This month is 22 years that I've been following the plant based path. But it all began many years before that. When I was around 10 years old I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. Who wasn't at that time, right? Well, I had to be one of his biggest fans! I was also an avid reader as a child (still am) and had gotten a book about Michael. I was reading the book and stumbled upon the part where it said that he was a vegetarian. That was a word I had never heard before, and the book didn't explain what it meant. I asked my mother, who gave me the best definition she knew at the time. This was before the Internet where we could quickly research a topic, and the town I grew up in had a population of less than 3,000 people, so the tiny library we had didn't have any books on vegetarianism.
Still, I was intrigued. My path began there, because the more I learned about what a vegetarian was, the more it felt right to me. I grew up in a place where hunting and fishing were the norm, and I remember feeling bad for the fish as I watched people kill and clean them, and it made me sad every hunting season to see the buck pole in town, where the deer were hanging and waiting to be processed. I tried to go vegetarian as a child and did so for a year, but I had limited info and when you don't purchase and prepare your own food there are challenges (I also grew up on welfare, so money was tight and food was limited).
When I finally lived on my own and was responsible for preparing my own meals it didn't take long before I continued down a plant based path. I started looking for information on vegetarianism, and even though the Internet still wasn't what it is today, I began getting the info that I craved. One of the items I came across was a story about how chickens are treated in factory farms. I read the article, which made me cry, and I vowed then and there to go vegetarian.
My plant based path evolved to being primarily vegan as time went on, and a whole new world of delicious food opened up to me. I had never tried ethnic foods like Indian, Thai, or Ethiopian, but they all offered vegan dishes that were delectable. Today, some of those are my favorites! In the past couple of decades I have seen an amazing transformation in the plant based world, whereas it was once difficult to find great vegan products, today they are everywhere. Decades ago, I had to go to a health food store to find a limited selection of plant based milks, while today my local mainstream grocery store carries so many plant based milk options that sometimes I don't know which one to pick! They also carry vegan cheese, salad dressings, and more. I'm grateful to companies like Follow Your Heart for consistently putting great vegan products out there. They didn't jump on the vegan bandwagon when it became popular in recent years (as so many large companies have done). Rather, they are a large part of the cornerstone of what has brought these vegan products into the mainstream. While their products have been in my home for decades, I'm thrilled when I see people newly interested in the plant based path trying them.
My reason for following a plant based path has always been for the animals. A friend of mine once told me that I have a sense of compassion for animals that others just don't have. But if it weren't for the animals, I would have a plant based path for the environment, with the many health benefits that I personally gain only being a side perk. This month is 22 years that I've been living this lifestyle. My whole family lives a plant based life, as my husband and I are raising two children (ages 11 and 13) who have been on the plant based path since birth.
I started the Daytona Beach Vegetarian Society, so that my kids would see that there are other vegetarians out there, and to help do outreach work. Over the years, we have introduced thousands of people to the plant based life through guest speakers, free food samples, movie screenings, potlucks, and more. I have a saying that I always share with people who are trying these foods for the first time and it's one I truly belive: "No cruelty, no cholesterol, no compromise." Peace begins on our plate!