about the injustice and cruelty of the dairy and egg industries.

Prox: Were there any ideas or foods that you had trouble letting go of in the beginning since you made the switch much later in life?

Anji: Well, obviously it was the dairy that had kept me from being vegan much earlier in life. At the time I went vegetarian, which was considered quite radical still in the 80’s, I switched to buying a brand of cheese sold primarily in health food stores that claimed to be free range, organic, natural, blah blah blah. Same with the eggs I bought. Over the years, as new products came to market, I switched over to things like soymilk or Tofutti ice cream, cream cheese etc. By the time I started dating Ryan in 1998, I wasn’t buying eggs or milk and only casually consumed foods containing them when dining out. I lowered my standards at the time because I felt that going easier on Ryan would help to transition him quickly to a vegetarian diet, and then we could work on going vegan together afterwards. 

I looked back at my journal today to find that in 2008 I said, “I’m trying really hard again to go vegan. I want to cut out dairy as much as possible, though I know sometimes it will be hard when we are eating out, like in Vegas this weekend. It was nearly impossible in December and shall be again, I’d imagine.” It seems so easy to be vegan in today’s day and age, with so many vegan resources surrounding us and information so readily available, but my journey runs pretty much parallel to the rise of veganism in popular culture. From subscribing to Vegetarian Times in the mid-80’s to having a vegan YouTube show in the 2010’s. What a trip.

Prox: While we often hear a lot about the physical health benefits of a vegan diet, it isn’t as common to hear about the mental and spiritual improvements one could expect. Have you noticed a more prominent interest in spirituality since making the switch?

Anji: No. I have always been a spiritual person, seeking truth in various schools of thought since I was a child. Of course, finally getting rid of dairy helped heal lingering ailments I had suffered throughout my life, so being healthy lead to me getting more fit, and being more fit and healthy helps me feel happier, and being happier can lead to stronger feelings of connection of a spiritual nature. It just so happens that at the same time I was embracing veganism as a lifestyle I also got into Kundalini Yoga, which has helped me refocus my energy in significant ways.

Prox: After seeing some of the tactics used by the meat and medicine industries to confuse consumers, have you become more privy to tactics used by other power structures as a result of your research into veganism?

Anji: Not really. I’ve always been an anti-establishment kind of person. Having been a part of the hard core punk scene as a kid and living my whole life in various underground or outsider scenes, I’ve long been exposed to “question authority” types of thinking. It’s really more that I felt this way towards society that drove me to veganism than the other way around.

Prox: What are some foods that you are eager to see become vegan-friendly?

Anji: Hmm… I feel like anything I’ve ever missed eating has already had a vegan friendly version made, especially now that there are vegan eggs! I haven’t tried the commercially produced vegan tuna yet, but I really should, as that was the last meat based food that I was reluctant to give up, based on taste alone. These days vegan cheese, ice cream, yogurt, chocolate, caramel etc are all so freaking tasty that it actually makes me a little sad that they weren’t invented BEFORE I decided that whole food eating makes the most sense. I’ve been dabbling with some of these products the past year, though, just because it’s so amazing to me to see these comfort foods come to market after a lifetime of dreaming of this day.

Prox: What initially sparked your interest in downtempo, jazz, and chill out? How did you decide that this was the type of music that you wanted to create?

Anji: It sounds like you’re referring to the Anji Bee solo album that came out a few years ago? That was a project of mine which was a long time coming. Ryan and I started working on music together in 1999, when he was immersed in the drum n bass scene, but coming out of a long history of making goth-tinged dream pop. I was a college radio DJ at the time, spinning a number of different genres. I’ve always had a voracious appetite for music and love discovering new styles and artists. He and I started exploring all the new types of electronica music being made in the late 90’s, early 2000’s: trip hop, downtempo, deep house, chillout lounge etc etc. I got really involved in the online music scene, doing streaming radio and then podcasts, and I met a lot of musicians through my endeavors. Here and there I would get involved in musical collaborations online, though a lot of these songs were never properly released, or in some cases, even fully completed to my satisfaction. Fast forward to 2010… Ryan and I had just released our 4th album as Lovespirals and Ryan suggested we switch gears to a project based on some of these incomplete song ideas of mine. He thought it would be fun to do something lighter than the heavy guitar-based material we had written for ‘Future Past,’ and also wanted to support me as a solo artist, giving me more leeway as a composer, as well as a lyricist. So he selected some of the jazzier and laid backs songs I’d worked on over the prior decade and set about to create or re-create the music for them.

