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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,
~Joselle

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I 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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