Meet Daniel Lysk

On Monday afternoon, January 13th 2020 I drove to Daniel’s home in Sherwood to discuss veganism and activism and was treated with some homemade carrot cake doughnuts with glaze made from scratch. We sat down with my recorder and a list of questions to do this interview I had been tossing around in my head. Since I became vegan almost 3 years ago Daniel Lysk is a part of every vegan Facebook group and has had an integral part of the blossoming vegan movement in central Arkansas. Since joining our local Chapter of Anonymous for the Voiceless 2 years ago we have had several conversations that led me to want to do an interview with him for my blog.

Me: “What did you make the glaze with?” I ask with a mouth full of doughnut.

Dan: “it’s just maple syrup and confectioners sugar.” He explains.

Me: “How long have you been Vegan?”

Dan: “Well, I just celebrated my 30th Vegan Anniversary in November.”

Me: “That’s amazing! You are an inspiration to me and I’m sure to many other people around Arkansas.”

Dan: “Well, I hope to be the change I want to see.”

Me: “How old were you when you went vegan?”

Dan: “I was 15 years old.”

Me: “Was there a single event that led you to veganism or was there a series of events?”

Dan: “You know, just being around animals would be that single event but one particular animal encounter was I used to volunteer at a sanctuary in New York called Bowdoin Park. We had all of your various farm animals and wildlife animals there and I really got to know the animals there as individuals and became friends with them. And of course I made that connection at an early age to live a kinder life and be better towards my friends.”

Me: “Who were two of your vegan inspirations, if any, that you looked up to when you started on your vegan journey?”

Dan: “Great question. There’s an old folk singer named Pete Seger, look him up, he’s a pretty famous dude. He’s an old school anti war protester and he’s vegan. We also had a boat in the Hudson River and he was the president of our yacht club. And he was also the president of The Clear Water which is an old restored sloop ship that was a conversation educational tool in the Hudson River. School kids would come in and take tours of the boat and they would take kids out on the boat and learn about the ecology of the river. He was making a lot of changes back in the day. Back then we didn’t even call it vegan.”

Me: “What did you call it?”

Dan: “They used to call it ‘strict vegetarian’. But now you would call it vegan. It’s funny but the environment is starting to become one of the main reasons people choose to go vegan and back then that was one of his main reasons for going vegan and second was animals. He wasn’t really in it for his health.”

Me: “Huh. Was there a second person?”

Dan: “You know back in that time, I used to watch a lot of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ with my Mom and Dad and we used to get Reader’s Digest and there was an interview with Melissa Gilbert or ‘Laura Ingles’ and she was vegetarian at the time and I was talking to my parents about wanting to give up eating meat and my mom showed me that article and that was probably one of the first sparks for me.”

Me: “What was a typical meal for you when you first went vegan?”

Dan: “I ate a lot of pizza, because I was a teenage kid, I think I had cheese on it when I first started and then talking with Pete and his wife at the yacht club helped me gain a new perspective on dairy that I still have today, ‘You’re not a baby cow’, and it’s just so Inhumane to take a child away from it’s mother and what’s involved with producing dairy. So then I would just eat plain pizza with vegetables and no cheese.”

Me: “Yeah the dairy thing really got to me when I became a mother, learning about what dairy cows go through and learning how cruel it is and feeling like I didn’t want to be apart of that.”

Dan: “It doesn’t belong in a civilized society. And you know for a time I worked as a Su Chef and I would be chopping vegetables for the chef and I got a lot of cooking experience and it inspired me to take the things that I saw being cooked and then veganise them. I remember being 15-16 years old in the kitchen and coming up with some crazy slop. I was trying to make meatloaf out of beans and just trying to replicate things that I knew, I don’t make any of that now it’s gotten a lot better (laughing).”

Me: “When did you know you wanted to take action and speak out for animal liberation?”

Dan: “I think my Mom actually signed me up for some of the old PETA stuff and we would look at that together and I would be inspired to take action but I didn’t start speaking out until we moved to Arkansas. The first thing I spoke out against was fur. We did protests for fur free Fridays here.”

Me: “So you would say your activism started here.”

