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As a child, I adored animals. I loved going to petting zoos, small farms, and anywhere I could touch the baby animals and feed them and coo over them. I live in a metropolitan area, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before I encountered vegetarianism, and as a sensitive and thoughtful child, each of those instances has remained nearly burned into my mind.

My aunt and uncle, bird fanatics, raise and own geese and ducks as pets in downtown Richmond, VA. When I was little, my uncle half-jokingly made me promise not to eat either kind of bird. I took it very seriously and have not consumed them since. It was a natural decision; after all, I couldn’t imagine eating Peanut or his friends no matter how mean they were to me once I had seen them alive.

At a summer camp I met a “habit” vegetarian who had been instructed by her doctor to go off meat for a while after contracting food poisoning. On the metro, a young man reading a copy of the PETA’s vegetarian starter kit saw me looking over his shoulder and offered it to me; I still have it. Perhaps my most vivid memory is that of sitting at the kitchen counter and looking down at the dead animal on my plate and feeling horrible about it. At this exact point in time I realized that I did not want to eat animals, that I did not believe in it. I loved animals – how could I continue eating them? Yet I still thought that I couldn’t give up eating them. I liked meat too much, I told myself.

Fast-forward a few years. I’m sitting the back of my Animal Science summer class at the Career Center. One of the kittens paws the bag of a girl in the front. She picks it up; it’s her lunch bag. The teacher’s assistant asks what’s in it. She replies that there’s fake ham. It turns out she’s a vegetarian. A discussion follows over her reasons why and PETA’s “agenda” and so forth.

The conversation moved on, but I was still stuck on the fake ham. Inspired, I visited PETA’s website and one of its branch sites, PETA2. Horrified by the violence and cruelty suffered by animals in slaughterhouses, I vowed myself off meat. Though I still consumed marine animals, I erroneously considered myself a vegetarian, but this was still a huge step in a positive direction. Two years ago, I entered high school eschewing public school lunches, birds and mammals as food.

Fast-forward again to last May, when I discovered Colleen’s podcast. It was perfect timing: I had ten weeks of summer ahead of me to listen, and did I listen! I ran several marathons of episodes and developed the habit of listening to her podcast in the morning as I ate breakfast and during lunch when no one else was around, and soon her combination of hard facts, literary works, dietary support, compassion and joyfulness began to work its magic on me. In late July, attending a summer flute institute, I realized how easy it would be to cut out seafood from my diet in a dining hall system, so I did. The next week I began avoiding eggs and dairy, to my parents’ dismay – and (ineffective) “orders” to continue eating them. I understood their concerns were for my health and printed out the ADA’s “Fact vs. Fiction” page about vegetarianism and continue to take calcium supplements to assuage their fears. One of my former au pair’s friends who came over for lunch told me that I would “disappear” if I didn’t eat “anything.” (They are both Brazilians, and if there’s one thing Brazilians love, it’s their meat, followed in a close second by their salt – a bad combination with disastrous effects on their bones and arteries: upper-class Brazilians are acquiring the same SAD-related diseases as Americans.)

Now, I am nearly vegan, or, if one takes Donald Watson’s definition, I already am. The realization just blows my mind away. A few years ago, if you had told me I would be vegan, I wouldn’t have believed you because, really, it sounds so much more difficult, and radical, and strange than it really is. It is so simple and obvious that I can hardly believe it took me two whole years from the moment I decided not to eat land animals to only a few weeks ago when I finally decided that I could give up eggs and dairy just as I had given up meat. In reality, I am far more informed and healthy than I have ever been, except, perhaps, for when I was still a baby.

Oftentimes I am reminded rather painfully of the likely path of my little brother’s eating habits. He is almost three and an absolute sweetie. He loves animals, like all children, but hasn’t yet connected these same animals to the foods he eats. I know I am a very influential part of his life, even though I will be leaving for college when he enters kindergarten, but it breaks my heart to think of all the unknowing harm he will do, and the desensitization that he will undergo as part of a “normal” growing-up experience in this country, because I know there is very little I can do for him right now.