I’m more or less at his mercy with music, as I don’t play any instruments and only know the basics of programming. Were it up to me, I’d be working in more modern genres, like I play on my show, The Chillcast, but I’m not a producer, so I just focus on how I can best contribute lyrically and vocally to any projects I’m invited to work on. My voice lends itself quite well to jazzy and soulful music, but I’m pretty comfortable singing on dream pop, alt country, and retro rock music, too. Ryan and I like to mix genres, so you never know what we’re gonna do next, honestly.

Prox: I’ve always wanted to see the process that goes into the music that you make. Could we possibly see a video documenting the process someday?

Anji: I’ve posted clips of us working in the studio here and there. I tried to document the making of ‘Future Past,’ but Ryan wasn’t hip yet to the whole vlogging lifestyle so I didn’t film nearly as much of the process as I had hoped to. There’s a small playlist on the Lovespirals Facebook page from those sessions. Maybe I’ll edit some of those clips together for a Flashback Friday vlog on Happy Healthy Vegan sometime. Meanwhile, it just so happens that I included a couple clips of us working on a new song in our latest vlog going up this week, and I know I’ve had a couple clips of us playing around with music in the past. Nothing major, just part of the flow of our day. As for the actual writing of a song, that would be tough to capture, because we are way too in-the-moment to start videoing ourselves. We generally will record the audio at some point, these days on my phone, to make sure we don’t forget it later. But who knows, as we grow more comfortable living our lives on camera, we could end up documenting the process more fully. Our new album is really close to completion, but I’ll see what I can do.

Prox: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists, YouTube channels, and authors that you find yourself supporting these days?

Anji: I go through music very quickly; books, too. I have been loyally following some folks for a few years, though. JMSN is an artist I’ve seen play many times and support heavily on my show and social media. I think Ryan’s warmed up to him a bit, too. Shy Girls is another artist I enjoy a lot, in fact I have tickets to see him next week. Active Child I saw on his last 2 tours and own pretty much everything he’s done. I almost hate to admit that I’ve been a hard core fan of The Weeknd since 2012. I’ve seen his last 3 tours and wanted to go the year before that. I didn’t buy tickets for his show this year because he’s so popular now that I’m a little put off. I don’t know, you know, on the one hand I know his lyrics are very negative but there’s a part of me that’s drawn to that pain and darkness. Same with the other guys I mentioned above, TBH. If you ever want to know what I’m listening to, just check out my latest mix for The Chillcast. I feature a lot of really underground artists as well as some of the bigger ones, often remixed by smaller producers.

Lately I haven't been watching much YouTube, but I'll admit that the account I'm always most excited to see an update from is Catalyst Yogi. He's an American Kundalini Yoga instructor that works from from Yogi Bhajan's teachings but who also throws in his own modern perspective. I've been practicing kundalini yoga for a number of years with a few local instructors, and found it to be my favorite branch of yoga. I still do hatha yoga, too, but kundalini speaks to me the most.

As for vegan channels, I try to keep up with my friend's shows when I can. I know a lot of vloggers like Sweet Simple Vegan, Izzy Davis, Plantriotic, Sonia Elsie, Apples and Amanda, well, I could list a ton. I also dig Mic the Vegan for his well researched videos, Mr & Mrs Vegan for all of their community outreach, Vegan Hustle TV for his London steez, and Nutrition Facts for all of the amazing work Dr. Gregor does in digging thru the medical research to find  the truth. Plant Based News is a great show, too.

