At the risk of sounding like a Colleen Patrick-Goudreau fangirl, well, I am a total Colleen Patrick-Goudreau fangirl. I don’t think it’s too much of an overstatement to say that Colleen is the vegan fairy godmother we all need, floating ear-level to advise us in times of dispute how to be our most articulate, calm-and-collected but confident selves; cheering us on; giving us the encouragement to be a joyful vegan in this messy, flawed world and pouring us a tea and showing us cute pictures of her kitties when it just gets to be too much. (Or is this just in my imagination?) As a bestselling author, a popular podcaster, a speaker, a video creator and much, much more, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has really set herself apart with her powerful, positive-but-pulling-no-punches advocacy that is understanding of the challenges individuals face while never equivocating. This is no easy task. While acknowledging the fear many people have of change, Colleen still closes the gaps in awareness, deftly dismantles excuses like the vegan Superwoman and keeps her laser-sharp focus on the bottom line: by empowering people to manifest their own convictions about compassion, she is helping the animals, helping the people who are no longer consuming them, and helping the planet become a more compassionate, more just and healthy place. Heady stuff. Oh, plus she creates some pretty fabulous recipes, too.
With the audacious aplomb we’ve come to expect, Colleen’s new, revised book, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Healthfully and Living Compassionately (which I just reviewed) takes a topic that feels daunting to many people regardless of their culture and upbringing and helps them gain the know-how and skills to achieve the self-assurance over 30 days to emerge confident, savvy vegans who can take on any challenge. This book is really an amazing resource for creating a more compassionate world and if we didn’t already know that Colleen is an absolute treasure for our community, we know it now. For these reasons and more, Colleen is vegan rockstar royalty.
1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
I – like most people – grew up loving animals and intervening if I saw them suffering – but I was taught to compartmentalize my compassion for them and to compartmentalize them into those who we should care about and those we should use for our own pleasure. I could have gone about my whole life desensitized -- or asleep, but luckily I woke up and realized I was contributing to a culture of violence that I would never participate in directly. So, I very naturally and joyfully stopped eating animals and their secretions once I saw the violence I was contributing to.
As far as early influences, I really believe that we come into this world innately compassionate, so I really think we already have a compass that leads us to our compassion. It’s inside us the whole time -- even though we might not be manifesting it outwardly and unconditionally. So, I think it was my own compassion that kept calling to me, guiding me back to the instincts I have not to cause anyone harm.
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
Such a great question. I was about 19 years young when I started on this journey to awakening. Perhaps if someone had given me a book a little earlier I would have made the connection sooner. For me, it really was exposure to the truth about our use of animals -- for consumption, in laboratories, for entertainment - that opened my eyes and compelled me to change my behavior. So, I think education and bearing witness is absolutely key.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
When people are tuned into their compassion, they act from it, and their paradigm shifts. So, I see my job as shining the light on the compassion that already exists in them to enable them to have that paradigm shift. I’ve always seen my advocacy role as a guide – giving people what they want – rather than as someone who dictates what action should be taken. So, over the years as I was trying to find my place and my contribution, I just kept asking the questions: “What am I good at?” and “What do people need?” and I kept finding the answers. It’s not about me; it’s about giving people what they need to make it possible to make the changes I know they want to make.
So, I use everything in my personal arsenal. Everyone has an arsenal. Mine comprises communication, humor, language, history, literature, ethics, and practical tools. I taught cooking classes and wrote cookbooks to give people the recipes they need to make delicious food; I produced a podcast to answer all the questions people have about the social aspects, ethical aspects, and nutritional aspects of living vegan; I launched The 30-Day Vegan Challenge to guide people to making these changes confidently, healthfully, and joyfully. My present and subsequent projects will continue to be driven by “what tools do people need to make the changes that will reflect their values of compassion and kindness?” As long as I can fill that gap with the skills I’ve been given, I’ll do it.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
The intention to do the right thing.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Small thinking. Fear. Egos. Competition. Fear of success. Fear of other people’s success. Judgment. Losing sight of the big picture.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
When I realized I was paying people to do things to animals I could never do myself -- things that are the stuff of horror movies, I stopped participating. I’m vegan because I don’t want to contribute to violence against anyone.
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
John Robbins' book Dietfor a New America planted the first seed for me, but it was Gail Eisnitz, who wrote Slaughterhouse, that truly opened my eyes. I was in awe of this woman who had the courage to visit slaughterhouses and talk to the men and women who killed and dismembered animals. I appreciated her strategy of asking the same questions to workers in whatever slaughterhouse they were in so that her expose wouldn't be accused of just focusing on "a few bad apples." And what struck me most by her findings was the violent culture we're all supporting by paying people to kill for us. These men and women were desensitized to the animal suffering and also to their own compassion. Aside from the slaughter, which is horrific enough, they hurt and torture the animals --- because they can. So, thanks to Gail Eisnitz, I became vegan upon reading her book, and it changed my life completely.
I’m grateful to every person who documents the horrors we want to avoid looking at. Without their bravery, we wouldn’t know what goes on behind closed doors.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I’ve created a life based on what I love -- not only in my work but in my personal life as well. Although I’m not skilled at reading the signals that tell me to stop when I’m running on fumes, luckily I have people in my life who remind me to do so. But I have many ways I refuel -- I love spending time with my husband and watching movies. I love running, hiking, traveling. I spend a lot of time in nature and with my cats. Ultimately, I’m fueled by the people who tell me they’ve returned to their own compassion. It’s the good in people that gives me hope.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Really, my overarching aim is to guide people to their own compassion so it’s reflected in their behavior, and clearly I spend a lot of time talking about the animals we raise and kill for human consumption because in terms of human actions that directly impact animals, it’s the consumption of them (and their secretions). It’s all part of the same goal, but our decimation of natural habitat and our slaughter of wildlife to serve our desire to build, eat meat, and make more room for ourselves just breaks my heart. And so, I keep trying to speak to the heart...
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
“...just a succinct way of saying I removed the barriers to the compassion that had been inside of me all along.”