Vegan MoFo Day XV : It’s never too late to go vegan! Happy 70th Birthday Auntie J!

Some of us have been vegan forever (Andrea, I’m looking at you!), but for some folks, living vegan is a very new and exciting thing.  How old were you when you went vegan (or vegan for good)?  I bet nearly all of you answered with a number between 15 and 35.  Well, how about going vegan at 69?

Auntie J, age 70.

My Auntie J is a rock star.  Why?  How about winning your age group in a  5K a mere 4 1/2 months after undergoing double by-pass surgery? How about deciding to go vegan the same year you’re turning 70?  Not to mention the fact that in addition to being a runner, a dedicated grand-mother and mother, she is also active with volunteering in her community.

Growing up,  I didn’t get to see my Auntie J very often.  In fact, I can count on my hand the number of times we’ve hung out together.  So imagine my surprise when, thanks to the Internet, we started connecting and I discovered just how much we had in common!   I also saw that she was someone I could really look up to and identify with.  No matter what adversity came her way, no matter how discouraging or frustrating the situation, J would bounce back and show life who was calling the shots.  I realised that I wanted to be like her when I grew up (whenever that will be).  I was also pretty thankful I had her genes, as well.

I think you can imagine how ecstatic I was when she told me she went vegan.  Thrilled.  Overjoyed.  You get the picture.  I wanted to share a little of that joy, of her joy, with you to celebrate both her birthday and Vegan MoFo.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy our little interview.  She asks a few questions of you veteran vegans, so please, let us know what you think in the comments.

How long have you been vegan?

I started, timidly, February 18 2010, and went plant-based about a month later.

Why did you decide to become vegan?
I had bypass surgery in January 2009. I assumed that put all my heart problems behind me. Then in February 2010, several things happened that made me realize I still had heart concerns. Within one week:

1. In a heart health class at the YMCA, the instructor said that if you have coronary artery disease it is probably in all your arteries, not just your heart. It can even be in the arteries to the eyes and cause blindness. Now dropping dead of a heart attack is scary, but not nearly as scary as going blind!

2. I attended a Heart Month Luncheon and the speaker was a heart doctor. His subject was Periperal Artery Disease (PAD). He reinforced the idea that any or all the arteries in your body can become blocked, totally or partially, and gave several chilling examples of the complications that can result from PAD.

3. It was reported in the news that President Clinton’s bypasses had become blocked and he had to have stents inserted to reopen them.

4. A man at church asked the congregation to pray for his uncle who at age 51 had just had a heart attack and although he survived, had gone blind. (Remember number 1 above.)

All these things happened during one week last February!

The following week I met a lady at the track, and while we were jogging together she told me about the plant-based diet: no meat, fish, eggs, dairy, fat or oil, avocados, nuts, or coconut. I told her, “You’re no fun!”. It seemed as though God was trying to tell me something, and this plant-based diet was the message. (I now call her my angel.)

What was your diet like before switching to a plant-based diet?
I switched to soy milk several years ago to lower my cholesterol. Breakfast was oatmeal or dry cereal one day and a mix of yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit the next. Otherwise, I pretty much ate the typical American diet. I like to cook so rarely ate out, and did eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables because I always like them. (I’d rather shop at the Farmer’s Market than the Mall.) However, salty and greasy have always been my favorite flavors, so I indulged in lots of both, usually the greasy was olive or canola oil, or sometimes butter, and lots of cheeses.

What is your favourite vegan snack?
Wow, that changes with my mood and the weather. On a hot day I love a green smoothie. My daughter-in-law taught me that one. I toss orange juice, a banana, kale or spinach, and fresh or frozen berries, even cherries in the blender. Better than a milkshake.
When it’s cold out I like to have a cup of hot tomato or vegetable juice and some pita with humus. I get a bag of whole wheat toasted pita chips from a stand at my farmer’s market. He also sells lots of yummy looking things I no longer eat — feta, humus with tahini, olives, etc. But that’s ok. I make my own humus and omit the tahini. Sometimes I cheat and buy ready-made humus, but the ground sesame seeds are not recommended when trying to reverse heart disease. (Too much fat.)

