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Archive for the ‘perception of vegans as extreme/freaks’ Category

I want you to know that your podcast has helped transform my life.

I have always been a health nut, and in January of 2008, I was directed to John Robbins’ Healthy at 100, which documents how cultures subsisting on plant-based diets tend to live longer. Robbins’ book, along with Skinny Bitch, convinced me to try veganism. I experienced health benefits almost immediately. Until then, I was an asthmatic who used a steroid inhaler and a rescue inhaler to control attacks. Soon after I went vegan, I gave up both inhalers for good and haven’t experienced any shortness of breath since.

However, although I was vegan, I didn’t want to become one of those “animal rights freaks.” I told all my friends that I was giving up animal products for my health, because I was afraid I would lose friends if I changed my life for the animals. But I soon discovered your podcast on Itunes. At first, I only listened to the episodes on nutrition and avoided the ones that discussed animals. I thought it would be just too painful to listen. But even when you discuss nutrition or your favorite foods, your love for animals shines through. I eventually became brave enough to try other episodes and was shocked by the episode on “what’s wrong with eating eggs.” Finally, one of your podcasts led me to Gail Eisnitz’s Slaughterhouse. And then I opened my eyes. I have never been what I consider a big “animal lover,” because I don’t have pets. But I certainly don’t believe that animals should suffer the abuse of factory farms, and I certainly don’t believe animals should have to die for me to eat.

Now, I speak plainly and openly about animal rights and I tell people we do not need to eat animals to survive. To my surprise, even though I speak up for the animals, I haven’t lost any friends. Your podcasts have helped me find my voice and engage in open and honest dialogues. Before your podcast, I was hesitant to even call myself vegan. I would instead say “I don’t eat meat, dairy, or eggs.” Now, I proudly say I’m vegan and even have a bumper sticker on my car that proclaims it. I’m in the process of starting a vegetarian student organization at the university where I work, and I hope that we will soon pass out literature on animal rights.

Of course, I experience difficulties with being vegan. My sister for instance, doesn’t want to give up the “tradition” of cooking a turkey when she hosts Thanksgiving this year. But without your podcast, I never would have had the wisdom or courage to ask her to leave turkey off the table. And I’m confident that my family will enjoy the stuffed acorn squashes I make (from your recipe!) much more than the turkey. Maybe next year we can have a truly peaceful Thanksgiving.

In short, your work has helped me find a diet that fully reflects all of my values – good health, environmental sustainability, and compassion for animals. I hope you are tremendously proud of your efforts, because you give people like me so much sustenance and hope.

~Megan in Mississippi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Christine in Colchester, VT

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I 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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In the past few years, I had heard of some negative press in regards to farmed animals. These included the cruelty of battery hens, hormone injections and antibiotics in animal feed. However, I was not aware of the full extent of the problem and remained unaffected. It was first brought to my attention earlier this year (2007) upon stumbling across 2 podcasts – “Vegan Food For Thought Podcast” and “Deconstructing Dinner.”It was eye-opening and a rude shock. How could I have lived my past 20-so years without being aware of these issues? I dug a little deeper, read more, looked at a few websites, listened to a few more podcasts. As an animal lover and someone with strong moral values, I knew I had to change. Becoming vegan was my goal. However, the obstacles are many and large. How was I supposed to conquer them?

The main obstacle was not so much dietary, but the social aspect. My parents would be the most difficult to convince. Of all the people we interact with, undoubtedly parents have the strongest desire for one’s wellbeing. I’m particularly close to my mother. My wellbeing is of utmost importance to her, beyond anything else. To many people, a diet without meat is unsustaining and ‘unhealthy’. I was prepared, and started small. I told them of the cruelty and the suffering that animals have to endure in order to provide for us. Gone are the days of free-roaming livestock and poultry. The huge human population is putting the world’s resources under strain. Profit always seems to rule, disregarding basic animal rights of being able to have the space to move, be free from pain and stress. Animals are treated as commodities, without feelings or rights. I chose veganism because I could no longer stomach animal products without feeling I’ve contributed to such injustice.

Being fairly slim already, announcing my change to veganism shocked and worried my parents. My 1st obstacle, which still remains my biggest, is mother’s outrage and concern. Despite my talks (that vegan is a healthy, sustainable way to live), she was strongly opposed to it. She believes I’ve been brainwashed by the things I’ve read, and is stuck in my one-sided way of thinking. I could not convince her to listen because, to her, I’ve taken on a mentality which she could not talk any sense into. What frustrates me most is that, she refuse to listen, despite deep-down, she knows there is truth behind my words.

There are many people who, like me, knew some aspects of the horrors in raising animals to provide for us. The problem is that they turn a blind eye so they can carry on living the life they’re used to living.

