Clara Polito, 13 years old, is not a typical teenager.
She is an ethical vegan, an animal rights activist, and owns her own baking company called Clara’s Cakes, that makes exquisite vegan cupcakes, cookies, pies, and other treats. Some of her creations include “Not So Thin Mints,” a chocolate cupcake with minty-cool frosting and a dollop of chocolate ganache that riffs on the popular Girl Scout cookie; S’more Fun, a mapley graham cracker cupcake with chocolate-marshmallow filling and vanilla buttercream frosting; and Tiramisu, a vanilla cupcake with espresso and cream cheese frosting dusted with cocoa powder.
Clara is not only a gourmet pastry chef, named a VIP (Vegan Important Person) by foodie blog Hugger Food, she is an exceptionally thoughtful activist who contributes her time and talents for several animal protection organizations. In our interview, she spoke with a moral clarity about animal rights I rarely encounter from people three times her age.
You’ve been vegetarian since age five and vegan for about a year. You’re making ethical and moral choices that most meat-eating adults are unwilling or unable to make. Do you think it’s been more or less difficult for you to make these choices at a relatively young age?
Definitely easier. Being young, you couldn’t care less about family rituals and beliefs and care more about making your own. That’s the whole point of being young, finding yourself, finding your own way. I think when you’re an adult and have gone through more, you sort of get attached to your old ways and bad habits.
How have your peers and their parents accepted your veganism?
Well, most of my peers are pretty open to it, but it takes a lot for them to realize, “wow, drinking cow or other animal milk is kind of like taking something from an animal that’s been raped…so I can have their milk.” Some of my peers’ parents are pretty accepting of veganism, and some even try to cook vegan for me…which usually means pasta for dinner (laughs). I love that they make the effort to accommodate me.
And what’s the weirdest or stupidest thing someone’s said to you about veganism?
This wasn’t offensive at all, and it’s about vegetarianism. A couple of years ago my brother’s friend came over and we were telling him how we’re vegetarian (at the time). So I think he felt a little out of place and just blurted out, completely serious, “I’m a vegetarian, but my mom makes me eat meat.” That totally made me crack up.
Recently a friend’s father said, “Well, you can graze the fields over here.” That definitely didn’t get to me at all. I just kind of laughed at the ignorant comment. So far no one’s given me the usual “where do you get your protein?” question.
At some point, you made the decision to get active for animals. Clara’s Cakes supports a lot of local organizations and you were just named Activist of the Month by the farmed animal sanctuary Animal Acres. Is there an animal issue that’s particularly close to your heart?
This is a very hard question. I mean, whether its an abused dog or an elephant, it’s all awful. I would have to say dairy cows are the closest to my heart right now. I almost think they have it the worst. First of all they are artificially impregnated on a rape rack, their babies are ripped away from them right after birth and sent off to become veal if they are boys. If they are girls they become milk factories just like their mothers. This goes on until their bodies just can’t get pregnant anymore, sometimes up to seven years. And in the process they’re abused both mentally and physically. When they stop producing milk and babies, they go off to slaughter.
Every mother has a loving connection to its babies, whether that mother be cow, human, or anything else. Even when somebody buys dairy from a local farm, or your local health food store, they still go through the same process, they just don’t tell you.
What do you say to people who claim to love animals but still eat them, wear them, etc.? What about people who use terms like “humane” or “grass-fed” or “free range” to suggest it’s okay to kill animals if they’re treated decently?
I have close family members who love dogs and cats and rescue many, but they eat cows, pigs and chickens. I don’t get it. I think they refuse to look at any animal cruelty evidence so they can’t really make a connection to their meat, or to dairy and eggs.
Leather is a weird zone. For some reason people don’t make the connection that leather comes from an animal. Leather’s okay but fur isn’t? Don’t even get me started on wearing fur! Wearing fur is a status symbol. It makes people feel very glamorous and expensive. In reality it makes people look barbaric, unattractive, and completely heartless. I mean come on, they’re wearing a dead animal that was probably skinned alive.
I had a couple of classmates who saw Food Inc. and claimed that they were going to buy all organic meat. I was worried they didn’t know the truth. “Organic” and “grass-fed” do not mean “well treated.” “Humane” also should be characterized by kindness, mercy, sympathy, etc. That doesn’t sound like murder, but ultimately these animals are murdered.
“Free-range” in reality is that chickens aren’t in cages, but are equally as packed and uncomfortable. So, no, I don’t think its okay to take away the one thing an animal has, its life. No matter how good of a life it has.
On your blog Clara In Veganland you’ve written that for a meat/dairy consumer, truthful photos and videos make more of an impression than giving them a passionate speech. What resources can you recommend, such as films, websites, and books, either for people just discovering veganism and animal rights or for people in the mainstream?
Without giving away any secrets, what tips can you offer people for healthy, cruelty-free baked goodies at home without egg and dairy?
Buy Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World! That cookbook was what basically taught me how to bake vegan.
Activist Jasmin Singer told CNN, “A good vegan cupcake has the power to transform everything for the better. It’s almost like a political statement with icing.” Why is food such a great ambassador for a vegan lifestyle, in your opinion?
That’s officially my favorite quote, period.
Well, when you bite into a delicious, fluffy, moist cupcake with some crème filling inside you get this moment of joy. Especially when you realize it’s completely animal product-free. So if most vegan food tastes that yummy then why not go vegan? Maybe the trick to turning a person vegan is showing them a whole lot of vegan food, then show or tell them why you don’t eat animal products.
What’s your favorite cupcake today? I’m sure it changes all the time.
Today, it’s probably Tiramisu. Cupcake flavors are kind of like colors for me. When someone asks, “What’s your favorite color?” I say, “It changes every day. Today it’s green.”
What’s on your iPod right now? Anything you’d be embarrassed to admit you listen to?
Basically all Indie stuff. My brother will make fun of me for saying that – he calls me a hipster. I’ve been really into Best Coast, Born Ruffians, Harlem, Surfer Blood (wait, that’s not vegan), LCD Soundsystem, Modest Mouse, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. My family has always been really into good music. My dad’s a drummer and was in punk bands before I was born. My brothers both play instruments and are actually in a band together, The Action Index. My Mom loves GWAR. Without all of them I’d probably be listening to Justin Bieber.
I don’t have anything I’m embarrassed by on my iPod. But, people would probably be surprised that I have Quiet Riot on it. I have a big soft spot for them.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you can order a creation by Clara’s Cakes at www.claracakes.com or via email. Shipping and delivery is available to select other areas. Follow Clara on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ClarasCakes or join the Facebook group here