Going Veg and Sticking With It

A recent study by the Humane Research Council (HRC) shows that 10% of U.S. adults ages 17 and over are former vegetarians/vegans, while 2% of the adult population are current vegetarians/vegans. Many of the former vegetarians and vegans reported that they had felt a lack of support or a sense of isolation in their veg lifestyle. What these findings suggest to us is a need for animal advocates to focus more on supporting existing vegetarians and vegans in their choices so that they don’t feel compelled to return to eating animal products.

As much as we encourage others to embrace their empathy and move towards a plant-based diet, we should also focus on supporting them after they have chosen a vegan lifestyle. We want to teach them not just why to go vegan but also how to do it in a sustainable way. While the outreach that motivates people to make a change is essential, we also need to offer the support that keeps them on the path. Beyond the videos of the factory farms and the message of compassion, we need to provide additional resources.

At Compassionate Action for Animals, providing these resources has always been a key aspect of how we work towards our mission. Community building may take a variety of forms, from social events to volunteer opportunities. What these activities have in common is that they allow participants to interact with one another. In the company of other like-minded individuals, we are reminded that we are not alone. With these relationships, we get a sense of validation. When compassionate lifestyle is experienced as the norm, new vegans and vegetarians are more likely to continue to continue on that path.

Social media is also proving to be a valuable forum for building community. Whether through a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, interactive online media is another way to be part of a larger group and is perhaps most valuable to those who live in an outlying area and are unable to attend live events on a regular basis.

Building a community is an ongoing endeavor. We must strive to welcome new people and truly embrace others wherever they are on their path to compassionate living. And we must offer support and resources to those who are already on board. With more focus on sustaining our compassionate community, we can do more to help farmed animals.

How a Simple T-shirt Changed My Life for the Good

Growing up, I had always considered eating animal meat to be a bit disturbing. I had a hard time thinking about the animal that was running around prior to being on my plate. I would try to hide the meat with breading, buns, and condiments. As an adult, I prepared meals for my husband and our two children based on my upbringing, and I did the best I knew how.

About a year ago, I discovered that I’m lactose intolerant and eliminated dairy from my diet. But for most of my life, I rarely ate vegetables. I just didn’t get excited about a cooked carrot or a celery stick. When my 20-something daughter invited me to Twin Cities Veg Fest, I was not overly excited about it. My niece, a freshman at a nearby college, also really wanted to go, so I agreed to take her and meet my daughter there. We walked around, sampled some good healthy snacks, and discovered some new vegan food options. I turned down an aisle and stopped to look at the t-shirts. I laughed at the sassy sayings on some of the T’s. Then, I saw it, the shirt that made my stomach turn. It pictured a sweet little pink pig with the caption “Please don’t eat my insides.” I quickly turned away to avoid its impact on me.

Later at the festival, I sat down with my daughter, my niece, and my daughter’s best friend. We spoke for a few minutes, and then I decided to talk about the t-shirt that I had seen. I told them about what it brought up for me. When I was a child, I was hospitalized for a serious operation, and, in the hospital gift shop, there was an adorable pink stuffed pig. I desperately wanted that cute little pig and let my mother know how much I loved it. After surgery, the pink pig was waiting for me in the recovery room. It meant the world to me to call that little pink pig mine. I still have it 40 years later.

As I retold the story and thought about that t-shirt, tears ran down my face. I thought, “What am I doing eating animals?!”

That’s what it took. One t-shirt changed my life. Since that day, I have adapted to an entirely new lifestyle. As a new vegan, a whole new world has opened up to me. To my surprise, cooking is now much more fun. I realize that raw meat had been appalling to me and that I had forced myself to cook with it. Now, I love making meals and get excited to find new recipes. I honestly had no idea how delicious vegetables could be. I’m so happy when I think of all of the beautiful animals running around in the world, and I’m happy to help them run free!

I have no intention to ever eat animals again. I have found happiness in my new lifestyle and look forward to sharing my discovery with others.

Vegan Cooking Class with AmyLeo: Cozy Comfort Foods


Join AmyLeo Barankovich for a vegan cooking class at Whole Foods Market Lake Calhoun on Thursday, December 11 from 6:00 to 8:00pm.

As the weather cools down, warm up your kitchen and your belly with sweet and savory comfort foods! Usually heavy and rich, comfort foods can be lightened considerably by focusing on plant-based foods. Learn how to create a flavorful high-protein bean salad, a rib-sticking mock chicken hot dish, decadent brownies, and your own rich and creamy nondairy milk. These cozy dishes will warm you all winter long. This class offers hands on opportunities as desired. Preregistration is required at least 48 hours in advance. To register, visit the customer service desk, call 612-927-8141, or register online.

