Reconsidering Veganism at Thanksliving


Hey guys!

Glad you liked my autumnal menu, and glad (more importantly), that you’d like to see more. That’s great!

I’m here to recap a very special event that I attended a few weeks ago, on October 19th. My friend Cassie asked me if I’d like to help volunteer at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary’s annual Thanksliving event, which is held, perhaps symbolically, on a date that’s somewhat distant from the actual holiday. The event is meant to raise money for the Sanctuary, to spread awareness about factory farming, and to strengthen the vegan community.

What’s the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary? Nestled in the Catskill mountains—in the town made infamous by peace, love, and rock n’ roll—the Sanctuary is home to farm animals—turkeys, chickens, goats, pigs, cows—who’ve been rescued from neglect, abuse, and abandonment. The evils of factory farming are extraordinarily well documented online and in print, and they’re being decried more and more each day, so I won’t give a full account of the atrocity here. But for those of you who haven’t read much on the topic, farm animals are the most abused and exploited group of animals in the world. Their death toll is 10 billion yearly—that’s 19,000 per minute, if you can fathom it.

In 2004, Jenny Brown and her husband, Doug Abel, moved to Woodstock. Both worked in film; Jenny had been a TV producer, while Doug was (and still is) a film editor whose credits include work on The Fog of War and “30 Rock.” Jenny was a longtime vegetarian and a vegan of several years, and she’d been volunteering for PETA and Farm Sanctuary since the 90’s. As she developed more and more compassion for farm animals and their plight, she decided to learn how to run a sanctuary on her own. Jenny and a group of devoted, tireless volunteers began work on the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, taking in rescues from all over New England, while Doug edited and worked furiously to cover the cost of the mortgage.

Today, the farm is a refuge for one hundred fifty animals, and in particular for animals that are rescued from the over one hundred slaughterhouses and live kill markets in New York City. It’s also home to some of the most dedicated and hard-working volunteers and staff members I’ve ever seen as part of any charitable organization. On top of all of that, it’s scenic, beautiful, and harmonious; a beautiful place to visit, if only for the landscape.

So naturally, when Cassie asked me if I wanted to tag along and help, I responded with an enthusiastic yes!

I’ve known about Cassie’s work on the farm for some time now; she volunteers often, and even leads tours for visitors. I’ve admired this work from the sidelines. Cassie is one of the most ardent vegans I know, and I really marvel at her devotion to the cause. As someone who’s always been vegan for primarily nutritional reasons, rather than ethical ones(more on that below), I’ve sometimes felt a bit like a fraud participating in the kinds of activism that Cassie commits to. But one can never increase one’s contribution to a good cause without taking a trepidations first step, and I was excited to learn more about the Woodstock operation under Cassie’s encouraging eye.

Cassie, her boyfriend Andy, her brother David, our friend Jen and I drove up to Woodstock on a Saturday afternoon. We planned to spend the day helping to prepare the farm for what would be hundreds of guests on Sunday. I’ll admit, I was a little scared: it was an unseasonably cold weekend in October, and the forecast had predicted snow! It wasn’t snowing when we arrived in Woodstock, but it was pretty cold, and we all bundled up for an afternoon of farm work.

Before we did, Cassie took me around the farm to see the animals. First, we stopped in on the pigs. I had no idea that pigs are veritable giants! They’re huge. Apparently, most pigs are never given the chance to reach full size, which is why we don’t often realize just how enormous they are. Enormous or not, they’re really adorable—even if all they did in my presence was sleep.


Next, we stopped in on the goats. Cassie introduced me to her favorite goat, Fern, while I did my best to remain standing in a flock of very friendly—perhaps overly friendly–goats who were trying to eat the dried alfalfa I’d brought with me to share. Some outtakes:


Next, we checked out the cows. Near to the cow field is an abandoned veal crate, along with a sign that details how veal is produced. I’d read this before, but a reminder about the abuses of veal production was still stirring.


Cassie and I lucked out with a warm job that night: we folded merchandise and sipped tea inside the farm office and store, while Andy and David did outdoorsy chores, and stopped in on us routinely to warm up. Jen made about four hundred vegan meatmalls in the kitchen. By 7:45, we were all tired, and I was becoming hangry, so we called it a night and drove into town to meet up with our friends Kathleen and her boyfriend, who had just gotten engaged at a bed and breakfast nearby! Dinner was at the Garden Cafe, an awesome vegetarian restaurant nearby. It was restorative, and we woke up the next morning ready to work.

When we arrived at the farm, we were broken up into different stations: Cass and Jen were selling merchandise, while David, Andy and I were put on the wait staff. This meant a lot of carrying trays and a lot of busing tables, but I knew it would also mean a lot of free food!


The menu for the event featured donations from Blossom and Candle 79, among other great New York City restaurants. The menu included homemade vegan meatballs, black eyed pea cakes from Blossom, dumplings from Candle 79, seitan skewers, roast autumn vegetables, faux turkey with cranberry sauce and vegan stuffing, and three cakes (pumpkin, peanut butter, and chocolate layer) for dessert. Hello, abundance. Can you imagine a better Thanksgiving feast?

The morning was spent in a blur of table setting and squatting in front of the giant heat lamps that had been brought in to heat the tent. We all waited for snow and cold – it was misty outside, but not quite bad – as the guests began to arrive. VIPs of the day were the MC, comedian Dan Piraro:


Nathan Runkle, Executive Director of Mercy for Animals, John Phillips of the New York League of Humane Voters, and Jenny herself. A giant raffle was set up in the center of the room, including more incredible vegan swag than I can do justice to here: I don’t remember it all, but included a cool bat from Matt and Nat; an entire Dr. Bronner’s basket; a cookbook basket; spa getaway weekends and free treatments; various bath and body products; a varied gift basket from Herbivore; and (the one I coveted the most) a free 30 class card to Jivamukti yoga!

