Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When Will We See?

Hi Guys-

Sorry it’s been a while since I have blogged here. I have been so busy with lots of exciting projects and writing for The Huffington Post. I kind of got ‘blogged out.’ But you can check me out weekly there ( Oh, and stay timed for a brand, spanking new awesome Christina Cooks website in the next few weeks. On to business now.

When I saw the recent news about the sad death of Patrick Swayze, I knew I had to find the time to write this particular blog.

Who didn’t love this smooth talking, handsome fabulous dancer? What woman wasn’t swept up in ‘Ghost’ and the pure romanticism of love? Who didn’t want to ‘dirty dance’ with him?

What was even more sad to me was watching his interview with Barbara Walters where he talked about his feelings on alternatives and his belief that if he ate healthy food, it would ‘feed his cancer’ and make matters worse.

I think that Patrick Swayze’s close-mindedness about alternative health practices illustrates what a lot of America feels about alternative approaches to health and wellness. It’s too good or too simple to be true in their view. I have been personally attacked by this same close minded thinking; called a liar and much worse. And all I do; all that my mission entails is to ask people to consider eating healthy food. I do not advise against medical care, nor do I bad mouth those who choose that path for their healing. I simply give the information that, in my experience, has validity.

Many years ago, I was diagnosed with a terminal form of leukemia and told that I had only months to live. As devastating as that news was to me, I knew that I had to look at every avenue to try and save my life. No door was closed; no information not sought out.

For me, the answer was in the food I was using to fuel my body. I did research and discovered that my choices, vegetarian junk food, had stolen my health and now threatened my life. I discovered that the way we fuel our bodies has a direct impact on how they function. Whether or not we can maintain our health and vitality is directly linked to what we choose to eat.

With all Americans know about making healthier food choices, why don’t we? We must choose food that serves the purpose of our lives and supports health, not steals it. Then we could avoid this cold sweat panic over health care reform, because by virtue of being healthy and fit, we’d prevent most of what has created the exorbitant health care costs that threaten to bankrupt us and break our spirit.

According to Dr. Dean Ornish, more than 75% of all health care costs are spent on what we now call ‘lifestyle diseases:’ obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some cancers. That’s a staggering number, considering we spend more than $2.1 trillion on it…but what’s even more staggering is how quickly we could turn these numbers around if we just chose to eat food fit for human consumption.

Research continues to mount indicating that consuming an unprocessed plant-based diet (along with being physically active) is absolutely key to controlling weight, reducing blood pressure and heart disease, reducing the risk of diabetes and stroke and some cancers. Wow! Imagine a life free of these plagues.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why every single American isn’t eating a healthy diet. I can’t believe that there’s one person who wants to be fat, at risk of disease, lethargic, foggy and achy. It doesn’t get easier or more delicious than the natural approach to eating. You can even transition slowly if that helps. But you must do something!

Start by substituting whole grain products for bread, pasta and grains (like brown rice for white). Choose nuts, seeds and beans for your protein (for those of you eating animal products, go for wild fish, but seriously, you can skip it and be just fine…remember, cows eat grass; gorillas gorge on berries and nuts…); get rid of the saturated fat that’s clogging your veins and arteries. Drizzle olive oil or other mono-unsaturated fats in place of butter. Skip the meat and dairy. Your heart will be grateful and not attack you!

I could go on for days about all the reasons to eat healthfully. But for some reason yummy, delicious food is not enough. Robust health is not enough. We who promote healthy eating beat our heads against the wall daily to inspire people to eat well and still, Papa John wins the day.

Take a personal inventory and see for yourself. Check your own vitality and well-being and see if it needs a wee tweak. Don’t wait until a safe is dropped on your head and you are in danger of losing your life. Choose an unprocessed, plant-based diet. Choose health. Choose life.


Friday, August 28, 2009

for love of julia

Hi Guys-

Well, it’s happened, five years after her death and thirty eight years after it was first published, Julia Child’s quintessential French cookbook, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ has made it to the New York Times bestseller list.

