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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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I tried being vegetarian a number of times but it never stuck.  I realize now that while intellectually I was drawn to it, my heart wasn’t really in it.

Then about 2.5 years ago I was going through a divorce (a nice kick in the butt causing me to reevaluate pretty much everything) and got connected with a Buddhist group based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings.  The first mindfulness training is: Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking and in my way of life.

There are so many different ways and levels to read and understand that…and over time it started to sink deeper and deeper into my heart.  I realized before long I would be vegetarian.

First however, I was moving towards a life without alcohol as I began to see how it wasn’t serving me or supporting my life’s journey.  This was a real challenging one though because a significant part of my job involves entertaining clients (which inevitably revolves around drinking).  Also, when I would connect with friends from college, it was the same thing.  So while I had a lot of resistance around giving it up, there was a strong sense I needed to to be true to myself.  Then…a lyric from a song called Western South by Kate Callahan pierced me.  The song was about her struggle with alcohol and the line was:

          it’s not the drink I think I need

          it’s the illusion that i’d be so much happier free

          from the sound, and the weight, and the history

          that comes from saying “no” all the time

It was like my own heart talking to me.  And shortly afterward, I was done with it without any struggle at all.  Amazing. 

A few months later, I went on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and the movement towards being a vegetarian became permanent…and again it very easy because my heart had opened even wider.  I knew my only remaining resistance was the same as it had been with alcohol…the perceived weight of explaining my choice again and again to people who didn’t understand it.

But I had no choice.  My heart had already decided for me 🙂

In the following year I slowly learned more and more about the suffering and killing involved in cheese and egg production and my resistance/fear to living vegan quickly became untenable.  Last fall, following my heart I made the switch, again without struggle.  I’m learning to cook 🙂 and am loving the exploration of all the new foods I never new existed!  Physically, my body feels great.  And best of all, I’m living in greater harmony with my heart and soul.  What more can I ask for?

That’s my story in a nutshell.  I found your podcast a few months ago and am so grateful.  Thank You for shining your Light in the world! 

~David in Colchester, CT

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I have always loved animals. “Kitty” was my first word. I used to gently move pillbugs and other insects off of walking paths so that my parents and friends would not step on them inadvertently. However, it took awhile for me to make the connection between the animals and the food I liked to eat. My paternal German grandmother, while not anywhere near vegetarian, rescued many animals (she even fed a family of opossums living in her garage and adopted an injured rooster). She also supported the HSUS and PETA, so I would read her PETA magazines when I was little. They turned my stomach and made me cry. The veins in fish, the “veins” in shrimp, and dead animals hanging in Chinatown restaurant windows sickened me.

By the time I reached sixth grade (in 1993), I knew that it just wasn’t right to eat animals, and became a vegetarian. My parents continued to put meat on my plate for several weeks after I made the declaration that I would never eat meat again, thinking that it was just a phase. Considering the fact that my my parents are meat-loving people (and “foodie types”), I feel very lucky that my parents became so supportive once they realized that I was serious about my
vegetarianism. If you are a parent whose child has decided to become vegetarian or vegan, I urge you to support them in their decision! It can make all the difference.

I soon stopped drinking milk (but would still eat products containing dairy), stopped buying leather a few years after that, and stopped buying wool yarn a few years after that. I knew that there was something wrong with eating egg and milk products, but sort of hid my head in the sand and chose not to read up on the topics because I didn’t think it was really possible for me to be vegan, mostly because of desserts and because I LOVED cheese.

I read Fast Food Nation, I watched Super Size Me, felt guiltier and guiltier, and noticed that my diet was becoming increasingly vegan. The issue of animal rights/liberation is something I’ve grown much more passionate about over the past months/years, so I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to finally switch over to veganism. (If only I had known how easy it would be.) I looked up information on rennet about a year ago and after that, I would only eat cheese that I knew for sure did not contain animal-derived rennet, which meant no cheese that simply listed “enzymes” as an ingredient, and no cheese in restaurants or from any place where I couldn’t read the ingredient list. this was a huge help on the way to veganism, as it forced me to dramatically cut down my cheese consumption and get used to eating other things instead. (I recommend this as a weaning method for people who are on the fence about going vegan but feel that cheese is holding them back and are having trouble going cold turkey!)

