How I Became a Vegan Dietitian

How I Became a Vegan Dietitian

By |2018-02-28T09:31:38+00:00November 12th, 2007|Tags: |7 Comments

When I first decided to be a dietitian, I had no particular interest in vegetarian diets. Rather, I was simply interested in food and nutrition. I liked the puzzle of creating diets. I was also deeply interested in public health nutrition and issues of food insecurity. Vegetarianism wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen as I went through my dietetics program and then graduate school as an omnivore.

At the same time, I was very much an advocate for animals and was sensitive to some aspects of animal rights. But, I knew absolutely nothing about factory farming and had yet to make the connection between my concern for animals and my food choices.

I was 28, recently married, and had just obtained my RD (registered dietitian) credential when that little light bulb went on over my head. I  had purchased my first vegetarian cookbook—just for fun. It was Laurels’ Kitchen, and it deserves a great deal of credit for starting me on my journey toward ethical eating. Standing in the little kitchen in my apartment in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I opened it and read this:

This book is dedicated to a glossy black calf on his way to the slaughterhouse many years ago, whose eyes met those of someone who could understand their appeal and inspire us, and thousands of others like us, to give the gift of life.

Just like that, something clicked. Those simple words spoke volumes to me and I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to eat animal flesh again. I started reading about vegetarianism and began experimenting with recipes. In the next couple of years I cooked my way through Laurel’s Kitchen, along with The Moosewood Cookbook and Louise Hagler’s Tofu Cookery. (I still have all three books and they are in shreds; my Moosewood Cookbook is held together by a rubber band).

Five years later I took a job working for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and once again, made a huge leap in my dedication to ethical eating. I was hired by this organization to develop materials about vegan diet. So I began to read more about factory farming and learned–to my very great surprise–that animals suffer just as much on dairy and egg farms as they do in meat production.

That was an incredible period of personal and professional growth for me. I learned tons about diet. Just as importantly, I unlearned a bunch of the wrong ideas I had picked up throughout my schooling and work. I cared deeply about dietary choices and their effects on both people and animals. And, I found myself in a remarkable position to help other people who were eating, or trying to eat, vegan diets. What a lucky thing–somehow, I had landed exactly where I belonged.

Since then, I’ve written some books, developed a continuing education program on vegetarian nutrition for dietitians, wrote a textbook on vegetarian nutrition, worked on soy projects with my husband Mark Messina, co-authored the American Dietetic Association’s position on vegetarian diet, and created a web site. Now I’m ready to blog!

Where this new adventure is headed, I don’t exactly know. I have lots to say about how to be a smart and healthy vegan. I’m an ethical vegan—which means that I choose to eat and promote this diet to reduce animal suffering. It also means that my diet is just one part of a bigger vegan lifestyle. But my expertise isn’t in philosophy or ethics or animal husbandry. It’s in food and nutrition, and my contribution to this cause is to help vegans and those who are working toward veganism learn how to eat this way while enjoying good health and wonderful food.

But I have some thoughts on some of the peripheral subjects, too—social situations and interactions. So here I go–I’m just going to dive in and share a little knowledge and lots of opinions.


  1. MaA March 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    I just found this blog and wanted to say a hearty THANK YOU!
    I moved to a farm when I was very little and made the decision to stop eating meat right there and then (thank goodness my parents approved!).  However when I was about to go off to college, I lost sight of why I began (somehow a 4 yr old could see the light, but an 18 yr old couldn't?!) and began eating meat–mostly because I just wanted to fit in and not worry about being the difficult one in the new group of friends I was about to make.
    Well it is three years later and thankfully I have just returned to the vegetarian fold.  With the knowledge that brought me back, I am also learning about the egg/dairy industry and of course appalled. This site is wonderful and will be a great help as I am sifting through the incredible amount of information and faux information.  Hopefully I will be on my way to the life of an informed, happy and healthy vegan soon!
    Thank you again!

  2. David Wachsman May 14, 2012 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Vegan to VEGCON…veganism to VEGCONISM. Vegan is a word without true substance or definition. Vegan is using the first 3 and last 2 letters of the word vegetarian. VEGCON OR VEGCONISM is using the first 3 letters of VEGetarian and the first 3 letters of the word CONscious, Hence; vegcon. Vegcon is the act by which all humans are guided by their conscience with love,mercy,kindness and compassion for all of the Creator’s creatures both air, land and sea. Vegconism is the embodiment of all these plus defenders for animals by being the voice for the voiceless. Vegcons are those who join and support animal rights and protection organizations. Vegcon makes much more sense for those who are committed to a complete 100% vegetarian lifestyle. Pass the word vegcon and vegconism along to others. Thanks, David Wachsman

  3. Ginny Messina September 7, 2013 at 8:06 am - Reply

    […] upon a time, Virginia described herself as a “carefree omnivore” — That was then.  Today ‘Ginny’ is a widely recognized vegan […]

  4. Shikha Ahuja September 9, 2013 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    Hi Ginny,

    So, the reason you converted into a Vegan is because you didn’t like factory farming and animal suffering? But, what about humane treatment of animals by farmers of small farms?
    I was a pure vegetarian for 28 years ( i am 29 now), I became gluten intolerant a few months ago. Got some tests done and found out I was severely deficient in Vitamin D and B12 in spite of getting plenty of sun and eating good amount of dairy and plant food. I am also over weight. The only way I was able to overcome all these issues was by introducing some humanely raised animal food in my diet. I replaced typical Rice and Lentils dinner with Chicken and Veggies. Its been 10 months and I have lost a lot of weight and also by Vitamin levels are great and I have good energy,

    I feel Vegan diet may become carb heavy if not followed properly. And carb is a big issue these days given the obesity rates. Of course, carb is one of the issues but it is primarily the reason for insulin resistance and weight gain.

    No diet is perfect for anyone but one diet that I personally feel should not be followed for a long time is the vegan diet. You may starve your body of nutrients. But, this diet is definitely great for cleansing as it is plant based. I myself do it twice a year for about a month.

    • James Boyle December 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm - Reply

      I think you have to be knowledgeable about food before you make any change to your diet. I went vegetarian in 1973, then vegan in 1986 (Chernobyl). I’ve never had any diet-related problems but I teach biology so I guess I checked out what I needed to do before I changed my diet, both times.
      I donate blood platelets once a month, (it’s a purely voluntary thing in the UK) so I get a free health check on a regular basis. My blood is always ok; I think that means I’m not missing out on anything. If you do the prep, a vegan diet can be very healthy. I still play tennis and squash 4 times a week, sometimes I even win!

    • Dylan wentworth December 3, 2015 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      You mentioned “humanely raised,” but what about the slaughter? There is no humane slaughter, is there?

  5. VC September 21, 2017 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    You wrote: “But I have some thoughts on some of the peripheral subjects, too—social situations and interactions.”

    Do you know of any active online forums for Vegans to participate at?

    Do you know of any YouTube channels for Vegan content that you can recommend? (I know you’ve mentioned UV for your review of WTH.)


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