Growing Food and Breaking Hearts

As a new activist, I am still experimenting with how to most effectively speak up for animals.  I recently learned, secondhand, that my remarks about [the journey of] going vegan were perceived as chastising.  This was not my intent, and clearly, I need to work on refining my message.  If only I’d begun all of this sooner.

A dozen years ago, I hosted a dinner party for a circle of friends and one apologetic vegetarian.  Annoyed that the latter had messed up the evening’s menu, I remember muttering to my then-partner, “I could never date a vegetarian”.  How does one go from staunch omnivore to vegan activist?  It didn’t happen with the snap of fingers.  But it could have.

As I learned more about nutrition, I made small adjustments to my diet over the decade that followed.  No red meat.  Less dairy.  Cage-free eggs.  Organic.  Local.  When I heard reports about the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture, I may have even patted myself on the back; after all, I wasn’t eating cheeseburgers anymore.

It wasn’t until I attended a passionate speech by activist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau in 2009 that I took a hard look at the torture I was putting on my fork.  She spoke of the rape and slavery of dairy cows, the cruelty of egg production, the purging of our oceans and other horrific truths about eating animals.  With great skill, she told the hard-line truth.  It broke my heart enough to also break down all of my defenses.  In a snap, I went vegan.

The truth about animal agriculture hurts, and most people don’t want to accept it.  We get defensive about our past and present actions. It is less painful to buy into the message from

Douglas and Linus, two male “discards” from the dairy industry, were bottle-fed in the barn and pasture beside the micro-farm.

popular authors like Michael Pollan; it’s OK to kill animals and the planet, as long as you don’t do it too often.  Even better if it’s local. Attached as we are to the prevalent culture and comforts of certain foods, we resist making changes that may seem overwhelming.  We don’t know how to prepare vegan food.  Many people worry about protein.  We imagine the awkwardness that our new veganism may inspire in social situations.

There are so many excuses for not doing the right thing.  For this reason, I believe that it usually takes more than opening someone’s mind.  In my own personal experience, an open mind put me on the path of baby steps for a decade.  In order to make urgent, meaningful and necessary change, a heart must break.  I wish that I had crossed paths with a hard-line, truth-telling activist earlier.

The talented and eloquent Colleen reaches audiences nation-wide through public speaking, podcasts, articles, and most famously through her beautiful cookbooks, such as The Vegan Table and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.  At Animal Place, my internship in the veganic micro-farm gives me the opportunity to be truthful with volunteers, visitors and people in the community who are curious about what I am doing.  This is my venue to – as best as I can – speak up for animals.

Our model farm is not isolated from the rest of the sanctuary.  One can see and hear the animals while tending to the tomatoes, and it is important to relate the stark differences in our cruelty-free farming practices in contrast to how food is produced in animal-based systems.  Most not-yet-vegan inquiries are polite.  When others respond defensively or not at all, uneasiness hangs heavy in the air.  Now what?  Well, at least they will leave with that dis-ease in their minds, and perhaps that feeling will sink down into their heart someday.  Perhaps this is better, even, than polite.

I’ve yet to break any hearts, but I’ll keep on trying.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Barbara Wilson -Grima on May 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    Being vegan is easy probably too easy for the current intellectual society


  2. I’m so touched, Stephanie!!! You’re doing such great things. XO


  3. Posted by Allison Rivers Samson/Allison's Gourmet on June 27, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    I love this, Stephanie! Wow, a strong, gorgeous woman, master veganic farmer, beautifully moving writer, and surely MORE? That’s a lot of incredible in one human being. I guess that’s why you’re so tall; you need the space to contain it all! 😉 xoxo


  4. Very well said Stephanie. I think we all make our blunders on the subject when trying to not to offend anyone and speaking our truth for the animals.

    I am so glad you are helping us with the animal activism in our community. It has been a joy to work with you at handing out brochures at CMU, working on our new non-profit, Grand Valley Pets Alive, building shelters for stray cats,
    and I am looking forward to working on doing more activities with Vegan Life Colorado group.

    I am so glad you landed in Colorado Stephanie. ~ Rhonda


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