Award-winning broadcast journalist & founder/CEO of The WE Conference.™
SS: What made you go vegan and why?
KC: I've always had a special affinity for animals, but never really connected the dots as a child that what my mom had painstakingly prepared for lunch or dinner and served with such love had been a living creature. I had a natural aversion to eating meat and dairy products, but my mom would insist that I needed to get enough protein. When I was in my early teens, Mom read an article that proclaimed that eating "red meat" wasn't "healthy." In Texas, where I grew up, this was quite a radical concept. I imagine it must have been a very compelling article, as it resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of various cow body parts that she would purchase and prepare for the children, though she would still prepare them for my dad. Poultry became the staple meat in our household.
When I left home to go to college at 17, I finally had complete control over what I ate, and I became vegetarian. I felt I'd eaten enough meat to last a lifetime. I still had no idea that dairy products were so damaging to the health of human beings or that cows were so mistreated in the United States.
I'll never forget Deborah ("Debbie") D. Gilmaker, OMD (Oriental Medicine Doctor) and LAc (Licensed Acupuncturist), who recommended I cut out dairy. At the time, I was working as a television news anchor/reporter for KBAK-TV, the CBS affiliate in Bakersfield, California, and I'd come home for a visit to Orange County. I was feeling tired, and on the recommendation of a friend, I scheduled an appointment to see Dr. Gilmaker. She said that eliminating dairy products from my diet would change my life. I'm ashamed to admit that, in retrospect, my response was a little "snarky" as I replied, "Sure it will change my life. I won't have anything to eat!" I truly believed that when I said it.
I had relied on dairy products, especially cheese, yogurt & smoothies, to get me through the eating process which, for me, was always something to race through. Those foods represented "fast foods" for a vegetarian on the go. Plus my mom still constantly asked about my diet, worried that I wasn't getting enough protein. Convinced that consuming an adequate amount of dairy products would provide the appropriate protein and calcium to stay healthy, she felt comfortable knowing that I was making the healthiest choice (that she was aware of) by eating dairy.
Unperturbed by my resistance, Dr. Gilmaker excused herself, went into her office and returned after a few minutes. She handed me a two-inch thick stack of scientific and medical journal articles and said, "Here. You're a reporter. Read these. You should know about this."
I'm sure I must've rolled my eyes with exasperation, as I already had a lot of reading to do, and never had enough time to catch up with the research and exploration I am always conducting, but later that night, I idly flipped through the article on top of the stack-- and then read the next one and the one after that. I was entranced. I read all the articles that same night. I can summarize the theme of that huge stack of articles in one sentence: "Cow milk is for baby cows."
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension." That evening, when I finished the final article, I knew I was done with dairy. No more. The end. This mind had been stretched to an awareness that I'd never known before.
I don't know why I'd failed to recognize that humans are the only species that drinks the milk of another species and that it isn't "natural" to consume the milk of another species, but once I recognized that, it made complete sense. Since that time, I've never been tempted by former favorites like cheesecake or ice cream. My craving for cheese ceased after a few weeks. I later learned that dairy products contain naturally-occurring casomorphin, a morphine derivative intended to lure calves back to their mothers to eat more to grow big and strong.
more on casomorphin:
I also hadn't realized that dairy products are the main source of "hidden allergies" in humans. Six weeks after eliminating dairy from my diet, I suddenly stopped having a lot of phlegm production and no longer had to clear my throat for a few minutes before going on-air. My abdomen became flatter and my digestion improved.
more on hidden allergies:
I also didn't have a clue that, in order for cows to produce milk, they had to be pregnant and then have a baby. Of course, when I think about it, this makes perfect sense. And of course, I now realize that most calves never get to have their mothers' milk since it is produced for human consumption. Instead, many of these babies fulfill the consumer demand for veal, while others become the calfskin used in shoes, belts and wallets and other wardrobe accessories. Some of the female calves are "saved," only to be pumped full of hormones at a very young age to artificially force them to mature faster and become mothers themselves in a difficult life of back-to-back pregnancies while they are able to yield milk. And the rest of the babies are brutally claw-hammered in the head and left to die painful deaths, unwanted by-products of the dairy industry.
TV commercials proclaim, "Happy cows come from California." I don't think so. I don't believe that there are any cows being raised for slaughter that are happy. I imagine the only really happy cows are those in safe havens like the Gentle Barn or Animal Acres.
