Interview with Ble.at’s Mike Dean

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A few days ago Ble.at, the new social network for vegans was launched. You can read here the interview of Matthew Glover, one of the co-founders. The other co-founder, Mike Dean, who is also the Creative Director of Ble.at, answers today to the 10 questions of the non-hip hippies. Enjoy!

1.Mike, you are the creative director of ble.at. You must be quite proud of the result so far. Vegans seem to love it! How many people did you work with to create this user-friendly social media website?

In a way I am really proud, but i’m a huge perfectionist, there are so many areas of the site i’d love to improve upon, and after working on it everyday for the past 8 months I sometimes find it hard to see past those. But, yeah there are some times when I sit and reflect on what we have achieved so far and it does make me smile. In terms of numbers, there have been 4 of us including Matthew. Matthew has been great in the process, he has put so much trust and belief in me. The other guys that have helped have been hand-picked specialists that I have met from working at various design agencies over the years. Greg, the lead developer has been key in this whole project, it wouldn’t be where it is now without him. The majority of the user interface was designed by myself, with some help from Neil who has done all of the front end development.

2.You are very active on ble.at yourself. Which posts are more interesting for you? Animal rights, recipes, health and nutrition, events? It was a great idea by the way to introduce a tag filter that allows people to view the posts they are most interested in. I personally cannot handle graphic content for example and it was a relief to be able to block such images.

All of it, it sounds cliché but I love learning. It’s been interesting to see the development of posts in just the short time Bleat has been live. To start with it seemed people almost couldn’t cope, they didn’t know how or what to post to fellow vegans, there were loads of posts trying to convince us all to ‘go vegan’. Slowly but surely people are understanding how to use the site in a better way, to learn, encourage, support and debate.

The tag system seems to be working really well actually, we need to tidy it up a bit and the longer aim is to turn the tagging system into a wikipedia style area of the site. So that if you click on a tag it will show you some facts and information, along with user posts that share that tag.

3.Matthew told us in his interview last week that you have worked for major companies like X-box and Disney but you wanted to put your skills in good use. Apart from Ble.at, do you work as a freelancer or are you employed by a company as well? I am asking you because there are vegans out there who work for companies they really hate, but do not quit because finding a job nowadays is becoming more and more difficult. Any advice for “starving artists” and creative people who want to use their skills for good and not compromise when it comes to where their income comes from?

I’ve been full time on Bleat since October and for the foreseeable future. Previously to Bleat I’ve had a mixed career of working both freelance and permanently as digital designer. The problem I faced was that becoming a professional designer, was something I wanted to do long before I even knew what the term vegan meant, it was my life goal. My first job in the design world was actually designing a website for a large P&G brand, about 6 months after going vegan. What do you do then? The previous 6 or so years of my life had been leading up to that massive moment, one that I dreamed of as a kid. Was I to turn it down because of my new found beliefs or make the most of it, learn as much as I could, hoping that one day I could turn it around and use it to my advantage. That was my aim, to work hard, take everything in with the aim of one day using my gained skills and knowledge on something like Bleat.

I guess in terms of advice, just try to see the positive in everything you do. Work hard, learn as much as you can and keep dreaming.

4.You have tattoos and piercings. People -especially employees- tend to discriminate against people with body modifications. What I have realized so far in my one year as a vegan is the fact that vegans are much more aware of instances of discrimination and are willing to fight against them. Fighting against specisism, sexism and racism seem to go hand in hand with veganism. Do you feel that too? Do you think that once someone becomes aware of animal rights, they gradually become more sensitive when it comes to human rights as well?

I think it really does just come down to respect. The more people learn about animal rights issues, the more they demand respect for animals. Once you start realising how little respect people have for animals, it’s glaringly obvious some people don’t even have respect for their fellow humans.

