As a TV and web host, presenter, writer, and producer, Vanessa Rae has worked at MTV, VH1, SciFi, E!, and Today show on MSNBC.com. We talked to Vanessa about her passion for veganism, the environment, healthy eating, staying positive, and career advice. Read on for her infectiously inspirational tips on living life to the fullest!
PD: Welcome to PD! First things first—when and why did you first decide to become vegan?
VR: Hi Peaceful Dumpling!
In school, I was already a vegetarian and had a best friend who was a vegan. By the time I started working I wasn’t eating cheese, eggs, or drinking milk unless they happened to be in something already prepared. I was at the MTV cafeteria when another MTV employee heard me order and asked if I was a vegetarian. When I said yes, he mentioned that he was a vegan and suggested I give it a shot. I had always wanted to so I thought, why not now?
Since then I’ve learned even more about the benefits for animals, the planet, and my own health.
PD: You’re a passionate advocate for the environment. What do you think is the best way to contribute to preserving the environment?
VR: I think it’s the little things we do every day. A lot of small acts, if adopted by a large group of people, lead to big change. And it’s easy for people to integrate some of these small habits into their daily routines. So I carry around my own water container and don’t buy bottled water, bring my own reusable coffee/tea container to coffee shops if I go there to meet someone, and always make sure to recycle. I used to drive my family crazy turning off lights when they left a room. I choose to buy local and organic produce whenever possible, to support local farmers and to cut down on emissions from shipping.
Not only is a vegan lifestyle a compassionate one, it is one of the best things someone can do for the environment. A lot of resources are used to raise and transport animals for food (land, water, feed, fuel) compared with the resources needed to produce vegetables, grains, and other vegan food. All of those extra wasted resources could be used to help feed and provide for humans in need. Being a vegan is a great way for someone to reduce his or her carbon footprint.
PD: Is it really true you didn’t have a prom date? It is pretty hard to believe.
VR: The National Envirothon was on the same weekend as my high school prom.
I did have one offer; someone from another state had mentioned he would take me to my prom, but he would have had to fly in to take me. I was conflicted because on one hand I knew that prom is one of those archetypal coming of age high school experiences that people nostalgically reminisce about as adults. The Enviro-Geek in me really wanted to compete in the Envirothon and the nonconformist outsider in me was weighing the excuse of being literally too cool for school, or at least for the school prom. So I procrastinated on the decision, called the guy really last minute and asked what he was doing on the weekend of my prom (without referencing that my prom was on that weekend). He said that he had a baseball game and asked why I was asking. “No reason” was my response. So in the end I traveled with the rest of my team to represent the State of Florida in the National Envirothon. My category was soil.
PD: Well, now you certainly don’t look like you would have any trouble in the dating department. But of course, dating as a vegan can be a bit of a curve ball. Have you had to deal with any awkward situations in the dating scene?
VR: Just as I appreciate people being open-minded and respecting my beliefs, I try not to judge others even when I strongly disagree with them. I notice that because I don’t criticize other people but rather just inform them when they have questions about being a vegan, they are more curious about it and often try to incorporate vegan meals into their own lives. People often ask me why I’m a vegan and I’m able to tell them about the health benefits, benefits to the environment, and benefits to animals. While I’ve never had the pleasure of dating another vegan, my non vegan boyfriend has become an amazing vegan cook and loves sharing vegan meals with me. He knows all of the right questions to ask when ordering (no fish sauce in the Thai curry) and I sometimes overhear him talking with friends about how easy it is to eat delicious vegan food, whether dining in a restaurant or preparing a meal at home. I’m glad some of my vegan ways are rubbing off on him.
PD: He sounds like a dreamboat! Now, as a host of Today show/MSNBC.com, can you tell us how you stay in shape for the camera?
VR: I add a lot of variety to spice up my fitness routine to make it less repetitive, mainly because I get bored doing the same thing but also because I know that cross training is the best way to work all of the different parts of your body. I find that going to classes works really well for me because that way I feel like I have an appointment that I need to keep. I also like the camaraderie of being in a class with other people…it feels like we’re all in it together. I can challenge myself and get encouragement when I see that other people in the class are pushing themselves. I’m happiest when I’m doing a frequent combination of yoga, pilates, total body conditioning (weights, cardio, etc.), cycling, boxing, and running. I love swimming, hiking, and outdoor sports whenever I have the chance (usually on vacation). I used to live in a 5th floor walk up and that really worked my legs and butt.
