My Food Journey
Childhood: I grew up on a working farm in the middle of Indiana. We had a large vegetable garden, apple orchard, field of cows, pigs, rabbits, and a chicken coop. Throughout the year I enjoyed farm-to-table before that became a trendy food title. I honestly think the food then was cleaner, safer, and definitely tastier than what the average US meal offers today. My family butchered cows, pigs and chickens. We had fresh eggs straight from the chicken coop, and I could have never imagined I would one day consider myself plant-based. But here I am, solidly living a plant-based life, and striving to rid my life of all animal products. So how did I get from point A to B?
Grain-Free: Before I adopted the plant-based life, I was searching for a way to address some health issues I was having. Specifically, I was faced with the prospect of having a hysterectomy, and possibly having my thyroid removed. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to keep my body parts as long as possible. Ten days before I was to have a hysterectomy, I had the idea of giving up grains. I don’t recall ever reading about the effects of grains on our bodies, so I like to think a Higher Power gave me the idea to research the topic. Why else would I think it? I honestly can’t come up with another reason. So, I listened to my inner self, and started researching possible negative effects grains have on the human body, and I was shocked! I actually wrote about it here. I strictly adhered to the grain-free lifestyle for the better part of 3+ years. In the fourth year of living grain-free, I also decided to give up all meat except for fish. I just felt better not eating chicken, pork or beef. In fact, I really didn’t eat much fish either. So I was on my way to eating plant-based the year before officially making the change.
Why Plant-Based: I have had issues with my thyroid for roughly 19 years. It began with the birth of my younger son, and over the years it had gotten worse. I get my blood drawn twice a year to check my thyroid function, and it was at one of those check ups that my endocrinologist suggested I give up dairy. Dairy is loaded with hormones, which is awesome if you’re a calf! Dairy really messes with your own hormone levels. If you’re consuming dairy as a human, then you’re really overloading your endocrine system with hormones naturally designed for a creature that will grow to hundreds of pounds. That said, if your endocrine system is off, then you run the risk of having any number of other health issues. So, I gave it some thought, and decided to ditch dairy… and eggs and fish. Voila! I was officially plant-based. I must admit, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had a couple of friends who were plant-based, but I’d never really talked about it with them. I did follow a YouTuber, Niomi Smart, but otherwise I hadn’t really had the vegan lifestyle impressed upon me. So I set out to be inspired by those who had the knowledge. I didn’t want to “ease into” being plant-based. I’ve always been an all-or-nothing sort of person, so I jumped in with both feet. I started watching documentaries like “What the Health” and “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”. I also started following Instagram accounts that would provide me with food inspiration: Easy Animal Free, Erin Ireland, Dr. Pamela Fergusson, Forks Over Knives, Bosh TV, Plant Based News, Live Kindly, and Nutrition Facts to list a few. The hardest part of my journey was the first 3-6 months. The desire for cheese is real, and I’m guessing anyone reading this knows what I’m talking about. According to Dr. Neil Barnard, "Cheese is not just tasty. It actually contains concentrated opiates, along with salt and grease, that tend to keep us hooked." You read that right: Opiates. Dairy is literally addictive. Nature created a way for calves to crave their mother’s milk so they continue to feed and grow into healthy cows. We, as humans, also crave that same product, and want more and more. So ending my desire for cheese was absolutely the toughest part of my journey, but once I cleansed my palate, I no longer craved cheese. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy the flavors of vegan cheese options, I definitely do! There are so many delicious options now, but I don’t have an unhealthy addiction to any of them.
Health Changes: I am so excited to share with you my health changes. First let me say, I have reintroduced grains back into my diet. The only grain I still have significant issue with is wheat. And the more I read about the US agriculture’s harvesting methods, I’m convinced that it’s really the treatment of wheat that my body reacts to, not the wheat itself. When I’m traveling throughout Europe, I can eat all the bread I desire and have zero negative effects from it. If I eat wheat 3 days in a row in the US, my stomach hurts, my joints swell up, my head hurts, and my digestion overall is unhealthy. So I try to eat wheat-free everyday, but occasionally I do have a meal containing wheat, but try not to overdo it! Otherwise, I have seen significant health benefits from eating a plant-based diet: decreased inflammation, weight loss (down 26 lbs. to date), I’m off all of my prescription medications including my thyroid medication. I have nearly completely been free of seasonal allergies (this Spring I had a couple of days with a tiny itchy nose, but nothing else). My skin looks and feels amazing. My hair is healthier than it’s been since I’m a teenager. My joints don’t hurt (unless I eat too much wheat). And with my complete blood workup, I am now within the healthy range of every area tested, including Vit. D, B12, blood sugar, and cholesterol. My endocrinologist is beyond thrilled and so am I!
Is your whole family plant-based? No. I’m the only one fully plant-based, but my family respects my conviction, and eats what I prepare.
How do you manage meals while traveling? Traveling can be difficult, but most restaurants have salad options. Apps like HappyCow help me find vegan options when I travel.
What do you do when you host guests? Anyone who joins us for a party or meal knows they’ll not be getting any animal products in my kitchen. And they’re often really surprised at how delicious plant-based foods taste! I have yet to have anyone tell me they won’t eat my food.
Where do you get your protein? This is probably the number one question. Let’s be clear, it would be very difficult to develop a protein deficiency on a well balanced plant-based diet. Protein can be found in so many veggies, nuts and seeds. It’s really not even slightly possible to be protein deficient on a plant-based diet.
Don’t you miss bacon and cheese? I learned to make veggie bacon very early. I loved the flavor of bacon, and I still enjoy it without harming any animals. My favorite vegan bacon option is by using shiitake mushrooms as the main ingredient. I’ve served it as a garnish, to some of my meat-eating friends and they were pleasantly surprised at how similar it is to pork bacon. As for cheese, I’ve covered that above. My favorite vegan cheese is Kite Hill chive cream cheese and Follow Your Heart Parm. Yum!
Do you wear wool and leather? I still use/wear clothes and shoes that I already owned, but going forward I’m trying to avoid buying any new leather, wool, down, etc.
Do you ever “mess up”? Yes. Not intentionally, but yes, there have been times when I’ve accidentally eaten something (usually it’s something like bread) that isn’t vegan. I do my best to ask at restaurants, or at friends’ houses to tell me the ingredients, but there have been times when I’ve eaten animal products like dairy or eggs. It hasn’t happened often, and I won’t beat myself up for it. I am doing the best I can, and that’s all we can do. I never intentionally eat something I know will have dairy or eggs in it though.