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April 2005
Recipe for Success: An Activist Offers Food for Thought
By Mark Hawthorne

While America’s taste for trendy diets continues to grow in pace with our expanding waistlines, an increasing number of people are learning that vegetarian eating is the best way to maintain a healthy body weight while also integrating compassion into your life. Still, one of the biggest challenges for vegetarians and those trying to relinquish their penchant for meat, eggs, and dairy is learning how to transform the amazing variety of plant-based ingredients into delicious and nutritious meals. It’s one thing to toss a salad; it’s quite another to create meals satisfying enough to make the average omnivore forget that craving for cheeseburgers. No one wants to feel shortchanged.

Vegan cooking instructor and animal activist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau couldn’t agree more. “Food is so incredibly personal,” she says, “and we’re very habit-oriented creatures.” She founded San Francisco Bay Area-based Compassionate Cooks as a nonprofit organization to help people make informed food choices and debunk myths about vegetarianism. “People are so confused about what to eat and are bombarded by advertising campaigns masked as public service announcements.” So Patrick-Goudreau began teaching a monthly cooking class to demystify foods like tofu and tempeh, demonstrate that vegan foods are already familiar and can be prepared quickly and easily, and even guide home chefs through vegetarian alternatives for traditionally meat-based holiday meals, which hold a lot of meaning for people. “Some of our earliest memories are centered on food,” she says. “As children, we’re praised and nurtured when we eat, while we are being held and supported by our parents. Part of the resistance people have about moving toward a vegetarian or vegan diet is based on their fear that something is being taken away. But when they realize the choices they have, they realize that eating vegetarian is about abundance and feel very empowered. They experience a kind of awakening.”

Ethically Enlightened
Empowered, abundance, and awakening are words the 35 year-old activist uses a lot, emphasizing the expansive nature of experiencing total awareness and the power to make life-affirming choices about your health, the planet, and animals. “What most people don’t know is that it is an absolute joy to live fully awake,” says Patrick-Goudreau, who embraced veganism six years ago, about the time she arrived in California from New Jersey. Having gone vegetarian at age 21 after reading Diet for a New America, it was Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz that advanced her own awakening and convinced her to give up eggs and dairy. It was a major turning point, but she was not prepared for the negative reaction from people who had been so supportive of her as a compassionate child. “Children are very sensitive toward animals,” she says. “And adults encourage that. But when we bring that sensitivity into adulthood, people get crazy. The support we had as children becomes animosity when we’re adults.” She attributes this phenomenon to people being confronted by their own ignorance about the way animals are treated or their own guilt about eating them. “But the truth is so hidden from us. People just have no idea.”

With a passion for animal advocacy and teaching, Patrick-Goudreau is right at home conducting workshops or screening PETA’s Meet Your Meat video on a busy Berkeley street, which she does most Friday nights. “People are desperate to feel they’re making an impact, and isn’t it amazing to have so much influence on so many issues just by changing the way we eat? People make such a huge difference just by leaving meat, dairy, and eggs off their plates,” she says. “For me, just being vegan isn’t enough. My activism is a natural response to the hidden and never-ending suffering of billions of animals.” That natural response led her to found the Oakland chapter of Unitarian Universalists for Ethical Treatment of Animals in 2001. “I saw that most people are moved to become vegetarian or vegan but don’t know how,” she says. So she took it upon herself to demonstrate just how easy vegan cooking is. Her classes at the church were so successful that she was able to establish Compassionate Cooks and devote even more energy to teaching.

She describes the classes as very safe for students who have a variety of eating habits. While all the recipes are vegan, the emphasis is on the benefits of a plant-based diet rather than criticizing meat-eating. When questions about animals come up, she addresses them with candor, and each student receives a folder with nutritional information and details about factory farming. “The response to the classes has been remarkable. It’s such a joy to watch people get excited about the kinds of food they may have once resisted. They learn that it’s not the flesh of an animal they crave but rather flavor, texture, and aroma. And when it’s a particular nutrient they think they lack, they can easily find it in plant-based foods. Fat, salt, sugar—these are the things people crave, and there’s no lack of them in vegetarian foods.”

Fired Up
Inspired by the popularity of the classes, Patrick-Goudreau recently created a DVD with animal activist Alka Chandna called Vegetarian Cooking With Compassionate Cooks [see sidebar]. “In every class, someone would raise her hand and ask when we would be on TV or have a video,” she explains. “I realized thousands—even millions—of people could be reached by creating a DVD. It’s remarkable that in the days when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes two-thirds of worldwide deaths to diseases associated with diet, no other product like this existed.” Among the many aspects of her class, she enjoys dispelling the misconceptions about a vegan lifestyle most. “It is such a pleasure to watch people’s perceptions and experiences change when they realize that ‘vegetarian food’ is food they’re already familiar with—vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains, seeds. In fact, a lot of what we eat is actually vegan—we just don’t call it that.”

An energetic voice for farmed animals, Patrick-Goudreau seems like an unstoppable force of nature. In addition to cooking classes, she also teaches nutrition courses, conducts private supermarket tours, brings groups to Farm Sanctuary once a month, speaks to youth groups about animals and animal activism, and continually writes essays and letters to mainstream publications to help raise awareness about animal rights. “Once people learn the unnecessary pain, suffering, and death inflicted upon animals just to satisfy our taste buds, they are compelled to make a difference. When they ask, ‘Now what do I eat?’ I feel like I am able to empower them and help animals at the same time. It just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Mark Hawthorne is a contributing writer at Satya. His story “Peak Experience” will be published this month in Stories To Live By (Solas House).



