Patti Breitman is an animal activist who has been sharing a message of compassion for many years through book publishing, food demos, and her involvement in the Dharma community. Her latest book, Never Too Late To Go Vegan; The Over 50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving On a Plant Based Diet, received significant praise and shining reviews. Patti talks to us about saying "no," how nutritional needs change after 50, and what vegan dishes she finds are best received by food demo audiences.
Allison Rivers Samson: I love the connection between spirituality and compassion with the group you co-founded, Dharma Voices for Animals. Tell us a little about the group. What is the mission? How do you raise awareness about animal protection through it?
Patti Breitman: Dharma Voices for Animals was created to bring awareness of the suffering of animals to the Dharma community. "Dharma" means the teachings of the Buddha. Many of us who follow these teachings are surprised to see that retreat centers and other communities of practitioners often do not see the suffering we cause to animals when we do not look closely at our food choices. Specifically, eggs and dairy products are served at almost every retreat center, despite the fact that laying hens and dairy cows - and the male chicks and male calves - suffer horrendously and are killed because we eat eggs or dairy products.
Allison Rivers Samson: Why do you think so many mainstream religions seem to exclude animals from their "circle of compassion"?
Patti Breitman: I think it's hard for people to look clearly at the suffering that we cause. We are all creatures of habit and conditioning. So to be told that our lifelong habits are not in alignment with our religious or spiritual world view causes deep discomfort.
Allison Rivers Samson: I love your book, How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty. Have you always been good at saying no or did you hone that skill in your career as a literary agent for some of the most successful authors like Richard Carlson, John Robbins, Neal Barnard, Victoria Moran, and Howard Lyman?
Patti Breitman: When I was working, I really did say no to more than 99% of the manuscripts and proposals that I saw, and I had to find ways to be kind while saying no. When people used to ask me what I did for a living, I would tell them "I say NO for a living." Almost everyone responded that they wished they could say no more easily, so there was clearly a market for a book that teaches people how to do that. I also realized that saying no is easier when you know what you are saying yes to, so I wanted to share that and other practices for saying no gracefully.
Allison Rivers Samson: I say YES to that! Doing less has been part of my practice of slowing down for the past year and I find it tremendously helpful. Just this year you released a new book called Never Too Late To Go Vegan; The Over 50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving On a Plant Based Diet. Why did you choose to write this guide with Carol J. Adams and Virginia Messina?
Patti Breitman: Carol and I had a blast when we co-authored How To Eat Like a Vegetarian Even If You Never Want to Be One. When we were working on Never Too Late to Go Vegan, we invited Ginny to join us because we both admire her so much and wanted to learn from her nutritional expertise. (Ginny has a Masters degree in Public Health and is a Registered Dietitian.) Together, the three of us have more than 75 years of vegan experience to share! And it was a delight to write with two brilliant, professional women, as we supported one another and were there for each other during the writing process.
Allison Rivers Samson: What a wonderful situation you co-created! How does someone's nutritional needs change after age 50?
Patti Breitman: Most people over fifty need to ensure that their diets include sufficient calcium, protein, B12, Vitamin D, and calories. While this is true for everyone over 50, it sometimes feels like a challenge to a vegan. Our book shows how easy it is to get all the nutrients you need and still enjoy fabulous food that causes no harm to other beings while it supports your own health.
Allison Rivers Samson: Aside from nutrition information, what other subjects do you cover in Never Too Late to Go Vegan?
Patti Breitman: We talk about the social challenges of changing your eating style when you're over fifty. Friends sometimes un-include you to gatherings because they are uncomfortable with your food choices. Even adult children can react with anger or disappointment when their favorite foods are not on offer when they visit. We try to cover all the social issues, and offer strategies for avoiding these bumps along the way. One of my favorite parts of the book is on vegan caregiving. Most people over fifty will be called on to be a caregiver for a family member or friend at some point. Doing this and honoring your commitment to veganism at the same time can feel overwhelming. We offer practical advice and emotional tools for vegans facing this situation.
Allison Rivers Samson: Wow! That sounds like something that would be valuable to me even now as a mother of a school-aged child and caregiving other people's children on playdates, etc! You have been a vegan activist for many years and are busy in the San Francisco bay area doing food demonstrations. What type of dishes or recipes do you find are best received by audiences?
Patti Breitman: Everyone loves what is fast and what includes umami. Umami is a taste sensation, along with salty, sweet, bitter, pungent and sour, and we can experience it with anything fermented. So I love to include miso or nutritional yeast when I demo a recipe. And I encourage people to experiment with different vinegars, as each imparts its own flavor, and each adds umami to a dish. One of my favorite salad dressings or sauce for topping steamed veggies is equal parts miso and tahini mixed with enough water to create the consistency you like.
Allison Rivers Samson: Yum! You're someone with so much experience with educating others about plant-based eating, so I have to ask, what's your best piece of advice for someone struggling with the transition to vegan eating?
Patti Breitman: If you limit me to just one piece of advice, it would have to be Don't do it alone. Find support at community potluck dinners, meet-up groups, or even online. And if I were allowed two pieces of advice, I would suggest finding a vegan cookbook you love and learn to create 3 or 4 recipes with ease. Prepare a few of these once a week and you will always have good vegan food in the fridge when you come home hungry.
Patti, thank you so much for all you've done over the years for our animal friends, people, and our planet. I appreciate your taking the time to visit with me!
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