This might raise some eyebrows. This might confuse you. This might make you mad. This might make you want to judge me. This might evoke lots of emotions. So I’m asking you to read my story with an open mind and an open heart. We are human and blessed with the power of personal evolution. So instead of shying away from the journey that has brought me here, I’m owning it and want to share it with you in the hopes of inspiring you to also embrace your journey, wherever it may take you.
In 2011, I went vegan. I had emergency surgery from a ruptured, life-threatening ulcer. When I left the hospital, they gave me a lifetime prescription of antacids. Having been raised on homeopathic medicine, I thought this was ludicrous! So when I got home from the hospital, I went down a Google rabbit hole researching everything about how to reduce acidity in the body. I found such an abundance of research saying that foods including dairy and meat may cause an increase in acidity in the body, that I chose to eliminate them from my diet immediately for health reasons.
When I set off on this journey into veganism, I began to understand the functionality of food. I learned to use food as fuel, carefully choosing what I was putting in my body. I learned that food plays a major role in my physical and mental health. I learned I could control how my body feels based on how I fuel myself. With the combination of drinking alkaline water, eating a plant-based diet and eliminating processed sugar, I felt like a million bucks within a few months and threw away that lifetime prescription of antacids. I vowed to lead a more balanced and proactive lifestyle, as opposed to a reactive one, and I wanted to help people make this shift in their lives as well. That’s when the idea for a line of organic, raw, clean fuel beverages came to life. Getting into food manufacturing, I became increasingly interested in where our food comes from and what nutrition labels actually mean. The more I learned, the more I became disillusioned with our food system. I knew I was onto something.
Fast forward to 2017. I had been vegan for 6 years, but had never felt like my values aligned with those of the vegan community. Their stance on veganism seemed to stem primarily from a position of animal rights activism, rather than from a holistic point of view as a way of living beneficial for animals, the environment and human health. I found that vegans had no issues consuming fake meat containing GMO soy, Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers or a slew of other processed, unhealthy foods. Why did these people not seem to care about their own health? How were these people fighting for animal rights but simultaneously killing themselves with foods that are toxic to their health and the environment? It was because of this disconnect that I could never truly align with veganism. In these 6 years, my thought process has evolved where personal, animal and environmental health are all connected and need to be treated as an integrated holistic system.
That same year, I reconnected with a friend who lives in Vermont. We would meet up periodically when he came to DC and have these awesome conversations about the dangers of where our food system is going, what it will inevitably lead to if we don’t start changing, how to take back control of our food and what we can do about it. He is the one who introduced me to the concept of ‘permaculture.’ When he told me about a program called Mastodon Valley Farm Permaculture Design Course, I looked it up that same night and signed up for their 10-day intensive course a few weeks later. I knew I was on the right path.
Arriving at Mastodon Valley Farm as a city girl with zero farming experience, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. At our first group meeting, they asked if anyone had any dietary restrictions. I timidly raised my hand and casually mentioned I was vegan, but was open to trying everything that was prepared. I’m pretty sure everyone’s jaws dropped. What was this city girl doing on a ‘meat farm’?
They killed a pig the day before we arrived and on Day 2 did a demo on how to butcher it. I sat in the front row staring like a deer in headlights. I had tears in my eyes. I had never been this close to death. I was in awe of this beautiful animal lying on the table in front of me being respectfully dissected. When I thought about what immense benefits that pig had brought to the land in its lifetime, it was more than I could say for myself. I was almost embarrassed. This animal had lived in harmony with nature, living off the land and giving back to the land as well. It was in that moment I realized that this is the cycle of life. Birth and death are what make the world go round. You can’t have one without the other. They balance each other out, just like yin and yang, light and dark.
For the next 10 days, our diet was compromised of the plants, herbs, vegetables, fruit and meat from their land. Every meal was a spiritual experience, knowing how much time, effort and care was put into growing, harvesting and preparing each meal. I felt so connected with and nourished from everything I was putting in my body. Having butchered a pig, we prepared and ate every part of the animal. From slow-cooked brisket, to lard, to bone broth, to bacon, I tried it all. With every meal I felt myself returning to nature, to where I had come from.
My biggest take away from the permaculture course was observing how my relationship with food became more intimate the closer I got to the land. I had come here to learn, to listen and to experience, which ultimately led to a personal transformation. Mastodon Valley Farm helped me create a deep relationship not only with the food that nourished my body, but also with the land. We cannot have one without the other.
I used to see myself as a detached consumer, buying food from the grocery store without any connection to where, how or by whom it was grown. I used to think that as long as I was nourishing myself with clean, real foods, I would be healthy. But I realized it’s about so much more than that! It’s about the connection we have to the land where our food grows. I too come from the land and will return to the land. So while I’m here, I have a responsibility to care for it, just like I do my body. I have a responsibility to not just take from the land, but to also give back.
Living in the city, we are sheltered from the cycles of life and death. We are disconnected from these patterns of nature. We live in a bubble that makes us forget we are part of this system, part of nature. If we eat meat, we like it in packages that don’t resemble the animal it came from. We like our fruit and vegetables on sterile supermarket shelves that don’t have any imperfections. But the reality is that every plant and animal, however big or small, is connected to Mother Nature – a carrot just as much as a cow, just as much as a fungus. The cycle of life and death exists whether we see it or not – it’s all around us. And we are all dependent on each other.
When I got back from Wisconsin, I was a changed person. The realities of my old life hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t know how to process this evolution and re-enter city life with a new perspective. The first time I entered a grocery store again, I cried one of those ugly cries. I had to leave without any groceries. For weeks, I slept on the hardwood floor in my apartment next to the windows with the shades and windows wide open. I tried to spend all my time in nature for fear of losing my connection with the land and with my food source. How could I live like this?
Present day 2018. It’s been a year since I came back from the Mastodon Valley Farm. The truth is, it’s been a challenging year. Although I’m grateful for the evolution I experienced, I feel like a walking contradiction. I live in the city, but dream of being one with the land. My tonic business is healthy for the body but terrible for the environment. I am vegan, but I eat meat. My path forward is clearer than ever but I don’t know which way to go. I feel like I saw the truth, and I can’t unsee it.
Everything on this planet that comes from the soil has life, whether a tree, a plant, bacteria, an animal or a human being. We are all interconnected. We all play a major role in the regeneration of our land. That’s how it was thousands of years ago and that’s how it will continue on for thousands of more years. And with life, must come death, whether that is the death of a tree, a plant, bacteria, an animal or a human being. We must embrace the cycle of life. The most we can ask for is that we are able to live out our life’s true purpose for the short time that we are on this planet.
So for now, as long as I’m in the city, my diet will continue to be plant-based because such humanely-treated meat is hard to come by in these parts. But I will continue to seek out and support farmers who raise “beyond grass-fed meats that help restore diversity, build soil & sequester carbon” (until I have my own farm that is!). I firmly believe that in order to heal the planet we must learn to live in unison with nature – plants, animals and humans – while embracing the cycle of life.