Today would have been my dad’s 59th birthday.
In June of 2016, my dad died at the age of 57 from a heart attack. I often had told him how terrified I was that one day he may have a heart attack because of his diet. He ate the standard western diet that was filled of animal products, saturated fat and cholesterol. After my dad died I decided that I wanted to do something to honor him and to help other people and that is when I became certified in plant-based nutrition. I now educate the community about the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet in hopes that it may save someone else’s life since it was too late for me to save my dad’s. I miss my dad terribly but every time I get up and stand in front of a group of people and talk about a Whole Foods Plant-Based lifestyle, I feel a little bit closer to him. Miss you, Dad. xoxo
According to the CDC:
Heart Disease Facts
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic has scientifically proven that a whole foods plant-based diet without added oil can not only prevent, but can potentially reverse heart disease. This is huge!
Our food shouldn’t be killing us. Our food should be healing us.
If you are interested to learn more, please check out the following resources:
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
Forks Over Knives Documentary (on Netflix)
Every vegan will tell you that their only regret is that they didn’t go vegan sooner.
A year ago today I became vegan. It started as a regular Sunday morning. I was excited to be going to my first New England Vegfest. I was already a vegetarian but had been toying with the idea of veganism. I knew that the dairy and egg industry were just as cruel as the meat industry but I needed a push. I needed to expose myself to the truth.
I wanted to go to the Vegfest to see if I could fit in as a vegan. I didn’t know any vegans in real life and only had heard of the stereotypical “angry vegans”. I didn’t want to be an angry vegan. I was worried that these people would not be my tribe. I was a 32-year-old mom originally from Pennsylvania and I was on the plan. I got married, bought a house, had a kid, played happy families and at the dinner table we smiled and laughed as we ate our "humane" chicken dinner. I really questioned whether I was ready for this lifestyle change. Could I be a vegan and still conform into societal roles? I knew deep down that after I walked out of my front door that day that I would be coming home a vegan. I remember making myself my “last meal”, a caprese salad with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. I remember that I wasn’t even hungry and it wasn’t even that good but I ate it anyway because 1.) I was worried that I would find nothing to eat at the VegFest (ha!) and 2.) I wouldn’t ever have cheese again.
At first I was completely overwhelmed at the VegFest. There were SO many people there but I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone was so diverse. They couldn't all be angry vegans, could they? Food trucks were serving things like Seitan and Jackfruit. What the hell was seitan anyway? I decided to dive in head first. I remember trying a Boca “chicken” burger…oh my gosh. It tasted just like chicken. I then tried the Earth Balance Cheddar “Cheeze-it’s”…oh my gosh. It tastes just like cheese. As the day continued I tried more and more food and realized that just maybe, everything was going to be okay.
The VegFest put on guest presentations and I decided to go to the “How to go Vegan” talk. I thought, okay, this will give me more information about how all of this works. Well little did I know, the infamous James Aspey was the guest speaker and that I had hit the vegan jackpot. The room was packed. People were sitting on the floor, against the wall and standing outside of the ballroom just to hear him speak. He walked into the room like a celebrity. People started cheering and clapping. My first thought was wow, vegans are really passionate about other vegans. Maybe there is something to this. James Aspey gave the best damn speech that I have ever heard. Here is a link to the speech he gave at the New England VegFest. Please watch it. By the time James was done speaking he had converted me. I could no longer live a life that did not align with my values. I walked out of that room feeling sky high. I went home and knew there was one more thing that I needed to do if I wanted this to stick. I watched Earthings. That was the longest 1 hour 35 minutes 47 seconds of my life. I watched with my hands covering my tear soaked face. Every 10 minutes I had to pause to collect myself but I made myself continue until the very end. I’d be damned if I didn’t finish this documentary. If the animals had to endure this abuse and exploitation, then I could watch it and bear witness to their suffering. That’s when I made the connection. All of the doubt of whether I could do this immediately vanished. It wasn’t an option to not do it. I declared that not in my name will this happen. I was willing to endure anything that people threw at me. My part is easy. There are so many options and alternatives. It’s the animals who suffer.
The first month was filled with learning and educating myself. I researched what vegan options I could eat at restaurants, found new recipes to try, learned more about what clothes and products are vegan and why I shouldn’t go to the zoo anymore. What I loved most about transitioning was that I got to try so many new different types of fruits, vegetables and vegan alternatives that I’d never heard of before. My life was filled with more food than it ever had been. I was eating more of a variety of food then when I was eating meat, dairy and eggs. I started feeling better, I lost weight and had more energy. I had a complete mind-shift. What right do we have to exploit animals? We are also animals, just a different species. How would we like it if what was done to the other animals was done to us, day after day, until the tragic end? I realized that they are here with us, not for us. We can co-habitat on this beautiful world. How did I not see it before?