On the menu:

  • Two Bean Succotash with Coconut and Plum Vinegar
  • Mock Chicken Enchilada Bake with Chilies
  • Decadent Chocolate Brownies with Raspberry Chocolate Ganache
  • Creamy Cardamom Almond Milk

Council Member Cam Gordon on Meatless Monday

Cam Gordon

Compassionate Action for Animals has launched a campaign to bring Meatless Monday program to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Since Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon recently made a Meatless Monday proclamation for the city of Minneapolis, we thought he would be a great person to talk to about why Meatless Monday is important. Listen to the podcast to learn how this local politician is promoting plant-based eating in our community.

For more updates on our Meatless Monday campaign, visit the Facebook page, I Need Meatless Monday at University of Minnesota TC.

Give for Compassion Today!

Help us raise $7,500 by December 31 at midnight to support our work helping farmed animals. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, your contributions will be matched 2-for-1. That means we can raise an additional $15,000 to help farmed animals. Donate today!

We hope you’ve been able to attend some of our events in the past year. From the dine outs and potlucks to Their Lives, Our Voices and Twin Cities Veg Fest, it’s clear that our community is thriving. Now, we must continue serving as a vital resource for those who want to help farmed animals. Among our goals for the next year is to support the growth of Twin Cities Veg Fest. First and foremost, we want to find a larger venue for the popular festival. For these increased expenses, we are seeking your support.

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Snazzle-Frazzle Vegan for the Holidays

MG Thanksgiving

An excerpt from this post was originally published as part of Vegan Street’s All-Star Guide to a Meaningful Thanksgiving

Being a snazzle-frazzle vegan for more than a dozen years, I’ve had a spectrum of holiday experiences, from omnivorous family gatherings that feature not only turkey but also ham and mac and cheese, to veg-friendly feasts where, though turkey was served, I supplied a vegan entree and dessert and the other guests, though not vegan themselves, thoughtfully veganized the side dishes that they brought. Though I can happily hobnob with my omnivorous peeps (and try not to think too hard about the turkey on the table), my very favorite rendition of Thanksgiving happened for the first time last year. I hosted a queer vegan potluck with some of my very best friends – my chosen family. Though not all of them are vegan (or even queer), every one of them could eat anything on the menu. In that way, it truly felt like a celebration of gratitude, rich with an abundance of food and friendship. We created our own paradise where the virtues of love and compassion felt especially alive.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I haven’t always had the opportunity to create my own paradise with a queer vegan Thanksgiving potluck. I’ve most often had to venture outside my comfort zone for the holidays (and that’s saying a lot since the comfort zone for a pink-haired showgirl is abnormally large). Many years ago, maybe a year after I went vegan, a burly boyfriend took me to meet his family in the sticks. Once there, I learned that he was from a family of hunters who relished casseroles comprised of every animal product under the sun. Egad! It wasn’t my ideal way to spend the holidays, especially considering my newly minted vegan ethic, but I made the best of it. I did exactly what any smart vegan showgirl would do when she’s invited to an omnivore’s dinner party: I made sure to bring good vegan food to eat and to share. And I made sure that whatever I brought looked and tasted delicious. And I wore sequins. I was going to have a good time, dammit! And not just for my own sake but also for the sake of veganism, to show others that going vegan isn’t about a life of deprivation. Au contraire!

I know one vegan stud muffin who tells the story of a Thanksgiving long ago. He decided to spend the day fasting as a personal protest. He sat there with an empty plate while his family, surrounding him on all sides, stuffed their faces. Oh, what a pathetic scene! Many years later, he tells this story with regret, admitting that his protest was in vain; it only reinforced others’ preconceived notions that vegans are living a life devoid of pleasure. Let’s avoid this scenario at all costs. Now, how do you do that?

As I said before, bring a bounty of scrumptious vegan goodies to your holiday celebration. Chances are that people will want to eat what you’re eating. Chances also are that people will ask you why you won’t eat the turkey. Now, how does one respond to such a question in that moment? In my experience, the Thanksgiving dinner table is not the place to expound upon the evils of factory farming. Say something brief and innocuous but true for you, such as “I do it for the animals, my health, and the planet.” You can respond joyfully, respectfully, and with reserve. If they have follow-up questions right there at the dinner table, say that you’d be happy to chat with them about it at another time. Though they’ve expressed an interest, if they are eating animals at that meal, they are unlikely to be receptive to your vegan philosophy. They are more likely to be defensive, and who knows where the conversation will go from there. If fisticuffs have to break out at the holiday dinner table, let it be over whom gets to have the last serving of Mistress Ginger’s Apple-Blueberry Crisp and not about something so highly charged as our food choices.

