by RYAN LITTLEFIELD
Russell and Holly Nix were married on August 19, 2011, a union exemplified by their passion for and belief in veganism. A couple fairly new to the vegan lifestyle, the inspiration that influenced their diet change were simply videos and books. Veganism has changed this couple’s lives, although it took time to implement the strict regimen. Follow the journey Holly and Russell took as they started the transformation that changed their lives for the better with a culture that is quickly becoming a trend.
Inspiration That Started it All
It all began with a video on YouTube concerning animal cruelty. Holly said the video was about, “How cruelly animals are treated . . . by taking their meat into your body you are also taking in all of their pain, fear and suffering.” This visual ignited an impression that really stuck with her and she became a vegetarian the very next day. More research into factory farming and animal cruelty ensued and two years following the shift into vegetarianism, the transition into veganism began.
It took about one year for Holly to fully convert to eating vegan. For the beginning of her transition, “I started removing animal products from my diet and replacing them with vegan substitutions,” she said. “I learned to cook vegan recipes and to be vigilant about checking ingredient lists. I started paying attention to cosmetics and other products I buy that test on animals or contain animal products.” Since her transition, Holly has been fully vegan for two years. Her influence inspired her partner, Russell, to begin a similar journey.
Russell had read books in the past such as The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser, but they didn’t have enough of a lasting impression to cause a change in his lifestyle or diet. Vegetarian friends also positively influenced him, but didn’t force a change. It wasn’t until Russell met Holly that an alteration began – he read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safron Foer and experienced, “The accumulated knowledge just suddenly hit and I stopped eating meat.”
The transition for Russell into veganism began after watching a video exemplifying the conditions many cows are kept in: Conklin Dairy Farm by Mercy For Animals. Russell said, “I couldn’t eat cheese without seeing pictures of animal abuse in my head. So in the same way that meat symbolized suffering, dairy did too. I just gave it up cold turkey and I haven’t been tempted to go back.”
For Russell, the transition from vegetarian to vegan took a split second, “I ate cheese before I watched the Conklin Dairy Farm video; I stopped immediately after.” He attributes the immediate change to his firm belief in his actions. He truly believes in what he is doing as he has been fully vegan since September of 2011.
Veganism Changed Their Lives
“Since going vegan, I’ve lost about thirty pounds. I feel healthier and more mentally alert,” said Holly. Russell has also seen physical changes, losing about 40 pounds since giving up meat, 30 of which resulted from the transition to vegan.
Not only has their physical health been drastically affected, their social health has reaped the benefits as well. Holly said, “I’ve found a wonderful community of vegan friends in Salt Lake and Provo who are strong and interesting and I look up to them a great deal.” Even those who do not share her vegan lifestyle are kind and supportive of what she believes. Russell said, “It’s made me feel closer to Holly because we share this important belief system . . . Veganism has helped us connect in a way that we wouldn’t if we were both omnivore.” Holly agrees, “Veganism is a little bit like religion for Russell and I. It brings us together. Having a vegan partner makes living a vegan lifestyle so much easier.” As the couple mature and change through their vegan lifestyle, aspects surrounding their diet modification have also been affected.
Holly has been motivated into animal activism, encouraging other types of activism including feminism, fighting racism and politics. The biggest change Holly has seen has been through family interaction. Food is the center of most of her family’s gatherings, “I get a lot of jokes directed my way because I’m now the weird girl that brings her own food to Thanksgiving dinner.”
She has also seen a change in her mother, “She makes a concerted effort to cook vegan food when I come over and she is always interested in learning new recipes.” The change Holly has seen warms her heart as it not only shows the compassion she has for her daughter, but also encourages her to think more about her own diet and health.
For Russell, “Cooking is easily the first thing that changes,” when transitioning into a vegan diet. He began cooking more than ever when he became vegan. Russell also immediately noticed how important food is in social gatherings and holidays. “When I went vegetarian, I separated myself from the culture of omnivores; when I went vegan I stepped even further away,” he said.
Russell relates how he used to play Dungeons and Dragons with a few friends that would rotate who brought dinner every game-night. After giving up meat, he felt alienated – there always had to be two pizzas, one of which was vegetarian. Then he turned vegan and he couldn’t participate in dinner-sharing at all, “It was too much of a hassle for everyone involved.”
“When I went vegan, it wasn’t something I was just trying out. It’s how I will eat forever,” explains Russell.
It Takes Time to Be Vegan
The transition for anyone to vegetarian or vegan takes time and preparation. “Being vegan just takes time,” said Holly, “time to research foods, recipes, restaurants and to plan and cook meals. I’ve learned to simplify those processes and there are lots of resources to help. I’ve also learned how to deal with parties and gatherings and it all becomes very natural feeling.” Some of those resources included local bloggers like meggieandben.blogspot.com and amanda-eats-slc.blogspot.com who review vegan options regularly throughout Utah’s restaurants.
Forgetting to pack a lunch usually leads to starvation, according to Russell, when there are very few fast food places that serve vegan foods. Holly said, “It’s easier, faster and cheaper to grab a hamburger from McDonalds or heat up some Top Ramen than it is to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes and devote the time it takes to learn to cook them and make them delicious.” Russell supposes his beliefs are what keep him vegan, also relating that the temptation to cheat and eat a cheeseburger may be too much for someone who doesn’t truly believe in the foundation of their diet. Holly believes those without motivation, a low income or who is limited in food choices from eating restrictions would struggle with a vegan lifestyle.
It isn’t easy either, Russell said, “The biggest problem is giving up all the food routines. Anytime we eat out, we have to ask a bunch of questions. People don’t always know what vegan means, so we have to be very specific or end up getting inedible foods. Servers are often uninformed or just lying.” The transition to veganism for Russell was easy, a split-second decision; for Holly, it took almost a year to change. Together, the couple progress with their veganism lifestyle and beliefs.
Everyday Vegan Meals
For Holly breakfast is usually a variation of oatmeal, with blueberries, bananas, peanut butter, raisins or almond milk. With more time, “I’ll make pancakes, french toast, or tofu omelets with fake sausage,” she said. Snacking on fruit helps to curb her major sweet tooth before or after meals. Russell usually begins his day with coffee and cinnamon raisin oatmeal with bananas.
Lunch consists of leftovers or a sandwich with veggies, tofurkey, hummus or peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread. Snacking on almonds is a regular occurrence for Russell.
There are many recipes for dinner dishes such as chili, pizza, soups, casseroles, pasta, salads, curries, lentils, marinated tofu and roasted vegetables; one of the couples’ favorites is vegan pho. “I would say about half of our dinners are vegan versions of stuff we’ve been eating our whole lives. The other half is from vegan cookbooks or blogs. We use a lot of spices in our cooking because it’s a low-fat way of adding a bunch of flavor,” said Russell. Holly deems, “I firmly believe I can veganize any recipe and make it delicious.”
Holly and Russell
The reality is the veganism lifestyle Holly and Russell live by has affected their lives in a variety of positive ways. Holly said, “The things that make veganism great are the food, the vegan community and the friends I’ve made! I have also loved the opportunities I have gotten to work with animals because they are definitely the reason I do this.” Russell’s favorite part is the food. He loves to cook new foods, try eating new foods and discovering new recipes. “It’s also a treat to find out what junk food is vegan. I will eat a thousand Oreos and not feel any regret,” he stated.
Russell and Holly are continually adding to their vegan lifestyle with creative recipes and a growing community. According to this couple, joining the vegan lifestyle is simple: it just requires a change of heart.