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Catherine Gill, who grew up in East Haven as Katie D’Onofrio, just released her third book, a vegan cookbook. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Gill )
Catherine Gill has followed her conscience when it comes to her diet since she was a young girl growing up in East Haven. That decision has since inspired her career with a longtime blog, thedirtyvegan.com, and having recently published her third cookbook with her fourth on the way.
Catherine, whose maiden name is Katie D’Onofrio, remembers the first time she realized that meat came from animals.
“When I was young, I put two and two together: I was eating chicken and there was a bone and I realized it was the animal,” says Catherine. “We’d go to farms to visit animals like this and I didn’t understand why those animals were friends and others were on the dinner table.”
From an early age, Catherine leaned toward vegetarianism, which was sometimes a challenge in her traditional Italian family, though she is quick to say that her family has always been supportive of her beliefs. After graduating from East Haven High School, Catherine spent two years at Sacred Heart University before transferring to UMass-Dartmouth to study literature and social sciences.
During her college years, she fully delved into a vegan lifestyle. Catherine was 19 when she decided to adopt a vegan diet after learning more about health and animal agriculture. At that time in 2003, there were not many resources for those with a vegan diet. With limited resources, Catherine made her own cheeses, egg substitutes, and more.
“It was such a long time ago and it was tough,” says Catherine. “Now you can go anywhere and get vegan products, stuff we couldn’t even dream of then.”
With years of experience in creating vegan ingredients and cooking vegan meals, more and more people began to ask for Catherine’s advice. When she saw the demand, she decided to start thedirtyvegan.com blog on top of working her full-time job. After she was laid off from her job in 2010, she moved her blog to the front burner
“It had been a nights and weekends hobby, but in 2010, I went full force with it,” says Catherine. “I wanted to make it easier for people for people to live a healthier lifestyle.”
Catherine’s blog continued to gain followers as the vegan lifestyle became more mainstream. In addition to writing for her blog, Catherine also wrote for various health websites.
She also spent several years running Dirty Vegan Foods, a vegan bakery that sold its products to Whole Foods Markets in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, health food stores, farmers markets, and festivals. The name “Dirty Vegan” stems from Catherine’s early forays into veganism.
“I started out as a junk food vegan, with plant-based junk food, so ‘dirty’ was a reference to that and it grew into my nickname,” says Catherine. “You can find tons of vegan junk food, but now I like to eat a little bit healthier and incorporate more salads into my diet.”
Since starting her blog, Catherine has also started a family. While Catherine’s diet is plant-based, the rest of her family is flexible in their diets. She not only enjoys sharing her recipes with her family, but with her followers as well.
Over the years through blogging and social media, Catherine has met many people in the vegan circle. She has been asked to consult on various projects, including projects at Disney World, such as reviewing the vegan options on menus for the resorts as well as at various festivals at Epcot.
As a trend toward healthy lifestyles has grown, Catherine has gotten more and more questions about how to approach a vegan lifestyle. She suggests starting small and staying positive.
“When I started, I was one of few vegan bloggers, but now there are a countless number of vegan blogs so there are more resources out there, which is great,” says Catherine. “I always suggest people go slow with it and take small steps like substituting a meatless product or a regular cheese with a vegan cheese. With small steps like that, you eventually adjust and get there.”
Catherine says that a vegan diet is “kinder to animals, kinder to the environment, and kinder to your body,’ as many vegan foods are naturally free of cholesterol. She says that one way that people can work toward being vegan is by adopting “Meatless Monday” and growing from there, noting that “any time you can add a plant-based meal to your diet, it’s such a plus.”
As the demand for her recipes grew, Catherine’s blog began to garner more attention. In 2015, Catherine connected with Hatherleigh Press in New York, which approached Catherine with a book deal. Catherine began to work with the company on ideas for her first cookbook, The Dirty Vegan Cookbook: Your Favorite Recipes Made Vegan.
Catherine has since published The Complete Hummus Cookbook and the revised and expanded version of her first cookbook was just released. Her fourth book, The Complete Quinoa Cookbook, with more than 100 recipes, is due to be released in March.
“I’d post pictures on by blog and people would request recipes and began to say, ‘We need a cookbook’,” says Catherine. “For so many years, I wrote the blog as a hobby. I met such amazing people and online friends in the vegan community, but seven years later, when you finally get your foot in the door to write books, it’s like your dreams finally came true.”
For information, visit www.thedirtyvegan.com.
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .