I grew up in the Midwest yet my mother was from the South. Growing up, I ate traditional “soul food”, which, even though it was tasty, was not the most healthy. I distinctly remember not liking vegetables at all. I was a very heavy meat eater and we also ate a lot of cheese and bread, and even fast food. Later I learned to love the taste of vegetables once I learned how to cook them, or actually, how NOT to cook them. You see, most southern cooking involves overcooking nearly everything, including vegetables, so I really did not have an appreciation for them until I became a vegetarian.

I became a vegetarian in 1985, when I was introduced to a spiritual path by my (then) future husband.

One of the tenets of the path is the adoption of a lacto-vegetarian diet because we believe that it is unnecessary to take higher forms of life in order to survive. By adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, we lessen our karmic load.

Since my husband was already a vegetarian, it was actually quite easy because we were on the same page when it came to our philosophy of life. Our children were born and raised vegetarian and even though they are now in college, they are still vegetarian. Although we always gave them the choice, they understood and respected our spiritual philosophy and throughout their lives have adopted it as their own. It also helped that I created, or should I say “re-created” some of the typical dishes that their friends ate; only I substituted vegetarian ingredients. This way, they did not feel deprived or too different in any way. It’s funny, because many members in our extended family thought that our children would not grow up to be healthy if we did not feed them meat. Turns out that my son is 6’5”, weighs 195 lbs and is on his college basketball team. My daughter is quite athletic as well and plays Rugby on a local club team. Basically, we dispelled the myth that you need meat in order to grow up “big and strong.” My children do not know any different since they were born and raised that way.

The one thing I noticed right away when I changed to a vegetarian diet was that my digestion improved dramatically. When I ate meat, I used to get severely constipated and I felt lethargic many times. After adopting a healthier diet, I became more regular and people even commented that my skin appeared fresher and even “glowed.”

The idea for my book, “Throwin’ Down” Vegetarian Style! came about when my daughter entered her third year in college and finally had an apartment instead of a dorm room. She had access to a kitchen and asked me to send her some recipes. As I gathered the recipes, the book took on a life of its own. I decided to expand it into a manual about not only how we eat, but also the benefits of vegetarianism as a whole. America is in the grip of an obesity/health crisis, and although people are searching for alternatives, many do no know where to look. This is especially true for African Americans since our traditional foods can be very unhealthy. According to the American Obesity Association, 78% of African American women are overweight. Many are on the path to suffering related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. My mother has all three of these and takes over 12 medications per day just to maintain moderate health. This was a direct result of her diet and lack of exercise. As an African American woman myself, I felt this book would be a great resource for those women in particular and would show them how they can still enjoy our traditional soul food while using vegetarian ingredients.

My mother was lactose intolerant. In fact, many African Americans are lactose intolerant. Our family eats very little dairy because we just feel better when we don’t. Occasionally, I will make dishes with rennetless cheese, (rennet comes from animal sources) but that’s about it. We never have real milk (we prefer soy milk) and we never have real ice cream (we prefer the soy ice creams). I also have asthma so I limit the dairy in order to reduce the amount of mucous in my system that can add to asthmatic symptoms. Since we eliminated nearly all dairy from our diet, we have all noticed a reduction in sore throats and common colds.

My daughter and I eat raw foods as much as possible. Again, I feel that my digestion is better when I incorporate more raw foods into my daily routine. My husband also makes large quantities of fresh vegetable juices that we all enjoy. Every so often, we will have complete meals that are raw to give our bodies a break from cooked food.

This is such an exciting time to be a vegetarian. The entire planet is going through a spiritual evolution and it seems that everyone is becoming more concerned about the environment and personal health. I feel so encouraged by this and also blessed to be able to help in any way!
Martha Theus
http://www.21stcenturyvegetarians.com
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