With two decades of veganism under her belt, Donna has been an Australian Latin dance champion, a mother, an author and now the founder and CEO of Australia’s leading online adoption agency for farmed animals ‘Til The Cows Come Home.
Donna strives for a world where people view farmed animals with the same warmth, and offer the same rights, afforded to domestic pets. ‘Til The Come Come Home turns everyday homes into sanctuaries across Australia. Its mission is to save unwanted farmed animals by working directly with farmers and families to rehome them in loving, forever homes.
What was your motivation for becoming a vegan?
I was 11 when I went vegetarian for the animals, I was 22 when I went vegan for the animals. Both very significant to me. Learning over the years how to better my health, I had Juvenille Arthritis as a child and supposed irreversible Rheumatoid Arthritis as a teenager, along with a myriad of other issues, healing those was a major bonus. I am almost 2 decades free of all ailments now, I left dancing at 18 years old because of Arthritis and at 22 when I went vegan, I started dancing again, this time pain free. The last title I won was as an Australian Latin Dance Championship on the end of a long dance career that took me around the world. At the time, I was 34 and had a one year old. As kids, we were told to have a back up career option because our dance careers will be lucky to go on beyond 25 years of age. Being vegan has always been for the animals which is why I founded ‘Til The Cows Come Home after I stopped dancing.
Did you have an “ah-ha” moment that sealed the deal?
Absolutely. My “ah-ha” moment to going vegetarian was most significant to me, I had decided the year prior that because I didn’t live in the sea.. that I shouldn’t eat the animals of the sea. So I stopped eating them and my family supported that and always gave me other meats instead of seafood. One day my Mum accidentally gave me a prawn pastie thinking it was a chicken pastie. When I bit into it.. I can still feel the feeling of animal flesh in my mouth right now thinking about it, horrible sensation. I thought “whats the difference between a prawns life and a chicken’s life? It shouldn’t matter who is in my pastie – there should be no-one in my pastie.” And that was it.
My family thankfully supported my change to vegetarian. At 22, going vegan was simply a case of my meeting the second vegan I’d ever known, (it was a whole 9 years earlier that I met the first one), so I thought, I’ll do it too after all “who are we to say that the cow is happy to be milked? what if she doesn’t want to be?” That was all I needed. There was no YouTube or Facebook then showing me this reality. Times were simpler, most people didn’t know what vegan was but I did and it make sense to me so I did it.
What have been the biggest challenges since transitioning?
I’ve never thought of veganism as a challenge. It’s not about diet to me. It’s about life. So it wasn’t hard to stop eating animals. I did lose family at the time over it and still have a strained relationship today with them from it. I never forced or even encouraged it on them back then, it wasn’t because of that, I used to be like “This feels good for me, but maybe you need it so that’s OK, you eat it.” Now I know differently. For example, no one needs milk but the animals we take it from. Nine years of studying nutrition and coaching people to transition to vegan taught me that. Along with 19 years or so of being vegan myself, raising a vegan child (now almost 6 years old) and watching millions go vegan over the recent years and thrive. All of which has shown me this with absolute certainty.
Ah I know, the challenge is living in a non vegan world. Definitely! That’s what’s hard. Walking around everyday seeing people eating animals, wearing animals, mistreating animals, buying animals like product. That’s my greatest challenge. I get through it by always doing what I can to change it. I couldn’t just “do me”. I had to do more. So I built a not for profit that makes every day homes sanctuaries. At ‘Til The Cows Come Home we work with farmers to re home the animals that aren’t viable and we re home them as pets.. all across Australia. Adoptions are happening every day. That’s what makes me OK, that I’m doing something and I focus on that.
Is there anything you really miss – bacon, cheese?
No. Ha. No. Disgusting! I get that meat, dairy and eggs taste good if cooked how you like them done. I used to like their taste a lot, but my mind now doesn’t consider them foods, they are dead bodies parts or milk produced by a mother for her babies. For 15 years I’ve been informed of what goes on for us to get meat, dairy, eggs, honey. There is no way that my mind is able to reverse that and consider even missing an animal product.
