My Vegan Journey
Like most vegans my age, I didn’t start choosing hummus over hamburgers since birth. Many plant-based eaters (especially in my generation) were raised on the SAD diet. You know, the Standard American Diet with four food groups that included a good amount of dairy and plenty of meat.
My parents, like so many others in the 70s & 80s, did the best they could with what they had and what they knew at the time. There were few reliable and accessible nutritional resources back then and folks like my parents had to trust whatever latest nutrition information might have trickled home from school, or found on an obscure nightly news story.
Meanwhile, endless cheap, processed food options were creeping onto the grocery store shelves. And, like most hardworking, extremely busy, overly-tired parents of four, who were looking to make dinner for six, both fast and cheap, we had our choice of FDA-approved processed foods, which were not just convenient they were in fact pretty cheap.
You name any “bad for you” food and I have eaten it. Sadly, I have also fed it to my children. When my girls were born, I basically perpetuated the U.S. healthcare crisis by feeding my kids the same food that I ate. SAD food. I cringe now, but on that list: Lunchables, Poptarts, Fruit Loops, Doritos, Coke, Oreos, Funyuns, Chef-boy-r-dee, Hamburger Helper, and it goes on and on.
I was one of those people who scoffed at people who were buying organic food. Knowing for certain organic food was a ploy. I was like, “silly people, why are you spending all your money on those organics?” Ha, how wrong I was…how misled.
It took until I was in my late 30s before food and I got to know each other a little better. That's when I happened to stumble across a Ted Talk with Robyn O’Brien, an anti-GMO activist. I was intrigued. It was my baptismal into REAL food…THAT organic food I once laughed at.
For about 5 years I thought I was eating well since introducing organics into our household. I had even become a non-GMO activist myself, although, I still had known very little about vegetarianism and nothing about veganism. I was still eating meat, cheese fish, dairy, you name it…just the organic variety. I was on my way to healthy!
In about 2014, I had yet another shift with my relationship with food. Thinking back, I am not sure why, but I started to cut red meat from my diet. Just hearing statistic after statistic on the news made me start to look into the health ramifications of red meat, so, I slowly turned to chicken and fish, knowing for sure, they were completely healthy.
And that’s about the time I randomly saw the documentary, Forks Over Knives, for the first time. After watching in awe, I became a vegetarian/pescatarian, completely cutting animal meat from my diet…but, I still couldn’t give up my fish, cheese, and eggs. My family started noticing a change. After all, I was the cook in the house, preparing nearly all of our meals, and as I reduced and ultimately eliminated meat, I naturally helped them do the same.
During this time I had also started a new full-time job at Earth Fare, a “natural” grocer, known for their organics and new to our area. Even though I was a bit over-qualified for the job, I thought what a great fit…I would work at Earth Fare and learn more about food, organics, and GMOs.
Still vegetarian, I was a food sample freak at work. Right outside the office the cheese samples were set up every day. And, every day, several times a day I had my fair share of samples…more than my share. I started to notice after working there for about 6 months, I was gaining weight. I was confused and didn’t know how this was possible. I did not eat meat at all now and at work, I walked a LOT for the role I had, sometimes 3-4 miles a day, based on my step-counter.
I couldn’t put my finger on it…why was I gaining weight?
In April 2017, my oldest daughter was getting married and I was having a conversation with my nephew the night of the rehearsal dinner. He had been vegan for several years. I remember plain-as-day telling him, “Chris, you are a better human than I am. There is no way I could EVER give up my cheese! I could NEVER be VEGAN.”
Skip to late June 2017, my hubby, David, my bonus daughter, Mia, and I sat down to a Netflix documentary called What the Health. I’m sure you have heard of it. If not, please, please check it out! Mia was only 12 years old and I was thrilled she was taking an interest in food for health.
At the end of the documentary, the three of us vowed to become vegan. Just like that.
It’s funny how one movie, one conversation, one song, or one experience can change our lives forever. David, Mia and I all had our lives changed that day, as did the people around us, by default. No longer did I sample cheese at work. No longer did I buy animal products or cook meat at home. No longer did I eat fish. It was pretty cold turkey for us and although there were some missteps and a bit of a learning curve, the three of us are still 100% vegan.
You can't deny the research and the statistics.
In What the Health, I was so compelled by the studies, the statistics and the dietary information that it inspired me to do my own research. Absorbing and reading all I could about the differences between vegetarian, vegan and plant-based while trying to grapple with the fact that I had been naive (and misled) for so long about food, especially about dairy. I mean, they told me "milk does the body good."
Blindly, I thought the answer was in organic food…little did I know that was just one piece of the plant-based puzzle.
I felt empowered by my new information. It was like all of a sudden I knew a secret and I wanted to tell the whole world. Eating plants heals! Our bodies love to eat whole foods, not animals! I was ready to burst with information. Only, the whole world, including those closest to me, didn’t want to listen to some foodie, wannabe chef speaking crazy talk about no meat, no cheese no eggs. I guess I had become THAT person.
Simultaneously, as I was learning more and more about food for health, my own mom’s health was declining. You see, in 2006 she had extensive lung surgery and had never really been the same since, literally and figuratively, coming out with fewer lungs than she went in with. But, Sharon, (as I fondly called her since my rebellious phase at age 14), also battled with chronic Crohn’s Disease for more than a decade. It was a condition she suffered from undiagnosed and misdiagnosed long before that.
