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?