I’ve always been one to stand up for what I believe in, I used to be quite rude about it when I was younger and call people out all the time but I think it’s much better to be positive and surprise people now. I’m heavily tattooed (throat, hands, knuckles etc) and people often look at me like i’m something on the bottom on their shoe, the funny thing is i’m probably one of the most harmless people around. In the professional world i’ve never had a problem with it, in fact it may have even helped to stand out a bit, a few of the agencies I used to work at refer to me as Vegan-Mike or Tattooed-Mike, it helps people remember you.

5.I do not know if you have a partner and/or kids, but if you do, are they also vegan? If not, could you be in a long term relationship with someone who is not vegan? Would you choose to raise your kids vegan as well?

I have a girlfriend, we’ve been together just over a year and she has been vegan for about 10 months of that. It didn’t take her long to realize that being vegan is awesome! She had been veggie for a while but like many, didn’t consider taking the next step. Kids aren’t for me, I have no desire at all to have children, but if I did, hell yeah, no questions asked.

6.Are there many vegans in your social circle or are you the “weird” one? How do you deal with social pressure from friends and family and how do you handle awkward situations, such as family dinners? Do you try to go unnoticed or do you see them as a great opportunity to educate others?

I’m lucky, a lot of my social circle are quite alternative anyway, most of us have grown up around the punk rock scene, there are a few vegans but everyone is open and accepts it.

I tend to handle most awkward situations well unless someone is being disrespectful or just ignorant, and then I will call them out and try to open a discussion about it. I’m a strong believer of opening peoples eyes through awesome vegan food as well.

7.PETA. Good or evil? Could you please justify?

Since launching Bleat, I actually have a new found respect for organizations working hard towards something they believe in. It doesn’t mean to say I fully agree with their policies, the way they approach things or what their messages are, I just know now that it is tough work. Matthew, myself and Bleat have already come under some fire this week. There have been some people who know absolutely nothing about us, or the business, making slanderous comments. Peta have done more for animal rights than I have ever done, I’m not in any position to say they’re evil when I personally know very little about them. There are some websites making really strong allegations against them, but we need to consider who these people are. People are often too quick to jump on bandwagons, without actually looking into the background and researching it for themselves.

8.Ble.at is open to non-vegans, if they wish to join, in order to promote education and awareness. It is not open however to the promotion of vegetarianism. You have posted a great explanation on why you choose to function this way in this post. Do you think that vegetarianism is a good idea as a transition diet? Personally I did the switch from omnivore to vegan in one day and it worked for me, but I had read and watched a lot of documentaries before, so it was a very informed and conscious choice.

I’m like you, I went from omnivore to vegan over the space of about a week. I find it really hard to accept vegetarianism as a transitional diet. I especially think there is loads of work to be done on educating people where their milk, cheese, eggs etc. actually come from.. The majority of people understand that they are eating animal flesh, but it astonishes me to see that people genuinely think we’re actually meant to drink cows milk, that these lovely animals are SO considerate and thoughtful that they produce it for us, what darlings. When in actual fact, the consumption of milk is one of the creepiest habits that most humans have.

9.How do you fuel yourself Mike these days that ble.at is so busy and demands much of your time?Often vegans who are as busy as you seem to be at the moment end up surviving by eating vegan junk food such us hot dogs and muffins. Any ideas for healthy fast meals and snacks?

It’s all about planning at the moment. I tend to work out a rough meal plan for the whole week and do a big grocery shop based around that so that I don’t have to spend too much time working out what to eat. When I do get time to cook I tend to make big batches so I can have some the day after. In terms of snacks I just keep it simple, fruit, what is quicker than fruit?

10.What was the most profound change in your life when you went vegan? Any negative aspects? How did you deal with them?

I really think I have been lucky, I’ve had nothing really negative come of it. But part of me thinks it’s all down to how you approach being vegan. If you personally see it as a massive thing then that is what it’s going to be. I’m a pretty positive person and really believe that setting a good example is one of the best ways to get people interested. Something I struggle with is being called ‘a vegan’ I’m not ‘a’ vegan, I’m just a regular guy that happens to be vegan. My dietary/lifestyle choice isn’t what people should be questioning, it’s the reasons why I have made these choices that should be considered.

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