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March 27, 2008

"The Joy of Vegan Baking" Author Rises to Success from Church Roots

Through classes, podcasts, DVDs and a new cookbook, Compassionate Cooks demystifies vegan cuisine

The Humane Society of the United States

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is on a mission. The founder of Compassionate Cooks and author of "The Joy of Vegan Baking" is working hard to show people that you can support animal protection and still have a rich chocolate cake with buttercream icing. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

"I believe very strongly in living your truth, doing what you love and trusting that your path will unfold before you," Patrick-Goudreau said. "That's been the experience of Compassionate Cooks."

Through cooking classes, podcasts, DVDs and a new cookbook, Compassionate Cooks demystifies vegan cuisine and makes wholesome and decadent recipes accessible to the everyday chef. She has recreated our favorite foods without meat or dairy products, and is showing people the freedom of a world where we can be compassionate and merciful toward animals while still having a full, bountiful array of culinary options to satisfy our appetites.

The food is familiar and welcoming, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Online recipes cover breakfast through a back yard barbeque picnic; "afternoon tea" to "southern comfort soul food," and ethnic fare including Indian, Italian and Japanese dishes.  From "The Joy of Vegan Baking," the peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips could easily become a family favorite.  People may be stunned to find they can make a moist, decadent chocolate cake without eggs.

Ms. Patrick-Goudreau began teaching vegan cooking classes nine years ago after a personal transformation.

"I started Compassionate Cooks as an extension of my animal activism," Patrick-Goudreau said. "Having been raised on a typical American diet of meat, dairy and eggs, it was only when I read John Robbins' "Diet for a New America" at age 19 that I saw what happened to animals raised for human consumption. I could no longer justify eating mammals."

She became vegan—removed all meat and dairy products from her diet—continued to educate herself about factory farming, and her animal activism "increased tenfold," she said.

She felt her calling, her vocation, was to teach vegan cooking classes. With no formal cooking training—only a master's in English literature, Patrick-Goudreau started at The First Unitarian Church in Oakland, Calif. "I didn't even know what the procedure was, but I just jumped in and started tabling during the coffee hour."

Patrick-Goudreau said she kept creating "what made sense" based on what the need was. When people didn't know how to cook vegan but wanted to learn, she provided the classes. When they had questions about animal protection, she provided the answers. When she realized the potential of reaching people via podcast, she began one.

The response from the congregation was very positive and her outreach became a formal part of the church's justice council. She eventually created an Oakland chapter of the Unitarian Universalists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Patrick-Goudreau started teaching cooking classes, led workshops, and successfully involved the church youth in her efforts.

"The reaction has been phenomenal," Patrick-Goudreau said. "I'm absolutely touched each and every day by people who write me and tell me that my work has 'changed their life.' It just doesn't get any better than that, and I'm very grateful to do this work that I love so much and to witness so many people's transformations."

A minister and fan of Compassionate Cooks contacted Patrick-Goudreau to thank her for her work. He wrote: "I moved to a town about a year ago that has a large chicken processing plant. I see the trucks that transport the chickens all the time and became disgusted with what I saw. I decided to explore vegetarianism and, though, I still have a ways to go, I am on my way to being a full vegetarian and if I listen to your podcast enough, I think a vegan one day."

In his correspondence, the minister also cited a Bible reading of Isaiah 11:1-10 and reflected, "I now hear this as, in God's perfect world, when everything is as God intended, even animals, who now eat each other, shall graze and live together in peace. I don't know your beliefs or thoughts about God, but I wanted to thank you for helping me see my work and my calling in a different way."

Patrick-Goudreau said her intention is to inspire people "to find their own truth and reflect in their daily lives."

"I also feel very strongly about reclaiming things like our food traditions and the ethics around food," she said. "These have been co-opted by the meat, dairy and egg industries as well as by the 'sustainable/slow food movement,' who cannot seem to separate tradition from animal products. The point is that you can still have the foods you love, the foods you grow up with and reflect your values at the same time. That's so liberating for people and it's a message I emphasize."

Even with a second cookbook in the works and a Compassionate Cooks Training/Certification Program on the way, Patrick-Goudreau's success has not taken her away from where it all started. She continues to teach cooking classes at the same Oakland church where she started nine years ago.

"Though Compassionate Cooks has grown substantially from a project of the justice council of the UU church, it was a great place to start because there was a built-in community of like-minded, progressive, justice-oriented people," she said. "Looking back, it was a very safe way to start, but I had no idea it was to be the seed of a larger organization."

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