Dear Jessica, On Becoming Vegan

The other day I was thrilled to receive the following email from my friend Jessica:

The only picture I could dig up, from 2006

Jessica is one of my favorite people. A few years ago, she was an assistant coach for our Palm Desert High School cross country team. She was very young then, (still is!), pretty much just out of college, and she was bright, funny, and a joy to be around. The kids loved her too, and we were so sad when she decided to move back to Oregon. Now we keep in touch through email and facebook, and I was delighted to receive her request for help.

Since I couldn’t find any photos, I stole this one from facebook. I love it, though.

Jessica gave me permission to post my response on my blog, so here it is:

Dear Jessica,

It looks like you’ve made a great start on changing to a vegan lifestyle. A few more steps and you’ll be there. One of things that I would suggest doing is clarifying to yourself your main reason for becoming a vegan. It will help you stay the course. For example, if your main reason is the animals (like mine is), remembering the death and cruelty involved in eating meat and other animal products can help you avoid (too much) temptation. If the animals are your main reason, I would suggest reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. He really lays it on the line about what goes on in the factory farming industry.  Another good choice is Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, by Erik Marcus. Speaking of Erik, he runs a great website that is full information about everything vegan:, plus he has written a couple other books including The Ultimate Vegan Guide, a great tool to help you get started on your new lifestyle.

Now, if health is your main reason you should still read the above books, because they not only detail the cruelty in the industry, they point out facts about the health aspects of eating animal products that are filled with chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, not to mention the filth created by running farms that create more waste that can be handled.

As you may know, Bill Clinton went (mostly) vegan after reading The China Study. It may not be an easy read, but it details the health benefits of a plant based diet and the detrimental effects of a diet of animal products and processed food.

If you haven’t yet seen Forks over Knives, run out and see it. It’s still in theaters. It is a documentary detailing how the test subjects were cured of various illnesses by changing their diet. Oh, and don’t miss reading Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. It’s like listening to girlfriends telling you how to eat healthy.  Don’t miss Chapter 4, “The Dead, Rotting Decomposing Flesh Diet.”

It is strictly my opinion, but I feel that a health based reason is more difficult to maintain that the animal death/cruelty reason. One can convince oneself that “just this once,” won’t matter, then it is only a matter of time before slipping back into bad habits. With animal cruelty, though, just one time really does matter. So, even if your main reason is your own health, be sure to learn about the animals. It will help you stay strong.

Speaking of diets, many people who make the transition to vegan start out by using a lot of ‘mock meats.’ There are a lot of good ones out there these days, companies like Gardein, that produce a quality, vegan meat substitute. There is also some delicious vegan cheese out there, believe it or not. Daiya is one of the most easily available, and not only does it taste great, it melts!

There is certainly nothing wrong with this. Just remember though, that processed food is processed food, whether it is vegan or not, so be sure to continue as you say you already eat, with whole grains, fruits and veggies, plus seeds, nuts, beans.  Many people, when they hear you are vegan, will ask where do you get your protein. It’s really very easy, we don’t require a lot, and plenty of protein is available in seeds, nuts and beans, plus many greens, like kale and spinach offer quality protein. Quinoa is an example of a grain that is also relatively high in protein. Any of these choices are probably better than the sources of the person who is asking the question, which is what, a hamburger from McD’s?

A well thought out vegan diet can fulfuill your nutritional needs, with the possible exception of vitamin B12. Here is a link to read more about it, but most vegans need to supplement B12. I use sub-lingual Deva Vegan Vitamin B12, which is available from Amazon. You should also check out the Vegan RD, an excellent resource for your nutritional questions.

In addition to the above references, here are some of my favorite links, from recipes, to restaurants, to general information:

Fat Free Vegan:     Healthy, vegan recipes.
Quarrygirl:    Restaurant reviews and much more. Mostly in the LA area, but she has guest reviews from all over, including Portland. A good reference when traveling.
Meet the Shannons: They’re converting the Betty Crocker Cookbook to delicious, vegan recipes!
Vegansaurus: It’s like the dictionary of veganism, written with a lot of humor.
Happy Cow: The ultimate veggie/vegan restaurant source (there’s even an app for it).

Oh, and here’s a link to my recipe page. All my recipes are easy, quick, and taste pretty good if I say so myself.


And because you are an athlete, and athletes have special dietary needs, check out the No Meat Athlete for lots of information and inspiration from an athlete’s point of view.

There are other vegan endurance athletes, including ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, Ultraman Rich Roll, bodybuilder Robert Cheeke, Ironman Brendan Brazier, track and field star Carl Lewis, and tennis great Martina Navratilova.

