The 501st Legion has its first vegan cosplay member and she is taking the internet by storm! Cosplay, for those of you who don’t know, is defined as the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime. It is more than just people dressing up in costumes. It’s an art.
I have been absolutely fascinated by this phenomena ever since I heard some of the awesome stories and saw some of the incredible pictures from my “famous friend,” Jordan Woods Robinson of The Walking Dead, after he would attend “walker/stalker” conventions. The costumes are unreal! Not only are they dedicated fans and followers, but their looks are so detail oriented! It’s clear that they are mega talented when it comes to dressing the part of some of our tv heroes.
One of the most famous cosplay groups around has to be the 501st Legion. They are an all-volunteer organization that does awesome community work while wearing mega popular, almost exact replicas of costumes from one of the greatest movie series of all time, Star Wars. You might have seen them at conventions, private events, and many other massive events. They have even been recognized by George Lucas himself! Read more about them and their incredible charitable efforts here.
I was on a quest to find a vegan member of the 501st legion. A true vegan cosplayer. I found one. She goes by the handle “JediJennie” or “MustardQueen,” and she has a viral video that was shared by the 501st awhile back. The video shows her doing some “Ninja Warrior”-esk moves in a gym, while in a full stormtrooper costume. I had a chance to meet her, and while her strength and agility (especially in that costume) is amazing on it’s own, she credits her vegan diet for allowing her to be in amazing shape. Even better, she found a way to create a vegan stormtrooper costume and put the directions online step by step for anyone else with similar interests. We sent her a few questions just for this post and think you will love some of her answers.
Why did you start eating a vegan diet?
Because I HATE plants! Can’t stand them…DEATH TO PLANTS!!! For real though, I’ve always been an animal lover and made the switch in 1997 when I turned 18. I was vegetarian before that. No friends or family members influenced me. I was vegetarian of my own accord. I knew meat = animal. I started volunteering at the local humane society when I was 14. My grandma stressed the importance of volunteering, so I chose animals as my cause. When I turned 18, I learned about the horrors of factory farming and wanted no part of it, so I gave up dairy and eggs. It was challenging back then. The internet was still Zombo.com and Hamster Dance. I was in Florida, and they are all about fishing and BBQ’s! So I wrote to PETA and requested their Vegan start-up kit, read food labels, checked out library books and after 2-3 months, I was vegan!
I see you are pretty athletic and “Ninja Warrior”-like. How does your diet help you be able to be super fit and active?
I’ve ALWAYS been an athlete: basketball, softball and swimming were my passions growing up. I’m from the “stay outside till it’s dark” generation, so we climbed trees and ran around the neighborhood for hours every day! When I switched to veganism at 18, I didn’t exactly notice a difference in my performance. I still weighed the same, looked the same. Let’s be real…I was in college! Yes, I was vegan, but a JUNK FOOD vegan: Fritos, Boca Burgers, Tofutti “nice” cream, Papa Johns breadsticks with marinara…It wasn’t till my late 20s where I actually had a routine to make weekly Farmers Market visits and prepare meals that I noticed a significant increase in energy and my body gained a more ‘toned’ look. I’m 37, I look 27, and I play hockey with guys. My friends and coworkers comment on my crazy energy all the time!
What are your favorite “healthy” vegan options that are the easiest or simplest to do when you are busy?
Green smoothies! I throw kale, spinach, banana, strawberries, basil, ginger, some hemp seeds/flax seeds and water into my VitaMix and go. I drink it while I’m driving to the airport for work or doing chores around the house. I ALWAYS have frozen bananas/strawberries/mangos and basil on hand. I keep ginger/hemp seeds/flax meal in the fridge, so it’s really just a matter of “do I have kale and or spinach?”
Stir Fry is great too. I get some rice going in the rice cooker and then throw in whatever veggies I have on hand with some tofu or frozen edemame, and I have an awesome meal. I might add some Trader Joe’s Soyaki sauce and BOOMSICLES! Dinner in 15 minutes and no random veggies in the fridge go to waste.
If there was one vegan food you could recommend for those who want to try a vegan diet, but don’t cook, what would it be?
Probably the SweetEarth burritos in the frozen food section of the grocery store. Several of my friends have heated them up at my place and loved them. They were surprised (of course), and said, “wow, this burrito is good!” For some reason they STILL think I eat cardboard? *facepalm*
What is your favorite vegan cosplay story?
