Compassionate Cooks' Colleen Patrick-Goudreau talks about her VegFest topic, her new book and more

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Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is the founder of www.compassionatecooks.com and the author of three must-have cookbooks for plant-based eaters: The Joy of Vegan Baking, The Vegan Table and Color Me Vegan. She'll be speaking at VegFest tomorrow at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds; we caught up with her to talk about her VegFest plans, her latest project and how she became vegan in the first place.

Westword: Can you talk to us about your journey through food -- have you always been a plant-based eater?

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: I was not always a plant-based eater, I grew up eating animals -- I grew up eating everything! Typical family, typical American diet, typical kid who loves animals. That typical scenario, where I would help animals if I could help -- but I still ate them, I didn't know what I was eating was animals. My parents instilled in me this compassion. We have animals all over our clothes and rooms and pets, and we're being fed animals the whole time, and we're being given these pretty lame excuses to justify it. That compassion was kind of put to sleep by the time I was nineteen or twenty, but I still always had a strong sense of compassion for animals. I picked up Diet for a New America, the first book that explored the effects of our diet on animals and on our health, and I was just blown away and stunned. I stopped eating land animals right away but started a journey. Several years and several more books later, I stopped eating anything that came out of an animal. I went from an innately compassionate child to an asleep adult to a re-awakened adult.

What I find as I learned more and wanted to share with other people is that most people are moved to not want to create harm, most people don't want to create violence against animals. But where they get really tripped up is in the how. There's enough on why. We know why. But there's not a lot on how, and that's where I come in and started giving people the tools and resources they needed to reflect their values of compassion and wellness. I started doing cooking classes, started a podcast and writing a book -- anything I could do to fill the gap so they could replace the familiar foundation with another foundation that feels as strong and sturdy to them. That's pretty much the drive behind everything I do.

What can people can expect from you at VegFest?

My talk will be on the myths and excuses around being vegan, and it's kind of broken down into nutrition myths and excuses around cooking. I debunk those myths a little bit and give people some really good, practical tips for making it possible to eat healthfully. And then the social aspects -- giving people the benefit of the doubt, speaking up for what we believe in and not being ashamed about being consistently compassionate. There are so many people who feel they have to apologize for being compassionate. That same compassion I had as a child, we're kind of suspicious of it as adults. The problems that we have are not because we're too compassionate, but because we're not living in accordance of our values, that they can do it in a way that feels right for them but that also embraces their family.

What advice can you give people who are considering a vegetarian or vegan diet?

The first thing I would say is start where you're at. There's a lot of people who say, "I could do this but never give up X" -- and X is usually cheese, and there's lots of information all over that there's life after cheese. If you say you can give up everything except X, give up everything except X. The problem is, a lot of people think if they can't do everything, they won't do anything. But do something, anything! Start where you think you can. And a lot of it is a change in perception. I encourage people to recognize that when we're talking about "vegan food," it's food we're already familiar with, we just don't call it vegan. We need to take it out of the box called "vegan" so it doesn't seem so daunting and unfamiliar. If you're already having a stir-fry, take the chicken out and have some mushrooms. If you're making chili, put beans in instead of meat. Plant-based milks is a great example -- start switching out the dairy and switching in the plant-based milks.

That was totally my experience. I wasn't able to cut out dairy until I told myself I would just try it for a couple of weeks and see how I felt, and the difference was so big I decided to keep it up.

My newest book that's coming out in August is called The 30-day Vegan Challenge. Just do it for thirty days, the value in it is that you're going to give yourself a chance to experience it. You don't have to say you're doing it forever, but if you want to, you'll feel confident. It feels really safe for people to give themselves thirty days. It's not the meat that we crave, and it's not even the cheese that we crave. It's fat, it's salt, it's a certain mouth feel, texture, it's flavor. So my suggestion is to think about that craving and instead of going to the source, look for that same mouth feel or fat or salt in plant-based foods. It could be avocado, guacamole, nuts, it could be a creamy flavor from cashews -- you can make cashew cheese.

What would you say to the common argument that plant-based eaters don't get enough vital nutrients?

The problem is that we've all been taught that we need to go through an animal to get to the nutrients we need. Green leafy vegetables are the most concentrated source of calcium on the planet, and the reason cow's milk is high in calcium is because cows eat grass. So what I emphasize is that the nutrients we need are plant-based, not animal-based, we're just going through the animal to get the nutrients.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I just really encourage people to -- I always say that I ask people not to live according to my values, but their values. Never say never, start where you are and be open to experience. It's really amazing what can happen.

For more information on VegFest, visit http://vegetariansocietyofcolorado.org/2011_VegFest_Colorado.html.

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