Awake at 4 a.m. after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals

Food and Animals: A Personal Reflection

I am a 54-year old educated white woman living in an upper-middle class neighborhood in a liberal city in Northern California. We were the first house on our street to have our Bernie Sanders 2016 yard sign in place. Our home is shared with a rescue dog and two rescue cats. I volunteer at an animal shelter. Until recently I worked at a major public university often referred to as Berzerkeley. I have been vegetarian since 1995, an aspirational vegan for the last year. I sometimes participate in animal rights protests. I am not considered weird in my world.

As a child in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia in the 1960s, my thoughts about food and animals were confused at best. I grew up in a household full of human children and non-human animals (of the dog and cat variety, with an occasional frog or turtle my brother brought home from the Fernbank Forest behind our house). What was unusual about our family in that time and place was the fact that we were being raised by a single working mother. We lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, went to good schools, and never felt we were deprived on anything materially. But we were the kids whose father died and whose mother didn’t have the time or inclination to cook.

My mother was not a natural or good cook. She never forced us to eat things we didn’t want to. Stories of children being forced to sit at the table until they ate their [insert hated food here] made me sad. I was the strange child who loved my fruits and vegetables. My memories of dinners at my grandmother Nana’s house are about big bowls of succulent green beans, corn on the cob, sliced summer tomatoes, and juicy peaches. I know she served meat, platters of fried chicken being her favorite. My mother wouldn’t eat chicken for years; as a child she visited her grandparents at their farm in Alabama and saw firsthand how the chickens got from the chicken yard to the frying pan. And she told us about it. And I’ve never forgotten. Nana always served leg of lamb with mint jelly for Easter. I wouldn’t eat the lamb, but I loved the mint jelly. It got melty and oozy and oddly delicious next to the hot green beans on the plate.

Our father was of French heritage from an old New Orleans family. He liked to eat what I think of as weird food, frog legs and snails being the ones that I was repelled by but fascinated by as well. Again, my mother told us the gruesome stories about how when she put the frog legs in the frying pan, they would jump out of the hot pan and land on the floor. Maybe there is a scientific explanation for this and maybe Mom was having us on, but the picture of something I never witnessed remains strong in my mind.

As with many children, my favorite books were ones that featured animals. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is still one I re-read from time to time and holds a place of honor on my bookshelf. Did I connect Mr. Toad with the real amphibians my father supposedly ate or the ones that my brother kept in shoeboxes on the porch? Not that I remember. Did I connect Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) to the bacon in the BLTs I liked up until I became obsessed with plain tomato sandwiches after reading Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh)? I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

I declared myself a vegetarian the first time in 1976 as a 15-year old high school sophomore living with my mother and stepfather at that time in a small town in the Nevada desert. This might have been normal for a teenager living in some places, but not in Gardnerville, a community of ranchers where 4-H was big in school. My friend Kara across the street kept horses, who I was afraid of at first, and sheep. In the pasture were 5 lambs, who grew up to be 5 large sheep. They had names. I thought they were the coolest pets! And then one day the sheep were no longer in the pasture, but cut up in packets in freezer. I never felt the same way about Kara again. Now she was the one who frightened me. I avoided the 4-H kids and spent a lot of time in the art classroom. I would do anything to avoid having to buy the school lunch. Tomato sandwiches and salted carrot sticks remained my reliable go-to lunch.

Then we moved to Sacramento, California, and I fit in a little better. My new friend Julie had a copy of Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet (1971). There was a vegetarian restaurant in our neighborhood. I left home and went to college the first time (it didn’t stick) in a small town on the Oregon border now famous for its Shakespeare theater. The food in the dorms was horrendous; I lived off of the salad bar and instead of gaining the “freshman 10” that is now the “freshman 15”, I lost that amount of weight. There was a food co-op, the first I’d ever been to, that smelled of cumin and faint vegetable rot. But I met a boy, a beautiful boy from another country where only poor people didn’t eat meat. I followed him halfway around the world, and gave up being vegetarian (although his family did still tease me about my “rabbity” way of preferring the salads and vegetables).

