Going Plant-Based: A Revelation for Body, Mind, and Spirit

Brightly colored vegetables
Photo by Chantal Garnier on Unsplash

Going vegan was the best New Year’s resolution I ever made.  To be honest, it wasn’t really a resolution.  It was more of a quest that unfolded over time. 

I discovered that going plant-based is a transformation that leads to so much more than a surface level change in diet.  It brings the joy and freedom of living aligned with deeply held values, eating food that nourishes physical and emotional well-being.  Through veganism, we begin to create the world we want to see.  We join others to become a movement seeking a world of health, compassion, peace, and sustainability.

Moving toward the values embodied in veganism holds answers for many of the challenges we face globally and collectively.  Although there is much in our world that we cannot control, we can choose to eat in ways that create positive change. 

If you have been considering a plant-based diet or going vegan, there is no better time than now.  Whether your goal is better health, enhancing your fitness, helping the planet or animals, or lessening the likelihood of future pandemics, moving toward a plant-powered lifestyle has benefits for mind, body, and spirit

Planting seeds and opening up possibility

While the shift to a vegan lifestyle can occur “overnight,” often it involves a more gradual process of awakening.  For many years, I was not ready to consider plant-based eating.  I didn’t understand why it would be beneficial.  I believed what I had been taught—that I needed meat and dairy for my health.  I didn’t know about the Blue Zones, cultures where people eat a primarily plant-based diet, and live long, active, and healthy lives free of many of the diseases that plague Western nations.  I didn’t know about Dr. Dean Ornish’s research showing that heart disease can be prevented and reversed with a vegetarian diet.  I didn’t know about the elite athletes who have thrived on a plant-powered diet. 

And I was deeply disconnected from the process of how meat and dairy products arrive in their packages in the grocery store.  I was not in touch with the toll that this increasingly industrialized process takes on its workers, or the unspeakable suffering, pain, and cruelty endured by animals bred and raised for food.  I also didn’t know about animal agriculture’s devastating impact on greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, aquifer depletion, dead zones in the ocean, and water and air pollution.

In addition, for many years, I couldn’t imagine making healthy dietary changes.  During my teens and twenties, it was not uncommon for me to eat a huge bag of chocolates in one sitting.  Even when I stopped that pattern in my early thirties, I still ate plenty of sweets and convenience foods.

But gradually I opened up to the possibility of change.  I became more invested in health and fitness, and began to eat more fruits and vegetables.  And after eating delicious plant-based meals at a conference, I became receptive to the possibility of a meat-free diet.

Many of us initially have blocks to considering a vegan lifestyle, including fears about whether we will get all of the nutrients we need, reluctance to give up foods we enjoy, or concerns about how we will handle social and family gatherings.  How do we overcome these resistances and fears?  Most of us need a deeper reason for making this level of change.  Sometimes a health issue, something we read or see on TV, or information shared by a friend sends us into readiness to consider change.

Whatever the impetus for considering veganism, once the seeds of possibility have been planted, we need to nurture them by seeking out information to inspire and guide us.  We don’t yet need to know all the “how-to’s” but we need enough knowledge for change to feel possible and desirable.  Documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, What the Health, The Game Changers, and Vegucated, as well as books like The China Study and Food Revolution can catalyze and galvanize this discovery process. 

Awakening

Many vegans describe a process of awakening.  For some, it’s the realization that despite the confusing information in the media about nutrition, there is actually a simple answer for how to eat in a way that is healthy and nourishing, a way that makes a lot of sense.  For others, it is the realization that if we care about climate change and the environment, the most meaningful action we can take is to eliminate animal products from our diet.  And for some, it is awakening to an awareness that the whole system of how farmed animals are bred, raised, and slaughtered is incredibly inhumane.  Most of us care about animals, and are deeply concerned if we learn of abuse toward a dog or a cat, but somehow we’ve been taught to disconnect from this inhumanity when it applies to species of animals that we think of as “food.”

My awakening occurred in stages, first through watching a program about slaughterhouse workers, which increased my awareness of how meat was “produced” and the inherent violence and suffering involved.  However, for many years, I did not connect with the full scope of animal exploitation.  It felt too overwhelming.  I found myself pulled into the trance of eating in ways that were socially accepted and familiar.  Watching the documentary Earthlings dissolved any remaining ambivalence and disconnection.  Although what I saw in the film was deeply upsetting, I felt lighter, freer, and clearer afterward. It strengthened my commitment to honor my deeper knowing and values, even when it was difficult.

