In 2015, a year or so after I went vegan, my daughter attended the Ivy League Vegan Conference at Cornell. She wasn’t fully vegan, but she was eager to sample the food and report back to me what she discovered.
After the conference, she described a talk she had attended. “Miyoko Schinner makes the most amazing cheese. You would really like her, Mom. She’s from California but if she lived in Boston, I think you’d be best friends.” A week later, a Valentine’s Day surprise arrived in the mail. My daughter had sent a gift box of Miyoko’s Creamery cultured, cashew-based cheese. One bite and I was hooked.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Miyoko about her personal mission, business challenges and successes, and vision for the future. I also attended the Main Street Vegan Academy Master Class where Miyoko presented and elaborated on these topics. Her words have got me thinking about leadership, the universal struggles we all face, and their relationship to Hanukkah.
During Hanukkah we light the Menorah to celebrate the rededication of the ancient temple and the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight. Why then does the Menorah have nine candles?
The ninth candle is the shamash, used to light each of the others. During Hanukkah, it serves to remind us of leaders who inspire, despite challenges, who ignite hope and light the path for others to follow. Miyoko Schinner is one such leader.
In 2010, five years before my daughter met her, Miyoko was invited to present at the San Francisco Veg Fest. As she prepared for the session, she looked out at the empty chairs and wondered: “Who is going to attend and pay attention to someone in their mid-50s.” (Oh, how I can relate…)
Despite her doubt, Miyoko pressed on. Ultimately, over 100 people attended. She impressed the crowd with her cheese-making prowess. Many in the audience urged her to write a cookbook to share her homemade recipes. Taking their advice, she published Artisan Vegan Cheese. Miyoko says this book “launched 1000 vegan cheese businesses.”
Her own business, Miyoko’s Creamery, was one of them. She founded it 2014 despite thinking “I suck at food business.” She summoned courage. She capitalized on her inherent optimism. She set a goal to create organic, traditionally cultured, plant-based cheeses and butters that taste and perform better than those from animal dairy. She was determined to take cows and goats out of the equation as “happiness is the fundamental right of all living beings.”
Miyoko calls her work “epicurean activism.” She is leading a food revolution, changing the way that foods are being made in order to save animals and the planet. Her activism is paying off; business is exploding, doubling in sales every year since 2014. Miyoko’s Creamery sustainably-sourced cheeses and butters are now in 20,000 stores nationwide.
In December of 2019, resistance mounted. The California Department of Food and Agriculture informed Miyoko’s Creamery that they must cease using the terms cheese and butter to describe their products. Additionally, they must remove the words lactose- free, hormone-free and cruelty-free from their website.
Miyoko was not deterred. She teamed up with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and a First Amendment attorney. Miyoko’s team sued the state of CA, the largest dairy state in nation, in violation of their First Amendment rights. They won a preliminary injunction. In August of 2021 they expect to, and are confident they will, receive a formal injunction.
Miyoko fought for her company’s First Amendment rights in order to keep all candles lit; she aimed to set a precedent that the rest of the industry would benefit from. She fought for change and navigated resistance, pursuing her vision for a better future.
Miyoko inspires us to be brave, especially in the face of internal doubt and external opposition, in order to serve and elevate others. She reminds us that we are all capable of using the special gifts we have to light others’ fires. As Hanukkah nearly comes to an end, I pray: May we all be the shamash, blessed with the courage and persistence to lead the way towards a vision of a more compassionate and just world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diana Goldman is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Plant-based Nutrition Educator. She received a B.S. from Cornell University in Nutritional Science and an Ed.M. from Harvard University. She loves writing about inspiring people, teaching healthy cooking classes, and sharing recipe videos on her YouTube Channel. Sign up to receive a free Healthy Vegan Made Easy ebook on her website Beantown Kitchen.
MORE ABOUT MIYOKO SCHINNER
In addition to changing the economics of the food system at Miyoko’s Creamery, Miyoko runs Rancho Compasion, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to changing the perception of animals from food, to loving creatures who want to live their own lives.