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Archive for the ‘animal agriculture’ Category

Five… an innocent age, one during which you’re more interested in coloring books and preparing for kindergarten than making life-changing decisions about your moral beliefs. I wasn’t prepared for such a decision, but it snuck up on me one day, a product of my unrelenting curiosity.

“Mommy, why are the cows crying?”

My parents own 150 acres of Texas farmland, upon which graze about 50 beautiful bovines and a horse or two at any given time. At this moment in my life, many of the old girls are bellowing their hearts out, making my little empathetic self squirm in my seat. What on earth could be the matter?

“Well… their bellies hurt, that’s all.”

“Why?”

“Their bodies made milk for their babies to drink, and now that their babies are gone, they’re just a little sore, that’s all.”

“But… where did their babies GO?”

Now, at this age, these cows are just big dogs to me – as much my personal beloved pets as our two ponies are. What kind of monster would take our baby cows, and for what purpose? Why are my parents sitting there so complacently after such a (to my mind and clearly to the cows as well) horrendous and despicable crime has occurred? Well, it was at this point in my life that they chose to explain to me the prevailing human belief that we are the superior species, and therefore all other creatures are but commodities to our needs… not in so many words, of course…

“You see your hamburger here, sweetheart? Well, it’s made from the cows. We take animals, and we make them into meat so we can eat them, so we can live…”

Whoa. We do.. what? I’m eating… what?? This was quite a shocker to my fragile little mind. Doesn’t making them into meat… hurt them? Why would we hurt them? Aren’t they our friends?

Well, my parents tried to fight the flames of my furious realization and soothe my troubled mind, but they soon found it was too late. From that day on I scrutinized my meals diligently, refusing to put anything in my mouth which my parents (reluctantly) admitted was, in fact, dead animal flesh. Of course it was never named as such, always just called the generic “meat”, and played off as being completely normal and natural. They had hoped that this little phase would end soon enough, that my mind would eventually disentangle the hunks of muscle that everyone around me continued to consume from the love and respect I felt for all the other living creatures which I had until then, and wanted to continue to, believe were my equals.

Now I see that they’re not quite my equals, of course. Almost all nonhuman animals will never even remotely understand how far we can see into the future and the past, or how intimately we understand the chemistry and physics and biology that allow us all to exist. They may not have any clue the complexities that we are able to contain in our minds, but they know compassion. They know a pat on the head from a kick in the rear, and they know that the strange species that walks on two legs is equally able to deliver both. Only we know how wise we are as a species, and only we can make the choice to deliver love and kindness to our fellow beings, rather than a painful and untimely death.

I thank you so much for your role in helping people to awaken to the tragedy of our status quo. For me a desperately depressed and pained chorus of mooing was what it took to awaken the true fervor of my animal activism. For those who haven’t had such an experience, I couldn’t imagine a more enlightening and gentle manner to be awakened to the bliss of compassion than through the practical reasoning, enriching literature, and delicious meals you share with the world via Compassionate Cooks. For this reason I am eternally grateful to you and all the persons and events which continue to support you and make you a success.

I am thankful today and always for all my fellow revolutionaries in the greatest cause on earth – the equality of all living beings.

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I had never really been a particularly healthy person growing up. I guess I ate mostly what everyone else, my family, friends and the rest of New Zealand society ate. Meat and two veg for dinner, plenty of fruit, cereals and grains, a lot of dairy. It was the simple things I remember eating – meals of baked beans on toast, mince & mash or sausages in bread with tomato sauce or cheese and vegemite sandwiches.

As I grew older I was inclined to pay more attention to eating habits and health in general, although seldom was any of my newfound knowledge put into practice. I did however know that there was nothing wrong with lean red meat and dairy in a well balanced diet. In fact, I was quite sure that my iron levels were lower than average and thanks to persistent advertising, more than aware of the vital role of probiotics from dairy in promoting healthy gut flora. I made my own yoghurt, drank plenty of milk, made sure I bought, cooked and ate enough red meat and fish (omega 3!) and sophisticatedly indulged in eating cheese of varying varieties while drinking red wine. Little did I know I was flooding my body with cholesterol and fats and probably a not-so-healthy dose of antibiotics and hormones too!