To this day, it remains the only cookbook to explain how to create authentic French dishes in American kitchens with American ingredients. By teaching techniques of French cooking, Julia Child singlehandedly turned American housewives into gourmet cooks.

I used to race home from school to watch old reruns of Julia (as I called her) cooking everything from soufflé to lobster (yikes, that was awful, I must say). She was masterful and goofy, funny and wise, graceful and clumsy and I loved her and her cooking. I was hooked, something that many people who make their livings in kitchens will admit.

I remember meeting Julia for the first time. I was brand new to television and we were both at a national public television event. I was dying to meet her. As I stood in a hallway one day, lo and behold, Julia Child was walking toward me in all her height and eccentric splendor. She was with a young woman and as she strode past me, she said,’ Now remember, I want to meet that new young woman who doesn’t cook with butter.’

I wanted to scream, ‘That’s me!!!!’ But I didn’t. I walked up and introduced myself in a civilized way, completely starstruck. Julia was warm and cordial and asked if we could talk about her favorite ingredient. The young woman with her warned that she had about ten minutes to spare. Two hours later, (well after I stopped picturing Dan Akroyd’s famous portrayal of her…), Julia asked me if she should give up butter for her health. We both laughed as she realized that at 87 years of age, she was doing something right.

That meeting sticks with me because I remember being most impressed by her love of all food…of course, only good food. She had no time or patience for junk food of any kind. I often wonder what she would think of the swill we have peddled to us as food. Not much, I suspect.

And so now a movie has been made about her greatest recipes, based on a blog by a young woman whose life was going nowhere and decided to cook her way through Julia’s masterpiece cookbook. And now this same bible of cooking has finally become a bestseller.

It’s interesting to me that in a time when fewer and fewer people are cooking that Julia’s homage to great food has risen to such heights. And at a time when diabetes, obesity and heart disease are epidemics, people are buying a book that celebrates all the foods we now know do not serve our health.

Is it to own a bit of history? A bit of Julia? Is it because Meryl Streep so beautifully channeled our godmother of cooking? Does this new status for ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ mean a return to cooking from scratch?

And what about the ingredients so essential to Julia’s way of cooking. Butter, lard, organ meats, cured meats, all manner of heart clogging foods are falling out of fashion. They are, aren’t they? We want healthier fare, don’t we?

We can’t afford to cook the way Julia did. We don’t live in the innocent 1950’s when food was authentic and not manufactured, when butter wasn’t laced with growth hormones, antibiotics and steroids, when beef was grass-fed and thereby lower in saturated fat. We no longer live in the world where the cook of the house shops daily for the freshest ingredients and cooks from scratch. We live in a world of fast food, junk food, deep-fried oreos and 600-calorie coffee drinks. We live in world that is literally groaning under our collective mass and is slowly dying from the way we produce and manufacture food.

Julia learned her love of food and cooking when food was simply food and we cooked it and ate it. In our modern world, food is entertainment…we watch chefs working against the clock cooking food that we can’t even identify and where the new style of high cuisine is sous-vide, a method by which food is vacuum packed and then cooked at low temperatures for a long time in boil bags after which some searing or other ‘finish’ cooking used to complete the dish. Really, back to boil bags? And we worship the chefs using this new method, from Thomas Keller to Charlie Trotter.

When did we lose touch with all that Julia stood for: actually learning to cook and mastering that art? Whether you agree with her choice of ingredients or not…and I mostly don’t (and she would disagree with me that healthy food is necessary. She believed that all food, in moderation, was the key), we all have to respect what she stood for and the gift she gave us. She taught us that the kitchen wasn’t a scary place reserved for white coats and French accents. She taught us that anyone could cook.

It’s time to head back to the kitchen, dust off your copy of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking;’ adapt the recipes to create healthy meals and pay homage to our great Julia by mastering your own art of cooking.

Buon Appetit!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

what will it take?

hi guys!

Sorry to be off radar...I have been crazy busy and just the thought of blogging made my head hurt...but I am we go!

