In October of 2016, Cristy, our friend Lindsey and I sought out a group of people with a common curiosity and interest in the plant-based diet through workshops we created in our local community. As you'll read below, it was an incredibly rich experience for me, personally, and what surprised me most was that while the food seemingly took center stage, what made the whole thing work were the connections we were building within the group.
It's not always an easy transition, giving up foods we grew up on and not quite being able to see just how we'll live without them. It takes a healthy dose of commitment and determination to navigate the world around us. And often, after we've mastered the switch, after riding the plant-based 'high' of feeling so damn good, boredom can set in and we get tired of figuring out... what's for dinner? Or you need to show up at a friend's pig roast, which is the first clue there likely won't be any compliant food to eat. Or you're going on a cruise or taking a road trip with fast food as the only answer to your hunger. Maybe your family is picketing at the dining table, mercilessly refusing whatever plant-perfect concoction you've turned yourself inside out making to ensure their approval. They're hangry. And mean. And they are NOT on board.
I've never not needed a tribe when it comes to staying plant-based. I think I belong to 4 or 5 plant-based Facebook groups. We lean on each other for support, troubleshooting, new ideas, recipes and inspiration to reignite that daily spark around why we made the change. That dynamic brings you back 'round to getting all jacked up over Japanese sweet potatoes or beer can cabbage or those soy curls everyone's making such a fuss about.
This is one of those early mornings that I’ve been called to the computer at 4am. Usually my brain starts lighting up with ideas or things I want to write about during the quiet hours. But this morning it wasn’t my mind that woke me. It was a full heart.
Lindsey, Cristy and I recently wound up the last of two plant-based workshop series we created. It’s what I’ve been working on during every waking spare second I’ve had the past 6 months. The creation process was a labor of love, I tell you. And the whole experience has left me with the realization that I’ve never done work before that makes me feel so impassioned.
I’ve been wanting to do some sort of work around plant-based nutrition for quite some time. I believe that it is the superior diet and a powerful and scientifically proven approach to preventing and often reversing diseases that simply need not be, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure.
I’ve never been out to convert anyone. I don’t believe in scare tactics or shaming people into making better food choices, (with the exception of my family). In fact, I rarely talk about it unless people ask or if someone’s had a recent diagnosis of some kind and are then ready to try anything to back out of that sitch.
I only know what the plant-based diet has done for me. It’s allowed me to finally reach a weight I haven’t seen in a decade, I’m rarely sick and on the rare occasion I do come down with something, it passes quickly, I have lots of energy and feel empowered with having certain boundaries around what I’m putting in my mouth. Beyond that, there are no monthly subscriptions or prescriptions for eating this way. No one's getting rich from pushing kale, I'm pretty sure. It’s just food. Sounds simple, but it’s difficult for many of us.
So. It seemed Lindsey, Cristy and I were some of the few people around these parts eating a plant-based diet. We live in the beautiful heart of the Pennsylvania Wilds where hunting and fishing are the mainstay for local tourism, activities and for putting food on the table. When you don’t eat the Standard American Diet, life can feel a bit isolating.
During our early planning meetings, hours would slip by, the three of us talking off-subject about our latest finds at the grocery store, how we managed eating this way, we talked about troubleshooting social situations and feeding our families, or how we were using tofu or where we could find miso and nutritional yeast. The support and sharing between us was so comforting and invigorating at the same time.
Could we bring this to our community? We knew there had to be a few people out there wanting to explore a healthier lifestyle, but maybe, like us in the early stages, they were struggling with the how-to of it all. So, without droning on about it, let me just say that the workshops ended up looking nothing like what they did in the beginning.
It reminds me of when novelists say that their book had, sort of, written itself. That they were just the vessel for the story that wanted to be told. At the risk of sounding hokey, the creative process for developing these workshops felt like that to me.
We had a total of 21 people from our small community participate in our programs. The number may sound small, but those 21 people have families. And friends. And co-workers. At our last potluck we had well over 50 people attend, filling up Lindsey’s restaurant with creative, healthy and delicious plant-based food, surprising even the most carnivorous guests. We’ve also established friendships with people from another local plant-based support group from a neighboring community, which led to creating our own local Cameron County Plant-Based Support Group. Now, put all these people together and we have quite the tribe. Everyone needs a tribe.
It feels amazing. And I’m not taking credit for it. It just feels so good to be a part of it. To be a part of the difference in making healthier food choices in our community, with our own friends and neighbors.
Let me tell you something about my hometown. When tragedy strikes, when one of ours is diagnosed with disease; no community comes together and rallies for its people like this one does. It’s a beautiful part of small town living, not to be taken for granted.
I see a similar sense of purpose and momentum with our small plant-based community, within the community. People coming together and rallying in the spirit of disease-free, healthy and optimal living. I see daughters, mothers themselves, making significant changes in the food they prepare for their children; redemption, in a way, for losing their own mothers to cancer, far too young. I witness friends and neighbors doing the same by standing up in the face of a diagnosis, refusing to accept their illness as a jail sentence, becoming empowered to take their health and their future into their own hands.
It’s moving. It’s brave. It’s courageous and contagious. And to be witness to their courage... it has some sort of power over me to do more. What more can any of us do in our own communities in the name of preventative health? Community gardens, food shares, plant-based cooking or herbal remedy classes, good old fashioned trade and barter, community sustained agriculture? Maybe you have an idea...I'd love to hear it.
Jeanmare and Cristy are creators and contributors of the Living Simply Nourished Blog. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee!), find a cozy spot, scroll around, read some stories, find some inspiration, and enjoy!
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