By: Kurt DeGraw
I have never really enjoyed meat too much. I grew up on a small family farm. We raised chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and the occasional sheep or cow, and I was the main person to feed most of these animals. Without many other youth my age living near us, the animals became my friends. I had funny names for them based on how they looked or the quirks they had.
Two experiences really sealed my dislike for meat at an early age. The first experience was when we killed the chickens. We hung them upside down on the swing set using twine around their legs. There they were hanging and flapping occasionally when a knife to the throat let the blood run out. After a LOT of flapping and squawking, in about 5 minutes they were all still. I still remember not wanting to play on the swing set for a while after that, but more importantly to me, these were animals I had fed and spent time with. That night, we had chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy and corn. I just could not eat the chicken.
My second experience a few years later was when our pig was butchered. A mobile butcher drove to our house and took our pig from the pen—where I had fed, watered and named him—and took him into the back of his truck and an hour later out popped all these white butcher-paper packages with labels. For dinner that night we had pork chops and rice. Again, I just could not eat the pork chops.
We were a large family living on a public school teacher’s salary and whatever came from the small farm and the animals we raised was definitely needed to feed our family, but after those two experiences my desire for meat decreased dramatically.
My healthy journey started when I was in my mid 30’s. I had started to gain weight from a sedentary office work life style. I did (and continue to) mountain bike and walk multiple times a week and even lifted weights on occasion. But unlike when I was younger, the weight just kept sticking around and more of it started to stick around. I started to do my own research and started to use less white flour and white sugar in my cooking. This worked for a decade or so, but by my early 40’s, I was considered obese by national standards.
By this time I was 50 pounds over-weight and had a blood clot in my leg that was found and treated (for which I am still on medication today). In my early 40’s, I found a diet called the iDiet (a.k.a. Instinct Diet) where you ate only high fiber foods. My wife decided to join me on this diet as she wanted to lose some weight as well. We both lost around 10 pounds in a few months and were pleased, but the recipes were limited and eventually we lost interest and went back to our normal diet.
Around this time, I also started to notice that the day after I exercised my body had flu-like symptoms to the point I would miss a day or two of work. I have always loved to exercise so this was a large disappointment to me. I stopped exercising regularly and about a year later had a physical and got some blood work done. Results were bad. My cholesterol was high, pre-diabetes markers were high and my prostate was large. I started taking fish-oil pills for the prostate and went back on the high fiber diet. After a few months another round of blood tests showed I had improved only a little but my prostate was much better.
This went on for a few years with me eventually quitting the iDiet for good and eating what I thought was healthy but in reality was not because in my late 40’s, my blood work showed high-risk markers again. I started researching other diets and found one my own dear mother was doing at the time called The Cellular Healing Diet. This one focused on everything organic, grass-fed and free-range. Meat was required (against my preferences) as was eggs and other specific fats that were mechanically separated rather than chemically separated—olive, coconut and grape seed oils were considered good fats. There was a list of vegetables/fruits to eat and a list to avoid. Most grains, especially wheat and others similar, were on a toxic/avoid list. Sugar of any kind was also bad.
I started this diet the day after Thanksgiving 2015 and really just focused on the no sugar part and mostly ignoring the organic part but using the “good” oils and started eating lots of meat. I did lose weight, although I didn’t feel healthy. More importantly, a part of me didn’t feel right about eating so much meat. The turning point for me was a dinner at a steakhouse where I ordered a small steak with veggies. I can still remember how much I liked eating that steak…at first. As I continued eating it I remembered that there was an actual animal that had died for me to enjoy this. I haven’t eaten meat since. My new thought on eating animals is this: If I am hungry enough to kill the animal myself and dress it and cook it, then I would not feel bad about eating it. I have not reached that point in my life…ever.
The last week of the year, my wife and our daughter decided to join me on the Cellular Healing Diet. I was pleased they did but that meat part was not working for me. During that holiday season, with a full week off of work, I researched more and found a book called Discovering the Word of Wisdom authored by Jane Birch. I immediately felt I needed that book and purchased it. I devoured it. I read the entire book in a day. Then I went back the next day and marked it up as I read it again.