Dan: “I would say in heart it started in New York, but we didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have ways to communicate or connect with people who were like minded at the time, so it started here after finding a core group of people. There used to be a restaurant here called Wheatberries, it was a Vegan restaurant here in the heights, and it’s where La Terraza is now, and they would make zine’s and have little meet ups and it was where people could talk and network.”

Me: “Tell me more about Wheatberries”

Dan: “It was really unique, you went in and it was cafeteria style. You would point out what you wanted and they would serve you. Then after you would eat you would wash your own dishes. There was a suggested price and you had to make your own change there was no cash register. There was a basket of bills and jars of change and you paid what you thought the meal was worth. It was a real neat concept.”

Me: “What year did you start A Society for a Peaceful Coexistence.”

Dan: “Oh my gosh, that would have been around 2000.”

Me: “How would you describe your work as an activist in the early days?”

Dan: “Figuring it out. I made a lot of mistakes. I think that we used a lot of anger and that didn’t bring people to our cause.”

Me: “How did you hear about SHAC? I had never heard about it until I saw you in that news clip from KATV talking about the Huntington protests.”

Dan: “The SHAC folks reached out to us, through networking and hearing about our work with A Society for a Peaceful Coexistence and asked if we could help out locally.”

Me: “Were you involved with the Huntington protests?”

Dan: “Yes I was.”

Me: “What are some of the things that A Society for a Peaceful Coexistence hopes to accomplish?”

Dan: “Well I don’t really operate under that as much anymore. Now I influence people more through their plates. People love to eat and it’s a happy way to influence people. Arkansas for a Peaceful Coexistence is now what has come out of A Society For a Peaceful Coexistence and what I want is for it to become the voice for the animals locally. Let’s just say a cow transport truck gets overturned on the highway and the animals are maimed someone needs to speak out on behalf of the animals in the media and tell their story.”

Me: “What was your proudest moment as an activist?”

Dan: “I think when we ended Canned Hunting in Arkansas.”

Me: “Tell me more about that.”

Dan: “Canned Hunting is guaranteeing a killed trophy animal. It’s where you can go to a ranch and kill an exotic animal. You’re guaranteed to kill them. They’re raised by people then you stand a few feet away from them and you kill them. It’s not considered “Fair Chase”. Texas has almost 500 canned hunting ranches. There was someone who wanted to start one here in Arkansas. And at the time we acted as TAG, The Animal Group, and we tackled it and we won. You cannot Can Hunt in Arkansas. Legislation was passed to ban the practice. And it was interesting how we paralleled with some odd friends in the movement. There were hunting groups that got involved with us because they believe in “Fair Chase” that if the animal gets away the animal won and to our surprise The Game and Fish Commission was really against it as well.”

Me: “The question I was really looking forward to asking you, because you’ve been vegan for so long, is, ‘How do you talk to your non vegan friends and family in a way that doesn’t make them feel alienated or belittled?”

Dan: “First I listen to them. I try to figure out where they’re at with it emotionally. What things effect them. And then you tune your approach to who you’re talking to. I have learned that there are some people who will never change and you just have to let them go. But first and foremost listening to them and really fine tuning the conversation to the individual. Never accusing anybody and never pointing the finger at anyone. Always try and make it fun and funny. Humor is such a good way to influence people and get them interested in what you’ve got to say even though this stuff isn’t funny. But you’ve got to do it for the cause.”

Me: “When I’m at work there’s always a joke about ‘. Oh here’s the vegan, hey I was eating a dead cow today, isn’t that funny? I am the butt of a lot jokes and I don’t really know how to respond so I just let it roll off my back and just stay quiet when I’m around my co workers. But one person recently told me they had a lot of respect for me sticking to my diet and having been committed all this time. It gives me hope that I might inspire someone to try this way of life.”

Dan: “Yeah, be the change you want to see. You’re an an athlete now. You run, you look healthy and happy and people want that and you’re an ambassador now for this too. You want to know how to influence people, you’re doing it.”

Me: ” Thank you! How would you recommend someone who wanted to get involved with activism here in Arkansas get started?”

