10 Questions: Everyday Vegan Change-Maker with Catherine Vade Bon Coeur

One of the great blessings of social media — and there are a few, believe it or not — is becoming acquainted with people we might now have met otherwise. I am happy to say that Sacramento-based Catherine Vade Bon Coeur is a friend, not just an acquaintance, though we’ve never met in person. I am inspired by her activism, her passion for creating change, her willingness to take people under her wing to help them in their vegan evolution and, most of all, her compassion. Catherine is the embodiment of an Everyday Vegan Change-Maker and I am so happy to feature her today.

1. To start, we’d love to know how long you’ve been vegan.

I have been vegan since the end of 2007, but I’m not sure when, so I chose January 1 of 2008 as my date.

2. We’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out?

I have always known in my soul that eating animals was wrong. I hated any meat that had any red in it. I wouldn’t eat it.

When I was 6, we lived in Cheyenne and people had chickens and other fowl and animals in their yards. I was across the street at a neighbors’, and the father there chopped off the head of a chicken while I was watching. (Which was pretty traumatizing for the 6-year-old me, but that’s what people there did, so he, I suppose, didn’t think it was not something I should see.) The chicken ran into the house and died on the couch, all headless. This left a deep impression on me (to put it mildly). 70 years later I still think about that chicken often. That incident left an uneasiness in me and was my first experience with death and with questions about killing and eating what you killed.

Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?

Okay well, I answered this above, kind of. But also I always hated the smell of meat. I didn’t really like the taste. I hated having to touch it, like making burger patties, etc. But it was what everyone did, and I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t even know any vegetarians let alone vegans.

Then when I took SCUBA lessons, there were some 7th Day Adventists in the class, and at the end of the lessons, we had a potluck and then a dive. The adventists brought some of the best food I had ever had, and it was all vegetarian, so I got their recipes and started making those and began making more and more vegetarian dishes. It was a good start.

3. What was the catalyst (or were the catalysts) that made you go vegan?

I stopped eating any red meat many, many years ago for health reasons. Then when she was 16 my daughter came home from school one day very upset about a film her class had seen about chicken production, factory farming of chickens, and told me she would never eat chicken again. As we had chickens at that time and I had real issues with eating other chickens we didn’t know personally when we would have never eaten our own, that worked for me, and we then ate no more chicken or red meat at all.

After that I stopped eating turkey, and soon after that I stopped eating pigs. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I still ate fish and dairy and eggs. And that was my pattern for maybe 20 years more. I didn’t think of fish as animals.

Was it a film?

No. The film’s all came after I was vegan.

An experience? Someone else’s influence? A book? Was it overnight or did it take a while?

It took awhile for everything to go. Dairy was last.

Fish. Fish went about 6 months after the SCUBA class when I went on a dive trip to Honduras. On one of the dives, I held out my hand to touch a shrimp, and they walked up my arm to my shoulder and looked me in the eyes through my mask. There was someone there. We looked at each other for maybe 10 seconds, and them he swam away. I had eaten probably thousands of shrimp. It was my favorite thing to eat. When we had shrimp at home when I was a kid, we got maybe 6 each, and that was all, because we were 5 people and had to share one box of breaded shrimp that my mom fried. I swore when I grew up I would always eat as many shrimp as I wanted, and I did that often. But that day when that shrimp looked in my soul through my eyes, it was an epiphany and life changing.

The thing that got me to give up eggs was after I retired in 2002 and moved from Riverside, California to Sacramento, California. My daughter had gotten a professorship at UcDavis, which is why I moved to Northern California. She got backyard chickens for the eggs. I was there one day when she told her 2 girls not to get too attached to them. I knew what that meant, so I started looking around for somewhere for the hens to go when their egg production dropped off. I found Animal Place in Grass Valley, California where I spoke to Kim Sturla who very kindly and compassionately talked me through the whole egg process for factory-farmed chickens and the history of manipulating chickens to lay over 300 eggs a year. And that was enough for me. I never ate another egg. And I began volunteering at Animal Place doing transporting of chickens, helping at events, and doing health checks for adoptable chickens rescued from commercial egg farms, and my whole life began to change. Dairy went very soon after eggs, except for the occasional cheese. That took awhile longer.

