04 Dec Francesca Savige
Best known for her work with the theatre company Sport for Jove as well as roles in Home and Away and Packed to the Rafters, vegan actor, director, animal advocate and self-confessed whiskey lover, Francesca Savige, shares her vegan journey with us and reveals a bit about what we might expect from her upcoming play Rose Riot.
GV: You are a huge animal lover … is this what inspired you towards a vegan lifestyle?
FS: Absolutely it is. I love animals and am endlessly fascinated by them. I stop mid-street and mid-sentence when I see them. I watched frogs on my bedroom window for hours when I was growing up. I have relentlessly followed family pets on their adventures to the point of getting lost in the suburbs of Darwin and causing my mother significant distress. I’ve been in animal-watching-bliss in South Africa. I could spend days watching David Attenborough documentaries and The Lion King. I am shameless about losing countless hours to YouTube cat videos.
When I was very young and visiting my relatives in New Zealand, my uncle, who was a shearer at the time, brought home a sheep and slaughtered it in front of me and then prepared it for Christmas dinner. His children – farm kids – were un-phased, but I refused to eat the lamb. I become a “fussy” eater. However, it wasn’t until I moved out of home that I became totally vegetarian. 12 years later I went vegan, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s brilliant book Eating Animals. I never knew a book about animal suffering could be a page-turner. Foer’s writing style is so engaging I couldn’t put it down. I remember weeping, not only about what I had learnt (and my dismay at the misguidedness of my years of vegetarianism), but also because I had an inkling of the challenges lying ahead in “coming out” as a vegan. Also, at that stage, I had no idea that vegan haloumi was a thing and I thought I was saying goodbye forever. That was traumatic.
GV: Were there other factors, such as the environment?
FS: The benefits of a vegan lifestyle to the environment and to my health are a bonus. A really BIG bonus!
GV: How old were you when you realised you wanted to live life as a vegan?
FS: I was probably eight years old when I realised I never wanted to cause harm to animals for food or any other reason but didn’t have the maturity or knowledge to perceive it was a lifestyle option.
GV: What has being vegan taught you about humanity and how has it allowed you to grow as a person?
FS: I think being vegan boosts the compassion and understanding genes (*no science to actually support this statement). They are the principals I try to live by in every aspect of my life. They are also very useful tools as an actor when it comes to investigating humanity and discovering why characters make choices and behave the way they do. One of my characters in Rose Riot, the Duchess of York, is extremely ambitious and goes to dangerous lengths trying to get her husband the crown (did someone say poison?). But an actor should never judge a character they are playing and it’s important to appreciate and try to understand the imperfections, complexities and contradictions of being human. So being vegan has helped me on stage and off.
GV: Do you feel healthier as a vegan?
FS: Without a doubt, since becoming vegan, I am the healthiest I’ve been in my life. Giving up dairy was a revelation for my skin, my energy-levels and general mood. I hardly eat any sugar because so many sweet treats are dairy-based. However, I am definitely not a health-fanatic. I don’t believe a conscious lifestyle necessarily needs to be a saintly one (through trying to be waste-free is a current passion and challenge!). I can’t resist the baked-goods at Gathered Kitchen in Glebe. You can sometimes find me scouring the aisles at the Cruelty-Free shop for Treat Dreams or Pana Chocolate. Vegan cheese (I’m getting better at home-made) is irresistible with vegan wine. Also, whiskey is vegan.
GV: Your schedule must be a hectic one; with plenty of travel and long hours of rehearsals and you’re about to go on tour with your play Rose Riot… how hard is it to follow a vegan diet with this in mind?
FS: I am the snack queen! I never leave home without snacks, so I’m never caught hungry. Fruit, nuts, crackers, chopped vegies (I chop a lot of vegies), hummus. I went vegan at a time when I was touring schools with Shakespeare for six months, so I had a routine. I think this helped me develop the healthy habit of being incredibly organised when it comes to meals. When I am at my best, I will make almond milk, use the pulp for crackers and make my own hummus to go with them. When I am insanely busy with rehearsals, as I am now, I buy corn thins and peanut butter and large tubs of hummus to go with chopped vegies. I also cook up huge meals and freeze them away like a squirrel preparing for winter… or like an actor preparing for a busy summer of outdoor theatre! I’ll balance this out by munching into a head of broccoli or a stack of green beans whenever I need something fresh.
