I love food. I grew up watching my mom cook dinner for our family every night, always trying to help and sometimes accidentally eating Crisco because it looked like frosting. In my teenage years, my mom stopped eating red meat for health reasons. Thus, our family dinners were centered around chicken, fish, and vegetables. I honestly cannot remember the first time I wanted to become vegetarian, but I’ve always loved animals and felt conflicted eating them knowing they had to suffer. By college, I was following a pescatarian diet, sometimes wavering back to my four-legged friends simply because I didn’t know how to eat well as an almost vegetarian.
I love animals – not just cats, dogs, and bunny rabbits; I love pigs and cows and goats and chickens…the list goes on! I believe animals are sentient beings deserving of our respect and compassion. From an ethical perspective, I’d never been content with the idea of animals dying for human consumption, and I never really believed that animal products were essential to the human diet. Yet, I spent more than half of of my life eating animals. Counterintuitive you say? From a health perspective, I knew red meat wasn’t good for the heart or the arteries, but no one was writing off “white meat.” White meat was the “good meat”, considered essential for its high levels of protein and lower levels of saturated fat when compared to beef. I was told if I didn’t get enough protein, I’d wither away and die. Oh and “drink a glass of milk every day for strong bones.” Little did I know, many of these assumptions would later be debunked by mainstream science. I was on a mission to begin a career in healthcare, and I wanted to live whatever I’d be preaching. My food choices wavered for 8 years during my schooling, but meat was never a staple in my kitchen and I followed a pescatarian diet for many of those years. My family gave up trying to guess what I could/wouldn’t eat at a given moment, and I soon felt the need to really delve into learning more about where our food comes from so that I could stand firm in what I chose to consume.
After watching the documentary Food, Inc. sometime in 2010, I swiftly became a strict vegan. Three months and 10lbs later, I was crawling back to cheese and yogurt. I clearly was not prepared to take on such a restrictive diet. Actually, I had no clue that veganism didn’t have to be a restrictive lifestyle! My diet continued to waver throughout grad school – do you know it’s really hard to be a vegan cook while working full time and in graduate school? In December 2014, I heard about Veganuary, a New Years challenge to encourage and support anyone interested in eating plant-based for one month or more. I was done with my graduate studies and felt like I finally had the time and energy be fully engaged in this lifestyle change. I started the challenge early and bulked up my recipe bank. My boyfriend, by default, was a semi-participant in the challenge. Although initially skeptical, he was a huge sport and actually really enjoyed and encouraged my cooking. After 4 months, he wasn’t eating much meat at all, and decided to jump on the plant-based wagon with me. Now more than a year later, we are both embracing the plant-based lifestyle and often find ourselves educating and encouraging others to try plant-based recipes.
I’m a huge documentary fan. Yes, I know they provide an often one-sided view of a topic. I’m open to all sides, but I’ve not heard of a documentary on why everyone should murder animals for meat that’s killing us and our planet. The documentaries Forks Over Knives and Vegucated were emotional and difficult to watch, but I think necessary to understand the reality of the animal agriculture industry, not only it’s torture of innocent beings, but its exploitation of human workers and of the environment. It sounds cliche, but these documentaries really inspired me to stay plant-based. There are so many wonderful plant-based books – I have many, but highly recommend Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows, The China Study, and The Vegiterranean Diet.
Shortly after the Veganuary challenge, to support my profession as a Nurse Practitioner, I attended the International Cardiovascular Nutrition Summit. The summit was actually sponsored by my employer, and hosted by some of the most influential plant-based physicians and scientists in the world. I was literally in heaven – finally my career in Western medicine was fusing with my long-standing interest in nutrition and veganism. When Dr. Kim Allan Williams, the president of the American College of Cardiology and someone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and collaborating with in the care of our nursing home patients, spoke about his journey to veganism and how employing a plant-based diet has helped dozens of his patients with heart disease lower their numbers and get off their medications, I thought I was dreaming. It is my professional goal to help people improve their health and rely less on drugs and inasive procedures by advocating for a plant-based diet and stress reduction through yoga and meditation. This was the beginning of some real career goal-setting for me.
The relationship between consumption of animal products and western disease is being studied all over the world. Plant-based research has taken some time to gain notice and respect, mostly because it lacks the clinical research powerhouse “Randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trial” that scientists and health care providers agree provides the ultimate evidence. It’s extremely difficult to perform this caliber of study on a population’s diet – as you can imagine, getting someone to eat a strict diet without them knowing what kind of diet they are eating would be a bit troublesome. However, there are many plant-based observational studies offering strong correlations that demand further investigation. The Physicians’s Committee for Responsible Medicine is educating the public through explaining and disseminating these new research findings. They also support physicians and other health care providers who want to make nutrition a larger part of their practices.
If you’re reading this, you either love me, or you’re interested in adapting a more plant-based lifestyle, or just interested in improving your health in general. Perhaps you’re already plant-based and just reading up to replenish your “This is why I’m vegan” battery. By sharing my rather imperfect journey to a plant-based lifestyle, I hope that others will be inspired that such a lifestyle change is within reach to all. I hope that others will see that not one of us is a perfect human, that we’re all in this together, living one day at a time as best we can.