I grew up in a traditional, loving family where we ate a varied diet including lots of fruits and vegetables though we always had some sort of meat included at the family dinner table. My Mom was a big fan of beef and we would have that a few times a week. We had chicken and turkey too, and sometimes, though not often, lamb or fish. She is an excellent cook and an RN who understands nutrition. As such, we always had salad and vegetables with a meat protein to round out a balanced diet. And milk. Always milk (much to my chagrin… I never liked milk).  My Father is Middle Eastern so my Mother learned to cook his favorite foods, many of them both meatless and vegan. I would say I was exposed to a more varied diet of foods than any of the other kids I grew up with.

When I was a kid, maybe six or seven, we went on a family beach vacation to Montauk, NY. We stayed in a motel, the kind with a small kitchenette. My Mom decided to cook dinner for us one night. We went to the pier to buy a freshly caught fish from one of the fishing boats. She bought a Bonita, and when we got back to the motel she cooked it. When it was time for dinner I could not bring myself to eat that fish. After all, I had seen it on the dock and it was a very real being; not from a can or package in the grocery store but a real fish, with eyes, and bones and scales. Even though I was very young, that left a lasting impression on me. I did not immediately stop eating meat as a result of that experience, but I can honestly say that it has haunted me ever since.

In in high school, I decided to go vegetarian. I was kind of a hippie, and at the time it was the “cool” thing to do. For me, it felt right. I spent the next 12 years as a vegetarian, eating no animal flesh whatsoever but continuing to drink milk and eat eggs. Back then it was harder to be a vegetarian than it is today. It was often hard to find any sort of meatless meals in restaurants that were not billed as vegetarian (and there were very few of those). But, I am the sort of person who, when I decide to do something I will stick to my convictions. I stuck with it, though, at times, it could be very difficult.

I went away from vegetarianism (for reasons that are not entirely clear to me) just prior to meeting my husband. I remember my first non-vegetarian meal. I was at the beach and went out to dinner with family and friends. I ate shrimp and threw it up. Some claim it may have been the wine I had with dinner (entirely possible) but the bottom line is I threw them up. Nonetheless, I continued to eat chicken and fish for the next eighteen years. In all honesty, I never felt good about it, but I did it.

I got married to a great guy, had two fabulous kids and have a fulfilling, lucrative career. Things were great, but in the back of my mind was always that fish from the docks in Montauk. So, in 2009 on Holy Thursday while on vacation in Aruba, I decided to return to vegetarianism. Because, I realized, that I needed to be true to myself and, for me that was the elimination of meat from my diet.

About two months later, after doing a two day fast, I decided that as I reintroduced food into my body that I would try a diet void of any animal products at all. I would give it 30 days and see how I felt and if I enjoyed it and felt good I would continue. If not, no harm done, and I would continue with my vegetarian diet. I was not prepared at all for the results. I almost immediately realized that I had embarked on the start of what would prove to be an incredible spiritual journey. I was also surprised at how wonderful I felt!

As I continued down the path of veganism I would more, and more at each meal, really contemplate where the food on our plates came from. I was brought up to say grace as a kid (we said it at family meals) but I never once gave a thought as to what the chicken, cow, turkey or fish had endured in order arrive on my plate and give me sustenance. I don’t have an ax to grind with anyone who chooses to eat meat. I do find it unsettling that most people never give a second thought to how the food they eat arrives on their plate in order to satisfy their palate. I wonder if left to their own devices; to slaughter their own meals, if they would still eat the flesh of an animal. My guess is for the vast majority the answer is no. It is not my place to judge, but it is my obligation to live a life I am comfortable with. I am not an extremist. I prefer to live and let live. I really just consider myself a foodie that is trying to live the most compassionate life she can. I love to expose others to great vegan fare and I hope that maybe it helps them to eat less meat, eat healthier and be open to vegan options.

I feel very lucky to have grown up in the household that I did. I was exposed to so many wonderful foods. My Mother taught me the vast majority of my cooking skills, and without them, I would not be able to create and share the vegan dishes that come from my kitchen with love, to you.