John Awen is a published author, public speaker for animal rights and veganism, vegan nutritionist and Beneath the Wood animal sanctuary co-owner. John openly shares with us his story of drug addiction, violence and experiences of animal slaughter, to his spiritual and vegan awakening, and journey into animal rights/vegan advocacy. His story is an inspiring example of how when you hit rock bottom, if you just get up and keep going, gifts and rewards, not to mention personal growth and evolution, await you on the other side.
Here I am giving a talk. Very pleased to have been asked by Watkins books in Leicester Square, London, ( the oldest esoteric bookshop in the UK ) to give a talk on the subject of one of my book topics, Summer Solstice, very appropriately given on 21st June 2017, the day of the Summer Solstice.
If you would like to contact me and arrange a talk, please use this contact form.
I understand you used to live on a small holding and have been on the other end of the vegan spectrum. Tell us a bit about that and how your journey into veganism began?
In the latter half of 2012 I peppercorn rented a five-acre smallholding in Ilchester, a small village just outside of Yeovil in the County of Somerset.
It was an idyllic setting, no immediate neighbours, it was off grid and the only power I had was from a generator that was in the barn and a solar panel that I erected up on the roof, this charged my phone, laptop and gave me some lighting if needed. I lived in a large static caravan on the land and even this was altered so it looked like a log cabin, a wood burner gave me ample enough heating and I cooked on this at times as well, so I really did relish this way of life at the time.
I looked after all of the animals here, although I didn’t pay for any feed, the owner used to check in with me a couple of times a week, drop the various feeds and bits off and apart from that contact, I was pretty much left alone and to my own devices, which again at that time, was just fine with me.
I had never been responsible for so many animals, and to be honest I didn’t know what I was doing, just took it day by day and learnt as I went, same as most aspects we undertake I suppose, hands on practical, throwing yourself in at the proverbial deep end so to speak is often the best way of learning.
There were on average, around 12 Ewes, this number changed obviously with lambing and also at times, some went for slaughter, plus there was 1 Ram. Between 2 – 5 Pigs were kept constantly as well, and I used to love spending time watching these, they are so intelligent and amusing. Anything between 3 – 12 Turkeys were kept and all, around 100 Chickens, 3 – 4 Guinea Fowl, 6 Geese, around 10 Ducks as well, so it really was a learning curve and looking back upon it now, it was an incredible time, admittedly I reflect on it, although without this I would probably not have turned Vegan and could have been held in the stasis of ignorance a lot longer as to what actually happens to and with animals that are kept for ulterior motives and not just as pets to love totally.
During this time, just under 2 years in fact, I sheared Sheep, helped them with birthing if there was a problem, which I had to deal with a few times and have delivered healthy lambs and also delivered still born lambs, so the emotions I had, regardless of the ending to them, were extremely heightened indeed.
I have killed Chickens, Turkeys, Geese and Ducks myself, plus I shot Rabbits whilst living there as well, all because that is how I perceived what should be done. Hindsight is such a wonderful tool isn’t it, now I know better and wouldn’t dream of it, am totally against it, yet even though looking back I knew it wasn’t right, just went along with it blindly, inexcusable I know, yet without this intense lesson that taught me unconditional love and heartfelt compassion, I would not be who and what I am now.
Loading up some of the Pigs and Sheep, as well as young lambs, to take them to slaughter never sat well with me, although through my ignorance at the time, I still did it, so yes, I have had their blood on my hands, that lies with me, yet with a huge amount of soul searching afterwards, I changed my take on it all and went Vegan.
The slaughterhouse I used was a small one just over the border from Somerset and into Dorset. I used to drive there, help unload the animals and spend however long it was before it was their turn to be killed, comforting them, stroking them and talking to them, I suppose I was passing them over really even before they had been killed, ironic and totally hypocritical of me, I am not excusing my actions, not that shallow, I just know we all live many lives within this one and this is another life within this one that has helped mould and shape me into who and what I am now.
Because the slaughterhouse was a small one, I used to go into the killing room with them, still trying to comfort them, knowing full well what was going to happen and each one I was stroking at the very moment the bolt entered the skull, ultimately bringing about their deaths.
As I have mentioned before, I am not proud of what I did and was responsible for, although I have no regrets, as to how I see it, without these lessons and parts of my past, I would not be where I am now and believe me I am not saying this to justify any of my actions, I throw my hands up to all of this and know that this was all a part of the evolution of myself, I chose to stop and live life according to my compassion and baseline moral compass.
After 20 months of living on this small holding, I left and went to live in Glastonbury. It was now June 2014 and instantly I dramatically lessened the amount of meat and by-products that I was consuming, effectively and looking back I went Vegetarian without trying to.
I did an awful lot of soul searching during the next couple of years, I wrote 3 books, magazine articles and found myself through Shamanic studying, a subject which I am extremely passionate about and follow every day.