I try not to judge. People are where they are in their evolution. I consider that all the time and carefully measure my words and actions to accommodate that fact. But sometimes I wonder what people are thinking.

I just returned from teaching on a cruise ship. I know what you’re thinking. What was that cruise line smoking when they invited me, the queen of bad news for junk food eaters, onto one of those floating binge palaces to teach healthy cooking? I thought the same thing.

My first class was on the first day we were at sea. I convinced myself that the first attendance would be light, first morning and all; people struggling to find their way around the ship. But I walked onstage to a packed room, filled the brim with people ready to be entertained and educated about healthy cooking. Class was totally fun. The people asked thoughtful, concerned questions about health. Who knew?

But before we get all warm and fuzzy about change; hang on. After class, I had free time. So my husband and I took up seats on the ninth deck overlooking the sea…and it turns out, the buffet dining room. Yikes!

Granted, there is everything a person could possibly want to eat displayed in a most enticing manner. From lamb chops to chocolate mousse and everything in between: pasta, pizza (at least 4 varieties), bread, pastries, cold cuts, eggs, omelettes, bacon, sausage, French toast and waffles, the lines for food were endless…unless you were interested in the salad bar. The crisp, fresh greens sat abandoned next to little bowls of glistening chickpeas and kidney beans, nuts and seeds, unless they were smothered in ranch dressing.

It got me to thinking. This obsession with excess goes far beyond our desire to eat our ‘money’s worth.’ It goes beyond the desire to ‘treat ourselves’ and beyond the attitude of ‘I’m on vacation; I’m entitled to all of this…and more.’ It was clear that people were making their choices; the cruise line didn’t have a gun to their heads forcing them into the fried food line.

What entitles people to abuse the one body given them in this life? And what makes people want to do that to themselves? I watched one gentleman, a perfectly nice guy (you could tell, just from his eyes that he was a sweetie), huff and puff his way across the deck to a chair, one hand holding 8, count them…8 large sugar cookies, while the other hand balanced an ice cream-filled waffle cone. His breath short, his gait labored, I watched him struggle to his seat. Flopping down, he dove into his food, but not with relish, more with a pained look on his face, like every bite added to his discomfort just as each bite added to his substantial girth.

I got to wondering as I watched this pattern repeated time after time, person after person, almost in a pained obligation to excess. As bloated bodies waddled from food station to food station, their plates groaning under the sheer volume of stuff on them, I couldn’t figure out what continued to drive them. At what point did they lose hope? After they lost control? Is it after the first 15 pounds lands on their butts and bellies? The first 20? When do you say to yourself, ‘this is what I am meant to be’ and just let go?

At what point in life do you decide that the mere seconds of sensory gratification on your tongue is worth your health and quality of life? I can’t believe that people don’t know any better, that they have no idea that what they are eating (overeating) is creating so many of their problems, from aches and pains to diabetes and heart disease.

Look, I know that a cruise may not have been the best place for me to observe people and their eating habits. I know that the reputation on a cruise is that people eat as much and as often as they can. And I know that most people go on cruises for that reason; the glaciers, national parks, beaches and landmarks take a definite back seat to what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Look, everyone loves to eat (almost everyone anyway…) and food is meant to be yummy, sexy and satisfying. I love food, good food, tasty food as much as the next guy. But when that love of eating exceeds all natural limits and robs you of your health and vitality, it’s time to wake up and examine what you are doing. With the average American consuming 4400 calories a day (twice what they need to maintain their weight), it begs the question of how much is enough?

And don’t even think of giving me the argument that healthy food is elitist and expensive. Sure, I can’t compete with a 99-cent burger and fries combo, but what is your health worth? You can either invest in healthy eating now…or you can pay the price later…with your health and your healthcare premiums. I am tired of paying for people’s bypass surgeries that could have been avoided had they just eaten a healthier diet. And I ain’t even talking about being vegan. I am just talking about eating real food and not as much.

I was watching Bill Maher the other night and he was talking about how healthy people are demonized and ridiculed, like we’re no fun, the bad news at this party of excess that marketing has created. In his more than sarcastic and eloquent way, he said that Americans think it’s their right to eat poorly and excessively and be fat.