Not all things last. The boy and I are divorced, incompatible in ways beyond food choices. Some things do last. I returned to vegetarianism in 1995 after seeing the move Babe. Where I didn’t make the connection with Wilbur in my childhood, I made the connection with Babe in my adulthood. For some reason, I still didn’t make the connection to fish, and I had no idea of how the dairy industry treated animals, so I continued to eat fish and cheese and eggs. I always felt guilty about the fish, but I still ate their bodies on occasion. This all changed a year ago when I went to the 4th Annual Conscious Eating Conference. I had been exploring ideas around compassion and ethics, and was attracted to the program. I went on a whim, something to do on a Saturday. I haven’t eaten cheese or eggs or fish since, although I sometimes slip-up around milk in my coffee if there is not a non-dairy option available. My boyfriend is a firm lacto-ovo-pescatarian. I know animal activists who won’t share a table with non-vegans, but I don’t feel okay with that stance. And since I do most of the cooking and shopping, the fish and dairy are primarily consumed away from home. I also don’t try to make the dog and cats eat vegan. I still have leather and wool in my closet; I can’t bring myself to give away the shoes and coats and sweaters. I now buy vegan alternatives but still love that sweater I bought on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Norway and will not part with it.

I am still conflicted, albeit in smaller, more defined ways and I haven’t managed to bring myself to drinking black coffee (and forget giving up coffee). I still have a terrible sweet tooth, but thank goodness for vegan dark chocolate! There are vegan junk foods, so I don’t always manage a healthy diet. What has changed over time is my awareness and the increased ability to link my desire to not harm animals to my choices I make every day. And my comfort with saying “no bacon” when I order at restaurants. Here’s to you, Wilbur. I finally get it.

The 5th Annual Conscious Eating Conference

The 5th Annual Conscious Eating Conference was held Saturday, March 19, 2016 at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California. The David Brower Center is a beautiful facility with a Platinum LEED rating that houses numerous non-profit and social enterprises, a conference center that serves the “green event” industry, and yearly hosts 25-30 museum-quality exhibitions focusing on environmental issues.

The David Brower Center


5th Annual Conscious Eating Conference

The program promised an interesting day, vegan food, and a chance to talk to represenatives from activist groups as well as make new friends. I registered, got my hand stamp, picked up my program, and enjoyed the vegan pastries and coffee (with almond milk).



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Paw print stamp and my Liberation band, a fork transformed into a symbol of non-violence.

Time to get started. We all headed to the Goldman Theater.


Hope Bohanec: The Humane Hoax

Hope Bohanec is the author of the book The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat? and Projects Manager for conference host United Poultry Concerns.

United Poultry Concerns

Hopes book

There is no way to raise and slaughter animals for meat in a humane way.There are inherent cruelties in any animal farming for profit, and deceptive labeling practices to sell the practices to consumers.

I was surprised to learn that dairy is the number one commodity in California. That California Happy Cows campaign? The dairy industry is every bit as cruel as the meat industry.



Edita Birnkrant: Free-Range Ranching and Animal Agriculture’s Devastating Impact on the Environment & Wildlife

Edita Birnkrant is Campaigns Director of Friends of Animals, an international non-profit animal advocacy organization.

Friends of Animals

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Edita Birnkrant
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A plant-based diet is the only way to sustainably feed the world’s human population.

Did you know that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has designated 2016 as the Year of Pulses? Pulses are lentils, peas and beans.

International Year of Pulses

Pulses are highly nutritious, contribute to food security, foster sustainable agriculture, promote biodiversity, and are delicious!

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Check out some recipes.

Pulse Recipes

Robert C. Jones, Ph.D.: How Not To Be Vegan

Philosophy professor Dr. Jones speaks on animal ethics and is a member of the Advisory Council of the National Museum of Animals and Society, a place on my must-visit list.

National Museum of Animals and Society

His book New Critical Perspectives on Veganism will be out later this year.

Dr. Jones is not suggesting we not be vegan (he’s been vegan since reading John Robbins’ Diet for a New America in 1987), he is advocating for revisionary political veganism that is aspirational, inclusive, and intersectional. Veganism is something you work at, something in your head that manifests in your behavior.