The plight of animals never really crossed my mind. Sure, they were killed for our consumption. Of course they were; that’s what they were raised for. And anyway, if I didn’t pick up that chicken breast at the supermarket, someone else would, or it would be wasted. The damage had already been done and all I was doing was making good use of the product of an industry, not letting it go to waste. In a land full of farmers you seldom encountered opposing views. In short, you ate what you were given and were thankful.

After graduating, travel led me to all sorts of places and introduced me to a range of cuisines. Seeking desperately to avoid the ‘fussy’ label I had earned as a child I ate all manner of delicacies served for my consumption, including sea snake, puffer fish, raw horse meat, raw chicken, liver and cartilage. Somehow, this made me and my companions feel good. As if we had conquered the dead and lifeless meat in front of us and as if this was cause to congratulate ourselves and boast. None of this bothered me at the time. It is only now, when I look back on myself at those moments that I am saddened.

I have been vegan for a year and a half, vegetarian before that for a good six months or so. It has changed my life completely and continues to do so. I can’t really say that there was a definitive moment in my life that led me to adopt a more compassionate lifestyle, or that I woke up one morning and it all fell into place like the pieces of some terribly sadistic puzzle. But rather, things happened gradually. I was aware of issues surrounding the consumption of animal products in almost a peripheral sense, as if they were always there but I had never chosen to focus on them. It really is amazing what our minds and hearts will ignore in order to maintain the status quo and avoid change.

Most of the peripheral information I was aware of came via my partner, who had a colleague at work recently ‘convert’ to vegetarianism. He would come home with tales of conversations he’d had with his colleague, Matt, while sharing a beer during their lunch break or after work. I didn’t know Matt particularly well at the time, but one thing he was known for was his penchant for logic. He is a very rational and reasonable guy, not to mention patient and tolerant of others’ opinions. And here he was, giving up meat!

Somehow it didn’t quite compute. The stereotypes I had of vegans and vegetarians in my head did not look like Matt. But, hey, we were living in the 2000s and was willing to listen to his theories on a cruelty-free life second-hand anyway. I found my ears pricking up whenever my partner mentioned he’d had a conversation with Matt recently and low and behold I began to realise that I was actually interested. Could I be one of those people who ‘goes vego’, who opts for pizza without cheese..? The more I thought about it and researched things, the more sympathy I had for vegetarianism and the more I came to realise that there was nothing inherently ‘weird’ or ‘anti-social’ about these people. They were simply normal people; normal people who wanted to try and make the world a slightly better place to be in by not eating animal flesh. In just the same way that I recycled my plastic bottles and newspapers, reused my own bags at the supermarket or shared a smile with a stranger in a busy street, they were out to see if their actions couldn’t make life better for all of us.

It seems like a lofty idea and you could be forgiven for thinking I’m naïve and idealistic. But, in truth, I have never seen anything wrong with either of these qualities and much prefer them to pessimism and cynicism. Sure, opting for a salad over a hamburger is not going to instantly transform the world into some heavenly utopia, but it does make a difference. Less demand for meat means less demand for farmed animals who live pitifully short lives of suffering, less slaughterhouse workers who leave for home every night with blood on their white overalls and aprons, less trees and forests cut down to provide pasture for grazing, less habitats lost, less grain fed to animals, less people fretting about the price of food, less starvation, less high-cholesterol, less heart disease, less obesity, less taxes for health care, less resources wasted. Less suffering and death.

I suppose you could say that once I had made these connections there was no going back. Something had changed in the way that I viewed the world and my place in it. I had become so much more aware of how my actions, simple, small and everyday things, could have much greater implications elsewhere and create a knock-on effect. Soon I had decided to stop eating dairy, eggs and then processed foods that contained animal products. I was reading labels, thinking about ingredients and then thinking about them again. I had expected this to happen. But one thing I hadn’t expected was the influence this way of thinking had on the rest of my life. I began to find myself questioning if I really needed to buy another magazine or book or T shirt and wondering where and how and for what purpose these things had been produced. Who was I helping with my money besides myself? Was I making a difference in the world? Was this a positive action or a negative one..?

