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My Road to Veganism Continues

Taking steps toward a whole-food, plant-based diet is a great way to diversify our menus at home. More important, we're helping our bodies and the planet -- a win-win!

"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn." Gloria Steinem

(Part II of II. Part I available here.)

It’s August 2010. I’ve given up land animals and have reduced my dairy intake, but I’m still consuming fish (once/twice per week) and eggs.

I’ve been turned on to the book Skinny Bitch in the unlikeliest of places … a local Starbucks. It is there that I meet "the vegan," a woman who I recognize from my gym but who I have never known personally. She and I exchange numbers and meet up at Starbucks one evening not more than a week later.

I'm immediately floored that she chooses soy milk in place of cow’s milk. This woman is outrageously bold (if not a little nutty) is what I’m thinking. At this point I can’t imagine a life without a 16-ounce, one shot, iced skim milk latte.

We start chatting about everything from working out at the YMCA and running (which I don’t do at this point, though she does) to kids and religion. (She’s a Christian, which interests me even though I’m agnostic. I love taboo subjects like sex, politics and religion; and when you can find the right person who has steadfast beliefs but is also open-minded, that’s the jackpot. She was both those things.)

Eventually the subject moves to veganism and she is all too eager to give me all the ins and outs, including her story about what prompted her to become a veg-head. She suggests I continue my research to see if it’s right for me. She wasn’t preachy at all, just very forthcoming with information. I don’t think she had a vested interest in whether or not I followed her lead. Why would she? It seemed like she just wanted to get to know me as I wanted to get to know her.

So I have Skinny Bitch in hand and "the vegan" on my brain. My family and I leave for vacation. I read thru the book in a day. It’s a very easy read. It’s also mildly amusing, with more than a fair share of curse words thrown in for effect. If you’re easily offended, don’t buy this book. It could have been written by Sergeant Foley on speed (ala An Officer and a Gentleman).

I’m more convinced than ever that a whole-food, plant-based diet is essential to a healthy life. In fact, I suggest to Matt that he read Skinny Bastard (which he does). I’m still struggling, though, with the possibility of never having a slice of pizza or a skim milk latte again. In my mind, I am totally cool with reducing dairy but eliminating it seems so drastic. And what would I eat when we go out for breakfast if I gave up eggs?

I give it a shot on vacation and fail day one, breaking down at the first Starbucks sighting. I decide to minimize dairy and eggs. Pollan likes moderation. He’s OK with dairy. Flexitarian feels right. I guess I won’t be a Skinny Bitch after all.

In early fall, I’m waiting in line at Wegmans. I see Soap Opera Digest staring at me so I pick it up and begin skimming through it to see what I may have missed in Port Charles. I come across an interview with a General Hospital actress who talks about having been able to reverse her carcinoid cancer through a vegan diet, defying doctors’ predictions that she would be dead in 2-5 years. She accredits T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study with giving her the knowledge and the resources to do it. "The China Study? Where have I heard that," is what I’m thinking. Then it hits me -- it was referenced in Skinny Bitch.

I buy the book. Let me tell you it’s intimidating. Flipping through the pages made me feel like I needed a PhD to understand it. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as I thought (though his work is now condensed in a 90-minute film called Forks Over Knives, which I recommend over the book.)

In the simplest terms, drawing on the findings of decades of research in rural China, Campbell details the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The New York Times has recognized the study as the “Grand Prix of epidemiology” and the "most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease."

At this point, I know where I’m going to end up. I just haven’t determined when my move is taking place. Matt’s read Skinny Bastard, watched Food Inc. and has listened to me go on and on about The China Study. He buys into the research but thinks transitioning to a vegan diet is extreme, so not a lot of support at home.

Everything changes on New Year’s Day ... Jan. 1, 2011.

Matt and I wake up and for several reasons realize that our marriage isn’t working. We’re disconnected from one another and unhappy together. We have two choices before us -- do things differently or continue living unhappily.

Fortunately, we choose the former. But our journey to fixing what ails us isn’t going to be about merely surviving. We have to end up thriving as a couple, something I don’t think we ever did in the past. We start aggressive counseling and establish an immediate connection and closeness. If it’s a sign of what’s to come, we’re in for a lifetime of awesomeness!

I start running early in the New Year. It helps me as we work to rebuild our marriage. Shortly thereafter, a gal pal asks if I would consider running a half marathon. I decide in the moment that this would be a good thing for me. I share my plan with Matt who encourages me to do it and volunteers to train with me (unlike me, Matt has always been an on and off runner).

This is great for two reasons: 1) It ramps up our one-on-one time in a very healthy way, and 2) It gets me ready for my first half. With the exception of when I ran to my car following a screening of the movie Scream, which I saw by myself, I had never really run prior to that time so I needed all the support I could get.

