What’s Your Vegan Story?

What’s Your Vegan Story is a column dedicated to the personal stories of why people go vegan, how it has affected them on a personal level, and what motivates them to stay vegan. Part interview, part inspirational story, What’s Your Vegan Story is a way to connect with the leaders of the vegan community on a human level.

  • Gene Baur, President and Co-founder of Farm Sanctuary


    Why did you go vegan and what was that experience like?

    I went vegan in 1985 after learning about the cruelty and inefficiency of factory farming and recognizing that I didn’t need to eat animal foods to live well. The decision felt good, and it was easy to stay on track, even though finding vegan options was challenging in the 1980s. I spent lots of time with fellow vegans, and we supported each other, which helped a lot. One friend used to buy vegan cheese in bulk and parcel it out. We used to participate in buying clubs to get staple foods, and we’d even make our own seitan on occasion. I felt empowered to live in a way that was aligned with my values.

    What impact has being vegan had in your life?

    Being vegan is one of best decisions I’ve ever made, and it helped inspire me to co-found Farm Sanctuary in 1986. As a vegan, I consciously aspire to live as compassionately as possible, while lightening my footprint on the planet. Vegan lifestyles acknowledge our connection with others and our shared interests.

    What motivates you to stay vegan?

    I believe the vegan lifestyle enhances our species (and other species) ability to survive and thrive on earth. It is ecologically and ethically sound, and an integral part of our evolution. I believe that being vegan brings out the best of our humanity.


    How did you learn about factory farming? Was there a specific moment or event were that happened?

    In the early to mid-1980s, I started working with various environmental and public interest groups, including Greenpeace, and, I hitchhiked around the U.S., visiting farms and other communities. I learned about factory farming and the inefficiency of animal farming from people involved in environmental and related causes, and I learned about the callousness of agriculture from first-hand observations. I had studied sociology in college, where I read about and was enamored by the Amish, who I believed were gentle farmers and nonviolent pacifists. When I travelled through Amish country, I saw instead the harshness of these so-called gentle people. Women were treated badly, and so were the animals, including horses, who would sometimes be worked to death. My idealistic perception of the Amish, and farming more generally, changed.

    GeneB1Aside from Farm Sanctuary, in what way has being vegan changed in your life?

    I try to be a positive ambassador for the vegan lifestyle, especially among non-vegans, which has led me to try and understand and respect others’ perspectives, especially when they are different than mine. I like to quote Ben Franklin who said “if everybody thinks the same way, then nobody is thinking”. I believe people generally want to live without causing harm to others (including animals), and when provided information in a nonjudgmental way, most will tend to make more compassionate choices. Take small steps in a positive direction and build momentum that can lead to big changes over time, both individually and collectively.

    Learn More

    You can find out more about Gene and Farm Sanctuary at:


    Colleen Holland, Co-founder of VegNews Media


    Why did you go vegan and what was that experience like?

    Growing up, I never liked the taste of meat. I remember eating just side dishes, and having no desire to bite into the meat. But it was nothing more than a dietary preference, and my parents were okay with it. It wasn’t until I went away college when I discovered that vegetarianism was something bigger than just avoiding the flesh on your plate—it was a conscious choice people made for myriad reasons, so I started identifying as one. After graduating, I spent nearly two years traveling through Asia and didn’t have my beloved skim milk the entire time (cereal, berries, and skim milk had been my breakfast mainstay for years). Not only did I feel great, I also had a lot of time to read and get educated on the health, ethical, and environmental detriments of dairy products. Upon returning to the States, a Whole Foods Market had just opened up a mile from my parent’s home, and a new world of dairy-free products were at my disposal (Rice Dream rocked my world!). I officially went vegan, and I’ve never looked back. That was 19 years ago.

    What impact has being vegan had in your life?

