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Archive for November, 2007

It all started when I was a young boy, growing up in Miami. My parents did their best to try to find us events and programmes that would let us kids feel like we have a community to belong to. Having immigrated from India, finding such a community was difficult enough, but being (lacto) vegetarian made us feel more alienated still. The norms of the  American culture confused and bothered us. We didn’t understand how people who could keep petted and pampered animals (dogs and cats) could turn around and senselessly, viciously savage and slaughter other beautiful, intelligent
animals, like cows, pigs, and chickens.

In the pursuit of community that would be open and accepting of my family, my mother found a vegan meet up. Because most of the food of South India is vegan already, she had a very easy time throwing together delicious dishes that would get raves from all the vegans at the meetups. For whatever reason, their truth didn’t penetrate my dense skull at the time. They were vegan, and I was vegetarian. In my brain, there was no difference.

In eighth grade, my social studies teacher required each of her students to present what she called a “tracer” in the USA. A tracer, in this case, was a topic of human interest, that could be traced back to  culture in the US. The first one that I chose, of course, was being vegetarian.

A dear family friend of mine was working for Earth Save at the time. She loaned me a book called The Healthy School Lunch Programme Action Guide, which was a pilot programme being run by Earth Save to try to get more vegan options into public school cafeterias. It had statistics, figures, guides on cooking in bulk, and the stories of the animals, and what they suffer. As I stood in front of the class, describing the atrocities that cows are forced to endure, the unnatural ways that their bodies are crammed together, my brain continued to ignore the clear conclusions that the book was saying: GO
VEGAN.

It’s funny how no matter how clear the message, if you’re not ready for it, you will not hear it. On went my senseless exploitation of the animals for my pleasure. On went the consumption of dairy and eggs. I shudder to think of the hundreds of thousands of deaths I’m responsible for with my cavalier attitude towards the suffering of others.

In college, I co-founded a vegan club. Still, nothing sunk in. I cooked for friends in their homes, and at my home. Nothing still. Finally, I stumbled upon Bob and Jenna Torres’s podcast, “Vegan Freak Radio.” They urged their listeners to try to go vegan for three weeks to see how they like it. To see if they could do it. It was a challenge, and I was willing to step up to the plate, and face it. I tried the three week pilot vegan programme.

Boom.

I was vegan.

I began posting recipes on their forums, and Bob approached me to write a book. I was floored. Someone wanted me to write down my recipes? Someone wanted to hear my voice, and share it with others? But I’m such a new vegan! What do I know?

He refused to be swayed by my lousy excuses, just like he refused to be swayed by excuses against going vegan. “Just try it,” he said. So try it I did. I poured my heart into that book, telling the stories of each recipe, describing in detail the whys and the hows of the food. I explained what the recipes meant to me, and how they came into my life. I fondly recalled the
formation of the foods, and loved sharing that part of myself.

And now I’m cooking at a vegan restaurant.

Who knew that in the course of two years, I could find my vegan husband, write my vegan book, and cook in a vegan  restaurant. What a lot of power just a few people’s voices have. It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard the message before; it was that I wasn’t ready to hear it, or that the messenger wasn’t speaking in terms that I understood. You and people like you are the strongest advocates for the animals (aside from the animals themselves). If you don’t let your voice be heard, you deny the animals their voices, which is what everyone else in this slave-centred society does. Tell your stories loudly and proudly. Proclaim your truths. Be vegan.

~Dino in New York

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Ari’s Story:

It was a completely uneventful start to my day. I had some toast, enjoyed my coffee and sat down at my couch to watch The View. It was actually the show where Elizabeth and Rosie would have their final throw-down, but I digress. After the vicious tongue fight, they welcomed their celebrity guest, Alicia Silverstone.

Alicia walked onto the set looking radiant and sat down to speak with the women. One of the first thing Rosie asked her was “You’re a vegan, right?” Alicia responded affirmatively and I thought how nice for her. It’s what she said next that really struck me. She started speaking about how she loved her dogs, that they were like her children and that she couldn’t wrap her head around why it’s OK that we love and cherish some animals, but eat others. She said there was one day she just looked at her dogs and thought, “Why don’t I just eat them?”

Well, I was horrified! My cats ARE my children and to think of them ever being hurt or, heaven forbid, eaten is, well, unthinkable. I had lost my cat Ho’ben a year before and his passing was the most painful moment in my life.

Alicia mentioned on the show that she had been working with PETA. I knew of the organization but never really took time to investigate who they were or what they did. All I knew was that they were the group that occasionally threw red paint on people who wore fur, which I have to admit I think is quite fabulous! Immediately after the show I sat down at my computer and went to their website. What I saw changed my life.

I was so engrossed that I blew off work and, for over an hour, I poured over their “Meat Your Meat” segment, undercover investigations, “30 Reasons To Go Vegetarian” etc. After some time, my partner came into the bedroom where I was still at the computer to ask me what was up. All I could say was “I’m done.”

From that point on I was vegan. I knew practically nothing about vegan fare but I didn’t care. I would eat iceberg lettuce for the rest of my life; all I knew is that I couldn’t contribute to the violence and suffering of all these animals.

