We Asked 8 Influential Vegans and Plant-Based Experts What Made Them Switch
Numerous reasons prompt people to start eating a plant-based diet. For the majority, health pushes them to change their eating habits, especially if they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness.
Animal welfare, environmental concerns, and social justice issues are other reasons most people cite for taking animals off their plates. There’s another reason, largely inspired by the groundbreaking documentary The Game Changers, which is athletic performance.
Curious about what prompted some of your favorite plant-based influencers or experts to choose this route? We asked eight of them to weigh in on what led them to take this journey. Use their words to inspire your own path toward a healthier, more compassionate diet.
How long she’s been vegan: Since the mid-80s
What made her switch: “I’ve been vegetarian since I was 12, but when I was in Japan years later, I read an article about dairy farming that shed light on how dairy cows were treated, and I was shocked. I was eating lots of dairy – I loved cheese, butter, and heavy cream – and I cooked with it all the time, but because my stomach hurt all the time, I probably had a dairy allergy.
"Although I did go 99 percent vegan after reading the article, I used to joke I was a cheating vegan because it wasn’t 100 percent. It was hard to be vegan in Japan at the time, especially without any support. Yet when I moved back to the States, I went 100 percent vegan. I found other people who were vegan and learned more about the dairy industry, and once you know, it’s hard to disassociate yourself from it.”
2. The influencer: Brandi Doming, author of The Vegan 8 Cookbook and creator of The Vegan 8 blog
How long she’s been vegan: Over 7 years
What made her switch: “I went vegan to help my husband, who was suffering from debilitating gout. Because animal products cause acidic levels in the body to rise, particularly uric acid in some people, removing them was necessary.
"After years of nothing working, going vegan plant-based was the answer we were looking for. He had immediate improvement, and we’ve stuck with it ever since. While there are still some plants that can trigger gout that he needs to avoid (mushrooms, cauliflower, asparagus, lentils, to name a few), learning what foods to stick with has improved his life so much. It’s also helped improve my overall health tremendously.”
3. The influencer: Nil Zacharias, author of Eat for the Planet, podcaster and host of Eat for the Plant podcast, and entrepreneur
How long he’s been vegan: 10 years
What made him switch: “It was definitely a process, but I ultimately decided to change my diet after traveling to South America on vacation. Cattle ranching was booming, and my tour guide told me how forests were being destroyed to make room for more cows. That was the first time I made the connection between animal agriculture and the environment, and it motivated me to keep learning and start eating plant-based to reduce my impact on the planet.”
4. The influencer: Tracye McQuirter, M.P.H., award-winning author of Ageless Vegan and By Any Greens Necessary, public health nutritionist and creator of the 10,000 Black Vegan Women movement
How long she’s been vegan: 33 years˜
What made her switch: “My mother, who was health-conscious, raised me on omnivore food that was healthier than most, but I didn’t appreciate it at the time. During my sophomore year in college, our Black Student Union brought legendary civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory to campus to talk about the state of black America. Instead, he talked about the plate of black America and how unhealthy most folks eat. I was one of them. During his talk, Gregory geographically traced the path of a hamburger from a cow on a factory farm, through the slaughterhouse process, to a fast-food restaurant, to a clogged artery, to a heart attack. That rocked my world.
"I was already questioning societal norms at the time so I was open to questioning the way society dictated I should eat as well. Gregory’s lecture led me to spend the summer reading everything I could about vegetarianism. Within a year or so, I went vegetarian, then vegan.”
5. The expert: Laurie Marbas, M.D., M.B.A., family medicine physician and co-founder of Plant-Based TeleHealth
How long she’s been vegan: 8 years
What made her switch: “In 2012, I recommended that a patient stop eating meat and dairy when she told me they upset her stomach. I had never recommended that combination before, and it didn’t dawn on me that she was basically eating a plant-based diet until she returned one month later. My patient’s daughter, who was 16 at the time, had joined her mother and didn’t eat meat or dairy products for one month.
"During those 30 days, her daughter stopped two ADHD medications on her own. That got my attention, and when I began to research the plant-based diet, I was astounded at the science and number of years of this information had been available to me and every American physician. I was first elated at the power of a whole-food, plant-based diet but then dismayed when I realized how ill-equipped I was to discuss basic nutrition with my patients. How could I have graduated medical school without being exposed to even an ounce of the science I was now compelled to read at every opportunity? Unfortunately, this is the case for the vast majority of physicians trained in the United States.
"During the first month of my discovery, another patient (with systemic lupus erythematosus) volunteered to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet after discussing the science I had recently uncovered. When she significantly improved symptoms in 14 days, including a decrease in C-reactive protein from three times the high normal to near normal, an eight-pound weight loss and improvement in migraines, I was hooked.
"I went home that day and cleaned out the refrigerator, and [from then on] my family, including my husband and three teenagers, adopted a whole-food, plant-based diet and haven’t looked back. My husband went on to lose over 50 pounds, and all my chronic allergies, which I had suffered with for over 30 years, cleared within months.
"Ironically, we had a quarter of a grass-fed cow in a freezer in the garage that I was trying to figure out what to do with. I couldn’t give it away to anybody because I saw it as detrimental to human health, but two days after converting our diet, the freezer broke. The smell of putrefying carcass and bloody fluids running down the garage floor cured any desire to ever eat meat again.”
6. The expert: Sharon Palmer, M.S.F.S., R.D.N., The Plant-Powered Dietitian with numerous books who offers numerous free resources at SharonPalmer.com
How long she’s been vegan: 9 years, although she’s been primarily plant-based her entire life
What made her switch: “I was raised mostly vegetarian by my parents, and I studied nutrition at Loma Linda University, home of the original Blue Zones and a plant-based campus and community. After graduating, I tried different eating patterns, including pescetarian and then vegetarian However, I decided to do a one-month challenge on a vegan diet for research for my first book, The Plant-Powered Diet, and after one month, I realized I really liked how I felt about my place on the planet with this eating style.
"A completely plant-based diet really did create the lowest impact I make on the environment, animals and the burden of chronic disease. And I liked the food too!”
7. The influencers: Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, founders of BOSH! and authors of BOSH! HEALTHY VEGAN
How long they’ve been vegan: Roughly five years
What made them switch: "Ian went vegan as part of a New Year's health kick, but after watching Kip Andersen’s documentary Cowspiracy together, Henry soon followed. “It showed us that eating a plant-based diet can change the planet, and there’s nothing more important than saving the world we live in.”
8. The influencer: Sadrah Schadel, co-founder and chief creative officer of No Evil Foods
How long she’s been vegan: Almost five years, although she’s spent all 38 of her years as a vegetarian and has been vegan at other points in her life
What made her switch: “When we started No Evil Foods, my co-founder and partner Mike and I were vegetarian. We were so welcomed by the vegan community, and as our company grew, so did our awareness. Once we began to educate ourselves on the destructive environmental impact animal agriculture is responsible for, the horrors of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation), and the health benefits of living a vegan lifestyle, it was an easy choice and quick transition. We now feel it’s our obligation and calling to repair the world through awesome food - or at least give it a fighting chance.”
What made you go plant-based or vegan? We'd love to hear from you at The Beet. Comment on our FB page or IG. Inspire others with your story. We'd love to share it on The Beet site as well.