Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Pittsburgh, PA but spent most of my life in South Florida when my parents moved there in 1965. I have been living in Fort Worth, Texas since 2007. My late husband was a Certified Financial & Estate Planner and we owned and operated our business for 27 years. Prior to that, I worked in the dental field for 15 years. What got me back in the kitchen (after my husband’s death) was my doctor! She recognized that I was still distraught over my husband’s death and wanted to know if I had any hobbies or things that I have always loved doing… of course, cooking was at the top of my list. She invited me to a detox presentation at her “Wellness Center” here in Fort Worth, asking me to prepare a few things from the menu choices in the booklet that came along with the detox package that her office was promoting. Unfortunately, I found the menu booklet recipes very bland, so I put my “spin” on the three I chose and after the seminar, I had so many requests for recipes that I am currently in the process of setting up a website with them. Meanwhile, I established an Instagram page and have enjoyed being more active in the vegan community!
What lead you to veganism? How long ago?
I had a health scare in the early 90’s, which had me looking closely at what I was putting into my body. Have not had red meat since 1993, then vegetarian for several years, and vegan since 2010. Gluten-free not long after that and most recently soy-free, due to some health issues. I had an “experience” as a very young child that has remained with me throughout the years. I can actually remember it very clearly, though I was extremely young…barely young enough to see the top of the kitchen table. We were living in Pittsburgh and I was maybe 3 years old. My dad walked in the front door holding something rather large, wrapped in pretty pink paper. He laid it on our kitchen table, where my mother and my YiaYia were busy preparing food for our annual Greek Orthodox Easter feast. While they were busy cooking, I reached up and peeled back a corner of that pretty pink paper to find an eyeball staring back at me…….it was a face, covered with curly fur and it was the same face that was in my nursery rhyme book, “Mary Had A Little Lamb!” I don’t remember much after that, except someone holding me and showing me the food my YiaYia was cooking. It definitely made an impact, because I was never able to eat lamb as a child or an adult. Just wish I had been smart enough to realize that the other meats on my plate were once like Mary’s lamb!! With me, it was a process, though I preferred veggies and salads to meat, most of my life. I grew up watching my mom, YiaYia (if you haven’t guessed, that’s Greek for grandmother) and my beloved Aunt Angie (she lived next door to us when we lived in FL) cooking traditional Greek recipes. By the time I was 9 or 10, I was cooking dinner most nights after getting home from school and doing my homework, because both my parents worked and my 2 older sisters were involved in after school activities. Our lives revolved around church, family and our friends in our small Greek community in North Miami Beach. Celebrations were frequent and food and music were always in the forefront! (Think “My BIG Fat Greek Wedding)!!
When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?
It was difficult, because I was the only one in my family and among all of my friends, except for one friend, who is vegan. My beautiful daughter is vegetarian, but sometimes will eat fish. I was cooking one meal for myself and one for my family, until I could no longer stand the sight of meat. If my husband wanted steak, he would have to buy it and grill it outside for himself. I just couldn’t stand the sight of it.
Do you make any exceptions for yourself or if you are married with kids – your family, when it comes to veganism?
My husband was a meat-eater, especially red meat (rare red meat) and I attribute that to his diagnosis and death from colon cancer 3 years ago. This is so hard for me to write because I am still grieving and always will be. I actually got him to go plant-based for almost a year (before he started going back to old habits). He was a diabetic and his A1C was the lowest it had ever been while following a vegan lifestyle! He was actually reversing his diabetes! That was several years before he started having heart issues and then the cancer diagnosis. My daughter is 30 years old and makes her own food choices!
Do you believe we should show children the process of how animals are turned into meats?
YES!! Absolutely! They need to see the abuse and know exactly what occurs before their food is purchased at the grocery store!!
What does being vegan mean to you?
Being vegan means absolute KINDNESS to others who are not!! I have seen too many profanities from vegans towards non-vegans on social media and in gatherings where vegans are protesting for animal welfare. This must stop!! It is shameful to bully someone that does not embrace the lifestyle that we do…. In all aspects of life! If we disagree with someone, we can have a friendly conversation, giving facts and reasoning as to why we believe slaughtering and consuming animals is wrong. I saw a post on social media a few months ago that stated, “If you’re not vegan, F*** you!” Are you kidding me??!! So, let’s promote hate to our fellow man while we are trying to get them to love all animals instead of eating them??!!! Craziness and it needs to stop!! As far as “bugs and bees,” I spent 15 minutes yesterday guiding a wasp out of my living room and then 25 more minutes freeing it from my screened in porch… I guess that answers the question!! J
Is it every vegan’s duty to become an activist? It depends on your definition of “activist.”
