And How it Took me seven years to get clear on what I value Most.
Seven year’s ago while on vacation, I started reading a book recommended to me called The China Study. The book’s author, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, advocated a “whole foods plant-based diet”. Thankfully when I bought the book, I had no idea what that meant.
Plagued with digestive issues since I was a toddler, I had been on a life long pursuit for a diet that my body would tolerate. My search started long before holistic medicine became popular and conventional medicine was way out of the nutrition loop. I tried eating for my blood type, a buffet of high protein diets, and even a diet that suggested combining certain foods would make me feel and look like Suzanne Somers. After years of trial and error, I settled on a healthy diet of veggies, lean meat with limited dairy and processed foods. I still battled with some digestion issues, but figured this was as good as it was going to get.
As I delved into the China Study, Dr. Campbell suggested a diet made up of whole plant based foods would prevent, reverse and cure just about every major health problem afflicting our North American culture. It all sounded like a simple solution, but really, could I see my self rock’n the vegan lifestyle? I was a marketing director for a large shopping centre, not a Birkenstock wearing hipster.
In the final chapter of the China Study, the author challenged readers to eliminate all animal protein for just 30 days – a month of eating veggies, beans, whole grains, fruit and tofu. It also meant a month of no dairy, no eggs, no chicken, no fish, no beef, no animal protein of any kind. Having subjected myself to just about every other diet, I knew I could do it for 30 days. I went to the grocery store and stocked up on organic leafy greens, beans, tofurkey, veggie burgers, almond milk and a slew of other faux meat products to aid in the transition from omnivore to herbivore. Shopping the small health food section, I found products I didn’t know existed like nutritional yeast that when combined with other key ingredients could make a mean mac & cheese without the cheese.
As I piled all my new found faux meats in the fridge, I eyed the left over roasted chicken and decided I would start my vegan diet the next day. But as I started hoeing into what felt like my last supper, the chicken wasn’t going down so well. The metamorphosis had already begun. I took my plate back to the kitchen, left the chicken for my husband and heated up some Amy’s organic lentil soup.
Within four days of eating a vegan diet, my colon was doing the happy dance. No more chronic bloating, gripping abdominal muscle spasms, and constipation that would send me to the emergency room for an enema. On top of that, I was feeling lighter and sleeping better. I was so ecstatic with this drastic improvement, I started shouting my new found veganism from the the rooftop. If this diet made me feel better than ever, then it could do the same for my family and friends…right?!!
Wrong. Most reactions I received ranged from mild amusement, “Oh it’s just a phase. She’ll get over this quick enough,” to downright anger, “How could you even suggest this is healthy and what about protein?”
I quickly retreated and learned to keep my veggie mouth shut. If asked about my diet, I used my standard elevator pitch, “I eat a vegan diet for personal health reasons. It happens to work for me. It’s not for everyone. ” It was safe, didn’t make anyone uncomfortable, and kept us on the dinner party circuit with our friends.
I’m not the perfect vegan and I’m not sure if there is such a thing. I live with an omnivore, most of my friends and family are omnivores and a few close friends even farm and hunt animals. My friends will tell you I’ve been thrown off my vegan high horse more than once. I’ve had a life long love affair with pizza, and while I have found satisfying vegan options, once in awhile I indulge in the real thing with my friends at our favourite wood-oven-fired pizzeria. Our cottage is in Pictou County, home to the Lobster Festival where at the end of the season, fishermen race their boats down the harbour as we dip our lobster in warm melted butter. And while my fox hunting club may be faux (no animals are harmed), the meals served at the end of an afternoon of chasing hounds on horseback are filled with tempting homemade dishes enough to make any vegan go rogue for at least one meal.
My vegan diet might have been motivated for health reasons, but in the search for nutritional information and recipes it was impossible to ignore the ethical and environmental arguments made for a plant based diet. A plethora of animal cruelty videos and documentaries on the effects of industrialized farming flood the internet and are enough to have any compassionate human question their food sources.
I have been drawn to everything four-legged and furry for as long as I can remember. No dolls for this girl. My room was filled with plush animals that were tucked into bed with me every night. Years later, I filled my home with the real thing and created a life where I am surrounded by animals and other humans who love them.
So, if I loved animals so much, why didn’t I consider a vegan diet years ago? Like most of us, I was completely disconnected from the meat sources that were presented in my grocery store to the reality of how they got there. I would rescue injured squirrels and birds, condemn those who would take a shotgun into the forest to hunt deer, gasp with disbelief at animal cruelty stories in the news, all while filling my freezer with neatly packaged chicken, beef and fish. The food industry made it effortless for me to disconnect the pets and wildlife I admired to the animals who are bred and killed for food.
I’ve made that connection now and while I still don’t have Birkenstocks in my closet, I have traded in my mall career for one where I am closer to nature and the animals that feed my soul. I’m still enjoying the health benefits of a vegan diet, but my motive has shifted and now my food choices consciously align with my value to respect and have compassion for all animals, beyond the ones I share my home with.
This year, my intention is to honour that value beyond my diet, and be more conscious of how all my actions can contribute to a sustainable planet that respects all beings. It might mean giving up a few of my favourite conveniences and making some tough choices, but if there is anything I’ve learned from this experience it’s that by connecting my heart to all of actions, I can live up to what I believe in most.
The good news is, it doesn’t need to take you seven years to get clear on what you truly believe in. As you move into 2017, think about your own personal values. Once you clearly define them, you’ll move from a place of reaction to self-direction. You’ll focus on what is most important to you and your actions will reflect what your heart truly desires.