My first read of the book helped me to really “see” that there was two parts about D&C 89—the no parts and the yes parts. Up until reading this book, I never really paid to much attention to those yes parts. Oh, sure I had read them like everyone else, but I never particularly heeded them – yes, eat fruits (yummy) and veggies (meh!) and grains (meh!) and MEATS (bacon!) – sparingly? Sure, never more than once a day. But it never really sank in – until this book changed my views.
I started eating a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet the next day. At first, I was constantly worrying about what I was going to eat for my next meal. I knew the general idea but was unsure of how to put that into action. The first week was pretty rough. Due to my perceived switch-and-bait diet with my wife and our daughter, they were eating all the bad foods – hamburgers, Nachos, Chinese take-out. Meanwhile, I ate a lot of sweet potatoes cooked in the microwave. To those I added salsa or microwave-in-the-bag veggies. I ate oatmeal and fruits (bananas, apples) for breakfast and for dinner I ate rice and veggies. Not a lot of variety—it was rough watching the family eat the foods I was so used to and still somewhat craved.
I distinctly remember the first Saturday. I woke up to start cooking a big breakfast for my family consisting of scrambled eggs with cheese and some milk, bacon (turkey) and hash-browns. As I was cooking, I started to wonder what I could eat. I decided to cook the hash-browns with no oil and just the hash-browns, onions and some garlic. They were all eating my non-compliant tasty breakfast and just kept staring at my plate with just hash-browns and some salsa. I know what they were thinking, “poor slob!”
At first, I had many cravings. I would see a donut at work, and I would crave it. I withstood and didn’t have one! I would walk by an open bag of potato chips at home and the smell would waft to my nose, and I would crave it. But I didn’t have any! I could go on this way for paragraphs but the end result was after about three weeks and me not cheating, the cravings went away.
Another feeling replaced those cravings. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but I will try. I would be sitting with the family eating dinner, them eating the “normal” or SAD way I cooked before and me eating the WFPB version (e.g. spaghetti without meat and cheese), and I would look at their food and…miss it. I no longer craved it but I can only describe the feeling as…missing it. I remember liking that food, but it no longer drew me to it in such a way that I felt I just had to have some. It’s almost like a vague memory, but you can’t quite put a finger on exactly what it was. This feeling still comes with many of the foods I used to enjoy and now don’t eat but am still around them like: non-WFPB fresh baked bread, hamburgers on the grill, home-made cinnamon rolls and donuts.
After eating WFPB for three months, I had lost weight but more important to me I felt great. Blood work came back positive with all markers lowered. My doctor was pleased and told me whatever I was doing was working and keep it up. As of this writing, I have lost about 60 pounds—all without working out once as I was still afraid of getting my “cold.” I also have not been sick the entire time. My entire family was sick in February—hacking cough, low grade fever, sore throats, puking and the like. I did not get sick at that time. Usually, when either my wife or I are sick, we stop kissing each other and just do a peck on the cheek or forehead and a hug. I had read others following WFPB claimed little or no colds. I decided to try it. I came home from work one day in the beginning of my wife’s cold and gave her a big hug and a big kiss. She pulled away in shock saying, “Don’t! You’ll get sick!” I grinned back and said I wasn’t worried and kissed her again. She told me I was too cocky about my diet. I continued to kiss her throughout her cold and never did get sick.
I find that if I am hungry . . . I eat. No more counting calories or portions or any of the other things so many of the diets want you to count or track. It is simple to prepare meals now. I make large quantities of steel cut oats, rice and wheat berries on weekends and then freeze them in baggies. I buy frozen microwave veggies and fresh fruit. I have started to make my own bread, tortillas and pitas. I have a wheat grinder and the recipes are very simple: whole wheat flour, water (and yeast for pitas and bread). Sometimes I put salt in there too…depends on my mood. I just purchased a rice cooker and cook whole wheat, quinoa and whole grains in it using the brown rice setting.