I also snack on fresh fruit and lots of any fresh vegetables such as sliced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, celery, bok choy. I’m fortunate, I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like.

What is your biggest challenge since going vegan?

Eating out with friends, or worse, at their homes. It’s awkward enough asking a waiter questions about ingredients, I just can’t do that with friends. And I try not to be over sensitive, but sometimes it seems like the host is trying to trick me into eating what they think is good for me, or won’t hurt. The instance I’m thinking of is when my friend, the host, was serving fresh, hot bread. She spread heaps of butter on each piece and handed it to each of us. I know she didn’t think about my not using butter, and I should have asked her to leave mine plain. It was just such a shock to see her hand me this huge hunk of bread dripping with butter. Coward that I am, I took it, silently scraped off the butter, and put it on the edge of my plate and ate the bread. But it was a lesson learned. I need to be more assertive. Any suggestions on how to avoid this problem, other than becoming a hermit, would be welcome. Maybe it’s harder to make such a drastic change at my age.

What advice would you give to vegetarians who are concerned about switching to veganism?

The following books have been a big help to me: The China Study by Dr. Campbell; Controlling and Reversing Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn; and Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn. There are so many ingrained diet myths in our culture. These books contain the scientific facts than prove how badly we have been misled by the food industry and have convinced me that fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are what our bodies need.

Any final thoughts about your new, plant-based way of eating?

I find it so difficult not to talk about the diet to any and everyone. I’m such a bore, and I know it threatens people to suggest they aren’t eating properly. I have to work on that. I don’t want to be an old scold. How do you and your bloggers handle the subject of diet when they are with non-vegetarians?

Thank you so much Auntie J for your time, and for sharing your experiences with us!  I’m sure many of us can identify with her story, and especially the difficulties we can face when eating with our non-vegan friends and family.

What about you?  Do you have any favourite books you like to share about veganism and nutrition?  Also, how do you handle those awkward situations when sharing food with omnis?

22 thoughts on “Vegan MoFo Day XV : It’s never too late to go vegan! Happy 70th Birthday Auntie J!

  1. What a wonderful story to share Shellyfish! You have one amazing Auntie. I love seeing older people change their lifestyle to a healthy vegan one. It seems that most of the time it’s everyone else around us that feels uneasy with our lifestyle change.

    When going to a restarurant I used to feel bad when I had to completely change up the meal I ordered and the waitress was jotting down all of the changes. I finally became more confident and realized that I don’t need to apoligize because of my choice to be vegan. They just need to have some vegan options at more restaurants.

    China Study was the first book I read that I completely changed my diet to vegan(I was a pescetarian before)for health, than it was Diet for a New America that made me see the animal and environmental impact of living this way.

  2. What a wonderful story to share Shellyfish! You have one amazing Auntie. I love seeing older people change their lifestyle to a healthy vegan one. It seems that most of the time it’s everyone else around us that feels uneasy with our lifestyle change.

    When going to a restarurant I used to feel bad when I had to completely change up the meal I ordered and the waitress was jotting down all of the changes. I finally became more confident and realized that I don’t need to apoligize because of my choice to be vegan. They just need to have some vegan options at more restaurants.

    China Study was the first book I read, than it was Diet for a New America.

  3. Shelly, I love this post – what an inspiring note to start the day on. Happy birthday to Auntie J!

    Our book club just read “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, which made a pretty compelling argument for not eating them at all. As for dining with omnis, the situation always dictates my approach. If we are going out and planning it together, I am up front about my dietary preferences and offer to do the restaurant research. If it’s at an event that won’t accommodate dining requests, I eat beforehand. If it’s at someone’s house, I tell them upfront about my eating choices and offer to bring a vegan entree. If it’s at my house … well, then I just overwhelm them with vegan awesomeness :-D

  4. Well now this was a lovely way to start my day (reading Shellyfish and being the main topic. Thank you MFN (my favorite niece) and thank all of you for the supporting comments. I’m sure you are spot on, it will get easier as my friends realize this is for keeps.

    Now the coffee is ready so I’m going to pour a cup and enjoy the glow. Sigh, life is good! AJ

  5. What an inspiring post! She brings up a lot of good points- I agree that people are often threatened when you bring up your diet, and the effect is that people get strangely mad or defensive even when you are just talking about your own diet.