If me speaking to others about the cruelty of animal slaughter, then I am an activist! Doesn’t mean I have to walk in front of a slaughterhouse holding a sign…. I do believe, in many cases that does more harm than good, especially when the result is usually disagreements getting out of hand and turning into physical confrontations. You can love your fellow man, even if you disagree with them! I mostly find myself talking to others with health issues… they will listen because their bodies are hurting and MOST of the medical community has no clue how to help them, other than write another prescription! (I will restrain myself from getting on my soap box about this topic, but I have seen plenty over the years fighting my own chronic illness and all of my late husband’s trips to the ER and hospital stays).
How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?
VERY!! We all have a unique story and began our plant-based journey at various stages of our lives! I was born into a Greek household full of traditions and food was a huge part of that!! It took years for me to get to where I am today!! I couldn’t stand the attitudes of many vegans I’ve met along the way that were unkind and preachy!! It’s time we cleaned up our act, as well as the planet.
Any recommended Vegan books?
I think “Forks Over Knives” would be my first choice! It is the book that really helped me on my journey!!
Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?
Any I can find that are not judgmental or rude towards non-vegans!! That is such a turn-off to me!!
What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?
“Spiral Diner” in Fort Worth. You don’t find many plant-based options living in “Cowtown!” If YiaYia was 20 years younger, I’d open my own GF Vegan cafe!!
Please share your favorite vegan recipe?
(Greek-Style Green Beans)
By Vegan YiaYia
2 pounds fresh green beans
1 medium-large yellow onion
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 tsp fresh minced garlic
1 T no salt seasoning (I use Costco’s Kirkland brand which is organic and excellent)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
Salt & Pepper
Dash of Cinnamon
Thoroughly wash green beans. You can cut them, but I prefer them whole. In a large pan, sautee onion and garlic on medium heat in a little veggie stock (you can use olive oil, which is the traditional method, but I like to be as oil-free as possible). Add green beans and then tomatoes and spices and toss so beans are coated. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and stir occasionally, adding veggie stock as needed. I finish the cooking process on stove top, but you can certainly bake them in the oven for about 30 minutes @ 350 degrees or until beans are tender. You may also add some cubed potatoes along with the beans. Best served warm with some nice crusty bread, but they are also excellent cold! I like to garnish with VioLife feta or fresh parsley (or both). You may also finish the dish with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon!
Some encouraging words for new Vegans?
Google EVERYTHING!! LOL!! Seriously, there is no question you shouldn’t ask!! It’s a process, so keep it simple! It can seem overwhelming at first, but with a little planning, meal prep can be super easy… and don’t buy into the lie that a plant-based lifestyle will be more expensive (excuse the pun)! I would encourage new vegans to join social media groups and go to vegan gatherings in your area. Subscribe to “Veg News” and the Vegan Society!
What is the vegan scene like in your city?
In my area, it is sadly non-existent! I would have to drive over an hour to Dallas or to Arlington where there are functions, but unfortunately, most are held in the evening hours and that just doesn’t work well for a YiaYia who is on her own and doesn’t much like driving so far at night!
What personal recommendations can you make for people to meet other vegans?
Get on social media where there are loads of like-minded vegan people and organizations. That’s exactly what I did. I’ve only recently gotten back in the kitchen. It was so hard to do anything after losing my husband and moving out of our home (we were in the process of downsizing when he was diagnosed).
What does living cruelty-free mean to you?
Living cruelty-free means, in addition to my plant-based lifestyle, I do not purchase any products from companies that test their products on animals. I do still have some non-vegan items in my home that are part of my past and many items my non-vegan husband chose (such as furniture pieces and some decorative items that may contain animal products). Since becoming vegan, I have not purchased such items, but they are in my home. I’m sure this is not uncommon. I feel that my “treatment of other humans” is no different since becoming vegan and cruelty-free because my philosophy has always been to treat others with kindness and respect, whether I agree with them or not. I treat people the way I want to be treated by them. I did this before I became vegan and continue to do the same now.
What are you favorite Vegan non-food products or companies?
Mrs. Meyer’s, Honest, & Ecos brands.
What is the toughest Vegan item to find that you need?
I try to consume mostly unprocessed foods, but occasionally I like to try products such as Field Roast (sausages) or Sweet Earth (burgers) and they contain wheat and/or soy. I guess the toughest thing is having so many great choices, wanting to try them and not being able to because they contain ingredients that I can’t have. It would be great if companies would offer more gluten-free and soy-free vegan choices! I think it’s great that there are now so many plant-based burgers that look like the “real” thing, but honestly, even though they are not from a cow, I would rather not eat them!!
Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?
The only “struggle” for me was trying to plan meals that my non-vegan family would like to eat. For a while I was cooking their non-vegan food and my vegan food and it was really difficult, especially during holidays. I just can’t do it any longer. In retrospect, I don’t know how I did for so many years!