As visitors piled in, my fellow servers and I began passing out the tasty appetizers. That’s me with my fellow server, Sarah. (Thank you, Sarah, for saving my hind when I had no clue which table needed food and which didn’t):


And a cute photo with Cass:


After the visitors had done away with vegan stuffed mushrooms, seitan and gardein skewers, the ridiculously tasty black eyed pea cakes, and the rest of the apps, we hunkered down for table service.


Who says vegan Thanksgiving isn’t even better than the norm?


As lovely as it was to marvel at the food, the trays were heavy! And the appetizer trays had been twice as heavy. So that quizzical look on my face is not only me thinking “WOW, that looks a whole lot like real turkey, doesn’t it??” but also me thinking “I’d better try really hard to look as though I’m not about to drop these four plates of food on the ground.”


But I didn’t.

As I served the hungry diners their tormenting fragrant and warm food, I got to hear John Philips argue eloquently about the need for legislation to protect animals


and Nathan Runkle describe the real atrocities of the factory farm system.


Finally, Jenny came up to bid her guests a good afternoon and to say a few words about the farm. After sharing a really poignant slideshow about the year’s notable rescues (including Fern, who’d arrived with a very broken leg), Jenny reminded her audience of why veganism matters to her. “This isn’t,” she said, “about having a perfect bowel movement, OK? Veganism is about the animals.”


This statement, of course, could have been written for me. While I’ve always felt very good about not contributing to animal slaughter, and while I take pride in the environmental impact of my veganism, I’ve always been a vegan for health reasons. My weekend at the farm didn’t take away from my excitement about the health benefits of veganism, but it did compel me put my veganism in a different context, and it put animals at the forefront of my consciousness.

The weekend also made me think about how peculiar it is that our society values our pets on the one hand, and abuses and consumes farm animals on the other. As Nathan Runkle and Jenny both made abundantly clear, and as Jonathan Safran Foer is stating firmly in his popular new book, Eating Animals, farm animals are as sentient and deserving of compassion as our own dogs and cats. To lavish attention on pets, and consume animal flesh at without discrimination, is a contradiction in terms.

My weekend in Woodstock only gave me more compassion for farm animals (and the people who work to help them). And that compassion is certainly forcing me to redefine the terms of my veganism. What I know for sure is that I’m no longer comfortable saying that I’m vegan only for health (and personal taste) reasons; that felt honest a few years ago, but it doesn’t feel honest now. I’m sure many vegans who began as vegetarians can recall the “slippery slope”—you think you’re just giving up meat, but over time, you simply can’t stomach or feel great about milk or cheese anymore. So too with the ethical dimensions of veganism; it’s hard to do it for a long time without coming to terms with the fact that the lifestyle really is about compassion, as well as health.

In any case, I’m grateful to Cassie (and other vegan friends of mine) for helping me to confront some of the little inconsistencies and fears of commitment in my own vegan stance. Here in the blog world we so often talk about women and men who inspire us. Cassie inspires me as few friends do; she’s as passionate bout animal suffering as she is about helping to alleviate human illness and suffering, and she’s consistent in all ways vegan. I’m inspired by her commitment and lack of apology, and I want her to know it!


My friends and I left Woodstock on Sunday with happily full bellies; after an hour of busing tables, we finally got to devour the leftover food. I helped myself to mountains of perfectly roasted fall vegetables, a big mesclun salad with avocado and carrot dressing from Candle 79, and sampled the very extraordinary vegan peanut butter cake (YOWZA–check out the dessert table before we volunteers had had our way with it!).


As soon as I got back to the city, I dove into my amazing schwag bag from the event, which included vegan soap, herbamare (one of my favorite products, ever), an Alternative Baking Company cookie, Endangered Species chocolate (thank you, Jenny), a vegan keychain, natural tampons, natural dishwashing liquid samples, a gluten-free snack bar, vegan parmesan, and a whole lot more that I’m now forgetting. It also included one of the new mini-Larabars, which I imagine to be a nice dessert, but I really can’t fathom as a snack—it’s tiny!

I’m sending a huge thank you to Jenny and Doug for their hospitality at the farm that weekend, to Cassie for bringing me, to the guest speakers for inspiring me, and to the weather for not snowing on me, after all.

I’m leaving you with pictures taken by the lovely Derek Goodwin, who captured the event in perfect detail, and walked around with a sticker that said “vegan paparazzi” all weekend. Word. You can check out Derek’s own website for more on his work.


To read more about WFAS, please check out their website here. It includes information about factory farming, about the farm’s resident animals, and about volunteering.

Have a great night, all.


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  3. I know this is super late comment-wise and year-wise, but I just wanted to say that the Canadian thanks giving is the weekend before the date you posted, so to me, its almost as if this celebration is a kind of “we survived party”

  4. Hi Gena,

    Thank you for this post! A long time pescatarian (goodness could it really be 16 years?!), and I too started for “dietary” reasons. Early on, I was rather emphatic to point out “it’s not about the animals,” as seafood was ok. In time though, I discovered that “slippery slope” on my own.

    I really appreciate the thought-stimulation your post brought me. Now, I’m looking forward to embracing the slide down that slope instead of resisting it.

    It is about compassion. For the animals and for humans, too (I won’t get into that here, but “Food Inc” and “Fast Food Nation” come to mind).