To me, learning is life-long. I’m always listening, reading, researching various topics and issues. Keeping an open mind doesn’t entail believing everything I’m told. On the contrary, we should be gathering information to be able to form opinions and making decisions.

It pained me to have the dispute with mum. I could no longer look up to her as a role model. I needed someone who is open-minded and cared enough to want to contribute and make a difference to society. She cared for me, and it clouded her judgement. She did not want me to become malnourished. “Why be a minority? Eat like the majority of us. What difference can you make by not eating meat?” was her view. It was painful to hear. Just because I cannot change the world, does that mean I should do nothing at all? Just because everyone else does something, does it make it right?
Dad was slightly more accepting, though he also worried about my health. He is more open-minded, and through introducing him to some podcasts, I hope in time he’ll understand and support my decision.

Mum’s extreme agitation and stress forced me to agree that I would resume eating “normally” – i.e. not vegan. This is an easy enough lie, since I don’t live with her any more. I do not wish to keep living a lie, but am hoping to change her with time.

Friends have been more accepting, though I have not had the chance to tell many of them yet. I’m confident in my decision, and know that the information I’ve learned is not biased. How could I have gone so long without knowing, all these years? It is not just the vegans and animal activists, but wide-spread knowledge of the torture, molesting, that goes on.

Eating as a vegan is most enjoyable. It’s an easy transition, since I’ve never been too attached to  animal products. In fact, it was a relief to learn that I do not need dairy for calcium (I’m Asian and lactose-intolerant – no wonder! Asians typically did not have diary in their diet). However, to avoid every trace of animal product in the food I consume as well as the product I use, is proving to be more challenging. Today, where are more processed foods than ever – many containing long ingredient lists, tainted with all sorts of additives and preservatives. Preparing my own meals from unprocessed foods (fruit, vegetables and grains, etc) is the easiest solution – something that I’ve been doing any way.

I see many flaws and vices in our society today. We consume too much – nutritionally-poor, energy-rich foods, products to satisfy the urge to spend, with terrible wastage as a result. I’m relieved to have discovered veganism and its moral principles. Vegans are generally kind-hearted, strong-willed (for being able to stand up for what they believe in!), and conscientious. Veganism is about embracing a compassionate mentality, a way of life for a better future for all.

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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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My journey to veganism was primarily food based at the start. I was raised in a lacto-ovo vegetarian home, but once I went away to college I hit the hamburger stand full-force. Fifty pounds later, I scaled back to healthier standards, but remained a meat eater, primarily because I didn’t know anyone who was a vegetarian besides my parents, and they didn’t voice objection that I had left the lifestyle. That, and I was going to school in Chicago, home of deep dish pizza.

Many years later I did the best (and worst) thing possible for myself, and it changed my life. In an effort to lose weight, I went on the Atkins Diet for a year. I ate cheese and beef jerky and scrambled eggs and processed deli meat and cottage cheese and Jell-O EVERY DAY. If I had a sweet tooth I sucked Readi-Whip from a can. That was my diet 24/7. And I lost 20 pounds. I also got horrible acne, was constipated on a regular basis, felt lethargic and logy, and began having problems with my “fluid” tract. My doctor was concerned about my kidneys and used the phrase, “possible damage and eventual shut-down” if I continued to consume high fat, high sodium foods. It was permission to quit, and going off the diet was a
relief.

After the Atkins fiasco I decided to go back to my lacto-ovo vegetarian roots. I felt better almost immediately.

Then Mad Cow Disease hit in England.

A girlfriend of mine was dating a vegan at the time, and we had long discussions about why we were at a greater risk than he as far as contracting disease or being effected by contaminated food sources. I started to research veganism and animal production. Embarrassing as this is, it wasn’t until then that I put beef and dairy in the same category. I had always
separated the chicken and the egg. However, I pushed my thoughts away for several years because I witnessed how vegans were treated. “Freak,” is the term I remember most.

Then, during a stint where I became very concerned about my health, I decided to adapt a vegan diet 100 percent. I went cold turkey. And I continued to read. As a result, amazing things happened to me.

I love to cook, and learning a new method was an exciting challenge. Two years into my veganism I STILL get a tremendous charge from having someone rave about a bread or dessert that I bring to work, and watching their face change when I tell them the delightful taste is courtesy of tofu!

I’ve also lost weight and kept it off. I still hit the gym and get as much exercise in as possible, but it’s just easier, even though I’m getting older.

However, my greatest gift has been a re-connection with the animals. My sweet kitty cat, Mo, was always a friend, but now she is a true companion. I can’t imagine life without her because I see her as an equal, not just a house pet. And I revere other animals with the same respect. That attitude only surfaced after becoming vegan.

Veganism has made my life come full circle, in a sense. I am one, yet I am part of a community – a huge community of people and animals. It is humbling to be part of such a large family where every “one” is different, yet equal, unique and special. 

~Colleen in St. Paul, MN

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