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I was born in Taiwan but grew up mostly in Africa and the U.S. I have very few memories of Taiwan but one vivid memory I do have is of my mom taking my brother and me to the market to buy turtles. We then traveled to a river somewhere and set them free. This practice of “releasing life” is common among devout Buddhists and we continued to do it on occasion even in Malawi, where we would buy tortoises and turtles and let them go as well.

But unlike Buddhist monks and nuns, we were not vegetarian. In fact, I hated vegetables and wanted to eat only meat. My mom had to force me to eat vegetables so that I would have a healthy diet. For most of my life, meat and animal products were central to my diet. I never saw anything wrong with that.

Even though I would get to know many vegetarians, I always saw vegetarianism as a “preference” or a “healthy lifestyle choice” rather than an ethical practice. In my 20s, I would even tell my vegetarian friends (half-jokingly) that I was going to write a book about how vegetarianism is bad for our planet. How naive I was back then but I loved meat – it had to be part of every meal I had.

In my early 30s, I became more interested in ethics as a secular alternative to religions. I started reading books on ethics, including Peter Singer’s Writings on an Ethical Life. The book covered many issues but there was enough in there about animal welfare to make me give “vegetarianism” a try. It lasted six months – I gave it up when I had to travel to the Philippines and Mexico for work.

Fast forward to May 2006. Peter Singer released another book called The Way We Eat. I listened to the entire book on my iPod within two days. This time, I knew there was no going back. I had to give up meat for good. Not just meat but all animal products.

Having tried vegetarianism before, I knew that this time, I had to learn how to cook. So I bought several vegan cookbooks, rolled up my sleeves, and started cooking in earnest.

I wanted to make sure that my focus was not on what I’m giving up but what I’m eating. The new diet has to be more pleasurable, not less. That wasn’t really difficult, considering I didn’t really cook before. Now that I am cooking for real (and not just heating up food), my meals became more tasty, more adventurous, and more healthful.

A year and half later, I still make new dishes and new desserts every week. I invite friends over for dinner all the time and they can see and taste for themselves what vegan food is all about. No one has made the jump to veganism just yet but at least we’re talking about it.

I remember how long it took me to make the switch and I know everyone has to go on their on journey and it may take a while.

My own journey has taught me the following:

1) People can change.
We may be creatures of habit and we may follow traditions blindly. But from time to time, we do escape the mental cages that society puts us in.

2) Inner strength is key.
Our society, our families and our friends will all dissuade us from veganism. That doesn’t mean we need to argue, fight or struggle. Instead, we should listen… and share… and continue to follow our inner compass.

3) Veganism is not just about food.
Colleen teaches me this through her podcast. I’m still learning.

4) The joy of veganism is felt every single day.
Every time you cook, eat or shop, you are aware of the suffering you are alleviating and the liberation that is possible for yourself and other animals. Our efforts may pale by comparison to the amount of exploitation around us. But we know we are making a difference – that we are “releasing life” every day – and there’s true joy in that.

Thank you, Colleen, for being our guide on this incredible journey. When you become vegan, you soon realize it’s one of the most important things you’ve done in your life. You begin to see life more clearly and more truthfully than anytime before.

~Charles in Vancouver, British Columbia

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

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

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

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

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

~Jill in Norway

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

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

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

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

~Lisa in Nevada

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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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I first became vegetarian in 1995 when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (stage 4), and I began to read about ways to cure her.  I learned about people who had cured themselves from cancer through their diets, particularly macrobiotic, and the growing research documenting the terrible effects of meat and dairy products on the body.  When I became vegetarian at that time, I still ate eggs, but I hadn’t eaten milk products for years due to allergy.  My mother passed away a short time later, and I continued my vegetarian lifestyle determined not to die as she did.  I explained my choice to people as a health concern, stating that the animals were raised in such horrible and unsanitary conditions that it could not be healthy to eat such products.  At that point, I understood on some level the horrors that the animals suffered to feed us, but think I only allowed it into my heart and mind at a fleeting and superficial level. 
 
At some point, years later, I began to eat meat again, though I rarely if ever ate beef, still seeing it as an unhealthy thing to eat.  I am not quite sure how it happened.  To be honest, I missed the taste of certain barbecued and spiced meats.   I think I worried that I wasn’t getting enough protein.  I was surrounded by people who ate meat, and my husband at the time, who had gone vegetarian with me, went back to eating meat.   I felt alone in my vegetarianism and like an inconvenience to friends and family.   I imagine it was a combination of those factors that lured me back to being an omnivore.
 