    I’m 8 months pregnant now with baby #1, and my husband is a dedicated meat eater. Our agreement so far has been that baby gets only breast milk and veggies as long as I’m a source of nutrition (i.e., as long as we’re breast feeding). Then, we’ll experiment and see what happens. The debate has not been resolved, however, about when to explain to baby where meat comes from.

    I suspect when he learns, he’ll be turned off. Hubby doesn’t want to explain to baby … ever? Comprehension of where food comes from is still an unresolved topic, but as I see it we have time to work that out (at least a year anyway!).

    So, thank you for this timely and beyond-value post. It’s not only valuable to me for reminding me to get back in touch with my compassionate self and embrace sliding down the slope, but also to figure out how to balance teaching my child to make his own decisions based on sound information.

    And most importantly, to teach him compassion.

    Thank you! πŸ™‚

  5. Wow, I continue to be amazed at the other vegans out there with the same things going on in their head as me! Everything you said, from why you became a vegan to your issues with honey, I’m right there with you.

    I only became vegan on October 1st after a month of experimenting with changing some foods in my diet. It’s actually been a pretty easy and fun experience, but I did it for my health. The quote about it not being for the perfect bowel movement felt like it was aimed right at me.

    Over the past month and a half, as I’ve made friends with more vegans, I’ve learned so much more about the mistreatment of animals and it makes me feel like a jerk for being a vegan and trying to “dismiss” myself from the ethical side of things.

    I think whatever got us to be a vegan in the first place shouldn’t matter. When people ask us why we are vegans: health? environmental concerns? for the animals? We should just say yes, all of the above.

    Your post has really made me think, thank you so much!

  6. Hi hot stuff!

    You know my stance… I proudly and happily went vegan for ethical/political reasons. For me, the health benefits were such a bonus. The environment wasn’t talked about as much when I went vegan as it is today. If it were, it’d be right after animal rights as the reasons for my choices. I don’t consume honey and I don’t buy leather or wool or silk, etc. I have a closet full of purses and shoes (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi, Burberry) and they just sit there. I have sentimental attachment to some of them, having been given a couple of them for huge accomplishments in my life (pre-vegan days). Some of them, there is no attachment. I don’t use them and can’t see myself giving them away because when they’re out in public, they’re advertising for animal suffering. I suspect they’ll just stay where they are… in my closet.

    I’m happy to see your transformation. I find it hard to believe that someone could attend an event like that and not begin to feel a pull in a direction toward wanting to help animals.

    On behalf of the animals… thank you.


  7. I LOVED this post! Although the pictures of the animals were amazing, my favorite part was hearing you process your journey towards an even more inclusive, ethical vegan lifestyle. Almost six years ago I became vegan, mainly for environmental, human rights (helping with starvation, etc), and health reasons.Though I was not an animal lover, I called myself an animal respecter because I did not have to love them in order to not want to contribute to their suffering and exploitation – icing on the cake for my decision to become vegan. In the years since I made that choice, my ethical reasons for my vegan lifestyle have become increasingly more about the well-being of others than of myself – now the icing on the cake is that I feel better than ever physically since eliminating animal flesh and animal byproducts from my diet.
    I didn’t want to be an advertiser or supporter of industries which exist by exploiting and killing animals (human as well as non-human) so I stopped wearing leather and wool and have loved all of the vegan finds that now fill up my closet.
    I know that there is always more that I can be doing to live more compassionately with ever decision, and I am grateful that you share so honestly about the continual evolution of your thoughts and ethics of your vegan lifestyle.

  8. LOVE the farm animal sanctuary. I just got a house up in Woodstock over the summer and went to the sanctuary 3 times. Anytime anyone with kids comes to visit, I’m there. Hopefully now that we’ve settled into the house I can find some time to volunteer. Aren’t the pigs ginormous!! I couldn’t believe it.

    Oh, and regardless of your original intentions with veganism, the good news is that lives were saved. Thanks for the volunteering inspiration.

  9. I don’t usually like reading long blog posts, but this was interesting and I kept getting pulled back in as I skimmed.

    I never want to announce that I’m vegetarian or vegan (or raw even) because I find it obnoxious when some other people have done it. I eat this way for health reasons, and I am tolerant of the way others eat. I don’t want to sound righteous or antagonistic. Maybe this *is* a bit of a cop out though, as you mentioned. If someone were torturing an animal in front of me, of course I’d stop them, and I wouldn’t worry about coming across as bitchy or assertive! But killing animals for food, even if I’m not the one eating them..I don’t find it as easy to determine my standing point, yet.

    I appreciate your honesty in what you wrote. It’s tiring to read a rant; it’s refreshing and thoughtful to read this post.

  10. I saved this post to read until I could really read it. You are such a joy to read, your honesty is so truly felt.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog.

  11. I really loved what you shared about your views on veganism. I am only beginning my look into the food that I eat, and I am already considering much of the same. I would say my initial consideration is health. It’s hard, though, to ignore animal cruelty as a factor. For me, I think that if I admit that it’s a factor, I feel obligated to do something about it, and feel guilty if I eat meat with my unsympathetic in-laws. Maybe, at least for me, it’s easier to say it’s all about health?

  12. I absolutely love your thoughts on being a “contradictory” vegan. And you even mentioned the idea that vegetarians have this same contradictory issue with dairy, which is EXACTLY how I feel. It is comforting to hear that others are struggling with the same issues.

    I also love that there are people out there actively rescuing farm animals! I am also baffled by how our society can cuddle their dogs then eat steak for dinner.

    Thanks for the post – awesome!

  13. P.S. THAT FOOD! Your pictures had me drooling. What a FEAST! And those raffle prizes! And the goodie bag! I want to be there next year!!!