In March 2016, I went Vegan overnight. I awoke one morning and could not be a part of those industries anymore, the best decision I ever made, although on the funny side, I gave my shoes, a coat, my belt and Pagans, (my Labrador Dog) collar and lead away, all to a local charity shop, from this point I went shopping for alternatives in my socks, having to hold my trousers up and leaving Pagan at home as I had to replace all those items with cruelty free ones. I always smile when I remember this as it is funny, and it was the best decision I have ever made, even if I was barefoot and losing my trousers.
I know you do some work currently to support other people thinking of beginning a vegan lifestyle. Tell us a bit about what it is you do.
When I first went Vegan, I didn’t do social media and trying to find a rational Vegan to speak to and ask basic questions as regarding healthy eating was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, so I did some basic research online, read every label when out shopping as we all do, yet found I was only really happy eating fruits, vegetables and processed foods that were clearly marked as Vegan.
After about two weeks of this new to me Vegan diet, my energy levels had plummeted totally, I was a very odd looking pasty white colour and I lost weight, to be honest I felt absolutely terrible, I really did, although in my heart I knew that somehow, I could turn this around and beyond any shadow of a doubt, this new start in my life was going to be the greatest change I had ever embarked upon.
The lethargy continued for another couple of weeks and with more research I was starting to feel a bit better here and there, so I held onto that and started adding supplements to my foods and was taking a few each morning to help boost my diet and wellbeing.
Slowly and surely, my diet increased and I began purchasing a greater variety of Vegan foods, all of which combined helped me to gain clarity, strength, lose the white generalised Vegan look I had and eventually, after around six weeks of battling, I started to not only feel normal, but a lot better, my concentration improved, my skin felt better and across the spectrums of Physicality, Mental wellbeing and Spiritual awareness, I felt better than I ever had done before, like a huge weight had been lifted from within and around me, which in effect is exactly what happens when we move to a healthy Vegan diet.
I am the local POC, (Point of Contact) for the Vegan Society, which I absolutely love, and it really is about connecting us all together, coming together, helping, sharing and spreading the Vegan message through many contexts and within our society as a whole.
Can you share some advice with us today? What are your top tips for anyone considering veganism or for people who are new to this way of life?
I think the best advice I can give anybody who has decided to turn to a Vegan way of life is just to follow your heart, it really is the best choice and decision that you could ever make and is beneficial for all involved, yourself and your health, the animals that you save instantly from this point as you now no longer are a part of an archaic and cruel industry. The other positives will soon become apparent as well and the further you travel down the Vegan road, you will come to realise this, it really is the most obvious decision to arrive at and live your life accordingly within.
Research is good and nowadays obtaining information has never been easier, it really is within your grasp and so simple to get, literally at the touch of a button and it is infinite.
The Vegan Society is a great point of call and they have everything you need plus more available on their website, from supplements, recipes, and much more, also they will be able to connect you with local Vegans that live close by, or at least within a localised vicinity of where you are, they really do have all angles covered, there really hasn’t been a better or easier time to go Vegan.
For anybody beginning, or thinking about transitioning towards Veganism, social media is great and once again, in an instant you can readily and easily connect with many like minded individuals who will only be too pleased to help and share their knowledge with you, its about recognising, connecting and sharing together, from this point, bonds, friendships and passions are linked and forged.
If anybody has an aversion to, or doesn’t have access to the technological world, Holland & Barrett are a great shop, they helped me immensely when I first started back in 2016, the staff were always helpful, knowledgeable and gave me some great advice, I will never forget that.
The hardest part, as with anything, or any situation, is the actual decision to make and bring about change, once we make that decision, the rest will just fall into place and becomes so easy that we can only question is why we didn’t do it sooner.
You’ve mentioned before that you have some health problems in relation to your heart. Do you mind explaining to us how veganism has supported the management of your illness?
In 2015 I was diagnosed with Heart Disease, I also have multiple valve failings, Angina, dilation of arteries and vessels around my heart, calcification and solidification of the outer and inner heart plus a few other bits, all heart related, so I was told that I shouldn’t be waking up each morning, I am though. Having suffered three heart attacks I knew there was something very wrong with me, one of the first steps is being aware of this, then we can, hopefully, begin the journey of accepting change and adapting to cope with the trials that life can throw at us.
I take various medications for this, I have to, although I believe there comes a time when we have to ask ourselves what we can personally do to maybe achieve a better health for ourselves and within that, maybe even gain some longevity, who knows although I felt myself that the onus was falling towards me, rather than simply relying on the medical profession, which I believe helped me instantly as soon as I realised this.
From the very moment we adopt Veganism as a way of life and the diet that this envelops, we no longer consume all the heavy and hard to digest meats, this in itself alleviates some of the stress on our bodies simply because not as much energy is being concentrated on digestion alone. Also, we know now that all the additives, colourings, flavourings, preservatives and growth hormones that are injected and fed to animals, which is just wrong and cruel, will not be being eaten by us, so that’s another weight off our minds and our bodily systems.
