Interview with Angela Jelita Richardson

Angela Jelita Richardson

In this issue we talk to Jakarta-based journalist & environmental activist Angela Jelita Richardson about her experiences as a vegetarian and, more recently, a vegan — in particular her thoughts on misconceptions about vegetarians and/or vegans, her aspirations for our meat-eating world, and even a short tangent about chickens’ periods (better known to us as eggs)!

Hi Angela, thanks for making the time to do this interview!

How did you become a vegan? What’s your story?

Angela Jelita Richardson

(Laughs) No one ever asks my story! Well, I became a vegetarian when I was fourteen. I was living in Surabaya at the time, sitting on my mom and dad’s bed and watching a documentary about battery [cage] farm chickens with my dad. I was watching it — and I’ve always had a love of animals; I used to bring stray cats home all the time; loved worms — and I turned to my dad and I said, “That’s it Dad, I’m vegetarian from now on.” And he laughed at me, “Ha-ha, yeah right.” And I responded, “I’m serious!”

So from then on I haven’t eaten any red meat, but I did have a period when I was seventeen, eighteen — for maybe two years — when I ate white meat, because at the time I didn’t understand nutrition and I wasn’t eating the right things as a vegetarian.

I became vegan only two years ago with my husband [Neil]. He was also a vegetarian for about six years before he became a vegan. I think the progression was quite natural [with] the more we learned about the meat industry. We started looking at why vegans are vegans and we started to learn the shocking truth about the milk and egg industry. I actually went to a battery [cage] chicken farm in East Java near my grandma’s house and it was horrendous. It was like a bad dream, it was just horrible. The state the animals were in… Anyway, we talked about it, me and my husband — we weren’t married yet at the time — and we were like, “Let’s do this. I don’t want to be a part of this cruel industry anymore.”

Was the transition from vegetarian to vegan difficult?

Angela Jelita Richardson

A little bit. It was challenging because of the nutrition [issue], and we needed to make sure we weren’t going to fade away, making sure we were eating healthily. So it took maybe six months to adjust and get used to it. But now — no, not [difficult] at all. We basically eat at home most of the time, because there aren’t many options out there in Jakarta. Especially when you ask the waiter, “Is there anything vegetarian?” and they’d say, “Do you want a salad?” And I’m like, “Oh my god, I don’t only eat salad, you know!”  I can’t imagine going back to vegetarian now though. [That said,] it was hard for me because I don’t miss meat at all [but] I do miss cheese sometimes. I was a cheese girl; I preferred cheese over chocolate. Sometimes Neil would come home and I’d be sitting there eating a block of cheese and he’d say, “Is that your dinner?” and I’d say, “Yup, just cheese.”

So having no cheese is a bit hard (laughs). But there are yummy vegan cheese alternatives!

What were your most difficult years as a vegetarian (and eventually vegan)?

Angela Jelita Richardson

Maybe when I was a teenager, because I didn’t understand nutrition then and all my friends ate meat. It can also be challenging if you’re a social person, and you like to go out to dinners with friends, and they choose a French restaurant or something; there’s really nothing you can eat in a French restaurant as a vegan. At the beginning you feel a little bit [like an outcast], or maybe that’s also because you’re putting a barrier there while you’re adjusting to the new lifestyle. But it does get better, and easier. And now it’s just part of who I am. Now when I go out for meals with friends, they’ll actually say, “Oh, let’s choose this place because there are at least things Angie can eat there,” which is nice.

Now, I find it’s not difficult at all — but also my eyes are so much more open to the benefits of being a vegan. And I feel so much more passionate about it now. I do this for the animals; that’s my main motivation. Okay, yes, the health thing is there too, but definitely [for] the animals and the environment. I consider myself an environmental activist because of Clean Up Jakarta Day and I don’t think any environmental person is worth their [weight in] salt if they still eat meat, because of what we know about the meat industry. You can’t be [against global warming] when you’re still part of the biggest contributor to global warming, which is the meat industry.