I started listening to the Vegan Freak podcast and to your Food for Thought podcast and to and began really reading in-depth about all of the nasty realities of non-vegan life. I had always had vague concerns about nutrition and realized, once I started looking into what I’d need to do to stay healty, that I would actually be much healthier after cutting out eggs and dairy. I decided to make the switch about nine months ago, and feel so much better than I thought I would, both physically and mentally. I try to get friends and family to think about what they’re eating, and lead by example as much as possible. As a vegetarian (and early in my veganism), I was quiet about it and almost apologetic. I have now become much more enthusiastic about cooking, baking, trying new cuisines, and spreading as much of the spirit of veganism as I can. I don’t shrink back, apologize, or enforce myths and misconceptions about my diet and lifestyle.

I think that knowing the reasons behind the importance of going vegan makes all the difference, and I am certain that I will never go back.

~Lisa in Los Angeles

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

~Victoria in Colorado

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It was the first time I had ever been so close to an animal so large.  It was the summer of 1992, and I had joined two friends in Pamplona for that annual foolishness known as “The Running of the Bulls.”  This was something I had long wanted to do, and I found myself sprinting up a cobblestone street with hundreds of other people from around the world.  The six bulls easily caught up with us, and they galloped past, their brown heads and sharp horns rising and falling.  They were so strong and graceful. 

After the run, my friends and I wandered back to the bullring.  Dozens of bull-runners were chasing several bulls around the arena, smacking them with newspapers.  These bulls would die in the afternoon bullfights.  The spectators cheered as men poked and teased these noble animals, mocking them in their fate.  Whatever excitement I had felt earlier was now eclipsed by contrition.  These bulls, I realized, wanted to live as much as I do.  Am I the only person to travel to Spain, run with the bulls and then feel shame?  What separated me from everyone else?  I felt isolated, like the only Bing Crosby fan at an Aerosmith concert.

That morning, I began to extend my circle of compassion — though I still had a long way to go.

Later that year I was in Ladakh, India, spending two months living with a Buddhist family high in the Himalayas.  Nearly every meal I enjoyed came from the family’s large vegetable garden, and I realized I had never felt more physically fit in my life.  Then two cows came to visit one day.  It was late fall — time to bury the remaining vegetables to store for the winter.  The cows, who lived with a nearby family, came to feast on any plants that remained.  One cow in particular made a deep impression on me.  She stood still as we looked into each other’s eyes, and I was taken aback by how sentient she appeared.  Clearly, she had as much right as anyone to a life without pain and suffering.  What, I wondered, entitled humans to murder these beautiful animals?  Was this really the way for one species to treat another?  Moreover, was I not enjoying the best health of my life on a plant-based diet? 

Of course, one does not develop an abiding personal tenet overnight.  I gradually gave up eating animal flesh while examining my life and the role compassion played in it.  I looked for opportunities to be more humane … to make choices that reflected my belief that all life is precious.  Upon returning to the US, I worked for and wrote about human rights, which eventually led me to “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins. I was horrified to learn about battery cages and the dairy industry.  I contacted Karen Davis at United Poultry Concerns.  Wouldn’t it be OK if I ate free-range eggs? I naively asked Karen.  No, not really, she replied. 

When I discovered there was a sanctuary not far from my home where I could visit farmed animals rescued from abuse, I arranged for a tour.  Like so many people who visit Animal Place or any other haven for the former inmates of agribusiness, I was profoundly moved by each animal’s story: hens who had been rescued from battery cages, cows who had escaped slaughterhouses and transport trucks, goats who had survived vet schools, pigs who had been surrendered by 4-H students with a change of heart, sheep who had been neglected by farmers.  I went vegan that day and commemorated my decision by getting a tattoo of a rabbit on my arm (not just any rabbit, mind you — the PETA logo rabbit). 

