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Interviews with Vegetarian/Vegan Activists
March 2008

Interview with IVU Regional Coordinator for North America

This interview with Gerry Coffey - http://ivu.org/northam/index.html - is the fifth in a series of interviews with IVU representatives in various parts of the world. To find the contact information for the IVU representative in your part of the world, visit www.ivu.org/members/council/contacts.html.

1. When and why did you become a vegetarian?

I became a vegan in 1984 for selfish reasons. It saved my life. In my early years I knew nothing about nutrition and thought exercise was the key to health and fitness. After giving birth to 4 babies in 4 years, I wondered if I would ever see my feet again;-).

My body was pretty depleted when we moved to Thailand in 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War and I worked as a journalist.
I didn't smoke but often went for days with little food or sleep, living on strong, syrupy coffee laden with sugar and powdered milk. When a rare break in schedule occurred, I indulged in wild binges of "eating, drinking and making merry." Only my youth allowed such abuse and after nearly a decade my body cried out with a vengeance.

“We teach what we need to learn,” the saying goes, so on returning to the United States, I became a Health Educator in the High Risk Maternal and Infant Care Unit at a major metropolitan hospital. I was also a reporter with access to the world's authorities on health, as well as a fitness instructor, so I thought I had an edge on health. That illusion came to a halt with the diagnosis of an ovarian cyst that eventually grew to the size of a cantaloupe.

Much to everyone's concern, I refused the surgery and immersed myself in study which eventually led me to embrace a strict vegan diet and fasting to overcome disease. It took 3 major fasts over a 3 year period and a close bout with death before my body had the resources to resolve the cyst (minus drugs or surgery) and rebuild health through a strict, uncooked vegan diet of fruits and vegetables.

2. You are the IVU Regional Coordinator (RC) for North America. How were you involved in vegetarianism before that?

The prospect of death is a great motivator. My husband, Ray, and I spent the next 2 decades investing time, energy and finances to learn from the few world luminaries who truly practice health promotion, not disease treatment. When my early demise proved GREATLY exaggerated, we were urged to start consultations and had great success with those willing to change to a vegan lifestyle. Wishing to share more, we offered free monthly classes at the regional library called Healthy Alternatives: Disease-Free-Living-Through-Nutrition & Fitness. For those wanting intense counselling we conduct Learn-to-Live-Weekend-Retreats to teach practical, hands-on methods on how to live a more health-oriented lifestyle.

3. How did you learn about IVU?

As our knowledge and experience grew, in 1996, we were invited to lecture and present a food demonstration at the North American Vegetarian Society’s (NAVS) annual “Summerfest” at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. NAVS was also hosting the IVU World Vegetarian Congress which was taking place at the same time.

4. On one hand, North America has among the world’s highest per capita rates of meat consumption. On the other hand, vegetarianism is growing there. How do you explain this contrast?

Some might recall the words to a once-popular song: “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” by Neil Sadaka. It is also difficult to break firmly established habits. Most Americans are brought up to believe they live in the “Land of milk and honey,” and that means consuming cow’s milk, dairy products and the cow itself, in addition to all manner of fish, fowl and other health-demoting fast foods.

Those early lessons to ‘Drink your milk,” and “Eat your meat so you will grow up big and strong,” left (nearly) indelible marks on our consciousness.

However, the compelling scientific data being released daily is starting to make a dent in society’s thinking. For example, 2/3rds of the American population is overweight and sickly, many of them mere children. And every day, more information comes out supporting the need to consume more fruits and vegetables. It’s up to us to lead the way by showing them a plant-based diet is a reward, not punishment.

5. What are some of your plans for promoting vegetarianism in North America?

Sometimes an indirect method can be more effective than confronting people with the facts. A good teacher knows one has to “reach people where they are before you can lift them up.”

Some indirect points we make are that becoming vegetarian saves forests, enhances sports performance, and melts away pounds.

6. Do you do your RC work full-time, or do you have a regular job, too?

I am a free-lance writer - “More free than lance,” as my spouse likes to point out ;-). I’m also a CAJA (Court Appointed Juvenile Advocate: a voice in court for abused and neglected children), and do Public Relations for three other non-profit agencies aside from VUNA and IVU.

7. What is one idea or strategy that vegetarian activists elsewhere in the world can learn from what our North America colleagues do?

I believe the single most important and greatly overlooked issue facing the world is Genetically Modified Organisms. I cannot speak for my respected VUNA/IVU colleagues, however I felt it vital enough to take part in Pure Foods National Supermarket Campaign to alert the public they are being used as human guinea pigs. Without their knowledge or consent (now) 80% of the food they buy contains untested, unlabeled GMOs. For our efforts, my 80 years-young-“accomplice” and I have the dubious distinction of being the only two in the nation to be arrested and convicted for doing so. (Info at: www.all-creatures.org/cb/a-gefood-arrest.html)

Being vegetarian does NOT protect us: GMOs are in almost ALL PROCESSED foods, as well as grains, corn, wheat, soybeans, soy products; vegetable oils; soft drinks; salad dressings; vegetables, fruits and even infant formula plus a vast array of hidden additives and ingredients in processed foods (like in tomato sauce, ice cream and peanut butter).

The public is unwittingly committing “Genetic Roulette,” notes author, Jeffrey Smith. Make no doubt about it: Humans consuming GMOs are as susceptible as the Lab animals tested with GM foods that had stunted growth, impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, potentially precancerous cell growth in the intestines, impaired blood cell development, misshapen cell structures in the liver, pancreas, and testicles, altered genes and cell metabolism, liver and kidney lesions, partially atrophied livers, inflamed kidneys, less developed brains and testicles, enlarged livers, pancreases, and intestines, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, inflamed lung tissue, increased death rates, and higher offspring mortality.

Today, we are ALL lab rats in an uncontrolled, unregulated mass human experiment with risks beyond measure, and when the truth is finally known, it might be too late to reverse if it's proved GM products harm human health as independent experts strongly believe.

Look around you: It is my contention that the diseases once restricted to the elderly that are now rampant in our young, like cancer, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, sterility, obesity, AND YES, GLOBAL WARMING, are all linked to these bastardized “Terminator Seeds” wreaking havoc in our environment and poisoning our food supply. We truly are what we eat.” GMOs threaten the world’s food, air and water supplies and, to my way of thinking, pose the biggest world catastrophe of all. BAR NONE. We must UNITE and stop this aberration that is “CONSUMING” our world.

And last but not least, although I became a Vegan for physical reasons, the healthier I became the more I realized that only when we embrace ALL reasons: physical, mental, emotional, ethical, spiritual, economic, and environmental do we reap the full benefits that make our world better.

8. Please share a vegetarian joke from North America with us.

Question:       What are the ingredients in a Honeymoon Salad?
Answer:        Lettuce alone with no dressing.