THE CULTURAL COMA OF FOOD
Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 33.
Deb Gleason on the cultural coma of food, going from homicide detective to vegan lifestyle coach, and how to make plant-based comfort food
Karina: You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 33. Vegan lifestyle coach, holistic nutritionist, speaker, and cookbook author Deb Gleason is on the show to talk about what she calls the cultural coma of food that's prevalent in our society, who we are if we're not buying into this cultural coma, why vegan is a means of letting go of the invisible agreement that oppression and violence are justified, how to make healthy and satiating vegan comfort food and her previous career as a homicide detective.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina Inkster, your go-to vegan fitness and nutrition coach. I am very excited to welcome Deb Gleason to the show. Her first career was in policing and by the time she was 26 years old, she was a homicide detective. In our interview today we're going to discuss her journey from homicide detective to vegan coach extraordinaire. So now she's a holistic nutritionist, vegan lifestyle coach, speaker, and cookbook author living in Ottawa, Canada. Deb has led campaigns to protect animals and the planet for many years in non-profit organizations. She produced and hosted a vegan TV show and co-produced a successful VegFest in British Columbia. She's offered hundreds of cooking classes and workshops designed to make living vegan accessible and delicious for anyone interested. Her favorite meal is a rice bowl, including a combo of fresh and cooked veggies topped with a creamy sauce. Hope you enjoy our interview.
Hey Deb. Thanks for joining me today.
Deb: Thanks Karina. It's so nice to be on the show.
Karina: Well, I'm very excited and actually it was my really awesome podcast head honcho Izzy who came across your website and she was like, Oh my God, we have to have Deb on the show! So thank you to Izzy for connecting us. We're just getting to know each other so our listeners will get some background and that kind of thing. So I have to say, I really like the work you're doing in the vegan world. I've checked out your website. I know you have books and classes and really awesome things making veganism accessible and making it delicious. And of course, we're going to talk about that a bit later. But before we get into that, I'm very curious about your background story. So you were a homicide detective with the Ontario provincial police. So how the heck did you go from that to vegan lifestyle coach, nutritionist, speaker, cookbook author?
Deb: Oh, what a great question. Sometimes when I tell this story, I can't even believe it myself because it is a wild turn along the journey. It was really so simple and yet such a impactful time in my life. So I went to university, studied sociology and wanted to change the world. When I was graduating, I saw that it was a good time to apply to policing. There was a lot of people retiring and it was a good time to jump in. It wasn't really my game plan, but I also saw there was an opportunity. So I went for it and I'm the kind of person that once I start down a road and it becomes challenging, I get even more interested. So after picking up the application, I saw there was an aptitude test and a fitness test and a background investigation and all these layers and it was just this puzzle to get through to the other side and be successful.
So I went for it. You know, it was an amazing career. It was a short career for me, but it was an intense and very powerful learning time for me. I got to witness the human experience in all of the realms that I didn't even know existed. I had just come out of university, so I was speaking at an academic kind of way and I was dealing with people who have a hard time getting through the day or we're experiencing the worst trauma of their lives, so I had to really adjust who I was in the world so I could actually speak and understand people and they could understand me. But I did and I love that career and I accelerated pretty quickly from a Constable on the road answering calls to a homicide detective.
I had this trajectory of staying in it for the long haul and actually really getting somewhere because I was so invested in it and it was naturally easy for me. I guess I could say it was just up my alley and it was challenging enough, it kept me interested, especially when I got into the tech detective work.
So I was 29 years old. I was working 80 hours a week. I had a pager, I was always being called in and it was a Friday night, I rented a movie like I did on a lot of Friday nights and this movie kind of jumped off the shelf at me. It wasn't my normal movie cause I think I tended to rent the cops and robbers kind of movie that as if I didn't get enough in my day to day work. This movie was called Baraka.
Karina: Yes, I have actually seen it. It's fascinating.
