Dreena’s Story

dreenab&wsarahI’ve always loved food, but not always healthy foods. I was known as the junk-food lovin’ kid, sneaking off to our corner-store for chips, bars, ice creams, gummies, and more. I loved my mom’s cooking too. Except for liver night. Never liked it, and drowning it in ketchup didn’t help, mom! But, boy I loved our fried bologna, mac ‘n cheese, cod au gratin – and anything else bathed in buttery sauces or covered with cheese. I didn’t know fresh vegetables until I was an adult. We ate vegetables as kids, but they were usually canned or frozen, and most always mixed with butter or cooked down and covered with gravy! For sure my food journey was just that – a journey. I didn’t always like vegetables or beans. I definitely always craved fatty foods and cheese and also rich desserts and plenty of junk food. But, my body didn’t like it – and beginning in my early 20′s, it told me so.

I remember being 22, giving a presentation in university. When it was my time to stand, all I could think was how much my knees hurt, and had been for months. I wasn’t in competitive sports or otherwise training hard athletically. So, it wasn’t a chronic sports injury. I wasn’t particularly heavy either. I was carrying an extra 20 or so pounds, but that’s about all. Yet my knees felt like I was 75 pounds overweight. Stiff, sore, slightly swollen, heavy, difficult to move. My digestion was also very sluggish and overall my body felt drained and slow. I knew something had to change, but didn’t make the full dietary connection until after university.

I had already cut out some animal products in my late teens – not all, but the “red meats”. One of my sisters read out an article about red meat, how it does not digest well and remains largely undigested in your intestines, up to several pounds. The idea was repulsive to me at 16. At the time as a teen, I was all about looking good, but there was also a little part of me interested in health. I exercised most days of the week – even if at the time it was more to lose weight than to be healthy. But, along the way, learning about the food and weight connection I picked up a few life-changing resources.

I read Fit for Life and Diet For a New America.  Those books had a huge impact on me.  I stopped eating chickens, and then fish soon followed.  I felt some health improvements, but even bigger changes came when combined with eliminating dairy.  Like most, I wasn’t convinced that dairy should be removed.  After all, dairy is critical for calcium and bone health, right?  (No, not right.) But, could I ever stop eating cheese? That was the real question of truth. But, I experimented. That next step of eliminating dairy upped the ante for my health. Once I cut out dairy (along with meat), so much improved. Those stiff, swollen, sore knees soon felt light, mobile and normal again. No more bouts of gout (yes, I had them in my twenties). My digestion felt better, not heavy and sluggish. My energy lifted and I didn’t have long-lasting mucousy colds. I knew in my soul that meat and dairy weren’t good for my body.  And, the more I read, the more facts I had to support my decision. I had just married at the time, and my husband Paul jumped on board. Okay, he didn’t jump. Perhaps I pulled him along at first. But, it took only a few weeks for him to also feel better and our course was set.

And, you know what? Cheese was not that hard to ‘give up’, and I gained far more.

Not eating any meat, eggs, or dairy we were now eating a plant-powered, or vegan diet.  This was in the 90′s, and what a bizarre idea that was for people.  We were definitely the kooky ones in the family. We knew no-one else in our family or community – maybe our entire town – that ate this way. It didn’t matter. We knew what was right and stayed strong in our new personal truth.

I found a new love in cooking.  Before eating plant-powered, I never enjoyed cooking too much. I reheated foods, didn’t really cook or prepare foods. Frozen entrees that could be microwaved, deli-prepared meals and snacks. Any baking I did was from mixes. Cooking and baking were not pleasant for me using animal foods. What a nuisance it was to separate eggs and determine if they were ‘safe’ and to cream butter and more. Not fun. Cooking was worse. Worrying about food contamination with cutting boards, cutting into raw meats and pulling the skin from the flesh of chicken. Cleaning up the juices blood afterwards… and again, making sure nothing else in the kitchen was contaminated. I prepared food enough to eat something, but there was no enjoyment in it for me.

dreenastandingsarah

Then I started cooking and baking with plant-power. What freedom!  Really, as much as people think eating without meat and dairy is restricted, I enjoyed this new world! Less worry, more fun. Plus, so many more foods and ingredients to play with. Not at first of course. I started with what I knew, and that’s where it may feel restricted at first. We imagine our plates without the meat, dairy and eggs and wonder what’s left. I soon learned there was an entire plant-powered food world – and it wasn’t about what I was giving up, but about all the new things I was including into our diet!  I found a new love in cooking and baking and began creating my own recipes.  After my father-in-law’s heart attack I put pencil to paper (or, fingers to keyboard), and starting writing my first cookbook.

As I grew into this diet, I also became more interested in whole foods and overall health and wellbeing.  It wasn’t just about not eating animals.  I wasn’t about to eat white bread, pasta, and processed foods in the name of eating vegan. My own personal health was important – and that of my family  Early in my cookbook career, I gained a reputation for having the “healthy” vegan recipes. People often tell me that they turn to my cookbooks for healthy vegan recipes that also hit the flavor mark. That’s where eating vegan meets plant-power! You can count on my recipes to deliver great flavor using the vegan BASICS: beans, nuts, seeds, whole-grains and whole-grain products, vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs. Those basics can be combined in ways that you would never imagine, to delight your senses while nourishing your body and soul.

Five books, three children, one Sarabi-cat, and a few hundred recipes later, I still loving creating new dishes. Now they are better than ever, with the best balance of “nutritious meets delicious”. I’m not going to give you any recipes I wouldn’t feed my children. They’ve got to be healthy. They’ve got to taste good (I won’t give you anything my family rejects either)!  

Join me, get plant-powered!

Resources: Over the years, several resources have really reaffirmed my beliefs in, and commitment to, eating vegan.  In addition to those mentioned above, The China Study had a profound impact on me, as did Eating Animals. Now, there are plenty more resources available in the way of books, and also very informative sites and documentaries. People often ask “what books and links do you recommend?” In addition to the books mentioned above, at right is a list of terrific resources for learning about how to eat more healthy and compassionately.

DISCLAIMER: I would love to hear from you and happy to answer your cooking, food, and lifestyle questions.  Please know, however that I do not have nutritional or dietary credentials.  As such I am not comfortable answering questions about supplements and specific health and nutrition questions.  For those questions, please consult with a dietitian or doctor.  If you are interested in information or a consultation with a plant-based dietitian, please visit Julieanna Hever (MS, RD, CPT) at www.plantbaseddietitian.com.