I am a plant-based, yogi, environmental activist, artist, and student at Colorado College. I have been experimenting with plant-based lifestyles and diets for over seven years, starting when I was 14 years old in the 8th grade.
My journey began on Halloween night in 2006, in my suburban Los Angeles home I grew up in. My friend and I were microwaving frozen beef burritos, which were always stashed in my families freezer, after an evening at a middle school costume party. Ever since I had the ability to consciously think about my food, my habit of eating animals left a heavy emotional and physical weight in my stomach, and I struggled with continuing to eat meat while I thought it was a necessary act for human health and sustenance.
It was not until I was 14 that I realized the vegetarian lifestyle was something anyone could try, while before I thought of plant eaters as a sort of exclusive invite only club. I ate my beef burrito, felt depressed about my action, washed my plate, and proclaimed myself a vegetarian from that moment forward. For five years after that moment, I stayed true to my pact, and lived the glorious lifestyle of a “junk food vegetarian”. While I not longer ate chickens, cows, pigs, ducks, fish, or any once living flesh, I happily continued consuming milk, cheese, eggs, make meats, processed sugar, fried foods, ice cream and sodas.
My initial drive to adopt a more plant based lifestyle was moral, selfish, and not at all a nutritional choice. It made me sad to lick, chew, and swallow the once living flesh of an animal, but I was unaware that consuming dairy, eggs and other non-living animal products still contributed to the abuse, torture, and ultimate premature death of farm animals. Being unaware of proper nutrition turned me into a loyal customer to the largest food processing companies such as Coke, Pepsi, Kraft, Nestle, and General Mills, which I later learned were the patrons of unsustainable industrial agricultural practices. Large scale industrial commodity farmring contributes to the destruction of millions of acres of farm land through chemical spraying, and also threaten local, small scale, organic farmers from being able to compete with the deflated prices of industrial abundance.
It was not until I decided to take a gap year in between high school and college that I began to question the health, environmental, ethical, economic, and political impact nutrition has. Soon after I graduated Harvard Westlake High School in 2011, I set off on a coast to coast, cross county bicycling trip along with my older broth Drew, and my best friend Jason. The three of us took a train from the the West Coast to the East, dunked out bicycle tires in the Atlantic Ocean (Virginia Beach, VA), then began to ride home to Los Angeles. We rode through Virginia, Kentucky, southern Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and when we hit Pueblo, Colorado it was November, so we veered south and rode through New Mexico, Arizona, and finally California.
We rode about 4,000 miles in 81 days, taking a combined total of 20 days off throughout the trip when we hit a town we enjoyed or met friendly people who offered to put us up in their home and feed us. We camped on the side of the roads, in town park, in people homes or on their lawns, in fire stations, diners, and many churches. Having lived in Los Angeles my entire life, and never having been exposed to middle America and the Bible Belt states, the largest shock to me was the food. I was use to organic labels in grocery stores, vegan and vegetarian options in restaurants, and farmers markets. I remember multiple waitresses asking me what a vegetarian was when I tried to explain my dietary restrictions. We ate at diners, gas stations, dairy bars, bowling allies, bars, and occasionally we would luck out at a grocery store and cook camping food while eating as much fruit as we could carry on our saddle bags.
What puzzled me most about the unhealthy lifestyles we and the entire population living in middle America were forced to participate in was that before this trip I assumed the more rural and natural parts of our country, where our food is said to be grown, would get to eat fresher food than anyone. All day everyday we rode past vast farms and I always hoped there would be kale, or bell peppers, onions, or maybe carrots growing on the side of the road, but farm after farm all I saw were golden ears of rock solid corn, uneatable for human consumption. Finally I got to talk to these farmers at the gas station or the diner, and learned the disturbing fact about American agriculture. Over 70% of cropland in the US grows cattle feed, not human food, meaning most of the farmers in America can’t feed their families with the harvest they work to produce. Most farmers grow strains of Genetically Modified (GMO) corn and soybean, which gets sold to the local grain elevator that then sells the harvested grain to cattle feed lots. Cows are naturally grass eaters, but in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO/ Feed Lots) it would take a lot of land to grow grass on to feed so many animals, so instead farmers pack thousands of cows in a cramped dirt plot and bring them corn to eat, which makes them grow faster so they can be slaughtered earlier.
While my cross country cycling trip was full of fun time, laughs, meeting great people, and seeing beautiful sights, when I finally made it to the California coast, and to my home, the largest take away I got was how inefficient, twisted, and corrupts the American agricultural system really is. People in our very own country are starving of food, while 70% of the calories produced domestically don’t even get fed to people.
