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.