‘It’s hard to watch people making terrible choices about food… but I want to be a shining example, not a bully’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life

Our latest contributor, Christie, turned to veganism in desperation to help with a challenging range of health problems. It brought huge physical benefits and soon became a key component of her spiritual life


Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m 44 years old and female. I’m a follower of Jesus. I am married (to an omnivore) and we have four wonderful cats and no human kids. I’m a speech-language pathologist who specialised in supporting kids with developmental diagnoses (especially autism) and their families. I wrote and now distribute a curriculum to teach biblical truths to kids with special needs (the Chirp Curriculum) and I have a YouTube channel  where I post videos relating to special education. My husband and I both love cats, reading and hiking. We’ve been married for 23 years next month. We both grew up in gorgeous Minnesota. We now live in Arizona (also gorgeous).

You’re vegan now; were you vegetarian before?
Yes, I was a vegetarian for about six months before I became vegan.

What led to that?
I was searching for answers to my health difficulties. I noticed that I felt a lot worse eating meat, and cut that out first… but that didn’t solve my problems!

How long have you been vegan?
I became fully vegan in August of 2015 and I’m grateful for every day for the opportunity to support my own health and to cause less suffering in this world.

What led to that choice?
My vegan story started due to the aforementioned health concerns. When I was in my first graduate program (age 23), I found out I had celiac disease (I am therefore gluten-free). In my second graduate program (age 25), I was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis, attached to my intestines and all over inside my abdominal cavity (ew). Endometriosis is when the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It responds to hormones and causes extreme pain and trouble.

My case was pretty extreme due to the threat of it perforating my intestines, and the Monday after my graduation, I had a complete hysterectomy with removal of my ovaries, too. I was 27. This did not prevent further health difficulty, however; in subsequent years, I developed Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and eventually Crohn’s disease (that’s the one that really knocked me on my butt).

Obviously my body was screaming to be heard! I didn’t understand what it was saying until I was at my very lowest about four years ago. It was the most miserable time of my life. I was terribly depressed because I couldn’t get well and I didn’t know how to live life in that state. I was scrolling through things to watch on Netflix, and I came across What The Health. These days, all those doctors seem like friends to me, but at the time, I couldn’t believe that drastic health improvement could come from eliminating foods that I’d thought were health-promoting.

I didn’t jump on board right away, but I began researching. I read the books, I looked on PubMed, I watched YouTube videos from the plant-based doctors… and I discovered that there is a scientific backing for what these doctors were saying. It scared me because I did not know how to do it and I did not want to tell my friends and family that I was becoming vegan. And in fact, I didn’t tell even my husband for a while. We both grew up in Minnesota, where dairy is almost holy, and people believe that eating meat is a necessity for survival.

Veganism was a pretty big departure from everything we were used to and the way I had been cooking. Thankfully, because of the celiac disease diagnosis years before, I wasn’t quite as intimidated as I could’ve been by changing my cooking. To my surprise, I’d only been plant-based for about a month when meat and dairy started to look like murder and slavery to me. This was when I began to proudly call myself a vegan.

ChristieThis may not make sense to some readers, but I need to mention the spiritual aspect of my dietary changes. During my illness, my relationship with Jesus became much deeper because He was all that I had. I began to see the non-violent, self-sacrificing, enemy-loving character of Jesus in a new way, and it connected completely with the eye-opening experience of becoming vegan. I believe all followers of Jesus should be living lives of love, compassion and non-violence, and veganism is the only dietary pattern that complies with this. I want to be part of spreading love and relieving suffering because that’s what Jesus did.

Do you see yourself ever going back to being an omnivore?
No. When I am bored of healthy food (regularly) and when I don’t want to do the food prep and be different from everyone else, I think of the animals. They deserve better than the torture and deaths they get because of us.

Are you a ‘healthy’ vegan? Often people assume we’re all fitness-obsessed, when the reality is that we come in many flavours and for many people life is an eternal hunt for vegan cake. What makes up your diet?
I would say no, I’m not a “healthy” vegan in one way, but yes, I am a “healthy” vegan in a different way.

