Archive for July, 2007

Living in a state of denial and blind to the exploitation and atrocities of the outside world, I grew up calling myself an “animal lover.” But why then, did I eat animals? It’s odd reflecting on my past non-vegan persona and my newfound joyful vegan identity. My non-vegan persona knew of the horror and of the pain which animals endured, but hid from reality, hoping to escape the guilt which stems from consuming once-living creatures.

The main staple of any of my meals was chicken, fish, or meat. I never questioned or wondered why; I never refused to eat; it was simply ingrained in my mind that my body needed protein and that animals provided the best protein for my body. It took me a long time to realize, to learn, and to transform. However, after becoming a more health-conscience and thoughtful, observant individual, I thought about my diet, researched, and finally faced my fears. I experienced the heartache of knowing how all animals endure such hardships and grief and then I knew that I could no longer allow myself to contribute to the suffering of animals.

At first I went “vegetarian”, but ironically still ate fish. After having another rude awakening, I truly became a vegetarian and then slowly transitioned to vegan. I thought it would be difficult, but it wasn’t. I was so pleased and so happy to feel like I could make a difference and use my own voice to speak for the animals that I was willing to sacrifice the food. Now, I don’t even describe it as sacrifice.

As a vegan, the palate (and more importantly the mind) is cleansed; there is a plethora of healthy, vibrant, nutritious and wonderfully delicious foods to choose from, a diet much more fulfilling than my non-vegan diet ever was. I look forward to cooking such beautiful, tasty food with a smile on my face. And even though the suffering still exists, and even though at times I find it extremely difficult and sad to face the other blind people of the world or continually witness the injustice which exists on Earth, I smile because I am no longer blind. I can see clearly. With no fog clouding my vision, I can attempt to alter the injustice and I am able to pour my heart out to the animals; I use my voice for the animals. I can now sincerely and honestly call myself an “animal lover.”

~Samantha, high school student in southern California

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I’ve been vegetarian for 3 whole years now. From the time I was in high school & saw my first PETA film in 1990 until 2004 I rarely ate red meat, pork or chicken. My yoga instructor encouraged me to cut meat all together – not just for the physical benefits it would bring to my yoga practice, but the spiritual awakening I would experience. She was right on all counts and I soon discovered we had a new closeness in our relationship.

Being vegetarian is no problem for me. But a few months ago, my husband discovered he was lactose intolerant. I’ve been saying for a while now that I would love to be Vegan but had no idea how to do it mindfully without destroying my health & nutrition. I figured his lactose intolerance would be the little push I needed to go all the way to Vegan. As it turns out this was only part of the reason I became vegan. One day I actually read the ingredients in cheese & discovered the wonderfully horrible ingredient: rennet. I literally spit out the piece of cheese in my mouth & have never looked back. It’s been about 2 months now without milk or cheese and there doesn’t seem to be a real issue when out to eat or at other people’s homes.

I have found that my mind is clearer, my emotions steadier, my temper more even, my actions more compassionate when dealing with other people, and, yes, my yoga practice has deepened. Without yoga & the community involved in that lifestyle, I’m not sure I could do this alone. Often, after class, we share stories of our struggles, but swap recipes or names of restaurants that cater to vegans. We can confess our shortcomings, our fears and our failures. And I’ve discovered that my husband is even more supportive of my vegan choices than I ever dreamed.

My eyes have been opened & I don’t expect they’ll ever be closed again. I had my nose pierced 10 months ago as a reminder of my commitment to yoga & the life choices that go with it. When I feel frustrated or lost, I look in the mirror & remember that commitment. I have a horse tattooed on my shoulder & he reminds me who I am doing this all for.

~Lisa in Nevada

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I found myself sitting in the cold classroom that first morning of Meat Fabrication wondering what I would be learning in this class,  excited to be continuing on my journey towards a culinary degree.  That first day proved to be uneventful, simply learning how the class was to be run and what was expected of each of us.  The audacity of the next few weeks
would be enough to push me as close as I had come to eating a vegetarian diet.

I had, in the past, like so many people considered eating vegetarian.  The curiosity first starting around 15 or 16, probably for the sake of rebelling against my parents and just trying to stand out in life.  My mother had noticed that whenever we went to Subway I would always order a vegetarian sub-sandwich.   She asked me one day if I would like to eat vegetarian and that she would be willing to cook that way for me.  I told her I was just eating it occasionally, but found myself cooking my food that way more and more often.  Never quite getting to the point of an all-out vegetarian diet.

Back at culinary school we were in the lecture half of our day of class, with the first half being spent downstairs in the kitchen learning how to “fabricate” all sorts of different kinds of meats, todays lesson: “frenching” a lamb rack in under three minutes.  We all found ourselves watching videos on how cows and chickens were slaughtered.  Mind you, this wasn’t any A&E special sparing the nasty bits of the business, this was a sort of homemade version that got right down into the plant from the airbolt shot on the forehead of the cows to the skinning and grading of the cattle.     

