An Interview with Victoria Moran
Are you annoyed by vegans? Envious of their great skin? Or wondering if a vegan diet is right for you? Being a vegan is no longer just for hippies and rich celebrities. A plant-based diet, and the astounding health benefits that come with it, are within reach. Curious? Learn more in this exclusive interview with Victoria Moran, best-selling author of the new book, Main Street Vegan.
Julian A. Barnes of Body Local chatted with Victoria Moran—the best-selling author of eleven books, including Creating a Charmed Life and the plant-based weight loss classic, The Love-Powered Diet—about her new book, Main Street Vegan, how she began her journey as a vegan, and her thoughts about why the medical community has been slow to advocate plant-based diets. Below are excerpts from that conversation.
JAB: Hi Victoria. I have heard you say that you are returning to your roots with Main Street Vegan. What have you learned since you wrote your first book, “Compassion the Ultimate Ethic: An Exploration of Veganism,” in 1985?
VM: A lot! I started writing for teen magazines when I was in high school, and after I went vegetarian at nineteen, I wrote for small magazines sold in health food stores. When I was in college, I had the opportunity to do a foreign study and went to the U.K. to study vegans. (Since the vegan movement started there, there were enough vegans in a small enough area to actually study.) That research led to “Compassion the Ultimate Ethic,” the first book on vegan philosophy and practice to come from an actual publishing house.
JAB: I have also heard that many people refer to Main Street Vegan as “The Vegan Bible.” How does that make you feel?
VM: It was quite an honor to have it called that by Big City Vegan and I’m thrilled that other people are saying it too. I want this to be a book people turn to where they can get their questions answered. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal to be vegan, but because of the social connections we make and how people react when we do something different, people think it is. I wanted this book to be a guide that people could lend to their friends or family member to support that person who is embracing this wonderful change.
JAB: So what was your inspiration for the title?
VM: I went to a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) fundraiser in 2010, and although I’ve been in animal rights for all of my adult life, that evening the images in the videos they showed were just so powerful that I wanted to help in a greater way than I ever had before. On the train home that night, it just came to me: write “Main Street Vegan,” short chapters, a recipe after each one, geared to people who have an interest in this way of life but who think it’s just too edgy or fringy, or that it’s a really good idea but not something they themselves could do.
JAB: So how would you define a “Main Street Vegan”?
VM: A Main Street Vegan is, like any other vegan, a total vegetarian, meaning he or she only eats food from the plant kingdom. But this person isn’t a mogul or celebrity with a private chef. A Main Street Vegan is just a regular person who wants to live a better life, enjoy better health, do some good for animals, and live responsibly on the earth.
JAB: What do you think has contributed to the interest in a vegan lifestyle?
VM: I think it’s the result of two movements—animal rights on one hand, health and fitness on the other—growing rapidly on parallel tracks over the last 30 to 40 years. On the health front, there was a renewed interest in vegetarianism beginning in the 1970s and ’80s with books such as “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé, and “Fit for Life” by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. Meanwhile, ground-breaking research was conducted by doctors like Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., who showed that coronary heart disease could be reversed with a plant-based diet. When I started, being a vegan was very odd. Now most people know at least one vegan and many people have seen former President Bill Clinton’s CNN interview where he discussed why he has adopted a plant-based diet. So, even though only 2.5 percent of Americans are vegan, more people are aware of the benefits of a vegan diet.
JAB: Why has it taken so long for society to understand the benefits of a plant-based diet?
VM: That’s a great question, especially since an article that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association way back in 1960 stated that a pure vegetarian diet could eliminate 90 percent of coronary disease. Part of the reason is economics. Rapid and widespread adoption of a vegan diet could cause economic chaos to the meat, dairy, and pharmaceutical industries. And the standard American diet is standard because we’re used to it; it’s part of our culture. Besides, preventative measures are not sexy; people are always looking for something dramatic and instant like a cure for cancer instead of a cancer prevention solution.