As for authors, I don’t really know who I’d give a shout out to. Typically I used to read vintage fiction, and was very obsessed by writers from the 30’s, like Anais Nin, her contemporaries and all the American expats in Paris, as well as 1920’s female authors, and vintage children’s mystery series. I was really into the Beats for awhile, too. I’ve always loved reproduced journals or letter collections and biographies of writers. I used to read a bit of women’s erotica, which lead me to reading Anne Rice’s books, and Erica Jong, and even Jeanette Winterson, who I really admire. Recently I started exploring the YA scene, devouring whole series of books via the library. I read everything by Lauren Oliver last year and over the past 2 years I think I read almost all the Sara Shepard books, most of the Cecily von Ziegesar books. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I kind of enjoy exploring those adolescent issues from my adult perspective. I wasn’t reading this type of book when I was a kid, I was reading adult novels. I don’t even know if the whole YA genre existed then, really. 

Honestly, I could talk about music and books all day. 

Prox: Tips for artists and those interested in going vegan?

Anji: Wow, two totally different issues. My tip for artists is to be as authentically yourself as possible and do it for the love of your art, and not fame or fortune. My tip to those going vegan is to arm yourself with information and to learn how to cook. If you can cook, you can be vegan. Rice, beans and legumes, potatoes; those are all easy to cook, inexpensive to buy, and can be combined with so many different veggies, greens, fruits and spices that you can eat quite well and be healthy in the process. Eating vegan out is getting easier and easier, but is generally much more expensive than eating food made at home. If you are dining out, use resources like Yelp or Happy Cow to find out what spots are vegan friendly wherever you travel.

I learned from interactions with fans of the Happy Healthy Vegan that a lot of kids aren't really learning basic cooking skills these days, so when I put together my first cookbook, Keep It Carbed, Baby!, I took care to write recipes that are pretty basic. Not only did I try to keep the cooking methods simple but I stuck with basic ingredients, as well. Rather than dazzle folks with dance recipes you might make for a fancy dinner party, I focused on meals I make on a regular basis. At the same time, I'm encouraging my viewers to explore fresh seasonal produce. I love getting tagged on the fans IG pics of their meals, getting their feedback on the food, and being able to encourage them in their journey.

Prox: Favorite Hobbies?

Anji: Listening to music, dancing, writing and recording songs, reading books, taking photos, creating videos, practicing yoga, cooking.

Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?

Anji: Lovespirals 5th album, tentatively titled ‘Dark Night of the Soul,’ is well underway. We’ve already released 2 singles, including music videos that we filmed and I edited. I hope to do more videos for the album this year. Not sure when we’ll get the album out, but this year for sure. 

I’ve been talking about collecting my raw vegan recipes together for a mini-cookbook this year. It’s possible we’ll do an app version of my ‘Keep It Carbed, Baby!’ cookbook so that I can update it with new recipes, instead. I don’t know much about creating apps, so we’ll see.

There’s been some discussion about me releasing all of my songs with The Grooveblaster as an Anji Bee album, but I think we still need to write 1 or 2 more new songs to fill that out. I’m not sure if I’d press CDs or keep it all digital. I don’t know, I’m going to be so busy finishing up the Lovespirals album, designing artwork, writing up PR, working on distribution and promotion -- all things that I handle myself, btw, that I’m not sure I have time to do this album, as well.

Prox: Final Thoughts?

Anji: Thanks for showing an interest in my various online pursuits. I appreciate your support!

Check out youtube.com/happyhealthyvegan for our videos, and happyhealthyvegan.org for my cookbook “Keep It Carbed, Baby!” and the tees I design for Happy Healthy Vegan. For my music show, The Chillcast, follow me at mixcloud.com/anjibee. I also post the playlists at soundcloud.com/chillcast. For Lovespirals, you can check out lovespirals.bandcamp.com or just look us up on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, or whatever music service you like and we should be on there. Same with Anji Bee music.

Overview of musical collaborations mix:

https://www.mixcloud.com/anjibee/chillcast-guest-dj-for-tranquil-beats-on-bondfire-radio-part-3-5/

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