The videos were enough to tear at one’s heartstrings and to cause some to get queasy .   If you have ever read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Fast Food Nation then you know the basics of what goes on in these meat processing plants, but let me tell you it is nothing in comparison to seeing it firsthand, even on video.

Between the videos we watched and the dozens of animals I learned to descale, cut apart and turn into manageable and marketable products to be used in our school’s two restaurants or in the real world in my own, I had seriously been thinking about becoming vegetarian.  But let me tell you that if you think you are criticized and questioned by friends,
try being a chef and vegetarian.  This was daunting to me in the beginning, admitting one was a vegetarian or even considering it brought on an onslaught of criticism from coworkers and bosses alike.  But this was quickly proving to be something I would overcome to appease my own need to eat healthy and ethically.

After finishing culinary school and starting work in the world of culinary arts I had all but lost the idea of being vegetarian.  I had taken classes in nutrition so I knew the benefits of a plant-based diet and how to eat healthy to get all the nutrients I needed.  I was already avoiding red meat and eating a lot of soy products and vegetarian foods, but was also still eating chickens and sea creatures. Finally being completely on my own I realized how easy it would be to eat fast-food meals and not caring about what I put in my body.  It is cheaper, easier and faster to eat out all the time and to eat at McDonald’s or Burger King, conversely it takes time and money to eat healthy not to mention how much more it costs to eat organically.  But I found I wanted to take care of my body and to encourage others to do the same, from my sister to people I would run into at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

In the past year or so I had seriously considered going to a full-vegetarian diet and tried it many times.  If you ever find yourself in charge of a restaurant and trying to switch to vegetarian, the temptations are endless!  From having to work with meat on a constant basis to smelling it all-day long is not an easy thing to overcome, but then again it does relent one to amazing access to all kinds of meat-alternatives on a daily basis.  Still, I was trying and for the most part doing much better than I had in the past to attaining a long sought after goal.

One additional task that is difficult to make a decision on is a special one in the instance of being a vegetarian chef.  It is an even more specialized field than a pastry chef or baker, with less job opportunities and a much smaller market of people willing to eat at a meat-less restaurant.  Lets face it, we are a nation addicted to meat, a nation where summers surround grills loaded with sausage, beef and chicken and winters entice stews, chilies and casseroles.  To make it in the already difficult industry of restaurants, a chef almost must have meat on the menu, which poses an ethical question: Can I still
justifiably serve meat while not eating it for the same reasons?  I have yet to find that answer.

Since discovering Vegetarian Food for Thought about two months ago, I have been inspired to become a full vegetarian.  At the moment I have a job that allows me to travel the world for next-to-nothing, but I miss cooking terribly and will soon return to that career path, after having taken the time to travel to a lot of countries tasting indigenous food and tasting true regional cuisines.  I have finally to come to the path of a true vegetarian for two main reasons; most importantly, a
plant-based diet requires far less acres to sustain than a meat-based, thus providing the opportunity to produce more food for the starving people of the world.  Second, I believe that we, as humans, are built to support a plant-based lifestyle, living with the planet and eating lower on the food chain.

How was I to know on that first day of Meat Fabrication, in that cold, corner classroom that I would in the future influence my friends to eat healthier and to promote, to everyone I know the advantages of a vegetarian diet.  Everyone grows and changes and I like to think that I have helped even a few people learn about a healthier life and a tastier one at that.

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In the past few years, I had heard of some negative press in regards to farmed animals. These included the cruelty of battery hens, hormone injections and antibiotics in animal feed. However, I was not aware of the full extent of the problem and remained unaffected. It was first brought to my attention earlier this year (2007) upon stumbling across 2 podcasts – “Vegan Food For Thought Podcast” and “Deconstructing Dinner.”It was eye-opening and a rude shock. How could I have lived my past 20-so years without being aware of these issues? I dug a little deeper, read more, looked at a few websites, listened to a few more podcasts. As an animal lover and someone with strong moral values, I knew I had to change. Becoming vegan was my goal. However, the obstacles are many and large. How was I supposed to conquer them?

The main obstacle was not so much dietary, but the social aspect. My parents would be the most difficult to convince. Of all the people we interact with, undoubtedly parents have the strongest desire for one’s wellbeing. I’m particularly close to my mother. My wellbeing is of utmost importance to her, beyond anything else. To many people, a diet without meat is unsustaining and ‘unhealthy’. I was prepared, and started small. I told them of the cruelty and the suffering that animals have to endure in order to provide for us. Gone are the days of free-roaming livestock and poultry. The huge human population is putting the world’s resources under strain. Profit always seems to rule, disregarding basic animal rights of being able to have the space to move, be free from pain and stress. Animals are treated as commodities, without feelings or rights. I chose veganism because I could no longer stomach animal products without feeling I’ve contributed to such injustice.