Kitchen Aid

Although I’d eaten tempeh countless times, I’d never cooked with it. I was resigned to viewing this food as another of life’s great mysteries, like Stonehenge or the Electoral College. But my kitchen confidence got a genuine boost after watching Vegetarian Cooking With Compassionate Cooks, a new DVD co-hosted by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Alka Chandna. The chefs, both accomplished and knowledgeable vegetarian cooking instructors, combine the delight of a fun cooking class with a generous dose of vegan nutritional information. In no time I’d prepared a delicious tempeh lunch.

With an inspiring exuberance and obvious passion for the subject matter, Patrick-Goudreau and Chandna take viewers through six dishes: Eggless Egg Salad, Mouthwatering Chocolate Chip Cookies, Hearty Three-Bean Chili, Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce, Harvest-Stuffed Acorn Squash and Magic Chocolate Cake. All the recipes on the DVD are easy to prepare, and they’re all vegan. I tried the chocolate chip cookies, and I have to say they are the tastiest cookies I’ve ever made. The chefs examine many of the health aspects of a vegan diet—including information on such hot buttons as vitamin B-12, protein, calcium, omega-3s, and phytochemicals—and encourage viewers to add some lesser-known ingredients to their repertoire (quinoa anyone?).

Special features on the disc include Frequently Asked Questions, which address the most common concerns about vegetarian dining; “Thinking Outside the Crate: Farm Sanctuary’s First 15 Years,” a short piece narrated by James Cromwell; an introduction to meat analogs, dairy substitutes, and other vegan products available in grocery stores; and biographies of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Alka Chandna. There are also a couple of bloopers after the final credits.

The full-screen presentation is of high quality. This was obviously shot in an actual kitchen, not a sound stage with special set lighting and acoustics, but the visuals are very sharp and the audio is clear. All the recipes can be accessed from the menu screen, and the disc contains a wealth of information. Vegetarian Cooking With Compassionate Cooks is an excellent addition to any vegan or vegetarian kitchen, and it’s a great way to show novices how easy, healthy, and liberating it is to cook without animal ingredients. It may even solve a few mysteries for you.

The DVD ($20 plus shipping) runs just shy of 81 minutes, including bonus material, and is available from (sales from the site support the nonprofit) or from —M.H.

Have Tofu, Will Travel

Vegans may be a minority, but the movement is growing, thanks in part to the many creative vegan chefs out there, who are as responsible as anyone for convincing people how delicious plant-based meals can be. So, what are the career prospects for these culinary wizards—and can activism be part of the job?

Beverly Lynn Bennett, chef: “There are now more opportunities for vegan chefs than ever before. With a growing public awareness of the health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, there is also a growing demand for vegan food. With our work, we try to put our compassion for animals into action, with the hope that we’re doing something to help effect positive change for them. Every time we give people the opportunity to have a delicious, healthy, completely plant-based alternative to animal foods, we’re speaking out for animals.”

Fran Costigan, chef and culinary instructor: “I see a big need for vegan chefs. It is competitive, but there are many avenues to pursue, such as working in restaurants, catering, and as a private chef. I do not use my job as a vehicle to speak for animals. I work with a large, diverse population—at the Natural Gourmet Cookery School, the Institute of Culinary Education, and privately. I see many moms of kids allergic to eggs and dairy, mainstream chefs with family members allergic to animal foods, as well as kosher individuals. I also have clients asking for vegan choices.” Since she uses only natural, organic ingredients, Costigan’s students learn about bovine gelatin and sugar filtered through bone char. “I find this a successful way to get people thinking about the origin of their foods and making informed choices without a lecture from the ‘food police.’”

Alex Jamieson, chef: “There are more and more vegan restaurants opening up all over the country, and vegan food production and catering seem to be growing. I think there are definitely opportunities for vegan chefs. Working in a larger city is helpful. I decided to work as a personal chef because I could have a bigger impact on my clients, the money is better, and you have more control over your working conditions. I highly recommend that people check out my alma mater, the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in New York City.”

Jo Stepaniak, chef and author: “I think opportunities can thrive for vegan chefs, but at this time probably only for those who are highly self-motivated and ambitious. Most vegan chefs have to create their own opportunities. Unless you work as a full-time restaurant chef or caterer, it can be very difficult to make ends meet financially. As more and more restaurants emerge, so will opportunities to work in them. Being a good chef is about high-quality food preparation—it’s not a political position. Speaking on behalf of animals would come with engagements outside of the culinary aspects of the job. However, a restaurant that takes a stand for animals can certainly promote that in their menu and marketing materials, and authors can incorporate such points of view in their books and articles.”

Eric Tucker
, executive chef at San Francisco’s Millennium Restaurant: “There are really not a whole lot of options out there. Granted, there are more vegan and vegetarian places that open every year, but relative to the number of folks that want to cook vegan in a restaurant environment, I’d say still not enough. There are other options—many involve creating your own opportunities, such as starting a catering company or private chef service. When it comes to speaking out for the animals, I let my food do the talking.” —M.H.

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