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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 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 became a vegetarian over 10 years ago when a vegetarian acquaintance of mine expressed astonishment at my carnivorous habits after discussing my (many) dogs and cats with her. That same day I filled my gas tank right next to a cattle transport crammed full with loudly protesting and suffering animals. That stopped my meat eating dead in my tracks. Unfortunately I became what you refer to as a junk food vegetarian.

Now my partner and I are raising my 3 grandchildren. They all still occasionally eat/ate meat bought from the coop and we all ate cheese. I never made the connection between the veal industry and the cheese we were eating until listening to your podcast. In the past I have made several unsuccessful stabs at educating the children about where meat comes from but did not want to traumatize them even more. They have suffered through enough violence in their short lives that the PETA information just seemed too graphic.

With your podcast you have given me opportunity to share my truth peacefully with my children and my partner. You have given me words and an attitude that works for me and my family. I told my 8-year old yesterday that we would not be buying anymore cheese and when she asked me why I explained the connection between “baby cows”, milk and cheese. I was astounded when she (the ultimate cheese lover) said “that is sooo unfair that people do that to cows.” Then she asked if there was “fake cheese” (she is familiar with fake meat) that did not hurt animals and I told her that I had already ordered some just for her.

Your podcast has inspired me to eat a whole food and vegan diet and to teach my little family that our appetites do not have to hurt our animal friends. So far, they are listening and enjoying your delicious recipes.

Namaste and thank you again.
~ Lydia

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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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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 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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