If you want to be a voice for the animals during the holidays, consider how you can most effectively do that. The outspoken, confrontational approach is not always the best one to take, especially at holiday celebrations. Aim for harmony. Focus on the common ground, what you share. In my experience, just being present as the joyful, compassionate (and devastatingly gorgeous) creature that I am, I can create positive experiences for others around the image of veganism.

In summary, your Mistress recommends that you show up at your holiday gatherings with some glorious vegan food in tow, keep the conversation light and nonjudgmental, and, if at all possible, wear something sequined.

Mistress Ginger is a vegan showgirl based in the Twin Cities. She is the author of Mistress Ginger Cooks!: Everyday Vegan Food for Everyone. Join her for a book signing at Magers & Quinn Booksellers on Saturday, December 6 at 2:00pm.  Check out her blog for more of her sassy words of wisdom, vegan recipes, videos, and upcoming events.

How to Do the Holiday Thing as a Vegan

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, the holidays can be a challenging time. From the probing questions at the dinner table to the snarky quips about why you won’t eat the turkey, we find ourselves facing a number of uncomfortable situations. We want to enjoy the holiday with our friends and family, but how can we relax when the centerpiece on the table is the bodily remains of a once living, vibrant animal? What do we say? How do we respond? And, perhaps most importantly, what can we eat?

These questions are addressed on this month’s episode of Exploring Veg. For this discussion, CAA Executive Director Unny Nambudiripad is joined by CAA Outreach Coordinator Grace Van Susteren and two CAA volunteers and students at the University of Minnesota, Priyanka Ketkar and Tyler Tracy.

Throwback Thursday: Remembering Why I Went Vegan

Suzy and chickens

My dad is a biologist and, when I was growing up, he brought to life the quote, “teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as important to the child as it is to the caterpillar.” Together, we picked up worms off the sidewalk after a rain and moved them to the grass. We watched spiders build webs and caterpillars build cocoons. We observed birds and mice in their nests and fish and tadpoles in shallow waters. We once parked at the end of our driveway for weeks while baby turtles hatched and made their way across the pavement. My dad knew the scientific names for all these creatures. We marveled at their beauty, and he taught respect for them and their role in the world around us.

Unfortunately, this compassion did not extend to farmed animals. Admittedly, we did not encounter them in our daily outings. My dad grew up working on farms in Iowa, and farming is part of our family history. I still get teased about the week I spent at my uncle’s farm when I was eight years old. The chickens, I’m told, didn’t lay for a week after I sneaked into the hen house to try to hold and pet them.

Suzy, back in the day, taking her kitty for a ride

When I was growing up, I never made the connection between these individual beings and the food on my plate. My mom bought hamburger at the store in a plastic wrapper; it didn’t look like a cow.

I never heard of vegetarianism until sometime after college when a close friend became a vegetarian after reading Animal Liberation and Diet for a Small Planet. She loaned me the books, and they motivated me to stop eating meat — for a while.

Another 20 years passed before the connection clicked for me in a more lasting way. My husband and I were invited by friends in Florida to come down for “lobster season”. The process involves going out before dawn in a boat, donning scuba gear, and, when the sun is officially up, diving into the reefs to find lobsters in their burrows. When you find a lobster home, you use a “tickle stick” to encourage him to leave the hole and run into your net.

I loved the scuba diving part of the experience. The underwater world was something out of a fantasy or dream. We were diving over white sand and coral reefs teeming with brightly colored fish, squid, sea cucumbers, and other magical creatures that I’d never before seen. At last, I spied a hole in the sandy ocean floor hidden in the gently drifting sea grass. Not sure if it would work, I tickled the burrow, and out came a lobster. Once he was in my net, I began to have doubts. I wasn’t a hunter. I had never sought or caught an animal before. The others in our group saw my catch and motioned me back to the boat. I took the lobster back with me, and he was put into the tank with the others. I felt terrible. I wanted to take him back to his home. I felt ill about what I had done, essentially kidnapping a creature from his home to be killed for my use. Back at the dock, the heads were twisted off the bodies because “it’s all about eating the tail.” I couldn’t watch this process and felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and grief. I was struck by the fact that this being had a life, a home, and a purpose beyond meeting my needs.

