Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Interviews: Melissa: A Vegan Gone Raw

CYoFC:  Describe your current diet/lifestyle (vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian, freegan, flexitarian, omnivore with vegan tendencies...etc.).

Melissa:  I am currently a raw vegan in diet and lifestyle.

CYoFC:  For how long have you been vegan? and raw? Describe your path.

Melissa:  I have been vegetarian for 17 years and vegan for 9 (but not consecutively). In the past, there were spurts of veganism lasting 2 years at the most. But because my stance, knowledge, and experience has strengthened and expanded throughout the years - I have been able to maintain my current veganism for 3-4 years. My jump into raw food however has been a new endeavor. For about a month, I have been able to maintain a raw diet where I typically eat 90 % living food.

CYoFC:  This path of challenging the "typical" food choices has included 17 years (and counting) of your life - that's amazing! What prompted you to start at all?

Melissa:  When I was 14, I befriended a vegetarian who introduced me to animal rights by discussing the way animals are mistreated on factory farms and in the meat industry (I hate that term). After absorbing our conversations and performing outside research, I decided to eliminate all meat products from my plate. When I was 19, I wrote an English thesis paper on animal rights thinking it was an easy A since I was well informed and passionate over the subject. In the course of my research, I stumbled upon a new term I had never heard of before - "veganism." Attached to its definition was the dairy and egg industry. I read articles documenting the same form of exploitation seen in the meat industry. And in the end, when I analyzed the two types of agriculture, each were interconnected. When the dairy industry exhausts the use of dairy cows, they are slaughtered for additional commerce. And the same occurs with hens. Therefore, by supporting one industry via monetary contributions, I was also assisting the same industry I boycotted by being vegetarian. To me this was inane, so I became vegan.

Although I was equipped with drive and willpower, I was inept in nutrition. I ate horribly and I felt its consequences 2 years later. And so I rode a back and forth roller coaster between vegetarianism and veganism up until I was in my late 20's. I had a conversation about veganism with the same friend who influenced my eat habits at 14. She was in the middle of transitioning to a vegan diet and needed some tips. And when our discussion drew to an end, I found myself heavily thinking about veganism. I found myself getting lost in the flood of information I was giving her. From animal abuse to migrant workers being exploited. From communities devastated on an environmental and financial level to global environmental effects. I believed and supported the vegan philosophy and couldn't find one reason not to eliminate all animal products from my life. So that night I decided to try one more time. I didn't want to falter and I knew my weaknesses. So I focused more on dietary needs and health as opposed to humanism. I lacked the first and knew if I didn't find a balance between nutrition and compassion, I would return to vegetarianism. Not that vegetarianism is more nutritional than veganism. I don't want to make it seem like veganism is dangerous or that opting for this lifestyle or diet automatically equates to malnutrition. As with any diet, an individual has to be careful and always has the possibility of eating poorly (regardless as to whether or not this entails eating meat, dairy, eggs, or none of the above). Unfortunately in my life (because I was younger and not trained on the subject of health), eating as a vegetarian was easier and thoughtless. As a vegan I would eat cheeseless pizzas and vegan waffles. How is that nutritional? So it was more my know how than actually being vegan that did me in. But I have been successful thus far and I don't see myself reintroducing any animal products into my body or life.

In regards to raw - as I stated, I am a neophyte. My mother has always been interested in raw food and so I have been vaguely aware of the health benefits associated with the diet. Also, my husband's friend frequently goes raw for about 30 days at a time with a 2 wk break in between. So a mixture of my mom's influence and the respect I have for my husband's friend, I was motivated to do additional research. I read literature discussing how a raw food diet helps alleviate digestive disorders (which I frequently had until going raw), provides nutrients in optimal, bioavailable, and full form recognizable to the body, and maintains proper metabolism by balancing chemical secretions that control and affect your body (positively or negatively - eg. hormones, insulin, the adrenals). I also read statements citing a raw diet has a low impact on the environment. With all the information I read, I knew I wanted to experiment with raw food. I wanted discover if it made a difference on my physical and mental quotidian performance. It has!

CYoFC:  In your realization that by purchasing dairy products, you were actually supporting the very industry you'd boycotted by being vegetarian, you faced a very hard reality. This is no simple task, as you said, but you persisted through the challenge and ultimately, you decided to chose your own food chain, so to speak. Tell me more about the challenges you faced along the way. And what about current challenges of being vegan and raw, or aspects about it that you don't like?

Melissa:  There were challenges when I first became vegan. As I stated above, learning how to eat properly was something I had to master. Once I did, there were no conflicts. Being raw, is a different experience. Because this world is designed and rooted in preparing food one way - cooked, raw food is not always an easy lifestyle . Up until a few months ago, I commuted from Philadelphia to NYC for school. With a heavy commute (8 hr round trip), eating raw was definitely challenging. Because a majority of my meals are prepared at home, carrying an extra bag of food on top of my nap sack full of text books, no refrigerator, and being out of the house for 24 hours was challenging. Also I recently went on vacation with my mother to Puerto Rico and although my mornings were perfect and accommodating via a buffet housing every exotic fruit and nut imaginable, I was harbored with unknown meal plans as the day progressed. So traveling as a vegan is stress free, but traveling as a raw vegan can be problematic!

CYoFC:  Your dedication is so admirable. Do you plan on remaining vegan? What about raw? Why or why not?

