In 2017, much to even my own surprise, I started experimenting with a plant-based diet. Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to have cream cheese on my bagel for breakfast, a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, and a standard meal consisting of a carb and/ or a vegetable, and usually a piece of meat for dinner. Whether it was kielbasa and sauerkraut, ribs and corn on the cob, chicken parm, or hot dogs and baked beans (if y’all know, y’all know), it was “normal” to consume animal products every day. After all, the meat industry has told us that’s how we get protein and the dairy industry has told us that’s how we build strong bones, right? Ignoring the fact that a cow’s milk is literally intended to sustain life for baby calves and not teenage humans, actually, almonds, kale, and tofu all have more calcium than a glass of milk - but I didn’t learn this until I was an adult.
As I grew up, I did take more actions towards what I believed to be “healthy habits”. In high school, I used to prepare fruit, yogurt, and granola parfaits for my friends and learned how to make fresh salsa and guacamole to my liking. I was privileged enough to have a garden in my backyard and I loved picking tomatoes and green beans. I was never obese, but I certainly wasn’t skinny. I packed a can of vegetable juice and a protein bar in my bag pretty much every day for school, but I also used to love grilled cheese! And ice cream, beef tacos with cheddar, chocolate chip cookies and milk, etc. I just thought the key was to “balance” my diet with exercise, and then I’d be alright (whatever that meant).
After undergrad, I made the conscious decision to love myself more fully. This, in addition to increased mindfulness, resulted in a specific fitness and diet regimen - low carb, high protein, high veggies with room for one cheat day per week. The problem? My diet still included regular consumption of animal products (albeit salmon and chicken instead of beef and pork) and it was completely unsustainable. Frankly, I was tired!! In December 2016, I even reached my goal weight, but still felt slow and awkward within my body. “Why?” I thought, “What else can I do to make myself feel better?”
I started getting curious.
I began researching (what I believe will be a life-long exploration of) the personal health benefits of a plant-based diet. On January 9, 2017, I created a new wellness-focused Instagram page called “PrettyPowerfulLiving” (now @Liberated_Wellness!) and followed fitness, yoga, mindfulness, and vegan/ “health foodie” accounts.
I became a documentary junkie. I watched Fed Up, Sugar Coated, Food Choices, The Kids Menu, What the Health and more. I purchased instructional cookbooks and started the most fun part of my journey - experimentation! That summer, I challenged myself to try at least one different ingredient or snack each time I went to the grocery store.
I tested swapping out protein sources. I analyzed vegetarian meat substitutes, then completely vegan meat substitutes. I asked myself, “why do I put cheese and sour cream on my chili? What am I really looking to gain here?” Turns out it’s the cold, creamy fattiness in contrast to the spice that I truly enjoy. Do you know what else serves that purpose? Half an avocado.* Boom - Life changed.
(*Please note that while avocados are an excellent swap for dairy-based products, they are an incredibly water-intensive crop as are some of the common nut alternatives such as cashew ‘cheeze’. More sustainable alternatives include potato and even zucchini ‘cheezes’ - that’s right!)
Allowing myself to ask the questions about what I had been taught and what I thought I liked gave me space to redefine what my health meant to me. My entire relationship with food and my body changed. Instead of convincing myself, “Well this [insert reduced fat version of any food] isn’t as bad for me as X” I started asking “How good is this food for me? What purpose is it serving me? What nutrients am I receiving?” If I was unable to answer those questions, I would put it back. I became very inquisitive and changed my internal narrative towards how I nourished my body.
In addition to pertinent nutritional information, what I discovered in my vegan research was something much larger - and much more alarming - about the impact of industrial meat production on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. While I was already aware that an individual’s processed meat consumption had been linked to heart disease, cancer and premature death, what I did not realize was how that decision impacts others that I love - people who are already suffering. In meat production, toxic gases and pollutants are emitted that disproportionately impact communities of color, particularly Black communities in the US, not to mention the additional environmental damage done by leading factory farms. (This isn’t by accident, of course.) In September of 2017, I had read enough convincing research and decided it was time. I intentionally and fully committed to my vegan diet - for three distinct reasons:
For my personal health
As a method of activism for BIPOC communities, and
I know that where my money goes matters. And this fight is quite literally, for my life.
That decision was four years ago... What’s happened since?
Physically, my body feels amazing - that was pretty immediate. I have so much more energy, especially during specific times of the day when I used to feel especially sluggish. I also used to have random heart palpitations and have had only one since switching to a plant-based diet (and none since I stopped consuming alcohol). I sleep better than I used to, while consistently taking my B12. And, I have clearer skin. (Go, me!)
I have become increasingly deliberate about where my time, energy, and finances are spent. In addition to my awareness increasing, my immediate community is more aware of their nutritional options, as well. I have hosted vegan dinners for the Black women in my family, prepared dairy-free donations for folx who were not plant-based, brought salads and meatless chili to office functions, started dialogues with lifelong hunters, piqued curiosity just enough to try something different for #MeatlessMonday, and have created opportunities for new voices to be held in this space. I have found power in my decision and will continue to uplift others, while unveiling the devastating impacts of meat consumption and production specifically for Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
My environmental justice activism has also increased. As I stated earlier, this transition was a surprise - even to myself. My climate involvement actually started as denial, then switched to concern, fear, anxiety, and has now manifested as (mostly) empowerment.
I can take action, so I do.
I have joined numerous climate-focused organizations; reduced my energy, water, and plastic use; completed a certificate in Climate Change + Health from the Yale School of Public Health; became a more conscious consumer; and established a weekly habit of contacting my elected officials about clean water, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, air quality, carbon pricing, women’s rights, and more. Each day brings increased knowledge and increased action.
What originally started as a way for me to personally become healthier has transformed into a critical opportunity to get my community and planet healthier, too. It has been a beautiful, continuous process of learning and unlearning what I had been indoctrinated to believe about health and what is “normal” and necessary for our bodies - and society - to function optimally.
A complete revamp of all systems is exactly what this time requires and I am honored to assist with the mission.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and explore my site.
May you have the courage to liberate yourself.