PD: Romas–you are a vegan, LGBT and animal rights activist, and a filmmaker. Can you share with Peaceful Dumpling readers a little about who you are as a person?
RZ: I’m an openly gay indie filmmaker, outspoken for LGBT equality and social justice–including, recently, animal rights. I just can’t manage to keep my mouth closed when I see injustice, and there is so much of it.
I made first Lithuanian gay short Porno Melodrama in 2011, and launched my career after premiering it at the Berlinale festival and winning best short film award at Bushwick Film Festival, New York. I followed with a feature about racism, corruption, homophobia and talented electronic musicians, shot between New York and Vilnius, We Will Riot (2013). Now I just finished shooting my second feature, queer road movie You Can’t Escape Lithuania, set to be released next year. I also started a LGBT Friendly Vilnius initiative in 2012, aimed to make Vilnius a friendlier place for everyone.
My last film was crowdfunded with two different campaigns. For the first one, I got naked. For the second, all my team agreed to go vegan!
With the latter campaign, we teamed up with the animal rights organization “Tušti Narvai” (Empty Cages) and proved that vegan food is nutrient-dense and protein-rich, even for such physically demanding work as a film shoot.
We will soon release the making-of video, showing how people felt during this experiment. It’s very encouraging to see that we already have a lot of support from both vegans and vegan-friendly people, who will hopefully learn more about veganism. Below are two pictures of some of the snacks we offered our crew during the filming of The Vegan Filmmaking Challenge.
I would say that my motto in everything is to stay radical yet positive at the same time. We need radical changes in our world, and we will achieve them only if we are positive and believe that anything is possible!
My crowdfundings are already finished, but due to unexpected costs, we are struggling to finish our film. If you can donate even just $1, please do it here!
PD: Can you share a little about Empty Cages?
RZ: Tušti narvai (Empty Cages) is a great grassroots animal rights organization, established in 2014. In only one year, they have succeeded in becoming the biggest and the most active animal rights organization here in Lithuania, noted for publishing secret investigation materials from farms, promoting veganism, advocating and educating 24/7.
PD: Can you describe your personal journey, your road to becoming a vegan? Did you begin your journey as a vegetarian first?
RZ: I became vegan literally overnight, last year on October 1st. I wasn’t vegetarian before. I wanted to become vegan for some years, but I always found excuses not to… in my defense, I did live a very hectic life – I studied in Paris for two years, where I changed residences 6 times, and then moved to New York for an exchange year; also all the time travelling back to Lithuania for holidays and other places to present my films… so it was difficult to set up a routine. When I finished my studies and got back to Lithuania, I decided t0 finally make time for and care more about myself, including my body. I started to go to gym regularly and soon enough realized that it’s time to be in control of my diet, too. There were no more excuses – I finally went vegan!
PD: How easy and/or difficult is it to be a vegan in Lithuania?
RZ: On one hand, I think in general it’s easy to be vegan – most of the staple foods can be found in any supermarket or farmers’ market everywhere around the world! But of course, it’s always cool to have more variety. The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius is becoming vegan-friendly, there are more and more shops and restaurants which start to be aware of the vegan needs. One of my favorite places is first exclusively vegan restaurant that recently opened, Gyvas Baras.
PD: When people (in Lithuania) learn you are a vegan, what is their reaction?
RZ: People that surround me are open-minded, so they’re totally cool with it. I think more and more people are interested in the benefits of a vegan diet and aware of ethical issues that make the vegan lifestyle increasingly appealing.
PD: Have you managed to “veganise” any traditional Lithuanian dishes?
RZ: The best Lithuanian traditional dish is plain simple – it’s “kepta duona.” It’s fried rye bread with garlic. Just cut the bread in fingers, rub it with a garlic clove, add caraway seeds and fry it in a pan of oil. Then sprinkle with salt and let it drain on a kitchen towel. It’s amazing and in fact totally vegan! Other than that, I tell you what – I’m not a great cook! :] But you can find few veganised Lithuanian recipes here.
Thank you Romas, for your time, thank you for sharing yourself with us, your vegan journey, as well as a little about the important work being done to help farm animals in Lithuania.
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Photo: Romas Zabarauskas