To top it all off, right before the wedding I mentioned above, where her granddaughter (my firstborn) was getting married, my mom fell the day of the rehearsal but still sat in a car for 5 hours to ensure she didn’t miss the festivities. Later that night at the ER in Tallahassee, (she was finally convinced to go), Mom found out 2 disks were fractured from the fall she took that morning. My mom was an incredibly strong woman who plowed through everything she could with vigor until she couldn’t.
As I was discovering the power of food I was hoping I could help my mom. If not reverse some of her conditions, at least maybe she would eat better, more plant-based food that I cooked for her benefit. But, my naivete crept in again. She was in her 70s and wasn't changing anything, not just because I was spewing my new knowledge. She and my dad were skeptical about the power of food. They were listening to my mom’s doctors who were prescribing more and more medicine and didn’t even mention dietary changes. My parents were set in their ways and they likely weren’t going to switch from hamburgers to hummus overnight, unless their doctor told them to.
I felt strongly that I needed credentials to back up what I was “preaching” so, in late December 2017, I decided to quit Earth Fare and I set out on a journey towards a new career in a field I knew very little about, plant-based nutrition.
In January 2018, I started a holistic nutritionist certification program with American Fitness Professional & Associates (AFPA). It was intense, informative, highly thorough, science-based and self-paced. I learned about some incredible plant-based doctors who prescribed food instead of drugs and I also discovered how much I loved learning about the body and its reactions to food, good and bad. I was required to finish the course in 6 months. I finished in 4.
I learned how our bodies' systems work in concert, (or not), depending on what we consume. I started to understand how processed and animal foods impact our bodies in ways I had never known or thought of. And, I learned about the corruption in our current healthcare, or rather, sick-care system. I learned things I almost wished I hadn’t learned because now I felt it was my obligation, my responsibility to tell others about the power of food. My fear? Would they listen?
During the last month of my AFPA course, I also enrolled in a plant-based culinary course through Rouxbe, the world’s leading online culinary school. I started in June 2018. It also was a 6 month, self-paced course and if I thought the nutrition training was intense, the culinary training blew my mind.
I attempted to share my newfound culinary creations with my parents, but, they still weren’t buying this plant-based lifestyle thing. My mom was open to trying a few new dishes I made, but, sadly, her health continued to decline rapidly, so she ate the foods that she enjoyed and were hospital and Dr. approved: pudding, grapes, ice cream sundaes, cantaloupe and Ginger Ale.
She was in and out of the hospital several times, with the last time in July of 2018. My dear mom passed on July 16, 2018, a month into my culinary journey. As you can imagine, it was an incredibly sad time for me and it was difficult to press ahead with my Rouxbe training. It was hard to focus for weeks, if not months.
Given the stringent training/task schedule required by Rouxbe, you simply could not get behind. So, I turned my grief into determination and I put my head down and I finished the course in November 2018, one month early.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to change my mom’s health or her dietary habits in time, but, I strongly feel there is someone out there that will receive some benefit from my knowledge. I know for a fact I have already helped to change my husband and step-daughter's life and the way they will forever look at food. That right there is golden!
I am thrilled to report that from a health perspective, as a result of our personal dietary changes, we have more or less cured David’s Chronic Urticaria (a story for an entire post unto itself!), reversed the painful inflammation in my jaw from TMJ (I no longer need my mouthguard), and reversed the excruciatingly painful inflammation in my right leg from what was the beginning of arthritis and a condition that required cortisone shots for relief.
Through whole food, plant-based “diet” I have also reduced inflammation and pain in my knees, and (TMI here I know), my chronic hemorrhoid problem that I’ve had since giving birth more than 20 years ago, completely gone. The cysts that kept developing on the whites of my eyes…gone. Oh, and as far as our weight…10-15 lbs., respectively, gone, without even trying. And it's gone for good! I even had my blood work done recently and everything, including my B-12, was a little better than when I was a meat-eater.
I started my journey, and this blog to make a difference somehow, someway and now it's transformed into a personal vegan chef business. This excites me!
I want to have open and honest conversations about food and the stigma behind our daily dietary choices and I want to introduce my clients to delicious and nutritious food that is cruelty-free and jam-packed with nutrition!
I am hoping to show people firsthand how small, simple changes can make a big difference. After all, plant-based eating doesn’t have to be all about kale and hummus and it certainly doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. I have become a much better chef and I have had more fun exploring food in the past 2 years than I have in all of my 40+ as a meat-eater.
It’s my goal to teach people to make excellent food for people ready to transform their lives, for their health, for the animals and for the planet. And, I want to share success stories of people I have encountered along the way who have also transformed their lives through food.
Mostly, along my journey, I want to keep it REAL. Although getting infinitely easier day by day, being vegan is not always easy in an omnivore-centric world. We don’t always get it right, but, we do the best we can with what we know. It helps even more when you have someone, like a personal chef, providing you great go-to food, each time you open the fridge.
To learn more about Vegan It Real the website and about my training and certifications, click here and see how I keep veganism real. And, if you are interested in collaborating check out the ways we can make a difference together on my Collaborate page.
Thanks for your time and I encourage you to make mindful, informed choices at each meal. We only get one body and wouldn't it be nice if it could keep up with the life we want to live? 👩🍳🍎🥦🥕