If a psychic ever suggested I would one day morph to plant-based eating, I’d recommend a new crystal ball. However, synchronicity often leads to unexpected conversions.
Prior to semi-retirement, my professional life included teaching, social work and school counseling. Woven throughout my work was an interest in health and wellness. Desiring to stay on that path in retirement, I awaited an inner calling for new direction and service. The answer was, surprisingly, birthed during my yearly ’06 physical.
Meeting with a new physician at my group practice, I learned that my LDL (bad cholesterol) had risen to an alarming 170 and cholesterol to 246. Up till then my lipid numbers had been yo-yo-ing. In ’04 my cholesterol soared to 299, then plunged the following year to 169. I attributed that to the red yeast rice I had taken for a while. Still, I felt baffled. I ate well, exercised regularly, and kept up with the latest health information. Fish and poultry were at the top of my cooking repertoire and I avoided, save a twice yearly fillet mignon, the dastardly saturated fat of red meat. I believed I was doing just fine. Suddenly, the myths and illusions of the Western diet oozed like a bloody, marbled rib eye.
After explaining current research on the relationship between nutrition and disease, my physician asked if I’d be willing to give up beef, pork, lamb and dairy. Since I was eager to do anything naturally to lower my numbers and remain free of the pharmaceutical stranglehold, I agreed. At that point I planned to continue eating chicken and fish.
I also attended one of my physician’s free lectures on Cape Cod. Listening to some riveting health information, I felt new determination and conviction regarding food and its effect on the body. However, my total transformation to plant based cuisine, a la vegan eating, came after reading ’The China Study,’ the twenty year plus research project conducted among Cornell University, Oxford in England and the Chinese Academy for Preventative Medicine. The only study of its kind, lauded as the ‘Grand Prix of Epidemiology,’ ‘The China Study’ was the impetus for my giant leap to plant-based eating. After absorbing its definitive, scientific evidence, I couldn’t go back to the toxic American diet. One door closed, but new encounters and experiences emerged.
New recipes were tested, tasted and relished. Even my Ireland- born hubby, who still kept one foot in the carnivore world, admitted that the foods were delicious. Vegan cookbooks replaced what once were the old stand-bys, and I absorbed new information with the zest and tenacity of my student days.
After four months of total plant based eating my LDL decreased to 69 and cholesterol dropped to 174. But another unexpected surprised awaited.
Since 1999 I’d been experiencing progressive pain and discomfort in my right wrist. At times I’d awaken in the middle of the night from the pain. Once, after extensive computer work, my hand froze. The pain was excruciating, and I began to fear incapacitation. I braced my wrist, treated it naturally while waiting and wondering if I would ever again garden or pick up my grandchildren with ease. A friend opined, “Arthritis is what happens when you get old.” I wasn’t buying that! I was 59 at the time and active.
Gradually, over those four months the arthritis slowly disappeared. I’d be working in the kitchen, dicing and chopping, and realize that my wrist was pain free. No more pain woke me in the middle of the night! No more pain resonated from driving long distances! I felt overjoyed. I celebrated by raking leaves for two days, painting my kitchen and shaking my wrist in complete abandon! For me it was another tangible affirmation that ‘we are what we eat’.
Desiring to offer Cape Codders better choices for health and wellness, I attempted to bring a plant-based chef from New York City to present cooking classes in my home last summer.
Unfortunately, no one registered. After canceling the event, a local newspaper reporter called to say that she still wanted to do a story, but on me and my new way of eating. Quite remarkably, someone called the next day to register for that canceled class. We wound up chatting for over an hour. When I explained that I’d attempt to recruit a chef the following summer, she admonished, “Joanne, you don’t have to bring someone in from NYC. I just learned so much from talking with you. Why don’t you teach the class yourself?”
There are moments in life when ‘choice’ looms – respond with a resounding ‘yes’ or shut the door on presenting opportunities. I’m thankful to Dakota for motivating my ‘yes’. My passion for health and wellness entered a new domain. Teaching plant-based cooking was a natural complement to my life’s passions and to my Reiki practice. It’s gratifying to share what I’ve learned, a process that’s ongoing.
The cooking classes, first announced in that local news article, were received beyond my wildest expectations. I had hopes of filling one class, but was delighted with a wait list for three more. It was heartening to discover that so many individuals desired to take better care of themselves by transforming their cooking and eating habits.
And so this once traditional Western diet style cook has transitioned to plant-based cuisine. Word is slowly spreading on Cape Cod, and names like Drs. John McDougall, Caldwell Esselstyn, Joel Fuhrman, and Colin Campbell, Ph.D., are entering the public consciousness.
My journey has been surprising, enlightening and gratifying. At 61 I feel good, am active, walk vigorously five times a week, work out with weights, but, most importantly, I know I’m setting an example for my children and grandchildren. When my daughter calls to tell me that my seventeen month old grandson loves his black beans and kale, I smile. When my thirty-three year old son shares, “Mom, I eat to live, not live to eat,” I know something very right, helpful and healthy is happening.
I’m thankful for my personal physician and kindred sojourners who risk sharing truth and wisdom. May our communal efforts transform our society, clouded by the deceptions and manipulations of the corporate industrial complex, toward truthful information, vigorous health and well-being. -cha
By Joanne Irwin, Spring 2008
Joanne Irwin is a retired social worker/school counselor who is currently a vegan cook and Reiki Master practitioner. Joanne can be reached at email@example.com or 239-784-0854. Cooking classes will resume in May.