I am not healthy because I have all sorts of health challenges that truly do affect my everyday life. Becoming vegan has not cured me completely. I continue to get a little bit closer to full health each year that passes, but as hard as I try, I’m not there yet and I honestly think that these issues will probably affect me for the rest of my life. I hope I’m wrong, of course!

I am healthy because I eat fairly well. As I’m typing this, I’m eating a homemade chocolate pudding (recipe in Dr Neal Barnard’s book Turn Off The Fat Genes!), but mostly I eat veggies, rice, fruit, and beans. My typical breakfast is a huge smoothie with frozen cherries, two bananas, chocolate almond milk, flax seeds, chia seeds, and as many greens as I can fit in.

I do need to be careful about the type of greens due to the Crohn’s sensitivities, so I use spring greens rather than kale or arugula. For lunch today I ate a bean and rice burger with ketchup, mustard, shredded carrots and red cabbage as well as a plate of baked potato wedges. For dinner I’m planning some lentil pasta casserole and a big salad (greens, carrots, cabbage, green olives, dried cranberries, banana peppers, and a mustard, lemon juice, and maple syrup dressing). These meals are typical for me.

Christie's doughnutsMy favorite vegan recipes to share with omnivores are my vegan doughnuts, garbanzo bean chocolate chip cookies, and the chocolate pudding I mentioned earlier. Desserts aren’t very healthy, but it’s great to teach non-vegans that “vegan food” can be just as delicious as food that contains animal products!

Where do you shop?
I do almost all of most of my grocery shopping at Sprout’s. I’m lucky enough to have one that’s three miles from my house!

Do you consciously think about where you get your protein, etc, from?
I do pay attention to nutrient composition of my foods because people with Crohn’s often have difficulty with absorption. Every once in a while, I track what I’m eating on cronometer.com for a few days. I want to make sure I’m eating a wide enough variety of foods to get all the various nutrients that will help me heal and be as healthy as possible. I have recently started paying attention to protein because I found myself very hungry after meals that didn’t have contain a good protein source. I add beans to pretty much every meal now, and that’s enough protein. I also pay attention to things like iodine, zinc, and selenium due to my thyroid disease.

For many vegans, the initial realisation of facts that make us turn to a different lifestyle is pretty life-changing and alienating. We view things differently, from the supermarket shopping experience in a meat-eating world to the people around us. How was that change in mindset – the reality of being an outsider in many situations – for you?
It’s been difficult for me. It’s hard to go to the grocery store. I don’t see “meat” now, I see dead bodies. I don’t see dairy, I see tortured cows. I do not understand why more people don’t see what I see. I am sad for the people around me who are having health issues and who aren’t willing to change the food to change their health. Science is on our side and purposeful blindness always bothers me.

I’m the type of brainy introvert who often feels like an outsider, and this is one more area where I don’t connect with “normal” people. But happily, I am also a person who loves to be a positive influence, and people respond to my influence! This gives me hope that I can create new groups where I am the standard and everyone fits in.

Do you mix with many other vegans – does your lifestyle mean that you come into contact with people of a similar outlook regularly?
I have two woman friends who are also vegan, and we plan as many cooking dates as possible! My best female friend is vegan and we share recipes and vegan life stuff together. Her boyfriend was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she is certain that his prognosis would be much worse if they hadn’t switched to a plant-based diet a few years back. I would feel much more alone if I didn’t have at least one person in my life who was living this way. We regularly share photos of what we’re eating and recipes of what we’ve made that has worked.

I also manage a volunteer team, and they are curious and interested in my dietary pattern. They enjoy coming over for vegan meals. It encourages me that more than one of them have mentioned that they plan to add more plant-based meals into their family’s rotation.

Do you seek out vegan groups and forums online?
Yes! I am subscribed to lots of vegan YouTube channels, vegan reddit subreddits, and vegan blogs. I also read voraciously, and have a whole library of the best plant-based health and nutrition books.