‘Awakening’ implies that you had to have been asleep beforehand, but I know that I wasn’t; I was fully conscious and considered myself a good human being. However, I chose to blind myself to many of these issues because to acknowledge them made me slightly uncomfortable. Many issues in the world still do. But veganism is not a journey that ends once you’ve completely rid your life of animal products and cruelty, cleared out your cupboards and given your leather boots away to the Salvation Army. It is an ongoing journey and one that you will be able to travel with throughout your life, like a good companion. Veganism is the voice that asks you to reconsider, asks you to live your life in accordance with your beliefs and to aspire to be better.

Even now I am continuing to learn and change and improve the way I tread on the planet’s surface. Do I tiptoe? Do I thud? Do I run? Flit? What sort of footprint do I leave?

Our diets have a far greater effect on the planet than many of us realise. ‘What’s one banana?’ you might ask. But realise you are fundamentally similar to the majority of the population of the earth, with similar needs, wants, desires and the question soon becomes ‘what’s six billion bananas?’. Thinking big is the only way to assess our true impact on the earth and it can only be done when we are able to recognise that our choices matter as much as the next person’s. The earth is our dwelling place and we have a responsibility to be in it and of it and to care for it. It is not up to politicians, governments, or other people in other countries to organise the way we live and the way we treat the world. It is up to ourselves.

In the same way, if one person avoids eating animal products, it really does make a difference. We may feel as though it doesn’t when compared to the large numbers of meat eaters out there, but the world consists of people just like us and surely if we can change, others can too. It really is as simple as supply and demand. No one buys animal products, animal products go out of business. No one supports industries testing on animals, industries look for alternatives. Every circus needs an audience, for without one there is no circus. This is truly exciting and it’s what prompts me to respond with patience and sincerity every time I’m asked about living a cruelty free life.

The only reason I ever even considered ‘cutting out meat’ in the first place was because I knew someone who had adopted a vegetarian lifestyle. Not a family member, or a close friend, just an acquaintance. And one who was particularly rational, patient and open to others’ viewpoints. Just knowing Matt existed and was thinking about these things led me to do a little research of my own. I firmly believe that if he had been judgemental of others or the type prone to proselytising, my curiosity antennae would have curled in on themselves and I never would have found out how much I agreed with his views. It pays to remember this when airing your beliefs in the company of those who still eat animal products. Be open, be humble, be kind and let their antennae roam.

~ Sarah, London UK

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I became a vegetarian over 10 years ago when a vegetarian acquaintance of mine expressed astonishment at my carnivorous habits after discussing my (many) dogs and cats with her. That same day I filled my gas tank right next to a cattle transport crammed full with loudly protesting and suffering animals. That stopped my meat eating dead in my tracks. Unfortunately I became what you refer to as a junk food vegetarian.

Now my partner and I are raising my 3 grandchildren. They all still occasionally eat/ate meat bought from the coop and we all ate cheese. I never made the connection between the veal industry and the cheese we were eating until listening to your podcast. In the past I have made several unsuccessful stabs at educating the children about where meat comes from but did not want to traumatize them even more. They have suffered through enough violence in their short lives that the PETA information just seemed too graphic.

With your podcast you have given me opportunity to share my truth peacefully with my children and my partner. You have given me words and an attitude that works for me and my family. I told my 8-year old yesterday that we would not be buying anymore cheese and when she asked me why I explained the connection between “baby cows”, milk and cheese. I was astounded when she (the ultimate cheese lover) said “that is sooo unfair that people do that to cows.” Then she asked if there was “fake cheese” (she is familiar with fake meat) that did not hurt animals and I told her that I had already ordered some just for her.

Your podcast has inspired me to eat a whole food and vegan diet and to teach my little family that our appetites do not have to hurt our animal friends. So far, they are listening and enjoying your delicious recipes.

Namaste and thank you again.
~ Lydia

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Your podcast has changed my life. I am so grateful that you dedicate so much of your time to this work. It is so very important. I love to hear you read the letters written by listeners whose lives you have helped transform. I hear myself in so many of them, and that is part of the reason it seemed possible for me to transition to veganism.

I am in my late 30’s, and until recently, a ‘foodie’ and ‘compassionate omnivore’ (an oxymoron if there ever was one), but part of me could never reconcile the fact that my beloved pet chihuahuas were the same weight as the chickens I was consuming. Not only that, but I love chickens, their personalities and behavior. I think they are remarkable creatures. Why was I eating them?

