45, San Francisco
Job Collectibles dealer
Status Married, 1 child
Vegetarian For 16 years
My father rarely ate a healthy meal. He always had a big burger or a stack of saucy chicken wings. Still, when I got the call that he had passed away suddenly of a heart attack at age fifty-four (I was twenty-four), I couldn't believe it. I knew that eating a lot of saturated fat caused heart trouble, but it never hit home before, even though both of my grandfathers had also died of heart attacks.
In the weeks after Dad's funeral, I began to think about my own diet. The meats I loved--hot dogs, salami, bacon--were among the unhealthiest ones you could buy. I'd eat them with a side of starch--not whole grains, either--and I picked around any vegetables. Seriously, I ate like a three-year-old. I figured I was doomed unless I did something drastic.
That's when I decided to give up beef and pork. At first, I did it all wrong, replacing my hot dogs with pasta, my bacon with muffins, and my salami with more pasta. Friends would joke that I was a "starchatarian." But after my daughter Sasha was born in 2003, I vowed to learn to like veggies along with her. Mushrooms became a surprise favorite. At first, I'd just eat them on pizza, but then I began eating portobellos. Mmmm. I've also discovered that stir-frying cauliflower and bell peppers in olive oil and garlic does wonders for their flavor. It makes me feel good now when Sasha asks, "Can I have more carrots, Mom?"
The Payoff: Though my cholesterol isn't as low as I'd like it to be (darn genes!), my doctor swears that if I'd kept my diet as it was, I'd be on medicine by now and a prime candidate for an early heart attack. Being vegetarian also helps me keep my weight steady. I'm five-foot-six and 132--about the same as twenty years ago.
The Animal Activist
Marsha Godzinski Hargreaves
57, Savannah, GA
Job Registered nurse
Status Married, no kids
Vegan For 1 year
Ever since childhood, I've been an animal lover. But it was only four years ago that I finally made the connection between what was in my heart and what was going into my mouth. There was no specific event that led to it. It just dawned on me that if I cared for animals as much as I said, I should boot beef, pork, and poultry from my diet.
Then in January 2010, I became involved in the animal-rights movement. I participated in a protest outside a circus, and I saw a video of a baby elephant being taken from her mother by a trainer and tied to the ground. She was trembling. It upset me so much that I went home that night and threw out all the dairy, fish, and eggs in the fridge. I had no idea what to eat. I lived on vegan frozen dinners and protein bars for three months.
My husband, Jim, supported my decision, but he didn't want any part of my new eating habits himself at first. He cooked his own food--we had separate cutting boards, utensils, and dishes. Then, as I learned more about vegan diets through cookbooks and blogs, I stopped buying processed products and started playing around in the kitchen again. One of the first vegan recipes I tried was lentil barley soup; Jim, who has always loved lentils, finished the leftovers before I could get to them. We have both enjoyed my homemade hummus and a whole wheat pasta dish with cabbage, peas, and beans. Interestingly, as I've backed off trying to get him to follow my diet, he's shown more interest. The other day, my bacon-and-eggs husband asked me to make him a veggie smoothie for breakfast!
The Payoff: Within three months of adopting a vegan diet, my total cholesterol plummeted one hundred points. My doctor took me off my blood pressure medication about six months ago because she didn't think I would need it anymore--and every time I have my blood pressure checked, it's well within the normal range.
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