During this period of awakening, it can help to have support from others who are vegan, to share your discoveries and to process the feelings that come up.  There is excitement, joy, and freedom embarking on this new lifestyle, but it also can feel overwhelming and disheartening when taking in the realities of animal suffering.  Consider finding a vegan mentor or support group, such as that offered by Vegan Outreach.

Preparing for your vegan transition

When you have taken in enough information to decide you are ready to move forward, it can be helpful to set a date for making the transition.  How much time do you need?  Some people are so impacted in the Awakening stage that they literally become vegan overnight.  For others, it’s a process of taking gradual steps toward becoming more and more vegan.  This is the time to discover delicious new recipes.  Learn how to “veganize” your favorite meals, develop vegan baking skills, and try out new, healthy ingredients to stock your pantry and refrigerator.  For guidance, check out The 30 Day Vegan Challenge, Main Street Vegan, The VegNews Guide to Being a Fabulous Vegan, or The Vegan Starter Kit.

Finding your vegan groove

To stay strong in your vegan commitment, it helps to continue learning about plant-powered living. There are a multitude of resources to support you, including countless websites, on-line support groups, books, documentaries, and podcasts.   (Check out some of the resources that supported my vegan journey).  In addition, social support is key to successful, lasting lifestyle change.  Continue to build connections with other vegans, and educate non-vegan family and friends, so that they are on-board with your new way of eating.

It’s normal to have ups and downs, times of strong commitment, and times of questioning.  Have self-compassion, recognizing that it can be difficult to make a change that may be challenged by family and friends.  It takes time to learn how to adapt to the social and practical implications of this new lifestyle.

Trust that with commitment, knowledge, and support, vegan living becomes second nature.  Over time, it becomes part of our identity, and for many of us, it is also part of our contribution to the greater well-being of all beings and the planet.  It goes beyond being a diet or lifestyle, connecting us with a deep sense of meaning and purpose.

Awakening to our highest values is an act of courage and inner transformation.  We are freed from bondage to unhealthy foods as we eat life-nourishing foods.  We embark on a path of self-discovery that frees us to be our authentic selves and to discover and express what truly matters to us.  And as we do so, we contribute to a more sustainable, just, and compassionate world.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.  Her work includes coaching those who feel called to help others, animals, and the planet, empowering them to discover and share their gifts, express themselves authentically, and live in ways that nourish body, mind, and spirit. She also writes and teaches about thriving emotionally with a plant-powered, vegan lifestyle.

Vegan Thanksgiving

Colorful wild turkey with full plumage
Photo by William Stark on Unsplash

My past Thanksgivings were centered around a feast shared with loved ones, in which a turkey was the central part of the meal.  When I adopted a plant-based diet nearly 14 years ago, it changed how I view Thanksgiving and what this holiday means to me.  I still look forward to the shared meal with family.  But now I see the true meaning of Thanksgiving as a celebration of values such as compassion, appreciation, and gratitude.

Here are some ideas for enjoying a compassionate Thanksgiving:

