As I grew up I ate a lot of animal products. There wasn’t much that I didn’t eat. We had lox and bagels, pot roast, chicken, not very many vegetables, typical Jewish fare. We all assumed at that time that my parents were healthy, but my mother got sick when she was in her late 50’s and passed away at 58 of a brain tumor. My grandmother and grandfather both died from heart attacks, and my dad had prostate cancer. By that time I was a little more savvy about nutrition and encouraged him to eat better, but he wasn’t interested.

In 1970 I became interested in yoga. While studying, I read a passage in a yoga book that said, “Yogis don’t eat dead flesh.” I thought, “I eat dead flesh at every meal.” The book suggested that I consider a vegetarian diet but not to tell anybody because people tended to disapprove.

I had never even heard of a vegetarian diet so I became sort of a closet vegetarian. I ate dairy and eggs, but cut out all dead flesh. I did this for 3 years and finally told my husband - but I certainly wasn’t going to put my children on this diet. I was sure that if they didn’t get their “protein,” (meaning meat) that I would be doing them great harm. I remained vegetarian for quite a long time and didn’t really miss eating meat. My family thought I was a little kooky and weird. Later, after going through a divorce, I started dating a guy, a carnivore, who was a great cook and I resisted it as long as I could, but went back to eating animal products around 1974.

After 7 or 8 years as a meat-eater, my immune system was rather weakened by my food choices and I got German measles (at age 42). It had a disastrous effect on my body; I became paralyzed in the hospital for several months. It was a rather sobering period in my life. During that time, I had a spiritual experience that opened me up to recognizing I was a spiritual being having a human experience. The primary message was that I would be okay and to be open to something radical and different.

I had no idea what that might be, but 2 years later somebody gave me John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America. I was trying to eat better; I didn’t want to get sick again, and the doctors warned me that I would have recurrences of paralysis, (which I have never had). Once I read Diet for a New America, I realized that I could become a vegan for the sake of the animals, for the environment, and for my own body temple, my own health. It was a very compelling book, an education, and it made me realize that being vegan is a viable choice.

It took me 4 months after reading the book to actually get up the courage and make the commitment, and say, “Okay, I am going to be a vegan.” It was totally scary, because I was an excellent chef but I always used butter, cream and eggs. I could really cook but had no idea how I would feed myself once I became vegan. So after my commitment to myself, I went into the kitchen and cried my eyes out, got it all out and said, “Okay I will have to re-learn, make some changes and teach myself by reading some vegetarian cookbooks.” I threw away Joy of Cooking, (my former) cooking bible. I didn’t realize at that time that I could have used it and made vegan substitutes for the animal products. I threw everything that had meat or dairy out.

I never put it together that the cute little ducks running around the pond in parks were the same ducks that I was cooking in my gourmet cooking class. I didn’t put it together that a leg of lamb was actually the leg of a little animal. When I finally did put it together, after reading Diet for a New America there was no way that I could ever eat another animal. It was a powerful book that absolutely changed my life.

The transition for me was daunting and exciting. I knew I was a good cook but this was something I knew nothing about. I started going to health food stores and they had weird things like tofu. I took home some tofu, tasted it and thought, “Oh my God, this tastes awful!” Then I realized that it was just a raw ingredient, like flour, and that I had to start playing with it, messing with it, using seasonings. It was all an experiment. I would get an ingredient that I knew nothing about, take it home and play with it to see what I could do.

I was so moved by John Robbins’ book that I was not going to ever go back. Factory farming, the way the animals were treated like commodities, how our water was being polluted and our trees were being cut down, the cruelty and all the deleterious health effects—I was already there. I went “cold tofu,” determined to stay on the path. One of the things that really helped was that I joined John Robbins’ non-profit organization, Earthsave. My old friends didn’t quite get it, so I met a lot of new friends and became part of the steering committee for Earthsave. We wanted to teach people; we wanted to share this. It had a profound effect on me. I wasn’t getting sick anymore. I got very involved with other vegans; they were wonderful, we had a community and I liked that very much. We had Earthsave meetings and I kept learning more, from reading other books and from our mentors, Michael Klaper, M.D., and John Robbins. Other people were coming down the pike with information about the environment and about our health, including Dr. John McDougall.

I wanted to share this with my family, so the first thing I did was throw a party. I called it an ecological food feast. I didn’t want to call it anything about health because I figured people were too attached to that, and I didn’t want to be an animal activist because I thought people wouldn’t relate to that. So I called it an ecological food feast and I made vegan food for all of my friends and family, and 125 people showed up. I had asked my mentor Michael Klaper, who was both a medical doctor and a vegan, to come and be my guest speaker. Between the food and Michael’s talk, many, many people became vegetarian or vegan after the party. It thrilled me. I thought I had done something to support these people in getting healthier, in supporting the animals and the planet. It absolutely moved me that people made changes because of this program.

People loved my food, so I started to do classes at my home. Every month or two I passed out some flyers and people would show up—a lot of the time, the same people—and they would just love the food. Many people that were ill or had ill spouses were making changes, getting off of their medications. They would say, “I don’t think I can become vegan,” but when they did become vegan they got healthy. It became an inspired path for me.

At that time I started to hear about raw foods, and I just love salads with delicious dressings. I found the Farmer’s Market and bought the top quality produce, learning about why organic is better. I kept educating myself, getting stronger about my beliefs in eating and how to nourish the body. I began playing around with making raw foods, and that resonated with me. It was quite natural, so I started to gravitate towards eating more and more raw foods, finding raw food restaurants, making recipes, experimenting. I love to experiment. I feel like an alchemist creating magic in the kitchen.

I found the raw transition to be a journey. I had no inkling when I became vegan that there was even a raw lifestyle; that some people ate only raw; it was a revelation to me. I already felt confident about being vegan and began playing around with the raw recipes. I didn’t have any cookbooks but I would grind nuts up and make different things with nuts and seeds. By 1995 raw had piqued my interest and I was hooked, convinced that it was probably the healthiest food to eat.

I had a wonderful mentor in Michael Klaper, a medical doctor. I felt safe with the information he gave me about how the human body had no requirements for animal protein and so I never worry about that. I get my protein from greens, apples, nuts, and seeds. I don’t go out of my way to get protein; I just eat what I want to. Every time I get my blood checked all of my levels are pretty much right on. I do take a Vitamin B12 supplement from time to time, but I don’t do many supplements.

I would offer to the readers this advice from my experience: Make sure you don’t get hungry. When traveling, bring food that is high-quality organic so that you don’t have to rely on stopping at the Fish and Chips restaurant, eating something like iceberg salad and French fries. As you are transitioning, go to health food stores for interesting vegan and raw snacks to munch on when you are out on the road. You don’t have to use protein powders because those are processed and hard to digest. Instead, use nut butter or some raw nuts.

As a vegan I have never felt deprived. I say, “Thank you, God” for showing me a better way. I feel so grateful that I have been given this opportunity to be a vegan; to eat my food the way the planet has so generously given it to me. I appreciate it, and I think that eating this way is sacred and a blessing. I have never felt deprived. I feel grateful.
Tatiana Wrenfeather
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