23 May 2012

Personal stories: Why I went veg

My road to Veganism and Wellness has been a long and often bumpy one. I was sick a lot as a kid. Early on, my parents figured out that I was allergic to dairy. They spent a lot of time fighting the school lunch ladies, who insisted I wasn't getting enough calcium, as well as fighting me, who really wanted to eat ice cream.

At one point I'm fairly certain they just threw their hands up and said, "To hell with it, she'll figure it out when she's older." Lucky for them, I did. Unlucky for me, it took a severe reaction to antibiotics that caused me to have hives from head to toe for 4 months and years later the untimely death of a family member to give my stubborn butt the kick it needed.

The severe allergic reaction to Amoxicillin happened while I was in high school. It was one the scariest experiences of my life. The end result was months of medical treatment, at one point I was on fifteen different medications and 35 pounds lighter which left me looking too thin.

I lucked out that the allergist I ended up seeing put me on a very strict diet that purged my system of the toxins causing the problem. Call it naivety, but I still somehow managed to miss the connection between the food we put in our bodies and the way we feel. As soon as I recovered I went right back to eating dairy products, processed foods, and well the "normal" crap teenagers eat.

I did make a small change at this point though -- I mostly dropped meat from my diet. (I say mostly, because it wasn't until six years later that I fully stopped eating it.) During the process of adding foods back into my diet, I discovered that meat had been a major contributor to the stomach cramps I experienced growing up. Further research, years later, uncovered that my body doesn't create the enzymes required to breakdown animal products.

Fast forward through college and through my two years spent as a baker for the cafe I helped manage. I weighed nearly 200 pounds, was diagnosed with MS, and was completely miserable with myself. I had however, gone completely vegetarian at this point. Given I was still eating dairy and far too many sweets, at least I had cut out meat and eggs.

In early October of 2005 my dad called to tell me that my cousin Stan had passed away from a heart attack caused by an enlarged heart and years of unhealthy habits. Stan's death was a wake up call. So many in my family, had died from simply not listening to their own bodies, from not taking care of themselves. Too little exercise, too much sugar, too many processed foods, too many fatty foods, too much smoking, too little time spent caring for themselves.

I changed my life. I walked to work, I cut down on my sugar, and a year later I had dropped 35 pounds and felt so much better. Then I met my friend, Matt, and through his help, I kicked the dairy habit. Within a month of not eating dairy, I felt amazing. I didn't have bumps all over my arms from my dairy allergy, I had lost another 10 pounds, I had more energy, I even had headaches less often. This is not to say I haven't had my moments where I slip up and eat something made with dairy once a blue moon, but I know the consequence of the action. Trust me the sinus headache, hives, and stomach pain just aren't worth it.

Though my path has mostly been due to health concerns, over the years the ethics of eating animals has become a factor in my choice. Let's face it folks factory farms are just wrong. The animals are only thought of as a bottom line and not as living creatures. Its disturbing and disgusting.

I have a thought that part of my dairy allergy is linked to the antibiotic usage that is rampant on farms, but I have no real proof of this. I strongly urge my friends, who aren't veg, to know where their meat and dairy and eggs are coming from and how those animals are treated. I also urge them to limit their consumption not only for their health, but also for the sake of the lives being taken for their plates. I try to not be preachy and persuade them through feeding them amazing vegan food instead. It seems to go over better, and many of them have adjusted their eating habits because of it.

Currently, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen perfecting recipes for my blog Season of the Vegan and for my upcoming book.

Ashley Kiefer | Facebook | Blog
Rapid City, SD Ashley is is an artist and avid vegan cook. She grew up playing in her grandmother's kitchen, and has fond memories of the fresh, rich and often decadent treats she made there. For Ashley, going vegan was a long transition prompted by health concerns. She's spent the last six years experimenting with ways to "veganize" the food delights of her childhood. She teaches private cooking classes and runs Season of The Vegan.

Photo credit: Dos Rojas