The story of my vegan journey would not be complete without a backstory. I was born in Central Massachusetts, USA in the mid 1970s. My heritage is Irish on Mom's side and Italian on Dad's. Despite coming from a meat and potatoes, pasta and seafood family, I have always loved salad. From an early age, I preferred salty over sweet and vinegar over sugar. Pickles and tangy salad dressings were my favorites. Pasta and meatballs, roasted meats and takeout pizza or Chinese were staples in my house.
I was surrounded by people who loved cooking. My Nana Stone was a huge influence for me in the kitchen as was my Papa Morrissey and my Grammy Maggio. Although my Mother didn't love to cook, she taught me the basics at a young age. I was cooking pasta dinners and Saturday omelets on my own by around age 10. And I loved helping with holiday meals and more complicated dishes like lasagnas.
To be quite honest, I never even heard about vegetarianism until I was a teenager. I didn't know that not eating meat was an option! This was the 80s and people really liked meat then. In high school I met a boy who I dated for several years. His Mom was a massage therapist and opened my mind to new age concepts previously unknown to me. By eating dinner at their house I was introduced to more whole foods and different flavors than my families' repertoire of regular meals. I attempted vegetarianism for the first time and explored eating a more veggie forward way of eating.
When I went to college, I was lucky to live in a co-op dorm. We had our own private Dining Hall that blew my mind. I tried my first tempeh, my first curry and my first avocado. This is where I found my stride in a vegetarian diet. I was eating fully lacto-ovo vegetarian within weeks of starting my first semester. This laid the stones for the future of my vegan journey! Then in Sophomore year I began working at a local Health Food Market in the prepared foods section. Incidentally, that is also when I discovered that I had a natural talent for cooking on a line.
I truly believe the early years of vegetarianism and working in health food helped me lay a strong foundation for my vegan journey. My lacto-ovo diet period lasted from approximately ages 18-24. During that time period there were some short vegan periods of discovery but mostly I still regularly consumed cheese and eggs. My only issues were some minor stomach problems if I ate too much dairy which was easy to ignore. At that point I gave up cream in my coffee and switched to soy milk. Fun fact: I never went back to that morning belly bomb. Even when I was eating omnivore,
The Omnivore Years
I like to call the years from ages 24 to age 45 the Chef years. During those two decades I was living the Chef life, hardcore. While I still had a strong preference for vegetables and a vegetarian diet, I was eating meat fairly often. The reason I began eating meat was because I was serious about being a Chef. Someone told me that serving food that I did not taste was a mistake. How would I know that my seasonings were correct? How could I truly understand cooking something if I would not taste it? After that, I reluctantly started incorporating meat into my diet until I became a full fledged meat eater.
Fun Fact: I was actually on the show Diners, Drive ins and Dives in 2011 as myself, cooking giant beef burgers. It was such a great experience but it's so funny when people see me on the re-runs. How ironic that I am now a plant-based Chef!
The Dairy-free Years
In 2012 I had my first child. I was determined to breastfeed her for at least 1 year. Although it wasn't easy I gave it my all. I was noticing the baby was having some stomach problems and the Doctor told me it was probably a reaction from the dairy I was consuming. She advised me to cut out dairy, soy and eggs to see if it solved her problems. It did work, so I stayed dairy-free for the duration of the 18 months that we nursed. Once that was over I started eating Dairy again and realized pretty quickly that I actually felt much better without the dairy.
When I had my second child soon after, I half expected the same outcome. My son however had no problems with dairy and he was able to nurse with me eating it. When my third child came along, she also had the dairy intolerance so I gave it up again. My third and last baby nursed for over two years. In that time I was dairy free and I was pretty ready to give it up.
Vegan in 2019
In 2018, started my Instagram journey. I was not yet vegan but I was headed back in a vegetarian direction. Sharing my healthy food journey on instagram was a huge catalyst for me returning to my youthful roots. In 2018 I tried many styles of eating: Keto, Paleo, Whole 30 and Vegan in 30 day increments. I realized that vegan made me feel the best. Watching Forks Over Knives cemented the idea that vegan was the best for me. That is when I decided to try vegan for one year in 2019. One year seemed sustainable and easy enough to do. So on January first of that year I started my vegan journey.
Plant-based Diet in 30 Days
In 2021 after 2 years on my vegan journey, I published my first cookbook Plant-based Diet in 30 days. My book was intended to be a meal plan and guide for an easy transition. It has 100 easy recipes organized into a 30 day meal plan. Writing a cookbook was always a dream of mine since I was young. It is really cool that diving deep into the vegan diet has unleashed my cooking creativity. To read more about my book click here.
Why am I plant-based?
People are always asking me, why don't you eat meat? What brought you on this vegan journey? That is such a large and loaded question. My reasons are many, and some answers may sound a bit hokey!
- First: I love the food. Honestly eating bright, colorful, plant-based food is just so delicious. People who are used to a heavy meat, dairy and sugar laden diet may not believe this, but when you eat healthy your preferences change. I do not crave fried food or sugar. Would you believe I actually crave kale?
- Second: I feel good morally about not eating other beings. The idea of eating dead animals starts to get pretty gross the farther away from doing it you get. As far as ethical and locally sourced mumbo jumbo goes, no matter what an animal has been killed. And they did not want to die, so they probably released fear hormones which get into the meat. Vibrationally, that just doesn't feel great to me. I am not judging others though, as a Chef and foodie, I get it. It's not that meat doesn't taste good, it's just I feel better not eating it.
- Third: Everything I watch and read tells me plants are great for my health. I am not getting any younger so I want to protect my heart and lower my risk of Cancer. Watch What the Health or Forks Over Knives. Investigate the Blue Zones. Remember, I am not a Doctor or a nutritionist. I just read a lot.
- Fourth: I really care about Planet Earth. Everything I read tells me that the best thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop eating meat. And stop eating fish to save the oceans too. Watch Seaspiracy.
What is the difference between Vegan and Plant-based?
This is a question I get a lot. There is a big difference between plant-based and vegan. Plant-based is a diet that makes plants the bulk of their food. Some people use a loose definition and will sometimes include eggs, cheese and meat in small proportions compared to the vegetables consumed. Plant-based is much more open to interpretation than vegan. Vegan has a stricter definition and it means no animal products whatsoever. Vegans strive to eliminate all suffering and exploitation of animals. Although milk, cheese, eggs and honey do not kill an animal, the animal is not willingly giving these products over to humans for consumption. Therefore they are being exploited for these items. That is why it is not vegan. Vegans also avoid leather and any other products that come from animals.
Am I vegan or plant-based?
In my vegan journey, I adhere to the "rules" as much as I can for myself. Some people will say I am plant-based because I am not feeding my children a strict vegan diet and instead give them choice. That is ok with me. I consider myself vegan because I agree with the non-exploitation of other beings and I do not include animal products in my diet. However, I use the terms interchangeably on social media and in my recipes a lot. That is because people seem to shirk away from the term vegan and plant-based sounds less extreme. I like to make my recipes as accessible and attractive to as many people as I can so to me verbiage is a non-issue.
Was it hard to go vegan?
As a lifelong home cook and pro-chef, it was not hard for me to go vegan. But, my vegan journey is not typical of most. I had training at health food stores and restaurants that taught me to make delicious vegan food. A basic understanding of combining flavors and cooking techniques is not something everyone has, and that is why I founded Betterfoodguru. I strive to demystify plant-based cooking so that anyone can do it. My recipes are easy enough for a beginner cook and the flavors are delicious enough for a skeptic to enjoy. It is my hope that I can help you on your vegan journey, with recipes, inspiration and knowledge.