Deb: So here I am sitting at home and I've made my famous chicken Parmesan dinner, and I put this movie in and back then it was VHS. So I threw this tape in and I'm watching this movie unfold and it was so different. It was a documentary about amazing things happening on the planet. So there was snow monkeys falling asleep in a lake, there was scenes of beautiful natural spaces and there was some scenes of really interesting things that humans have created as well. So the movie is just moving through all these scenes. There's just music, there's no narrative. Suddenly the music changes and now we're inside a factory and the camera's quite panned out to begin with. It keeps panning in and panning in and I can see that we're looking at a one of those fast-moving conveyor belts with a whole bunch of factory workers dressed in white smocks and they're picking up objects and setting some down and examining these little objects on this conveyor belt. As the camera kept coming in closer, I noticed that the objects were actually live baby chickens.
Deb: Everything in me was so shocked about why chickens would be in a factory, especially baby chickens and why they would be being handled and where were they going. As I watched, I saw that when the workers would pick up the chicks, they just sat back down and bounced along on the conveyor belt off camera and some of the checks were actually tossed into a swirly metal tube and they disappeared.
Something about that moment was a visceral experience. It penetrated that sort of hardened shell that I'd been carrying because of my work. I knew something was incredibly wrong with what I was seeing. But I had no baseline to even understand why there were animals inside of factories. So I called a friend of mine. Well first of all, I threw my chicken Parmesan out. That was my first step. Throw the chicken out. Then I called this friend of mine who was only the second vegan I'd ever met. Now this is 18 years ago so there weren't a lot of vegans around at this point. I said, I saw this movie and I explain the scene and what was happening. She said, do you really want to know? And I said yes. The answer that came back changed my life in an instant.
I learned what factory farming was. I learned what the whole egg industry was all about. I learned that those little chicks that went down the swirly metal tubes, that was the end of their life because they didn't suit the egg industry because they weren't female and they couldn't produce eggs in the future. So the little male chicks were killed instantly. I was done eating animals. I never suspected I would ever be done eating animals because I grew up with Irish parents. It was meat and potatoes every single day. I continued on with that cultural conditioning on my own, into my twenties. But there I was knowing I couldn't do that anymore. So I was very hungry for the next few weeks as I gave up all the meats and tried to find my way towards vegetarianism.
I also decided to continue to explore what this world was that I didn't even know existed. So I started asking more questions, reading things about factory farming and understanding the animal agriculture world. At the end of a month of doing that, it was a very hard month for me, like very deep pain, coming to terms with the choices I had been making mindlessly and the choices of our culture, I chose to go vegan and I've never looked back. It was the best decision I could've made for myself. It was very empowering and it changed my life in such a positive way. What's interesting is that within two months of that unearthing I quit policing. Interesting. Something I hadn't suspected I would do either, but everything in me had shifted and it no longer felt right. So I was done and I hung up that career and started doing other things that felt more meaningful to me at the time.
Karina: So is that where some of your work with animal rights related organizations started? From what I understand, you started your business currently a little later down the road, right?
Deb: That's right. So I left policing, I jumped into the non-profit world and I focused on animal advocacy groups and environmental groups and I started working leading campaigns. Running national campaigns on trying to protect animals or doing things for the environment. One of the most fascinating and energizing experiences along the way was that I worked for the international fund for animal welfare as an emergency relief responder.
My job was to travel internationally to disaster zones and rescue animals and that was pretty awesome. I mean, heartbreaking for sure, but lots of successes as well along the way. So good hard work. It was an amazing time in my life and I think my policing background really helped me become very effective in that world as well.
Karina: That was actually gonna be my next question. So you're clearly ahead of the game here. Did that have anything to do with it and did it help? Did it apply?
Deb: Oh, absolutely. Because those kinds of responses are very systematic. There's a lot of protocol in place. You require quick thinking skills, problem-solving, athletic ability, strength emotional strength. All of that I had fine-tuned over those years so it came into play and it was a really important part of my work. I don't think I ever met another ex-police officer doing that kind of work. I always thought the best place to look for emergency responders is in the world of retired police officers because they come with a lot of those skills you need.
Karina: Definitely. I never really considered that. I know one person off the top of my head who has not really a super similar background but is also ex-police and is vegan and lives in our tiny little town. I've never really put those things together. I just thought it was some random thing they used to do, you know? But yeah, I think there are a lot of applicable skills, which is kinda cool.
