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Veg Life in the Mile High City: An Interview with Peter Swissdorf

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Peter Swissdorf: Works with the installation and configuration of high end data processing computer and storage solutions.

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Born & Raised in: Northern Wisconsin

Currently lives in: The Mountains west of Denver

Jill Harrigan: You’re on the board of directors for the Denver based non-profit, Vegetarian Society of Colorado. How did you get involved with this organization?

Peter Swissdorf: Trying to find like minded people who we could connect with.

JH: I know you have quite the story about the journey that brought you to the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. Can you tell us about it?

PS: When I was a kid, I worked on a local mink farm. Every year I was involved with killing thousands of mink by suffocation so we could take advantage of their fur. I remember how the mink fought for their lives while they were being suffocated. I remember the few that got out I would help them “get away” if the boss was not looking. I remember the countless 50 gallon steel barrels overflowing with skinned mink carcasses. Then I worked on a small rendering facility which picked up downed/sick cows. I remember the look in the downed cows eyes when the driver would wrap the steel cable around whatever extremity was available and drag their huge bodies off the ground 3 feet into the truck. I remember the painful cries the cows made. I remember the sound of breaking bones. I did not understand why they were not shot immediately so as to put them out of their misery. I remember grinding up these cows and feeding them to the mink. When I was 15, I decided to quit school. There were things in my head that I could not figure out. I ended up in Galveston, Texas working on a shrimp boat. I remember the 1st day we were heading out into the Gulf of Mexico. I remember each time the huge net of dead sea creatures was pulled on board. There were some things left alive like crabs and shrimp but most of the catch was dead, suffocated by the sheer weight of their fellow sea beings. How awful it was to keep a few pounds of the “Golden Catch” shrimp and throw back/discard the thousands of pounds of dead sea creatures. When I was 17, a new meat packing plant opened in the town next to us. My dad quit the 'hired hand on the farm' job and starting working the Kill floor at the meat packing plant. This was the most money he had ever made. In my opinion, he felt better about himself because of the increase of money he was making. He arranged a job for me, and to make him proud I started working at the same plant. My 1st job was on the Kill floor. My job was to squeegee the coagulated blood down the hole in the floor. The blood was not to exceed more than 3 inches deep. I remember the smell, the uncontrollable shaking, and the fearful cries of the cows while they were waiting their turn at death. I know they knew death was near. I remember the Kill floor team high fiving each other because they broke the record and killed 107 cows in 1 hour. I remember one cow that somewhat escaped the shoot and slipped on the blood of the others before. This cow was one of the many who survived the bolt in the head and was somewhat stunned. The steel cable was wrapped around her back leg and she was being hoisted up so that her neck would be exposed for the knife to cut. While being hoisted she aborted her calf and the sound that came out of her was something I never heard before or since. As the blood was draining from her the last thing she saw was her baby on the floor. Being a man, I dared not say anything or get emotional. The person who I went to school with (who I learned died of cancer 14 years ago) picked up the aborted calf and held it like a football and proceeded to pet it like it was his pet. How the Kill floor team laughed. I remember during the next break having a conversation with someone who accused me of claiming to be a cow whisperer because I dared to say that I knew what a fearful cry from a cow sounds like. You would be an idiot not to know. After that shift I never went back. Yes, she was a cow, but her cry of what I believe to be a Mom losing her baby while dying is what I hear in my head every day of my life.

JH: Did you ever work in that kind of job again?

PS: No. I turned 18 which the state considered an adult. I partied way too much and dealt drugs. I was on a crash course with death. During this fog my trouble with the law escalated. I remember the Judge telling to go to jail or join the Military - “The Military will make a man of you.” I remember being such a punk that my thought process was to join the ARMY because the Vietnam vets would have access to good drugs. I spent 15 years on Active Duty in the ARMY. The ARMY saved my life. This is where I met and married my soul mate, Ann, now of 28 years.

JH: You and Ann still ate meat while in the ARMY?

PS: Yes. We raised 3 children. During this time I was the strongest I have ever been. I was into power lifting. But I was always sick. I carried pockets full of Tums, Maalox, whatever antacids I could get. We shopped at a flesh shop where we had our very own “Meat Man” cutting up animals for us to consume. This is the time period when we started to connect. The more Ann read and told me about what I already knew about what the animals go through (animal agriculture), the more animals we quit eating. When we quit eating flesh, within a month my need for pockets full of antacids stopped.

JH: When did you go vegan?

PS: We went vegan 15 years ago. Ann and I are animal activists. Ann more than me. She is my hero. The respect I have for her walking her talk is tremendous.

JH: Do you think it would be difficult to live this lifestyle if your significant other wasn’t vegan?

PS: If I cannot call her vegan, I would call her long distance. It would not work for her or I. This compassion is why we love each other as much as we do.

JH: You raised your children on a vegan diet. Did you ever run into issues? For example, when they went on field trips or to birthday parties (where there was probably cake and ice cream), how did you deal with this?

PS: Even way back then Ann would go to the school and get the menu for the week and make their vegan lunches match as close as possible to the animal based diet they would feed to the other kids. We were hoping that most kids would notice that they were eating the same type of foods.

JH: Because so many people think that vegetarian and vegan diets lack the nutrition a body needs, I have to ask - where do you get your protein?

PS: Unless all you consume is Vodka, you will get protein in most everything you eat. It’s a funny thing that when you are a baby and being breast fed, the mother’s milk is around 8% or so protein. As a baby this is the time your body needs the most protein to grow. Now as adults we are being told we need an excess of 20% protein? Just does not make sense. Some Doctors are saying we might not need more than 3 or 4% protein in our diet.

JH: Why do you think so many people believe that you ‘can’t be healthy’ without eating meat or drinking milk?

PS: The decades of animal agriculture propaganda.

JH: What’s the silliest response you’ve ever gotten from someone when they found out you were vegan?

PS: They asked me where that was. “So where is Vegan?"

JH: Being vegan, where do you like to buy your groceries?

PS: Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage

JH: When you meet someone who is on the verge of going veg, what advice do you offer them?

PS: If you do this, Jill will interview you!

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