    P.P.S. I have those same Hunter boots. πŸ™‚ Love them!

  14. I love love LOVE this post, Gena! I need to make it to Woodstock Sanctuary someday. What an incredible-looking place!

    I also really appreciate your thoughts on veganism, and your openness to admit that you sometimes struggle with where you draw the line for yourself. I feel like most people (even diehard animal-lovers) struggle with this same topic, but for some reason, people don’t like to talk about it… As if they’re exposing a weakness if they admit to not having everything figured out!

    I honestly think that it takes a very strong person to share in an open forum (and on your very popular blog, at that!) that you wonder about all these things – and I think it’s a testament to your character that you are open-minded enough to reconsider your position on ethical veganism. It’s fabulous that a vegan diet has improved your health (and given you the perfect BM – haha :)), but I have to say that as someone who is vegan first & foremost for the animals, I so appreciate you acknowledging the plight of animals & admitting that veganism, at its core & by the definition of the word, *is* about animals.

    Again, wonderful post! Great reading for this Sunday morning. I’m going to tweet it. πŸ˜‰

  15. What an amazing post πŸ™‚ I really love when you post entries like this. It’s almost my one year vegan anniversary and I consistently purchase wool, leather products, etc. It’s tough to sit with that. I am glad to know I’m not alone. The animals are beautiful. Today I went running (I live in the country) and stopped to say hi to cows. Felt so good that I’m supporting their life. Additionally, I’m happy to know that while they’re being raised for slaughter, at least they’re roaming around with their siblings in the warm air an being cared for in a humane way.

  16. Wonderful post Gena! It looks like it was a wonderful event. I feel the same way about my new-found veganism…it’s not really about ethics in the same vein as most vegans. My only ethical conviction regarding meat is that I do NOT support conventional farming, mainly due to its pernicious effect on the environment. If I eat meat it’s going to be from grass-fed, hormone/anitbiotic free, animals that have been well cared for.

    I’m also starting to feel some ambivalence about honey. I just keep coming back to the fact that it (along with local bee pollen) has helped my sweetheart’s seasonal allergies immeasurably!

    So many decisions…

  17. That looks like such an amazing & educational experience! Awesome job at shedding light on the terrible things that go on behind factory farms doors. Love all of the beautiful animals- it makes me happy to see them so peaceful- just the way it’s meant to be πŸ™‚

  18. Hi Gena,

    I’d just like to say that I really love reading your posts. They are, without fail, eloquent, well-written, and thoughtful. So thank you for always posting something of substance – it seems to be a rarity in the age of editor-less (and obviously so) blogs. So I just wanted to say thanks!


  19. What amazing questions!!! Hmm.. does it matter about people’s reasons to be vegan if it is the same result? Part of me says yes and [art of me says no. However, to my non-vegan friends, I don’t preach veganism, but I do think that it is important to be educated about where our food/clothes/etc. come from. I ride horses, and that involves a lot of leather. I don’t tend to buy new items, but a few months back, I had to get a new saddle. It skeeved me out, but I decided that the best options was to be thankful and to honour the animal whose skin I was using – a la native traditions. I think that conscious/mindful consumption is key here regardless of what you eat/wear! Only then can a person make informed choices and changes. I think that not knowing and being apathetic is a terrible condition in our society in many different veins.

  20. What an amazing post!!! And the pics are seriously crazy awesome! And you’re so cute with your big ole food tray! I would love to volunteer for something like this!

  21. Your comments on the ethical dilemma reminded me of a trip to Florida where my family toured a crocodile “habitat”. As we toured we read about how crocs are treated, trapped, and killed and how horrible it all is. Really sad stuff. Never thought I’d pity a crocodile. But then the tour ends at the cafeteria where the menu featured hamburgars, chicken fingers, and fish fry. Added, uh, bonus, you can also shop the gift store and buy crocodile purses, belts and vests. WHAT??? We should save the crocodiles – but it’s OK to continue killing cows, chicks and fish?? Anyway, don’t feel conflicted about your reasons for being vegan. I look at it this way: you can’t fight every battle. You do a heck of a lot of good with this blog. Don’t beat yourself up for what you may not be doing!

  22. Hi Gena,

    It’s interesting, don’t you think, that people becoming vegan for primarily compassionate (to animals/the earth) reasons seem generally delighted to find they are also helping themselves through health; yet those who come at it from a dietary perspective often “buck” when animals are mentioned? Some even become downright aggressive at the *idea* that they could be helping a creautre other than themselves through their diet.

    I find that interesting, and possibly a cultural issue in a Society which reinforces Individualism. For eg, the voices that are acceptable, especially in the States, seem to be those of physicians, rather than ideologists. Unlike the UK, where this emphasis on the Self would seem to be slightly shameful.

    There is a vegan blogger who, a short time ago, deleted from her self-description that she loved animals, at the same time updating her profile to state she was vegan for health reasons, “Period”. I found that quite shocking (and I don’t really shock easily); that such vehemence seemed to be required to become “acceptable” to her audience.

    Hope that gives some food for thought?

  23. Hi Gena

    This sounds amazing! I love the pictures, it looks like you had a great time on the farm.

    My first reason for going vegan was health as well, but as I researched more and more the animals became a huge priority. I do have a huge love for all animals, and today have decided not to discriminate amongst any of them – they are all special to me, and should have a chance to live out their lives the way they want to. There is enough plant material in the world for us to eat, be healthy and let the animals live out their own lives πŸ™‚

    Wishing you a great weekend πŸ™‚

  24. p.s. I will be doing a hat post soon on my blog! I’d love for you to submit that picture!! also, if you have an earring pictures, please email them to me!!! I’d be honored to have Miss Choosing Raw in my Special Edition post!!! (glidingcalm AT gmail DOT com ) . HAPPY THURSDAY BEAUTIFUL ONE!

