Like most journeys, mine has humble beginnings. I was raised on a small family farm in Mississippi. We grew most of the food we needed--vegetables, fruits, and yes, animals. At any given time, my family had cows for meat and milk. Chickens also served dual table purpose (meat and eggs) in addition to keep down the flea, tick, and insect population around the house. (Our chickens were definitely free-range in every sense of the term.) Other livestock included pigs and goats, and a well-stocked pond of catfish, bass, and brim. The yearly gardens yielded corn, peas, beans, peanuts, greens, squash, tomatoes... just about anything you can find in the grocery store. Peach and pear trees were great for fresh fruit and climbing. Wild plums made the best jelly, as did the wild blackberries and huckleberries. Blueberries were always in cobblers with freshly churned ice cream. Living in the land of beef, bacon, and lard, I didn't give much thought to what I ate beyond whether I liked the taste or not.
Even after I left home and married the love of my life, I kept my childhood eating habits. For me, hamburgers were yummy; broccoli was yucky. And, let's not even discuss Brussels sprouts and zucchini. Steak. Chicken. Fish. Pork. Eggs. For thirty-plus blissful years, this was my world.
Then my world shattered.
In March 2010, I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I'm sorry to say it wasn't a great shock. By this time I was consuming more carbs and processed sugars than even my beloved animal proteins. I literally lived by the phrase "Not a veggie in sight." I wasn't blind to the damage I was doing to my body. I simply didn't think about the consequences. Diabetes was something that happened to "other people." Now I was the "other person," and I didn't like it.
I went to classes to learn to be diabetic. I learned not all carbs are bad. I learned portion control and moderation. The importance of protein--specifically lean meats--to offset the carbs were stressed. I also learned about "free" foods: vegetables with so little carb content that I could eat as many as I wanted and not feel guilty. This is when a light flickered in my brain. If these veggies are "free," why not simply eat more of them to keep my blood sugar in check?
Vegetarianism sparked my interest. I'd known some vegetarians in my life and none of them were overweight. Since I needed to lose a lot of weight (and sadly, still do) I researched the variations, and immediately discounted veganism as too extreme. Remember, I grew up on a farm. In Mississippi. Sweet tea was a religion, and bacon was a food group unto itself. Making a change wasn't going to be easy. However, I was determined and finally settled on ovo-lacto vegetarianism as the best match. (Basically, I could eat veggies, fruits, healthy carbs, and the occasional egg or dairy product.) My husband agreed to join me on this new venture, and we eagerly embraced it.
Several months later, we were sitting at Five Guys Burgers and munching barbecue bacon cheeseburgers and fries. Hey, I had a Diet Coke so I thought I was keeping in line with my new diabetic menu... sort of. I won't say our efforts were futile or a failure. I was eating more veggies and fruit than I had in the past thirty-odd years, but animal protein was still a part of my diet and it was becoming a larger and larger part. Carbs and refined sugar were also creeping back into my food. And the scale was reflecting it. My initial success with vegetarianism--dropping an amazing 53 pounds!--was reversing. I was gaining back the weight. My blood sugars were on the rise. Stress was making me overeat, and I was falling back into old habits.
Fast forward a year or so to October 2012. By this time I'd been yoyoing with my weight and had worn out the same ten pounds--lose, gain, lose, gain, gain, lose, lose, no change, gain... The cycle was endless. I was driving myself insane. Something had to give. Vegetarianism was still a viable option but I didn't know how to break the stranglehold meat had on me. I'd been raised to believe that if we weren't meant to eat animals then they wouldn't be so damn tasty when battered, buttered, fried, and grilled. Also, like most Americans, I believed that animal protein was the best source of protein. I was warring with myself and both sides were losing.
It was at this point that I had my vegan awakening...