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Archive for the ‘becoming resensitized’ 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 am sponsoring an episode of Food For Thought in honor of my boyfriend, Brian Kantorek, a compassionate, loving, gentle, supportive, fun, and all-around amazing person who also happens to be vegan. Since meeting him, I’ve gone from eating a bloody steak (piece of dead cow really, but I wouldn’t have called it that then) for the birthday dinner he treated me to (and he didn’t judge me, just asked if I was sure I wanted it cooked more!) to giving up eating all land animals (and since last week, I’ve finally gone entirely vegetarian), not buying leather, purchasing beauty products without animal ingredients, and pretty much only buying vegan cookbooks after years of ignoring the vegetarian cookbooks.

I must admit, my way into veganism was with the food, specifically cookbooks. I really love to eat and when I’m not eating, I’m reading about what other people are eating. I have had subscriptions to foodie magazines, have Gourmet’s massive tome where there are recipes for brains and pigeons and when I read them a few years back, I didn’t flinch. I thought people who were grossed out by “exotic” meats were wusses (although my actual palate was pretty wussy too!) Had I not grown and learn to realize how delicious vegan food is, and more importantly, that I and every other human is at least a little vegan since we all eat fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds at one time or another, my transformation may have taken even longer than it is taking. But once I knew how good the food is, I started reading vegan cookbooks, just so I could find recipes for Brian and I. I wasn’t going to give up meat. I was just going to expand my repertoire.

Of course, one doesn’t read about vegan food without also reading about why veganism exists in the first place. I have always loved animals. I, like so many kids, wanted to be a vet when I was little so I could help hurt and sick animals. I love the dog I share my home and life with beyond all reason. I cannot watch news reports or even fictional movies where animals get hurt. And sure, I always knew chicken came from dead chickens but I didn’t REALLY know, didn’t connect the meals I was eating with the confinement, torture, and death that made them possible. The few, rare moments of clarity I have had in the past about meat and animal cruelty were quickly wiped away with a shrug. What can you do, I’d think. We eat meat. And I’m sure the animals aren’t tortured anyway. Just stunned and then obliviously killed. Well, they are obliviously killed–by human obliviousness. They were and are all too aware of their horrific deaths. And I never, ever let myself know that until this past year.

So, as I read the cookbooks, I had a voice in me, a small one, saying, “I know it’s not right, but…” And I kept eating. And I would sometimes apologize to Brian for eating meat or ask if it bothered him. He never once judged me and never preached. But he didn’t mince words either. When he told me what was really in my lotion, he did so matter of factly, because it was the truth. But I was shocked. Suddenly, I realized there were dead animals everywhere and I didn’t even know.

One day, I brought home a roast chicken for dinner and then opened up my mail. I got the latest issue of the Humane Society’s magazine. I joined after their Katrina pet effort. I’ve given money to them and the National Anti-Vivisection Society and shunned fur over the years. But never thought about the leather I bought or the food I ate. As I ate the roast chicken, I started reading an article about factory farming. There was a big picture of a pig with his nose sticking out of a metal crate. I immediately stopped eating the chicken. I was horrified and utterly repulsed that I could read this material and still eat a dead animal. From that moment on, I immediately stopped eating all land animals.

Soon after, Brian and I started a blog, Mutual Menu, which I thought would first be a way to light-heartedly explore how a “mixed” couple like us could share meals. I thought I’d post some techniques for veganizing recipes but also include meat and fish for those who ate it, talk about “humane” meat. However, as I read and thought more about veganism and animal rights, I knew that slant wouldn’t work. It was through reading and writing and working through my own thoughts that I realized I could and wanted to live a life as free of cruelty as possible. In addition to that, Brian’s willingness to accept and love me for exactly who I am while sharing his life with me made it possible for me to change. When I hear some vegans say they could never date an omnivore, I can’t help but think of what a lost opportunity to change a life that is. I know I would not have changed, would not have wanted to stop eating meat, without Brian.

I have a long way to go. I still eat cow secretions (I’m particularly stuck on that culinary crack we call cheese) and chickens’ eggs but much less so than just this time last year. There are many days where I easily eat vegan without even trying or thinking about it. Also, I know that it has taken me a few months to write and send this e-mail because I feel less qualified to since I am not yet vegan. But I also know that I am working towards that, that my eyes are no longer closed and your podcast and my relationship with Brian has been the biggest influences on me this past year.

Thank you so much, Colleen, for your work. I can honestly say it has changed me to my core. And thank you so much to Brian, for your years of commitment, integrity, and honor to the animals and people. Our relationship has not only taught me how to love you but to extend that love to myself and all other beings. I love you very much.

Thank you,
~Joselle

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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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I’ve always loved animals. Even as a kid there were times when I felt more comfortable around them then other people. When I was about 12 or 13 I had a friend who was a vegetarian who explained to me about factory farms. (only about meat production though) It really got me thinking.

Then in science class (that same year) we were supposed to kill insects and stick them on a pin for some project. I just couldn’t do it. It felt wrong to me so I requested a different assignment. The teacher said something to the effect of “Ok, you can write a report on insects instead. Can I ask a question, though? Do you eat meat? Yes? Then how is this different?”

