A few weeks ago, I attended VegFest Colorado, almost by accident. I happened to scan through our Saturday paper which I normally never do and ran across a mention of it in the Lifestyle section. I thought it looked like something fun to do for an afternoon so I went to their website to look for details. That’s where I saw the Sunday speaker list and my eyes practically bugged out of my head! It included Gene Baur (founder of Farm Sanctuary) and Peter Hammarstedt (of Whale Wars). I’ve been a fan of both the Farm Sanctuary and the Sea Shepherd organizations for a number of years now, so I jumped at the chance to get to see them BOTH speak on the same day.
The first thing I noticed upon arriving is that it was absolutely PACKED! There was a line to get in and, once inside, the entire event center where the booths were set up was elbow-to-elbow with people.
The place was chock full of vendor booths there with vegetarian and vegan products, including food, restaurants, books/cookbooks, cruelty-free clothing/accessories and more.
We wandered around for a little while and I sampled some delicious “Sureizo”, one of a number of flavor creations by the Denver Seitan Co (these guys are hilarious – their website and Facebook page are quite entertaining). We had a little time to kill before Gene would be speaking so we went outside for a bit and next thing you know we were lucky enough to be chatting it up with Peter Hammarstedt himself (who has been promoted to Captain of the Bob Barker – big congrats!). Of course I was asking all about the chefs and food on the ships!
I was very moved by each of their presentations. Gene’s was a bit more laid back and Peter’s was quite assertive (which was to be expected, as that pretty much embodies the Sea Shepherd mission), I was left with a sense of a similar message from each of them:
“JUST SHOW UP.”
When I was researching culinary programs, I decided on Bauman due in part to their holistic, whole food approach but also because it was primarily a plant-strong program. Animal products were minimal in our training. As I’d eliminated many animal-based foods from my own diet during the summer of 2009, this type of program really appealed to me.
Later, when adding the chef service to my business, it was my hope that by providing variety that included vegetarian and omnivorous options for clients I could at least be providing meals that let the vegetables take center stage while letting any meat be a ‘condiment’ of sorts. Since I’d only be purchasing (what I considered to be) humanely raised, organic/pastured products for the clients and in smaller quantities, I thought I’d be doing good in some way because that meant the commercially farmed products weren’t being purchased for those same meals.
But over the course of the past year, as I got busier with chef jobs, working with meat so often really began to weigh heavily on me and deep in my heart I knew this was not the type of chef I wanted to be. Testing recipes includes tasting recipes – that meant regularly eating ingredients that I would rather not.
During his presentation, Peter shared his experience of working with 54 beached pilot whales. He’d been part of the team that was able to return them to sea. Somehow, one of the whales ended up rebeached almost immediately. I won’t aim to retell his whole story, but what deeply affected him was that after 3 days, as this whale got closer to not making it, they were finally able to return her to the water. Even after those days had passed, the rest of her pod was still right there waiting for her. They all surrounded her as soon as she was released in open water, as if to hug and protect her.
Similarly, after losing Riley, I’ve observed how Rascal has experienced a loss of a pack member. It’s almost been a month and he still isn’t himself. He whimpers a lot and has spells where he has trouble eating (this from my dog who would think styrofoam was a treat if it were dropped on the floor).
It was a number of things like this that seemed to intersect at once and finally pushed me off the fence. It was time for me to just show up: for what I’m comfortable with, what I believe in, and what I can really get behind, in spite of any fears I may have been harboring about losing clients, how I’ll pay my bills, what my friends/family/current clients will say, etc.
I’m not about getting up on any kind of soapbox or passing judgment. We are all on our own paths. This is my path – it’s had plenty of twists, turns and forks (no pun intended!) so I’m sure there will be plenty more.
I’m also not much for labels, like ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ because I think it can create a level of division (in much the same way that conversations about politics and religion can) but I can appreciate that people utilize these labels as a way to gain understanding of what someone’s nutrition choices might entail. Additionally it can help people understand the kind of work that I do and foods that I can prepare for them as their personal chef. So for the sake of providing definition, I am happy to share that the FitFeat personal chef service will provide a solely vegetarian menu as of August.
More to come!
– Shari B. =)