PD: With such a busy schedule and an active lifestyle, how do you maintain a balanced diet?
VR: This is always challenging for me because my schedule is different every day so it’s difficult to establish a set routine.
I’m really lucky that I live in New York City, where there are lots of healthy grocery stores and farmers’ markets with organic vegetables produced in the region. There are also so many great vegan restaurants and cafes (Blossom, Candle Café, Peacefood Café, Snice, Dirt Candy, Pure Food and Wine are a few I love) where I can always find a great dinner or vegan food on the go.
There are certain foods and ingredients that I know I need in my diet/are really good for me so I try to have them around at all times so they can be easily incorporated into meals I prepare at home. My go to lunch is a Kale salad. Kale doesn’t taste that great unless it’s flavored well, so I chop it up into fine pieces and mix it in with quinoa, a lot of healthy veggies, avocado, olive oil, lime juice, Bragg’s liquid aminos, and add some crushed flax seeds on top.
Since I realized that having all of the toppings I like chopped ahead of time makes it a lot easier and much more likely that I will eat that kale salad than if I have to prepare everything from scratch each time, I try to set aside time in the beginning of the week to do all of the chopping and store the vegetables in separate bowls or glass containers so they are ready to go once it’s time for lunch or dinner.
PD: That sounds delicious! Now, some career questions: in your job as a reporter and a host, you’ve had to interview lots of celebrities. Who was your favorite celebrity to interview and why?
VR: I got to interview Stevie Wonder for a piece that I pitched and produced for MTV News for Black History Month. The segment was about African American hair and I was going to the salon where Stevie Wonder gets his hair done in New York to interview the owner and some of the patrons. I had just arrived when the owner received a phone call. When she was off she told me it had been “Stevie” on the phone, he was coming in to get his hair done, and he was willing to let me interview him. I grew up listening to his music with my parents (my birth song is “Isn’t She Lovely”) and he is such a music legend, it was really wonderful to meet him in person. He was very kind and his interview really helped me tell a story I was extremely passionate about.
PD: TV hosting is not a path well-trodden like say, investment banking or law. With your degree from Boston University, you could have gone into the usual lucrative fields—were you ever tempted to follow the crowd? How did you find the courage to pursue your passion?
VR: I think if you are one of those people who is lucky enough to have found your passion, you owe it to yourself to pursue it. My mom is my best friend and she really encouraged me from a young age to be true to myself and follow my own path. It’s not always easy, but everyone has his or own path to choose in life. That path can often be a meandering one, the important thing is to be open to change and to welcome new opportunities even when they seem challenging. Even when I’ve set goals for myself, things don’t always go as planned. I’ve realized I can’t control everything. I just have to do my best, work hard, show up and follow up. It’s great to be out of my comfort zone because it means I’m growing as a person.
VR: Recently I read a great quote in the book The Artist’s Way: “Leap, and the net will appear.”
If there is something you are really passionate about, go for it. Even if it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would, you will still learn valuable lessons, meet interesting people, and have great stories to tell. You will be on the right path even if your direction eventually changes.
If you’re not doing what you love, you don’t have to change everything in your life over night. That can be overwhelming and unrealistic. A great way to make a transition from a career that isn’t fulfilling in the way you want it to be is to do at least one thing every day that moves you towards your ideal situation. At the end of the week, month, year you can look back and see your progress.
Stay positive. It’s the best way to meet other people and attract opportunities. Keeping a gratitude journal, reflecting on even the smallest things you are thankful for, can really help you through tough days. Surround yourself with other positive people who like to help other people succeed.
Network with people who do what you want to do, involve yourself in projects you are interested in even if you are not getting paid at first so you get experience. Don’t just do it. Be it. Immerse yourself in it. Don’t be too hard on yourself, remember to have fun and enjoy the journey.