I’ve been a costumer all my life (mom is a Trekkie), and honestly – I haven’t run into many other vegans in that realm. My friends obviously know I’m vegan, so over the years, they have been VERY sweet and thoughtful. One roommate at DragonCon made me vegan Bailey’s Irish Cream, so I could put it in my morning coffee (helps the hangovers). At Star Wars Celebration in Orlando a while back, another friend made vegan jello shots out of agar! She cleared the ingredients with me a week prior. So even though I haven’t crossed paths with many vegans in the costuming world, I have raised awareness of this compassionate lifestyle and shown large numbers of people that it’s not difficult, it’s not expensive, and I’m not dead of a protein deficiency.
As a bonus, here is my NOT-so-favorite vegan costuming story: Food “options” during conventions!
Even in California, convention centers are still severely lacking vegan options. It’s usually apples, bananas, fruit salad in a plastic cup… Some might have a smoothie stand with fresh fruits and a soy/almond milk for use, but it’s always blended in the same blenders as the milk products, so for vegans with an allergy, it’s still not an “option.” You might be able to find SuperPretzels. I always try to have a backpack with a prepared sandwich I make at the hotel or pick up from a local vegan shop.
At Orange County Convention Center, I broke down crying one year – I was STARVING and literally all I could find anywhere was an apple! COME ON! I had written to them after the convention, begging for more options for folks with dietary restrictions. I was shocked that in a city that thrives off tourists, how could they not have options for various diets? Well, I was just at a convention there last month, and let me tell you: they didn’t get much better. I was quite disappointed. I once again filled out the survey and wrote to them separately, so hopefully they’ll take it seriously.
Tell us about your no-leather trooper suit!
The 501st Legion is a world wide costuming organization, completely volunteer run, who are dedicated to brightening the lives of the less-fortunate. Their motto is “bad guys doing good” and are the leading force in fan-based charity events. I grew up a Trekkie, but always saw the 501st Stormtroopers and Darth Vader at conventions, and wanted to join the 501st. Due to my shorter stature, I determined a Stormtrooper costume would need a LOT of modifications. I had never made an armor costume before, so I wanted to start with something less intense, therefore I chose the Biker Scout. (Besides, I like ewoks!)
The Biker Scout costume has several components that are traditionally leather-based, specifically the motorcycle gloves. I was going for the ‘most screen accurate build’, which is called Lancer status for Biker Scouts. And since this one particular pair of gloves are THE gloves from the movie, it was going to be a challenging task replicating them. However, with a little creativity, I modified a pair of vinyl gloves and they turned out GREAT! Another part was the boots, so I found a pair of all man made materials. There are also some patches of suede on the suit, which I easily found a substitute for at the fabric store. All of it has really stood up to the test of time! 10 years later and I still wear it (that video of me doing ninja activities was taken last January).
Another recent no-leather costume story: At Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, a company was selling pre-orders of a Stormtrooper costume. I asked MULTIPLE times, “will the holster be leather?” and was told no. Even in the marketing materials, there was not to be any leather. Well…when they went to ship the orders, they “upgraded” the kits to include a leather holster. I cried. I was furious! I didn’t know what to do! Cancel my order? Ask them to replace it??? I discussed my quandary with two close costuming friends who are also vegan. We came up with the solution: keep it ordered, and sell the holster when it comes, and donate the sale price to a local rescue group. Then I can make my own replacement without using cow carcass.
I’ve used some creative leather-replacements, too. For one of my renfaire costumes, I used a dried kombucha scoby as the bottom of a bag on my belt. It is VERY leather-like and sturdy!
Most people dive into a vegan lifestyle for health, the planet, or our animal friends. Why did you decide that a vegan lifestyle was for you?
100% animals. I’ve only recently become aware of the environmental impact of a compassionate lifestyle. Watching “Cowspiracy,” I was AMAZED at the difference in water usage between omnivores and vegans. I was living in California at the time, too, and we had been in a terrible drought…but the water impact from factory farming was NEVER on the news. But you know what was? ALMONDS. “Almond farmers use so much water!” “We need to cut down on our showers…” Even in Silicon Valley, we had to ask for water at a restaurant, even at VEGAN restaurants! LOL It’s like, um, vegans barely use water!