    The book suggestions are also great. Thanks for interesting post, Auntie J!

  6. your Auntie J is a true rock star, Shelly! happy birthday to her and congrats on he decision to become vegan! wahooooooooooooo! i really loved the interview – and i find it hard not to want to talk to everyone about veganism as well. i want to shout about it from the rooftops – and when someone asks me about my diet that’s when i jump in and excitedly and enthusiastically tell them all about veganism and how much it means to me! i encourage them to try a few recipes and send them to my favorite blogs and websites if they seem really interested.

    i love Becoming Vegan – it’s what i read in the months before doing so. and as far as eating with omnis – i try not to pay it much mind. i find that if i relax and don’t get too worried or worked up, they don’t feel so awkward or nervous either. i just tell people that veganism works for me and has me feeling my best all around, and that doesn’t seem to offend too many people since they’re so glad i’ve found something that’s right for me. i always bring a dish or two and a dessert when visiting someone’s home for dinner – and out in restaurants i just try to keep in mind that even if there’s not much on the menu for me, it’s okay because it’s more about good company and i can make something yummy for myself later.

  7. Happy Birthday to your amazing Aunt J!

    It can be difficult dealing with other people and with restaurant staff but you will become more confident the longer you are vegan :)

  8. Welcome to the wonderful vegan community Auntie J. If you ever just need someone to go on and on about how great it feels to be vegan – give me a call. It is one of my favourite topics too. I have found being excited about the positive impact your changes have had on your life an sharing that enthusiasm is generally well received. I tend to focus on that in conversations with others rather than commenting on how they could change.

    Shellyfish thank you for sharing such an inspiration with all of us.

  9. Happy birthday to your Aunt J! She’s a role model for all of us. I like all the books you mentioned, and also Diet for a New America, by John Robbins. Although it can feel awkward, telling your host about your diet at the time of the invitation usually works best. Perhaps offer to bring something. Eventually, people get used to it. I never talk about my diet while dining with omnivores, but offer to talk about it at another time, if they wish. And I try to keep it personal — as in, “this is what I do but I realize not everyone agrees with my choices.” That way, people don’t feel as defensive, and are more open to possibilities. I think the older you are when you become vegan, the harder it probably is to find like-minded people among your friends. People get used to doing things a certain way. But if you think it’s hard to tell people you’re vegan now, imagine what it was like 29 years ago! (My doctor was pretty convinced my children would stave to death!)

  10. Wonderful story, and an inspiring lady!

    Talking to people is DEFINITELY the hardest part. My husband thinks I am an “anti-dairy crusader”, because I don’t hesitate to explain my dietary choices. Sometimes I get frustrated, because people just don’t GET IT. They say things like, “But you can still eat butter, right?” Sigh… try to be patient.

    And you’re right that people feel threatened when you suggest their eating habits might not be ideal. Food seems to become so much more than food sometimes… it is symbolic of a way of life, I guess.

  11. The woman in that picture is 70???!!!! INCREDIBLE!!!! Congratulations, Auntie J!

    When talking to other people about the vegan diet, the best thing for me is to avoid any drama. I don’t play into their attempts to discredit my choice and I don’t give them any more information then they need. Just the facts, ma’am. I do have to say, though, that I don’t run into much opposition these days (the same cannot be said for when I was in high school). I count my blessings for this!

  12. Wow, your aunt rocks! happy birthday! I can understand feeling awkward when eating at other peoples places. Of yourse you don’t want to offend them. But people are supportive and the’ll do the best they can do to accommodate you. I am sure if your aunt explains about her diet and how it is important for her health, they will understand. It gets easier every time and I can assure her she won’t become a hermit.

    I love becoming Vegan as well. It has all the nutritional info you need.

  13. What a great story!!! Happy birthday and congratulations!

    My favorite book about Vegan Nutrition is Becoming Vegan, that was the one that made everything make sense to me.

    As for dealing with other people regarding the diet, that is the hardest part without a doubt for me. You just have to keep respectfully repeating the same things over and over until it sinks in. Some people will never get it. The best thing to do when going to someones house for dinner is ask if you can make a side dish to share so that you will have something to eat regardless.

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