All posts by Debbie Robinson

In June 2014, I decided to go vegan at 46. This is the blog I am writing to keep track of that decision. This may be one of the most important things I have ever done.

30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 26 – Enjoy Holidays

Celebrating the Holidays and Honouring Your Values

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feThose who defend the consumption of animals on the basis of culture and tradition seem to imply that we’re entitled to do whatever we want simply because it brings us pleasure – or comfort. Not only does this presume there is no pleasure to be found in rejecting such products, it also presumes there is no victim – or that if there is one, considerations for him or her are secondary to fulfilling our own desires. … Just because we are capable of doing something doesn’t mean we should do it. Just because we have always done something doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it. One of the ways we progress as a society is by deciding that once-acceptable behaviours are no longer acceptable, particularly when they harm someone else. Present laws are windows into a past littered with cruel and offensive practices. Once we know better, we do better.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

Day 26 is about holiday traditions. Unsurprisingly, the emphasis is on American traditions like Thanksgiving and Halloween, but the general principle is valid and can be applied almost anywhere. We like traditional holidays because they appear to keep us linked to our past; they provide a sense of continuity and familiarity, they help us to hold onto values we say we believe in as a culture, a community or even as a family. Yet, traditions change and adapt over the years, even though we like to pretend they don’t.

Holidays accumulate traditions many of which have to do with food. We saturate this ‘traditional’ food with symbolism and cultural necessity. When we become vegan much of the food traditions that shape these holidays have to change. Colleen argues that what we need to do is to revisit what that food represents for us. Then, find new ways to express the meaning rather than remaining fixated on the representation, which is what a lot of people do.


Christmas time means flowering Pohutakawa and summer holidays at the beach
Christmas time means flowering Pohutakawa and summer holidays at the beach

Here in New Zealand the main traditional holiday, of the type Colleen is talking about, is Christmas. My forebears brought it with them from the Northern Hemisphere, and rather than changing the date to sometime in July to still have a winter festival, they kept the date. This means that Christmas falls near the beginning of Summer. Christmas still has a lot of the traditional trappings from the United Kingdom like trees, presents, the Xmas ham, decorations shaped like snowflakes and holly and Santa. But it was adapted.  We should similarly adapt holiday traditions to reflect our situation, our values and who we say we are, not have traditions hold us hostage. Despite how strong the grip of tradition and culture may be, we still deserve to enjoy the holidays.  Keep what we value and adapt the rest.


30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 25 – Live with Others

Finding Harmony in Mixed Households

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feNavigating these tricky waters requires a little patience, a dash of psychology, and a lot of really good food, no matter how old you are or what your living situation is.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

Other people! Especially the ones you choose to live with!

Day 25 is the one issue I find the hardest. I hate the sight of it in my fridge. I hate the smell of it cooking in my house. I hate spending our money on it. To be honest, in 20 years of being together I have never faced a situation like this.

We are both fairly independently minded people and have always had a ‘you do your thing and I’ll do my thing’ approach to the relationship.  Most of our key values line up. There were a few things we have each had to adjust to, but for the really important stuff we have always been on the same page … until now.

“You know I am never going to go vegan, right?”

“You don’t know that.”

But in the following silence I can  hear her thoughts. It is too big an ask. Getting a Scott to ever contemplate a vegetable as relevant to civilisation is mission impossible.

For many, many years we have taken care of our own food. It was a culinary necessity unless I wanted to live on Shepard’s pie and macaroni and cheese for the rest of my life. When we have people I do most of the cooking and menu planning. This has worked fine for us because our food choices were based on a system of personal preferences. Suddenly, this system is no longer working for me.  I have finally woken up to the fact that the food on my plate is not about me; there are victims and every time we spend our money and bring it into our home we are complicit in a system of exploitation and selfishness so horrible words could never do it justice. I am so ashamed of myself for all the years I resisted looking at the situation.

As Colleen points out in Day 25, I want to draw the line at my front door, yet I don’t control that line without cooperation. The only line I have is myself. Yet, it’s my home too.  I feel stuck in a no win situation. Colleen’s husband may have been able to let it go that easily, but the issues I face are more deep rooted in needs I understand and have always been able to accommodate because it cost me nothing important … until now.

At the beginning of this project last June, I gave myself a year, but I already know the answer. I am vegan. I will live vegan for the rest of my life. Yet, in terms of the issue for Day 25 I plan to honour the original timetable because come June we are going to have to have a difficult conversation, perhaps one of the toughest in our 20 year relationship.

30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 24 – Eat Well With Others

Eating Confidently and Joyfully in Social Situations

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feI often say that the food is the easy part of the lifestyle change – you learn some new recipes, you re-stock your kitchen, you read labels as though it was second nature. Then you’re in a social situation and you’re asked to defend your new way of eating. … When you state ‘I am vegan’ you aren’t simply saying ‘I eat vegetables’. … I call this phenomenon “being the vegan in the room”, which I think is a powerful and privileged position to be in.

