17 Jun Jo Beth Taylor
This blonde beauty burst onto our TV screens in the 1990’s. Jo Beth Taylor hosted Australia’s Funniest Home Videos and What’s Up Doc, as well as co-hosting the iconic show, Hey Hey it’s Saturday with Daryl Sommers.
In 2000, she hosted Starstruck, but then took time out to enjoy being a full-time mum. Jo Beth came back with a brilliant bang in 2010’s Dancing with the Stars and then again in 2016’s I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here!
While she’s always been an avid animal lover, It was during her tenure in “The Jungle” that Jo Beth’s passion for protecting and saving animals was truly ignited. She now works closely with Sea Shepherd and Rhino Revolution and became a card-carrying, fully-fledged vegan 12 months ago, promising to never look back. Here, she shares her journey with Gently Vegan’s Lifestyle Editor Shonagh Walker.
Gently Vegan: You’ve been vegan for 12months now, right? Were you vegetarian prior to that?
Jo Beth Taylor: Yes, that’s right! I never ate red meat, but I used to eat fish and sometimes, when I felt like I was running out of protein, I would force myself to eat a bit of chicken. But I hated it. It was just that I didn’t realise back then that protein is widely available from so many plant sources.
GV: So, what made you go vegan?
JB: I started working Sea Shepherd a year ago on their Operation Reef Defence campaign. The entire Sea Shepherd fleet is vegan. I saw all these amazing, strong, healthy, kick-arse people who are living on a vegan diet and are so passionate about veganism and activism against animal cruelty of all kinds. It was completely inspirational, and I fell in love with the movement and the lifestyle from that second on. Once you have the information on how animals are raised and treated for our food, it is very difficult to turn back. It felt like a veil was lifted and I didn’t have a choice but to act on it. It is a strange feeling, but a great one.
GV: How was the transition for you? What did you find the hardest?
JB: I think because I hadn’t eaten red meat since I was very little, it was easier. I loved cows and pigs and sheep so much and I made the connection that they were food when I was only about four years old. My mum told me that we drove past a farm and I asked her, “do we eat them?” That was when I stopped eating red meat and pork.
So, I think because I made that connection early on, the transition was easier for me than it might be for other people. Giving up the fish was hard at first, but after working with Sea Shepherd, it was a no brainer.
The hardest thing to give up when you become vegan is cheese – everyone knows that. It is difficult in that you have to become more diligent in your diet, but I think that is only because there isn’t as much widely available vegan food as there is for meat eaters.
However, this seems to be rapidly changing as the movement becomes stronger. My friends who have been vegan for 10 years or more say it was so hard back in the day to find anything to eat that wasn’t simply a pure plant source. They could never eat out, as there was nothing available on the menu in any restaurants. The times are a changin’ though!
GV: How did you cope with the food challenges in ‘The Jungle’ on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here? They are really animal-based. It must have been crushing for you.
JB: It was really, really hard. At the beginning, when we were asked our dietary requirements, I said I was pescatarian, so they made me eat fish guts and eyeballs and really awful things. It was truly disgusting.
But at the same time, I wasn’t playing the game for myself. I was there to raise money for World Vision and for other people, so I quite literally sucked it up. I wasn’t vegan when I was in ‘The Jungle’, but I tell you, if they came to me now, I wouldn’t do the show.
GV: What has this vegan path taught you about humanity and compassion?
JB: Wow… that’s a big one. I think there is a great divide. People say they love animals, but then they consume them. In my opinion, if you say love animals, that has to encompass all animals, otherwise you love pets, not animals.
People don’t necessarily even think about what they are eating and it’s scary. People eat a piece of fish and think nothing is being destroyed, but all our oceans are over-fished. Science states that by 2042, there will be no fishing industry left – it will be completely fished out.
We are lied to a lot in society. We are told that cows are happy and that kids with braids and big smiles run around with pails to milk the cows and people blindly believe it. It’s quite simply not true.
You don’t have to look far to find proof of this. It is pretty easy to find out that the mass commercialisation of animal consumption is one big, cruel horrible industry.
Watch Earthlings and Dominion, because once you see what happens, you can’t turn back. I wish everyone was brave enough to watch these documentaries and see the truth, but people seem not to want their lifestyles interrupted by that knowledge.
GV: Tell me about your anti-rhino-poaching missions?
JB: During my time on “I’m a Celeb”, I met some amazing people from Rhino Revolution, which is an anti-poaching and baby rhino orphanage in South Africa.