These concepts were not new to me. I had been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for many years in my 20’s, but began eating meat again several years ago. 2 months ago I decided to once again stop eating animals. That decision felt so right! However, even though I knew of the horrors of factory-farmed dairy and eggs, I allowed myself to feel comforted by the fact that I was able to buy free-range eggs from the hens running around in my neighbor’s yard, and dairy products from the small Jersey cow herd on a local organic farm.

Then I accidently purchased a copy of the magazine VegNews, not knowing it was about all things vegan. Now, I have had vegan friends for many years, and have cooked many vegan meals for them, but for some reason, despite my passionate love of animals and abhorance of all suffering, I never made the conscious connection between my choices and the lives of the creatures whose animal products I was consuming. Veganism just seemed like a quirky dietary anomoly, and I enjoyed the culinary challenge of creating tasty meals my vegan friends would enjoy.

The VegNews issue I bought had your podcast listed in one of it’s articles. I found ‘Vegetarian Food For Thought’ on iTunes and listened to it–for 3 days straight! I could not stop, and still cannot. You helped me see that it is ridiculous not to transition to veganism! Veganism benefits not only the animals, but the spiritual and physical health of us human animals and of our planet.

I have long understood the health benefits of a vegan-diet–I am a medical clinician and have a special interest in nutrition and fitness–but alas, I was addicted to yogurt and cheese. No longer! I have been plant-fueled for 2 weeks now, and I feel fabulous! What is interesting is the response I get from my medical colleagues. These people, “experts” entrusted with educating patients and helping them make important health decisions, do not understand my decision. They mock it. I believe, as you and many of your wise listeners have pointed out, that when we discuss our decision to be vegan, we are holding up a mirror up to others and reflecting back to them the unhealthiness of their own food and lifestyle choices. Thanks to your wise words, I feel supported in my decision, and have the knowledge I need to continue with (what I believe is) the only sustainable way of eating and living available to us. I also have access to the ‘joyful vegan’ language that you utilize, which makes discussions about veganism much less antagonistic.

I have never in my life felt such inner-peace.

Thank you Colleen, for helping me to become a better person.

~ Christine in Colchester, VT

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I’ve always been someone who cared too much. I have a hard time ignoring things once they’re in front of my eyes, no matter who are what it may relate too.

When I was a kid I ate whatever my parents put in front of me and did not question it for the most part. I was oblivious, as most people are, to the suffering that animals endure. As I got older I did begin question things a bit. I remember one night when we had hamburgers for dinner my sister kept on teasing me by mooing. She kept on reminding me I was eating a dead cow. I continued to eat that dead cow though.

I had a slight interest in vegetarianism from that point on, although I was still living with my parents and eating whatever they cooked. When I moved out on my own things changed, however. I always had an aversion to cooking raw animal flesh, so I wasn’t eating as much meat at home. When I did cook meat at home it was always the precooked kind, usually chicken.
I met my husband Matt (then my boyfriend) a few years after living on my own. He was picky about meat and not a fan of pork or beef and really only ate hamburgers when we were eating out. The majority of what we cooked and ate at home was precooked chicken.

My desire to go vegetarian was getting stronger and stronger, but me being the introvert I am, I held back. I was too worried about what my family, friends, and coworkers would have to say. I did not want to inconvenience them in anyway and knew eating out would be an issue. Living in the Midwest (St. Louis), there are not many vegetarian or vegan restaurants in St. Louis or even options at omni restaurants. This did not last too long, however, and one day I just decided to go for it. I had planned on cutting out meat slowly and started going through our cabinets and ridding our apartment of anything that had meat in it that my husband would not eat alone. This plan was quickly thrown out the window when one day I just decided to go vegetarian and did so literally overnight. Everyone, including my family and husband, was better about it than I had assumed they would be.

About 6 months after I had gone vegetarian and about 2 weeks before our wedding, my husband told me he was going to go vegetarian as well. Although he was picky about meat and didn’t eat a lot of it, and was eating mostly vegetarian since I did all the cooking, I knew he was quite picky about vegetables. I doubted him, questioning why exactly he was doing this. I had said in the beginning that I was going vegetarian for myself and I didn’t expect anything out of him. He told me he wanted to do it and it would make it easier on me since I did most of the cooking.