Christie and husbandDo you live in a meat/dairy eating household? And if so, how is that?
I do. As mentioned above, my husband is an omnivore. He is working to decrease the amount of animal products he’s eating, and now meat is a condiment to his meals rather than the main part. For example, instead of eating a burger or a steak, he’ll eat a burrito that’s mostly rice and beans with a sprinkling of shredded chicken in it. I have veganised his lunches (from meat and cheese sandwich with mayo, carrots and dairy-based ranch dressing to peanut butter on whole wheat with carrots and jalapeno humous!), and breakfast is always vegetarian. I respect his willingness to adjust his life when he grew up on meat and cheese and has a sensitive palate. I hope someday to have a home that is completely free of animal products!

Do you feel you have more in common with vegans than the majority of other people who don’t believe plant-based is the way forward?
Yes. I see the world as being a place that needs compassion, love, non-violence and gentleness. I definitely believe vegan is the future!

Do you, as most of us have to, eat out with non-vegans often and how do you feel about their eating choices?
I don’t eat out often, but when I do, I usually pick pizza. I don’t dig ordering a salad and getting a pile of sad iceberg lettuce with no dressing. I need actual food! Pizza works because there’s a satiating component – the crust. I like Pieology best. Their gluten-free crust is also vegan, and I can pile on the veggies (and pineapple!).

It’s hard to watch people making terrible choices about their food, especially since such a large percentage of people are overweight/obese/sick. Sometimes I’m angry that people are unwilling to make changes in order to be healthy. I have worked and continue to work very hard to be as healthy as possible, and most people don’t seem to even care about their bodies at all.

At the same time, I’m grateful to be able to be an example of what a healthier diet can accomplish, and I believe these same people will come to me to ask more questions about veganism at some point when they are tired of their pain and illness. With most of my acquaintances, I believe health will be first, and then animal welfare and environmentalism.

Are you involved in any form of activism?
I guess gentle activism. I continue to share resources and promote veganism to my friends, family, and clients (on YouTube and through the curriculum I wrote). I also have a personal blog where I share regularly about veganism in a casual way. I want to be a shining example, not a bully.

How do you feel about the vegan jokes… you know, that vegans can’t go five minutes without mentioning the fact or they explode?
I don’t really care. I am proud to be vegan.

Do you believe veganism to be a fad?
No. I subscribe to Star Trek’s vision of the future: everyone knows we can’t keep eating animals. It will die out sooner or later, like smoking. It’s antiquated. If people want meat in the Star Trek future, it’s replicated. As Commander Riker said, “We no longer enslave animals for food.”

Do you believe that the meat and dairy industries have a future?
Goodness, I hope not! The sooner they’re all out of business, the better! I envision a situation like what happened in Finland, where dairy farmers were paid by the government to grow berries instead – and people got healthier!

What do you believe the timescale for change to be?
Decades, sadly. As long as the government subsidises unhealthy foods, as it does in the US, more unhealthy foods will be produced.

How do you think we best ‘convert’ omnivores to a plant-based lifestyle? And do you actively try to do this?
I think the best way to change people’s minds is with gentleness and compassion. Yes, I am constantly striving to be a good example. This way, people will hopefully question their assumptions and begin to shift their behaviour.

How do you feel about the horror-show videos of the reality of meat? Do you share them? Do you feel they have a positive place in changing people’s understanding of the meat and dairy industry?
I do not share them. I am an extremely sensitive person visually, and I have flashbacks to traumatising things I’ve seen (even videos) years after I saw them. Some of them have indeed strengthened my resolve to be vegan for the rest of my life, I must admit, but I will not subject anyone to that purposefully. I will tell people what I know about how animals are treated, and I appreciate that other people share those videos. They can definitely make a difference.

Are you positive about the future of veganism?
Yes! I love that vegans are caring, thoughtful, purposeful and compassionate (toward animals as well as toward other people who don’t share our convictions). I want more of those things in this world!

What does being vegan mean to you?
It means living a life that contributes to suffering as little as possible. I am proud to be vegan!

If you are interested in sharing your thoughts in our Everyday Vegans slot, please get in touch and we’ll let you know what to do.

Published by Karen_WY

Vegan blogger living with more cats than humans.

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