As I move forward and on to my own life as an independent adult, I know I will encounter far more hostility than I have so far, but for now I relish knowing half a dozen vegetarian friends and teachers within my sphere just by happenstance. I have decided to promote veganism within this sphere by improving my baking skills. So far, I have made brownies, blondies, and biscuits, and all have received positive appraisals.

My best encounter so far was a comment from an acquaintance that rides my bus. A few days after I handed out my remaining blondies on the bus ride home, she asked me if I was a vegetarian, and I said yes. She explained her supposition, saying, “There’s something about them,” some aura we have in common that she felt I had, and she admired us for it. Perhaps it is our inner peace, our joy, our connection with animals and all living things? This is what I myself feel, and it is worth a thousand times over any mere satisfaction gained by consuming those who should be our companions and friends on this planet. Truly! I now see the beauty of the world 😀

~Alison

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A couple of months ago after many years of eating a limited amount of meat diet, our 7 year old daughter made us realize that we were ready to become vegetarian. She, as well as our son, naturally didn’t have a desire to eat meat. They questioned where it came from and ate so very little of it when it was on their plates. So we decided we would be vegetarian but be ovo lacto as we thought it was impossible to be healthy and to raise children as vegans. Well…that is when I read the book Skinny Bitch, and knew I could never eat dairy or eggs again. My husband listened to the book on CD as well and felt the same way. We threw ourselves into this new-found world of veganism, and I immediately looked for a podcast that could help us out. That is when we found you. Your podcasts were just what we needed to help us along our path toward veganism. Not only do we learn interesting food facts, recipes and suggestions but also the truth to empower us in this lifestyle. It’s given us the power to stand behind our beliefs despite opposing views from family members. We feel like we have a wealth of information now because of you and your wonderful wisdom.

Becoming vegan has awakened a part of me that now loves to cook and loves all things to do with food. I used to cook but didn’t enjoy it as I was a worry wart in the kitchen about cross contamination from meat and meat products (rightfully so). Now I feel so free in my kitchen as I don’t fret about the bacteria coming from our plant based diet. There is no worry about blood on the counter or on a chopping board. I love it and feel so liberated!

Thank you for inspiring us and for guiding us. We are so excited that we also live near you and can attend a cooking class of yours in the future. Keep up the good work and know that you have made a difference in our lives! We are so thankful for you.

~ Megan & Eric, California

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I’d like to take a minute and sincerely thank you for all you do. I became vegetarian only about a month ago (hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?). Currently, I am well on my way to turning vegan.

It all started after reading “skinny bitch” for me. My roommate told me “this book sounds like you wrote it.” She said this because I am surrounded by heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in my family and have watched my parents go down the same road as their parents did without making any changes to improve their health. They make almost no effort even though they are well aware of what faces them. This is very frustrating to me. I am 21 years old and a senior in college and I am already making changes to prevent this, why can’t they?

But yes, that is the book that started it for me. It is very hard to ignore what they are saying. I was one of those people who ate mostly organic food, produce, dairy products, and meat and somehow made myself believe that I was doing the right thing because at least they treated their animals ethically, right? After hearing many of your podcasts, I realize now that I believed that because that is what I wanted to believe. This is one of the reasons I am turning completely vegan.

After reading that book, I’ll be honest, I struggled with the idea of becoming vegan for about 2 weeks. I wanted to, I knew it was the right thing, and it coincided with all of my values and beliefs, but I just kept thinking “I’m really never going to eat meat again?” Well after trying to wrap my head around that for a week or two I visited my brother in the D.C. area and that was the turning point. I promised myself that I would only eat organic meat from then on out (to “ease” my guilty conscience), and since that wasn’t possible when dining in a restaurant I ate vegetarian that whole weekend. After that, after seeing how easy it really was, I kept with it. It stuck.

