My Vegan Story
“For me, the way to a vegan lifestyle is through the stomach.”
For most people, the main reason they stick with animal products is that they can’t bear the idea of never having another slice of cheesy, melty, magnificent pizza. That was my story, too.
I spent my late teens and early 20s working in seafood restaurants. Growing up in a state known for its crabs means I was raised on crabcakes, fish stuffed with crabmeat, crab puffs… And, good lord, all the Old Bay. But, I didn’t fall in love with food until my mid-20s when I was a publicist in Las Vegas.
I naturally gravitated to restaurant clients and soon enough was working with chefs who had been honored by the James Beard Foundation. At 27 years old, I was spoiled rotten by the food around me. Towering stands filled with ice and topped with fresh crab legs and oysters. Tender cuts of filet mignon. Creamy, gooey cheese spread atop crispy baguette slices.
It wasn’t until I went on a trip to Croatia that I looked the seafood industry in the face, quite literally. That summer, I ended up on a tiny boat bobbing up and down in the crystal clear water of the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia. The guesthouse owner invited us to fish with her. Using styrofoam slabs with fishing wire wrapped around it and a small hook attached to the end, we’d fling the wire with all our might into the sea.
A few times we caught fish. As she took them off the hook, I saw a little blood and it made my body tense up and sad. I couldn’t bear to watch as the fish fought for its last breath. But, that night I still ate the dish she prepared featuring our bounty from the sea. However, something had shifted in me.
When I returned to the States after my seven months of travel, I began work as the director of communication for a restaurant group. My life was filled with lavish dinners paired with extravagant wines.
Then, things changed. I moved to Thailand to work in elephant rescue in July 2012. I had only been in the country a week and everything was still new to me. On the ride home from work, crowded into a van, I pressed my face against the window. I was like a kid, awe-struck by the life outside my window. The speeding motorbikes. The pick-up trucks with 10 people crammed into its bed. The stray dogs with missing limbs eating on the side of the road.
And then, a truck filled with pigs being taken to slaughter. Their pink heads poking out the slats as it passed us. My heart filled with sadness as I watched them being taken away. I thought of the animals at the sanctuary. The animals I’ve grown up with. I thought of the animals on my plate. Bacon. Steak. Chicken.
I was filled with resolve: I will never eat meat again. It wasn’t even something I pondered. That. Was. It. I said to myself, and it truly was, I never ate meat again.
However, it took me a couple more years to go vegan. Even though I worked at the sanctuary and was around vegans, I’d readily admit to anyone I couldn’t give up cheese. Or eggs. Or pizza. I was selfish and I was ok with it.
Until I wasn’t.
One day, I was strong enough to admit that my life, tastebuds, and cravings were no more important than other living beings. I didn’t want to be responsible for the pain or death of any animal ever again. I couldn’t keep ignoring the impact the egg and dairy industry has on animals. I knew these industries were, in fact, crueler than the meat industry.
But, it wasn’t reading about factory farms or watching documentaries that changed me. It was acknowledging that my desire for these foods was not more important than an animal’s life.
Working in animal rights, I learned the best way to make a change is to lead by example while being kind and listening. I wanted to use that knowledge combined with my restaurant PR experience to help people make the switch to vegan foods. So, when I returned to Las Vegas, I launched Vegans, Baby. My goal was to show people it isn’t so hard to cut out animal products after all.
I showcased restaurants with vegan options and encouraged restaurants to add more choices to their menus. I wanted to show people that vegan food was exciting, approachable, accessible, and most of all: full-flavored.
“I don’t think I’d like vegan food,” so many people tell me.
Then, I take them to a restaurant and we feast on creamy cheese and crackers, rich sushi with seaweed pearls, King oyster mushroom calamari, gooey cheese pizza, decadent ice cream. All vegan. What can they say after that?
I love challenging and changing the preconceived notions of vegan food. It isn’t all bland, boring salads, limp french fries, and dry baked potatoes. There’s a whole world of delicious and surprising foods out there. I started to see overwhelming success with Vegans, Baby. I was constantly fielding requests for more opportunities to showcase vegan food. The business naturally expanded and I kept pace with the dynamic and booming vegan market. This turned into hosting international vegan food tours, the James Beard House dinners, and curating vegan food for major events like Life is Beautiful. But most importantly, it’s helped individuals.
So many people tell me they’ve fallen in love with vegan food since trying my recommendations. Chefs who were previously stuck on an omnivore rotation have braved the leap into the vegan world to feed Vegans, Baby clients and haven’t looked back.
When I think of myself in that van, watching the pigs being taken to their death, feeling so low, I wish I could tell my past self that it will be okay. That this moment would change not just my life but the lives of thousands of others. That the ache in my heart at that moment would turn to warmth and joy, at seeing thousands of people trying, enjoying, and choosing vegan food.