  • Rather than eating a turkey, “adopt” oneFarm Sanctuary (which has shelters in New York State and California) offers the option of symbolically adopting a rescued turkey by making a small donation.  The funds provide food and care for turkeys who live at the shelter.  Farm Sanctuary sends a certificate that includes the picture and story of your adopted turkey. 
  • Visit the Celebration for the Turkeys (also offered by Farm Sanctuary).  In past years, it has been an in-person celebration, where guests ate a vegan meal, and served a meal to the turkeys as well.  This year, the celebration was held virtually.   Check out a video of the festivities here.
  • Enjoy an abundant feast from the plant kingdom.  For Thanksgiving meals shared with family, I like to create vegan versions of traditional favorites.  This year, my husband and I will be contributing roasted garlic mashed potatoes and parsnips; mushroom gravy; cornbread stuffing with mushrooms, nuts, and dried fruit; cranberry-orange relish; and chocolate pecan pie.  There are many great vegan Thanksgiving recipes available on-line.  Here are a few websites to check out:
  • Consider a meat alternative.  Gardein, Tofurky, and Field Roast offer plant-based holiday roasts you can enjoy.  I personally find that I am full and satisfied with all the great home-cooked dishes, so I don’t always include this.  But these options can provide a satisfying centerpiece to replace the turkey.
  • Connect with your reasons for eating plant-based.  Some of us go plant-based for health, others for ethical or environmental reasons.  I was influenced by all of these considerations, but the reason I have stayed plant-based is due to compassion for all sentient beings.  According to a 2017 statistic, approximately 45 to 46 million turkeys are bred and killed each year in the US for Thanksgiving alone.  Commercially raised turkeys are bred to be much heavier than wild turkeys, live in confined conditions, and are slaughtered at only 12 to 19 weeks old.  Taking in these realities (and discovering the abundance of delicious, healthy plant-based options) made me realize that I no longer wanted or needed to participate in this. 
  • Consider what Thanksgiving means to you.  Take time to explore your deeper meaning for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Many of us follow old traditions out of habit, rather than making a conscious decision about how we want to enjoy our holidays.  This may be a perfect year to reevaluate your holidays, what they mean to you, and how you want to celebrate them.  Maybe you will want to keep some old traditions, modify others, and create new ones.
  • Practice gratitude.  I am reminding myself this Thanksgiving to appreciate all the blessings in my life, and to share that appreciation with others.  Even in the midst of what is a challenging time for so many, we all have reasons for gratitude.  And there are many health and psychological benefits of making a daily practice of acknowledging our blessings.
  • Make kind and compassionate purchases.  One way of appreciating our blessings is to pass them on to others.  While we may be more limited in our social contacts (and our finances) this holiday season, we can still find meaningful ways to give back.  In addition to donating time or money to causes that we care about, we can extend compassion to sentient beings and to workers by researching fair trade, cruelty-free, and health-promoting choices for our food and gift purchases.  Our decision to extend compassion to others is a win-win situation, because ultimately it brings more health, fulfillment, and joy back to us.

WISHING YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES A HEALTHY, JOYFUL, AND COMPASSIONATE THANKSGIVING!

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.

To learn more about my plant-based journey, check out this article.

For vegan resources, book suggestions, and websites, check out my resource page.

How Veganism Inspired Me to Find My Voice

Three cows with tags on their ears
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Throughout my life, I have been an introvert.  I’ve always relished solitude, and preferred small groups to large crowds.  I dreaded public speaking and hesitated to express my opinion, especially if it conflicted with others.  This is a story of how I transformed from someone who avoided public speaking to becoming empowered to express what matters deeply to me.

I initially chose a career in journalism because of my love for writing.  However, I discovered that news reporting did not fit my reserved nature.  I was fascinated by psychology, and changed majors in the middle of my junior year of college.  I went on to complete a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology.

Now, a few decades later, I am grateful for this heart-guided choice.   I found work that I loved and that fit with my interests, gifts, and introspective nature.   However, the day-to-day demands of my work as a psychotherapist didn’t leave much time or energy to pursue my dream of writing.  And looking back, perhaps I was not yet inspired to overcome the perceived obstacles.

An Awakening

But then I learned about something that became so meaningful, compelling, and life-changing, it has continued to impact me and to make me more fully human, more fully me.  It gave me a sense of purpose and passion to make a difference.  And over time, I came to realize that it impacts all of humanity, including physical health, emotional and spiritual well-being, and the survival of the planet.  No longer could I keep this to myself as a private revelation.

This discovery started in December 2006, a few weeks after my 40th birthday.  I was watching a program on PBS which had a segment featuring workers in a meat processing plant.  These employees endured difficult working conditions and frequent occupational injuries.  They were coerced not to report their injuries but rather to continue working or face the threat of losing their jobs and income.  The program did not show any gory details of “meat processing,” but I was deeply unsettled.   Maybe it particularly struck me because at the time, I was employed in a pain management program, working with patients who suffered devastating emotional, physical, and financial impacts from work-related injuries.   

I also recognized that if I didn’t like how the workers were treated, I would be appalled if I saw the slaughter process or how the animals were treated.  For the first time in my life, I began to consider the systems that produced my food.