    Even now—19 years later—my veganism continues to deepen every single day and has become my foundation and my belief system. So many of my daily choices are based on my vegan values, whether it’s what stores to patronize, which companies to support, how I treat others, and, frankly, how I view the world. At VegNews, every business decision I make is predicated on how that action can help animals, as the brand really is just a vehicle for my activism. My end goal is always to package the lifestyle in a way that’s appealing, accessible, and shows zero deprivation—and I do this through positive journalism, gorgeous design, and carefully selected language. I often wonder what life would be like to not be a part of a community, to not be a part of something bigger than ourself, or to not have a sense of purpose outside of our basic existence. I am deeply grateful to have found this path, and I know that sharing veganism with the world is what I was meant to do.

    What motivates you to stay vegan?

    Without question, not a day goes by when I don’t think about what life must be like for an animal on a factory farm. I have never become hardened to this issue, and it is my driving force in life. After nearly two decades of not having dairy or eggs, and many more without meat, I have no desire for a glass of milk, an omelette, or a hamburger. I seriously think I would self-implode, as my body wouldn’t know what to do with it. Plus, I am a die-hard foodie and love to cook, eat, and dine out. To me, there’s nothing better than my morning strawberry-cacao smoothie made with coconut water, my favorite marinated kale salad with avocado and shiitake mushrooms, a towering plate of VegNews’ Signature Mac ‘n’ Cheese, a Sunday brunch of pesto tofu scramble and roasted potatoes, or a decadent slice of dark chocolate torte from San Francisco’s Millennium restaurant. In 2014, there really is no reason to consume meat or dairy, and I can’t imagine living any other way.

    Recipes for Colleen’s Marinated Kale Salad and VegNews’ Signature Mac ‘n’ Cheese can be found following Colleen’s bio!


    Passionate about publishing and marketing, Colleen Holland is the co-founder of VegNews. From the company’s humble beginnings in 2000, she grew the vegan lifestyle brand into an award-winning, international media company complete with a flagship magazine, digital properties, events, e-cookbooks, and global vacations. A graduate of UCLA and the Natural Gourmet Institute, Colleen is one of just six people worldwide to have been elected into both the Vegetarian Hall of Fame and the Animal Rights Hall of Fame—honors which she says are her greatest achievements. A 19-year ethical vegan, she is a die-hard foodie and yogi.

    Contact Info

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    Marinated Kale Salad

    Though kale leaves can be a little rougher than your average roughage, it is certainly one of our favorites. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a huge salad when the clock strikes noon, and this recipe blends the perfect variety of textures and flavors. The secret is to marinate this salad for at least 10 minutes before serving to tenderize the kale and develop the flavors. Of course, feel free to throw in any of your other favorite veggies—the more the merrier!


    What You Need:

    1 large bunch fresh kale, destemmed
    1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
    1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
    1/2 avocado, diced
    2 tablespoons flax seed oil
    3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    2 tablespoons tamari, Bragg’s, or soy sauce

    What You Do:
    Tear the kale into small, bite-size pieces. In a bowl, toss all the vegetables with the kale.

    In a small bowl, whisk together the flax seed oil, lemon juice, and tamari. Pour the mix over the vegetables and let them sit for 10 minutes before serving.

    VegNews Vegan Mac ‘n’ Cheese

    photo by Hannah Kaminsky

    photo by Hannah Kaminsky

    This is the best mac ‘n’ cheese on the planet. End of story. VN’s signature Macaroni & Cheese, and we absolutely couldn’t live without it. Serve it to your omni friends and family members and watch as they convert under the influence of the nutritional yeast-free cheese sauce. We honestly make this recipe at least once a month—it’s just that delicious! Oh, and there’s the added bonus of sneaking in a few veggies, which makes this comfort food more than just a pretty plate. Serves 6

    What You Need:

    4 quarts water
    1 tablespoon sea salt
    8 ounces macaroni
    4 slices of bread, torn into large pieces
    2 tablespoons + 1/3 cup non-hydrogenated margarine
    2 tablespoons shallots, peeled and chopped
    1 cup red or yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped
    1/4 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
    1/3 cup onion, peeled and chopped
    1 cup water
    1/4 cup raw cashews
    2 teaspoons sea salt
    1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
    1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    1/4 teaspoon paprika

    What You Do:

    In a large pot, bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook it until it is al dente. In a colander, drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water. Set it aside.

