About a month ago, on a random Wednesday just after noon, I was standing in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s.
I hardly ever go there in the middle of the day on a weekday, so it was complete serendipity that I looked over and saw my friend Jamie Giangreco walking in.
“Hi Jamie!” I called over to her. She waved, came over, and proceeded to tell me something that completely made my day:
“My boyfriend and I are going from vegetarian to vegan, and we’re starting on Monday!”
I was so thrilled! And you know why – she and her boyfriend are making a great decision for animals, for their health, and for the planet.
Such wonderful news!
I checked in with Jamie recently to ask her to share how it’s going, what she’s learning, and advice she might have for people interested in going vegan themselves.
So, let’s meet Jamie, a brand new vegan!
Jamie: I am originally from upstate Rochester, New York, I am 26 years old, I was sworn in to the South Carolina Bar in February, however I’m still searching for my career! Ideally, I’d like to work as General Counsel for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) or Mercy for Animals or work in any animal advocacy setting, but for right now I’ve been working here or there!
I love to get lost and explore Charleston, I really enjoy a good whooping at Crossfit Integrity in West Ashley for my physical and mental health, and I love cooking new foods for my best friends and boyfriend and enjoying them on my couch with a great movie.
I have two wonderful but naughty “children,” Oliver and Isabella, who are both rescued Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I spend much of my down time trying to give them half as much happiness as they give us by bringing them to the beach or being their personal laps.
I packed up my dogs and my boyfriend, Stephen, and moved to Charleston May 2012 four days after graduating law school from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. It was a bit of an impulsive decision, but so far, it has been the best rash decision of my life.
I decided to cold-email Kim Kelly, the SC State Director for the HSUS, before I moved to Charleston. I figured the worst she could do was not answer or tell me to scram, and at best, give me any advice she had to offer about turning animal advocacy into a career.
Not only did she email me back, but Kim asked to meet for dinner when I arrived in Charleston. Two dinner dates later I met Sarah, and I have been so fortunate to not only have these two women in my life whom I admire and look up to, but can also call them friends.
WIV: Thank you, Jamie! Tell us, when did you go vegan?
I am only newly veganized- it has been a wonderful one month!
WIV: That is so great! What was it that made you decide to go vegan?
Growing up and even now, my dad has always been so inspirational in my animal advocacy; ever since I was young he instilled in me a respect for all animals, great or small. When I began law school, I joined the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund and was invited to a screening of “Fowl Play,” a documentary about the egg industry, and was first exposed to what is really going on behind the scenes of the food industry.
After that, I flirted with vegetarianism on and off, but remained very content in my ignorance. I tried to push the images from my head and look at milk without remembering the veal calf in a confined crate, the eggs without the male chicks on a conveyor belt destined to be ground up for dog food, or the bacon without the intelligent pig with long eyelashes and a loving maternal instinct.
It continued even when I became President of SALDF and fought to bring awareness to dog fighting and hosted a vegan bake sale.
Clarity finally came when Stephen’s dad came to visit and informed us he was going to start a vegan diet because of the health benefits. I felt ashamed because here was a person without all the information I knew, but who felt the need to give up animal products with just the small amount of information he had heard word-of-mouth.
Right then and there Stephen and I decided to follow suit and begin that Monday, and to my delight, my two best friends told me they would join us as well.
I went shopping that day for vegan products and while at Trader Joe’s, heard a “Hi Jamie!” and saw Sarah standing there. I knew it was a sign. We haven’t looked back since.
WIV: What were your eating habits growing up? Mine were cheese, cheese, cheese.
I grew up in a very Italian family. My mom is an amazing cook and baker- whatever she puts in front of you is a masterpiece. We thrived on pasta, bread, and cheese, and thinking about it now, never really did have a lot of meat. However, eggs and milk were staples.
WIV: What was your favorite pre-vegan food? (Mine was cheese. Surprise!) Have you been able to veganize it?
The double ch’s: cheese and chocolate. I have been pleasantly surprised at the vegan options for both!
Daiya’s cheese, especially the wedge cheese, is amazing on sandwiches and in dips.
Hands down my favorite vegan product is Daiya’s Jalapeno Garlic Havarti Wedge Cheese. Pick this up at Whole Foods or Earthfare tonight and make a grilled cheese with it. Thank me later.
Nutritional yeast is also a staple in my pantry, and I add it to anything that I feel deserves a cheese flavor… which is just about everything.
Chocolate has also not been difficult; you simply have to flip the bar over and make sure it doesn’t have any dairy in it.
