Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is one of my all-time favorite vegan icons, and I had to give you a chance to be inspired by her as well. She founded Compassionate Cooks to help people learn about veganism and make informed decisions about the food they put in their bodies.
As you will see in her answers to my questions in this interview, Colleen's style of writing is eloquent and thoughtful. I heard her speak at a conference called "Taking Action For Animals" in 2007 and her speech changed my perspective on the non-vegan world entirely by reminding me that life is always better lived happily rather than angrily, which is the basis for Compassionate Cooks.
Not only does she have a slew of amazing vegan cookbooks, but she also does lectures, speaking engagements, and workshops, runs a podcast, has an informative website, and has a cooking DVD and CD. She's a vegan superwoman!
Colleen is a highly successful vegan cookbook author, and made her mark initially with her baking cookbook called The Joy of Vegan Baking, which guides new or veteran vegans along the process of baking vegan desserts that people will never know have no animal products. It's still one of my favorite dessert cookbooks.
She has also written The Vegan Table: 200 Unforgettable Recipes for Entertaining Every Guest at Every Occasion, which is incredibly helpful for putting together dinner parties with proper vegan meal plans, as well as Vegan's Daily Companion: 365 Days of Inspiration for Cooking, Eating, and Living Compassionately, which guides us through the daily acts of choosing veganism.
For those who are are new to veganism, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Cleaner, Getting Leaner, and Living Compassionately is an excellent companion, and Color Me Vegan: Maximize Your Nutrient Intake and Optimize Your Health by Eating Antioxidant-Rich, Fiber-Packed, Color-Intense Meals That Taste Great can help you to make sure you eat from all the colors of the rainbow and maximize your vegan nutrition.
Her latest book is called On Being Vegan, and it's a collection of essays Colleen wrote about living as compassionate cooks... truly.
Colleen and Compassionate Cooks have been featured on The Food Network, National Public Radio, and in VegNews Magazine.
Photo courtesy of CompassionateCooks.com
I was 19 years old when I read John Robbins’ book Diet for a New America, which looks at how our animal-based diet affects the animals, our health, and the Earth. It was the first time I had ever seen the images of “food animals,” regarded merely as machines and valued only for what they could produce.
I saw hens in cages with the tips of their beaks seared off, female “breeding” pigs confined in crates the size of their own overgrown bodies, turkeys packed in windowless sheds, calves chained to wooden boxes. I remember staring at those photos in utter shock. How could I not have known about this? How could this even happen?
I knew didn’t want to be part of it, so I stopped eating land animals that very day. That started me on a journey that eventually let to me reading every book I could get my hands on. The Internet was in its infancy, so I relied on library resources, literature from nonprofit groups, and the few videos that were available. My eyes were open, but I wasn’t fully awake.
I began doing outreach and education, informing others about what I learned, but I was still disconnected. I was eating animals from the sea, and I was consuming chickens’ eggs and cows’ milk. I justified my actions by declaring that I was buying “free-range” eggs and “organic” milk, as if these marketing terms absolved me from my responsibility. My true awakening was yet to come, and it’s the one that expanded every aspect of my life and subsequently led to my Compassionate Cooks podcast CD. I read a book called Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry by investigative journalist Gail Eisnitz. In the few excruciatingly painful days it took me to read this book, I literally woke up.
I woke up to the truth about our treatment of animals and realized that no matter how they are raised and what they are raised for (their flesh, eggs, milk), they all wind up in the same horrible place: the slaughterhouse.
I had been deceived into believing that somehow the chickens’ eggs and cows’ milk I had been consuming were from animals who were protected from harm and even spared death. I was very wrong. The process of breeding, transporting, and killing young and innocent lives is ugly and violent, and death does not come easy for those who want to live.
When I first read Diet for a New America, perhaps I would have told you that I was concerned about how animals are bred, raised, and killed for human consumption; today, after many years of research and reading and thinking, I would say my concern is THAT animals are bred, raised, and killed for human consumption.
I believe the process we go through from being an innately compassionate, innocent child to a desensitized adult is a process of being put to sleep. Once you've been awakened to the truth, to your true, deep compassion, it is an incredible experience. Though there is great sorrow in becoming acutely aware of the suffering the animals endure at our hands, there is great joy in knowing we don't have to be part of it.