The next step, of course, was to share the joy of being vegan with others.  So I began writing about animal exploitation in magazines, volunteering for Animal Place, rescuing animals and trying to be the best example I could be.  Then something happened: several people I knew stopped eating animals.  I never asked them to; I simply told them about the industrialized abuses billions of animals suffer every year.  I gave people vegan cookbooks and books about factory farming.  I told them about my volunteer work and how much it meant to me.  I created and mailed Christmas cards focusing on animals.  I read everything I could about nutrition and animal rights so I could answer questions about this ethical lifestyle.

This conviction — this reverence for all life — has become my guiding principle.  It informs every aspect of my existence, including my choices about work, entertainment, home decor, healthcare, fashion, and, of course, diet.  I have found my core belief surprisingly simple to adhere to.  Yes, sometimes it means that I don’t buy a certain product because it’s been tested on animals.  It means I buy shoes made without leather and make special requests when dining in restaurants.  And sometimes I spend half an hour in some parking lot after a rainstorm, gently lifting wayward earthworms from the wet blacktop and returning them to safety.  But these are not sacrifices for me.  If compassion is my religion, these are the actions I use to celebrate it.  They are my rituals.  For me, living fully awake means embracing all species with the same level of respect and kindness. 

Being a joyful vegan doesn’t take willpower — just a willingness to try new things and choose mercy over misery.

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With a respectable corporate job and a nice little house tucked neatly in the suburbs, I settled comfortably into middle age and conformity.  The older I got, the less desire or incentive I had to be different or stand out from the crowd.  The only remaining vestige of my college years when I was less of a conformist, in middle age I continued to be a lacto-ovo vegetarian, more or less.  I found that being a more or less vegetarian was more or less unremarkable; that is, it was generally quite easy to fit in with the crowd and not bring any attention to myself.  After all, even the worst of steakhouses’ menus have a nice trendy salad or two from which I could choose.  And no one ever gave my choice a second thought!

But last fall, something happened that shook me out of my complacency and ultimately lead me to reject one of the most fundamental rituals of our society; the almighty, all-American, animal-centric way of eating.  Last fall, I found myself in the middle of a heart-wrenching situation.  This situation forced me to quickly make a decision. While I tried to make the best one I could given the circumstances, I realized shortly afterwards that my decision was the worst possible. Unfortunately, my decision and its tragic consequences will haunt me for the rest of my life.  Fortunately, this same decision and its tragic consequences compelled me to revisit several other ill conceived decisions I’ve made, to try to make positive changes.

Of these, the first decision I revisited was my long-ago decision to be a vegetarian.  You see, I had made that decision for humanitarian reasons, but from time to time over the years I would experience a vague, nagging feeling that perhaps the dairy and egg industries weren’t so humane after all.  Until last fall, I was always able to shrug that vague nagging feeling off just as quickly as I experienced it, thus managing to avoid doing even the most perfunctory research to confirm or dispel those unpleasant, but fleeting, thoughts.  After all, there were so many other matters to occupy my thoughts ….

Finally I did my long overdue homework.  After reading lots of articles and listening to some great podcasts (including Colleen’s excellent articles, podcasts, and her links to other great resources) I finally realized the error of being only vegetarian. In order to produce milk (and of course all dairy derivatives including such vegetarian staples as cheese and yogurt), cows must give birth.  Continuously. They give birth to “surplus” calves, which are not only subject to horribly inhumane conditions for the duration of their short life, but slaughtered for veal within months of birth. 

As for the cow that produces milk and “surplus” calves, once her milk production diminishes she is sent to the same cruel slaughterhouse as her offspring.   Humane egg production is also a myth.  Both the living conditions and the manner in which chickens are slaughtered once their egg production diminishes are beyond deplorable.  Even “free range” chickens are subject to many of the same abuses as their caged counterparts.  I realized with a horrible sense of chagrin that because of my deliberate ignorance, for years I had actually been supporting the very same heinous industry I thought I was avoiding. 

