Happy Veganniversary to Me

Today I’m celebrating my Veganniversary.

Exactly 7 years ago, I began my plant-based journey in earnest.

It happened during Thanksgiving Week.

Seven Cherries with Dewdrops on White Background

I was on a trip and staying with family in New Jersey.

I had decided to catch up on my reading.

And the book I brought with me was The China Study, written by Drs. T. Colin and Thomas Campbell.

Little did I know but that moment—that trip and that book—was destined to change my life forever.

A perfect storm of events had brought me to that place…

“Stop Eating Anything With a Mother or a Face”


To understand why I was reading that book, we need to first go back 6 years to 2002.

In that year, I was at an event and heard Joseph McClendon III tell a story about his mother that I had never forgotten.

He described how his mother—who had been given only a few months to live because of advanced colorectal cancer—had lived on for many more years due to two simple lifestyle changes:

  • Laughter. She stopped watching the news and started watching comedies (which essentially meant she started to laugh more).
  • A Plant-Based Diet. She stopped eating (as he graphically described it) “anything with a mother or a face.

I remember as if it was yesterday how he concluded his talk; he cajoled the audience to stop eating ‘anything with a mother or a face for 10 days’.

Fast Forward to 2008

Shape of seven bell peppers isolated on white background

Fast forward 6 years to Halloween 2008 (a month before my trip to New Jersey).

A good friend had invited me to attend a Tony Robbins live weekend event in Orlando. A big Tony Robbins fan, I went gladly.

Much to my delight, on the very last day of the event, the same speaker (Joseph McClendon III) I had heard 6 years before tell the story about his mother’s miraculous turnaround, got up on the podium to talk about how diet is key to a healthy, vibrant life.

Captivated by what he said (just as I had been 6 years before), I was sorely disappointed that I couldn’t stay for his daylong session on health, vitality and diet. I grabbed a list of recommended books he had compiled, vowing to read each book on the list to ‘make up’ for the fact I was going to miss his live session.

And—you guessed it—The China Study was one of the books on the list.

And that is precisely how I ended up in New Jersey a month later–during Thanksgiving 2008 — with a copy of The China Study safely tucked into my suitcase.

The Dairy Diva

At the time, I had already been vegetarian for 20 years.

But I was still a ‘Dairy Diva’—I loved, loved, loved dairy. To me, a thick slice of cave-aged Gruyere cheese on a warm crisp, freshly baked baguette or a bowl of Belgian dark chocolate ice cream was really as good as it got.

But my obsession with dairy went well beyond food.Dec-01_VeganBirthday_Illustrate12FB_000021316608

Because not only did I love to EAT everything related to dairy (cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream), my career was inextricably linked to it.

Dairy cows—my favorite animals after dogs—gave my work purpose; I was devoted to working with them and helping to produce all the amazing ‘cow related’ food products possible.

With both a Masters and a PhD under my belt, I had spent the past decade focused on preventive medicine and infectious diseases in dairy cattle as well as performing research to improve milk production.

Giving up dairy was about the last thing on my mind.

That was all about to change…

The Night I Gave up Dairy

“Like flipping a light switch on and off, we could control cancer promotion merely by changing levels of protein…but the cancer promoting factor in this case was cow’s milk protein.” ~ Excerpt from the China Study

As I read those words and so many others found in that book, I was hit by a tsunami of emotions.

For starters, I was surprised. A long time vegetarian, I had always linked cancer and diet with red meat.Dec-01_VeganBirthday_Illustrate14_000073616899

I knew red meat was bad.

But it had literally never occurred to me that dairy could promote cancer or that I could seriously ‘upgrade’ my vegetarian diet simply by not eating dairy.

As I read page after page of the book, I started to get really MAD.

The China Study message upset me; it was almost unfathomable to me that dairy could undercut our health in the way that Dr. Campbell was suggesting.

I hated the idea that both my life’s work and favorite foods could be linked to the onset and progression of chronic diseases.

But instead of putting the book down in disgust, I continued to read it for two reasons.

The first reason was because I really could relate to the author—Dr. Campbell.

He, like me, had dedicated his life to working with farm animals. He also believed that cows could deliver the ‘perfect’ food. Dr. Campbell and I came from the same place.

The second reason came from a desire to set the record straight.

Dec-01_VeganBirthday_Illustrate13FB_000061749274To be honest, I was convinced that if I read the book cover to cover, I would unearth enough information to ‘prove Dr. Campbell  wrong’.   (Since that fateful night, Dr. Campbell and I have become friends and we’ve since chuckled over my determination to prove him wrong).

But that never happened.

Because the more I read, the more I was convinced that The China Study message was both profound and needed. By the time I closed the last page of the book, I had enough information to make one of the biggest decisions of my life.

Determined, I vowed then and there to eliminate dairy from my life for six full months. (I wasn’t ready at that point to remove dairy ‘forever’ or even for one year…).

This was the official launch of my plant-based journey.

How My Plant-Based Journey Has Been

Wondering how my journey went?

Well for starters, I discovered that very quickly my food cravings completely disappeared.

My weight dropped—almost without trying.Seven tangerines on white isolated background

For the first time in my life, I was eating—not dieting.

And I have never been tempted by dairy ever again.

But despite all these positive changes, those first few years weren’t easy.

And it wasn’t because of the food. Frankly, I quickly learned to love my dairy-free diet and for the last seven years I haven’t missed dairy at all.

The challenge was really the reaction of others—my colleagues, family and friends. They argued endlessly my dietary choice was ‘wrong’, fretted I was ‘missing out’ nutritionally and feared I was doing myself more harm than good.

And at the beginning, it was hard to counter a lot of their logic. It took me a while to fully understand the science behind my plant-based dietary choice and even longer to feel 100% confident about my choices.

A Message for You

I guess I’m here today to reassure you.

Reassure you that the start of every plant-based journey is very individual and often ‘unplanned’ (just like mine was).

Reassure you that it’s totally okay not to understand everything at the beginning. Normal to have lots of questions—and even ripe organic raspberries and blackberries, isolated on white backgrounddoubts.

Reassure you that it will happen—but maybe not overnight. It takes time to become confident—proficient—with the whole food plant-based lifestyle.

It kind of reminds me of learning how to speak a language.

I can speak 6 languages but this definitely did not happen overnight.

Equally, I did not learn those languages ‘doing what I had always done’ or living in Brazil, my home country

I can only master a language when I totally immerse myself in the country where that language is actually spoken.

I believe it is precisely the same with a plant-based diet.Fresh blueberries

It takes time and total immersion to be proficient.

So today, I celebrate that fateful first step I took 7 years ago

And I invite you to celebrate your veganniversary (if you haven’t already).

Or maybe make TODAY your very first day that you commit to a plant-based lifestyle.

Being plant-based has given me a level of living—physically, emotionally and intellectually—that I never dreamed possible.

I would love for you to enjoy the exact same benefits.

And as I celebrate this important anniversary, I will say that I honestly can’t wait to see what the next 7 years will bring!