How sad for us if that is true.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

meat and mrsa...what are we thinking?

Hi Guys-
I was reading a magazine the other day and I saw a tiny blurb talking about the connection between eating red meat and MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus)…remember that super-bug that was wiping people out in hospitals and long term care facilities because bacteria can flourish in these environments and many of the people there have compromised immune systems and are heavily antibiotic-reliant?

Well, it seems that MRSA is back in a big way and you’ll never guess how…turns out that confined animal feeding operations (aka factory farms) have become a spectacular breeding ground for this vicious little villain because the animals are compromised and so antibiotic-reliant. And then it’s passed on to us, through the meat we eat and since we are so heavily antibiotic-reliant and compromised, MRSA can thrive in us, too. Wow, another selling point for McDonald’s, Arby’s and Wendy’s!

And it gets better. A new study has been released linking the consumption of red meat and dairy products to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. The study was done by the Division of Cancer, Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD (wow, that’s a mouthful…) and was initiated because ‘up to now, the link between pancreatic cancer and dietary fat, a risk factor that people can do something about, has been inconclusive.’ Ay, ay, ay!!!! But I held out hope…

So the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and AARP got together and studied more than 300,000 men and 200,000 women to search for links between fat consumption and pancreatic cancer. They also took into account, smoking, body mass index and diabetes.
The study concluded that people who consume the greatest percentage of their diet as saturated fats had the highest risk of pancreatic cancer and here’s the kicker.

‘We did not observe any consistent association with polyunsaturated or fats from plant food sources.’ And…‘Altogether, these results suggest a role for animal fat in carcinogenesis.’

Seriously? That was the conclusion???? It suggests a role? Who are we kidding?

Okay, so here’s my beef (pun intended). What will it take for us to really get the message that meat is not the best choice of food for us? And while I live a vegan lifestyle, I don’t for one second think that the entire world will follow suit. It would be nice, but I live solidly in reality.
I go back to, what for me, are the million dollar questions. What will it take for us to wake up and look at how our food, particularly meat is produced? When will we demand better and stop swallowing the swill they market to us?

Where, in all of our ability to reason, do we see the logic in producing more than 14 billion animals a year for slaughter? Do we really think that it’s sustainable? For us, the planet or the species we kill by the millions? Do we think that these animals are raised in a healthful manner (forget being nice to them for a second…) that makes them fit for human consumption? Or do we just refuse to look at the issue because that would demand change? Real change…and then we’d have to do something about it.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe we think that we can just ignore all of this and it will disappear on its own…obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer (good lord, if I see one more bloody race, walk or other sporting event to support research for disease…that will never be cured because the pharmaceutical giants out there would close their doors…). Well, here’s a clue. Lifestyle diseases, as we have come to know the modern day plagues that rob us of our health, aren’t going anywhere as long as we continue to cling to our childish eating habits and old ways of doing things.

The time is over for us to wait for someone else to do the work. We can not sit idly by and wait for an ambitious soul to come along and rescue us from ourselves. There is no magic wand to wave. We can’t bury our head deeply enough in any sand to escape the hard realities of the effects of meat-eating on health.

Another article I read this morning questioned whether or not meat is the villain in this drama we call our health. The article showed results from a study that said that it’s the quantity and quality of meat that affects us, not so much the actual components of meat. Seriously, this article goes on to say that if Americans ate one or two servings of organic, grass-fed meat a week, surrounded by lots of whole grains and vegetables, then it would be okay to eat. Well, duh. And just how many fine Americans are doing that? How many are spending a mortgage payment to buy organic, grass-fed meat for the family and eating it only once of twice a week?

With less than 19% of Americans eating the 5-9 servings of vegetables and fruit a day and consuming close to 4000 calories per person, per day on average, with 40% of the average diet coming from saturated fats, not many of us are following this utopian eating pattern that includes organic, grass-fed meat and lots of fruits and veggies.