I also learned a lot about the nutritional aspects of a vegan diet.  While I’m not a nutritional expert, I’ve read enough pro- and anti-vegan diet nutritional literature so that I’m completely convinced that I will get all the nutrients I need to be healthy for the rest of my life from a vegan diet.  I may get sick in the future, but it won’t be because of my diet.  Conversely, I’ll be more likely to avoid some of the illnesses that are linked to an animal-based diet, including coronary artery disease and some types of cancers.   To summarize what I learned about vegan nutrition and diet, in their 2003 position paper, the American Dietetic Association concludes, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.” 

Of the countless decisions I’ve made in my life, I’ve questioned many over the years and revisited a few more recently.  There have been precious few about which I both feel and know with complete certainty are the right decision.  My decision to become vegan is one of those precious few.   I celebrate the fact that I now stand out from the majority, in that my life is no longer rooted in the suffering and death of others.  I also celebrate the endless variety of tasty, healthful, nutritious plant-based foods and recipes in which to prepare them.   

Lori in Mansfield, Massachusetts

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My path to veganism and animal rights activism began when a vocal black cat entered our lives in 1987. At the time, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It was late fall and I often arrived home after dark. As I prepared my dinner, the black cat would appear on the sill outside the kitchen window and meow relentlessly. Over the course of an evening, I would move from room to room, and she would follow along outside, moving from window to window, still meowing.

 After two or three weeks of this, my boyfriend said he would take her to his house, and that’s what he did. We’d both anticipated a loud and chaotic car ride for both him and the cat, and loud and chaotic it was.

 When Roy called me at work to say they had arrived at his house, and he described how she had carried on using a whole range of voices, I said, “I know her name! It’s Diva.” As time went on, Diva became an even more perfect name for her, as it took on a number of other appropriate meanings.

 In the ensuing days, Roy would call me to say what a character the cat was, and how much he liked her. At first I attributed it to novelty and change, but I learned differently.

 About five months later, Roy got a new job in Phoenix. We married, packed up Diva and our stuff and settled in Scottsdale. I spent those early weeks fixing up our apartment, which meant I now had steady interaction with Diva. She was fascinating. I had lived with cats for most of my life, but she emanated a power and mystique I’d never sensed in my other animals. I began to think about black cat lore and witches and familiars. I started reading books on mythology and history, starting with Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Roy and I had a great many conversations about Diva, conjecturing, searching, trying to understand her powerful presence.

 I happened to pick up a Yoga Journal that featured an interview with John Robbins. Robbins had just published Diet for a New America. Moved by the article and his stories about dreaming of pigs, I bought a copy of Diet and shared it with Roy. Coincidentally we traveled to San Diego, where we ate at a Govinda’s restaurant. The signs making note of their karma-free food got plenty of our attention.

 We were vegetarian from then on—summer or fall 1988—always intending to go vegan but somehow still not making the necessary connections. I became an activist even so.

 I think it was in 1997 that when a colleague asked me if I ate eggs, I answered yes, and at that very moment a voice spoke to me which asked, “Why are you still eating eggs?” I went home and told Roy I thought it was time for us to go vegan.
 So we did. In the early days I missed the taste of cheese less than its convenience as I realized it had become my most relied-upon fast food. Gradually we learned to substitute for the things we were used to, and that was that. Many new vegan foods and cookbooks were coming on the market, and Roy and I were both motivated from our hearts, so I think our transition was about as easy as it gets.

 Diva died in 1995. I divide my life into long phases—Before Diva and After Diva. There’s little comparison between my sense of the world before she came along and after she came along. Three precious cats share my home today (they are named Pablo, Fergus, and Neruda). Each is unique and magical as Diva in his own way, and we owe an enormous debt to her, who opened us to the sacred and ineffable riches of interspecies relationship.

Cathleen in Oakland, CA

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