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Michael Bedar, Christopher Locke, and Ruby Roth: Fiction and Children’s Author Panel

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Hope Bohanec introduces writers Ruby Roth, Christopher Locke, and Michael Bedar.

Ruby Roth is a leading author and illustrator of vegan and vegetarian books for children.

Her approach to vegan activism is to start with what you are good at, get better at it, and use that to make a difference.


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Using what you are good at as a platform for vegan activism.

Christopher Locke writes animal rights fiction. His series The Enlightenment Adventures starts with Persimmon Takes on Humanity, which I can’t wait to sit down and dive into.

Christopher Locke

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The keys to animal rights fiction:

  • Changing the world through imagination
  • Characters that care about and take on issues
  • Page-turning adventure
  • Must care about the pictures
  • Accurate depiction of what animals go through

I’m already in love with Persimmon!


Michael Bedar is co-director of the East Bay Healing Collective. His new novel, Sweet Healing, is ultimately about the meaning of wellness and healing as it chronicles one character’s exploration into holistic approaches to diabetes.

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Sweet Healing


Vegan lunch and time to visit the various animal organizations’ tables. It was also a chance to explore the Brower Center.

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Lining up for lunch.
Basic but hearty.
(Vegan) cake makes everything better!

Up the stairs at the Brower Center is a lovely outdoor patio.

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Looking down on my way up and out to the patio.
The view from the upstairs patio.

pattrice jones: Mad Cows, Queer Ducks, and Unconvetional Sheep: What I’ve Learned About Intersectionality from Animals at VINE Sanctuary

VINE (Vegan is the Next Evolution) Sanctuary welcomes and facilitates alliances among animal, environmental, and social justice advocates and makes connections between animal exploitation and other forms of  oppression.

VINE Sanctuary

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pattrice jones inspires the audience to a standing ovation speaking on the intersection of sexism, racism, and speciesism.

Donny Moss: Our Virtual World: Impacting Videos to Help Animals

Grassroots activist Moss made the critically acclaimed 2008 documentary Blinders about the horse-drawn carriage trade in New York. He has since created, an online animal rights magazine, and is a leader in the efforts to get the New York Blood Center to take responsibility for the chimps that experimented on and then abandoned in Liberia.

Their Turn

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Grassroots activism:

  • Pick approach that works for you
  • Don’t criticize other approaches; each approach has its pros and cons
  • Exit your comfort zone
  • Take ownership

Karen Davis, Ph.D.: My Personal Path and Rocky Road to Thinking Like a Chicken

Dr. Davis is the founder of United Poultry Concerns and one of the eloquent speakers from last year’s conference who inspired me to enroll in my doctoral program of humane education. As she says, go out and inspire and educate others as you have been inspired and educated. I’m taking those words to heart.

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Dr. Davis also speaks of  “trying to climb inside the skins of the animals we are speaking for”. Among the beautiful chickens she has known personally are Viva, Gabby and Felix.

Instead of “go vegan”, she suggests the phrase “go animal-free” as it brings in the animals and liberation. Being vegan is not about food, it’s about making a better earth.

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We ended the day with many of the speakers returning for a question and answer session.

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And of course, I couldn’t leave without buying a couple of books.


Thank you to UPC for hosting, all of the wonderful and thought-provoking speakers, the vegan food providers (those pastries were the best), and the David Brower Center. I hope to attend again next year! And now I have a date with Persimmon and her friends.

Leading Today, Building Tomorrow: 20th Annual Women in Leadership

This is the second year I have attended the Women in Leadership conference at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. It seems especially relevant this year in light of my changing jobs to one with more responsibilities, challenges, and calls upon my management skills. Even though I am not on the Berkeley campus anymore, I decided to visit the old neighborhood for the conference and mingle among inspiring women, find examples of how I want to lead, and get feedback from other women in similar situations.

Women in Leadership 2016


It was a rainy day, bad for a conference setting that includes an outdoor courtyard but good for our California drought. I had to stop on the way from the parking lot and revisit a few of my favorite outdoor sculptures in the area, including, of course, some fierce, and not-so-fierce, California bears.


