Hey everyone, my name is Monica! I’m the newest member of the MamaSezz team, recently transplanted from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m a Social Media Manager and Content Creator who loves the outdoors, cooking, reading and traveling. I have two dogs back in Minnesota who I love very dearly, and am in the process of getting to know my new housemate’s two dogs, who… are not as cute as my own. I recently came back from a year abroad where I went all over South America and Europe, and find that travel is the thing that lights my soul on fire. I am so excited to be here in New England to start my career and explore a new part of the country!
I figured there’s no better way to get caught up to speed on all things MamaSezz than to join the MamaSezz 2-Week Plant-Based Challenge. I’m thrilled to use my experience as a mirror for all others going through the Challenge as well. I’m not currently vegan or vegetarian, but I am open and enthusiastic about healthy eating options, and am very interested in the connection between food and the environment. I love my quinoa stacks and veggie stir fry as much as the next person, but have personally had to grow in my relationship with food over the last few years.
After “failed” attempts at veganism and vegetarianism, it feels like I’ve been in transition for a while. I want the satisfaction of knowing my actions directly influence the health of the world, but have really struggled with knowing exactly what to do, and how to do it. I graduated in May from the University of Minnesota with a BS in International Food Systems, which has given me an amazing knowledge set of all things farm-to-plate. Food sustainability has been my passion for a long time.
As a kid, instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons, I would watch the animal rescue and nature shows, fascinated by the beauty of our planet. This instilled two very deep set values in me.
1) I want to protect what the world has to offer so that I can 2) one day see it for myself.
Conservation became a seed planted in the back of my mind, to be cultivated later.
As I grew, Minnesota seemed to feel increasingly smaller and smaller. To keep myself entertained, I got active in school activities and sports, becoming a three season athlete and a student body leader. I had very early mornings and late nights to get everything done, but growing up on a Standard American Diet, I had a very hard time bridging the concepts of food and energy. So, I pretty early on became a sugar-laced coffee addict who was so ravenous after dance practice I would eat anything and everything in sight.
As high school continued however, that conservation seed began to grow and I researched more about sustainable practices, learning what affected our planet’s health. Watching Food Inc. in AP Human Geography was something that changed my life. For the first time I understood the impact food has both on my body, and on the Earth. Not long after, I decided to try vegetarianism to reduce my impact on the world’s natural resources.
It only lasted three months...and it just so happened to be over the winter when produce was expensive in Minnesota and my calorie requirement was at its peak. I was so unequipped and so uneducated about what I should have done and what I needed to eat that I “failed” pretty miserably. Eating tons of white pasta and cheese pizza, my health did not improve at all, and I noticed it in my physical performance.
Fast forward to college, I spent my first year in Fort Collins, Colorado where I was (for the first time) in charge of buying some of my own groceries. I loved the freedom and it was so refreshing to be in an environment where people cared about what they put in their bodies. To this day, Colorado has one of the lowest obesity rates in the country and I was thoroughly impressed with the options my dining hall had to offer. I know college is a place where so many student struggle, especially if they are in a small town and don’t have access to other grocery stores or fresh produce. Even though I loved my experience in Colorado, at the end of the year I actually transferred back home to University of Minnesota because in-state tuition was more affordable for me.
Even though the transition was very rough on me (AKA being back in a frozen tundra) I owe it to the U of M for creating the incredible major that was Food Systems. As I dove in to learn about our world’s food insecurity and bleak agricultural future, I chose to try veganism for the second time. This time around, I had the support of my best friend; he and I would be going on the journey together. We went out and bought cookbooks, shared successes, and admired how we felt after we had been vegan for a few weeks. I started to love my grocery trips and food prep days.
But, eating vegan doesn’t mean eating healthy. Oreos are vegan, and I knew that all too well. I was still eating heavy amounts of added sugar and processed foods, and also found I didn’t like the label and pressure of being vegan. I felt that with one slip-up or deviation, all of a sudden I wasn’t technically classified as vegan and all my hard work had gone to waste. Eventually, I just got tired and hopped off the bandwagon, but through this experience I was more comfortable choosing the vegan option at restaurant, and cooking vegan food at home.
This now brings me here, to New England. Freshly graduated and ready to make my mark on the world. Working in an office setting with people advocating for whole food plant-based living every day, my habits have naturally gotten healthier. That said, I’ve yet to dive into whole food plant-based officially. One of the great things that I’m learning here at MamaSezz, is that “diving in” can mean whatever I want it to mean. If I slip up occasionally, it’s really okay because one meal plant-based is better than no meal plant-based. I am free to find whatever equilibrium that works for my body, without expectation or guilt from anybody.
Part of my goal for this experience is to officially leave the “diet” mindset behind. I no longer wish to be a part of the culture that depicts food as a restrictive thing. I’m excited for the freedom that comes with changing my perspective from “plant-based eating means I’m denying myself the good stuff”, to the realization that with plant-based eating, I’m giving my body with the actual good stuff.
I personally don't feel that I struggle with my weight, but according to all the doctor’s BMI charts I’m technically classified as overweight. I, like most people, have been on a long journey of learning to love myself and I’m hoping that by supplying my body with all it needs, that positive relationship will only continue to grow. I’m also looking forward to better skin, better quality sleep, and no more digestive troubles. When I’m stressed or have too much going on, these three things are the bane of my existence and often cause me even more stress.
I anticipate there will be internal struggles (my sugar addiction runs deep) and some days I may not be the happiest, but I’m willing to give it my all during this Challenge and genuinely see how my body changes. I’m so looking forward to letting go of my hypocrisy, and start practicing the sustainable lifestyle that I preach. I’m thrilled that I’ll have you all along for the ride, and can’t wait to meet you on the other side… let’s go!!!
By Monica Brown
Monica is a Food Systems graduate from the University of Minnesota who has a passion for educating other around healthy living and sustainability. Currently enrolled in the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, she will soon receive her Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate.
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