Growing up and into in my late twenties, I ate what the USDA food pyramid said I needed to eat daily: grains, milk and other dairy, meat, fruits, and vegetables. I really liked ice cream, milk chocolate, and other candy and processed foods. Grains were cold cereal, bread, and pasta that wasn’t whole grain.
My journey to a whole foods plant-based diet probably began in 2007. My husband and I had been married for three years and were new parents. Our baby girl was ready, at five months, to eat “solids.” My stepmom had given me a recipe book for baby food, and I liked it. I understood that we would save money by not buying baby food if possible. I made our daughter a variety of foods by steaming foods and using a mini food processor, or just mashing if it was banana. Some of the foods were vegetables that I personally didn’t grow up eating, or didn’t remember enjoying, including spinach and some kinds of squash. I know I had tasted cooked spinach but didn’t like it. I discovered that I didn’t hate cabbage, I only hated the ingredients in coleslaw sauce! I loved the ratatouille, other simple combinations, and the plain steamed cauliflower that I made for her. I did get pre-made jars or containers sometimes for convenience. The ones with meat in them didn’t smell so good, and I knew there was a difference between the pre-made veggies and my freshly-made veggies. I remember thinking one day, “Why am I feeding her a jar of lamb? We don’t eat lamb.” (And now I wonder why anyone would want to eat a baby sheep.) But we did eat a pretty typical American diet with other meat in it.
When our daughter was almost a year old, and not quite done breastfeeding, we started having her drink whole cow’s milk, like we thought we were supposed to in order for her to be healthy. By the time I took her for her twelve-month doctor appointment she had pretty bad eczema. Eventually — I wish I would have kept a journal of all this! — I read that dairy has been shown to be connected to skin problems, and I realized that her eczema had started at the same time as her introduction to cow’s milk. However, the doctor had said nothing about diet, only to bathe our daughter in plain water and put a specific ointment on her skin. Later, when I stopped giving her cow’s milk, cheese, and yogurt, the eczema went away. A few times it seems that her arms have gotten a little eczema again, after she has chosen to eat some dairy when away from home.
For most of 2009 my husband was deployed with the Army. Our daughter and I lived with his parents for the first nine months. In June our second child was born. (My husband would be away for almost eleven more months, but he was able to be home for her birth.) With my in-laws, I enjoyed our arrangement that I only made dinner once a week. One time I made taco soup with no meat in it. I remember asking my father-in-law what their thoughts were on eating meat “sparingly,” as I wanted to eat less of it myself. I don’t remember if that was because of a Word of Wisdom lesson in church or my own study or what.
In April 2010 I emailed myself some information on veganism. That July I asked on Facebook, “For those of you who are vegetarians or vegans, what are your reasons?” A friend who was in a poetry class with my husband and me in high school was the first to answer. She said that she was first vegetarian, now vegan, because of compassion for animals, but she was also learning about how it is good for health. (I also remember seeing at least one post about animal cruelty from a guy who was in that same class.)
Because of a recommendation from her on Facebook, in November 2010 I started reading the book Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman M.D. She liked one of his other books, Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right, which I read not long after. Dr. Fuhrman is an Olympic skater who had healed his injury by fasting, and he decided he wanted to go to medical school, to know what the nutritional research says, and to “prescribe” food.
Eat to Live just made sense to me, and I didn’t want to stop reading it. A lot of what he said was very different. It was not what I had been taught by society! But nutritarian eating felt right and true to me. I also felt a whole foods plant-based diet matched what the Word of Wisdom says. Dr. Fuhrman says that if you are going to eat meat or other animal products, it should be no more than a few ounces in an entire week. I had had no idea that I would become passionate about healthy food. I had always loved candy, chocolate, ice cream, chicken, and cheese, and spaghetti always had ground beef in it. Well, with the knowledge as my motivation it was easy to change what I bought at the grocery store. I stopped buying dairy and tried plant milks. I only had a bit of the animal products that Thanksgiving. Soon after that, I made vegan cupcakes for our oldest daughter’s birthday party and was happy that everyone enjoyed them. Preparing meals sometimes took longer than it had before, but it was always worth it. Plus, I can listen to music or a great talk while I work in the kitchen.
About the same time I read Eat to Live and was starting to change my diet, I set a new exercise goal. I had run a 10K in September 2008, but I wanted to run a half-marathon like my husband had two years previously. I was proud of myself and grateful for my body as I ran longer with each weekly long run. I wrote several short blog posts about my love for running. The feeling of being outside, using my body to run — I can’t really describe that joy and peace. I was grateful to have a treadmill when the weather wasn’t good, and I could have our older daughter play at a neighbor friend’s and put our younger daughter down for a nap. During the half-marathon training my diet was mainly leafy vegetables, other green and colorful vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. I ate meat (usually chicken), dairy and eggs only rarely. I drank water and non-dairy milks. I was able to very easily run my first half-marathon. “Ye shall run and not be weary,” the Word of Wisdom says. I’m now totally vegan, I still exercise most days, and running is still easy.