Obviously, on some level I knew that meat came from animals and that they were killed in order to become what I called food.  However, like many of us, I was very disconnected from this process.  Although I grew up in Iowa, surrounded by farms, I didn’t know about factory farming.  I knew only a few vegetarians, and I didn’t understand why anyone would choose that lifestyle.   At that time, I wasn’t much of a cook, and I ate a lot of microwave meals and comfort foods.  I couldn’t imagine taking on the effort of cooking and meal planning, much less learning how to eat and cook in an entirely new way.  

After watching the PBS program, a door of possibility opened.  The very next day, I went to Barnes and Noble, bought my first vegetarian cookbook, and tried out a recipe for roasted red pepper and artichoke lasagna.  Because I was such a novice at cooking, I had to drive to K-Mart mid-way through the recipe to purchase appropriate pots and pans.  The lasagna turned out to be delicious, full of vibrant colors and sumptuous flavors.  I shared it with my boyfriend’s family, and it got rave reviews.  Wow, who knew I could cook?

I went on to read every book in my local library about vegetarianism.  I read about plant-based nutrition, to make sure I was covering all of my nutritional bases.  I also read about the ethical and environmental impact of animal agriculture.  I found myself captivated, and at times horrified, by what I was learning.

At first, I still ate meat when it was served at social gatherings.  However, at home I was eating vegetarian, and for the first time in my life, found that I enjoyed cooking.  I realized I had never liked handling meat, but thought that it was necessary for my health and well being.  I began going to the health food store and buying spices and condiments I had never used before.  I expanded my food palette and found new freedom, joy, and creativity.

I continued reading about vegetarian ethics and lifestyle.  Gradually, I took in that despite what my upbringing and culture had taught me, I did not need meat to thrive physically.  I learned that plant-based diets have been shown to reverse heart disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer and auto-immune disease.  But what impacted me the most were the stories about how the animals are bred, raised, and slaughtered, and the cruelty and pain inherent in every step of the process.   At that point, I knew I needed to speak my truth: “I’m no longer eating meat.” 

A Deeper Commitment

Over the months and years following my decision to be vegetarian, I came to understand that all forms of animal products involve pain and cruelty.  I started to limit dairy products, and discovered that I was free of chronic seasonal allergies when I did so.  I knew that becoming vegan was the right next step for me to more fully honor my deepest values.  And yet, in spite of my desire to embrace veganism, at times a kind of hypnosis took over, where I felt myself pulled back into eating what was familiar.  And since dairy and eggs are often “invisible” components of baked goods and other foods, I found it hard to explain my decision to not partake in these foods at social gatherings.

I knew I needed support, and so once again, I turned to reading.  Books such as  The 30 Day Vegan Challenge and Main Street Vegan helped me with many practical skills for living a vegan lifestyle:  How to make delicious breakfasts and baked goods without eggs; how to find cruelty free cosmetics and cleaning products; and where to buy shoes and coats not made from leather, wool, or down.  I also learned skills for communicating with others about my choices.

I took in the reality that the living conditions for dairy cows and egg-laying hens are as cruel as those endured by animals raised for meat, and that at the end of their relatively short lives, they go through the same slaughter process.   Gradually, I broke through the deep layers of emotional disconnection and social conditioning.  At that point, there was no going back.

Finding My Voice

Speaking up does not come easily or naturally to me.  Yet my passion for veganism, for animals, for our health, and for the environment compels me to do so.  Most of all, I long to share the freedom and joy I have found through a plant-powered lifestyle.   When I stopped eating animals and embraced the bounty of the plant kingdom, I became freed in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  I was freed from past food preferences, habits, and addictions that weren’t healthy for me.  I was freed from the subconscious weight of killing sentient beings for my daily sustenance. 

Veganism is a path of listening to our heart’s guidance to extend compassion to all of creation.  We have the power to vote for what we believe in through how we spend our money and what we choose to eat.  Each day, through these choices, we can honor our deepest values of vibrant health and well-being, a thriving planet, and compassion and justice for all.

An array of brightly colored vegetables
Photo by Chantal Garnie on Unsplash

Interested in moving toward a plant-based diet? Check out these resources and book recommendations for guidance, information, and support.

Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.