    In a food processor, make breadcrumbs by pulverizing the bread and 2 tablespoons margarine to a medium-fine texture. Set this aside.

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a saucepan, add the shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion, and water, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.

    In a blender, process the cashews, salt, garlic, 1/3 cup margarine, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, and cayenne. Add the softened vegetables and cooking water to the blender and process until perfectly smooth.

    In a large bowl, toss the cooked pasta and blended cheese sauce until completely coated. Spread the mixture into a 9 x 12-inch casserole dish, sprinkle with prepared breadcrumbs, and dust with paprika. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and the top has turned golden brown.

    Neal Barnard, M.D. – President of PCRM



    Why did you go vegan?

    The year before I went to medical school, I worked as an autopsy assistant at a Minneapolis hospital. Whenever anyone died in the hospital, my job was to assist at the autopsy. One day a man died of a massive heart attack (probably from eating hospital food, but that’s another story). The pathologist cut through the skin and removed a pie-wedge section of ribs. And that exposed the heart. Slicing open one of the coronary arteries, he showed me the atherosclerosis that had clogged the artery, stopping blood flow and causing portion of the heart to die.

    When the pathologist finished, I picked up the ribs and put them back into the chest, trying to make them fit with the other ribs. Then I cleaned up, washed my hands, and went up to the cafeteria—where it turned out they were serving ribs for lunch.

    I didn’t become a vegetarian on the spot, but I couldn’t eat it. The look and smell of it were just too much like the dead body, because, of course, meat is a dead body. About a year later, I did make the transition, stopped eating meat, and never looked back. Several years later, I came to realize that dairy products and eggs are quite a long ways from health food, and I threw them out, too.

    What was it specifically about dairy products and eggs that led to that conclusion?

    It was just the realization that milk is a hormone-laden chemical mixture designed to fatten a calf, and an egg is a cholesterol-laden pill designed to build a chicken. They are loaded with fat and with protein that we don’t need, given how much protein we get already, and have none of the fiber and vitamins that keep people healthy.

    What impact has going vegan had on your life?

    I was already in reasonably good shape physically, so the diet change has simply helped me stay that way. From a psychological standpoint, though, getting away from animal products gives you an interesting perspective on humanity. Although my extended family raised cattle for generations, and I grew up eating meat and hunting, I have come to the conclusion that eating animals was one of humankind’s biggest wrong turns, and it surprises me to see people eating animal remains with very little sense of the effects of what they are doing.

    What motivates you to stay vegan?

    It’s easy. It never occurs to me to return animal products to my diet. The animals are better off, the Earth breathes easier, so to speak, and I’m reducing health risks—these are all important considerations.

    But there’s one more thing. Growing up, we ate roast beef, baked potatoes, and corn, night after night. After I went vegan, I began exploring foods from many lands—Italian foods, Mexican foods, Chinese foods, and then Japanese, Thai, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and many others. The flavors are exquisite. The idea of returning to roast beef, baked potatoes, and corn is not even on my radar.


    Neal Barnard, M.D., is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. 

    Dr. Barnard has led numerous research studies investigating the effects of diet on diabetes, body weight, and chronic pain, including a groundbreaking study of dietary interventions in type 2 diabetes, funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Barnard has authored dozens of scientific publications as well as 15 books.  

    As president of the Physicians Committee, Dr. Barnard leads programs advocating for preventive medicine, good nutrition, and higher ethical standards in research. He has hosted three PBS television programs on nutrition and health and is frequently called on by news programs to discuss issues related to nutrition and research.

    Originally from Fargo, North Dakota, Dr. Barnard received his M.D. degree at the George Washington University School of Medicine and completed his residency at the same institution. He practiced at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York before returning to Washington to found PCRM