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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom.

I was vegan.

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

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

And now I’m cooking at a vegan restaurant.

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

~Dino in New York

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Ari’s Story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mikko’s Story:

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

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

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

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

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

~Mikko and Ari, California

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

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

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

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

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

~Jill in Norway

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I have been a vegetarian my whole life—not because vegetarianism was imposed upon me by my parents, but because for one reason or another, I had a natural aversion to meat. My mother likes to tell the story of how, on our weekly trips to Friendly’s after church, I would order a hamburger but ask the waiter to “take the cow out.” Though they didn’t restrict me from eating meat, I have no doubt that they had a hand in my early ability to make the connection between what appeared on our plates and the animals that, as a child in rural upstate New York, I had seen grazing around our home. They must have taught me at that early age to empathize with other creatures. So many people go through childhood, if not their entire lives, without bridging the mental divide between cow and hamburger, pig and bacon, and all those other carefully created euphemisms.

Still, I went for nearly three decades—until my 29th birthday, this year—as a lacto-ovo vegetarian without seriously considering going vegan. What held me back was a fear that if being vegan would turn me, an essentially happy and joyful person, into a negative being, and that my entire existence would come to be about what I was not, what I couldn’t do. I feared that it would take so much time and energy to be vegan that it would take over my entire identity until vegan was all I was. I feared that my social life would suffer because my friends and family would feel alienated, judged, or offended, and because I wouldn’t be able to eat out anywhere. And I feared that I’d become full of anger and bitterness about all the terrible things that other people did to animals. In short, I believed all the stereotypes that our culture has about vegans, and I sold short the people in my life by expecting the worst from them. So, I decided that vegetarianism was enough and I stuck to that.

But looking back, it’s clear that part of me didn’t believe that I was doing enough, because while I hadn’t made the full “vegan plunge,” I was, without realizing, going through a gradual process of eliminating the use of animals from my life. After college, I started buying vegan cookbooks, and I took on vegan cooking and baking. I switched to from cow’s milk to soymilk. I stopped buying leather, wool, silk, and down. I made all sorts of gradual changes, until only a handful of animal-reliant habits remained, all of them dietary: ice cream, eggs, and—most looming of all—cheese.

Cheese was my crutch, my lifesaver, every time I went out to a restaurant. Not only that, but I was passionate about it. Pizza and macaroni and cheese were the staples of my diet. This became embarrassingly clear once when I went to a branch of Sbarro near where I worked after having been away for a couple of weeks, and the guy behind the counter gave me a “welcome back” discount. So the difficulty of envisioning life without cheese was immense.

But in the end, it was something surprisingly simple that convinced me to take that last step. I had been reading vegan magazines and websites (another testament to the fact that I was still seeking, that I knew that my diet still wasn’t fully reflecting my values) and all of a sudden, a confluence of examples of positive, joyful veganism came into my life. One was VegNews Magazine; another was Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast, “Vegetarian Food for Thought.” (I still swear that the “Life after Cheese” episode was written with me in mind.)

I discovered that being vegan could be positive, affirming, and expansive. It didn’t have to be all about what it wasn’t—though of course, animal abuse is, to some extent, the elephant in the kitchen for anyone who knows the truth about modern food production—but could be about what it was: a transformative, enlightening, lightening, compassionate discovery of a new way of life. To discover that you can live happily, healthily, and in a whole way without causing needless suffering is a reason to rejoice.

My goal from here onward is to become for others what I myself sought for so long: an example of a life lived with not just conscience but with joy. I think veganism as a movement can grow and flourish as long as people can see examples of vegans who are happy and whole. Being whole also means having a lack of judgment of others, which may be one of the most important thing vegans can strive for. (I think the feeling of being judged is what gives some omnivores such unwarranted venom toward vegans and vegetarians.) For my part, in the short time that I’ve been vegan, I do feel happier, and, contrary to everything I had expected, more free. So, I’m leaving behind my welcome-back discount at Sbarro, but I’m looking ahead to a better life for myself and all this planet’s other beings.

~Erin, Cambridge, MA

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