As the days went on I definitely drank the vegan Kool-Aid. I got the t-shirts, the buttons, the books, etc. (By the way, vegan t-shirts are a great way to spread the message if you are a new vegan and/or introverted.) I watched more and more videos, subscribed to podcasts, visited r/vegan and felt like I had a community I could go to for support. I found this aspect to be extremely important. You need people. The best days are when you meet vegans in real life! It is awesome.
I also decided to become certified in plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. I now give presentations to communities about the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet in hopes that it improves the health of families everywhere. My now four-year-old son is thriving on a plant-based diet and has overcome many health challenges due to the nutrition he is getting from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts and seeds.
Becoming vegan has been a catalyst for a lot of internal growth. I’ve always shied away from confrontation. I hated voicing my honest opinion when I knew that others may disagree. My words don’t always come out properly when I’m nervous and I tend to shake in fear. The more time that went on however, the more I knew that I couldn’t be passive any longer. I needed to speak up for the animals, even if I trembled as I spoke. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone and I wanted to be an activist. As a birthday gift to myself I joined the Boston’s Anonymous for the Voiceless Cube of Truth and I LOVED it. I’ve since done more cubes and demonstrated against Canada Goose and look forward to being involved in more activism this year.
I will be a spokeswoman for the animals. I will speak for them since they cannot speak for themselves, no matter the opposition that I face. I may shake and tremble but I will not be silent. Veganism is about fighting injustice. I want to inspire change! I look forward to making a difference and standing up for those that are oppressed. My heart has opened like a flower on a warm summer morning. My compassion extends to all beings, including my fellow human, the animals and the earth. I'm so lucky to have a husband and son who followed suit. We are a happy and healthy vegan family. I look forward to what year 2 brings and yes…. I found my tribe and they are awesome.
Article Originally submitted to Raise Vegan. Read how I explained what veganism was to my son.
My vegan journey started after attending the New England Vegfest and hearing James Aspey give one of the most compelling speeches I have heard. I had been vegetarian for a while but deep down in my heart, I knew I had to be vegan if I wanted my values to be in line with my actions. That evening I finally got the courage to watch Earthlings. It was the longest hour and 48 minutes of my life. My hands covered my tear-soaked face as I gasped in horror during the entire film. Although it was incredibly hard, I made myself watch it. I knew this film was not just a fictional horror movie, but a picture of what was happening every minute of every day all over the world. I cried, I screamed, and was full of shame for what was happening to these helpless animals.
The reason these animals were being needlessly murdered was simply because someone liked the taste of a burger, not because we actually needed to eat animal products to survive. It was then and there that I said out loud that I will never participate in this unnecessary abuse ever again. I didn’t care how hard it was going to be (which it isn’t) or how much criticism I would get from other people (which I don’t). I knew that this was the right thing to do.
When I became vegan, I filled myself with as much knowledge about veganism that I could. I had a lot of questions at first that I needed to find answers to. I was the first one in my family to become vegan. At dinnertime my son, James started asking questions about why I was eating something different to him and I explained that I was vegan and I didn’t want to hurt animals so that is why I don’t eat meat. His eyes opened so wide and I could see all of the questions filling this three-year-old mind. He then looked down at his plate and asked, “am I eating animals?” He then went on to say that he didn’t want to hurt animals anymore and didn’t want to eat them.
I did a lot of research to make sure it was nutritionally appropriate for a child so young to be on a vegan diet. Along with my research and the information I acquired during the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Nutrition certification course, I learned that a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet is not only appropriate but is a wonderful way to raise your children in a healthy way.
In my experience, it helped that I let my son naturally come to the conclusion that eating animals is wrong. I truly believe that if children were given the choice, they’d instinctively decide not to eat animals. I found that explaining veganism to a child is much easier than explaining it to an adult. It is not until food industries, our society and clever marketing strip us of our connection to animals and we start living in a state of unconsciousness. Over the course of a few weeks me, my husband and son were all proud vegans.
Every day can provide a lesson about compassion. Teachable moments are always popping up and it opens up the opportunity to talk to James about veganism and why we are vegan. I find that books are a great place for teaching. When we are reading his Richard Scarry books and the pig is serving up meat (including pork) at the butchers, we talk about that. We talk about how the pig must feel and what they are really serving. I explain that although this is the way things are now, doesn’t mean it’s right and doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it.
