When word spread that Miyoko Schinner was parting ways with the company she founded—a company that arguably single-handedly mainstreamed artisan plant-based cheese and butter—legions of fans were devastated. They rallied behind the vegan icon and supported Schinner as she shared raw, honest Instagram videos about her journey. Eventually, the legal disputes were resolved and both parties wished each other well as they went their separate ways. It was the closing of a chapter during a trying year for the entrepreneur—who was also navigating a divorce—but through it all, Schinner somehow maintained grace, perspective, and a sense of grounded optimism that her fans found nothing short of inspirational.
At 66, Schinner—whose first business, Madam Miyoko, saw her delivering pound cakes via the Tokyo subway system back in the ‘80s—is shifting gears yet again, but she is most certainly not slowing down. VegNews had a chance to catch up with Schinner about life in the fast lane, with all of its ups and downs.
Jo-Anne McArthur/We Are Animals
Jasmin Singer: I can’t even imagine what this year has been like for you. I know that there is only a certain amount you probably can and can’t talk about, so let me just ask you: how are you doing?
Miyoko Schinner: This may come as a surprise, but I’m actually doing fantastically. I mean that in a very, very genuine, real way. Had you asked me that three months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say the same.
But for what started out as a pretty terrible year, I knew that there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. You’re always going to make it through, no matter how horrible life can be. And I feel like I have either made it through, or I’m very, very close to it.
I don’t think you’re ever out of the tunnel, because life is a tunnel. You’re always navigating in the dark to some degree, and there’s always going to be monsters jumping out at you. I had more than my share of monsters over the past year, but I can say that I have learned so much, and I feel that I’ve gotten back to who I am at the core … that I can live a more genuine, real existence today than I ever could have in the last eight to 10 years. If that was what was needed for me to reach this point, then I’m grateful.
JS: You’ve reshaped vegan food, mainstreaming it perhaps like no one ever has. The success of the company was clearly a result of your fortitude, hard work, and talent. So what are you focusing on these days?
MS: I started a little YouTube show. It’s scrappy. It’s called The Vegan Good Life with Miyoko. I show you how to make a lot of things that are very basic, whether it’s vegan butter, yogurt, or crêpes. And there are animals in it. There are usually piggies and goats eating what I make.
JS: And rescued ones at that! Indeed, one of the most important ventures that you started has been Rancho Compasión. So tell us about your sanctuary.
MS: Rancho Compasión is a farmed animal sanctuary I founded in 2015. It’s what saved my life in many, many ways. Aside from the animals, we’ve created a beautiful community of passionate staff, volunteers, and visitors, and we do a lot of outreach activities.
Jo-Anne McArthur/We Are Animals
But most recently, we merged with another sanctuary in Colfax, CA, which is up in the foothills. We had met Danielle Hanosh, the founder of that sanctuary, and we just found her to be lovely. Together along with Monica Stevens of Jameson Humane, we co-founded a nonprofit called LEAP—Leaders for Ethics, Animals, and the Planet—last year. It’s the world’s first alternative to 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA).
It’s a program where, just like for 4-H and FFA, students get to learn about everything from leadership to food systems to animals, sustainability, and all of that. But oftentimes in 4-H or FFA, kids raise animals, they fall in love with them, and then they have to take them to the county fair, parade them around, and then they get sold off for slaughter—which is really heartbreaking to a lot of these kids.
JS: It’s really unconscionable that programs like that tout themselves as “compassionate” and say they’re teaching life skills. It’s so traumatizing.
MS: A lot of the kids don’t realize that’s what’s happening. But during this process of doing that, they are supposedly “learning about the food system,” and their hearts are being hardened. We wanted to change that. We wanted to create an opportunity where kids could connect with animals and learn about animal care, if they’re interested in that, but not have to take them to slaughter at the end of the day. They get to see their animal grow up on a sanctuary.
JS: It’s so exciting to see all the ways you continue to create alternatives to institutionalized cruelty—first through food, now through the LEAP program. And it seems you have quite a dedicated team around you.
MS: Yes, I think we’re all becoming aware that we need more than the small lives that we’ve had as individuals, that we need community. The Surgeon General said that loneliness was an epidemic in this country. And I’m hearing more and more people tell me that they need community.
To me, this is a huge opportunity for us to create the biggest vegan community—one that truly cares for people, that brings people together because of shared values. It’s a community of people that share the same values that we need to live compassionately.
That is really what excites me, and what I found as I emerged from this tunnel—where I felt very, very alone for the last year in many ways, despite the fact that I had so much support from friends and family and the world—is that I am now able to enjoy that support. My life has never been this full of community.
JS: So what comes next for you?
MS: I’m 66, and I am reinventing myself yet again. I thought this was my last hurrah, and I was going to go into the sunset fully retired. And now, I am really more excited than ever about what more I can do that’s bigger and better.