It was about this time that I started to discover your podcast. I feel it has been you’re inspiring words and truth telling that has kept me motivated. I do feel I could have done it on your own but it is very comforting to know I can just flip on my i-pod and hear words of reassurance and that I am doing the right thing. It has also been your podcast that has educated me on many issues that are crucial to a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, such as health and animal rights. I have always been an animal lover and the harsh reality of what they face is heart-wrenching. But as you say, I am glad to know it, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I do feel much closer to my pets and even just the animals that surround us in life. I can look at pictures of these beautiful beings and no longer feel guilty. With the help of this podcast I have learned so much about my health, my eating habits, and my morals as well as the health and well-being of the non-human animals that surround us. Thank you for all your work, it is truly awe-inspiring.

~ Sarah

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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 was a typical meat eater for all of my life until my early 40s. I loved how meat tasted and the texture. Although I adore animals I was raised to eat meat and didn’t question it, like most Americans. My first exposure to not eating meat came from a roommate who was a member of PETA. He was not an advocate and didn’t speak his truth though. So the only thing I learned from him was that you could make a delicious batch of beans without using ham or pork which I had thought was impossible. Once he moved out I forgot how he did it so I went back to cooking beans with ham.

Years later I read a book that did speak the truth and opened my eyes wide open: Dominion: the Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully. What a shock – each chapter focused on a different version of how humans are cruel and perverse to animals and the huge amount of suffering animals are experiencing every minute, every second, even now. I was able to visualize huge pens holding hogs so tightly they are unable to turn around, stressed to the point of crewing each others tails off so the tails are docked now, waiting months until they are big enough for slaughter, never walking, never going outside into the sunshine, terrified into loud squeals of fright on the rare times their building doors were opened and a human monster walked in. I learned to my horror that breeders are focusing on breeding hogs that are not easily frightened and won’t squeal with terror so they can literally be unattended by humans (their caretaking is mechanized) and when it’s time for slaughter they will meekly and quietly go to their deaths. Literally, it’s a truth that is more horrible than any scary movie. As I read that book I was stunned because I had no idea the extent of our cruelly nor of the pain caused to animals from the meat production industry. Scully’s call to vegetarianism spoke to me and I began the path of vegetarianism immediately

However, it was hard. I have never been good at putting limits on myself. I love fast food, junk food, and I have always struggled with eating too much sugar and drinking too much caffeine. I once asked for unlimited bacon as a child for my birthday because my mom had always only allowed us 2 slices and I wanted 8 or 10 slices. I love bacon. How was I now going to not eat meat? I made great progress through many efforts – I bought some good vegetarian cookbooks and attended some good veggie cooking classes and I learned to make delicious meals and so I became a part vegetarian – not perfect but I was 90% there. One of the most delightful side effects I have experienced is that a new world of food opened up to me. People think I’m crazy when I say that dropping meat from my diet has opened up more food choices but it’s true – I now am an excellent tofu cook, I make great vegetable pot pies and stews and soups and I make a fantastic veggie chili. I cook Portobello mushrooms and chard and collard greens, and they are all so delicious. Oh and eggplant – I never cooked eggplant much before and now it’s my favorite! I only cooked meat once last year – I bought a free range turkey for my meat eating father in law who came for Thanksgiving Dinner; I won’t do that again. I was dismayed at the grease that cooking meat produced (the fat of the animal) and I felt totally guilty at not following my values. I had forgotten how gross a dead animal is to manage and how hard to clean up since I hadn’t cooked meat in years. I am planning never to cook it again, not for my father in law or for guests with picky children either

Needless to say, I never spoke my truth except to my husband who is fantastic, a huge supporter, and now a vegetarian also. However I was sure I could never be a vegan since I still ate too much sugar, caffeine, and junk food and love cheese. I am sure that would have been the extent of my vegetarianism had I not found your podcast. Many of your words brings the book Dominion back to life and the horrors we humans bring upon animals, even those of us who claim to love them. I now see everything, and I mean everything, more clearly. I love your logic and your delivery, and I love your ability to be convincing in such a logical way. And you are right – not eating animals or their products is a joyful lifestyle of abundance, not one of restrictions. As I head down the path of veganism in 2008 I am excited like I have never been before. I am joyful. And I look forward to a life of abundance, while speaking my truth in a pleasant, positive way. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart – your work is the greatest

~Patty in Roswell, GA

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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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