That day, I reached the conclusion that if I would not catch and kill an animal with my own hands, then I should not have someone else do it for me.

What I didn’t know at the time, but have since learned, is that lobsters are wonderful creatures who have a highly developed capacity to taste and smell; they can sense the world around them with their antennae and the hairs on their legs. Lobsters can live 60 to 100 years and carry their young for 9 to 12 months. They use complicated signals to form social relationships. They grow throughout their lives and make seasonal journeys covering over 100 miles each year walking across the ocean floor.

I’ll always remember the guilt and shame that I felt that day years ago, but I can’t go back, only forward. Choosing a vegan life is the best I can do to put an end to the cruelty that’s an inherent part of using animals as food.

When I made the change to veganism, I was already a Registered Dietitian. As I did my own research about healthy plant-based eating, I realized there was a lot of information to sift through, some reliable and some just plain wrong. This prompted me to start my own small nutrition counseling business, Move2Veg, to help others interested in cruelty-free eating.

I have volunteered for Compassionate Action for Animals and supported their work for more than 10 years because I believe strongly in their mission: encouraging people to cultivate empathy for animals and move towards a plant-based diet. I am proud to be part of an organization that has such a positive impact in our community through outreach, education, and events like the Vegan Thanksgiving Potluck, Their Lives, Our Voices, and Twin Cities Veg Fest.

Stirring the Pot: Why Meatless Monday Is Important

Kristina DeMuth

Across the nation, hundreds of schools are participating in a historical campaign called “Meatless Monday” that was initiated by the U.S. government back in World War I and again in World War II. The campaign was revived in 2003 by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a response to the vast environmental and public health issues spanning the globe. The primary goal of Meatless Monday is to encourage Americans to forego meat just one day a week, and replace their meat dishes with tasty plant-based alternatives. A group of students at the University of Minnesota are working towards implementing Meatless Monday in student dining halls and around campus — their efforts for the campaign are timely with the rise of chronic diseases across the U.S. and the drought effecting families in California.

Currently, the U.S. spends an alarming 2.8 trillion dollars on healthcare annually. Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of Preventive Medicine Research Institute, recently stated that 75 percent of our national healthcare costs are due to chronic diseases that can be prevented through lifestyle patterns — including diet. Americans eat more meat today than nearly any other country in the world, and this dietary trend takes a toll not only on population health, but also environmental health. High consumption of animal products increases the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases. Shifting from resource intensive food products, such as beef, lamb, and pork, to fiber and protein-rich plant foods like beans and quinoa will not only reduce environmental impacts, but will also help improve population health. Plant-based diets that emphasizes whole plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans, in replace of animal products is associated with a number of positive health outcomes such as lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and a variety of cancers. Well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets have even been shown to reverse a number of these chronic health conditions, including the number one killer in the U.S. — heart disease.

fresh veggies

The large reliance on fossil fuels and the greenhouse gasses emitted during the production of animal products has negative impacts on climate change. Research has shown that carbon dioxide emissions could be cut nearly in half if people switched from a high meat diet to a vegetarian diet. Additionally, adopting a vegan diet could further cut carbon dioxide emissions. Eating more vegetarian or vegan meals would also be less resource-intensive than a diet rich in meat, cheese, and dairy.  For example, 1,850 gallons of water is required to produce one pound of beef, whereas a pound of vegetables requires only 39 gallons of water.

Implementing Meatless Monday at the University of Minnesota would provide an opportunity to educate students on the impact that food choices have on their health and the environment. It would provide an opportunity to expose students to healthy, tasty plant-based meals and allow the University and its students to continue being progressive leaders in our global community. Implementing Meatless Monday campus-wide would allow the University of Minnesota to continue exemplifying their mission to serve the common good of all people.

Kristina DeMuth

Kristina DeMuth is a plant-based, Registered Dietitian and a Master’s of Public Health Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. Kristina is a blogger at Moxie Musing and her Facebook page, where she advocates for a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Her piece “Meatless Mondays: A health perspective” was recently published in the Minnesota Daily.

Throwback Thursday: Remembering Why I Went Vegan

I get to reflect on my reasons for going vegan every year on my birthday. You see, I happen to have been born on what would later become World Vegan Day. It seems fitting that World Vegan Day would start in 1994, right around the time I became vegetarian. But I grappled with my feelings on animals as food long before that.