Melissa:  I plan on staying vegan! My husband (who is attempting a vegan diet) and I have discussed the subject and because I am adamant about it, we have agreed to raise our children vegan as well. I know I will remain raw since I have seen digestive ailments and physical exhaustion disappear, but my husband don't know where his stance is on the subject of raising our children raw. This is up for debate, which I am fine with. Motivation for remaining a raw vegan? Boycotting an establishment geared at animal and human degradation! Saying no to devastating the environment and becoming a better role model for my children! Helping people transition to a vegan or a raw vegan diet/lifestyle! Becoming physically fit and healthy so I can enjoy the life I have and continue my journey of self discovery and discovering others as well!

CYoFC:  Why should other people go vegan - or raw vegan?

Melissa:  I think people should definitely become vegan. The benefits associated with it are positive and extreme. Treating all with respect and kindness is contagious. It heals the mind and the soul. It makes people appreciate the little things and eliminates the damp feelings that cling to hurting and abusing animals and people. Who wants global warming or streams full of industrial toxins? Who wants to decrease wildlife population or increase struggling communities or live under a weak economy? The negative effects of not being vegan are pejorative - metaphorically and literally.

Raw? I definitely recommend giving it a try. Everyone responds differently to change and the human body is complex and individual. But even going 50-60 percent raw and staying away from all processed foods has been documented to yield beneficial improvements.

CYoFC:  Right on. Do you have any tips or advice for people who want to make changes toward a more plant-based lifestyle?

Melissa:  For anyone who is attempting a vegetarian, vegan, or raw food diet/lifestyle - find what works for you and educate yourself. Some people enjoy cooking while others don't. Some find simple dishes work, while others enjoy exploring and delving into gourmet meals composed of intricate and time consuming preparation. There are those who live an on the go lifestyle and then there are people who have more time on their hands. Everyone is different and so each experience varies according to an individual's preference.

If you believe in something and want it to work, examine and analyze the challenges that would deter or prevent you from reaching your goals. Tweak and modify so the odds are in your favor. For example, when I was commuting to school - I became a frequent Whole Foods salad bar vulture. When I went to Puerto Rico, I anticipated conflicts, so I brought raw food bars, dried and fresh fruit, and raw granola made with buckwheat groats and sesame seeds. I knew I would be without my cornucopia of vegetables, but I accepted this knowing it was temporary. Resolving any concerns, I let go of annoyances and just went with the change. So if you don't like cooking, buy. If you do like cooking, go online and read cookbook reviews. Peruse some books on google or take them out from a library before purchasing. If you want simple meals, there are plenty to choose from. If you don't want to sacrifice favorite foods or meals, toss that perspective. Changing your diet doesn't equate to losing what you love! You will find perfect substitutes for many favorites! It's all about rediscovering and relearning. The internet is a great resource, over indulge and use it! Put in any inquiry, the results are amazing. It may feel overwhelming, but know it is possible and don't set goals that make you feel uncomfortable.

CYoFC:  Excellent advice, Melissa. What about your favorite foods?

Melissa:  Oh, my goodness there are too many to name! Raw - Any type of hummus, but my favorites are edamame hummus and avocado chickpea hummus. I love mango smoothies and mocha drinks. The falafels and sunburgers from "I am Grateful," ceviche, serrano peppers, and brazil nut milk with pureed bananas or mesquite powder - yum! Just plain vegan - tamale pie from Amy's, yam fries, turnip fries, yucca, millet patties, and samosa burritos.

CYoFC: Describe what the giving-up-cheese process was like for you.

Melissa:  I am lactose intolerant and I have a problem digesting protein in dairy, so giving up cheese was easy each time I went vegan. There was a period when I was on the hunt for a perfect cheese substitute and I've come close, especially with the new products currently on the market. Everyone goes through phases and food cravings and by making vegan cheesecakes and relying on brands like Sheese, Follow Your Heart, Tofutti, and Daiya - I was able to curb certain desires. But I have to admit, by becoming raw - my food cravings have diminished. There are times when I experience them, like on days when I have a long and strenuous workout. But as a whole - they are quite modest.

CYoFC:  Now, the infamous question: Are you getting enough protein?

Melissa:  I run 12.1 miles three times a week and I alternate between strength training, yoga, pilates, and cardio daily - I must be doing something right!

In all seriousness, yes. I was taking classes geared for the Dietetics program before deciding to go pre med, so I have elementary training in Nutrition and Food Science (just the basics). This is one of the tools I use to support a healthy diet.

CYoFC:  Thank you, Melissa! You are truly an inspiration.

Melissa Sutton-Navarro frequently goes by "Ms." when she's not using the title, "Simply Vegan." She became interested in the femininst movement when she was in high school, and when she discovered that Ms. was a feminist magazine co-founded by Gloria Steinem, she adopted the nickname Ms. (since her initials prior to marriage were MS.) She holds a BA in Literature and Creative Writing, but opting for a career change, she has gone from a Dietetics Program to pre med with the hopes of one day becoming a Naturopathic Doctor. She is also a New York native (Long Beach, Long Island), but has been on the go since her mid to late twenties. She's lived in California and Pennsylvania and is currently in the process of relocating to Portland, Oregon. She wishes to help others and receive like guidance to become a stronger and more adept individual (in mind and body). In line with these goals, she is also the creator and author of the blog, Simply Vegan.

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