Just eleven days after my half-marathon I took a pregnancy test and it was positive! So I was barely pregnant with our third child when I ran that race. My pregnancies have not been very hard, but this was definitely my most comfortable, healthiest pregnancy. One example is that I only get heartburn when I’m pregnant, but I had heartburn a lot less often and less severely during this pregnancy compared to my other pregnancies. I felt good about getting folate from food instead of taking supplemental folic acid, and I spread the word about that. Our little girl was born in December 2011 with a lot of hair! Our other daughters had almost no hair at birth. I strongly feel that I had not been getting all the right nutrients before, so my increased intake of high-nutrient plant foods, DHA+EPA, and a whole food-derived multivitamin resulted in a baby with more hair. She also was our happiest baby. There are a lot of aspects of parenting, but I know that excellent nutrition helps. I’ve seen that our younger two kids are more willing to eat all the healthy foods, and our oldest, who ate the S.A.D. diet for about four years, is a little picky. For example, she doesn’t want plain beans and the other kids do.
After Eat to Live I read at least five other books about WFPB, including The China Study and Super Immunity, and of course, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. By October 2013 I had participated in a lot of conversations with nutritarians online and many of them were totally vegan. I decided I was ready to find out more about factory farming and ethical veganism. I had been around 90% vegan while occasionally eating small amounts of chicken, beef (but I started to not like the taste), boiled egg or S.A.D. pizza. I know that pizza with cheese on it is addictive. Well, that month I committed to being 100% vegan. I wanted to try not having that little bit of animal products in my diet. As I learned about what animal agriculture does to animals (besides killing them), what I saw was very sad and evil. So many animals suffer and are killed unnecessarily. Our scriptures tell us, “wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need” (D&C 49:21)
I was still fascinated and excited as I discovered more plant-based doctors, like Dr. Michael Klaper, who has been a vegan since the early 1980s. It was amazing to learn that human anatomy is more similar to herbivorous animals’ anatomy than to meat-eating animals’ anatomy. I also watched (and continue to watch) nutritionfacts.org videos and documentaries like Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. The meat, dairy, and egg industries work hard to hide the truth that humans do not need these foods; Dr. Campbell who wrote The China Study explains that. Processed foods are also not good because they aren’t the “wholesome herbs” God has ordained (D&C 89:10).
The Word of Wisdom has blessed me and my family so much! I have experienced the blessings the Lord promised if we obey. Also, because of this diet, I now have a great love for the beauty of animals, who I don’t want to hurt if I don’t need to. I don’t need to, because I have access to plenty of natural, non-animal foods. I feel that Heavenly Father is pleased that I don’t use animals — I love Doctrine and Covenants 89:10-15. We have access to enough good nutrition without animal foods, and as Cowspiracy says, animal agriculture is damaging our planet. I want to be a good steward and “hurt not the earth.” I gained a greater appreciation for all of nature and realize that I truly understand very little of it. I know that “the acquisition of knowledge is a sacred activity,” like Elder Dallin H. Oaks said.
I have also been blessed to meet a wide variety of wonderful people who eat whole foods plant based vegan diets. We’re here to have joy, and eating the way I do brings me joy. I am happy every time our children ask for more oatmeal or peas or salad. They are not missing out by not eating certain things. They like their food. Occasionally we make non-dairy yogurt or ice cream, which is really easy to do.
My husband is not interested in giving things up or studying this topic much, but he eats what I make for dinner and buys some groceries just for himself, which works for us. I’ve come up with some Mexican food, kale soups, and other recipes that he likes. Sometimes he has been the only one in our family who gets sick. I don’t get colds or anything like I did before changing my diet, and the few times that our kids or I have had a slight runny nose, cough, or upset stomach it honestly usually only lasts for about a day or even less. One time I believe my diarrhea was because of having processed vegan food the night before, and my body wasn’t used to some of the ingredients. One morning my stomach hurt mysteriously, and waiting to eat until it had been sixteen hours helped. I am thankful that I gradually learned to eat the amount that I need to and not eat if I am not hungry. I love that I am never constipated anymore, and my face and hair look better. I have a healthy “tan” from eating carotenoids. My lab results are always very good. I feel cleaner.
I didn’t have a weight problem to overcome, but one trial I have had is that for most of my life I have had headaches. Even with this diet, I still experience headaches, but I am learning some things as I have worked with different kinds of providers to try to figure out why, or what may help without using medication, which doesn’t get rid of my pain anyway. I’ve been surprised that avoiding foods that can be triggers for migraine hasn’t been the solution. However, I have learned that sugar definitely makes my pain get a lot worse, and that consistency with my sleep schedule and exercise are important for me. Most of the time I can take care of my home and family while my head hurts, and I am happy and hopeful. I absolutely know that the Savior felt and understands what I experience and what we all experience. His Atonement strengthens me and so do priesthood blessings.
I love eating lots of plant foods and don’t miss meat, dairy, eggs, or cravings for sugary desserts or for chips. I don’t use SOS (salt, oil, sugar) and don’t desire them. One of my favorite foods is plain steamed vegetables, like cauliflower, mushrooms, yellow squash, kale, and raw seeds together! I am going to be plant-powered forever.
Manda Dangerfield, 34, lives in Washington with her husband and three daughters. Her favorite job is being a wife, mom, homemaker, and homeschool teacher, but she also recently became a postpartum doula. She blogs about food at Frugal Nutritarian Family. Manda loves to learn and to read (mostly the scriptures and other nonfiction), sing, play the piano, cook, make photographs, exercise, watch movies with her whole little family on one couch, and be outside walking or hiking with them.