My teacher was trying to convince me to do the original project, but her statement got me thinking. After that, I cut out meat all together in one day and haven’t looked back since. That was about 8 years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to cook or the importance of nutrition. I had no family support, so I was very unhealthy. My diet consisted mostly of cheese pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, occasionally tomato soup and vegetable cup-o-noodles. I was very overweight and suffering from bad health.

To learn more I started researching online and ended up finding more information on veganism. Once I found out the horrors of dairy and egg production I knew I had to make the change. I took it slowly though and have been vegan for a year and a half. I lost 50lbs and have never felt better. I don’t regret my decision. I also became a Christian a few years ago and my religion plays a big part in my cruelty-free lifestyle. I’m continually being inspired and educated by websites like allcreatures.org and http://www.vegetarianfriends.net/issue2.html.

~Renee in Los Angeles, CA

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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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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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I have always considered myself an animal lover. We always had at least one cat while I was growing up, and sometimes we had a dog too. I thought of animal suffering in terms of dogs and cats — being run over and left in the street, or euthanized at the pound, or killed for no reason by cruel people.
 
In high school, I became aware of animals being used in laboratory testing for cosmetics and household products. I read a few more articles about it, and eventually I requested information from PETA. I was shocked by the pictures showing the abuses suffered by rabbits, monkeys, and even dogs and cats. I stopped buying items made by Procter & Gamble, and bought products from companies (like The Body Shop) that didn’t perform animal tests. Eventually, I also became a member of PETA and started receiving their Animal Times magazine.
 
When I was 22, I was living with my boyfriend and working at Baskin-Robbins. I would read my Animal Times during my half-hour lunch break. The magazine was published quarterly, and I remember being so sad at the articles detailing animal testing, but not really reading much of the articles talking about farm animal suffering. I think I’d see the photos and say, “Oh, that’s so awful, those poor animals.” I know I thought it would be really hard to be a vegetarian.
 
One day at work, I sat reading my latest issue of Animal Times while eating a 99-cent Whopper I’d just purchased from Burger King. I was reading an article about cows, and how they’re kept on feedlots. There was a little cartoon graphic of a hamburger bun, and in the middle, instead of a hamburger patty, there was a Holstein cow, bleeding, and it had a scared expression on its face. And it dawned on me… I am eating a cow. A cow that suffered terribly, a cow that was killed in a horrendous manner, a cow that’s an animal just like my beloved cats at home… and aren’t I an animal lover???
 
So I decided to go vegetarian. And I got books from the library on how to eat, how to make sure I got enough of what I needed. Too bad I didn’t find the books on how to deal with my family until much later! Nobody in my family was supportive for quite a few years, and that was rather hurtful — “Aren’t they supposed to love me unconditionally?” I remember thinking, about my mom and step-dad and older sister. And my step-mom, and my aunt, and my cousins…
 
It just felt right. Right for me. A year after I went vegetarian, my boyfriend did too.
 
I read all I could find about animals who suffered and died for my plate. I read about chickens, factory farms, and dairy cows… and vowed that “someday I’ll be vegan.” It took me nine years! I slowly cut out cheese and ice cream from my diet (I’d started drinking soy milk and rice milk when I went vegetarian, since I never really liked cow’s milk all that much). I never really ate eggs either, only when they were in prepared foods. Like cookies and cake.
 
During the latter part of those nine years, Jan, a vegan, came to work in my office. I was so glad when I found out, because I reasoned that my meat-eating co-workers would finally leave me alone and start pestering the vegan, who was more extreme than me! Yes, I was the lone vegetarian in my office up to that point. (I worked at a hospital, where the cafe served some of the unhealthiest fare imaginable!) Not fun. Anyway, I was also glad when Jan arrived because then I could ask her about being vegan — was it really as hard as I thought it was? She was the coolest, and would answer my questions when I asked them. But I didn’t ask too many. I was just too afraid of “The Unknown.” Jan told me that her daughter had been an intern at a place called Farm Sanctuary. They were vegetarians until her daughter came home from her internship and announced, “Mom, we’re vegan now.”
 
In 2001, I quit my job at the hospital to go back to school. My major was Biology. I wasn’t quite vegan, eating cheese occasionally and I only had cake or cookies when I went to my mom’s since she liked to bake. I’d still eat pastries or other items that contained dairy, and kept telling myself I was getting closer to being vegan. Even though it seemed so hard.
 
One night, during my third year of school, my boyfriend and I were flipping channels on TV. We stopped when we saw chickens — they were being picked up, held upside down, getting their throats slashed, and then hung by their legs in shackles on a moving line… the video was called “Humane Slaughter?” and it was on cable access TV.
 
I was horrified. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. I felt like I was being turned inside out. My chest ached, I was shaking, and I couldn’t speak.
 
And I was vegan after that. In no way was I going to contribute to that kind of suffering! All the photos I’d seen over the years of layer hens in rows of battery cages, of cows hanging in shackles as their throats bled, of veal calves chained in the tiniest pens… it took seeing these things as they happened, for real, for me to get it.
 
I wish that it hadn’t taken so long, because becoming vegan was so easy! And even if it were hard, it’s nothing compared to what the animals go through, day after day, for their entire lives.
 
I feel that this is what I was meant to be. I feel like the whole process of me becoming vegan was my evolution. There was simply no other way my life would end up. I love being vegan!

~Kerrie in California

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