WIV: Hooray for vegan cheese and chocolate! What resources have you found to be the most helpful in your switch? Do you have a go-to podcast or book? For me, it was Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Vegetarian Food For Thought podcasts that really made me realize I could be vegan.
Get a Pinterest account, create a “Vegan” board and don’t be afraid to become addicted to finding new amazing recipes- I know I haven’t. Go to your local library and check out every vegan book you can find (my favorites are Happy Herbivore and The Engine 2 Diet), and follow wonderful vegan blogs (What I Vegan, The Vegan Woman, The Engine 2 Diet).
Personally, Forks Over Knives really gave me the last push I needed because it backed up another argument for going vegan (besides the plight of animals) – the way it will drastically improve your health.
WIV: Those are excellent resources! What changes have you noticed since going vegan? What has been your favorite part so far?
Not only am I losing weight (and not even trying to!), but my skin is clearer, I have more energy, and overall, I just feel morally great. I no longer feel a sense of guilt eating foods that I know came at the cost of an animal.
My favorite part about being vegan is discovering how amazing food can taste and be so good for your body and just plain make your heart feel happy.
WIV: Has your family and significant other been supportive?
It has been such a pleasure starting on this journey, and I think a lot of it has to do with how supportive Stephen has been, who despite being a “meat and potatoes” country boy, has adopted the vegan diet with me- and loves it just as much as I do!
My family at this point is open and willing to be wooed. In particular, my dad says he wants me to teach him more about a vegan lifestyle and make him a meal when my family visits this month. Family support means a lot to me so I truly appreciate their openness and willingness to enjoy a meal with me.
WIV: How has going vegan affected your social life?
When I first decided to become vegan, my two best friends told me they would love to do it with me, so my “inner circle” really hasn’t changed. I have been getting the occasional “OMG, where do you get your protein?! I could NEVER do that!” comments from others, but mostly I have received support.
We even had a couple over the other night who were so excited to share a vegan meal with us, it really meant a lot that they were so open and eager. In fact, I got a call from her yesterday saying they’ve since been experimenting with vegan dinners!
WIV: How does shopping at the grocery store go now that you’re vegan?
Shopping has become a much more interactive experience. Instead of blindly filling my cart with over-processed foods, I now look at ingredients and strive to fill my cart with fulfilling foods.
Best of all, I have now been forced to explore my palate and try new fare that I’ve seen before, but had never tried.
WIV: What advice would you give to people who are thinking about possibly going vegan?
Educate yourself. Educate, educate, educate. I can’t say it enough. Watch a documentary, read a book, Google it, and learn all the reasons to make this decision.
Veganism isn’t just a diet choice – it’s a moral, ethical, ecologically conservative, educated, concerned-world-citizen life decision. You owe it to yourself to learn all the reasons why you should be proud of yourself for going vegan!
WIV: So, more about food! What’s the best meal you’ve had out since going vegan?
WIV: Yum! I love that Deep South Sandwich. What’s the best vegan meal you’ve made at home?
Quick and easy? Taco night with a black bean and crumbled mock meat crumbles with taco seasoning, Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream, Daiya pepper jack shreds, and all the other taco fixins.
A real treat that will knock your socks off? Raise the Roof Sweet Potato Lasagna from the Engine 2 Diet, plus add a layer of cashew ricotta “cheese.” You can get the recipe here, and here’s that ricotta recipe:
Cashew Ricotta Cheese
• 1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
• 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
• 1.5 tbs (30mL) olive oil
• 2 cloves fresh or roasted garlic
• 1 pound firm tofu, drained and crumbled
• 1.5 tsp dried basil
• 1.5 tsp salt
In a food processor, blend together the cashews, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic until a thick creamy paste forms. Add the crumbled tofu to the food processor, working in two or more batches if necessary, until the mixture is thick and well blended. Blend in the basil and salt.
Dessert? Golden Vanilla Cupcakes with Buttercream Icing from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Here’s that recipe, and here’s the recipe for the frosting (I halved the amount of sugar because it was a little too sweet for me the first time I made it).
WIV: Overall, how do you FEEL about your decision to go vegan?
I feel amazing. Physically my body has made it loud and clear that going vegan has been my greatest decision for it.
Best of all, my heart feels amazing. I take a bite and know in this small way I had a part in the fight to end the abuse on factory farms, combat the atrocities of world hunger and environmental destruction, and knowingly reject what the meat, egg, and dairy industry want me to blissfully ingest in ignorance.
How wonderful is that?! Jamie is making a huge difference in the world, and I’m so glad to be able to share her insights into being a new vegan with all of you.
Do you have a question for Jamie? Comment below!
To New Vegans!