Erik Gorton

Most designers take for granted that ethics and advertising don't mix and will happily exchange principles for profit. However as one of the owners of creative agency Ethical Design, Erik Gor­ton is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing non pro­f­it or­gan­i­sa­tions and so­cial­ly re­spon­si­ble busi­ness­es.

A former university lecturer and tv computer-animator, Erik now creates web­sites that help change the world, one pix­el at a time.

What is your ‘going vegan’ story?

My simple guiding philosophy in life has always been to treat others how I’d like to be treated. Pretty much everything else flows on from there.

I’ve felt a bond and empathy with animals for as long as i can remember. When I was 5 years old I apparently walked into the local butchers and told him he was a bad man who hurts animals, then did a protest in our front yard asking people to read my hand-drawn placard (which no one could read) that said “You rely (sic) should be kind to dogs. You rely shoud let them inside”.

Erik with Brooklyn, a lamb rescued from the slaughterhouse by Uproar

Erik with little Brooklyn, a lucky lamb who was rescued from the slaughterhouse by the Uproar rescue team

Once I understood that meat came from animals I didn’t want anything to do with it, but my parents told me I’d get sick if I didn’t eat it and so after a while I stopped questioning the origins of pork chops and lamb roasts.

Like most of us, I was conditioned not to think about it, so it wasn’t until my early 20s and the influence of a vegetarian friend that I realised i could eat great tasting food and still live a perfectly healthy life without eating animals.

After 4 years as a vegetarian I began to be aware of the cruelty inherent in all animal industries, including dairy and eggs. Suddenly dairy foods didn’t seem all that important when I was effectively paying someone else to enslave and abuse animals for the pleasure of cheese on toast!

Was it an easy process for you, or have you encountered hiccups along the way? If so what were they and how have you dealt with them?

Really nothing important. Once I made the decision to be vegan it was just a matter of exploring alternatives to replace the foods I liked.

If I’m going to a mate’s house or family gathering I’ll offer to take food for myself so it’s easy for them, and when going to a non-veg restaurant I’ll give them a call beforehand to let them know.

What has the reaction been like from your family and friends?

My family worried at first that I’d keel over from malnutrition within a few months, but 15 years later I’m healthy as an ox and rarely get sick. My brother once told me to stop looking so god-dam healthy because it makes the rest of them look bad haha.

You run a web and graphic design business that focuses on working with non profit organisations and socially responsible businesses, can you tell us a little more about that?

A postcard Erik recently designed for Uproar

My business partner and I were disillusioned with working in an industry that seemed to require us to compromise our ethics and help businesses exploit others.

We both firmly believe that the best way to create change is to become an example of it and so our creative agency, Ethical Design, is our model for a successful business that doesn’t need to compromise on its core beliefs.

This means there have been times when we’ve had to tell clients we can’t work with them. For example, companies that sell goods using animal products or animal testing, rely on sweatshop labor, or are particularly damaging to the environment. Thankfully there are a growing number of like-minded companies out there who refuse to compromise on their ethics.

Sadly it’s a little known fact that many web design companies are now outsourcing work overseas to be able to offer ridiculously low prices. The end consumer often has no idea they’re helping to exploit foreign workers and make it increasingly difficult for local businesses to simply make a living. There’s a great deal of art, experience and a need to constantly expand technical know-how that goes into quality design work.

Erik's business Ethical Design does several free jobs for worthy causes each year. This billboard Erik designed for Edgar's Mission Animal Sanctuary is popular with kids of all ages!

How do you feel switching to veganism has impacted your health?

Being vegan has improved my health on every level. Growing up I was literally the fat kid at school so I had the legacy of years of poor eating habits. I now think in terms of people having an addiction to meat and dairy – foods they’ve been trained to crave since childhood that create most of their health problems.

It didn’t take long before I started to notice I rarely got sick anymore. I was always a sickly kid who got every cold and flu going around, but now I manage to avoid almost all of them. My fat decreased and muscle increased and I had the energy to excercise. These days it’s nothing for me to swim a kilometer at the pool 5 times per week in addition to 3 gym sessions.

Out of curiosity I recently had my health and vitamin levels tested and according to my doctor all of my readings are in the ideal range. So if anyone tries to tell you that veganism is unhealthy in the longer term then I’d have to disagree : )

It’s certainly possible to live an unhealthy vegan lifestyle – there are so many decadent desserts and sweets available, Lord of the Fries fast-food burgers in Melbourne, Trippy Tacos Mexican food, Cheezly vegan cheese – the list goes on! All of these foods are great in moderation but I’ve seen some people try to live on Vegemite sandwiches and 2-minute noodles, and unfortunately these are the people who give veganism a bad rap, get sick and end up going back to eating meat and dairy by default.

Easy Vegan Cheesecake

Can you describe some of your favourite meals, takeaway or home cooked?

I have a range of quick and easy meals I prepare for myself at home as well as more elaborate dishes when I’m sharing food with others. I’ve contributed some of the recipes to Uproar’s recipe pages including Pasta Pronto and Easy Vegan Cheesecake.

Meeting nutritional needs is really easy and basic – in every meal I try to have a selection of:

A protein source:
tofu/tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts etc
A carbohydrate
rice, bread, potatoes, corn etc
Different coloured veg:
eg. brocolli with red pepper, or asparagus and carrot

That’s basically it as far as nutrition goes.

What that means is if you have a stir-fry and replace the chicken with fried tofu in soy sauce, add brocolli and red capsicum and serve with rice or noodles then you’re done. There really is no mystery or difficulty to being vegan.

The only supplement I take regularly is a Multi-B vitamin to make sure I get enough B-12, but I think everyone regardless of diet should take a Multi-B because they help to regulate mood and stress levels. You’d be surprised how many meat eaters have B-vitamin deficiencies.

Have you encountered any absurd stereotypes, comments or negative attitudes?

Yeh all the time! Just about every new person I meet will comment that I don’t look undernourished or skinny for a vegan. People have it in their heads that being vegan means depriving yourself of something.

The other misconception is that I supposedly live on raw lettuce and boiled vegetables. I can’t think of anything worse when there are so many delicious foods to eat.

Is there anyone who has particularly inspired or helped you? Have you influenced anyone else to go vegan?

People really do begin to resemble their animal companions

Many of my friends over the years have inspired me by the choices they make, their commitment to their beliefs and empathy for others.

However it’s the animals who have come into my life who have reinforced that everyone feels joy, pain, excitement, boredom, stress, relief, loneliness and companionship.

I’ve looked after a cat for 19 years now and it’s quite amazing the influence he’s had on people. He has a very distinct personality and demands respect before he’ll let anyone get close to him. Friends and partners have started out annoyed that he doesn’t meet their expectations of how an ‘animal’ should behave, but then they’ve slowly learned how he likes to be treated and seen how affectionate and loving he can be.

More than anything else I’ve seen how that experience opens them up to the fact that animals are individuals just like ourselves, with their own preferences and emotions. It’s only a matter of time before they make the connection between what is on their plate and who is on their lap.

What do you think are the most effective ways of helping veganism to become more mainstream?

It’s really important not to segregate yourself from the rest of society. If you’re invited to dinner with your meat-eating friends or family then make it a point to go so they can see that being vegan doesn’t mean losing your social network or only eating salad. It’s amazing how often people decide to try what you’re having rather than an animal-meal and it inevitably leads to conversations about why you choose not to eat animals.

In all things, lead by example. Be someone who you can respect and do your best not to compromise what you believe in, which means living the life you want to, not what you think is expected of you by your family and friends.

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