I think Leonardo DiCaprio still needs to dedicate more [work against the meat industry], as much as I love the guy.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegetarians and/or vegans?

Angela Jelita Richardson

For some reason, everyone hates us!

I never used to be so outspoken about it, but the more I learned, the more passionate I [became], and the more I’m like, “This is so fucked up — this needs to change.” The meat, dairy and egg industries keep me awake at night. I think about the way animals are cultivated and being slaughtered [and] it keeps me awake; sometimes it makes me cry. I just want people to realize that there is another way. And, actually, I really seriously believe that one day, we’re gonna look back at this time — god knows how many years in the future — and we’re gonna go, “Oh my god, remember the meat-eating phase? Do you remember the meat cultivation phase?” It’s not going to exist anymore, especially since they’re gonna grow meat in petri-dishes, which is the future.

Maybe people who don’t like vegans think we’re arrogant? Or maybe we’re reminding them of things they’d prefer we didn’t remind them of? I don’t consider myself arrogant, I just consider myself well-informed (laughs)! I’m interested and I read up; I’m not just sitting there on my high-horse and [pointing fingers], I’m actually reading a lot of books, talking to a lot of people, and watching a lot of documentaries, and, like I said, I’ve actually been to cage farms. That’s where I base my decisions from.

What’s the one thing you hate the most about begin a vegan?

Angela Jelita Richardson

Really, I don’t hate it at all! I hate that animals suffer for our benefit. I hate that – and hate is a strong word. I hate what mankind is doing to animals. But I don’t like when people judge me or automatically pick at us [vegans and vegetarians]. I’m like, “Dude, can we just eat a meal and you don’t have to mention the fact that I don’t eat meat?” Some people always have to bring it up. Every time we meet. It gets really old.

I think people forget that almost every single vegan on this planet was once upon a time a meat eater. They need to realize that we were once in their shoes but we made that conscious decision to not eat [meat] for whatever reason.

Being vegetarian and/or vegan is a fascinating choice because you can stop any time — it is a conscious & deliberate decision to perform your life as a non-meat eater, both to yourself and to the people around you.

Have your vegan habits changed other people?

Angela Jelita Richardson

Yeah! We’ve had friends who actually have started eating a bit differently just from hanging around us — especially when they see that you can be an athlete [Angie’s husband Neil is an Iron Man] and you can work out six days a week and climb mountains and be super fit while being vegan. I only hope that people see us as a positive influence.

Even my mom — I mean, my mom wasn’t a big meat eater anyway, but we did [eat meat] growing up. I remember when we were young she would make lamb chops — something I’d never let her cook now! — and ‘spag-bol’ [spaghetti]. Now she only eats fish sometimes, and very rarely chicken; the rest of the time she eats vegetarian. So I think she has changed. It makes me happy that I’ve rubbed off on my mom a little bit and she doesn’t eat red meat, which is really bad for your health anyway — not to mention how adorable cows are!

My dad is currently living with me and my husband for a couple of months. He knows that our house is a meat-free zone, so if he wants to eat meat he can do so outside when he’s at work. He knows that (laughs). Maybe we’ll rub off on him after his stay with us! But yeah, definitely, people do [change]. Once people realize that vegan food is actually really delicious and it doesn’t have to taste like cabbage, and they opt to eat vegan at least now and then — that’s already a very positive change.

My Indonesian granddad died recently, he was 90 years old. He lived a long life. 90-something, actually. My grandma’s still kicking, she’s 86, and she’s like a 60-year-old, still running around doing all sorts! You know, they didn’t eat meat. They lived in a tiny village in East Java. Both of them didn’t eat meat until their kids started growing up and saying, “You should be eating meat, it’s healthier.” So my granddad would eat maybe a little bit of chicken and fish but no red meat. My grandma still hates meat, she doesn’t like it. She doesn’t know anything about it, she just doesn’t like it! “Nggak suka daging!” (I don’t like meat!) she always said to me. In their simple way of life and with no stress; old people like them — they live longer. They also didn’t have all chemicals in their vegetables like we do today; they ate organic.