He, too, went vegetarian pretty much overnight. At first I was very worried about what his parents would think since they were hardcore meat eaters (as are my parents) and his dad was a hunter. We had a low-key wedding with just our parents and my sister and nephew present, and went to eat afterwards. We had not mentioned his vegetarianism yet, so I remember his mom kept on offering to share some of her club sandwich with him. Not too long after that he broke the news to them and they were surprisingly cool with it. Matt’s mom even bought and cooked us a tofurkey this past Thanksgiving.

Although going vegetarian was a choice I was proud of and made me feel I was doing some good, I always had a persistent nag in the back of my mind regarding veganism. When someone questioned my vegetarianism I would often point out that I felt guilty for not going vegan.

This nag eventually broke down my resistance and I started doing research and reading everything I could on veganism and animal rights. I realized that the dairy and egg industries were no better and probably worse than the meat industry. I stumbled upon Colleen’s Food For Thought podcast and I have to credit her for pushing me off the fence I’ve been sitting on for so long.

My husband took it well. I have a feeling he will possible go vegan in the future since I’m the only cook in the house and he’ll be eating primarily vegan. If he does not, however, it is fine with me. I’m happy he’s at least vegetarian as it does help the animals.

I have not been vegan for long and I already feel more at peace with myself. It is the best decision I’ve ever made!

~Crys in St. Louis

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Thank you, thank you for your terrific podcast. I have been a vegetarian for about 6 weeks. It has been a slow, long process to get to this point. I’ve always been a picky meat eater, never eating veal or rabbit, more fish than chicken, but I did enjoy foie gras until about 5 years ago when I witnessed jars and jars of enlarged livers at a shop in Nice.

Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation opened my eyes to the evils of the fast food industry, and as an environmentalist who is always looking for something else to do I was very interested in “cost” of raising meat to our environment. I started replacing the protein dishes that I was used to all my life for veggies with a side of tofu, but I was definitely still eating meat. I only started listening to your podcast to get some more vegetarian dish ideas, but instead you opened my eyes and mind. I had no idea the demise of male baby chicks or the conditions at slaughterhouses. I didn’t know any of this.

Of course I started listening to your podcast 3 weeks before a trip to Prague and Budapest. I thought about waiting until I got back to start totally eliminating meat from my diet (my many excuses including: it’s so hard to read an Hungarian menu, they won’t offer me any Vegetarian food, etc), but something you said about “doing something rather than do nothing” made me think. My master plan was to eliminate meat from my diet for three weeks, fall of the wagon and eat meat in Europe and then come back and eat a plant-based diet again. But it only takes three weeks to change a habit.

It was so easy being vegetarian in Europe. Almost every menu had a vegetarian section with wonderful foods to choose from and the waitstaff was always accommodating.  I did not have any excuses, and though as a “newbie” I messed up a few times, almost all of my meals were vegetarian or vegan. I had a wonderful vacation with lots of energy and a clear mind.

On the train from Prague to Budapest I listened to 6 hours of your podcast and now I am completely “up to date” waiting for your next one. And I plan to sponsor your podcast as soon as I have paid off my trip 🙂

P.S. Last week I went to a Chinese Hot Pot restaurant and had the veggie-based soup with delicious vegetables, noodles and frozen tofu! I had never heard of frozen tofu before … you put a firm tofu in the freezer for a day and it creates these little holes that, when defrosted and put in a soup or stir fry “holds in” the flavor .. delicious!

~Debbie

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THE FIVE STEPS OF MY VEGAN JOURNEY SO FAR

There were several steps in my becoming vegan, which I’d really like to share with others. Like many, I’ve arrived to this transformation in middle-adulthood, and I’ve largely arrived at it alone and on my own.

The process (so far) for me could be roughly broken down into five steps: emotional, intellectual, educational, “spiritual” and communal.

First, emotionally: I felt guilty and sad about what happens to animals in order to provide me food. The worse I felt, the worse all of it tasted, until I just couldn’t eat meat anymore. But this wasn’t enough to really push me from “lacto-ovo vegetarianism” into a more solid veganism. (By the way, I hope that someday the word “vegetarian” is reclaimed to mean what it originally meant, and what it sounds like. Eggs and cow milk certainly don’t sound “vegetarian” to me.)