Luckily, I quickly discovered that there was a lot more to vegan cuisine besides iceberg. My whole menu was transformed into a delicious, savory, wholesome feast. I tried new vegetables like kale (my new favorite, sorry broccoli) and chard. I tasted new scrumptious delights like seitan, flax seeds, hemp, tempeh, and quinoa. My taste buds were overjoyed… and so was I!

I felt compelled to do research into factory farming, animal testing, and animal behavior. Now my diet was not the only thing changing, my view of the world was. The veil had been lifted. I gave up leather, wool, and down. I got involved with organizations like Farm Sanctuary and PETA. I started speaking my truth (thank you Colleen) to my friends and family.

And now, even after all the pain and suffering and violence I’ve become privy to, I stand strong and know that things can change. Things must change. To my great surprise, one my closest friends, who lives in Texas of all places, recently became vegan as a result of our conversations. For all of you out there who are vegan or vegetarian know that you are beacons of peace and hope. Shine on!

Mikko’s Story:

Today is my first Vegan Thanksgiving. I went Vegetarian this year after my partner Ari showed me PETA’s “Chew on This: 30 Reasons to Go Vegetarian.” After seeing those images of animals being abused and killed in the most inhumane ways, I knew I could never go back and pretend I hadn’t seen what I’d just seen. I’d read about the abuses of the factory farming industry, and prior to this, my partner and I had bought only what we thought to be “humanely raised” meat and chicken. But seeing those images, it became clear: there’s no such thing as humane slaughter. In the end, it’s all the same, and it’s all wrong. I felt like I’d just been unplugged from the Matrix, and stepped into a world where most everyone was still asleep. It took real effort not to scream at people in supermarkets who were buying meat or chicken, or at the store owners for selling it.

And still, for a while, I considered eating cheese. It pains me to remember that I thought: well, no one’s dying for cheese, if I just buy cheese made from the milk of humanely treated cows… but the truth is: cows don’t produce milk without being pregnant, and after reading about the cries of mother cows when their children are taken from them, and the incredible inhumanity of the veal industry, which can only exist through the dairy industry, I was done with cheese, too.

With becoming Vegan comes the sorrow of knowledge, and anger at the apathy of those around you, who choose not to know, who look away, or who simply don’t care. But with becoming Vegan also comes great joy, as this blog so beautifully documents in countless stories. And that’s what I want to think about this Thanksgiving. Becoming Vegan is one of the easiest, healthiest, and most gratifying transformations I’ve ever made. Knowing that I’m no longer contributing to the suffering of billions of animals gives me great peace. But I’ve also learned to experience all new kinds of flavors, my partner and I cook more, and introducing our friends to delicious Vegan feasts is one of our great joys. Non-vegetarians seem to sometimes think the only thing Vegans eat is lettuce and tofu cubes, and it’s been our pleasure to dispel those myths.

The one thing I guess I didn’t expect was some of the hostility my partner and I encountered from friends and even some family members, who up until this point had always respected our opinions. When discussing the moral reasons behind our becoming Vegan, the most infuriating comment still remains: “Well, I don’t want to know.” Well, you should. Because what is unfolding is a crime, and by choosing to look away, you’re participating and enabling it. Sorry if I can’t be more diplomatic about it, or just say being Vegan is just a personal choice. I have two friends who’ve been Vegan for more than ten years. If they’d spoken up about why, instead of calling it just their choice, I myself might’ve been changed sooner.

Some of the remarks my partner and I got often came cloaked in predictable concerns about not getting enough B-12 and protein and iron and such. Thank you, meat and dairy lobby: everyone’s suddenly an expert when you become Vegan, and eating a fat and cholesterol-laden pound of flesh is their nutritious panacea. Well, two weeks ago I had my first annual physical after becoming Vegan. I’ve always had genetically high cholesterol. But today the numbers are down for the first time, and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. Still, the greatest joy for me from being Vegan comes every day sitting down to eat, and knowing that no one had to suffer and die for me to live. Today, I’m grateful my eyes have been opened, and for that I thank my partner Ari (and PETA).

~Mikko and Ari, California

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I was always aware of there being something wrong with eating animals but raised in a strong family with two elder brothers my ideas were always considered childish. I tried to turn vegetarian when I was 12 but was confronted with mum trying to sneak ham into my sandwiches and so many comments of ‘it’s just a phase’. Having been unable to stand up for myself most of my life, I just conformed, it was the easy option. I kept my head down and worked through school and university and got married to a bully who make me feel even more worthless as a person.

Two years later after a string of events I plucked up the courage to stand up for myself. Finally. I have never looked back. After vowing to stay single I met a wonderful man, Matthew, who just happened to be vegetarian and we moved to the country. Living near animals made me aware of the choice I’d never truly made but knew I should so I gave up the meat. I could not watch the lambs in the field infront of our cottage and laugh as they bounded from one side to another playing games and then eat a lamb roast. Couldn’t do it. So I was a vegetarian. I never considered becoming a vegan until I listened to a podcast from Compassionate Cooks. My now husband Matthew fell upon the podcast one day and told me I must listen. He was a bit stunned after I did listen and decided I was immediately vegan. He took some friendly persuasion but I am thrilled to say he has now made the same decision and we decided to raise our two children as vegan also. We have a little girl, Heidi, aged 2 and a son, Miller, aged 7 months.