Then in February 2004, I had the opportunity to attend the World Premiere of Peaceable Kingdom at Lincoln Center in New York City.  From the moment I saw the seemingly endless number of male chicks sliding down chutes and conveyor belts on the way to the dumpster – useless by-products of the egg industry – there was no turning back.  The suffering I saw in that film touched a part of me that had been locked away for a long, long time.  Then, after the film, when one of the panelists stated, I don’t eat animals because I love and respect them, it was truly one of those life-changing moments.  I remember thinking – I love animals too, and if this person can be proud of those feelings and act on those feelings by not eating animals, well, then I can too.  And there it began.  I stopped eating animals at that moment.  I ate eggs from time to time, but I felt terribly guilty when I did so, and eventually gave them up, too. 
 
Being vegan for ethical reasons is very different than giving up meat for health reasons.  I definitely feel healthier, which is an added bonus, so to speak, but now I cannot look at meat without seeing needless suffering and sorrow and the flesh of an animal that I would have liked to have known under different, much happier circumstances.  I do sometimes miss the taste of certain things – bacon, pulled pork, buffalo wings – but I don’t miss them so much that I would want an animal to die so that I could taste it again. 
 
As a vegan, I’ve experienced rewards I never would have imagined.  I feel a sense of peace within me, which I imagine comes partially from the act of living true to what is in my heart.  I’ve always been concerned about animals and the environment, so being vegan enables me to act on those feelings each and every day.   It’s empowering to be able to choose to not cause pain and suffering several times a day, especially living in a world what seems to be filled with so much of those two things.  Also, being vegan is a very conscious and active way of living, and as a result, I feel much more alive and in tune with life around me.  It is difficult at times to live being fully aware of the tremendous suffering that animals are experiencing at each and every moment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  For in opening myself up to feel the suffering, I have opened myself up to love as well. 
 
I feel like I have learned to love again in the truest sense – a love that knows no boundaries – which is why I like to say that I’ve rediscovered “true love.”   My heart feels free to love at levels and in ways that I do not ever recall, but I imagine that I was born with and experienced as a child when I looked at the world with wonder and fascination and naturally loved animals.  I think that perhaps when we are forced to suppress or hide that love we inherently have for other species so that we can eat them, exterminate them, and use them in the numerous ways our society deems acceptable, we turn off a part of our hearts and a part of us dies.  For most of my life, I felt disconnected from the world I claimed to love so much, as if there was some hole in my being, something holding me back.  Becoming vegan, I feel whole again.  I feel as if a weight has been lifted, and my heart is free.   

 ~Janice in Lincoln Park, NJ

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I have been vegetarian for two years now.  I originally cut meat out of my diet for health purposes (to lower my blood pressure, to lose weight, etc.), but I found that before long, I was rediscovering compassion buried deep within me, compassion that I had suppressed for so long because this is what our culture teaches us to do.

Now, two years into my new lifestyle, I can’t imagine ever returning to my meat-eating ways, and in fact I have been thinking more and more seriously about going entirely vegan.  Having listened to every one of your podcasts available on iTunes, I feel I am finally ready to do it.  I had never fully considered how my consumption of cheese and eggs was contributing to cruelty in much the same way a meat eater’s habits contribute to cruelty, but as you say, if we are going to purchase and consume such products, we have a responsibility to know the origins of those products. Thank you again for your wonderful work.

To quote you, I feel every day that I am living my truth.  While I have yet to become involved in activism, I still feel that veganism is itself a small form of activism, and I remind myself regularly that my choice to eat a vegan diet is saving a small number of animals (small in comparison to the total number slaughtered annually).  I feel that the connection I have with my own animal companions is stronger than ever before.  I literally feel as though my eyes are open after a long period of sleepwalking. 

It saddens (but also motivates me) to witness others’ ignorance of or indifference to animal suffering.  I try to educate (without preaching to) my family and friends, and I’m happy to tell you that both of my parents (previously staunch omnivores) have changed their eating habits because of me, and they continue to do so. While they are certainly not vegans (or even vegetarians), they have begun incorporating more plant-based foods (including items that they use to replace animal foods) into their diets, and I constantly encourage them both to continue making these changes. It makes me hopeful to see two older adults make changes like this!

Again, I love your podcast.  It is by far the best of its kind.  You are so articulate and thoughtful.  Beyond the information you convey, the way in which you convey it, in my opinion, is a major step toward shattering stereotypes about vegans. Please keep up the excellent work. 

~Peter in New York

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