I might sound a little obsessed. In all fairness, I probably am. Here's how it all started:
I loved veggies and fruits right from the start. I didn't love cheese or meat. When I got to high school I was introduced to vending machine donuts and McDonald's fries. I began to crave steak and chips and all sorts of fatty, salty, processed junk. I was very healthy, played lots of sports, did well in school, but I was tired all the time. I was so tired that I went to the doctor several times to find a cause. None was found, and, looking back, I realize that he never asked me about my diet. (Not once. I mean, really!)
In college I discovered coffee and the wonder of borrowed energy! I could stay up all night, for days, and just keep drinking the stuff. I liked it thick and black and cold and bitter, a few days old was even better. That was also around the time that Red Bull and other "energy" drinks came out. I got so much studying done!! (I have a neuropsychologist friend who insists that I must have inflicted mild brain damage by missing so much sleep for so long.)
Around that time I became more interested in health, but I was misguided about what was "healthy." I thought "low-fat" and "whole grain" were the main factors. I thought that chicken was better than beef, that margarine was better than butter, and that candy was okay as long as I brushed after. I remember eating a lot of frozen broccoli covered in low-fat cheese, microwaved, of course, with Twix for dessert. (I'm shuddering at the thought of it...) This continued for several years, and while my diet improved - more frozen, microwaved veggies is still better than no veggies- I had only a very basic concept of what was good for me, and no real connection between my mind and body.
When I was 23 I found out that the beef industry produces a startling amount of greenhouse gases and that much of the rain forest destruction we heard so much about was to make room for cattle farms. I gave up beef. Chicken soon became less appealing, though I continued to eat it.
Around this time I was living in Florida, working as a carpenter at a non-profit community theatre. My back was so messed up from years of improper exercise and acidic diet, I would wake up in the mornings crying. One such morning I realized, "I'm 22. I should not be in this much pain from sleeping." I started doing yoga, which helped a lot, but was also very expensive. I decided to go to school to learn to teach yoga so that I could offer reasonable classes for others who needed it, and so I would be able to do it on my own.
We were asked to give up meat (along with many other things including caffeine, music, newspapers and spice) for the duration of the program, and I was so convinced that I would be miserable without meat that I almost didn't go through with the classes. ("No cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, fresh fish or even omelets for how long?! What will I eat??") There were different reasons for each thing we were to give up, but all with the same general purpose: to create a monastic environment in which we could quiet our minds and cleanse our bodies. ("Blah, blah, I just want to get a good stretch and go home...") Meat is generally not a part of a yogic diet for a few reasons, the first of which is part of the philosophy, a principle called ahimsa, or non-violence. I remember the moment when I fully realized that I can live a completely happy, healthy life without ever causing harm to another living creature. It was an amazing realization. Though I had never felt badly about eating meat, about the fact that animals were killed for my dinner, this understanding of non-violence created a sense of peace for me that was completely unexpected. (And that whole "quieting of the mind and cleansing the body" thing turned out to be pretty amazing, too.)
We were also required to read John Robbins' Food Revolution. I could not put it down. I would be curled up under the covers, reading about all these scientific studies and anecdotes about why a plant-based diet is so important. To be honest, the book was scary. Maybe the scariest book I ever read. (My boyfriend at the time would come home from work and I would be crying - not a little teary-eyed, but actually crying, with big tears and ragged breath and all - so afraid that we were killing ourselves - and our planet - with our food. Needless to say, he thought I was totally nuts.) But I was so relieved to be reading it, to know all these facts and figures and to have a better way laid out for me.
After a few weeks, my body was so happy. I was sleeping better, I had more energy, my digestion was amazing, my whole body was changing shape - for the better. Aches and pains that I, at 22, had accepted as facts of life, went away. My mind was clearer, my skin was clearer, and I felt like a huge weight had been lifted - one that I hadn't even been aware of carrying with me.
Very soon after that I started experimenting with raw veganism. It was like learning a new language, or a new artistic medium. It was a little frustrating at first, not knowing how it worked or how to do it, but quickly it became my own little wonderland, learning how to make awesome food without that little nagging thought that I was cooking all the goodness out of it. It just made life a little bit better, a little bit more fun and interesting, and it made my body feel even better than it already had. I started craving greens, leafy greens like kale and bok choy, more than I had ever craved chocolate or chips.
Soon my acupuncturist was asking me to make a little extra for him. We started trading food for acupuncture and massage. He started recommending raw food to his patients, and asking me to make it for them. Within a few months I had several clients and a small catering business. I was still learning raw, but it was fun and I was helping people; everyone said they felt better when they ate this way.
Small grew to large, large became a restaurant, then another. I learned so much, so fast, especially from all of my customers, with so many questions that they wanted answered! ("Why does raw chard make my throat hurt? What foods are best for my low iron? If I soak my oat groats for too long, what will happen?") And, they had quite a few answers, too.