Happiness comes from serving others. In a way I am glad I figured this out on my own in hindsight as I’m not sure if it’s something you can force to happen. I think it has to be a genuine desire to help others. I had a very unconventional life growing up. I used to feel angry and defeated about it. It wasn’t until I discovered my passionate and desire to make a difference that I found gratitude. There is so much suffering going on in the world. With both animals and people. I realized how lucky I am for my health and my freedom. Even if it felt like it took me 10X more effort compared to my peers to have the same opportunities, that’s still a lifetime more opportunity than many people in the world. Now I actually embrace it too, because I like that I am willing to work hard for something. I’m now content and feel empowered. When you shine a light for someone it lights your own path too.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Vikki Lenola.
Vikki is a Canadian model and an activist. For the past few years, she has campaigned tirelessly for PETA and other animal rights organizations.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?
In 2014 I was a bridal veil and accessories designer. My designs exclusively supplied a bridal boutique in Cambridge, Ontario. I did some dress alterations for their customers on occasion as well. A new friend in the fashion industry invited me out to a fashion week. Because I am 5’10” and was backstage, I kept getting mistaken for a model. It sort of unfolded from there. I branched out to other types of modelling besides fashion, such as glamour, go go dancing, promotional and I even do some marketing.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway that you took out of that story?
I got a text from a friend saying “I didn’t know you were into the swinger life.” I replied “excuse me?” and waited for their reply. They sent me back a video of a gigantic banner at the Everything to do with Sex Show. It was clearly promoting a swinger’s club and the swinger lifestyle. Which hey, if you’re into that fine by me. The photo was a group photo of 2 male fitness models, another model, along with me in the front. When I say this banner was gigantic, I mean my friend took the video from the other side of one of the biggest event centres in Toronto and I could still see it clearly. It was made to look, uh, sensual let’s say. The photo was from some paid photoshoot I did months earlier. Apparently, I didn’t read fine print of the contract before signing. Always read the fine print.
What would you advise to a young person who wants to emulate your success?
You get what you put into it. I would recommend having at least some marketing skills. Get out there, go to castings and events (obviously not during the current pandemic) and connect with people. Same thing online. Networking and building rapport are a constant thing. Genuinely be supportive of others. Give credit where credit is due. Be loyal where loyalty is due. Only be in competition with yourself and don’t be afraid to be unique!
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
Rather than 1 person who has made a profound impact, I think many people have made a positive impact in my life. I have friends that I consider family that I’m grateful for. I am also inspired by many people around the world doing their best to make the world a better place in various ways.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
I’ve been an animal rights activist for about 5 years now. You could just as well say I’m a vegan advocate, because it’s nearly the same. Veganism is a lifestyle, rather than just a diet. I recently started Vegan Fashion Canada. It’s a non-profit fashion show featuring conscious brands and sustainable, vegan textiles. All proceeds benefit Animal Justice, the organization leading the legal fight for animals in Canada.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
Sadly, after 5 years I still regularly learn of different ways animals are abused. There are countless things to cover. All of them are horrible. But the first thing I saw was a PETA ad about pigs. I looked into it more and saw a video of people burying millions of pigs alive. You could hear them scream in terror and beg for mercy. Multiple people who were hired to bury the pigs later killed themselves because they could not handle what they had done. Then I saw a video of raccoon dogs skinned alive for their fur. I was angry to find out these things were happening all of the time on a mass scale, and hidden from the public. I knew in my heart it was not right and I wanted to give the animals a voice.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
I personally witness many people impacted. Friends and acquaintances tell me about how they’ve stopped eating meat or ask me questions about how to go vegan all the time. Many of them have recently seen popular, eye-opening documentaries like The Game Changers, What the Health, Cowspiracy, or You Tube videos like Dairy is Scary. I’m excited about the growing vegan movement! It’s one of the fastest growing markets and smart businesses are catering to this.
What are three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Individuals can do lots of things to help animals. Only wear animal-free clothing. Visit sanctuaries instead of zoos. Choose cruelty-free cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning products. Adopt don’t shop. Try plant-based options for food. It can be as easy as swapping cow milk for oat milk when you do groceries. Check out Veganuary or Challenge 22 for more resources, and follow vegan recipe accounts to get inspired.
I think we should label our food properly. For example, I think most people don’t know that processed meats are in the same group of carcinogens as cigarettes and asbestos, according to the World Health Organization. Why are there no warning labels when parents are feeding this to their children, often daily? The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has petitioned the FDA to require breast cancer warning labels on cheese, as another example. In Canada there has been talks about adding labels to indicate when a product has high levels of unhealthy fats, sodium or sugar.