I changed to a plant-based diet because of a recommendation from a health professional, but became a passionate vegan once I realized the cruelty of the factory farming world, in particular the dairy industry. It's a brutal, unseen world. Even as a TV journalist, I hadn't been exposed to the undercover footage seen in films like "Earthlings" (which Ellen DeGeneres points to as the source of information that convinced her to become vegan). The full-length documentary film, "Earthlings," is accessible to view at no charge on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHA4HNbmDLg) and elsewhere on the Internet. Viewer discretion is advised. That being said, if you haven't fully committed to a compassionate diet, watching this film will certainly make you aware of what is happening behind the opaque screen between grocery stores where it's easy to pop in for a few items to prepare for dinner and the places that raise animals to slaughter them and get the body parts neatly packaged and into the stores' refrigerated and frozen food sections.
SS: Has it been difficult for you? If yes, what was difficult and did it get easier?
KC: The most difficult part has been the social part, the part where I would eat with others who weren't vegan, and be labeled as "the odd one" at family gatherings who "demanded" I be treated specially by requesting special food. These days I often avoid those kinds of gatherings or choose to eat in advance. When I do eat in homes or restaurants that serve meat, I find it harder and harder to not say anything. I do use opportunities like these to educate people gently and compassionately.
While I'm fully committed to living compassionately and doing no harm to my health, to animals and to the environment, I was not raised this way. I have particular compassion for people who have not been educated to be aware of the food that we eat, where it comes from, and how it was raised.
I also continue to develop a community of vegan friends and attend events that offer compassionate cuisine. It's really wonderful to go to a vegan potluck, for example, and know that I don't have to be concerned that the ingredients were sourced from an animal.
As I get older, yet still look youthful, slender and fit, feel vibrant, have no health issues and don't take any pharmaceuticals, people ask me how I do it. That inquiry gives me a wonderful opportunity to be a role model and an invitation to educate.
I know many, many people who adhere to the "everything in moderation" model. They eat in moderation, exercise in moderation, consume alcohol in moderation and so on. I have known quite a few of people living this way who have died suddenly (without warning) and also have known others who have experienced prolonged and painful deaths. I know many people following this philosophy who have been shocked to be diagnosed with serious or even dire health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and cancer after years or even a lifetime of living in moderation.
My mom is one of those people. Twenty-five years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm grateful that she survived this huge health challenge. I believe she was an unwitting victim of the food she ate (and still eats). Most recently, she's been diagnosed with celiac disease, and it's been very difficult for her to cut out foods containing gluten. My parents and siblings and their families still eat meat and dairy products, and like so many others, continue to put their faith in the "everything in moderation" philosophy.
After years of personal research, and with documentary films like "Forks over Knives" and "Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days" and books including "Skinny Bitch" and "The China Study," I firmly believe that eating meat and dairy products even in moderation still can cause extreme damage and disease.
I personally consume a significant amount of organic "living foods" (either fresh/raw/uncooked or not heated above 118 degrees) in my diet, and find the taste of the food absolutely amazing. I no longer rush through meals. Instead, I savor the delicious flavors of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. I avoid processed or packaged foods, except for occasional raw food packaged items available in local health food stores, and rarely eat cooked food. The enzymes and other nutrients in food are destroyed when heated to temperatures above 118 degrees, and then the food is not able to support quick and easy assimilation and digestion by the body.
I have had no problem with honoring and maintaining my commitment to compassionate choices, whether it be the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the cosmetics and toiletries I use, and I continue to learn more every day. Every day offers learning opportunities as well as opportunities to share what I've learned with others.
SS: What are some animal rights related things you participate in?
KC: As a broadcast journalist, I have been the "go to" news anchor/reporter for stories related to animals. Sadly that means that I have covered many stories on animal abuse. I participated in the 2010 PETA campaign to choose the "Sexiest Vegan/Vegetarian over 50" and was honored to come in second place. (All of the contestants were beautiful and equally deserving of recognition.) I celebrated Halloween last year with OCPA (Orange County People for Animals), wearing just my (certified) faux fur coat & lingerie, and a sign, "Wear faux or nothing at all." I foster and adopt animals, I donate to organizations that rescue and rehome animals, and I educate people using various platforms, including Facebook.
I am also a certified "World Peace Diet" facilitator, sharing and promoting the work of Will Tuttle, PhD, who wrote the book to educate people that "peace begins on the plate." I spend time every day educating people about the food they choose.