  25. this is such n amazing post! i am in awe of it all and actually i find myself really questioning my own beliefs/behaviors. thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

  26. Thank you for ending your post with the dog and cat photos. Those photos are the perfect reminder (again) of the weird chasm we have created in our society between sentimantalized pets and all but ignored (until they are hamburger) farm animals. I am sure you posted those photos last on purpose, of if you didn’t, it was quite the happy accident!

  27. what an amazing post. i really WANT to be vegan, but slowly and surely i’ll find my way there. the best i’ve been doing is to make sure the eggs i eat are certified organic and only organic meat and dairy are allowed in this casa for the hubs.
    i really enjoyed reading and looking at the gorgeous photos. pigs totally remind me of larger dogs and i could never imagine our puppies being treated the way farm animals are.
    thank you for this πŸ˜€

  28. What a thoughtful post. While I admit I often skim blog posts, I made the time to sit down and read this one from beginning to end. I think you’re right about that slippery slope. While I’ve never been a vegetarian, I didn’t eat a lot of meat growing up, and I still don’t. But I never really considered becoming 100% vegetarian. Lately though, every time I eat meat, I feel guilty, and for the first time, I’m considering whether I want to commit to vegetarianism (Although for me, it would be more for moral reasons, and less for health reasons). I wonder if I will continue along that slippery slope to veganism after.

    Oh, and on a raw note, when I first went gluten-free, I had to take multi-vitamins daily to keep from getting little bumps on my hands. I figured there were some nutrients I was missing. But since I’ve been incorporating more raw foods into my diet, the bumps have completely gone away, regardless of whether I take my vitamins or not. (Maybe TMI?)

  29. what a wonderful post! you look beautiful in the photos, btw.

    the moral vs. health issue with any dietary practice is always interesting for me to read about. i got into this lifestyle for vanity, it grew (thankfully) to a focus on health, and i am becoming increasingly affected by the ethical issues related not only to food, but also the clothing industry, as you brought up. i continue to be appalled and angered by the practices of factory farms, and i suppose i take my stand by eating vegetarian most of the time and choosing only organic poultry, meat, or dairy when i choose to have it. i try to frequent restaurants with similar ideals.

    you’re right that no matter what lifestyle, we all have certain contradictions to deal with. i can never decide if it’s better to abstain from meat altogether, or better to support responsible farmers. part of the problem is that i’ve never eaten much meat, so i don’t feel my stance has much effect. if someone who lives on the sad of 100 pounds of meat/poultry a year switched to 100% sustainable and organic, i think that is a statement that could be heard more strongly.

    you always, always make me think, gena. great post!

  30. Gena, this is an excellent post. I am an ethical vegetarian on the way to mostly-veganism (I just really can’t think that honey is wrong…I think that insects may be where I draw the line), for the animals and for religious reasons (try explaining that as a Christian among fundamentalists;)). I think that probably the most important part of the above is that you’re taking the time to think critically about your stance. I would venture to say that, if you are simply happy that you are not contributing to animal slaughter/torture, that’s probably enough. I also think that you may be able to reconcile the fact that you don’t have a deep love of animals with the idea of veganism as a way of protecting innocent life in general. That’s one of the ways I look at it…they have not done anything to deserve the way they are treated; they are not capable of malice or evil. They act on instinct and social bonds, and while most animals are capable of the full range of emotions that we have, they really don’t have that, in religious terms, capability to understand when/if they are doing something wrong. They are innocent, and I believe that we should always seek to protect innocent life.

    Anyway…that’s pretty rambly, sorry. I subscribe to the Sanctuary’s blog, and I would recommend that anyone check them out…not only are the pictures AWESOME, but they talk alot about animal personalities and emotions and the animals’ individual stories are quite incredible.

    Thanks for this, Gena. It made a great start to my day:) FYI, I also follow you on twitter. I am Melbo19

  31. Such a well written post. It could have been written by me. My initial reasons for becoming vegetarian were health related but over time they’ve evolved and I don’t want animals to suffer and I don’t want to have a huge footprint on this earth. Like you, I struggle with some issues.

    Those pictures are amazing. Those pictures have personalities and they come through in the pics. Looking forward to showing my oldest daughter. She loves pigs.

  32. Great post! Thank you particularly for your reflections on veganism. It mirrors were I am at the moment, so thank you!

  33. I’m from that area, and we go to Woodstock often (although that’s not actually where ‘Woodstock’ was held, it was in Bethel…we go there often also). I just recently visited the sanctuary though, and it is so amazing. It turned my mom vegetarian πŸ™‚

  34. P.S. Any idea where to scrape up the recipe for those black eyed pea cakes? I’ve yet to decide what I’m making for Thanksgiving.

  35. Though everything you’ve written is poetic, thoughtful and TRUE, your pictures speak for themselves. Aside from your adorable outfit and gorgeous face, I am moved by the peace on the faces of these animals. In some cases, it looks like they are even smiling. I dare everyone of your readers to share this post with at least one meat eater in their life. How can you look at those sweet faces and continue to contribute to their misery? I know I can’t.

