There was a time when I couldn’t get the voice of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau out of my head. I had listened to her podcasts on repeat for so long that it was strange not to hear the sound of her affectionate coo permeating my apartment. And I know I’m not the only one who’s been, you might say addicted, to Colleen’s soothing voice and the profound words she speaks.
Each episode of her podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought, begins with a welcome message as straight as a celery stalk and as warm as homemade bread:
“Welcome to Food for Thought. My name is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau from Compassionate Cooks. I founded Compassionate Cooks to empower people to make informed food choices and to debunk myths about vegetarianism and animal rights.”
Who is this enchantress of the airwaves? How does she cast her spell so gently on those that lend a curious ear and find themselves checking iTunes daily for podcast updates and eating vegan meals out of the palm of her hand? Colleen is like the best friend who’ll sit you down and tell you the harsh facts of life, then make you feel like you can take on the world as your new, englightened self. Whereas others can sound preachy or hyperbolic, Colleen is sincere and honest.
Colleen hosts the podcast, writes cookbooks (including The Joy of Vegan Baking and The Vegan Table), and makes speaking appearances around the U.S. She inspires countless people to adopt a healthier, more compassionate lifestyle — if not go completely vegan. And for the people who were already vegetarian or vegan when they fell down Colleen’s rabbit hole, she inspires them to speak and live “their truth” — to get active and get vocal about the compassionate, joyful life they lead. Every day, she receives emails from people around the world who have been touched by her podcast or her books, and she says she literally cries of happiness when she reads them.
Growing up, Colleen ate a typical American diet: meat, eggs and dairy. Her father even owned ice cream shops, and would bring home more ice cream than a kid could dream of. But after reading several books, including John Robbins’ Diet for a New America and Gail Eisnitz’ Slaughterhouse, she became awake to the suffering of animals. And she took action. She noticed that people were touched by the same arguments for animal welfare and veganism that she was, but they all asked the same question: what do I eat?
To tackle this problem and make vegetarian eating less of a mystery, Colleen decided she would start educating people about one thing everyone loves and that everyone she talked to was asking about: food. People needed a resource on how to become vegan and stay vegan, starting with the food they would eat. Now, she’s connected with so many people, her words serve as a veritable guide for how to be vegan, and her animal rights activism has grown into a small empire of vegan education and empowerment.
Although food is still the main focus of Colleen’s work, she knows that veganism touches every aspect of peoples’ lives, and so she covers topics from how to live among meat-eaters to why wool isn’t considered animal-friendly. She’ll tell you which foods are good to pack on road trips, suggest compassionate gifts to give around the holidays, and explain the never-ending question that all vegans and vegetarians incessantly run into: “where do you get your protein?” Although it can be frustrating for people who adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle to communicate with the people around them and share their new knowledge, Colleen makes it seem like talking about the vegan lifestyle and living vegan in a non-vegan world is easy. She says:
“I definitely experienced the typical experiences of many vegans: my parents took my veganism personally (as if I was an affront to them), and I even lost a couple friends when I made this shift. But you know, that’s not ‘mine’ – how other people react to my choices is not mine to deal with. Equally, it’s not up to me to judge what others should or should not hear, what they can or cannot deal with – how presumptuous! If I make a decision not to speak my truth at ‘awkward moments’, I am denying others the knowledge they might need to make their own transformation, to start their own journey.
I think basically the key to helping others accept our values and to hear our message is the way we present it: we must reflect in our daily interactions with others the joy that we feel about our choices. I love the phrase ‘Joyful Vegan’ because that’s what I am – every occasion I have to talk to someone allows me the opportunity to speak my truth, to give a voice to the voiceless, and inherently this is a powerful and joyful experience.”
She explains that her intention is not to make people agree with her: she gives them the truth, and the rest is up to them. And she encourages people to listen to the voice within themselves, not just to her. Her experience as a ‘Joyful Vegan’ — which inspired a website of the same name that chronicles people’s transformations into a jubilant vegan lifestyle — is apparent, not just from the cheerful voice that wafts from your computer speakers, but from her overall health. She says her health, including her meta-physical well-being, not to mention her skin, digestion, energy and cholesteral, is outstanding. She points out that though it can be painful to awake to the suffering of animals and the downfalls of the typical American diet, she “wouldn’t change it for all the world.”
Colleen has certainly been a catalyst for many people who are now living a healthier, more plant-based life. She regularly podcasts on her favorite foods, which have included lentils, carrots and a series of favorite non-dairy milks. As far as processed vegan foods go, which some non-vegan, whole-foods advocates might refer to as “fake”, Colleen says that she “abhor[s] the words fake, alternative, substitute or anything that makes them sound inferior. We need to take back the language and stop making it sound like we eat ‘fake’ food. I don’t eat fake food. I eat real food from real ingredients.”
She explains that all processed vegan foods are not created equally, and that although she recommends eating a whole-foods diet, to do so all the time isn’t a realistic goal. But, “making the foundation of our diet whole foods means we can allow ourselves to have processed foods once in awhile and still feel good about the majority of the food we put in our bodies,” and that, “being vegan is not about asceticism or martyrdom or sacrifice. It’s not an end in itself; it’s a means to prevent suffering and cruelty to animals – not an end in itself. Once you come to terms with that, I think it feels less overwhelming.”
Her gentle demeaner can be a saving grace in the world of animal rights and health — where people can sometimes sound self-righteous or a diet book can restrict you from eating your most beloved foods. These methods are harsh, and they don’t create lasting changes in your life. But following Colleen’s advice is like floating away on a cloud of enlightenment over a river of lentil soup: you’ll carry a shield of kale and wield a carrot as your weapon, knowing the vegetable is mightier than the sword.
If you’re curious about any aspects of living vegan, whether you’re thinking about it for yourself or if someone close to you is vegan, or if you just want to learn something new, I highly recommend Colleen’s podcast, which you can get from a variety of sources including iTunes. And if you’re looking for a great recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies, corn bread, pad thai, or just wondering what to do with those leafy green things in your garden, check out her books The Joy of Vegan Baking and The Vegan Table.
You can also read more about veganism from our own Care2 bloggers!
Photo of Colleen and Fritz the cow at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, CA courtesy of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.