Vegan Collaborative

Executive Director

Deborah BristeR

Deborah Brister, a vegan, has spent a lifetime of animal advocacy working with numerous humane, rescue and environmental organizations. She has raised her daughter, now 19, without introducing meat into her diet. Deborah, herself, was a vegetarian for over a decade when diabetes changed her life. At the time, as a vegetarian, her diet was high in cereals, pastas, breads, refined and processed foods, and low in vegetables and fruits. Deborah became insulin dependent, administering 4 shots in her belly every day and testing her blood 5 to 7 times a day. She returned to eating meat in an attempt to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in her diet. Weight gain, aching muscles, depleted energy, numbness in her feet and fingers, increased insulin, as well as the addition of heart and cholesterol medicine was the result. A massive shift to a whole-food, plant-based diet led to a 65-pound weight loss and complete elimination of all ailments and medications, including insulin. Deborah is now a complete vegan and advocates for a vegan lifestyle. She spends countless hours reviewing labels on foods in grocery stores, and relentlessly questions servers at restaurants about their vegan fare. 

As an undergrad studying natural resources and environmental policy, and later as a master's student in fisheries policy, Deborah learned about food resources, human population growth and the detrimental effects of industrial livestock production. She began to understand how to make it more sustainable, but didn't connect the dots to animal rights and human health until much later. An undergraduate human population class was the impetus that led her to focus on fish farming. Deborah, a vegetarian for many years, was known as the aquaculture researcher who wouldn't eat fish (something that at the time she remained too quiet about). She spent the next two decades working locally with fish farmers, governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as working extensively with national and international standard-setting bodies to develop standards and best management practices for sustainable fish farming. 

A turning point and major awakening occurred on site at a salmon farming operation, located in one of the most pristine areas of the world. As she was inspecting the harvesting of these fish, being transported from the grow-out pens to the harvesting boat, she was required to observe the stunning and bleeding procedures. Standing in her bright new yellow rain gear, she was discussing the procedures with the skipper. They were observing the fish, whose gills had been slit, slide down the chute into huge (now brilliant red) ice-slurry holds on the boat. The contrasting colors--the crystal clear blue sky, the white-capped mountains in the distance, the neon yellow rain gear, the glistening silver salmon, the blood-stained ice slurries--have remained in her mind to this day. But the defining moment was when Deborah, in mid-conversation with the skipper, turned to look at the fish going into the holds. Suddenly, as several fish plunged into the slurry, they inadvertently splashed crimson blood that streamed down her face and her (otherwise spotless) bright yellow rain suit. At that moment, she realized she was participating in the mass murder of these magnificent fish and knew that she could no longer live with that awareness. The shift had taken place. She saw the disconnect between what she was doing professionally and what she was feeling in her heart, and knew that she could no longer operate in that capacity, thus closing the doors of two decades of professional fisheries-related work. Finally in alignment wit her moral and ethical beliefs, Deborah now spends her waking hours advocating veganism and determining opportunities for mutual cooperation and collaboration between the many sectors within the global vegan community.