I take Gandhi's advice very seriously: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
I envision a world in which a plant-based diet nurtures and sustains people, a time when children don't go hungry and animals aren't bred in massive quantities to be destroyed and ingested, creating a perpetual cycle of ill health.
"It's commonly said that 'you are what you eat,' but in reality, you are what you ATE. You BECOME what you eat," explains vegan athlete, Tim Van Orden.
It is never to late to change how and what you eat. One person can make a huge difference.
SS: What are your favorite AR organizations?
KC: I support organizations that educate people about the realities and conditions of animals in this country and abroad and that take action to protect those animals. I don't have one particular favorite, but I tend to prefer organizations that actually spend the donations they receive in active education to inspire and facilitate change.
SS: What would you say to encourage someone is considering becoming vegan?
KC: I would say, "Let me support you," and then follow through by befriending, educating and supporting the person and connecting the person to a variety of resources and with a community where s/he can feel supported.
I'm passionate about educating people because I believe that an educated population is a more compassionate population that makes deliberate, conscious choices, and a population that makes deliberate, conscious choices is a more empowered population.
I am producing a women's empowerment (WE) one-day symposium (open to women & men) on Saturday, October 1, 2011 in Irvine, California called The WE Conference™. The event features a panel discussion, "Nutrition for the Empowered Woman," featuring some very recognizable names in the field of plant-based nutrition and food preparation, including Chef Aj (Abbie Jaye), Chef Jenny Ross, Chef Alexandra ("Alex") Jamieson ("Super Size Me"), and authors, Terces Engelhart (of Cafe Gratitude) and Mimi Kirk (PETA's Sexiest Vegan/Vegetarian over 50 from 2009 at the age of 71). The panel discussion will be followed by a luncheon (included in registration) of compassionate cuisine. Other speakers at the conference will address a variety of other empowering topics. All of the vendors at the event will be marketing only compassionate (vegan) products or services.
I invite you to support these efforts to educate and bring awareness to issues affecting the lives of millions by visiting the Facebook page for The WE Conference™ (www.facebook.com/theWEconference) and clicking "like" and sharing the information on your Facebook wall. Please also visit our website, www.theWEconference.com, to learn about the event and register-- or if you aren't able to register for this year's event, please consider going to the registration page and paying it forward (any amount) to give someone else the opportunity to attend.
I have found that the people closest to us are often the most difficult to introduce to the compassionate concepts we embody. If you have friends or family members who have not embraced, understood or accepted your choice of a compassionate lifestyle, consider inviting them to this event to afford them the opportunity to learn about choices and consequences in a very safe environment from someone other than you.
SS: Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind about someone saving an animal? Or relating to an animal in a unique way?
KC: We recently expanded our family by one. I happened to be online one day a few months ago and noticed a Facebook post seeking someone to foster a little dog through a difficult recovery after having been a victim of animal abuse.
The dog had been thrown out the window of a moving vehicle into traffic-- on purpose. A caring pedestrian who had witnessed the situation dashed into the street to save her. Before he could reach her, the small terrier mix was hit by another car, shattering her pelvis. He scooped her up and raced her to a vet. The first veterinarian said it would be kinder to put her to sleep. Undeterred, he took her to another vet. The second vet said it would cost $3,600 for the delicate microsurgery required to repair her pelvis (with a steel plate, bolts & wire to hold everything together). This man reached out to friends and collected money and paid for the surgery, but was not equipped with the experience necessary to nurture the broken little dog through a strenuous recovery.
I agreed to foster her, sight unseen. (I didn't know any of the people involved, including the person who posted the message seeking a qualified foster home.) I was simply in the right place at the right time with the right qualifications. Naming the little dog "Mira," short for "Miracle," because her survival was nothing short of a miracle, I proceeded to keep her by my side 24/7, whether at home, at Pilates, at a dental appointment, wherever, as she regained her strength and her enormous incisions healed. At first, she couldn't even wag her tail, much less walk, but she has slowly blossomed back into much improved health and she is a happy, strong-willed little dog. Mira is now able to walk and gets stronger every day.
Mira joined me at the incredibly fun vGirls photo shoot with the very talented Melissa Schwartz, and graciously agreed to be in a few photos. She and our other beautiful dog, 10-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Malibu, eat Natural Life "Vegetarian Complete" dry vegan dog food, supplemented by treats of fresh vegetables & fruits (no grapes or raisins, of course) including organic carrots, tomatoes, avocado, apples and strawberries.