It seems like actress and musician Harley Quinn Smith (who turns 20 today – happy birthday!) has been everywhere these days, including making the rounds to promote the release of Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, in which she stars. Fortunately for us, she was able to take time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about her personal connection to veganism and how others can successfully adopt a more compassionate lifestyle.

Who or what inspired you to go vegan?

There were a lot of different factors that went into my decision to go vegan. One being my mom. She’s been vegetarian for my whole life basically, but she never pushed it on me, which I think later led to my interest in a meatless life. In my opinion, it’s really counterproductive when vegans are very overbearing with their beliefs, pushing it on people to the point of discomfort. Veganism is about compassion, so it doesn’t make sense to me when vegans isolate and judge non-vegans because that’s not going to get them to listen to what we have to say. Okay, mini tangent over. Another huge reason why I went vegan is my rabbit Cinnamon Bun. When I adopted her, she was completely traumatized from her prior living situation. She came from a house of hoarders who had over a hundred other rabbits. Cinnamon had a torn ear, tons of stitches and was covered in pee. She was so terrified of me, but after months of showing her so much love she finally started to trust me. So seeing what human compassion could do to an animal just changed everything for me. After that, I went vegetarian and a year later went vegan.

What books, documentaries, or other resources helped you make the switch?

I’ve actually never seen a vegan documentary. For me, knowing what went on in the meat and dairy industries was enough. Just hearing about it through verbal explanations was enough to haunt my mind. Once I came to terms with the facts that I was being told about animal agriculture, I knew I had to make a change.

How has living a vegan lifestyle benefitted you?

Being vegan is the gift that never stops giving. I went vegan for animal rights reasons, so it didn’t even dawn on me at the time that it would affect my health, but it definitely has. It’s crazy because going vegan seems like the obvious choice, it not only benefits animals and the environment, but it’s also probably one of the best things you can do for yourself.

What are some of your favorite vegan products?

I can never get enough of Daiya. I know some people look down on it, but I’m obsessed with it. I also love love love love LOVE Beyond Meat. The Beyond Burger, Beyond Sausage, Beyond Meat Crumbles. I could eat it everyday and not get tired of it.

If you could debunk a single myth about veganism, what would that be?

I cannot stand the myth that vegans don’t get enough protein. I’ve had so many meat eaters question my health, which I actually find quite ironic because it’s been proven that meat causes a plethora of health problems. But more so than anything, meat eaters will make claims that I can’t possibly be healthy because I’m not getting enough protein which is NOT true. I’m actually probably getting more protein than I did when I ate meat because I’m making more conscious and much smarter decisions for myself now, rather than being brainwashed by the meat and dairy industries into eating food that’s detrimental to my health.

Do you have any advice for young people who want to embrace veganism, but may have family members who are unsupportive?

I know how difficult it can be to not have your family on board with veganism. When I first went vegan, my grandparents would make fun of me and my dad didn’t understand why I gave up animal products. Now, my grandparents are both vegetarian and my dad is vegan. It took them time, but they came around and finally listened to what I was saying and really heard me. I think the reason they finally decided to take into consideration what I was saying is because I never pushed it on them. I stated my beliefs, but not aggressively. I think people can often get scared away from the idea of veganism when it’s being preached to them in a harsh and/or disrespectful manner, so if you come at advocacy with a more compassionate approach, they’ll be more likely to hear what you have to say. The same goes for your family, put your heart out on the table and explain why you want to make the decision to go vegan, if they don’t listen to you at first, give it time – they’ll come around.

What do you hope to see more of in the animal advocacy community?

Compassion. I feel I’m being a bit redundant, but I think compassion is weirdly one of the things missing from a lot of animal rights activists. They forget that they too, once probably ate animal products so they look down on the people who have yet to make the switch to veganism. It’s not a healthy or effective way of getting people to hear what we have to say. We have to remember that at the end of the day, if you’re coming at veganism from an animal rights approach, we’re all doing this for our love for animals and our desire for them to be treated as individuals instead of food. We need to remember to treat fellow humans as individuals with feelings and value as well because if we act all high and mighty, they’re not going to listen to us. They’re going to be turned off and they’ll probably fight against us, making it counterproductive.

You have an adopted rabbit named Cinnamon Bun. How did Cinnamon Bun become a part of your family and how does having a companion animal enrich your life?

Cinnamon came into my life about four years ago. I had been asking my parents if I could get a rabbit for so long, when they finally agreed that for Christmas I could adopt one. I lost my mind I was so excited. They told me on Christmas Eve, but all the shelters were closed Christmas Day so I had to wait until the 26th to go get her, which was the most excruciating wait of my life. The chain of shelters I adopted her from have a website where they post pictures of all their animals, so Christmas Day I searched through hundred of pictures of rabbits until I found Cinnamon. Her original name was Rainbow and she was listed as tan even though she’s gray. So then as soon as the shelters opened on the 26th, my grandparents and I raced over to meet her. It was then when I discovered her torn ear and the terrible condition she was in, and in that moment I knew I needed to bring her home because if I didn’t, I don’t think anyone would have. She has changed my life so much, it’s hard to imagine who I’d be without her. She was the tipping point for me to go vegetarian then vegan, she’s made me more compassionate, caring and loving. It’s so cheesy, but there’s that saying about how you adopt an animal to save their life, but really they save yours – and I could not agree more.

Tell us something about yourself that your fans would be surprised to know?

I’m a practicing witch.

Favorite vegan recipe ever?

I am not much of a cook, but I am known around my house as the master of quesadilla making. Corn tortillas, daiya mozzarella and cheddar cheese, onions and black beans – yes please!

Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images