Since eating out all the time is probably not an option, here are some of my favorite vegan cookbooks:

Viva Vegan!, by Terry Hope Romero, great Latin food recipes.
Vegan with a Vengeance , by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, great, inexpensive recipes.
The Indian Vegan Kitchen, by Madha Gadia, M.S, R.D., a must have if you love Indian food.
The 30-Minute Vegan, by Mark Reinfeld and Jennifer Murray, easy, fast, and delicious.
The Joy of Vegan Baking, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, who also has written more philosophical books on living a cruelty free lifestyle.
The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, by Kelly Peloza, who also writes a blog with the same name.

The only other piece advice that I’d add (for now), is: become an avid label reader. There are many sneaky animal ingredients in many products (this post mentions a few), and other items that you would never imagine contain more straightforward ingredients like milk and eggs.

Well, Jessica, I’ve given you a lot to digest, so to speak. You know that I am here to help in any way, for information, inspiration, whatever. I’m pleased that you are ready to take the next step and proud that I have a had small part in your decision.

Your friend in the desert,


PS If you choose to buy any of the books that I have highlighted, I receive a small commission when you click through. Thanks in advance. A lot of those books are available for Kindle, too, which is usually less expensive and you get it right away. I use my Kindle app on my Ipad and love the instant gratification.


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  1. Dave Frenz says

    I had just made up my mind to do the same thing today. It has been stirring for some time now. I was actually at my local bookstore looking at Eating Animals (which I still intend to buy) and said to myself ‘nows the time’.

    Seeing your post on twitter immediately afterward seemed to be a cosmic reinforcement (ok so maybe the cosmos part was a bit much)



  2. says

    I am so happy that I can make a difference in your life! And I kind of believe in the cosmic thing.

    I was already vegan when I read Eating Animals (listened to it, actually, on Audible), but it still is very important to me. I bought a couple copies to lend to friends. I figure that if you’re going to eat meat, you need to know the big picture.

  3. Jessica Cleeton says

    Thank you so much Debbie for the advice and book selections, that is a huge help. I will research those books for sure. I am really excited but have no illusions of this being easy. I do okay already but there are so many things in my diet I now realize (Other than the obvious, MEAT) that I never really paid any attention to.

    My hardest battle….CHEESE, this may be one of my hardest staples to rid my body of. In the last year I got back to drinking milk too, and I have no idea why, for two plus years I was drinking alternatives, anyway that one will not be so hard, milk is one of those weird things I really only use it on the off chance I eat cereal, which is never, or in my coffee, which I never taste it anyway.

    I made a Vegan friendly Broccoli slaw the other day for camping and all my friends gobbled it down. Then I told them I used Veganaise and that it was Vegan friendly. It was funny, a couple were shocked and surprised that it didn’t taste gross. Ha, very funny the ideas people have about certain lifestyles.

    Anyway, I am still not perfect yet, I am thinking this will be a several month process, hopefully it is something that can be accomplished. That is my goal, not so much a time frame, just completion.

    I will keep you updated with hardships as well as accomplishments. Maybe doing a blog is something that will help, writing down your goals and talking about them make them real, and something you see daily.


    • says

      Thanks, Jessica, for letting me make a post out of your question. I love the fact that a couple other people have already told me that it is helping them too.

      I’d suggest reading Eating Animals first. That will get you well on your way 🙂

      Good luck. You know I am rooting for your success here and I’m happy to help in any way that I can.


  4. says

    once i get my goal weight, i want to try changing over. I’ve been trying to use beans in place of meat sometimes for protein but you don’t get as much bang for your buck? (5oz chicken is less calories than 5 oz beans…) My mom has always been vegeterian, but we grew up eating a LOT of morningstar farms meats, and those, while yummy, I can’t have for all the sodium.

    We finally got an Earth Fare nearby, and I’ve been able to find veganaise, and some vegan cheese that isn’t horrible! Everyone I know that is vegan just looks so healthy, like glowing!

    • says

      There is actually some amazing vegan cheese out there these days! Daiya is great and if you like pepper jack, that is their new flavor. I haven’t tried it yet cause it’s not around here (note to self: make a stop at a Whole Foods while out of town this weekend). Veganaise is wonderful too. I never even used mayo before I was vegan and now I love the vegan version.

      I’d suggest you check out the link to the blog the Vegan RD. “ is so knowledgable about healthy vegan eating that I’m sure you can find your answers. While fake meat can help make the transition easier, they are still processed food. I was looking at the labels on some of the Gardein products and their sodium levels vary, depending on how processed it is. The plain chik’n strips, the burger patties, and some of the plainer types are pretty low, around 250-300 mg per serving. The products with sauces are higher. Worth checking out, anyway.

      Good luck. And congratulations on your weight loss. I’ve been following your progress and you are doing an amazing job.

      I’m happy to help in any way I can.


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