Vegan Publishers is pleased to welcome Dan Bodenstein as the first contributor to our blog. A web developer by trade, Dan experienced a connection with an injured sea turtle being cared for at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida. Her recovery, and eventual release back to the ocean, was the inspiration for his first book, The Tale of Eartha the Sea Turtle. The success of his first book sparked a fire within, which led to the writing of his second book, Steven the Vegan. Steven the Vegan tells the tale of a small child who explains to his classmates that animals are his friends, not his food.
I was a carnivore. For me, the word carnivore always conjured up images of dinosaurs with sharp teeth. I never thought I’d use it to describe my life before going vegan. Today, the word “vegan” is everywhere. More and more children are being brought up in a vegan lifestyle. Yes, it’s a lifestyle, not a diet, and not a fad. It’s a new way of thinking. It is compassion at its most grandiose level. It is a way to show that you as an individual have become educated to the world around you. But as I said, I wasn’t always a vegan.
My wife Cindy was also a carnivore until she began viewing videos from undercover insiders at slaughterhouses, and farms. The blatant abuse and torture was too much for her to be a part of. So she went vegan. I’ll admit I, like much of the public today, turned a blind eye to the abuse going on in order to place food on our tables. My original decision to stop eating meat was for health reasons. My cholesterol was high, and both my parents had already had bypass surgery. So, I gave up meat and poultry. But I had a hard time giving up seafood. Technically, I was a pescetarian.
It wasn’t long after I published my first book, The Tale of Eartha the Sea Turtle, that I decided I wanted to write a book about veganism for children. I read an article that mentioned the fact that kids today do not know where their food comes from. It’s all overly pre-packaged so that the source of the food has been masked. I wanted to do something about it, so I started to write. The story took on many iterations. Do I write it from the animal’s viewpoint? How do I teach compassion without showing killing? The list went on and on. One day I came up with the idea of using a farm sanctuary as the setting for my story. With that in mind, inspiration flowed. I had the outline for my story written in mere hours. But something was missing. Something important. I had no real connection to any of these animals. Unlike Eartha the Sea Turtle, where I had met Eartha, photographed her, and even watched her released back to the sea, with this story, I had no connection. How could I relate?
I did a search online and found a farm sanctuary in central Florida. My wife and I set out to visit the Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, in Ocala Florida. It was there that I was able to make a connection between the animals I was writing about, and real rescued farm animals. Each animal had its own quirks, and personality. Over the course of creating the book, I made two daytrips to the sanctuary. The staff of KSS would tell us amazing stories of courage, and unmatched stories of desperation. Their connection to their residents, the animals, was profound. My story had to reflect this connection.
But something was still amiss. It wasn’t the story. It wasn’t the characters. It was me. I was still eating seafood. Like a lightning bolt, the hypocrisy of my crime hit me. I made the decision, and I stopped eating seafood. Growing up in South Florida, seafood is everywhere. Giving it up was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. When I was under stress, I craved it; and I was under a lot of stress.
It was only when I went vegan that I was able to fully comprehend all those videos and all those images my wife was talking about. Only then did I realize that we don’t need animals for sustenance. It’s like riding a bike with training wheels. While they are on, you don’t think you can do it without them. But, when they are gone, you realize you could have done it all along.
The book I was writing, officially titled Steven the Vegan, now had more meaning to me than I had originally thought. I edited and re-edited the book. I worked with my long-time friend and illustrator, Ron Robrahn, constantly to revise the characters. Nobody makes animals more adorable than Ron. The story blossomed, and in a way, mirrored my own experience and took on a life of its own.
The story takes place during a school field trip to a farm sanctuary, where Steven’s classmates learn that he is a vegan. Steven proceeds to teach them what a vegan is, and more importantly, why animals are his friends, not his food. It was necessary that children found the animals cute, cuddly and endearing. I wanted to show that these animals, just like the ones at the real animal sanctuary, had personalities. Above all, I wanted to teach by compassion, not fear. I didn’t want to scare children with horrid images of tortured animals. I wanted them to see, not what happens when you eat animals, but what happens when you don’t eat them. The farm sanctuary was the perfect setting for a compassionate story.
With the help of a Kickstarter.com campaign, I was able to self-publish the book. I waited for initial reactions, checking Amazon.com reviews daily. Orders started coming in, and then, my first review. It wasn’t long before I started hearing directly from parents about the book. They would share their child’s favorite parts, and their own favorite parts. The response seemed positive.
The original goal for my book was to help guide at least one person toward a vegan lifestyle. It turns out that one person was actually me.
Dan Bodenstein was born in New York and moved to South Florida with his parents and two siblings at the age of four. A career web developer, Dan has often been called out for being a very creative and imaginative person. This trait shows in his work. He adopted his father’s photography skills and has become an avid nature photographer. He spends his spare time writing stories, walking nature trails with his wife, and taking photographs. You can follow his personal blog at www.danbodenstein.com, or browse his stunning photography at www.dbnature.com.