So there’s this amazing woman named JL who I’d like you to meet. JL had me at KALE (see her photo below). Then, I learned that she went vegan in her 40s, runs triathlons for fun and encourages women to love their bodies at any size. She is a living, blogging example of how to take the idea of compassionate living to an even more personal level. Welcome JL!
Allison Rivers Samson: You write two blogs: JL Goes Vegan and Stop Chasing Skinny. Tell us about them.
JL Fields: After being vegetarian for eight years I went vegan two years ago. I read many, many blogs to help me along on my plant-based journey. They were immensely helpful but I did feel a bit like the odd-woman out, as someone approaching my mid-forties. I decided to start JL Goes Vegan: Food & Fitness with a Side of Kale as a way to chronicle my experience as a new vegan and to encourage other 40+ folks to consider life changes, regardless of age. I started writing about my love and appreciation for vegan cooking and how it shifted my relationship with food. While I have not experienced an eating disorder, I had certainly bought into the cultural phenomena that thin = beautiful and found myself yo-yo dieting for about six years leading into my 40s. Going vegan liberated me from dieting and I decided to embrace a larger, rounder me. I wrote the post January diet? Nope, I bought bigger clothes and readers really connected to it. I felt the topic was worthy of its own blog so I started Stop Chasing Skinny: Find Happiness Beyond the Scale, a community blog, last year.
ARS: Our relationship with food is such an important one to heal. You went vegan after 40! How did that come about?
JLF: Initially, I went vegetarian in my 30s. I was in Kenya for work in a small village in the Rift Valley. There was a celebration held for an auspicious occasion and my colleagues and I were guests of honor. Early in the day an elder from the community brought a goat to the site of the celebration – a true demonstration of generosity. The goat was presented and subsequently killed and boiled. That evening, we were offered the goat for dinner. To refuse it would have been an affront (or so I told myself?). Essentially I met a goat, shook his hand then ate him. I became a vegetarian. Years later, never intending to go vegan, I did a nutritional cleanse and discovered after two weeks that I had removed all animal products from my diet, except for one hard-boiled egg. I realized I was an egg away from being a vegan so I just decided to do it.
ARS: Way to go for it! Do you notice a big difference in going from vegetarian to vegan on your health?
JLF: Yes! As a vegetarian I really bought into the “what about protein?” myth and consumed incredible amounts of dairy (yogurt, milk and cheese). My body felt completely different when I removed it from my diet. My emotional health improved, too. It didn’t take me long to shift from a dietary vegan to an ethical one. The more I learned the more I could not ignore what we are doing to animals. I feel physically and emotionally healthy living a life based on compassion for all living beings.
ARS: I have seen time and again that the best blend is a marriage of both the healthful and ethical aspects of being vegan. You’re a hardcore athlete doing marathons and triathlons. How has the transition to a vegan diet impacted your performance?
JLF: Well, I was a hardcore athlete. Part of my body image journey was to become honest with myself. In my late 30s and early 40s I ran two full marathons, seventeen half-marathons, and eight or ten triathlons in six years. It was pretty excessive and I now realize I was doing it to keep weight off. I worked out like mad but was unable to eat like an endurance athlete. Once I embraced a larger size I became less interested in working out so hard. I now prefer moderate exercise – slow running, road cycling, yoga, walking, easy gym workouts, etc. I do love the sport of triathlon and plan to do more of them. For fun. As for vegan nutrition, I have no problem fueling my body before, during and after hard workouts. Plants are amazing! One of my favorite energy bites, during a long run, is my Medjool Date for the Runner.
ARS: I couldn’t agree with you more about plants. In fact it’s a topic I’m a touch obsessed with. What do you think is one of the most common misconceptions about the vegan diet? Why?
JLF: I think non-vegans believe we are “deprived” and sometimes I think we vegans can perpetuate that misconception. I just returned from vacation in Florida. I found myself whining at restaurants. No beans? No tofu? Boo-hoo. I was offered vibrant, colorful vegetables and, yes, if I had been back in New York I would have had an amazing seitan dish with them, but vegetables are awesome and I need to remember that I am, as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau would say, an “ambassador of compassion.” As a vegan I eat a wider variety of foods than I ever did when consuming animal products. Quinoa and kale were not a part of my vocabulary or diet before. And seitan? Never heard of it, but now I make my own! Vegan foods can be simple, complex, flavorful, nourishing and delicious!
ARS: Variety indeed! Like me, you are utterly smitten with kale. What’s the most unusual kale-containing dish you’ve made or eaten?
JLF: I recently found kale granola at Lifethyme Natural Market in Manahattan. It had me at hello.
ARS: Ooohhh… I am so gonna make that! What’s your go-to quick-fix meal?
JLF: The food bowl! I bulk cook on the weekends and therefore always have home cooked grains and beans on hand. During the week I simply reheat a bowl of beans, greens and grains – like this Flageolet Bean & Millet Stew - and my heart swoons!
Thanks so much, JL, for your compassionate, self-adoring, food-loving point of view!