I don’t remember how old I was, I think maybe 5 or 6, but I must have been very young, when it sunk in that my dinner was a live animal at some point. I remember knowing that meat came from animals; I think I even knew that animals had to die to become meat. I remember my sister was telling me that I was eating animal muscle, and that was really gross to me. Before that, I must have had some crazy idea that there was this “meat” section of an animal that was something else entirely. When I was younger, I also thought that all the animals were well cared for on the farm, lived to be a ripe old age and then died, at which point people ate them because you could have some food and burying a cow sure seems like it would be a lot of work. When I had realized that none of this was actually true, that I was in fact eating animal muscle, I decided then and there that I would be a vegetarian. I took matters into my own hands. For the next couple of days, I ate nothing but cheese singles and an orange drink. After I had a barfing fit, my mom told me that vegetarianism wasn’t working for me, and I abruptly ended my brief vegetarian stint. I was sad, but I obliged.

I had a few more touch and go stints with vegetarianism. None of them ever lasted. When I became vegetarian for real in middle school, it was for a very stupid reason. A girl I had a falling out with had just given a speech in class about why she was vegetarian. The 14-year-old diva in me said, “I can be a better vegetarian than her.” Since I had something to prove this time, I had to really commit. I also had the profound realization that it is called “vegetarian” for a reason, that I should probably learn to like vegetables. At that point, I was a bit older and could actually cook for myself. I started eating more salads and put fresh veggies on pizzas and tacos where they were largely absent before. No barfing this time.

In high school, I turned a corner and became vegan. I was working in the local public library, and I had a close friend who ran with the vegan straight edge crowd. He told me to check out a book called Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm. He said that if I was being vegetarian for ethical reasons that I really needed to read it and consider veganism. When I came across the book at work, I had to give it a look-through. I was horrified by what I saw in the book, particularly the pictures. But I was also perplexed; I lived in Wisconsin for crying out loud! How was it that our state could be filled with small family farms and this was still going on? I came to the realization that mass-produced fast foods and processed foods containing dairy and eggs weren’t supplied by the farmhouses lining the interstate; those products came from the factory farms that I saw in the book. So, I gave them the ax.

E.G. Nelson, back in the day (also known as 1994)
E.G. Nelson, back in the day (also known as 1994)

Since I couldn’t know if the eggs and dairy that my parents bought were coming from a factory farm or not, I decided to cut them out altogether too. While I sorted through ingredient lists to see if anything was animal-derived, I also began to notice how many chemicals were in processed food and paid closer attention to nutrition labels. I began to get a clearer picture of what was really in food I was buying, and I began to opt for freshly prepared food whenever I could. I wanted to know what I was putting in my body. This isn’t to say that I never eat junk food, but increasing my awareness of what was in my food definitely had an impact on my consumption. Despite being more particular about my food sources, becoming vegan actually expanded my food horizons; I was eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than ever, and I was experimenting with new styles of cuisine I would otherwise never had known about.

I have now been vegan for more than half my life. A lot has changed since I began back in the nineties. Once limited to a single brand of watered-down soymilk and a mass-produced veggie burger, I now see an amazing array of nondairy milk and meat alternatives from a broad range of producers, all available in the same grocery store. An increasing number of restaurants are offering tasty vegan options beyond the salad bar. Responding to market demand, food producers are becoming more sensitive to food allergens and dietary preferences and are labeling their products accordingly. That’s a big help for someone who chooses an “alternative” diet.

Nevertheless, some barriers, be they real or perceived, can keep people from embracing veganism. To minimize the obstacles, it is critical that those who are veg-inclined continue to share our experiences as well as work towards making healthy food accessible for all. In that way, individuals can proactively make food choices. I write this post just a week after the release of the Minnesota Food Charter, a prescribed road map for policymakers and community members involved in food work in the state. The food charter takes many factors into consideration: who has access to food, how what we eat impacts our health, who profits, how are workers treated, how are animals treated, how far food travels, and how sustainable the system is. My experience with veganism has motivated me to think more deeply about these issues and discuss them long before the release of this document. I still have a lot of unanswered questions, but one thing I do know is that when we talk about our personal experiences with food, we begin to think more deeply about the food system and how it works. Not everyone agrees that veganism is the best practice for animal welfare, the environment, or health, but hopefully in talking about why we eat what we eat, we can begin to identify common values that will help to build a more ethical and equitable food system.

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