Second, intellectually: I read a couple books. The most important for me was Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. I know that the title of that book is going to sound extreme to a lot of people who have not read it yet, conjuring images of militant action, breaking into laboratories, etc. But, in fact, the book is about more about the liberation of human morality than anything else. It may as well be titled, “When Is It Okay to Cause Suffering To Others?” or “What Is Morality, Really?” or many,many other titles. The book — as many others do — provides a very solid philosophical argument that gives you some basic ideas and tools by which to judge one’s own behavior on such basic moral grounds that even a small child (perhaps especially a small child) could understand. You may feel that something is wrong, but how can you KNOW that it’s wrong. This book can help. Basically, if you can survive and thrive without needing to cause suffering to another being, then to knowingly cause them to suffer is immoral, and it behooves you to change your ways. Do I need eggs and milk (whose production requires chickens and cows to suffer) to survive and be really healthy and satisfy my taste buds? No, no and no. Professor Singer ‘s book helped me clear out the eggs and cow milk from my diet.

Third, educationally: I began to learn HOW to live vegan — this really began at Colleen’s site and through her podcasts. Through her podcasts, it was the first time that a human voice explained to me patiently how to live a vegan life. And that made all the difference in the world. The human voice — we must all remember — is perhaps the most powerful tool we have! It’s the one thing or nonhuman friends need of us most. In my book, people like Colleen are bodhisattvas. In order that the rest of us might also see the light, they tirelessly share what they know. The good news is that, as time progresses, I believe it WILL become easier, not more difficult, to live a vegan lifestyle. People like Colleen are almost like secular rabbis or independent teachers, and as more of them become available to the average person, this process will become easier.)

Fourth, spiritually: I visited Farm Sanctuary — farmsanctuary.org — a place where rescued farm animals get to live in peace with humans for the rest of their natural lives, and for the first time in my entire life I felt that I was standing on sacred ground.

I’m an agnostic, but I’d use the word “spiritual” to describe those kinds of experiences which seem to tie into intelligences that are greater than any single person’s individual mind and experience, or connections to greater and more complex forces than those we can easily grasp intellectually. I’ve been to hundreds of churches and temples all over the world, all of which felt and seemed ‘sacred,’ but that little sanctuary in Orland, California, was the first time I felt with all my body and mind the sense that a place was really sacred. I kid you not, as I left that place, I broke down in tears. Bittersweet, overwhelmed, joy mixed with sadness. I’m not sure what St. Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, but I can tell you for sure, it could not have been more powerful than what I felt on the road home from Farm Sanctuary to San Mateo.

I don’t believe in heaven, but I’ve seen a small corner of what it might look like in Orland. I do, however, believe in hells — they are called “factory farms” and “slaughterhouses.” So, here’s the deal you get at Farm Sanctuary: You get to meet sentient beings who have literally escaped hell and are now in the care of human angels.

I dare anyone to really absorb that reality and not be moved.

If you’re unsure of your veganism or feel threatened by peer pressure, then plan your next vacation to spend a day at one of these places. Visiting a place like Farm Sanctuary is like seeing the future. (Hey, and put it this way: A vacation to Farm Sanctuary can save you a lot of money. Instead of flying off to some exotic, expensive locale, or Disneyland, just spend a day or two with animals who just got back from hell, and the wingless angels who watch over them. Adopt a turkey or burro before you leave. It will make your seemingly boring, unexotic hometown seem like the “happiest place on earth,” because you will come home with a lot of joy in your heart, and new connection to a place otherwise known as Planet Earth.)

Farm Sanctuary truly “closed the deal” for me, and I can never imagine returning to a carnivore lifestyle ever again. Wouldn’t give it a second thought. I’ve been transformed, and I can feel my whole body and mind changing as the reality becomes more “natural” to me.

These first four stages add up to a sense of basic integrity in my life. I have all the other problems that everyone else has (trust me on this one, as my friends know), but now there is a baseline of sanity and well-being. For the first time in my life, I really believe in my own “politics”: What I eat, what I wear, and most of the things I use are in alignment with my belief that all sentient beings have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I feel related to the world again, and not just a “consumer” or part of “the marketplace,” but as part of a conversation that really matters, a conversation that literally could change the world. (“Industrial agriculture,” the euphemism for the horrible things we do to thinking-feeling fellow earthlings, is literally killing the biosphere. According to the UN, this meat habit of ours is doing more damage than trains, planes and automobiles! Someone else’s “right” to eat steak, baby back ribs and cow’s milk, is literally depriving all of us the right to a planet.)