While most of us are aware that we should be eating vegetables and fruit each day…we even know how much, we take in most of our veggies in the form of potatoes and our fruit in the form of juice…more calories and sugar.

But look, it’s not easy and marketing makes us nuts and literally makes it hard not to be fat and sick. There are more than 50,000 fast food chains in this country, translating to more than 500,000 places to buy junk food. Kids between the ages of 6 and 14 eat at fast food restaurants an average of 157 million times a month…a month!!!! Americans spend more than $100 billion (with a ‘b’) on fast food every year. And that number is growing with our waistlines.

And the real kicker? Most Americans know that fast food is not their healthiest option.

So why? What’s it gonna take to wake us up and get us on the path to being the healthy, fit humans we are meant to be? Whatever it is, I hope it happens soon because I am tired of paying for other people’s childish indulgences each month when I write the check for my health insurance premium.

Time to be well, people…


Monday, July 13, 2009

i'm back from italy!

Hi Guys-

I am sure everyone has seen the latest stats to be released on obesity. (I just got home from Italy and found them waiting on my desktop.) While Mississippi is ‘still king of cellulite,’ an ominous tide is rolling onward as Alabama is currently running a close second in its obesity rankings.

The new stats have just been released and they hold little good news. In 31 states, more than 1 in 4 adults is obese (not just pleasantly plump, but obese…yikes!). The report, released by the Trust for America’s Health says that obesity rose in 23 states over the past year, while not one state experienced a decline. In fact, the report indicates that the crest of the wave of obesity has yet to crash over us.

And while this report provides one of the first in-depth looks at obese baby boomers…and also credits them for a good deal of the crushing rise in obesity (39% of boomers in Alabama are obese), I won’t bore you with yet another blog about obesity and its impact on health. We all know the truth. We need to eat real food and exercise regularly to be fit, vital humans.

But I think the problem is much deeper than how many Happy Meals you eat. I think that we live in a world where you have to be constantly vigilant to not be obese. I think that beating people up, yelling and finger-pointing won’t really solve the problem. I think that the problem runs so deep that a total overhaul of our food system is needed to beat obesity before it steals our future completely.

If you’ve seen the documentary Food, Inc., read anything by Michael Pollan, or listened to the current information that Mark Bittman talks about, you know the truth. As a culture, we have moved so far from eating real food, that we almost can’t identify it anymore.

As decades have passed and we grow further from the garden and the kitchen, we have lost sight of what real food looks like, tastes like and how we feel when we eat it. In the name of convenience and speed, we let our health, along with real food slip through our fingers and the price we are paying is high.

I often ask people what they are looking for in life. It seems that we spend our days wishing them over. We can’t wait for school to be out, work to be finished, our time at the gym over, dinner done…and I wonder why. What is it that we can’t wait for? Hours in front of the television? More time on Facebook or Twitter? What?

We need to re-think and re-set our priorities. In this economy, we talk a lot about getting back to basics, getting rid of excess. We need to begin with our food. It’s time to stop buying into all the marketing and hype that we see and hear, promoting fast food, junk and other foodlike substances.

Getting back to basics begins in the kitchen…actually in the garden and at the farm stand. Before this madness known as the obesity epidemic can be stemmed, we need to identify real food and begin to make those choices. We need to demand better quality from the people who produce and manufacture the food we eat. We need to tell them…loud and clear…that enough is enough and we won’t continue to eat their cheap, fast food that is loaded with fat, sugar and salt and is designed to send us to an early grave, but not before we become reliant on pharmaceuticals. We have to tell them that we won’t buy it anymore…and then we need to stop buying it…and make better choices for ourselves.

It’s so easy to turn this tide that threatens to snuff out humanity. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, even some cancers are all part of the new category of killers known as ‘lifestyle diseases.’ Our lifestyle is killing us and only a change can stop the terrifying statistics that steal our hope. Eating whole, natural, unprocessed food…the real thing…going back to the kitchen and preparing the lion share of your meals…gathering around the table with those you love…that’s the road back. That’s the path that can remove the stain that fast food and convenience has left on humanity.