Soon after my cycling adventure, I embarked on my next journey, solo this time. I backpacked around south east Asia, visiting Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. I rode motorbikes around Hanoi, visited ancient Cambodian temples, and spent a week hiking the limestone mountains of Laos with the rural Mung people. I was fed rice and fruit in the mornings, pumpkin and potato stews for lunch, and noodles with vegetable for dinner. After a month of traveling, I felt the need to settle down, volunteer, and get familiar with one community. I ended up on the Island of Borneo, Indonesia, in a rural village outside of Pangkalan Bun. The village was less then 1,000 people, and they received electricity two years prior to my arrival. Roads were still being paved for the first time, every family their own food, and the entire village was employed by the Orangutan Orphanage which I worked at as well. Orangutan Foundation International was started by primatologist Birute Galdikas, who in the early 70’s, moved to the Tanjung Puting Reserve in Borneo, one of the last wild habitats on the planet. She set up Camp Leaky, where she would study wild Orangutans. What she found out quickly was that the industrial boom of Palm Oil plantations were endangering the native Orangutan population by deforestation and poaching. Galdikas rescued all the orphaned baby orangutans on the island, and bought a 25 square acre plot of wild jungle land where she would house these orphans, study them, and preserve the species. Forty-two years later, there I was, living with one of the local families, working hands on with orangutans on a daily basis. While my exposure to some of the smartest, kindest, and mischievous animals on planet was an unbelievable reward, I received an unexpected gift during my time in the jungle that changed my life.
My diet during my time in Borneo consisted of rice, fruit, and vegetables. There are no cows on the island, so diary was nowhere to be found, and you would have to drive a few hours to buy a soda. While the entire village was mainly vegetarian, on rare important occasions a family would kill a chicken, cook it immediately, and eat the entire animal for dinner. My vegetarianism up to this point was purely ethical, in that I felt irresponsible to eat an animal that someone else had killed in a most likely inhumane way. I decided it was time to break my five year streak, and kill a wild animal myself, and feel the emotional impact of eating the flesh of a creature I had brought to death. The experience went like this.
I threw some food scraps down by my foot next to a flock of foraging chickens. When the time was right, I swiftly reaching down a grabbed one with my bare hands. Next, I stood there with gasping chicken in between my legs, and my hand stretched the chicken head, exposing the long neck. My house dad, Pak Sia, handed me knife, and showed me where to slit the chicken throat so the blood would quickly drain, and the bird would loose consciousness. Once the blood started flowing, I set the bird down of the damp ground, and watched it pant as it took its final breaths. After a few minute, the chicken was dead, and I prepared it for cooking by plucking all its feathers, cutting off the head and feet to feed to the dogs, breaking the rib cages, and extruding the guts, organs, and intestines. Maggots and flys hovered over my hands, which were drenched in blood and guts. That night, I ate the first piece of once living flesh since I was in 8th grade. The meat was chewy, dense, gamey, and gave me a massive stomach ace. I spent the next week pondering the experience, from kill to dinner, which left me extremely disturbed, and feeling guilty.
I continued eating like everyone else for the remainder of my time in the jungle, eating rice for every meal, foraging on wild fruits all day, and once in a while eating a small piece of fish or chicken. What I noticed during work, was that I was climbing trees and wrestling with orangutans with grandparents, parents, and grandkids off of the same generation. I discovered that there was no heart disease in the entire village, and despite the unsanitary and rural living conditions, most everyone was in better physical shape then the average American, and people lived much longer.
In middle America I met people who were generally kind, fat, sick, and depressed. In the jungle of plant eaters the people were lean, active, vibrant, and happy. I made it my mission to discover the catalyst of the dramatic lifestyle difference, I experienced and witnessed before my eyes. And it turned out to be pretty simple and obvious…IT’S THE FOOD.
I came home from Borneo having finally satisfied my travel bug, and spent a few months at home for the first time in almost a year as I began my ultimate journey. I started delving into the literature, studies, articles, movies and lectures on the connection between diet, health, and environmental sustainability. I educated myself from the perspective of the low carb high protein (Paleo) bunch, the gluten free people, all the way to the plant based (Vegan) and Frutarian raw vegan world. I reads dozens of books, watched close to 50 films, and personally interviewed doctors, surgeons, and nutritionists in the LA area on their view of the healthiest lifestyle possible. I even tested what I learned on my own body. I did vegetarian for a week, then added in organic local animal products, cut out dairy and so on. I tried every combination diet possible, and based on my own experience combined with my studies, it was a no brainer!
The unprocessed, Whole Food, Plant-Based vegan diet, is the optimal nutritional program for human health, athletic performance, ethical compass, and what I have come to see as the most important element, Environmental Sustainability.
I made the switch to a healthy, whole food plant-based diet in the summer of 2012, and you can visit my “What I Eat” page to see what food I eat, and which I choose not to, along with sample meal plans for achieving your different goals from weight loss, to muscle building, and fat burning.
I am currently a student at Colorado College, earning my degree if Environmental Policy, with a focus of Food Policy. My goals are vast and bold. I want to educated the world on the various benefits of plant based nutrition, as well as work to change government and industry standard on what is labeled and considered healthy food options. It will be a long and arduous task, and I am ready to pour my heart and soul into making our country and world a healthier, happier, and more sustainable place.
Please join me in supporting and promoting the plant-based, PLANTRIOTIC lifestyle. You won’t regret it!