Do you remember the last time you dined at a restaurant that actually met your expectations? Do you ever remember analyzing a menu and thinking that you wanted to order all of it? Every mouthwatering appetizer, main course, and dessert? After you finally made a decision and placed an order, did you wait patiently for the kitchen to chop, slice, mix, sauté, and boil the ingredients into a meal? When the dish was placed between your fork and knife did you imagine all the time, power, and love that has been put into every facet of this life sustaining “food stuff?”
No? Me neither, until recently.
I haven’t always had a conscious approach to what, how, or where I eat. Even though, I've been putting food into my body several times a day for over 30 years, it wasn’t until the last 3 years that I've grown to love what nourishes me.
My story begins in Iowa where I was born and raised on a farm near Sioux City. As a child, I was constantly surrounded by fields of corn, soy beans, cattle in close quarters, and hogs in confinement. The farm operation was all about making meat. Like most 90's kids, I drooled for gummy bears and beef jerky, and my most serious life goal was collecting Barbie toys from Micky D’s. Between the “back in flash” ads on Dennis the Menace, I’d get high on fruity pebbles and loved every minute of it! Luckily, I've always had a high metabolism and never saw any visible consequences for my addiction to sugar as a youngster.
I have to admit, higher education didn't exactly push me to a higher quality diet. Sure, I swapped Happy Meals for 1/4 pound burgers from Hardee’s, but I wouldn't call that an upgrade. I detested salads and ignored veggie plates at parties.
After moving to Orange County, California to attend film school, my love for sugar and salt was amplified. Stress and long hours (I was working on my Masters), left me reaching for fast food. It wasn’t until the last year of grad school (still in my early twenties) that I began to see the effects of my deep-fried and sugar-dipped lifestyle. I was oblivious to the damage I was doing, and I kept reminding myself, wasn't I that skinny girl who can eat whatever she wants? Skinny was fine and all, but every day I woke up groggy, bloated, and perplexed. I began to ask myself: “How can I feel this way? Is this normal?”
Out of the blue, my boyfriend at the time, suggested that we try meatless Mondays. I laughed at him and said the idea of meatless days was stupid. The actual words out of my mouth were: “I can’t NOT eat MEAT.” I told him “I won’t feel full and I’ll be weak.” He was relentless, so he went meat free for 1 day a week for a month without me. After coming to my senses, I tried his “part time hippy diet.”
Our first vegetarian meal was from an Indian buffet where we had palak paneer. That was it. The savory spice filled dish convinced me that I could skip meat and live to tell the tale. Slowly, we were eating more and more vegetarian meals. Then one night a few days after Christmas, he challenged me. “Libby, next year I want to try being vegetarian and I think we should do it together.” I thought, “A New Year’s resolution to be a vegetarian? Is he KIDDING ME?”
Reluctantly, I agreed to his lifestyle change.
January 1st, 2011 was the day I became vegetarian. Surprisingly, after several weeks the new lifestyle became easy. Instead of mocking others for eating plants, I started eating mock meats. My “where’s the beef” absence subsided when I supplemented my diet with proteins like tofu, tempeh, and crazy variations of meat alternatives. Bam, no ham! I’ll just eat this weird looking but tasty tempeh bacon. But what about my beloved chicken nuggets?! Oh, I can buy Morning Star soy chicken and I can dip them in BBQ sauce.
Shortly after receiving my veg status and starting my not-so-meaty explorations, I began working as a destination wedding videographer. I travelled to dozens of countries working and shooting elaborate ceremonies. I ventured to different countries and tried to communicate my strange diet in different languages. Trying new cuisines opened my mind to the possibilities of delicious food and how amazing plants can be. After graduating and moving to LA, I continued my frequent travel gigs to foreign countries. When, I returned home after working abroad, I came back empowered to explore more and more plant-based cuisines. Back at home, the travel bug stuck with me so I tried to harness my need for adventure by discovering new delicious food. Living in LA provided unlimited opportunities to explore vegetarian restaurants. I challenged (and delighted) my taste buds, and I started to be more mindful about what I was putting in my body.
After 2 years of "veg-life" I stumbled upon a book called the Beauty Detox Solution. The cover was adorned with this vibrant, fit, and beautiful nutritionist named Kimberly Snyder. I opened the book in a Barnes and Noble and glanced through the pages. "An alkaline diet is the best approach to heal and maintain our bodies," caught my eye, which is surprising because I didn't even know what she meant. As I read on, she taught me that if an eater consumes too many acidic forming foods like (animal protein, dairy, sugar, eggs) and consumes too few alkaline foods like fresh fruits and vegetables then the human body will have a difficult time repairing itself.
Basically too much acid is bad, but finding a balance of 80% alkaline and 20% acidity is optimal.
Wait a second. Was this crazy lady suggesting a vegan diet?! Up to that point, I adored my vegetarian comfort food like soft gooey brie and cheese filled omelets. Was she really implying that I should eat even more plants? But, I already gave up meat and fish! Now she wanted to take away cheese? The one thing that gave me that most pleasure in the world. (Not quite, but close... doesn't everyone feel this way about cheese at some point?) Should I keep reading or should I look the other way? I dove in. I read on about how a plant-based diet has improved so many lives. From reversing diabetes to curing chronic IBS, I figured this chick was onto something.
I couldn’t reject this little vegan voice in my head. I just needed to try it. Of course, I did what any new health nut on a mission would do, I bought a Vitamix. "Always start with smoothies" is like an unwritten rule of new health kicks, right? I blended greens, seeds, and fruit, and consciously learned to love feeling healthy. Most of it was a change in mindset, so to help I took up yoga and began practicing regularly.
During this time I was still traveling abroad to foreign speaking countries. When I'd get to restaurants I struggled to communicate my vegan diet but I desperately wanted to stick with it. So, I would print out cards and use google translate to talk to waiters. Even with the extra effort, I'd get strange looks or completely wrong meals placed in front of me. Frustrated for a solution, I researched translation tools to help communicate with the restaurant staff. Nothing was readily available for this situation. So I decided to do something about it, and that’s when the Eat Away app was born.
After a year of development, we (my biz partner's name is Hayden) created a customized diet translator. This interactive translator works with any dietary restriction or food allergy in several languages. Simply hand your waiter your phone and Eat Away will present the specifics of your diet in the server’s native language. The waiter can respond with a touch so you can understand the status of your dish. Once I released the Eat Away in the App Store, Marcel, my boyfriend and I decided to set out to travel the world. We’ve been traveling for over 8 months and documenting our plant-based cuisine in over 20 countries! You can keep up with us here.