And don’t for one minute try to make the argument that eating natural food is expensive and elitist and that it’s so much cheaper to buy poor-quality junk food to feed your family. Not only is that not true, but even if it were, the long term effects of eating fast food on our health is seen in the terrifying statistics we hear about every day. Better to invest in that head of broccoli than those 99-cent burgers. Remember that eating well is a right, not a privilege and everyone can afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Yes, you have to cook them and that makes it harder than swinging by the drive-through window, but if we are to return to health, we need to go back to the kitchen.

It’s time to stop letting marketing and advertising own us and determine our health. It’s time for us to take control of our destinies and create the vitality that so many ads promise, but none can deliver. There is not a pill, lotion or potion that can give you your health. They can only mask the symptoms they have helped to create and give you the illusion of health and well-being.

Instead, why not eat real food, not too much, mostly plants and create the real thing?


Monday, June 15, 2009

Food, Inc.

Hi Guys!

All the buzz is around the new movie, Food, Inc. and I must say it is out of this world. If you have any doubts about who controls the food you eat or any thoughts that the ‘health food nuts’ you know are conspiracy loons, this will open your eyes. According to the research and facts presented in this film, unless you are eating whole, unprocessed, organic (as much as possible) food, you can not be sure at all what might actually be on your plate. Not for the faint of heart, this powerful film pulls no punches.

Food, Inc, for those of you not aware, is a documentary that indicts the industrial system of agriculture and the policies that have allowed companies like Monsanto and the National Chicken Council all but own the food you buy and consume daily…and since they own it, they control the quality (or lack thereof) of it.

While Big Agriculture is attempting to demonize the film saying it jeopardizes the small family farm; that is just another attempt to confuse the consumer with their typical bait and switch games. Farm Aid, an organization that has supported family farms for over 20 years says just the opposite…that Food, Inc shows the struggle of the family farm, their integrity and their willingness to provide the food we need and maintain the health of their farms and the planet.

Big Agriculture is slamming the film, calling it elitist, that to eat in a responsible, healthy and sustainable manner is somehow only for the few. They fail to mention that it’s their stranglehold on subsidies and their dedication to the corporate bottom line are the real reasons that our most needy can only afford to eat the food that they manufacture. It is their very style of business that deprives people of their right to eat healthy food.

Look, the corporate food industry thrives on the status quo. It is of little interest to them that our kids are growing unhealthier with each passing day and that ‘lifestyle diseases’ are increasing at such an alarming rate we will have no worries about swine flu. Cheap, fast food-related diseases are the next pandemic.

We are reaching a tipping point like no other in modern history. We are beginning to realize that our food choices are making us sick. Our health care crisis is just another term for the catastrophe that is the standard American diet. More than half the money we spend on health care goes to treat preventable, diet-driven diseases.

It’s time that we demanded better food and better information on what is in the food we eat. Agribusiness repeatedly blocks better labeling laws because they argue that too much information is a bad thing. Perhaps if the food they sold us was natural, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about what was on the label.

I have only one disappointment with Food, Inc. Robert Kenner, the genius behind the film was recently interviewed and he talked at length about the impact of the policies of meat production and its impact on the environment and human health. The interview was chilling in its power…until the end, when Mr. Kenner said that he was not a purist and still ate meat. Look, I am very clear that we won’t see a vegan society anytime soon, but seriously, Mr. Kenner. How can you make this film, see what you have seen, document the horrors you witnessed and end an interview with that kind of flip remark.

To say that is to deny the very content of your film. As a viewer, I ask myself the question: if the film maker was not altered by what he saw, then why should I be? How can he expect to maintain his credibility in light of comments like that? Did Mr. Kenner make this film simply because it’s a hot topic and a sure bet to be a hit? Food for thought, to be sure.

Food, Inc is not to be missed, whether or not Mr. Kenner grasps (in my view…) the real inconvenient truth of eating meat.


ps...i am going off to work on a project and i may miss blogging for a couple of weeks...but i will be back at it in july, so come and visit me then.

Friday, June 5, 2009

here i go again...

hi guys!

