Interview With Eric Brent, Founder Of HappyCow
BY: Herwin Walravens
HappyCow was created in 1999 by Eric Brent and started out as an online guide to vegetarian and vegan restaurants worldwide, providing a free service for travelling vegetarians and vegans.
A decade later HappyCow has grown into a full veg online community with more than 50.000 members, offering services for the veg traveller free of charge.
Hello Eric, thank you for this interview. Let’s start with the question of why you ditched the meat and adopted a vegan lifestyle.
I grew up hating vegetables and only liked junk food until a friend brought me to a popular local restaurant, then called McDharma’s Natural Fast Foods (now Dharma’s). Reluctant to even go there as there was no meat, I ordered a Brahma Burger, made of beans, nuts, seeds, and grains. After my first bite, I began thinking hard about the source of meat burgers, and by the time I was done I decided to stop eating meat then and there.
Why did you create HappyCow ?
As a traveller who's visited over 50 countries, and a vegan for more than twenty years, I created HappyCow as a labor of love to assist people everywhere to find veg food.
The idea of HappyCow started in 1997, however, I put the idea on hold until November 1999. I was living in India at that time, and although I wasn't sure exactly how a project like this could be managed, I felt compelled to take it on. I taught myself html, paid for web hosting, and HappyCow was born.
At the time you started with HappyCow you were living in India. What was the reason of being in India ?
From the age of 21 I became heavily into understanding clearly who I am and what is real. I was involved with a few great spiritual masters, mostly from the Advaita Vedanta lineage and more recently Ch’an. I created HappyCow while in 1999, while living in Rishikesh, India where I was spending time with an American Spiritual Master, Shanti Mayi who I’m still affiliated with. There is little talk about being vegan in these paths, since from that perspective “life is a dream” and there are no short-cuts to enlightenment like special diets. It was more through connections with Taoist and Buddhist teachers I met while living in Taiwan that my spiritual understanding of veganism grew.
I feel that there is a huge difference in the consciousness of vegans and meat-eaters and often the level of awareness of subtle energies are much higher in vegans, especially in raw-food vegans. Yet, this awareness does not equate to enlightenment in my experience, and can in fact sometimes have the opposite effect, making people overly sensitive, and stressed out from feeling so much. What I believe is required, and strive for personally, is a balance between diet, health, compassion, and spirituality.
You are an avid traveler. What is your favorite country ?
I was recently in Berlin and felt it’s a place I would love to live, and perhaps the most vegan-friendly city in the world. Where I live in Santa Monica, California is also pretty cool as I can walk to about fifteen vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and there are new places opening all the time. As an overall country, I’d probably say Thailand. I love islands and beaches, and low key, chill places and Thailand has that. Some cities in Thailand actually rank as having the most vegan restaurants of any city in the world; Bangkok ranks number 2 and Chiang Mai number 12.
HappyCow is very popular amongst western vegans and vegetarians. How about the popularity in Chinese speaking countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China ?
Although there are many vegans in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China, the language gap keeps HappyCow from growing in these countries. We’ve considered a Chinese version of the site, but the amount of work involved in creating and maintaining that has kept us from proceeding. We do have a presence in these countries though and also a growing number of members & Ambassadors.
What are the plans of Happy Cow for the future ?
We have a lot planned for HappyCow in 2014, and it’s sure to be a huge year for veganism worldwide. We have a cool new mobile website soon to be launched. Android is also due to get a major overhaul. In May or June, we have a cookbook coming out, “The HappyCow Cookbook: Recipes from Top-Rated Vegan Restaurants around the World”.