What do you think about ‘militant’ vegetarians and/or vegans?

Angela Jelita Richardson

I’ll tell you what — the more you learn about the meat industry, the more you get that way, to be honest. It’s tough though. You kinda have to keep those feelings inside, otherwise everyone’s gonna hate vegans. You don’t understand, the amount of times I eat dinner with friends, and they order lamb… I cry inside. Lambs are baby animals, it’s a fucking baby animal, it’s not right.

I think most vegans became vegan either for health reasons — eating a plant-based diet is extremely beneficial for your health – or when they start to learn about the meat industry and no longer want to be a part of it; doing it for the animals. So, yes, we all have this passionate [side]. It’s all just passion for me. I [do] think these militant vegans need to control themselves a little bit, otherwise, like I said, more people are gonna hate vegans, which we don’t want. But what I’d like to say to meat-eaters who don’t like vegans is just maybe try to understand that it all comes from passion and concern and empathy for the animals. These creatures don’t have a voice. Try to remember that being vegan can be hard, but that we do it because we don’t want fuel this industry and we want to live in a better world where animals are not mistreated.

What gives us the right to hurt animals’ babies and not our own anyway? Being vegan is my statement, my performance on the world’s stage — it’s my way of trying to help the animals. I try not to lecture people, but quite often my friends will bring it up when we eat, and so I will defend myself, and the animals, naturally.

You know what [though], if I had my own private farm, I wouldn’t drink milk but I’d eat eggs; I’d happily eat the eggs, even though it’s the chicken’s period, but I would. If you can have your own farm where your animals are living happily and not injected with hormones or antibiotics or confined in tiny pens where they don’t even have the space to turn around for their whole lives, then absolutely, no problem with that — that’s fine. The animals are still living a healthy, happy life and you won’t get sick from all the hormones and antibiotics. But sadly 90 percent of the animals reared for the consumption of humans are not raised this way.

Food is such a personal choice, and when others start to interfere with that — whether by being as aggressive as ‘militant’ vegetarians and/or vegans, or not — people can become defensive.

Angela Jelita Richardson

I have two Instagram channels — one is for my friends. I don’t generally blast vegan stuff on there; it’s personal photos and things like that. The public one — if you don’t like it, don’t follow it. That’s why I hashtag a lot on my public Instagram, so that I can connect with other vegans/vegetarians in the world, because there aren’t many vegans in Indonesia. I don’t think I know any besides my husband!

You’re the token vegan!

(Laughs) In Bali there are a lot, but I’m not sure how many are residents and how many are just tourists stopping by. There is an Indonesian vegan society, but I once asked them if they wanted to have lunch on their Facebook page but no one responded!

Vegan can be quite the label.

Sometimes it’s better to say “plant” or “plant-based.” I eat plants. Plant power! (Laughs) [The label] makes me feel proud though — I like being a part of something, a part of this growing movement. And you better believe it’s growing!

Thank you for talking with us about your vegan life!

Angela Jelita Richardson

Thanks for asking me to talk about it! No one really talks about it without judging me or thinking that I’m trying to change [them]. I’m not trying to change [anyone], I’m just telling you [how it is] and you can make your own decisions.

I find people just don’t have a connection with what they put in their mouths anymore. We live in a fast food, fast everything society. I just want people to stop for a minute and think about how the food they’re about to eat got on their plate. We have to start living more responsibly for the planet, the future, and for our children’s futures.

Thanks for your time Angela!


Angela Jelita Richardson:

A British and Indonesian hybrid working as a journalist in Jakarta. She founded Clean Up Jakarta Day, an event aiming to raise awareness of the trash and littering problem in Jakarta, which last year gathered over 10,000 volunteers. An avid traveller, she loves to climb mountains, dive oceans, and explore local vegan eateries while snapping everything with her DSLR. She’s also been an active member of Jakarta Players, a community theatre group in Jakarta, for the last five years and feels most happy when she’s performing.