One of my favorite sayings is, “I love food and it loves me back!” There is something about what I am eating that satisfies my inner soul. I never felt this way when eating the standard American diet. Sure, I loved the food, but I always felt bad physically afterward. My stomach hurt or my tummy was too full because I over-ate, indigestion or my gut was crampy. At the time, I never paid attention to how my spirit felt, but I think back on it now and realize it wasn’t just my physical body that didn’t like what I was doing to it, my spirit, the inner me, didn’t like it either. I realize now I loved food, but it didn’t love me back. It was hurting me because of what I ate and (too often) how much of it I ate. Now I love the food I eat and my body/spirit loves what I eat too.
Kurt DeGraw, 47, lives in Denver Colorado. He is married and they enjoy three children. As a family, they like to go on road trips to far away places and cruises. He has earned a Computer Science degree and he works on computers for an aerospace company. He is currently the Primary Song Leader in his Church. He loves to mountain bike, read and listen to music.
Bonus Section — Kurt describes how he now eats.
I am happy that I am truly enjoying what I eat. I look forward to my steel cut oats in the morning or my tortillas with bananas squished onto them and rolled up. I still love my sweet potato with salsa—the one I started out with. I look forward to a piece of fruit after lunch and dinner as my dessert and find that it really stops my sweet-tooth cravings.
When I go to eat at a restaurant I usually start with, “OK, so I’m vegan.” Later when my children were making fun of me that I wasn’t really a vegan, one of them said, “Yeh, he’s more like a super vegan.” That has stuck. Most vegans will eat sugars and oils and don’t care if it is whole food or not—that is the main difference. So I start with the “I’m a vegan” thing and then ask if that dish can be cooked without sugar and without oil.
I eat pretty much what Jane Birch describes in her book: pick a starch (wheat, rice, squash, etc.), pick a veggie or fruit and pick a sauce. Sauce is very important!
I have found that the right sauce is vital to a successful meal. Excepting breakfast, a good sauce really makes the meal. She has a walnut sauce that is my favorite. I usually make my own but there is a Hatch Green chile sauce from 505 that I use a lot of on many meals. I also bought a low sodium tamari sauce and Braggs Aminos in squirt bottle (make sure you get the squirt bottle!). I make my own spaghetti sauce with a handful of cherry tomatoes, some canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is my current favorite), and some onion, garlic and spices all chopped up in a blender and cooked/simmered on stove-top for a half hour or more. Serve with whole-wheat noodles and you have a winner.
Eating this way is very simple once you get the hang of it. I buy the whole food, and if I choose to, do almost all of the processing to it, e.g. baking, soaking, cutting, chopping, etc. I make large quantities on a free weeknight or weekend and put it in zippies and freeze. There are a few items I buy from the store that I don’t process myself—505 green chile sauce, salsa, popcorn (just the kernels, not the microwaveable kind), Braggs liquid aminos, tamari sauce, beans, chickpeas, frozen microwave veggies, pure maple syrup (used sparingly), Adams peanut butter (again, sparingly), Angelic or Ezekiel tortillas (for when I run out of my own as they are not 100% WFPB).
My wife asked me the other day if I will ever eat those other things I used to love again. I thought about my answer for a while—she thought I ignored her, but I didn’t. Eventually, five or ten minutes later, I told her I don’t know if I will eat those things again but not right now. If she offered me my favorite home cooked meal right now—home made macaroni and cheese—I would not eat it at the moment. If we went to my favorite restaurant right now—Skippers Seafood and Chowder House—I would not eat it at the moment. In the future? Maybe, I won’t rule it out. But right now, I am so happy with my diet, I don’t see me stopping.
I love to talk to others about my diet: co-workers, fellow church-goers, brothers, sisters, mom, dad, spouse, children—anyone who will listen! I don’t try to convert them so much as I tell them what I eat (and don’t) and how much I enjoy eating the way I do and how I feel. Some of the looks tell me, “You poor slob! How can you eat that way?” and my mind answers to myself, “Because I feel so good!”