Occasionally I will indulge in a pub meal of hot chips, or Soul Burger or Gigi’s pizza, and have absolutely no regrets. I believe in everything in moderation… including a little bit of excess sometimes!
GV: How do you cope when people are ‘vegan shaming’ you? When they ask things like, “where do you get your iron?” or “But we are made to eat animals, you’ll be missing out?” and those kinds of questions?
FS: I try to use humour as often as possible, without losing integrity in the situation – a precarious balance! As I’m sure you know, there’s often a fierce defiance and defensiveness towards vegans who are earnestly promoting their lifestyle and desperately wanting to share all those lightbulb discoveries and the heart-wrenching intelligences they have learnt.
However (and maybe I’ll face criticism here?), when conversing with the un-converted, I avoid the “all or nothing” line and actively encourage any small changes people feel capable of making, from meat-free-Mondays to Veganuary, to just cutting down on animal-based products in any small way. Every little bit counts. Mostly, I prefer to “convert’ people by offering up delicious vegan things to try or having them over and cooking for them.
GV: What is daily life like for you?
FS: My daily ritual at the moment:
1. Be woken up by my two cats Sergio and Dante
2. Feed the cats, play with the cats, prepare self and food and go to rehearse Rose Riot at Sport for Jove Theatre Co.
3. Live and breathe Shakespeare with the aid of vegan sustenance
4. Head home and provide food and love (in that order) for Sergio and Dante
5. Look over Rose Riot rehearsal notes
GV: Do you have any fave vegan fashion brands? Why do you love them?
FS: I usually wear second hand clothes. I love recycling clothes that have a story- that have been pre-loved… or perhaps unloved.
GV: Your skin is amazing! What vegan skin care products are your go-to?
FS: A friend in the Rose Riot cast recently gave me some Good & Clean cleanser, toner and moisturiser which are fantastic. We are playing mortal enemies in the show, so she’s making amends! Good & Clean are an Australian brand and their products come in glass bottles rather than plastic which makes me very happy.
GV: What about hair care?
FS: I’m trying to jump on the waste-free train and use only coconut-soap. I love a bit of Argan oil too.
GV: What is your absolute vegan indulgence?
FS: Home-made vegan smores, Ben and Jerry’s dairy-free 7-layer ice-cream and vegan honey-comb from the Cruelty-Free shop. I’ve never had all these at the one time, but if I did, I might explode with joy!
GV: Have you ever had incidents where you became low in iron or other vitamins and if so, how did you balance it out?
FS: I have actually had very low iron around this time of year in the past, whilst rehearsing previous summer Shakespeare seasons. It’s an exhausting time and I developed a dependence on coffee to get me through. When I learnt that caffeine impedes iron absorption, that changed everything! Now I always carry iron-potent snacks and have significantly reduced my coffee intake.
GV: How do you feel about entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Bill Gates backing lab-raised/artificial meat?
FS: I think it’s a brilliant idea to help transition people over to the lifestyle that according to the United Nations (in 2011!) is necessary in order for the survival of humanity. I personally don’t enjoy the taste and texture of faux meats, but for those whose taste-buds aren’t easily aligning with their morals, it will be very handy!
GV: What advice would you offer for those embarking on their kindness journey towards a vegan lifestyle?
FS: Don’t panic. There are vegan substitutes for EVERYTHING. Keep calm and google vegan treats.
GV: Anything you’d love to add?
FS: One of the great joys of performing outdoor theatre is that an animal may grace you with its presence in the middle of a show. Over the years I have been involved in Sport for Jove’s outdoor summer season we have had a black crow land on stage in an apt moment in Twelfth Night, we have had a sheep bolt across the stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and have been completely upstaged by a family of ducks and ducklings during Much Ado About Nothing. This year for Rose Riot, I’m hoping for falcons as they are mentioned in the plays. And wolves.
Tickets to Sport for Jove’s Rose Riot starring Francesca Savige, playing at Bella Vista Farm throughout December 2018 and at the Leura Everglades in January 2019 can be purchased here: http://www.sportforjove.com.au/theatre-play/rose-riot-the-hollow-crown
Interview with Lifestyle and Beauty editor Shonagh Walker