Deb: You know, I was really driven as a police officer to bring justice to the families of those who especially lost loved ones due to the traumatic violent circumstances. When I left policing and jumped into the world of veganism and started getting into coaching, what I noticed was a very similar line for me. Now my passion had moved away from solving homicides to taking a deeper look at what kind of trauma and death and suffering are we creating in this world through our daily food choices. Sometimes I think that's even bigger than the number of people that may die at the hands of a gun. The number of people that die as a result of a cheeseburger addiction is much higher when you look at heart disease and those sorts of things. So the parallels go across this whole thing really beautifully in many ways.
Karina: Absolutely. I wonder if it also applies to the people like you who had these moments of truth and then had to go through really hard weeks or months, especially in the earlier days. We've been vegan for similar amount of time. Back then there were just not as many resources, not as much support., so skills you have translating into helping people to make that transition, who are just now becoming aware of what really goes on in the food industry and how their choices are supporting or not supporting those things.
Deb: I think there's a lot about finding the deep courage to walk away from status quo culture. There's a lot of pain and a lot of deep truth that people need to face to make those decisions, especially the people that are going to stay with it. I've definitely in my years of coaching seen continuously that it is a real stumbling block for people. The social isolation that comes with letting go of those invisible agreements that oppression and violence are justified for cultural conditioning.
Karina: Absolutely. That's one of our discussion topics. I think that's a really good segue. You sent me some really thought-provoking discussion points that we can talk about related to veganism for our conversation today. The first one is the idea that part of embracing the vegan lifestyle means letting go of those invisible agreements you just talked about. So can you walk our listeners through what that actually means? What are these invisible agreements, first of all?
Deb: I have firsthand experience with them because I used to buy right into them and, let me back that up a little bit. I didn't buy in because there wasn't a point in my life where somebody gave me a menu and said, here are your two choices. You can buy into culture and continue the oppression and violence towards animals, your own body and the planet. Or you can step away at this point and find a much more compassionate choice. There was no moment other than myself created moment where that was something that was presented to me. So I don't think it's a buy-in, I think it's just an acceptance of what's happened in the previous generation and the generation before that. So the way your parents were fed and the way they fed you, it becomes this invisible agreement that's just how it is.
I think there's a lot of fear about upsetting the apple cart, about stepping away from what is because it hurts people's feelings. It's hard to be the black sheep. Those invisible agreements. They’re the glue that hold together that whole industrial animal agriculture system and continue to allow it to thrive to this day, even though there's so much information about how hard that is on us, on the animals, on the planet. It's that cultural conditioning that overrides in a lot of cases. That ability to look beyond and make choices for ourselves.
Karina: Right. So how do we get around that? What do we do? How do we start breaking through that fear and coming out of this, what you call a cultural coma, which I think is a great term.
Deb: Well, I ran a program for a while called Beyond Vegan and it was designed for people who wanted to have discussions, not about how to replace eggs in muffins, but about what's happening in our culture. What’s beyond the term vegan? What else is happening? What's creating this? Through experience of having those conversations with people, it became pretty clear to me that the way to start seeing it is to just go out into your world and look and see where plant-based living is being sort of rewarded or advertised and made very obvious, and where it is animal-based choice, where are the animal-based choices being presented and modeled and rewarded. People went away the first week and they came back and they said, everywhere I go, I am constantly being manipulated and marketed to push towards animal food consumption.
Very rarely did they see anything that was not that. So I think the beginning is to just look at our world. Just start looking at what's out there and deciding if it's a match for you. Does it match who you are? If you're not buying into the cultural coma around food and just start asking yourself that question. Can you see the coma? Can you see the impact of what's being pushed and who would you be if you weren't buying into that? What else is available? We live in a very black and white world and it's either your pray or your predator or there's these two extremes, but what is the thing that's in between? What's in that space? What are the other options available to us so that we can live an abundant life without having the feeling of lack or having something taken away?
Is there a space for abundance that isn't animal-based? I think a lot of time we think vegan means giving up something, but it doesn't necessarily mean that. It could mean taking on so many more things that you didn't even know were possible.
Karina: Absolutely. Let me go back to this question you just mentioned, which is who are we If we're not buying into the cultural coma around food? How would you answer that for yourself? Who are you since you haven't bought into the cultural coma for 18 years now?
Deb: I'm a lot more connected to myself to the essence of Deb Gleason because I'm not asleep. Every day I see it when I go into my world. It used to be that it was almost crippling to be out in the world and just see how it was all about animal food consumption or circuses or you name it.
