In the mid-70s while attending Howard University, I had an awakening. I began my road to healthy living by becoming a vegetarian. A College is often a place of new beginnings, self-exploration and discovery. I began reading the very popular and now iconic Back To Eden by Jethro Kloss, followed by Dick Gregory’s Book Natural Diet For Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature! These two books changed the trajectory of my life, health and life choices.
Changing to a vegetarian diet I no longer had problems with acne, constipation and fluctuating weight. Mind you, I had never been overweight, but there seem to be these constant messages to lose weight. And that certainly happened when I went from eating the typical American diet to becoming a vegetarian and then on to a raw food diet. Going to the lavatory became a very fulfilling activity, much like a religious experience. The sheer volume alone was mind-boggling. I felt light and airy, flexible and full of possibilities.
This was a 180-degree difference from my first year in college in Upstate New York, where my meals from the school cafeteria consisted of foods like powdered eggs, processed meats and vegetables from huge aluminum cans. I was constantly at the nurse’s office for constipation. So this new life seemed like a walk on the right and only road for me. It was during this time that I also began studying yoga, which was the perfect complement to a vegetarian lifestyle.
Fast forward 20 years later in 1997, I began working with an exercise coach who told me I would never build the muscle I wanted without animal protein. That’s when I began eating fish and then eventually other seafood (shellfish) and dairy. In 2011, I traveled even further from the diet that best suits my body’s tendency towards a sluggish digestion when I began adding poultry in the mix. There was a part of me that felt alarmed by my reversal back to consuming animal products and a kind of sadness about it too. But I chomped on.
Recently, I was inspired to see a few documentaries (that I had been avoiding) on health and diet that have totally put me back on the right track:
All these film can be seen on Netflix. They blew my mind. They reminded me of the reasons why I first became a vegetarian, the health and humanitarian reasons. I’m not suggesting that anyone should become a vegetarian, but I do highly recommend viewing both of these films if you are struggling with illnesses, weight problems or just need inspiration to reset your diet regimen.
One thing I am delighted about is that all these years later, eating a plant-based diet is way more convenient than it used to be. There was a time long before Whole Foods came on the scene, that as a vegetarian you had to always make sure to eat before attending a wedding or any special occasion. Often there would be nothing for you to eat. Cooked vegetables would be laden with lard and or meat, people would offer you a carrot or a head of iceberg lettuce if they noticed there was nothing on the menu you could have.
For nearly thirty years I have been a member of the Park Slope Food Coop that offers the highest level of organic and local grown produce and other gourmet quality groceries at a fraction of what it costs at most health food store. This is for me a return to a type of discipline that I once practiced with ease and that I know in my heart, is required to have the highest positive impact on my health and subsequent quality of life.
Vegetable options have dramatically improved. It’s now somewhat of a status symbol to be vegan and to be seen with shopping bags from Whole Paycheck, I mean, Whole Foods. While I continued to eat healthy and organic even when eating meat, I am happy to be back on the road that kept me from inheriting the illnesses of my ancestors. As I previously mentioned, it’s not always easy or convenient to have this kind of lifestyle, but the options are far greater than they used to be, and the results are undeniable. Check out those movies and please let me know if you found them of value.
Side bar here: I began writing this post the day before Dick Gregory made his transition to the other side of eternity. He and his book had an indelible impact on my journey to live a healthy lifestyle. Mr. Gregory helped many people to turn their lives and their diets around. I had the pleasure of attending his presentations at Howard University when I was a student there. He set my mind and heart on fire.
His fearlessness to speak truth to power without excuse or apology made him a true Hero in my mind. In his book, he was the first that I knew of to talk about “food deserts” though that wasn’t the term used at that time; he made the concept and reality clear. My heart goes out to his family and close friends. I know there is life and life and he will continue his great works wherever he may be. Travel Light, Mr. Gregory.