For Christmas this year my husband and I bought James the “We Don’t Eat Animals” book collection by author Ruby Roth. He loves the stories in the books and can relate to them. When we read them at night I always ask him questions to gauge how he is feeling and answer any questions that come up.
Instead of going to the zoo, aquarium or circus we can go to things like Cirque du Solei, animal sanctuaries or on adventure hikes through the forest. At birthday parties I always make sure to bring him special cake that I bake for him to bring. This is quite common these days anyway because of so many children having allergies. Once I explain to him that while we may do things a little different than his friends it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun too. He never has to feel like he is missing out on food or experiences because of all of the wonderful alternatives there are these days.
Since James was born, it was crucial to me to teach him that there is nothing more important than kindness, empathy and compassion. Raising him as a vegan is a large part of this. He became an activist in his classroom and talks to his classmates on why he chooses not to eat animal products. My proudest moment was on a Saturday afternoon. James adamantly walked into the kitchen where my husband and I were talking and he exclaimed in his little three-year-old voice: “I am never, ever, ever eating ‘ammimals’ ever again! It is so rude!” He spoke with so much conviction, more than most adults. My heart sang for him.
Of course there have been testing times too. One day James came home from school begging to go to McDonald’s. His friends at school were talking about going to eat there and getting a happy meal. James started to tear up and said that he didn’t want to be vegan anymore and that he wanted to go to McDonald’s too. As a parent it’s hard to see your child be in moments of conflict but I always try to talk it through with him. I finally got to the bottom of what really was going on and it’s wasn’t about the food at all. It was about him wanting to get a toy. I then explained all of the other options we had and all of the other fun things we can do instead.
Peer pressure can be a challenge for anyone, especially young children, however I think that James will be equipped with the tools to be a critical thinker and to speak from his heart and be able to influence others in a kind and compassionate way. I always keep the lines of communication open and answer his questions open and honestly in the most age-appropriate way. As he grows I am excited to share this experience with him and work together as a family to make the world a more peaceful place.
Looking forward to sharing my story of hope tonight!
Holding onto hope has allowed possibilities that I never would have imagined. I look forward to sharing my story of how I used the experience of my father’s death to educate and inspire others in the community.
...Who was I kidding?
I know veganism gets a bad rap. I get it. Vegans are passionate and sometimes that passion comes across as holier than thou. I promise you that we do not feel this way. You have to remember, the majority of us were meat eaters and not always vegan. We are only here to help the animals and to wake the world up. In my experience, when you go from being a non-vegan to a vegan you immediately connect that a beautiful sentient being had to die just because you like the taste of a burger. That's not a good enough reason for me. Cognitive dissonance is very strong and is built up over the years in order to avoid the reality of what happens when you buy that steak (cow) or sausage (pig), etc. Vegans are breaking that facade and showing us the reality. I believe that if you look at the issue at hand and why we are advocating so strong for the animals and if you can get past the human conflict then you may feel the same as vegans. When a child is in a room with a pig and an apple they will naturally eat the apple and pet the pig. We need to get back to this point.
"The question is not, can they reason nor, can they talk but can they suffer?
We may not speak their language but we hear their cries. We must not sit back and do nothing. We must act on their behalf.
I am now at a point in my vegan journey where I feel compelled to be peaceful activist. The jump from passive vegan to vocal advocate did make me feel a little nervous at first. I'm an introvert, people-pleaser, hate conflict and not always confident in conversation. How in the world would I be able to advocate on the animals behalf when I wasn't fit to be an activist? I learned that this was not the case. There are different types of activism for all types of people. I decided to start with participating in a "Cube of Truth." This was a perfect first step for me since I would simply need to hold a computer and stand in a cube with other people and I wouldn't have to speak.
The Cube of Truth was developed by Anonymous for the Voiceless. Anonymous for the Voiceless is an animal rights organization that specializes in nonviolent street activism. The Cube of Truth's goal is to show the public what happens in the meat, dairy and egg industry and provide thought provoking conversation. I believe that people cannot see what they do not know.
My first experience as a vegan activist was incredibly powerful. I left filled with so much energy that I felt like I was going to burst. I felt like I could do anything. It was amazing to be surrounded with people that had the same passion and determination to help the animals.