There's a whole realm of animal industry. So who I am when I'm not buying into that culture coma is that I’m a lot more awake to who I am, to what brings me joy. I have a lot of joy in my life and I think I have that joy because I took the time and found the courage to look at the things that were not joy to look at. Just to go back to look at the cultural coma and the invisible agreements- I made a decision to not do that anymore. It was painful. It was hard. But I think the human condition is to try to live at this comfortable baseline that's not joy and not pain. When we choose this narrow band of emotions, we never can really feel the ultimate joy that's possible in our lives and we don't feel the pain.
So in some way, it's kind of a safety zone, but I don't like the safety zone. I don't like that place of just getting by or just being like everyone else. So for me, stepping out of that safety zone and examining the reality of my world gave me this option or this opportunity to find the great joys of being alive on this planet right now. And they're endless. I don't know if that answers your question, but I just got excited to say that.
Karina: Absolutely. I think that's why the term coma works so well because basically what you just said is it's a state of just existing, right? It's not really pain. It's not really joy. It's just there. I think the word coma really encompasses that. So that's, that's a really good choice.
Deb: Taking it a step further, and this was probably another point that I wanted to touch, is that veganism, and I've mentioned this once already, it's not a lack. There's nothing missing with it. I think people think is you're just not going to get enough. You're going to be hungry, you're going to be tired or weak or you're going to lose muscle. That's not true. I know that's not true. Veganism is not a rejection of culinary abundance. It's a rejection of violence and separation. And when we reject that violence and separation, we just naturally form a deep connection to ourself through our food choices. You can stop drinking, you can stop gambling, you can stop smoking, but you can't stop eating.
We need to eat to live. So we get a chance every single day, at least three in my case, to express who I am through my food choices. That's a beautiful thing. I love that opportunity every day.
Karina: Absolutely. I can relate to that. This whole idea is basically that veganism is not giving anything up other than violence and separation. I'm interested to hear what you mean by separation.
Deb: I think kind of ties into things we've been talking about. Separation to me is where you, you basically put yourself into a small box. The box that culture expects of you. So whether it's what your parents have taught you, your teachers or leaders in the community, you put yourself into a small box and you don't live the full expression of who you are.
When we do that, when we contain ourselves, we separate from who we are. We separate from the essence of our creative expression, our compassion, our ability to love. It all gets sort of reduced. Separation from the self is a huge part of the planetary struggles that we're seeing right now where choices are made that aren't really deeply look looking at who we are. Despite my years of policing and seeing the very dark moments that people can live through, I still believe in the human condition. I believe in our possibilities and our potential. I think it's the separation from that potential. It's a separation from that compassion and that love that has created massive problems on the planet. So I know that we can come back to being a bigger version of ourselves, a more whole and more complete version of ourselves, it's just that's not rewarded in our culture.
Karina: Interesting. So is it a separation between current and I don't know if ideal is the right word, but possible selves then?
Deb: Well I think what's always there, that's the thing. I think we always have this massive potential. So we never have to go looking for it. We never have to go figure out what we're supposed to do in the world. There's a lot of new age sort of thought around finding yourself and then bringing it into the world. But you don't have to go find anything cause it's there. What you have to do in my world, in my way of thinking, is you just have to let go of some of the things holding you hostage that are keeping you away from seeing who you really are. It's not easy. I'm not saying it's an easy thing.
Karina: So that's where the eating in a way that aligns with your values comes in. It's actually eating in a way that is you and you didn't really have to go and find it, It's already been there the whole time.
Deb: I know this for myself in my experience of transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, and with many of my clients we talk a lot about, your body will change, you'll have more energy, you may be leaner or stronger or whatever it is that veganism made you for your body. But there's something else that happens that isn't spoken about as much and it's that the connection to self becomes louder.
I hear things from my clients, like I just feel like being kinder to my 16 year old daughter than I ever have before, or I have more patience for my partner or I give myself a break a little bit more than I used to before or I'm not as negative with myself. So I think that when we're making choices that honor who we really are, the compassionate, loving, interconnected people that we really are, when we honor those choices, we just naturally vibrate. I don't know if that's the right word, but we naturally emanate more of ourselves into the world and. when you're emanating more of yourself into the world, it has to go through you first so it lights you up and then it lights up the world around you. So not only do you become a fuller version of yourself, but suddenly those around you start to notice your eyes are glistening, you're fun to be around, or they feel like they really want to spend more time with you. There's this like massive tsunami of impacts that come with honoring who you are and honoring who you are with your food choices is such a beautiful way to experience that.
Karina: Absolutely. What you're saying reminds me of what I think is a concept written about by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, the compassionate cook. It’s basically the idea that spiritual compassion is not just this one-sided thing. It can expand and it can always start with making different food choices. I think for most people, at least for us, it then expands and it fills all of these different areas that aren't all necessarily just the food on our plates.
Deb: Absolutely. I totally agree with that.
Karina: So speaking of the food on our plates let's bring this discussion to some kind of hands on implementable tips for our listeners who might be new vegans. I've got a lot of people listening to this show who are curious and in transition currently. Other people are longterm and just looking for new ideas, but you have a cookbook, the Vegan Comfort Kitchen. I’m interested in any tips or suggestions you might have for making comfort food - satiating vegan meals. Is it hard? Is it easy? How long does it take? What kind of tips do you have for our listeners?
Deb: Great. I grew up with this Irish background where everything was meat and potatoes and a lot of comfort food. There was lots of gravy on things and there was always desserts and everything was rich, so my palette was finely tuned to that way of eating. So when I first turned to veganism, I was pretty lost. Everything felt kind of light. 18 years ago you couldn't just go buy some really nice vegan cheese at the supermarket. It was veggie dogs and very simple salads and that sort of thing. There was about six cookbooks on the market. There wasn't the same abundance that there is now. But my thing over time, and the reason I got into coaching is because everywhere I went, everything I did, people would be fascinated by my food because I was taking that rich, satisfying idea, and over time, expanding it into veganism.
So my food matched that pallet feel that I always wanted. I learned how to make comforting vegan food. It's not that hard. Not a lot of people want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, me included. So part of comfort is get in and get out and make a beautiful healthy meal that tastes good. But it's got to be satiating. It's gotta be deeply satisfying in that there's enough calories because sometimes when people move to veganism, they give up the meat and the dairy and they drop a ton of calories. They don't replace them. So it's got to have enough calories to keep you feeling fueled, and it's got to hit a lot of the markers. It's got to have a enough good, healthy plant fats that you feel good, but it also has to have a lot of flavors.
So my way of transitioning out of the meat and potato mentality and into comfort vegan food was when I started discovering rice bowls, like buddha bowls, rice bowls, quinoa bowls where you have that nice quinoa or grain with some cooked or a mix of cook and raw vegetables with it, a comforting sauce. Once I started discovering that it opened up a whole new world that you didn't have to have this plate that had a pile of meat in one corner, a pile of potatoes and a little bit of limp vegetables on the other side. That actually isn't the only way. There's this other way where you can have fresh and cooked and all kinds of different flavor sensations together in one bowl. So I really like that approach because it got me out of the rut, and the thing that I think that makes it work is the comforting sauce.
So things like a tahini based sauce, an almond butter sauce or a peanut sauce. They provide those good plant fats that you get up from your meal and you feel satisfied without feeling stuffed and you have enough calories in your body to go do your workout or go for a walk or hang out with your kids or whatever it is for you without feeling hungry half an hour later and wondering what this whole vegan thing is all about. So to me it's about finding that balance between comfort and health. So when I make a chocolate chip cookie, I usually don't just go by white flour. II'll buy organic oatmeal and I'll grind it into flour and then I'll make the cookies with that. So when you're eating that chocolate chip cookie, you're getting a ton of oatmeal in your, in your body as well.
So you're getting deep, rich, whole foods that feel comforting. So for me that's the key, to try to find that balance with the whole foods, turning whole foods into comfort food. And it's not hard. It's just a new skillset. My cookbook is all about that. I don't think there's a single recipe in my cookbook that is going to take you more than half an hour to produce, and the feedback that I've gotten from the people trying the recipes is that they're loving it. Using things like canned coconut milk to replace dairy in a mushroom stroganoff, just really up the sensations, the satisfaction without having to compromise and put dairy in your food.
Karina: Absolutely. This sounds like a book I need to get. I'm totally going to order it on Amazon. Is this the kind of thing that you work on with people in person when you do classes? Cooking related kind of demos and stuff? Just helping people with the comfort side, feeling full, having a meal where they don't feel stuffed, but they also don't feel hungry two minutes later?
Deb: I think it is my focus. I used to work a lot with athletes and their body sensations are finely tuned so they can tell you what's working and what isn't. What I learned through helping them move towards veganism? Is that not getting enough calories is a very bad thing. High end athletes, they would move towards veganism and then they would come back and say, it's not for me because I feel tired. I don't feel like I have enough energy in the gym or on my run. When I looked at their diets, it was exactly what I talked about. They dropped the meat and dairy but they hadn't replaced the good fats and the high calorie foods. I think that stuck with me as we want to feel good.
We've got to get enough calories everyday. As you and I know when you get enough calories every day and you're eating a wide variety of foods, you're also going to get enough protein. The protein myth, that you have to have animal foods is so old and so outdated, but it still exists in our culture. But plants and vegetables have 10% protein. The lowly white potato is 10% protein. It's not hard to get the protein but it's not about the protein. This is what I've come to realize over time. It's about getting a good quality plant fat that keeps you feeling full and satisfied. That's the key between starting veganism and falling off because you're not feeling well and feeling absolute energy and abundance as you continue down the road.
Karina: Exactly. What you're saying about calories, I've seen a ton just people who are newly vegan and very active or athletes and in general the whole food plant-based food is very nutrient dense but not often calorie dense unless you're really thinking about it. Not that it's hard to do, it's basically just, especially if you're an athlete and you need a ton of fuel, it's something to consider. I don't know if athletes were kind of your target market for the book, but I feel like they could be.
Deb: Like I said, a lot of my background is working with athletes and my partner's a iron man triathlete and so it's definitely been a focus of mine along the way.
Karina: That's awesome. Is your partner vegan too?
Deb: Yes. Do you remember the story about how I saw that the little baby chicks in the factory farm and I called a friend of mine? That person, her name is Deb Ozarko. She and I had just met 18 years ago. She's been my life partner for the last 18 years.
Karina: No way!
Deb: Oh yeah, so it's a beautiful story in so many ways.
Karina: That's amazing. And so you called this friend of yours who was already vegan at the time, right?
Deb: Yeah, she'd been vegan for a year and vegetarian since she was 12 so she had a good handle on the whole thing.
Karina: Damn. How cool is that?
Deb: I know. Life's amazing, isn't it?
Karina: Yeah. That's so awesome. That's one of the best meeting stories I've heard in recent history. That's the best. Very cool. So where can our listeners go to learn more about with about you and connect with you?
Deb: Well they can head to my website. It's debgleason.net and from my website you can take a look at my cookbook. It's for sale on Amazon in Canada and the US as well as Internationally. On my website you can order things like a 30 day plant powered menu plan, if you just want to get started with something that just comes into your inbox immediately and go to the grocery store with a list. I also have virtual cookbooks where you can watch videos of me making things and I give you lists and recipes. So there's all kinds of little goodies on there to check out. There's some free videos and tips for those who are just getting started and need some strategy-based information. And that's where I advertise my workshops. So I've got a cultured cashew cheese making workshop coming up in Ottawa which im really excited about.
Karina: That's great. We're going to have links to your website and social media and all that fun stuff on our show notes, so our listeners can go there for all those awesome things.
It was great speaking with you, getting to know your work a little bit more and your history and I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Deb: Hey, it was wonderful chatting with you and the same back to you. I love what you're doing. I'm really excited to be part of it and keep up the amazing work!
Karina: Thank you Deb so much for speaking with me today and sharing with our listeners your own story and insights into veganism and practical tips. Head over to our show notes at Nobullshitvegan.com/033 for all the links you need to connect with Deb, get your hands on her cookbook and check out her cashew cheese making workshop. If you'd like to support this show in a way that doesn't cost you anything, please go to Nobullshitvegan.com/itunes and leave a quick star rating and comment. It really helps others to be able to find this show. As always, thank you so much for listening and I will see you in the next episode. Thanks for listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast at Nobullshitvegan.com.