Colleen Patrick Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

‘Being the vegan in the room’ can be an interesting position to find yourself in. It isn’t the practical, logistical side of things which challenge me, but the emotional and social aspects.

For the most part, I deal with the social aspects by not talking about it and not being very social. I tend to enjoy my own company or hanging out at home anyway, but when I do socialise it can become an issue for me because cooking for and eating with people used to be one of the single most enjoyable ways to spend time. It made me happy, and now it doesn’t.

Even as vegetarian, it was still fine because I believed the whole ‘free range’ myth and I just didn’t think about it very deeply.  Now, I am more fully aware of what it means when I sit at a table with animal products; it turns my stomach. I look at those plates and I don’t see food. I no longer feel myself relaxing, happy and fully connected to this enjoyable social moment around food and people.

It is not just the food itself, it is also the conversation. When people eat they talk about food, how great it tastes, reminiscing about other meals. I can no longer engage with those conversations with any honest enjoyment. I stay silent and let everyone else have their fun.

Occasionally, it will come up that I am now vegan. For others, vegan is a health fad diet or an exotic, personal lifestyle choice, so they assume its a suitable dinner table topic of conversation. Yet, I know they don’t want me to tell them where the dead body they are slicing into came from, or the real story behind the cheese they are eating.

Of course, there are always the few clowns who pretend the broccoli is screaming, or the time someone moved the dead chicken body around, “Save me Debbie. Save me.”   In my minds eye, I see that chicken in the moment of her death, when the blade or the knife slices her throat, and all that her life was leading up to that moment; now her dead body is sitting on my lunch table, an object for eating, her life and death a joke I can no longer even pretend to find amusing.

But it’s hard to let it go. I have lost something I used to love. Yet, at the same time I wouldn’t swap this new awareness for anything. What I do with it going forward I am still not sure, but I do know this – vegan is the only ethical and moral option possible. Once I understand that other non-human animals value their own lives in the same way I value mine, they are sentient beings not objects for me to use. How that works out practically in the world is a quandary, but for the things I have control over, I am morally obligated to exercise that control. The very least I can do is not eat them.

30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 23 – Adapt Your Diet to Your Circumstances

Nutritional Needs for Special Groups

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feWhile there are many anecdotal tales of cats thriving on vegetarian or vegan diets, let’s just say I’m not convinced – based on my own research and experience. Cats are physiologically built as carnivores and have very high protein requirements. They do not require plant products in their diet, though they do tend to consume some when they eat the stomach contents of their prey. Offering them some veggie food is fine, but the foundation of their diet – at least 75% – should be animal based.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

Day 23 is about the nutritional requirements of special groups. These include pregnant and lactating women, infants and children, people over 50, competitive athletes, diabetics, people with allergies to things like soy or wheat gluten, dogs and cats. All of whom can, if its done right for their circumstances, thrive on a vegan plant-based diet, except cats.

Continue reading 30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 23 – Adapt Your Diet to Your Circumstances

30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 22 – Eat Plants, Eat Fibre

Keep Things Moving With Fibre: Only in Plants Never in Animals

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feFibre exists only in plants. There is no fibre in meat, dairy or eggs. Zero. Zilch. Zip.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

If you are eating a wholefood, plant-based diet you are probably eating around the recommended daily intake of fibre (about 30 grams) or more. I think there is nobody who disagrees that a fibre rich diet is essential for long term good health, yet surprisingly few people appear to get even the recommended daily amount.

There isn’t really a lot to say about Day 22. We need a fibre-rich diet to maintain good health. I eat a reasonably varied wholefood (most of the time) plant-based, vegan diet. and this gives me more daily fibre than I need. (I know I checked on Cronometer.)

Oatmeal and blueberries are high in soluble fibre.
Oatmeal and blueberries are high in soluble fibre.

I have definitely noticed a difference since moving to a completely plant-based diet. And that is all I am going to say about it. My grandmother would be relieved to know that at least some of her pointless Victorian-era etiquette lecturing on lady-like behaviour somehow managed to stick.

Continue reading 30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 22 – Eat Plants, Eat Fibre

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau on Hope, Activism, and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge

Great interview with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau about her book, the one I am working through and posting about, The 30 Day Vegan Challenge.

