As we at MamaSezz well know, changing to a plant-based diet can change your life in ways you never expected. In this series, we talk with some of the world’s most soulful, dedicated (and often funny) individuals. We get to hear their stories of suffering, transformation, and service — and we learn how food is an essential part of their journey.
In this edition of Transformation Tuesday, we talked with Dr. Joanne Kong. Although compassion for all living beings was her motivation to go plant-based, she found that the diet actually changed how she felt. Besides improved stamina and energy, Dr. Kong also started receiving compliments about how youthful and healthy she looked. Now, Joanne contributes to books on compassion, and even has a highly-praised TEDx talk on veganism (find below!).
What prompted your interest in a plant-based diet?
My diet before deciding to leave animals off my plate was perhaps slightly better than the typical American diet; I ate some meat and some fish, but also lots of veggies and fruits. Stir-fry dishes were common as a I grew in a Chinese-American household, and our family ate little in the way of processed foods.
Once my diet was mostly plants, the biggest health benefits I noticed were that I got sick WAY less often, had more energy, and definitely had more stamina. I noticed this health transformation when first going vegetarian.
Going from vegetarian to veganism eight years ago, I really didn't notice any particular added health benefits; what it did provide, though, was a greater sense of peace and centeredness in my body, knowing that I was doing everything I could to foster kindness and a higher level of caring for all beings.
What happened? Was there a defining moment that triggered change or did you have a gradual journey?
For me, there was a definite defining moment when my diet changed. I was a graduate student in Texas in the mid-80s, and one day my husband brought home a book, Animal Factories by Jim Mason and Peter Singer. Little did I realize that this was a controversial book at the time, as was one of the first books to expose the cruelties of factory farming. This was a small book with black-and-white pictures, but reading it in one day was enough to transform our awareness, that we must no longer consume animals.
How were you able to stick with such a dramatic diet change?
It was the easiest thing to do, and there was absolutely never the thought that this was going to be a challenge or hard to stick to, because we had made this as an ETHICAL choice. I believe that ethical vegans are much more likely to continue the plant-based lifestyle because their motivations are so strongly grounded, whereas one who goes vegan just for health might possibly not necessarily stick with their decision totally consistently. And there are many for whom the choice to go plant-based is influenced by a multitude of "blended" factors, whether they may be concerns about animals, health, the environment, and so on.
What is your life like now?
I enjoy being in excellent health, leading an energetic life both as a vegan advocate, and university professor. One of the most important things we can do as vegans is to be models of excellent health. That helps to spread the positive message! There have been many, many instances when colleagues or acquaintances note that I look much younger than my actual age, and they ask what I do to stay so healthy! That offers me the opportunity to discuss the numerous benefits possible with a whole-food, plant-based diet.
What are some of the cultural and spiritual benefits of eating only plants?
I myself haven't experienced any special cultural benefits; perhaps this is because vegans are still the minority in our culture. But looking on the bright side, more and more people actually know what veganism is, compared to even five years ago, so our culture will definitely grow in its awareness. Just think of the plethora of plant-based products now available in regular grocery stores!
There are definite spiritual benefits. Consuming plants means that the energy I'm putting into my body is pure, and that another being did not have to suffer and die in order for me to eat. There is a certain lightness that I feel as well as a sense of connectedness I feel to the earth and other animals. Living my values and being as kind as I can be are definite positive aspects of my life, that I owe to being a vegan!
What motivated you to write your book VEGAN VOICES: ESSAYS BY INSPIRING CHANGEMAKERS?
I literally woke up one morning with the idea to write this book! My goal with the book is to present the diverse, unique paths people take in becoming vegan.
Veganism has moved into the mainstream because it is SO much more than just a diet; it ties into so many aspects of our lives — using our resources to produce food in the most sustainable way, being the most compassionate we can be to our fellow animals, and simply being the best we can be!
There are 50+ writers from all around the world, and I know that readers will be inspired by their powerful and compelling personal stories. These vegans come from all walks of life, and represent the power that we all have as individuals to bring positive change to the world.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud that I am trying to do all I can to create a more compassionate and sensitive world, whether it's through advocating for veganism, or performing as a concertizing classical musician.
If you could meet and have lunch with one person (alive or dead) who would it be?
I would love to have lunch with Jane Goodall — her wisdom and compassion are limitless.
Check out VEGAN VOICES: ESSAYS BY INSPIRING CHANGEMAKERS
Check out Dr. Joanne Kong's Website, Vegans Make A Difference and TEDx talk.