The situation over there is dire. I don’t know if we will win the war at all as we are losing rhinos every day for human greed. I have become great friends with the keeper of Sudan, who was the last Northern White Rhino to die. He is an African guy who does amazing work over there in educating people on why it’s so important for them to protect what they have.
What we don’t realise here, is that the poaching is all run by huge criminal cartels. It’s not like it’s a poacher killing an animal to feed his village. It is highly organised crime, at an extremely high level and tragically very difficult to break due to corrupt governments and countries that are rife with poverty.
At the moment, I am feeling very deflated, but the key is education. We must keep trying – we can expose, we can send money to the people trying to shine a light and at the end of the day if the African people themselves are on board then maybe there is hope.
In this respect, we also need to look at zoos, which have breeding programs to protect these species and keep them alive. I’ve worked with Australia Zoo and have seen how hard they work to keep these species alive. Of course, we are not talking about general zoos where animals are in cages by themselves, living sad, lonely lives or being made to perform tricks. However, there has to be breeding programs around or we are quite simply going to lose these beautiful species. It is a really tough and divisive topic.
GV: It sure is. Back to your vegan journey … how do you navigate eating out?
JB: We look for vegan restaurants a lot! At first it became isolating because I felt a bit of a loss for the things I used to love doing. I am foodie and I love food and wine and the pairing of it.
However, generally most restaurants are so good these days and come up with great alternatives for you. You can even go to great sushi restaurants that do amazing things without the fish! You can still have sake and vegan wine and eat the vegetable alternatives. You just get used to it.
GV: Do you ever have friends give you a hard time for being plant-based? If so, how do you deal with it?
JB: I think society as a whole can give us a hard time. Even family members of mine give me a hard time, saying I am jumping on a bandwagon because it’s trendy, but so what if I am? At least I am making a positive change!
Look, it is really just that people aren’t aware of the truth, or they fear the change. When you say you don’t want to eat animals because you love them and the future of your planet is at stake, it makes people feel guilty and that’s when you get the push back.
I am hoping it is changing. Although, I actually had an altercation with a waiter in a restaurant the other night who was trying to tell me it was natural for humans to drink cow’s milk and that the cow’s had a surplus of milk, which is why we drank it.
I tried to explain to him that they are artificially inseminated and kept pregnant their entire lives and their babies are ripped away from them at birth, but he kept arguing back at me. He even questioned my mothering skills because I don’t eat or drink dairy. It was so weird.
I look at people eating meat and feel so sad for them. I wish they knew what I knew.
GV: You’re doing Iyengar Yoga teacher training. How do you find that complements your plant-based life?
JB: Yoga teaches you to be non-violent to your body and everyone around you. You live a very peaceful lifestyle and veganism is all about non-violence at its core, so you don’t want to put anything in your body that has come from a violent source. It just goes hand in hand.
GV: What’s your go-to vegan meal?
JB: Last night I cooked vegan lasagne made with lentils a cashew-based Béchamel sauce. It was so great!
The Beyond Meat patty on a burger is one too, but sometimes I can’t stomach it, because I never ate red meat and it really is too meaty for me. Then, there’s this amazing vegan smoked salmon from a brand called Sophia’s. They also do scallops. It looks and tastes like the real thing. My hubby and I wrapped it up in rice paper rolls with an amazing vegan cream Botanical Cuisine Dill Cream Cheese. So yummy!
GV: There’s a common perception that all vegans are complete health nuts, but many don’t realise there are plenty of naughty vegan treats available … what is your fave vegan guilty pleasure?
JB: Almond vegan magnums!
They are better than the original, as they are not as rich – they are awesome! You wouldn’t even know the difference. I don’t know why you’d eat the real thing, to be honest. What’s that saying? If we can live happy, healthy lives without harming others, why wouldn’t we?
GV: What would you tell others who are transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle?
JB: Just keep at it. Never beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon every now and then. Even if you’re thinking about doing a couple of meat-free nights a week or vegetarian … just start somewhere. Every step you make is a great step, so know you’re doing something good! If you are hard on yourself, you’ll make the journey hard and you might give up.
Be kind to yourself. After all, veganism is about being kind to yourself, as well as the animals!
GV: What do the next few years hold in store for you in terms of your work with animals?
JB: There are so many things going on at the moment! My husband and I are thinking of opening a vegan café. I am learning to cook as many vegan recipes as possible and I want to spread the word as much as possible, meet other vegans and keep promoting vegan products and the lifestyle. And I will absolutely keep working with and supporting Sea Shepherd in any way that I can. Anything I do now with work, or in my life, has to be centred around the animals and our planet.
Lifestyle Editor Shonagh Walker