Striking at the Roots

Photo by Maria Villano Photo by Maria Villano

I vividly recall my first meeting with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. It was 10 years ago, and I interviewed her for Satya magazine. We both live in the Bay Area, so we met for lunch at a vegan restaurant not far from her home in Oakland. What I remember most is how busy Colleen was: screening Meet Your Meat to passersby on a sidewalk in nearby Berkeley, giving talks, writing about animals, teaching vegan cooking classes, promotiong a DVD she had recently created, and working a “day” job. Soon after, she launched a popular podcast called “Food for Thought,” which is still going strong. She also started an animal activist support group, and she invited me to participate. About five or six of us would get together every few weeks at Colleen’s house, and we’d bare our collective anguish over what we were learning about animal exploitation. It…

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30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 21 – Take Vitamin B 12

B12: A Bacteria-Based (Not Meat Based) Vitamin

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2fe“If those on plant-based diets don’t get enough vitamin B12, levels of an artery-damaging compound called homocysteine can start to rise in the bloodstream and may counteract some of the benefits of healthy eating.”

Dr Michael Greger M.D., The Vitamin Everyone on a Plant-Based Diet Needs,

Dr Greger has a lot to say about how essential it is to get enough B12. The good doctor is such an enthusiastic cheerleader for the plant-based lifestyle that when he starts talking about a potential problem with the diet it is worth taking notes. Colleen is equally serious about the need to supplement with B12.

What is B12, why does it matter, how much do we need, and where does it come from?

Continue reading 30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 21 – Take Vitamin B 12

30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 20 – Get Omega 3 from Plants

Skipping the Middle Fish: Getting our Omega 3s Directly From the Source

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feWe can stop going through the fish to get to the nutrients that the fish get from eating plants.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

You would have to be living under a rock these days not to have heard about omega-3 and that we are supposed to be eating it. But what exactly is it, why do we need it, and where does it come from?

According to Wikipedia, omega-3s are “polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with a double bond (C=C) at the third carbon atom from the end of the carbon chain,” and there are three types involved in human physiology: ALA, EPA, DHA.  While the Wikipedia article is falling over itself to promote animal consumption, the information supporting Colleen’s contention that you don’t need to consume fish to get omega-3 requirements is in there, it just requires a less superficial reading.  Some examples are given below.

Continue reading 30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 20 – Get Omega 3 from Plants

30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 19 – Absorb Iron

Strong Like Popeye: Increase Your Iron Absorption 

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feStudies show little difference in the incidence of iron deficiency between vegans and non-vegetarians in developed countries. In fact, the amount of iron in vegan diets tends to be higher than or at least equal to, that in non-vegetarian diets. Why? Because almost everything that crosses a vegan’s lips contains iron: beans, nuts, seeds, grains, vegetables and fruit.

There are two different types of iron in food: heme iron and nonheme iron, Heme iron is found in animal products; nonheme iron is found in both plants foods and animal products. After being absorbed and reaching our cells for building hemoglobin and other purposes, our body doesn’t care whether the iron was originally heme or nonheme. So, when people assert that our bodies need heme iron from meat. It’s simply not true. The body needs to absorb iron, but it ultimately doesn’t matter where it originated.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge

A cup of cooked lentils has 30 grams of iron.
A cup of cooked lentils has 30 grams of iron.

It is not even the amount of iron we ingest, but our ability to absorb and use it. The key to the bioavailability of iron is Vitamin C, so eat food rich in Vitamin C at the same time as foods rich in iron. An adult menstruating woman like myself requires 18 milligrams of iron per day. Plenty of plant foods are high in iron.

Iron Deficiency Led Me to Veganism

My doctor rang me the night of my blood test. “Let me put it this way,” she explained, “your haemoglobin is a few points away from you in a coma, I don’t know how you are still standing.”  I didn’t really know either. I was beyond exhausted and barely functioning. It was all I could do to get through a day at work. For more than six weeks straight I had been bleeding heavily and constantly. People were worriedly inquiring about my health.  Apparently, I looked grey.  In the past week, I had started to  feel disassociated from my body; like I was moving through a thick fog. Sometimes I could feel the pulse in my neck racing so fast, I started worrying I might be due for a heart attack.  Yet, it took my boss kicking me out the door one afternoon and ordering me to the doctor’s office to finally take action.

Continue reading 30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 19 – Absorb Iron

30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 18 – Don’t Worry About the Protein

Putting to Rest the Great Protein Myth

4bc98b7c9d24d2de8293f3ac731abf98-994cfb48456e223324103b0d6d76f2feUnfortunately we are never taught that broccoli, oats and carrots have protein, but just think for a moment about the largest, strongest, land animals on the planet: giraffes, elephants, bulls and bison. They’re all vegetarian animals, and they get plenty of protein – from the plants.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge


What do giraffes eat?

Ah, protein! It seems laughable now, but I too had protein on my list of things to worry about when I went vegan. However Dr Gregor soon put me right with this short, very useful video.  We are asking the wrong question. It is not, where do I get my protein? The much more important question should be, where do I get my fibre?

Continue reading 30 Day Vegan Challenge – Day 18 – Don’t Worry About the Protein