  36. Lovely post! I feel like I was there! Your thoughts remind me of the moral dilemma in which a CEO is told that a certain decision, motivated by economic profit, will happen to have positive repercussions for the environment. The CEO says, “Well, I don’t care about the environment, but let’s do it for the profit!” The environment is helped. Another CEO is asked the same question, except that the environment will be harmed. His response is identical. People tend to say that the CEO is responsible for harming the environment, but not for helping it. It’s a bit like you- you are helping the animals, but it is not the original motivation behind your actions. Had you been hurting animal welfare, it might have been perceived the other way. I think actions count a lot- you are helping animal welfare, like it or not. And luckily, you like it. I think it is all about the caring- the CEO says he does not care. You seem to care, and you will figure out which elements of veganism really matter to you and what actions you need to take to bring yourself in line with that.
    I watched Food Inc the other day and still didn’t feel convinced about veganism. What I did decide is that I need to buy my eggs only from the farmers market, and I need to look into my goat cheese and try to find out more about its origins. It is the animal suffering- I’m a huge animal lover- and the environmental impact of factory farming that most motivate my decisions.
    Oh, and I love your winter outfit. Totally cute.

  37. Wow – what a great place! And the animals look so happy; you can just tell they’re content. Lovely.

  38. According to the Vegan Society, “a vegan is someone who tries to live without exploiting animals, for the benefit of animals, people and the planet. Vegans eat a plant-based diet, with nothing coming from animals – no meat, milk, eggs or honey, for example. A vegan lifestyle also avoids leather, wool, silk and other animal products for clothing or any other purpose.”

    The word is used too liberally, especially in raw circles. I know many people who call themselves “vegan” who do not share the moral commitments or worldview on which veganism (essentially a philosophy) is based.

    I’ve been reading your blog a while and I have appreciated that you have tried, fairly consistently, to clarify that you are a “vegan for health reasons.”

    That said, it is interesting to watch your transformation into an ethical vegan. I think the longer we are living the raw food lifestyle, the more we start to address all the incongruities in our lives. It’s so much more than a diet, when we really commit to it, we end up transformed on so many levels.

    My own journey began as an egocentric one, I was concerned about the my own health, well-being, etc. But over time, I found myself (almost) as concerned with the health of the planet as with my own health, and I cut things like bottled water, tropical fruits, etc. from my diet. I’ll definitely choose Vermont maple syrup (not raw, but only minimally processed) or raw and local honey (from a righteous beekeeper) over agave nectar. My environmental concerns tend to trump any desire to call myself “raw” or “vegan.”

    These days, my concerns are shifting again, to issues of food justice (access to healthy foods for the poor, etc.).

    I used to think “vegan” wasn’t even on the horizon for me. I doubt I’ll ever wear the label, wherever I end up, probably to avoid the very conundrum you’re living over wool, etc. That said, the evolution doesn’t stop, and the only animal products left in my diet are organic butter and raw honey. So who knows.

  39. A an ethical vegan first, then heathy raw vegan, it wa nice to hear your perspective. Although I am secretly really glad when someone is just even eating vegan for health reasons because it saves so many lives, someone who cares abour animals on a deeper level is more likely to educate others about that. Because when it comes down to it a lot of people don’t care as much about their own health but don’t want to participate in the slaughter of innocent lives. So I think ethics are the way to stick with veganism.

  40. good gosh this post struck a lot of cords with me!! I feel like I can’t get into them all in a post reply BUT I am so with you on a ThanksLIVING! I have been eating dairy recently and I feel SOO sick to my stomach after, literally and figuratively! I know it is not for me. YUCK!

    As for the vegan clothes options I just purchased the most AWESOME Tory Burch VEG friendly “leather” loafers. Defiantly check out her stuff, stella’s and vintage!!!

    • Amber, I’m not sure what shoes you are referring to, but just to avoid confusion, I thought I’d point out that Tory Burch makes a line of “VEG leather” products that are NOT vegan, they are vegetable-tanned leather. I know some stores were erroneously advertising them as vegan earlier this year (and may still be doing so), when in reality they are leather. If in doubt, call Tory Burch corporate and ask. You may be referring to something else, and if so, sorry! Just wanted to point that out because I had to return a bag that I bought online thinking it was fake leather and when it arrived I realized it was real leather. I hope you did find some vegan Tory Burch shoes- I love Tory Burch and have been looking for a vegan Tory Burch bag for a long time!

      • omg thank yo for letting me know! that really bugs me!! I bought them because I was told they were vegan!! And when I checked the inside all leather MADE in Brazil, not “colored” in Brazil WOW why even call them veg/vegan then? I was thinking they were the best faux leather I had ever seen! Thank you Jennifer!

  41. Gena, I am IN LOVE with this post! I’d been vegetarian on and off for years, but once I was doing the vegan thang in San Fran with VegNews over the summer, my concerns were less about my health and more for the well being of animals. It sounds outrageous, but when I see other animals, I immediately think of my beloved dogs. I’d never want to hurt them or eat them (well, other than in that “you’re so cute I want to eat you” way), so why would I do that to other animals? It all came together. Honey also has me torn! I’ve had it (and other slips) along the way, but it’s been so miniscule that it doesn’t make me feel like I’m abandoning my beliefs. Thanks again for the awesome post and the adorable pictures!

  42. A wonderful post about what sounds like an incredible visit. The pictures at the end of the post totally hit me, too. I’ve been lazy about cutting back my meat intake. Time to revisit!

  43. Wow I love this post!
    I’m not vegan or vegetarian but it’s very interesting! And I can’t wait to learn more about veganism πŸ™‚
    Btw your pictures are beautiful!

  44. Wow, lots of thoughts to think here. On a purely selfish note, totally jealous of attending that cool event and of eating all that stunning food.

    As said slope becomes increasingly more slippery beneath my proverbial bum, this post can’t help but resonate with me. Only time will tell where I ultimately find myself on the diet-ism spectrum, but similar to what we were chatting about last night, I have only to look at my relationship with food and food choices of a year ago to see how far I’ve come already.

