For most of my life, I considered myself a vegan. I was raised on the standard American diet – southern style – before converting to vegetarianism and then macrobiotics and later veganism. I now eat a plant-based diet. I still love cooking my vegan dishes, but I no longer call myself a vegan.
In 1993, when I opened one of the first vegan restaurant in Los Angeles, people told me I was crazy. They said, “Who would eat at a place with no meat and no dairy?” Even Michio Kushi, one of the key figures who introduced macrobiotics to the western world, told me I should put fish on the menu to attract more people. I didn’t really know anything about cooking fish. I only knew how to cook grains, beans, and vegetables, so vegan I went and vegan I stayed.
As a female business owner of a vegan joint in the nineties, I was an oddball, to say the least. The early days were a challenge. I had absolutely no support from the culinary community, they didn’t consider vegan a cuisine. But I had grit and resilience long before these became buzzwords. Over the next 25 years I became known as a vegan pioneer. By the time I left the restaurant business last year, there were many vegan eateries and most mainstream restaurants now offer good vegan options.
The One Thing That Has Always Driven My Eating Habits
When I left my parent’s house in Tennessee to embark on life, I was attracted to the healthy results of clean eating. Coming from a childhood of fried chicken and corn bread, I knew there were healthier ways to treat my body meal after meal. The desire to be healthy is what ultimately led me to veganism. The desire to be healthy also ultimately led me away from it.
I believe it’s important to listen to your body. Your body knows what you need! Don’t get hung up on a diet that might not be working. Be flexible. If you are experiencing some health problems or vitamin deficiencies, ask yourself, “What do I need to cut from my diet? What do I need to bring in?” The journey to optimum health has always driven me. Feeling my best, having energy, nourishing myself, and honoring what my body needs has always come first before following any particular diet.
The Life Changes that Led me Away From Veganism
I believe that one single diet cannot lead us through our entire lives. I didn’t eat strictly vegan when I was pregnant, for example. The eating habits that served me in my younger years, no longer serve me now as I age. We all need different things during different times in our lives.
For me, there was the other side of menopause. There was the autoimmune disease that wreaked havoc on my body. There was the fact that I was having issues digesting my food. And the fact that my mother and grandmother both struggled with Alzheimer’s told me that I needed to choose foods that protect neurological health. That diet absolutely includes fish, eggs, and some dairy.
Good Health Leaders Adapt to Different Health Needs
I’ve gotten emails that question my move away from veganism. Some vegans have expressed their concerns that I am shirking my leadership duties by promoting a diet that includes animal products. They say I am selling out, that I am straying from the right path, and that I am leading people away from veganism.
These emails got me thinking about the true meaning of leadership. I believe that good leaders have the ability to enact change. Leaders listen to their deeper selves for wisdom, and they listen to their followers and peers. They look for and take feedback. Good leaders appreciate that everyone has different needs and ideas! They are aware of differences inside their own communities. Leaders in health and nutrition know that everyone has different dietary needs at different times.
So even though I am being told that “a true leader should keep the course of veganism,” I stand strong on my path. I am coming 100 percent from a position of health and wellbeing. I want the best health outcomes for myself, my family, and my community. I believe in the nutrition choices I teach, and I believe there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet.
Fighting Judgement In the Food World
Some of us eventually move away from the strictly vegan path. Some are vegetarians, pescatarians, Mediterranean dieters, and others are just trying to do their best. Vegans feel strongly about their convictions, which is great. But I stand against judging others for their personal health choices. The tendency to judge others – get angry, criticize, and demean others for their choices – is no different than judging people for the color of their skin, who they love, or whether they just look different.
A leader, should not put others in boxes. Leaders must not judge and assess people. There is no “us versus them.” In fact, the more open we are and the better we listen, the more likely others will receive our messages of health, wellness, and eating for environmental sustainability.
Furthermore, many non-vegans care deeply about the same issues that vegans espouse, namely animal welfare and environmentalism. They purchase their meat from organic, free-range, grass-fed sources. They are actively supporting ethical, sustainable farmers who raise livestock with compassion and care. Don’t these people have a place at our table? Instead of judging them, shouldn’t we applaud their efforts for a greener, kinder world?
Eating for Animal Welfare
Vegans are right to speak out about animal welfare and how our eating habits affect our planet. Factory farming keeps animals confined, packing them into unsanitary facilities where they are treated cruelly. These animals are injected with antibiotics on a regular basis and forced into crowded and dirty living conditions. Such farming practices are bad for the animals, our planet and us.
For those who choose to eat animal products, it is ESSENTIAL to select organic, grass-fed, free-range, pasture-raised meat, dairy, and eggs. As consumers, we have the power to communicate what kind of world we want to live in. As people who purchase animal products, we must pay close attention to where our food comes from.
So these days, I still eat mostly vegan. But my health needs require occasional eggs, fish, poultry and dairy. I have and will always come from a health perspective. We must listen to our bodies, nourish ourselves, and make purchasing decisions that support a better world. I hope that vegans reading this will sit at the table with the rest of us. There is a place for everyone. After all, we want the same things: healthy bodies and a healthy world.