JAB: Are doctors more enlightened about plant-based diets today?
VM: I believe that more are aware than ever before, but most don’t feel sufficient urgency to make these changes themselves or to share the notion of plant-based diet, which is still seen as radical by most Americans, with their patients. And the majority of medical doctors weren’t trained in nutrition so they don’t talk about it—or they pass along the same conventional wisdom that everyone else believes in. Doctors, like the rest of us, have different points of view and they are entitled to their opinions, but you need to shop for a doctor the way you’d shop for a spouse. You don’t marry the first person who takes you to dinner.
JAB: Do you believe that Americans could live longer on a vegan diet? Would this country have more Blue Zones, communities where people live active lives past the age of 100?
VM: That’s exactly right. The only Blue Zone in this country is in Loma Linda, California, which is a largely 7th Day Adventist community. Approximately 50 percent of Adventists are vegetarian and in Loma Linda, where they have their large university and medical school, that percentage is higher. As a tenet of their faith, members consume very little refined or processed food, they don’t smoke or drink, they tend to have stable families and community support, and they’re taught to value exercise. The upshot is an entire city where the health statistics—or rather, the illness statistics—that are common to the rest of America just don’t apply.
JAB: Let’s shift gears for a second. Tell us how a young girl from Kansas City became a vegan.
VM: I was a practicing binge eater for my first 30 years. I took time off to diet but all I really knew how to do was diet and binge eat. I couldn’t go vegan until I had the willingness to treat my binge eating like alcoholism or a drug addiction. I admitted my own inability to deal with the issue, then I turned that over to the care of a Higher Power, and finally I focused on cleaning up my life and being of service. This occurred around the time daughter was born and it was important to me to raise my child vegan. It was hard in those days to stay plant-based at restaurants and while traveling and in social settings, but I looked at this baby and I couldn’t tell her that it was okay to eat eggs and milk when we were out but we didn’t do it at home because it hurt the animals. It either hurt them or it didn’t. I wanted to be ethically consistent.
JAB: Did yoga play a role in your journey?
VM: Absolutely. Someone introduced me to yoga when I was 17 and I fell in love with it right away. I’d always been interested in spirituality, and yoga was the first time I’d ever seen spirituality come with a physical component. I’d separated my “high, lofty spiritual thoughts” from my overeating and the body I disliked, and here was yoga telling me that I was a single entity, and that I was of value on every level. Yoga also introduced me to vegetarianism. In those times, it was just expected that if you did yoga, you’d stop eating meat, fish, and probably eggs. With the explosion in yoga’s popularity, that’s been lost in many of the iterations these days, but it’s still in the tradition.
JAB: I read that you are a “high raw vegan” and that you eat an 85 to 90 percent raw diet in the summer. What’s a typical summer meal for you?
VM: I generally have a smoothie in the morning with almond milk or coconut milk and I put in berries and a banana, 2 teaspoons of ground flax seeds, and a scoop of Vega One All-in-One Shake. Maybe half the time I put in some blackstrap molasses. It tastes like a milkshake and is very sustaining.
JAB: Do you have a favorite juice bar?
VM: Watkins Health Food on 116th Street and Lenox is my standard spot because it’s near my apartment. I also love Organic Avenue and do one of their cleanses at the change of every season.
JAB: How about your favorite restaurants in NYC?
JAB: Do you have any practical tips for the average person to make the transition to veganism?
VM: It’s a very wide door. First, eat more colors. Your plate should look like a Christmas tree—mostly green with splashes of other bright colors. Step two is to get to know other people who are doing this. There’s a New York Vegetarian/Vegan Meetup Group with over three thousand members. Then educate yourself. Read books, like Main Street Vegan, and see films such as “Vegucated” and “Forks Over Knives”. And attend some of the amazing events throughout NYC such as The Seed: A Vegan Experience. I’ll be speaking there along with a host of other fabulous speakers, including professional triathlete Brendan Brazier and best-selling author Kathy Freston.