He also says he’s been thinking more and more about our health and suggests we transition to a vegan lifestyle. I’m shocked, but ready and very eager. For me, it’s giving up what little dairy and eggs I’m consuming and fish once/twice a week. For him, he needs to go Full Monty! He’s game, if we can still eat sushi once a week (something we enjoy doing together). I agree.

And that’s how it all began.

We give up fish altogether in June 2011. In terms of meat/fish, we’ve never looked back -- not once. I don’t cook with dairy or eggs, nor do we order either off a menu.

I describe us as being "almost vegan," because we don’t quiz the wait staff at restaurants for the list of ingredients in breads or pastas, for example. If an item is prepared in butter or cream, we ask to have it removed. If it can’t be modified, we choose something else. And in the spirit of total transparency, every once in a while we may grab a non-vegan cookie or slice of birthday cake at a party.

We live an amazingly satisfying vegan life together, thanks to the pioneers who have come before us, giving us delicious recipes that would rival any meat- and dairy-based dish, dairy-free products that we can buy easily in most supermarkets, etc.

Vegan and vegetarian options are also popping up on menus across the country. It’s an easy lifestyle to adopt and enjoy and it’s becoming more and more mainstream. Dare I write it’s actually a better lifestyle than the one we left behind (it is).

What’s more, we’re happier eating like we love ourselves. It’s not only fantastic for us physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Our only regret is not doing this sooner. But you can’t change yesterday. For us, it’s all about today and tomorrow.

When people imply (rather, state outright) that living vegan is too difficult, I suggest they pick up Pollan’s In Defense of Food. His message "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." will help you achieve optimum health. The typical Western diet will not. And as I shared in yesterday’s post, vegans and vegetarians don’t possess any greater health benefits than true flexitarians.

For us, we started to prefer the vegan way of life. Our taste buds reawakened (it's true). We didn’t miss meat or dairy. Our food was more creative and tasted better. We began cooking with foods, spices and herbs that had largely been absent in our former diet. It was a natural progression for us to just say, “We don’t want to eat these foods anymore.”

When we first became vegan we wanted to convert friends and family. In a sense it was like a Born-Again Christian finding God. We felt like we had the very simple answer to many of the health and dietary issues plaguing those we loved. While we had good intentions, looking back we were also incredibly annoying. Today we try to be more like my friend "the vegan" (though when you see people you love struggling, it can be ridiculously challenging to look away). If you want to know about veganism or how we eat or what challenges we face, we’ll answer all your questions. But we’re not actively looking to change anyone. Your diet is your diet -- for better or worse. That's our mantra at least for 2013 and we're going to try to live it.

And about that sushi -- we still enjoy date nights at Sogo and other Japanese restaurants. We simply order vegetable rolls now. We also recently took a Vegan Sushi Class at The Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City to learn how to make rolls at home.

Our learning never ends, nor should yours. Keep an open mind.

Learn more about discovering the benefits of whole-food, plant-based lifestyle. Visit my blog.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kellie Walenciak January 14, 2013 at 03:28 PM
That is fantastic, Tony! I can't talk up the benefits of this lifestyle enough. I invite you to follow my journey and share yours on my blog Breaking Four: http://breaking4.blogspot.com/ I also have a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/BreakingFourBlog. Cheers ... K
Tony January 15, 2013 at 12:24 AM
forks over knives, food inc, and earthlings....helped in my decision to eat healthier and wiser....not full blown vegan...still eat seafood rarely, but feel much better...
Kellie Walenciak January 15, 2013 at 02:22 AM
We've had a similar journey. I love hearing and learning from people who have experienced the benefits that Matt and I have. You should feel proud of yourself! You sound like you're in an excellent place and I couldn't be happier for you. Feel free to reach out to me directly in the future at breakingfour@gmail.com. Cheers ... K
vicki January 16, 2013 at 05:30 PM
Excellent article. I love how you were open and honest w/yourself about food. Love the term "flexitarian." I am vegetarian and try to minimize fish and dairy. I, too, have learned not to quiz waitstaff or go nuts about whether the rice is cooked in chicken broth or veg stock. If I'm doing that then I shouldn't be out, or I should only go to veg-safe restaurants. Thanks for a non-judgmental and supportive look at this topic.
Kellie Walenciak January 16, 2013 at 08:30 PM
This is one of the nicest comments I have ever received, Vicki. Thank you so much! I applaud your vegetarian lifestyle and am very happy you enjoyed reading my post. If you're on Facebook, I invite you to join our Breaking Four page available at http://www.facebook.com/BreakingFourBlog. Peace, love and kale ... K

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