    If nothing else, I know I won’t be eating turkey this year.

  45. Oh Gena, this is such a sensational, honest, reflective post. I love it and feel so very similar to you about veganism. I particularly identified with your comment regarding the “slipper slope”…it’ so true and is exactly what has happened for me, and many of my clients!

    Thanks, as always, for sharing!


  46. Beautiful post and photos, animal cruelty has been on my mind a lot more after watching Food, Inc. and this was just perfect. Thanks!

  47. I am at the same point in my vegan lifestyle where I question why I am doing it. I, like you, began for mostly health reasons. I love animals and have had a particular soft spot for birds ever since the sixth grade. This, however, did not contribute entirely to veganism as much as it did vegetarianism in the first place. It is a slippery slope, but it raises excellent identity issues, ethical questions, and lifestyle choices that positively impact us as human beings on our natural identity quests, especially as vegans.

  48. This is an incredible post! So many awesome pictures:) Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I had the pleasure of speaking to Cassie in Saratoga at the Woodstock FAS booth during the veggie expo. She is so sweet and compassionate:) I really admire all the people who are so dedicated to this cause.

    I became vegan for health reasons, and then learned about the atrocities of factory farming. Knowing this makes it very easy to stay vegan.

  49. Hey Gena,

    Maybe you won’t like to know this..but that was in my opnion your best post..I am an animal lover and I think that your weekend was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love your raw foods ( and I’m eating a lot more raw foods because of you)..but I cannot resist to animals..


  50. Such a beautiful post! You articulate so well what many of us (myself included) have thought about. I will be reading along with great interest as your stance evolves even more! What a wonderful event (those piggies are the cutest–and how about those goat faces?? AND YOU GOT TO SEE DAN PIRARO IN PERSON!). Oh, and I hate you–you are even adorable in a toque!! πŸ˜‰

  51. Thank you so much Gena for sharing your story about why you are vegan. My sister and I started the same – for health reasons. Our bodies just did not like dairy, meat, etc. Then over time we started to realize the other benefits of this lifestyle -the environment, and the animals! We are huge animal lovers, so now it makes sense! Although it is sometimes hard for us to call ourselves vegan because we do occasionally have bee pollen. We eat it for the amazing health benefits, but feel bad when we do eat it. We do not eat honey though. I hope to inspire others, like your friend Cassie, she seems like an amazing person. There are so many great organizations out there I want to support, but it is hard to pick one. What organizations do you recommend supporting? Local or national?

    Thanks again! Loved all the pictures…you are such a beautiful person, inside and out!

  52. This was my favorite post that you’ve written, G. Truly inspiring and so genuine.

    I am vegan 100% for ethical reasons. Therefore, it is only logical that i avoid animal products (leather, wool) and animal tested products to the extent modern technology and science will permit (i.e., if i am prescribed a medicine and there is no vegan or holistic alternative, i will probably take it). But i don’t understand why people vegan for health reasons would avoid any of those things. It’s not “unhealthy” for the body to wear leather or use hair products containing silk or pearl (so gross, but that’s herbal essences for you).

    Anyone have insight on that? Do many vegans-for-health avoid non-vegan products on principle, or do they just eat vegan diets, and not have vegan lifestyles. Is it “fair” to call someone who eats vegan, but wears leather and wool a vegan?

  53. Oh my goodness when I first read the post title in my RSS, I thought you were reconsidering being vegan for Thanksgiving!! Glad to hear turkey didn’t somehow get the better of you πŸ™‚

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue recently as I transition to a more vegan diet. I’m particularly interested in your whole health-vegan vs. animal-lover-vegan. I think sometimes we identify ourselves as doing this for health reasons because we’re afraid of being lumped in with the small overly dogmatic vegan population. I know I’m afraid people will think I’m judging them for their choices, when really, I think everyone needs to make their own decision about what’s right for them when it comes to food. And if that decision to abstain from meat for ethical reasons, that’s cool with me too.

  54. OMG Gena you have outdone yourself! What a post, what honorable work you’ve been doing and like you, I have considered myself vegan for health reasons b/c I used to do dairy, til 4 yrs ago when I realized that I just cannot handle it. I also ate fish while pregnant. But now, being a vegan is for health reasons. Til I look at those pics. It is a fresh reminder that animals are real, and being vegan makes sure that none of them end up on my table. And reinforces that I am doing the right thing raising my daughter a high-end vegetarian almost to the vegan spectrum but yogurt & cheese are a part of her diet. She is 2 and proudly tells people she is a vegetarian. I dont think it even crosses her little mind that some people could eat those animals. Sorry, I dont want to get too wordy on this comment but your pics really struck a lovely chord with me.

    And onto lighter matters, a 30 class pass at Jivamukti??!!! OMG you are blessed!!!!!!

    This looks amazing:very extraordinary vegan peanut butter cake.

    As does the main plates of the Thanksgiving Feast. Any chance in the future you’d get a recipe for some things to serve on the big T Day? Nothing that is bean, soy, tofu, or seitan, heavy. There’s your challenge πŸ™‚

    Love your post Gena! πŸ™‚

  55. Beautiful pictures, well written post! πŸ™‚ I was just talking with Veggie Girl about this same thing. I try to buy synthetic whenever possible, but I do still own leather and won’t deny a gift made of leather (if my mother in law buys me a Coach purse, I am not going to tell her to take it back). I am becoming more and more aware of this though. In fact this year I might ask for a Mat and Nat instead! But I worked in a trendy shoe store for years, so I have tons of cute leather boots and heals that I am not going to throw away.