I’d like to see governments plan for a sustainable economy by investing in meaningful, green, ethical jobs. This means offering help for workers and businesses to transition. As just one example, according to a University of Guelph study, Canada could save millions of dollars if we stopped subsidizing the commercial seal hunt. The commercial seal hunt is wasteful leaving 95% of the seal meat to rot. It is an off-season job for a couple hundred fishermen a couple weeks a year on the East coast of Canada (not to be confused with the Inuit hunt in the Artic which I am not protesting).
What are your 3–5 “things I wish someone told me when I first started and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
I’m giving examples using my cause but really these all apply to business as well!
- Happiness comes from serving others. In a way I am glad I figured this out on my own in hindsight as I’m not sure if it’s something you can force to happen. I think it has to be a genuine desire to help others. I had a very unconventional life growing up. I used to feel angry and defeated about it. It wasn’t until I discovered my passionate and desire to make a difference that I found gratitude. There is so much suffering going on in the world. With both animals and people. I realized how lucky I am for my health and my freedom. Even if it felt like it took me 10X more effort compared to my peers to have the same opportunities, that’s still a lifetime more opportunity than many people in the world. Now I actually embrace it too, because I like that I am willing to work hard for something. I’m now content and feel empowered. When you shine a light for someone it lights your own path too.
- Be solutions-oriented. I learned this from both environmental studies and real-life experience in social change. We are dealing with human beings. So, it’s important to understand cognitive biases and what motivates behavior. At first, I thought if only everybody saw the suffering, they’d stop paying for animal abuse too. It’s more complicated than that. There are several reasons why someonwould continue paying for animal abuse. It’s hard to rewire a lifetime of habits and understanding, and people get angry when they feel you’re trying to take something away from them. Even if it’s for their own good. One guy even commented on a post of mine that he feels like meat is all he has to live for, meanwhile he had just had surgery on his heart. A friend of mine’s mother smoked cigarettes even when she needed an oxygen mask to live. It’s important to show people the way and make it convenient for them. Offer support. Make it fun if you can. Show them what they have to gain. Try to offer a solution whenever pointing out a problem.
- What’s in it for them? Lead with that. Another reason people might not change because (and I hate to say this) some people don’t care about suffering unless they’re the victim. Or maybe they’re just so disassociated from it, to them it feels like the suffering is happening on another world. But it’s happening here on Earth and we’re all interconnected. As one example, for my cause I realized that often people become interested in it when they discover the health benefits. Whether realizing a whole food plant-based diet could help them become a better athlete after watching The Game Changers. Or realizing it could be a tool to manage and even reverse their type 2 diabetes after checking out works by Dr. Neal Barnard and other doctors. Try to find out how what you’re proposing affects people and can make their life or what they care about better.
- Some people won’t get it or care about what you’re doing. Do it anyway. There will always be people who don’t care about your cause or what you’re doing. There are just too many things for people to think about. There are so many important causes! Don’t feel like you’re not making an impact. When people see or hear about something, maybe they aren’t impacted right away. But all these times they see or hear about it add up. Just like in marketing, the old saying about how you have to make at least 7 “touches” or “impressions” for a consumer to remember you. This number is outdated since we all see a lot of advertising these days because of technology. The actual number today is several times higher than 7.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Tough question because there’s a lot of wicked problems that need to be addressed, and we need to address them all through a variety of lenses. The single thing that I think would have the most impact for the most people is transitioning to clean meat.
I recently quoted Bill Maher in a post saying “if we keep producing food the way we do, you’re going to get sick with something medicine cannot fix”. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 out of 4 newly infectious diseases come from animals. Another concern is that most of the antibiotics in the world are to keep farm animals alive in filthy, unnatural conditions. This is causing bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant.
I firmly stand by that there is no business on a dead planet. With population growth, urbanization and rising economies in China and India, our use of resources is skyrocketing. The effectiveness of the fixes we’re trying to plan now, like making soil more efficient, are miniscule compared to what we need to accommodate. Unfortunately, I think most people still don’t know that animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, deforestation, species extinction, ocean acidification, and a major cause of endless other problems sense everything is interconnected. There’s a report by the Good Food Institute called Growing Meat Sustainably: The Clean Meat Revolution. It covers all sorts of interesting studies about how clean meat uses much less resources and emits much less emissions than meat the way we make it today. Just one example is that for beef, it would take 2000 to 4000% less land use. That’s incredible! The report also talks about how much more efficient it is, mentioning “In the seven weeks it takes a farmer to raise a flock of 20,000 chickens, a clean meat facility could theoretically produce a million times as much meat from a starter culture the size of a single egg”. And no, it’s not GMO or done by cloning. It’s cultured meat; meat grown differently. And yes, it’s vegan. No animals are used. Everybody wins. Even the CEO of Tyson meats has said “if we could make meatwithout the animal, why wouldn’t we?”
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
So many people are interesting and doing admirable things. I couldn’t choose only 1 above the others!
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!