Calling all vegans
I sat down with four of Orcutt Academy High School’s finest vegan students and teachers to discuss all things health, animals, and plant-based diets. Zaley Bennett, Julia Leech, Olivia Bailey, Joy Henderson, and Mr. Josh Bennett give first-hand insight on the dramatic diet change of veganism.
Q: How long have you each been vegan for?
Joy Henderson: “About a year”
Julia Leech: “Two and a half years”
Olivia Bailey: “Two and a half years”
Josh and Zaley Bennett: “About nine years’
Q: What is each of your reasons for changing your diet?
Julia: “So I got a few pretty severe concussions and they told me this was one of the things that could help with recovery and reduce migraines.”
Olivia: “When I first went vegan it was for ethical reasons and then I got more into health foods and being more conscious of the environment.”
J.Bennett: “Zaley was so sick all the time and we were trying to make her better and in that process I started reading… it led me down the rabbit hole of everything that is veganism and how it relates to our environment and our culture and society.”
Q: How do you think that your overall health has been effected as a whole?
Julia: “I’m a runner so I noticed my running really improved, I had more stamina and endurance. Also my migraines were insanely reduced which was pretty crazy, also I just sleep better.”
Olivia: “I think that I was lactose intolerant because whenever I would drink dairy I’d feel really sick, so now I don’t feel sick after [consuming dairy] anymore.”
Joy: “I realized that after a few weeks I had a lot more energy.”
Q: Before you were vegan, would you consider yourself a healthy eater?
Olivia: “I kind of had the standard American diet. My family is big-meat eaters so we would have meat almost every night.”
Q: Was it hard for the other people in your life to adapt to your diet change?
Joy: “When I first told them I was going vegetarian they were like ‘oh ya that’ll last a few days’, and my dad was like ‘Okay you can’t go vegan though’, but after talking to some (vegan) people we know, [my dad] \ was like ‘okay I guess you can’. Eventually they came around.”
J.Bennett: “My parents were very angry that we changed. I grew up in Oklahoma, and my uncle and my grandpa both had huge cattle ranches and raised pigs on a mass scale; we always had a deep freeze full of meat and that’s what I assumed was normal. So especially my dad now still makes comments like, ‘Eat a hamburger every once in awhile.’”
Zaley: “It was easier for me because (my parents) were like buying all the food and making all the meals and so I would just eat, so that was a lot easier. But then I think coming here and going to school, and like seeing all the other people eat normal food, I would be like okay this is a little weird. But it was pretty easy because I had my family’s support.”
Q: Do you find it easier to maintain a healthy diet when you eat vegan?
Olivia: “If there isn’t junk food in front of you, then you don’t eat it. In my house we have nonvegan snacks and I just don’t eat them; sometimes [my family] will make lots of sweets, and I just know I’m not going to eat those. So it’s a lot easier to make like a fruit bowl or a cacao bowl, and that’s my desert.”
Julia: “There is definitely a learning curve because you are learning new habits, because I don’t eat sugar or gluten. But there was like a six month learning curve, like I carbo loaded because I didn’t know what to eat, but after those six months I started to get in the groove of things.”
Joy: “In the first few months I went kind of crazy eating junk food, but now I am a lot more health conscious so I feel like I could go either way really.”
Q: What are some common misconceptions you get about being vegan?
Joy: “Everyone thinks we only eat tofu.”
Olivia: “Everyone wants to know where we get our protein. Like [we get them] from plants! That’s where all animals get their protein. They are very worried about our nutrients.”
Julia: “My mom started cutting me off when I was working out for more than like an hour. She thought I was going to like spontaneously combust, like she was going to just find a pile of dust on the floor if I work out too much.”
Q: Where do you find affordable products and restaurants with vegan options?
Olivia: “Asian food – yes – that’s where it’s at. You can get it for the same price or cheaper.”
Julia: “Grocery outlet is awesome. It’s like the dopest place ever.”
J.Bennett: “I may have a different perspective on this because I buy the groceries. But I don’t think being vegan is expensive. But a lot of it depends on how you do it. If you are eating fruits and vegetables and real foods and not packaged kinda junk food stuff, then it’s a lot cheaper than a standard diet, whether you buy in bulk or small quantities. “
Q: Do you ever have issues lacking certain vitamins or nutrients, and how do you correct that through your diet?
Olivia: “I found tracking my food, not for calorie restriction, but for making sure you are getting enough calories and nutrients, and I will adjust the food I eat throughout the day from that.”
Joy: “Just kind of knowing which foods contain what; just be conscious about it and get enough B12 obviously.”
Julia: “We use cast iron skillets, which you get a lot of your iron supplement from. But also we just went to a nutritionist and they drew up a plan.”
J.Bennett: “I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t really care anymore. Because I used to worry about it but I’ve has blood test after blood test and I’m perfectly healthy so I just eat and live my life.”
Q: What do you enjoy most about this lifestyle change?
Joy: “It’s like a life of abundance. I think it helped me become healthier and so I feel better.”
J.Bennett: “I’m aging but I still feel really good, like I feel like I still have a lot of life left and I look around at my peers who are older and most of them are broken down and not doing well and it makes me sad.”
Zaley: “You don’t feel guilty after eating because it’s not just what you put into your body, but also being good to the earth and animals. I can actually do more stuff during the day because I’m awake. You just feel better.”
Q: What is the biggest challenge?
Olivia: “I don’t think the biggest challenge has anything to do with what I eat, what I put in my body, the way I live; the biggest difficulty I guess is how other people see my choices in life and how I respond to those opinions and the fact that not everyone is vegan. I think [this] is the hardest part because it really just makes you sad and it’s hard to overcome that sadness. Yet you have to know that what you are doing is making an impact, that you are doing something amazing for the Earth, for the animals, and for your health. One person does make a difference.”
Joy: “It’s kind of hard to see other people eating animal products and even though you tell them the reasons for their health and like the animals they just don’t have the same perspective as you and so I think that’s just kind of hard.”
Zaley: “Just the knowledge that other people aren’t going to change even if you tell them the health benefits, how the Earth [can improve], and knowing [some people] aren’t going to change even if they have the information. It’s kind of depressing.”
Q: What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming vegan?
Olivia: “Don’t give up. There was so many times I made mistakes and if I would have been like ‘Oh I made a mistake, I can’t be vegan now,’ I wouldn’t have experienced this amazing lifestyle. So just don’t be hard on yourself in the beginning; be very open to any advice people give you, to different foods, just to the lifestyle in general.”
Joy: “[Take everything]t’s one step at at time. You don’t have to change overnight. [Try] not having animal products or cutting out meat for one day.”
Bennett: “It’s a process, it takes time, try everything, your taste buds will change overtime because I eat things now that I never would have eaten before; my entire diet is completely different from what it was fifteen years ago.”
While everyone is vegan for different reasons, all vegans can agree that, as long as you can practice patience and compassion, the diet change will come naturally. Going vegan has greatly improved each panel member’s health and output on life. If you have questions or are interested in the vegan lifestyle feel free to ask one of Orcutt Academy’s vegan students or staff members.