    I eat local honey, only because I keep hearing conflicting info on agave, like that it’s made from HFCS! Have you heard about this? I would love to know your thoughts. I still drizzle it on my oatmeal, but I am aware of the bad info.

    Anyway, looks like a fab time, good for you helping out! You earned your karma points! πŸ™‚

  56. Really, an amazing post Gena! I’ve been vegan for almost 8 months now and I certainly began strictly for health reason. I’ve always loved animals, but have since discovered how deeply connected I feel to them now through veganism. I’ve unintentionally become more compassionate for animals and can now completely understand the people who break out in uncontrollable sobbing when an animal is accidentally or intentionally injured because of human action. I thought those people were crazy before, but I slowly feel myself developing that same compassion.

    It’s still amazing to me how this has happened without my trying or even realizing at first. It just DID and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks again for a great post!

  57. Thank you so much for this post. As a new vegan who went down the “slippery slope” you described from vegetarianism (perfectly accurately), this was very insightful and gave me a lot to think about. The photos are fantastic and I hope to visit the sanctuary, perhaps come springtime. Thanks again, and happy Thanksliving.

  58. Fantastic post on all fronts Gena. The event and visit to the farm looked amazing and I love all the pictures. Goats have a special place in my heart so I loved Fern!!

    It was very interesting to read your innermost thoughts on both sides of the veganism discussion. Since going vegan this summer for primarily health reasons I have been faced with many of the same questions. When I posted my becoming vegan video on youtube I got a comment that said something along the lines of “now you should look into the activism side of veganism” and in my head I thought “is it not enough that I’m no longer eating the animals?”

    With each passing day I find myself thinking more and more about the compassion side of veganism, so I truly appreciate this post.

  59. Gena! This post was amazzzinngggg, especially because of its reflection of my own definition (or conflicting definitions) of veganism. I really resonated with your paragraph about being a vegan for health reasons, but feeling that reason to be slightly disingenuous because of the very ethical, animal related stance of veganism. I never really know how to label myself, so I usually go with vegetarian, just because I know I make little concessions here and there (eggs), but I usually just go with the label of “maker of most conscious decisions in a given situation.” I sort of echo valerie’s post above.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this story with us! As well as demonstrating that being vegan, like so many things, is a journey.

  60. City Mouse – Country Mouse, that’s what I’m gonna call you! πŸ˜€

    What a beautiful event. Thank you for sharing it with me. Stunning photography!

    I find myself walking that same “slippery slope” at the moment. You’ve just given me some more, ahem, food for thought.


  61. Wow. I feel like this post was written for me! I became a vegetarian almost a month ago and felt strongly that I want to go all the way to vegan – but slowly so I don’t overwhelm family and friends who have to adjust with me. But reading this just reinforces the reasons I want to be vegan at all – health, environment and animals form this trifecta of rationality in my head – like, one would be reason enough to go vegan, but all three? No brainer. Your post makes me realize I am uncomfy transitioning slowly for the sake of others’ comfort with the idea. Who knows? It might even be easier for them. I’m using up my non-vegan foods but I’m going to have to stop agreeing to dairy out just to make people comfortable.

    Maybe if they’re unconfortable, they’ll start asking questions in the right direction themselves! This was a lovely post, and I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!


  62. What a fantabulous post, Gena!! I love all the photos but really LOVE the one of the duck with the barn in the background. πŸ˜€

    Thanks for sharing this awesome experience with us. I enjoyed reading about your special day, and your thoughts on veganism.

    Some people have called me a vegan but I don’t claim that title. I have been a 100% raw vegan in the past but I’m not currently living that lifestyle. I am a high raw vegetarian right now, though.

    And that food… Wow. Looks SO amazing!!!!


  63. Thanks for sharing your experiences so open and honestly! I’m a vegan for ethical reasons foremost, but my husband became a vegan for health reasons. He experienced the “slippery slope” you speak of and now is vegan for health, compassion, and the environment as ardently as I ever was. We all do the best that we can and follow different paths to get there. This was a lovely post on one way of traveling that path. Thanks for sharing and I love all the animal pictures!!!!

  64. Hi Gena,
    Thank you for the wonderful recap of your weekend. The animals are so beautiful! I know what you mean about the “slippery slope.” I’m there myself actually. I don’t eat animals or drink milk but every once in a long while I’ll have ice cream or cheese. I don’t buy leather anymore (unless it’s my only option). I wear wool, mainly because I am always cold. I try to tell my students that the most important thing is becoming aware, figuring out how we can make changes. It’s not about giving up everything at once but learning to become more environmentally friendly, respectful of other beings, and thoughtful consumers.
    As for shoes, there are canvas, satin, rubber, and many other materials that are finally becoming more popular. I also noticed that a lot of boots are man-made.

  65. Very compelling words and experiences; and the photos! Striking.

    My dad used to have a pet duck, so those photos especially hit him just now (we’re viewing the post together, hahaha πŸ˜€ ).

    Oh and the photos of you dressed in winter gear?? Classic. Looks like the weather wardrobe for MY part of the U.S.

  66. Such an amazing post. I always get a little choked up when I see photographs of the animals at Farm Sanctuary. I am so glad a safe place exists for them, and so thankful for the people who do all the work they do!

    I also appreciate your honesty about being mostly a dietary vegan, and your will to refine your thinking. I think we all do the best we can do, but we can always be better, you know? I’m not some vegangelical and I won’t claim to having a 100% vegan lifestyle, but I do what I can when looking for vegan shoes and clothes. I make sure that all my “beauty” products are cruelty-free, but shoes have been the hardest part. Vegan shoes are expensive! But thank goodness for Moo Shoes, eh?

    And lastly, that is one delicious looking Thanksvegan meal! Yum!

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