Could Going Vegan Become Your Path to Happiness?
Articles Reflecting a Vegan Lifestyle From

Vegan lifestyle articles that discuss ways of living in peace with humans, animals, and the environment.

September 2017

Chadwick’s advice to those who want to understand his experience? “It’s nowhere near as hard as you think it is. It’s far more enjoyable than you think it is. If I tell you the benefits, you won’t believe me, so try it so you can see for yourself.”

The following excerpt is from MeatLess: Transform the Way You Eat and Live—One Meal at a Time, by Kristie Middleton. Copyright © 2017. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Aligning Our Plates With Our Values

How can we free ourselves from fried chicken and break away from bacon? We know that eating too much of these products is bad for us, our planet and animals. But there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Some people decide they want to go vegan and do so cold turkey (pun intended), while others opt for smaller changes such as going meat-free one day a week. What works for one person may not necessarily work for you, and ultimately the best choice is always the one you stick with.

I was vegetarian for several years before learning about the benefits of a vegan diet and making that transition. Through the process, I learned about new foods I’d never before tried. I ate sushi for the first time and learned you can order avocado, carrot and cucumber rolls. Indian food was brand-new to me. I explored Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese fare, and more—all foods I’d never eaten. but loved immediately.

The journey turned out to be a wonderful one, if for no other reason than it so greatly expanded my culinary horizons. I now take pictures of my meals (yes, I’m that annoying person at the table), enjoy scouring through cookbooks for inspiration, and my weekend isn’t complete without ambling through the farmers’ market, taking in all the colors and sampling the delicious produce.

My transition was a slow one, as it often is for many others—eliminating chicken from my diet, then beef, then pork, and then dairy and eggs. Although some people have a lightbulb moment after watching a documentary or reading a book and immediately clear their freezers and refrigerators of animal products, others are simply enjoying more plant-based meals while still eating meat from time to time. As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks. The key is finding what’s right for you.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Argentina native Ken Chadwick, now the food service director for American University in Washington, DC, exudes passion for food. Chadwick's love for exquisite cuisine is clear. The great-grandson of Chilean cattle ranchers, Chadwick spent the summers of his youth herding cattle, and he spent his formative years in major cities throughout South and Central America, informing his refined palate.

His passion for his job is clear too. Working as a food service director at a university setting often means long hours and juggling lots of responsibilities such as responding when things go wrong—when staff call in sick, when equipment breaks, or guests complain. And guests do complain. It can often be a thankless job. It can be a rewarding one too.

In September 2014, as he was starting his first year of operating the food services program at AU, Chadwick brought vegetarian and vegan students together to provide feedback on the campus dining options. Having worked at some of the most prestigious universities in the nation’s capital such as Georgetown, Catholic University, and George Washington University, Chadwick was used to meeting the varied needs of his guests. He heard from many students at AU they wanted more vegan options, and at this meeting students said there simply still weren’t enough. They were putting meatless options on the menus that he’d tested, but as he recounts, “The students had very reasonable complaints. Here was a staunch meat eater creating a vegetarian menu. My best wasn’t even close.”

Chadwick was inspired. He wanted to see things from the students’ perspective. He ended the meeting and declared that, as of the next day, he would be vegan. An all-or-nothing guy, he doesn’t take a sip from the faucet; he, in his own words, “drinks from the firehose.”

Very quickly Chadwick learned that it wasn’t as easy as he thought to eat vegan on campus. With a laugh, he shared, “The first day was a six-pear day. The first week was an all-pear week.” He rallied the support of his dietitian Jo-Ann Jolly and that of chefs Norbert Roesch and Kyle Johnson to come up with unique options that would ensure that whether he was eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner on campus—and sometimes this workaholic dines on campus for all three—there was something vegan, hearty, and delicious he could enjoy.

Students at AU soon found options such as a falafel bar on campus where they can build their own wraps, roasted seasonal vegetables, marinated portobello mushroom caps, smashed English peas on toast, and so much more.

The menus weren’t all that changed. Chadwick also found his own health improving. For years he’d been medicated for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. He was also overweight, his 6-foot-5 frame tipping the scales at 327 pounds. He had gastrointestinal issues and had to have his appendix and gall bladder removed in his late 30s.

“I was experiencing bone pain,” he said. “I looked a million years old, and I wasn’t happy.”

When his gall bladder started acting up, the doctor marveled at the fact he was still alive. Chadwick was so overweight his doctor was worried he might die on the operating table, but his gall bladder was 97 percent non-functional, so they had no choice but to remove it.

His doctor warned him he should consider changing his diet, to which he replied, “Doc, it’s not a meal unless it has meat in it.” When Chadwick was at his heaviest, even getting dressed in the morning was a struggle. He recalls one painful memory of a morning when he was so overweight he couldn’t lift his leg up high enough to put on his socks because of the girth of his stomach.

“I was sitting on the bed and had to lean on the side to pick my leg up and shimmy the sock on,” he recounts. His then wife told him, “Baby, you’re getting winded just putting your sock on,” reminding him he was once a world-class athlete, playing football, basketball, and soccer, swimming, boxing, and doing martial arts. It was embarrassing and hurtful for anyone to see him like that.

So Chadwick started exercising. He’d struggle to finish a one-mile walk and would be in horrible pain all day. His knees hurt. But he was determined to lose weight, so he started running. He recalls running his first mile, and although he wasn’t anywhere near home when he finished, he had to lie down in the grass and rest for an hour. After a while he was running five to six days a week, trying to remain at 320 pounds and not gain weight.

“It was a constant battle to remain at 320 pounds back then,” he said.

So in the fall of 2014, when Chadwick dove in head first with his vegan diet, he found that the weight started dropping effortlessly. He lost 45 pounds by Christmas, shocking his family during the holidays. It happened so fast that his colleagues on campus dubbed him, “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

By the spring semester, Chadwick’s weight was down to 250 pounds. Within six months, he was able to eliminate his blood pressure and cholesterol medication. Two years later, he told me with great enthusiasm, “I am down to 205 pounds! I haven’t been this skinny since high school. Last Saturday I spent two and a half hours boxing then ran six miles, which I can do without even getting winded.”

Chadwick added that he eats what he wants whenever he wants it. He never passes up food out of concern for his weight. He eats more consciously, though, and truly appreciates the foods he’s eating.

“I want to understand where my food comes from, how it’s handled, how it’s being treated,” he says. “The days of just slamming stuff into my mouth are gone.”

Although he still eats vegan on campus and the majority of the time at home, there are some favorite foods that he eats on occasion. Oysters and softshell crabs, he confesses, are his weakness. They’re available in the summer for a couple of months, so he might eat them once in a while when in season, or a piece of cheese here and there.

The vast majority of his meals, though, are plant-based. When asked what he eats, he shares a simple red lentil pasta recipe and describes the curries, chutneys and dals that adorn his plate and appease his palate.

At 43, he’s in much better shape than he was at 30. He regrets that so many of his younger years were spent in abject pain because he hadn’t connected how he ate to his health, which seems so obvious now.

“I’m a different person in so many ways,” he said. Though he can’t get those years back, he’s grateful for the knowledge he’s gained—and is passing it on. “I truly believe I’m one of the people making this worldwide change. I’m feeding 1,800 of some of the most influential, affluent kids in the nation at this institution every day in hopes one day they’ll be in power and some of the things I’ve taught will make an impact.”

Chadwick’s advice to those who want to understand his experience? “It’s nowhere near as hard as you think it is. It’s far more enjoyable than you think it is. If I tell you the benefits, you won’t believe me, so try it so you can see for yourself.”

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