We have encountered difficulties as vegans, not least being that we live in Northern Norway (we are English but moved over here in 2004) in a small community where meat eating is abundant, vegetarians considered mentally instable and where elk hunting is quite common. Needless to say I have to travel far and wide to get the basics I need to keep my family healthy! But we are healthy and I feel more alive than ever. When I gave up the dairy I noticed so many positive changes, I lost all my pregnancy weight and my shape is better than ever, my skin is flawless (I had excema before, none since), my hair shines and I no longer feel sluggish or bloated. I also feel more in control of my life and am so happy not to contribute to suffering.

I feel my life continues to improve in leaps and bounds. I am quite a different person than the shy girl I grew up with inside of me. I am part of a media company which I helped found here in Norway and am writing a script for a children’s television series alongside many other arts projects. I am also a qualified yoga teacher. I have a blog entitled new vegan mom (www.newveganmom.blogspot.com) and my son and I make a weekly vlog for new mums and their babies entitled ‘Yoga Baby’ (www.yogababy.tv or you can go to blip.tv or itunes and subscribe). I am also writing an interactive book for children (www.snoredust.blogspot.com) where kids can submit ideas and pics to be included in the published novel. I guess you could say I’m busy!

I encounter many people who just do not understand why veganism has such a positive impact on our lives…but then occasionally I meet one person who does…

~Jill in Norway

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I was a vegetarian for about 10 years before finally taking the vegan plunge this summer, and have always been proud of my choice not to eat animals. The notion of veganism was a niggling presence in the back of my mind, but I told myself that I “couldn’t” do it for all the standard reasons — it’s too hard, I couldn’t live without yogurt and cheese, I wouldn’t be able to go out to restaurants any more, eggs and milk don’t kill the animals, yadda yadda.

Listening to your podcast changed all that. It was in finally making the connection that the veal industry exists because of dairy that really clinched it for me. As a vegetarian, I had always felt that veal was one of the most reprehensible things you could eat, yet there I was supporting that very industry every time I put milk in my coffee.

Honestly, I don’t know why I never grasped that connection. After all, I grew up in a rural area and we actually had our own cow when I was a child. My parents would have the vet come around and artificially inseminate her — a process we knew she was none too fond of, because she would always try to hide when she heard the sound of his van coming down the driveway… which goes to show  just how smart cows really are! The driveway was not visible from the paddock  where our Moo and the other animals lived, yet she was able to make the connection between the sound of his engine and the nasty procedures that were done to  her.

Clearly, Moo was a lot better at making connections that I was, considering I never made the link that she had to have babies in order to give milk. The more I think about it, the more it amazes me that I managed to get through forty years of life without considering the implications of what it would mean on a scale of mass production to have millions of cows constantly giving birth to calves that would be 50% male, and just what would happen to all those male calves.

The same thing goes for eggs. Even after I went vegetarian and educated myself somewhat about factory farming, I still somehow thought that free range-eggs and organic cheese were the answer. I sort of assumed that “free range” hens would live the way our hens did when I was a kid. Even when I was little, though, I knew that my parents killed the roosters. In fact, this was one of the formative experiences that eventually turned me towards vegetarianism; being served the flesh of chickens that I’d known personally made it difficult to avoid the knowledge that meat is animal flesh. Yet I never quite grasped the idea that this killing-off of male chickens is simply part of the egg-producing industry, and that it happens on “free-range” facilities just the same as any other.

I suppose that’s a symptom of being raised in a culture where everything is so disconnected; we become blinded to what’s going on right in front of us. And the unvarnished truth is that, like most people, I didn’t make those connections because I really didn’t *want* to make them.

Listening to your podcast is what finally cleared the cobwebs from my  thinking. I really appreciate how thoroughly you debunk the myths and assumptions of  our carnist culture, replacing them with facts and logic. Not only do you make a powerful case for the importance of becoming vegan, you also make veganism seem really accessible. I think that even just listening to your voice helped me; it made me feel as if I “know” someone who made the transition, and that if you were able to do it, maybe I could do it too. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it really helped a lot. I’ve now transitioned my diet and most of my wardrobe to veganism, and am working to gradually eliminate animal products from my life.

I’m amazed by how profoundly becoming vegan has affected me. It’s a much deeper change than becoming vegetarian ever was, and seems a lot more significant. Looking around, I find myself seeing the world through new eyes. For example, I can’t believe how many leather items I’ve thoughtlessly purchased over the years, or the fact that I never questioned what happened to the ducks whose feathers fill my duvet. What was I thinking? How is it that I could have  given money to support such things, all the while believing that I loved animals?

These are painful realizations, yet it’s a good kind of pain because I’m finally being honest with myself. It feels like a homecoming, like I’m finally living a life that’s true to who I really am — and I have you to thank for it. So thank you, Colleen, for all the wonderful work you do. Never doubt that you are making a huge difference, both for the animals and for the people who love them.

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