Being fairly slim already, announcing my change to veganism shocked and worried my parents. My 1st obstacle, which still remains my biggest, is mother’s outrage and concern. Despite my talks (that vegan is a healthy, sustainable way to live), she was strongly opposed to it. She believes I’ve been brainwashed by the things I’ve read, and is stuck in my one-sided way of thinking. I could not convince her to listen because, to her, I’ve taken on a mentality which she could not talk any sense into. What frustrates me most is that, she refuse to listen, despite deep-down, she knows there is truth behind my words.

There are many people who, like me, knew some aspects of the horrors in raising animals to provide for us. The problem is that they turn a blind eye so they can carry on living the life they’re used to living.

To me, learning is life-long. I’m always listening, reading, researching various topics and issues. Keeping an open mind doesn’t entail believing everything I’m told. On the contrary, we should be gathering information to be able to form opinions and making decisions.

It pained me to have the dispute with mum. I could no longer look up to her as a role model. I needed someone who is open-minded and cared enough to want to contribute and make a difference to society. She cared for me, and it clouded her judgement. She did not want me to become malnourished. “Why be a minority? Eat like the majority of us. What difference can you make by not eating meat?” was her view. It was painful to hear. Just because I cannot change the world, does that mean I should do nothing at all? Just because everyone else does something, does it make it right?
Dad was slightly more accepting, though he also worried about my health. He is more open-minded, and through introducing him to some podcasts, I hope in time he’ll understand and support my decision.

Mum’s extreme agitation and stress forced me to agree that I would resume eating “normally” – i.e. not vegan. This is an easy enough lie, since I don’t live with her any more. I do not wish to keep living a lie, but am hoping to change her with time.

Friends have been more accepting, though I have not had the chance to tell many of them yet. I’m confident in my decision, and know that the information I’ve learned is not biased. How could I have gone so long without knowing, all these years? It is not just the vegans and animal activists, but wide-spread knowledge of the torture, molesting, that goes on.

Eating as a vegan is most enjoyable. It’s an easy transition, since I’ve never been too attached to  animal products. In fact, it was a relief to learn that I do not need dairy for calcium (I’m Asian and lactose-intolerant – no wonder! Asians typically did not have diary in their diet). However, to avoid every trace of animal product in the food I consume as well as the product I use, is proving to be more challenging. Today, where are more processed foods than ever – many containing long ingredient lists, tainted with all sorts of additives and preservatives. Preparing my own meals from unprocessed foods (fruit, vegetables and grains, etc) is the easiest solution – something that I’ve been doing any way.

I see many flaws and vices in our society today. We consume too much – nutritionally-poor, energy-rich foods, products to satisfy the urge to spend, with terrible wastage as a result. I’m relieved to have discovered veganism and its moral principles. Vegans are generally kind-hearted, strong-willed (for being able to stand up for what they believe in!), and conscientious. Veganism is about embracing a compassionate mentality, a way of life for a better future for all.

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I have eaten (loose) vegetarian off and on for fifteen years.  Last year, I stopped eating land animals for good, due to factory-farming practices.  As I have heard you mention on your podcast, before going vegetarian, I sought out meat from locally raised, authentically grazing animals.  This is not hard since I live in a remote area of Colorado where ranches are abundant and I can go directly to a ranch to buy meat. Even so, I was conscious of still supporting a vicious and tortuous practice.  By maintaining the practice of eating meat, I would find myself in restaurants where I could not be certain of the animal origins and at the houses of family and friends who might not have the opportunity or awareness to buy humanely raised meat.   Explaining why some meat is okay to me and other is not was fuzzy, grey, and felt hollow.  If most meat in this society comes from tortured animals, why eat it at all when there are so many other options?
For the year I was eating no meat but still milk, eggs, and cheese, I avoided thinking about the conditions in which animals who produced these products lived.  These animals had not yet gone through a horrible slaughter and finally, hopefully, rested in peace.  The animals producing milk, cheese, and eggs, were still suffering, living in unbearable conditions as they produced the organic milk and cheese I consumed each day. 
As I listened to your program, I finally went there.  I thought about the conditions the animals lived in and that my life was being sustained by their suffering.  There are so many other ways to sustain my life than animal products – so many wonderful ways.  The big things I have gotten from your program are being exposed to the horrors of factory-farm practices, which I had avoided; hearing nutrition issues addressed in a clear and factual way; and considering the importance of being joyful about embracing veganism.  Right now, sorrow for creatures who endure unthinkable suffering is large for me.  But I am grateful for the sorrow, which is real, and is part of awakening further to life. It is a relief to no longer open the refrigerator to see eggs and cheese and feel my mind close to their origins.  Bringing plant-based foods to the center of my life and to meals that I share with family and friends is nourishing physically and spiritually.
I am happy I encountered you on my path and I am grateful for the work you are doing on behalf of creatures who suffer unbearably and needlessly.

~Victoria in Colorado

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