This is me. I’m Anne Piotrowski. I’m a counselor and a vegan activist. I’m convinced most people are compassionate but the world makes acting in compassionate ways really difficult sometimes. I was born in New Jersey, raised by my Cuban grandparents surrounded by a loving mother, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a truck driver – with a chimpanzee sidekick just like BJ and the Bear (if you were raised in the 70s and 80s, you recognize the reference).
Instead of becoming a truck driver, I went to The College of New Jersey for a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. I worked in Trenton, NJ at an outpatient hospital program with people who suffered from mental and substance abuse issues. Later, I worked at Rutgers University as a counselor, academic advisor and coordinator of disability services. When I became a mom, I decided to stay home but couldn’t entirely stay away from my profession so I volunteered as a counselor for the Family Breastfeeding Association.
I became vegan by accident, not by intention. I was happily vegetarian when I picked up a book called Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. Thinking I could stand to lose a few pounds (I’m rolling my eyes at my past self as I write this) and having no idea the book was about veganism, I curled up on my couch for a light reading session. I had every intention of ceasing to read when the authors started to describe factory farming but in a brilliant move and perfect use of shaming for a good cause, they wrote something to the effect of – Don’t you dare stop reading! If the animals must endure it, the least you can do is read about it. How could I not continue reading? I didn’t know it at that moment but that was it for me. That was the turning point. I’ve been vegan ever since.
When I went vegan, I knew I’d have to learn how to eat. I didn’t know that going vegan would change everything. Feeling raw from my newly accepted knowledge, I struggled to find ways to share my new lifestyle in a way that conveyed what a pivotal change it represented. I was not the same me as before. I felt confused when I sensed resistance and, looking back, I know the people in my life who had always been loving and supportive, were also pretty confused. They felt judged. I felt rejected. It took me a while and I’m still working on it, but I found a way to grow, heal and express my deeply held beliefs in a way that feels so much better.
One day, a few years after I became vegan, I received a notice from The Buckingham Friends School announcing their annual Peace Fair and asking if anyone wanted to host a table. LIGHTBULB! At this point, I’d gone so deep into the rabbit hole of veganism, communication, bonding, relationships, human behavior, habits, decision-making, etc. but it was all still mostly just swirling in my head. When I got that notice, I suddenly felt an undeniable urge to stand out in public and ask strangers to talk to me about veganism. I was curious to see how people responded to me. Would they be offended? Would they be polite but superficial? Or, would they (as I hoped) be willing to risk disagreement as I challenged long-held beliefs?
I booked a table and showed up at the peace fair with a tablecloth and a framed sign that said, “Hello! How about a conversation with a friendly vegan?” I didn’t mean to imply that vegans were not generally friendly (we are!) but I suppose I was playing on the misconception that we’re all grumpy and hungry. It’s been 6 years since that first table and I’ve been talking, listening, learning and teaching ever since. I host tables and outreach to non-vegans so we can safely have important conversations when we see things differently. I present and hold practice sessions with vegans so we can all learn the mindset and skills to effectively express what veganism means to us. It’s been incredibly meaningful for me. It’s sometimes dark, other times fun and cheerful. It can be discouraging but also uplifting. It’s everything that life has to offer, and that’s the way I like it.
Last year, I along with a friend and fellow activist, Suzanne McAllister, PhD, started a new venture called The PAUW Project. PAUW stands for Post-Animal-Use World. Inspired by the book Homo Ahimsa by Judy Carman, we’re compiling visions of a future truth in which we no longer unnecessarily consume animals. You can find out more about that project on our website, https://pauwproject.com/.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for being curious about me! I appreciate it.