Cheesehead goes vegan

Natalie Sowl, Page Designer

Growing up in Wisconsin instilled in me a very particular set of food values. Cheese is God; Beer is King; and those who don’t like sauerkraut on their brats are not to be trusted. While this mentality is undeniably delicious, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of actual nutritional value.

Luckily, I was raised with fresh vegetables and whole grains at every supper time, as well as understanding why those foods are so important to health. However, after leaving home and starting college, my lifestyle brought more processed foods into my diet and eventually alcohol as well. I think that is a pretty common thing for lots of people; hence the continuing trend of the “freshman 15.”

Part of independence is figuring out how to feed yourself and shop for the right food, and I believe a lot of people lack the knowledge necessary to build a solid foundation of good health. You are what you eat, right? And I see far too many McDoubles walking around and not too many bunches of kale.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 70% of Americans over 20 are overweight, with 36% being clinically obese. These statistics are terrifying, as being overweight greatly increases chances of heart disease, diabetes, cancer…all of which can lead to death. Fortunately, the solution is pretty easy and it’s well within anyone’s reach. Change your diet; change your life. I did.

In April 2012, I found myself battling a kidney infection as a result of poor diet and lifestyle habits…that and I really hate going to the doctor and waited way too long to get treatment. But it still stands that I wouldn’t have had problems in the first place if I hadn’t been doing what I was. What I was doing was having what I called, “a pretty good time.”
Like many my age in this city, I made my living waiting tables. Working at a classy restaurant opened up my dietary world to a wealth of possibilities. I learned that I love mustard, artichokes and sundried tomatoes. I also learned that I love dark beer, bourbon, gin and pork belly.

I worked nights, because who wants to work lunch, right?  I’d get off around midnight, in time to find another restaurant with a late night menu and plenty of aforementioned potations. I wasn’t being moderate or smart about many of my eating decisions, and when the doctor’s scale said I had 20 extra pounds in addition to a kidney infection, something had to change.

The first things to change were my drinking habits. I, like maybe you, have rampant alcoholism in my family and the decision to mostly cut out alcohol wasn’t too difficult. It would give my wallet a much-needed break as well. I also started dating someone who didn’t drink much, which made my social life change. Instead of eating out all the time, especially late at night, I started cooking my own meals. I believe this is one of the best things you can do for yourself, but it can also be the most daunting.

I started with a few recipes I knew I liked and could make well and built up from there. Making vegetables, legumes and whole grains the mainstays of my meals, rather than processed carbohydrates, meats and dairy was very important to me and has greatly benefited my health since.

After reading Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran-Foer, I gave my dormant vegetarianism a kickstart and eventually transitioned to plant-based or vegan diet. However, I like cheese more than most people and my resolve is sometimes weakened.

Now it’s August 2013 and I’m 30 pounds lighter, much stronger and happier too. I haven’t gotten sick in a long time, my skin is clearer and I get so much more energy from the food I eat. You know when you feel like you need to lie down for a while after eating? Or starting work after eating lunch feels like a gargantuan chore? That’s because your body is horrified at the food you put in it and it needs a break to deal with it.

Try adding a few plant-based meals to your routine each week and who knows? Maybe you’ll become a vegan too. Probably not because everyone thinks I’m crazy. But hey, I’d rather be crazy healthy than crazy drunk and bloated with a laundry list of chronic health issues. And if you haven’t seen Forks Over Knives yet, it makes a powerful case for a plant-based diet. It’s available on Netflix. Watch it, if you want to. This is just my story, yours is up to you.

Smoothie recipe

Smoothies are one of my favorite things to make. Quick, easy, with limited mess, a nutritionally packed smoothie can make for a delicious breakfast or post-workout snack. This smoothie is dairy-free, gluten-free and even sneaks in a serving or two of vegetables.

It Won’t Kale You Smoothie
In a blender combine:

  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of non-dairy milk (I use coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup of frozen mixed berries
  • 1/2 cup of frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup of fresh kale, stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon of flaxseed
  • 1 tablespoon of raw honey
  • (ice if your fruit is not frozen)