What are your vegan kitchen cupboard and fridge staples?
Fruit. Ripening fruit is splayed across my home in fruit bowls. I love the smell, I love the look, the taste, the feel of it nourishing my cells and somehow my soul. Fruit. Besides that I love to meal prep veggie soups in my fridge. Especially on cooler days. Fruit and soup are just so homely to me.
Tell us your favourite vegan dish that you cook
I’ll tell you two because one you likely won’t be impressed with it being called a dish at all… every day when mangoes are in season I spend 5 minutes in the morning slicing up mangoes and put them in huge cheeks and chunks in the dehydrator. By afternoon or evening they are not fully dehydrated, they are warm and when you bite into them they burst mango juice in your mouth and it’s heaven! No kitchen staple beats that. But I do make a really great raw vegan salted caramel pie. I’m often told it’s the best raw treat they’ve ever had (obviously they aren’t referring to my dehydrated mangoes). It’s based on macadamias and dates. Oh my.
What about fashion and beauty, what are your favourite brands?
I was on a hen rescue at a farm recently in my favourite jeans. I picked up one of the final hens we were collecting and as I stoop up the back of my jeans caught on a nail that was sticking out of the perch in the coop and split. A couple people said “Oh I hope they weren’t your favourite jeans?” And another said “I know what you young people spend on jeans these days. *Gasp*”. They are my favourites. I spent $9 at an op shop for those amazing jeans. They’re so comfy and go with all kinds of outfits, be it a suit jacket and heels or a filthy ‘Til The Cows Come Home rescue squad shirt and boots with cow dung all over ’em. I love those jeans even more now with the tear in them. I’ve no idea what brand they are.
I’m an op shopper. I love finding up-cycled items and not contributing further to any landfill with my purchases. That’s my favourite way to shop. I don’t have a favourite brand. As a former athlete I do love Adidas and as someone who now sits in a lot of meetings, I love Bardot for those occasions. But I find a lot of my Adidas and Bardot in op shops.
How did friends and family react when you told them you were becoming vegan?
Back then they didn’t know what ‘vegan’ was. There was no defensiveness because their was no social divide between vegans and those who eat animals. They were more just baffled as to my choice. I was once served “not beef stew”.. it was turkey stew, another time I was asked “are tomatoes vegan?” People just didn’t know.
Have you found any situations particularly difficult?
I always, always eat before going to a family occasion or a non vegan based outing. I’ll literally fill up before I go. That way when I’m there, if there are vegan options (that I can and want to eat) then I will and it’ll be a bonus. Instead of feeling hungry, left out or missing out,.I prefer to focus on socialising than “gathering” so to speak, so this works so well for me to be able to relax.
Who are your vegan role models?
I don’t feel I have one. I admire those I know around me, those I have on the ‘Til The Cows Come Home team, I grow from being around them. There are celebrities, influencers and health experts who create great inspo but I couldn’t say I model off of them. I really like to pave my own path.
Are there any documentaries, books, movies, podcasts or websites you’d recommend?
Books. Yes! *looking at my bookshelf* I wrote a series called Healthy, Sexy, Vegan from my experience as a Nutritionist and a mum. From my shelf, I recommend The China Study, Don’t Follow The Herd, Hippie Lane the Cookbook, Disease Proof Your Child, The Starch Solution and let me throw in Vagina! So good!
What was the last new vegan discovery that you made?
New people going vegan that I’d known from years ago. Always nice to see, always.
If you had one message for anyone considering making the commitment to be vegan, what would it be?
Dive in. Just get started. Now. You won’t be able to think your way to doing vegan well, you need to do it to do it well. Make some mistakes, make some wins and find out what way of eating vegan works for your body, your lifestyle, your family. I never heard a vegan say “I wish I started later”, it’s only “I wish I started sooner”.
What’s the best thing about being vegan?
Knowing that I am living in alignment with my nature and desire to be kind to all animals. From here, everything in the path to a purposeful life is able to align. I’ve seen that occur over and over again.
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