Dan: “Come join Arkansas for a Peaceful Coexistence on Facebook (laughing). But one of the best things you can do is educate yourself and one of the best ways to get involved is Anonymous for the Voiceless. That is something I wish we had thought of in the movement years ago but we didn’t have the electronic resources we have now like IPads and lightweight laptops and light flat screen TVs that make this such a powerful way to get the message across. We just couldn’t do that back in the day. But now technology has brought the truth about animal agriculture to everybody’s eyes. Now we can bring it to the streets. And I love the concept of it, it’s up to the people to come to you, you’re not coming to them. Once you get the images to their eyes and you’re there to talk to them about it they know what they are seeing is wrong. There’s no argument that it has to stop.”

Me: “How do you recommend vegans approach the topic in a peaceful way for example at work?”

Dan: “You always need a Segue first of all. I always represent! (Laughing) A vegan coffee cup on your desk is a great way to start a conversation. Casual t- shirt day at the office, wear your vegan outreach shirt. Represent always! When a potluck comes up bring a bad ass vegan dish. Food is such a good way to influence your co workers and it opens their eyes to the possibilities.”

Me: “What are some good rules to remember when speaking publicly about veganism in general to help best advocate for not harming animals?”

Dan: “We all love cats and dogs. That’s a great place to start building your analogies we all love our companion animals. Whether it’s them sitting in our lap, them giving us love, or sleeping in our bed. Always try and build the correlation between companion animals and animals that are farmed.”

Me: “How do you deal with differences between you and other vegans you might be working together on a project with whether it be political or ideological?”

Dan: “There’s such a divisive internal struggle in veganism right now. You’ve got some vegans who think they’re more vegan than other vegans and this isn’t taekwondo. You don’t get belts. We’re all here to alleviate suffering on this planet for the animals and for human health. Healthy bodies carry healthy minds. What I mean by that is, A compassionate mind. A peaceful mind. We have a lot of violence and hatred towards each other. Don’t bring that into veganism. We need to live and work together on this, whatever level you perceive you are. Nurture them don’t demean them, belittle them, or point them out for what level of vegan you think they’re at. We’re all fighting the same fight.”

Me: “What made you start the Facebook groups, Little Rock Vegan Shopper and Little Rock Vegan Dinner Club?”

Dan: “I did not start the Little Rock Vegan Shopper. But I started The Little Rock Vegan Dinner Club and it was a concept I started because I had gotten in a little bit of trouble with the SHAC stuff and wanted a more passive way to make changes, instead of standing in the street with a bull horn and getting in trouble. So my idea was to get more vegan options in the restaurants we all see. Let’s try and challenge them to have a vegan night at their restaurant and we promise them a big group of people and hopefully they add it to their menu. And it’s been extremely successful. It’s funny when we have these Dinner Club meet ups there’s always so many people who try and help out by cleaning or doing some dishes because we always mob the restaurant. And vegans are just nice people and the restaurant owners always follow up with me to tell me how nice everyone was.”

Me: “How did you begin that conversation with the restaurant owner?”

Dan: “You know that old saying Flight takes risk? I started collecting names in a Facebook group and I just started approaching the restaurant owners and I didn’t know it was going to work but I told them it was going to work. And now we have 2,000 people in the Dinner Club.”

Me: “How have these groups on Facebook helped to bring awareness to businesses and the public about plant based foods?”

Dan: “The businesses love it because they make money off of it. If anything talks money does. And I don’t think everyone in The DinnerClub is Vegan or Vegetarian and I think that is a result of their friends adding them to the group. But I love when we’re having a vegan dinner club event and we have totally taken over the place and non vegan customers come in and theyre surprised by what’s going on and they give plant based options a try and go, ‘Goddamn that was good!’ (In a guttural southern accent and laughing).

After our interview we made tentative plans for a Little Rock Vegan Dinner Club & a Movie Event at Area 51 in Sherwood so keep up with all the upcoming events by joining The Little Rock Vegan Dinner Club on Facebook and Arkansas for a Peaceful Coexistence for more information.

Thank you for reading and please share with your friends.

Also if you’re interested in how to make carrot cake doughnuts Dan was nice enough to share the recipe using a doughnut pan instead of a cake pan from Lovingitvegan.com