I recently made another dietary transition and moved to Whole Foods Vegan, so now I just eat fruit, veg, pulses, legumes and grains, this in itself has got to be better on my system as I am just consuming clean and healthy foods. Having moved away from all processed Vegan bits, I also no longer have oils, sugars or alcohol, so I am now not consuming anything that is not totally natural and already I have noticed a huge difference in that my energy levels, although never good, I no longer have the huge dips of energy that I did before. I feel so much lighter, my skin is better, and I know it is this change that again, has and is helping me and my ongoing battle to stay around upon this planet, hopefully for many more years to come, then again none of us know when our time will come really do we?
You have been very influential in the vegan community. Always inspiring others to stay strong even when they feel like they’re swimming against the tide. What words of encouragement can you share with our readers to inspire the strength you do in so many others?
For many years I lived in a very dark place, I was a heroin addict for 11 years, served nine prison sentences and was on a course of self-destruction, I really didn’t care whether I lived or died to be honest, so I have lived within the very pit of despair and I personally believe that once you have faced the darkness, fought off, faced and confronted the darkness within yourself, then you can flip that over and see the positives that are around us in abundance.
Don’t get me wrong, I get extremely despondent with how our supposed race of reportedly civilised Mankind continues to wreak havoc upon our planet and the way we treat the most innocent of creatures upon it, its just I have great Hope, Faith and Belief that change is happening and across the spectrums, however as Vegans we are viewed, seen, ridiculed and treated, Veganism is the cure that will dissipate hate, judgements, exploitation, cruelty, mass slaughter and corruption.
At its heart, Veganism is based entirely upon Compassion, from this we evolve and see the devastation that we have been a part of, this then ripples out to how we view all other life, the impact upon the planet and all life contained within it, it is once we make this change, that we reawaken our core inner beliefs and base line morals, from this moment, we truly and intrinsically connect with the Universe as a whole, once we have tuned into this, we see and sense everything differently and rekindle the beauty, awe and wonderment we all had and felt as innocent children.
I think the best words of encouragement I could give anybody would be to simply follow your hearts, sense, know and believe totally in what you are doing and as Vegans we are bringing about and implementing every day.
Veganism for the masses cannot happen overnight, any changes that are to occur need to be bought about slowly. Lets not forget that what every Vegan is a part of, is the most influential change that this planet has seen and will ever see, its undermining and destabilising the very foundation of what every society has been built upon, so just remember that we are shaking and bringing down the very core of Societal belief and infrastructure, that’s obvious, so any mass change that will set a new benchmark and precedent has to be eased into and that is what every single one of us is witnessing, a new foundation for Mankind, a firm and solid base, a new beginning.
It is easy to become frustrated, especially when we are acutely aware of the deaths and destruction that are being caused due to the archaic, cruel and barbaric ways that we all oppose, yet a time of transition, on a huge level is the only way these changes can be bought about, so look at the positives, focus on them and know that however small they may seem, they are all a part of the greater jigsaw puzzle that will ultimately bring about a dairy free, meat free and cruelty free world, be proud that you are a part of this and remember it often.
What are your favourite and most inspiring vegan resources? Movies, books, people, groups that you feel would be helpful for others to use.
The amount of Vegan resources now is so vast, infinite almost, so there really are a wide array to read, watch, share and think about, so inspirational and great to see.
Films like Dominion, Cowspiracy and many others certainly make people think and that is the very start of it, once people can see an alternative, they then, hopefully start to think, from this, ways of being are often sought and transition into a new way of life can ultimately begin.
There are a whole host of books and pamphlets that people can read and absorb as well, and all of these provide a vital backdrop that again can be the very spark that is needed to start the fire of Veganism to burn brightly within us.
Many inspirational and globally influential Vegan speakers are around now, these people work tirelessly and need all the support and accolades they receive, they really are leading lights and to be given huge respect for what they are doing, fighting against and achieving, all credit to them.
The Vegan Society are a great resource and I am proud to be a member of this, also a local point of contact as well, which is a small part any one of us can do.
From all the bloggers, Vegan chefs, Speakers, Social media Vegans, Stall Holders, Authors, Vegan dieticians, all of these resources and invaluable and in their own way they are the stalwarts and bastions of a new beginning and a new world that we are all a part of and I salute each and every one of them, keep on keeping on, never stop.
My favourite Vegan film is Carnage by Simon Amstell, if you haven’t seen it, give it a try, absolutely incredible and covers many different angles.
On days when I feel beaten down by it all, which as I said before we all get and none of us are immune from this, I watch and listen to talks by James Aspey, humbling totally and I always mention him to people who are looking for a Vegan resource, incredible being indeed.
Lastly, is there anything else you feel we, as a vegan community can be doing to help encourage the momentum of the vegan movement?
The momentum of the Vegan movement is gathering speed constantly, none of us can stop though, we need to keep going, speaking up for the voiceless, even when your voice wavers and you feel you don’t have the answers, don’t worry, keep going and believe and know you are doing the right thing.
Support other Vegans, come together for food shares, meetups, anything really. Visit Vegan markets, influence others and show that being Vegan is about and all stems from the sense of Compassion.
However you give your Vegan message, just keep on keeping on and spread the word, just don’t forget, we are bringing about change.
It has been a pleasure to share my story with you here and thank you so much to the Real Family Journey for giving me this opportunity, really appreciate it.