4. What were your biggest challenges or obstacles to going vegan and how did you overcome them?

My biggest obstacle was, as it is for so many, cheese. And it was REALLY hard. I backslid several times before I decided I had to do it for the baby cows. I did that cold turkey just as I had quit smoking many years before. And every time I was tempted, I thought about those hundreds of veal dog houses in the huge place in Oregon, and I held strong for them. I accidentally ate blue cheese at a restaurant last year, and it was horrifying! The restaurant felt so bad they gave me a $50 certificate. I think they were afraid I’d never come back. I forgave them. 50 bucks is 50 bucks, after all!

5. What is the world like as a vegan today compared to when you first went vegan?

The world has changed a lot in those 12+ years. There wasn’t much in the way of processed vegan food except TVP and Tofurky. I didn’t even look for vegan cheese, so there may have been some and I wouldn’t know. Plus I was forced to start cooking, and I have become very versatile and a good cook. Now vegan products are ubiquitous. It’s a lot easier now, though maybe not as healthful if one eats a lot of processed food.

The first time I got a Tofurky roast, I didn’t follow the directions, do the basting, and it was not good at all. I thought it would baste itself, kind of like a turkey, I guess. The next time I followed all the directions, and it was…just…heavenly! I am very grateful to Seth for that Thanksgiving alternative for so many years when I went to family and had to bring my own food. (Now I celebrate Thanksliving with my vegan family.) I am more apt to make a lentil loaf for celebratory days.

That’s another thing, my cooking and baking skills are so much improved. I was a proficient cook for the basics, but the only spices I used were maybe salt and pepper, garlic and onion powder mostly. Now I have a whole cupboard filled with spices I didn’t even know existed; I grow some herbs, and I use all of them!

6. Please tell us your “why vegan” elevator pitch.

My pitch: Because I don’t eat torture. I get my protein where the strongest animals in the world get their’s: from plants.

7. What is your favorite thing about being vegan?

My favorite thing(s) is that I am no longer part of the cruelty and my diet helps to curb climate change. My lifestyle has changed to be in line with my values. I drive a Prius. I use all glass and plastic containers over and over and try hard not to purchase things that come in them at all. Being vegan changes one in many ways.

8. If you could tell someone some simple advice for shifting away from eating animals, what would it be?

Join a vegan meetup group where you live. Download the Happy Cow app that costs a few bucks. It will help you eat vegan all over the world. Get a mentor from Vegan Outreach. They have a wonderful program called “10 Weeks to Vegan” at Veganoutreach.org. Follow Esther the Wonder Pig on Facebook and/or Instagram. Volunteer at a sanctuary if you can.

9. Can you tell us about a time that you think you had a positive influence on someone considering your vegan or compassionate living message?

There have been quite a few, but one is…

A woman with whom I did monthly educational leafleting/protest and I became friends and saw each other every month. I assumed she was vegan. One month at the site she told that because of me she had become vegan!! I had said things about nonvegans protesting for animals they didn’t eat and then going home and eating other animals that had all the same feelings, fears and desire to live, all the while thinking she was “one of us.” I was gobsmacked and thrilled!! Then a few months later she told me her husband was now vegan and two of her friends (who were leafleting with us) were vegan.

What do you think made it effective?

I think she was almost there but hadn’t made the connection (cognitive dissonance), and I helped her make that connection. It could have been anyone. It just happened to be me.

10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”

…the best thing I have ever done for myself and the world I live in.

Extra credit: Please let us know your favorite vegan organization.

My favorite vegan organization would have to be Vegan Outreach. They do a lot on very little. They don’t have a huge gala every year. They spend that money on outreach instead.

Marla Rose is a Chicago-area writer and co-founder of VeganStreet.com and VeganStreetMedia.com.

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