There's great joy in living my values. What’s the use in having values if they don’t manifest themselves in our behavior? And how many of us actually do translate our values into action? It’s nice to say that we want to be kind, compassionate, caring, trustworthy, helpful people.
It’s nice to say that we’re against violence and cruelty. Most of us are. But how many of us actually take these abstract values and put them into concrete action? Well, for me, being vegan, which extends to every area of my life, is an opportunity to do just that: to put my abstract values into concrete action.
By choosing not to eat what is essentially the used up and mutilated bodies of animals, I’m saying “yes” to my values of peace, of kindness towards others, of compassion, of empathy, of freedom, and simplicity. By choosing to look at what happens to other animals – human and nonhuman – on my behalf, for my convenience, I am saying “yes” to my values of accountability, of responsibility, of commitment to truth and knowledge. By standing up for what I believe in and fighting on behalf of those who have no voice, no rights, I’m saying “yes” to my values of justice, of service to others, of selflessness, courage, and unity.
I can't imagine a more powerful and joyful way to live.
We often hear that individuality is valued in our culture, but I’m not so sure. I think we value conformity a lot more. “Non-conformist” is a dirty word in many people’s vocabulary.
Because our food choices are so public and so political, I think people are afraid of being judged when it comes to making food choices that aren't aligned with the status quo. And yet, it's so ironic.
We all say we want to make a difference. We all say we want to leave our mark on this world. We all say we want to do something meaningful, live a meaningful life, help others, effect change, contribute something important. I do think people mean it when they say it, but I wonder sometimes if this all means as much to them as not appearing different.
We all say we want to make a difference, but in order to do so, we have to do something different. It’s only people willing to assert their individuality, their personal beliefs who actually make a difference. It’s easy to go along with the status quo, but the question we have to ask ourselves is it what we really want at the cost of our own values?
That’s a pretty high cost in my opinion. This is not to say that you have to rock the boat constantly, but everyone who knows me or meets me knows where I stand on certain things – certain things I don’t compromise on – namely my belief that animals are here for their own sake and not for my pleasure. That’s not something I have to apologize for. That’s not something that changes according to who invites me to dinner or who can handle it and who it makes uncomfortable.
I just think humor is such a powerful way to connect with people, to lighten things up around a heavy subject, and to create an opening in someone else.
I also think that it's important to keep in mind that whatever jokes non-vegetarians might make at your expense, it really has nothing to do with you. They might be feeling insecure, uncomfortable with their own behavior, and they deflect by making some stupid joke or snide comment about you not eating animals. Passive- aggressive though these people may seem, it will help to respond with humor and levity. It works wonders!
Most people don’t look at the inside of a slaughterhouse, because they know if they did, they would be compelled to make different choices. It is our fear of change – our attachment to old habits – that drives us to keep eating animals and their fluids. It is our fear of doing something different that keeps us stuck in old behavior.
Our ability to compartmentalize our emotions and justify the pain of other living creatures in favor of momentary pleasure cannot but affect us at the most fundamental level. How can we function as whole human beings when we consciously cut ourselves off from a part of ourselves every time we sit down to eat?
Some people even believe that the fear, pain, and violence experienced by the animals during slaughter are taken up into their flesh and fluids and then into our own bodies when we consume them. Hokey though it may sound, there is no denying that a plant-based meal is built from life-giving rather than life-taking foods. This is what I want to serve to the people I love most. This is what it means to "cook with compassion."
I didn’t stop eating animals because I didn’t like the way they tasted. I stopped eating animals and their “products” because I didn’t want to contribute to the violence and exploitation of another when I had the power to do so, and it is a powerful and empowering way to live.
The sense of peace you feel when you align your behavior with your values is tangible. It connects you with everything and everyone around you, and I can’t think of a better way to deepen our participation in this world than by feeding our loved ones food that heals rather than harms.
I think it's so important to tell our stories - not only to inspire people who may (and will) identify with our process and experience, but also for our own sake. It's so important to remember our stories of transformation by telling them. In forgetting our own stories and our own process, we lose our humility, and in doing so we risk becoming arrogant and bitter.
Thank you so much Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Compassionate Cooks!!
Compassionate Cooks interview: February 19, 2009