I made sure to arrive early in order to register and check out the networking breakfast. Is it my imagination, or is the food just nicer at women’s events? Plus there are all the touches like flowers that add to a pleasant atmosphere.

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Student volunteers at registration.
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Breakfast buffet.
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Attendees making new friends over breakfast and coffee/tea.


Lululemon provided the bags for the swag, which included a lot of snacks. Women in Leadership have to keep their strength up!

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Leading today, building tomorrow.


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Your correspondent gets a good seat.
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Gathering for the opening keynote speaker.

The conference is student organized, and I am impressed at the job they do.

Co-chairs Morgana Davids and Sydney Thomas welcome the attendees.


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In conversation with Staci Slaughter (left), Executive Vice-President, Communications, and Senior Advisor to the CEO, San Francisco Giants.

Staci Slaughter got us started with her view of what makes a good leader:

  • Be a mentor and allow others to fluorish
  • Get out of the way; support others to grow professionally
  • Make time for yourself
  • Remember the importance of kindness
  • You have to be willing to leave to move up; if you don’t feel professionally fulfilled in your job, move on.
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Coffee break and networking time.

Coffee break was followed by the Story Salon, something the organizers added to this year’s program. Hearing other women tell their stories is an empowering and meaningful experience.

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Kelly Deutermann, military officer and pilot in the US Coast Guard, uses a story of a harrowing Coast Guard rescue to deliver her points: own your own decisions, don’t live an unexamined life, check your assumptions at the door, and find ways to make what you want to have happen, happen.
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Margo Hasselman, founding partner of Renaker Hasselman, a law firm specializing in employment law. Competitive Ultimate Frisbee led her to examine her definition of success and prestige as opposed to the conventional definition and measures.
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Ayesha Wagle on the importance of being able to ask for and receive help as well as being supportive of those around you, recurring themes of the day.

Lunchtime! Catering by Gregoire Restaurant, one of the Bay Area’s most popular takeout options, offering beautiful French food and box lunches.

Gregoire logo


Thank you for the vegan lunch option!
Even a woman in leadership can have a sweet tooth.


The afternoon started off with our dynamic keynote speaker: entrepreneur, media executive and business author (Naked in the Boardroom: A CEO Bares Her Secrets So You Can Transform Your Career) Robin Wolaner.


Her funny, engaging, and thought-provoking talk included advising women that success isn’t about luck but about being smart and authentic. She quoted Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” If Wolaner were to run for political office, I would vote for her! But she’s too smart to do that to herself.

After another coffee and networking break, there were six break-out sessions to choose from:

  • Be Your Authentic Self: Developing a Personal Brand That Matters
  • Intersectionality of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Workplace
  • Pivoting Toward Growth: Successfully Navigating Your Career Path
  • Power and Influence Strategies
  • Salary Negotiation Workshop: Strategies and Skills for Successful Negotiation
  • Unconscious Bias in the Workplace: What It Looks Like, and What to Do About It

It was a tough choice! They all sound valuable. I went to Pivoting Toward Growth with career coach Michelle Florendo, founder of the company What If You Could.

What If You Could

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Yes, my path has been like the one on the right. Makes me dizzy!

Then on to the evening keynote talk by entrepreneur, activist and leader Freada Kapor Klein, Ph.D. Among her many accomplishments, she is the founder of the Level Playing Field Institute and a partner in Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

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The theme of the closing keynote.

Her focus was on women, especially women of color, in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There was definitely a heavy emphasis throughout the day on women in tech. I am not one in any on the STEM group, but I still found valuable gems and eye-opening information.

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Do you know who these women are?


badass women scientists

And a reminder that while the day was about all women, women of color face greater obstacles.

women aren't just white

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Obstacles include being misidentifed as custodial staff.

My favorite quote: “Empathy counteracts bias.”

The companies that Kapor Capital supports commit to GIVE:


Time to end the day with a closing reception; more beautiful food and sweets, Proseco for those who wanted to imbibe, and San Pellegrino sparkling water for rest of us. It was a day of support, networking, and reminders that we, as women, bring something unique to the table that we should hold onto: empathy, willingness to support each other, and a desire for balance in our lives no matter what our career fields.