If there’s a Fifth stage in my vegan lifestyle, it’s actually happening right now, and it’s about actively building a community of vegans around myself. Why wait? Why feel left alone and misunderstood? Why waste time being frustrated that mainstream society doesn’t “get it”? Be the change.

After all, in this world, no one’s going to come find you and knock on your door and offer you a medal for “being vegan.” (Well, Colleen might, but she’s an angel, and angels can fly and all that sort of thing, and she might have superpowers too.) Again, just “be the change.” It’s a simple guideline by which to organize one’s life.

Anyhow, as a result of the first four steps of this process, two friends and I have started on this “fifth step.” We started a regular weekly dinner (“Vegan Thursdays” is what we call it) in our hometown of Beijing, China, and now have our simple website — the Vegan Social Club of Beijing, at http://vegansocialclub.com. And guess what? We just made seven new vegan friends in the last week alone.

Frankly, I sometimes get very frustrated by organizations like PETA and HSUS, because, despite their monumental work raising consciousness and working for better legislation, they do so little to actually create community. Communities are ultimately far more powerful than the media or celebrities or shocking images or donations. Both Peta and HSUS send strong messages to the media and do wonderful work in terms of fighting for better legislation, for which I’m grateful, but I wish I had their mailing list!


Those members are potentially my friends and why is Peta and HSUS not enabling them to meet each other? I sometimes hear stories about vegans backsliding into meat-eating because of peer pressure. Same thing happens to sober recovering alcoholics surrounded by heavy drinkers. Duh! Humans need community to survive in more ways than one.

Anyhow, nevertheless, I still thank goodness for orgs like Peta and HSUS, and maybe community-making is NOT their job.

Maybe it’s YOUR job — whoever you are who might be reading this right now.

If our little experiment in building a community here works — and it IS working — we’re going to help other people (anywhere in the world) repeat whatever we did that was successful. We’ll make mistakes, I’m certain, but in general it’s so much better than nothing. So much better than grousing about the lack of vegan options. So much better than being silent and alone.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re a lonely or underappreciated vegan, then make yourself a community! MAKE IT. You can do this. If you can’t find one, then, guess what: You’re really lucky, because you have the opportunity to build one yourself. Even if there already IS one, maybe it’s not your style. Well, make another one!

Find a vegan or vegetarian restaurant you like, put up an on/offline classified ad, make a simple website, and watch fellow compassionate humans come out of the woodwork. And, by all means, welcome curious non-vegans to attend! Some of the nicest, most inspiring vegans you’ll ever meet PROBABLY aren’t even vegan yet! Some day, years from now, they’ll be thanking for introducing you to the opportunity to “wake up” and see a new reality. I guarantee you, to be on the receiving end of gratitude is a good place to be. Instant cure for depression or sadness or whatever other unpleasant stuff is going on in your life.

Don’t know how to set up a website or community blog? Well, a vegan-near-you probably does! Don’t know how to organize dinners? Well, do your best to organize the first one and I guarantee some vegan will show up who DOES know how to organize dinners! Too shy to do this kind of thing? Find a partner who’s not too shy, and just get it started. People naturally “make community” — all you have to do is get them into the same place at the same time.

I’m only a month and a half into my community-building phase, and already it’s changing my life. Our last vegan dinner in Beijing had only 6 people (compared to 11 the week before), but four of them were newcomers (people who needed this community and were very happy about being there) and all of them were some of the finest people you’ll ever meet anywhere in the world.

For me, “Thursday” has become the one day of the week I know I’ll go to sleep feeling good about things — no matter how badly the day started. I could be broke, feeling depressed, frustrated, etc, but I know that on Thursday nights, I’m going to be surrounded by new and old friends, and unexpectedly good things will happen or be said. (Which is why we’re already thinking about starting some kind of event on Saturday too.)

Anyhow, I’m SO GRATEFUL TO COLLEEN PATRICK-GOUDREAU and everyone who makes compassionatecooks.com possible. You’ve changed my world and indirectly, you’re changing the world for people far, far away from Oakland, California. You have no idea!

Christopher Barden
Vegan Social Club of Beijing
http://vegansocialclub.com

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