Veganism will never, in my view, be a widely accepted lifestyle choice…ever. And not because it isn’t a gorgeous way to live (because it is…); not because it is a deprived and grim way to eat (because it isn’t…); not because it’s too weird or left of center (okay, I’ll give you that one…). No, veganism will never thrive because a lot of vegans will not allow it.

I was reading an article recently…written by a good friend of mine, someone I love and adore, respect and admire. I was so upset by what I read that I thought my head would explode. Maybe it’s me, but the attitude he displays in the piece shows me arrogance underneath the supposed compassion he professes.

The article was all about the word vegan and its proper use. You may say, huh? I did. You know that joke I make about not being ‘vegan enough’ for most vegans. I think it may be true, sadly. Apparently, you may only use the word ‘vegan’ to describe yourself if you choose this compassionate way of living in order not to contribute to cruelty to animals. (It’s apparently okay to be mean to people, just not animals…). And before anybody goes nuts and writes me about compassion and animals, I am all in for that, so save your breath.

The article said that according to Donald Watson’s description of veganism (he being the founder and definer of the movement that splintered off from vegetarian groups over the use of dairy foods) vegans are those who choose this life to prevent…or at least not contribute to…cruelty to animals. To this line of thinking, the article went on to say that if you are choosing vegan living for personal health or environmental causes, then it would serve better to say that you eat a ‘plant-based diet’ and leave the word ‘vegan’ to those who are truly committed to the cause. And why? Because you might change your mind and give veganism a bad name…or so that was implied.

Here’s my beef (yes, I know…) with this thinking. I am a teacher of vegan/macrobiotic cooking and many of the students who have come through classes were not looking to change their thinking completely. Most of them were just trying to get a bit healthier and since I make this look so easy, delicious and fun on television, they wanted to give it a go. Most of them didn’t know what they were getting into; but many of them changed their lives and now embrace vegan living, compassionately in harmony with the world around them. Some chose to eat a vegan diet, but not embrace activism. By the thinking in this article, I should have turned them away, advised them to take a different approach and come back to me when they had their priorities in order. After all, it’s only about the animals if you are vegan, right?

To ignore personal transformation and to discount the idea that transformation begins with the physical is silly and arrogant, to say the least. If some vegans remain aloof and exclusive, shunning everyone who doesn’t embrace the cause of animal rights, they don’t get to wonder why people are not flocking to join them. They seem to forget that change; true change has to occur at the most primal, visceral level…physically.

When people are drawn to plant-based eating, it is most often for personal health, but how else can we truly transform our thinking, our hearts, our very beings if we do not first, make our bodies healthy and strong and feel for ourselves the power of natural plant-based food. From that physical transformation, the human psyche is freed to think about loftier ideals and to contemplate the plight of the world and all the living beings in it.

We all have to start somewhere. If personal health is what draws you to vegan living, then I welcome you with open arms. By virtue of mere diet change, people who choose veganism for all the ‘wrong reasons’ change themselves, reduce cruelty; grow more compassionate as their bodies heal and strengthen and they leave a lighter footprint on our fragile planet…oh, and they care for the welfare of animals.

It seems to me that some of us vegans have lived too long in a bubble, surrounding ourselves only with people of similar thinking. Many have lost touch with the idea of reaching out, in compassion, to other humans and helping them along in their path of life.

Buddha said that the responsibility of each man, woman and child is to make the lives of those around them better and to aid each living being we meet on its path to enlightenment. Each person we meet is a gift to us and we a gift to them. But if we push them away because they make choices differently than we do, then how can we ever inspire them?

If being ‘vegan enough’ means shunning the brilliant humans I meet because they choose their vegan lifestyle for health, then I think I am happy to fall short of the standards set by this exclusive sect. I prefer to welcome all people, students, friends and family to my lifestyle and see how physical change transforms them to live lives of compassion and peace. Semantics mean little to me when health, peace and the lives of living things are at stake.

Maybe my crazy vegan life is crazier than I thought…but I love every vegan moment of it…in good health.