I implore you to learn more about the meat, dairy and egg industry. Watch Earthlings or one of these other documentaries to get an idea of what actually happens before the food reaches your plate. I know you may not want to watch because it is too hard but just imagine how difficult it must be for the animals. Try Challenge 22 and get access to free resources and recipes to help you on your vegan journey.
May you go out and fight for what you believe in!
Photos by Laura Ray, AV of Boston Organizer
Article Originally submitted to Raise Vegan. Read how a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet helped my son thrive.
My boy and his health concerns
When I think of my four-year-old son, James, I think of how kind and compassionate he is. He has a smile that lights up any room. You would never know from looking at him that the past four years leading up to now has been a roller-coaster of health issues. He has had diagnoses that include Failure to Thrive, encopresis, and recurrent ear infections among many other conditions. While the doctors were trying to push PediaSure to help him gain weight, I treated him with calorie-dense smoothies to help him grow. While the doctors pushed cow’s milk when he turned one, I transitioned him to hemp milk. When he struggled with years of encopresis and severe constipation, his doctors pushed large doses of MiraLAX and Ex-Lax. This was the final straw. Although I respect his pediatrician and specialists, they weren’t looking at James as a whole and only by their own specialty. I was looking at my son as a whole and knew that the food we eat can make a significant impact on his health.
Changing the way we eat
At this point, I decided to transition James and our family to a whole foods plant-based diet. The difference in him was amazing. His growth rates soared, his encopresis resolved itself, and the recurrent ear infections stopped. It was like he was a new child. He was no longer in daily pain and was filled with joy. I was finally able to step back and enjoy the days with my son and not worry about getting him to eat constantly, stress over relieving his constipation, or research nonstop about what I could do to advocate for his health and well-being.
When I went against the pediatrician’s orders of having James take MiraLAX and Ex-Lax and instead to start him a whole foods plant-based diet, I was worried about what they would say at his next check-up. Would they be angry that I thought I knew better than them and not approve of my decision to stop their suggested treatment plan? Would they report me to child protective services because I was raising a vegan child? All of these questions raced through my head, but what I had on my side was proof. James was not only healthy but he was thriving. This is all they needed to see. They were impressed how well he was doing and asked many questions about how I did it. I felt proud. I was proud that I stood up for him and did what I knew was right, and I was proud that I was able to share something new with esteemed medical professionals.
Making sure they get enough
Of course when you are raising a vegan child you want to make sure you are providing them with adequate nutrition. Should children eat the same things as adults? Do they need added fats in order to grow properly? I had a lot of questions and decided to enroll in the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate Program. The knowledge that I learned has been invaluable and only further strengthens my confidence that I know that I am raising my son in a way that will benefit him for the rest of his life.
Children and adults that follow a whole foods plant-based diet should be eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts as close to their natural state as possible. There is no need to stress about adding fat to their diet. Children will eat until they’re full. When you give them a variety of healthy food, they will choose from those and eat until they’ve had enough to eat. Once a child reaches adolescence they will require more calories in their diet. Whole foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds that are higher in fat will help with their growth.
Eating is fun!
In our family, we make eating fun. I have found that providing choice is important. James loves to come to the grocery store with me. I let him pick the fruits and vegetables that we are going to make for the week. This has been fun as we often get to try things that we’ve never had before. My advice is to always be the role model for your child. Show them how to eat well and they will soon follow. You are gifting your child a head start as a model for good nutrition that they can continue well into adulthood.
Hello! My name is Abby Power and I believe in being an advocate for compassionate change. This extends to showing compassion to ourselves, to the animals and to the earth. As a graduate of the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate Program you will often find me sharing the benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet to family, friends and community. I currently reside in Massachusetts with my husband and four-year-old son, James. In my free time, I enjoy dancing, practicing Vipassana Meditation and advocating for the animals!
The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies released a plant-based shopping guide that others may find useful. You can see the full article by going to their website: T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition
Here is a sample of the items that they suggest:
Choose breads that are 100% whole grain with no oil added or less than 10% calories from fat. Enriched wheat flour, unbleached wheat flour, wheat flour, and organic wheat flour are not whole grain. Some options are:
Choose minimally sweetened, whole grain cold and hot cereals without added oil. Some examples are:
There are many options to boost the flavor of your food without adding any fat or sugar including:
Be sure to check out their full list by visiting their website.
Thank you to everyone who came out to my presentation on the "Benefits of a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet." It was lovely to have such a great turn out. I look forward to coming back to Pennsylvania and continuing the education!
Here are some photos from the event: