“The American dream” is a concept thrown around every four years when another round of political posturing gains our attention. There are American dreams of many different natures — depending upon the perspective of the dreamer. The dream I look to fulfill with my life’s work is the goal of the betterment of mankind, caring for the environment and being compassionate to our animal companions that share the earth with us. This American dream is also about living a comfortable, happy life. In order to realize this dream, we need to be healthy.
In my book, “Vegan Bite By Bite,” I outline how to successfully transition to a vegan diet. I know the path to veganism can seem like a daunting one, but it doesn’t have to be if you do it right. What’s more, the scientifically proven health benefits of a vegan diet easily outweigh whatever challenges someone may face while making the change. By giving up meat and dairy, you will only be deprived of your misery.
My story began at just nine years old. While standing on a bridge by a hospital where my father was a frequent patient, I had a vision. I gazed at the gray hospital structure, silently witnessing the cries of the suffering patients boxed in the hospital like cattle in cattle cars. I saw myself with a mission to help ease suffering in the world. However, with no inclination to be a doctor, I was unsure what to make of such a vision. After many years and a great deal of personal strife, I realized that my goal was not to “fix” people once they got sick but to help people stay healthy, so they never got sick in the first place.
My father, a pharmacist by profession and a teacher of medicine, had several degenerative conditions, including encephalitis, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and cancer. His Parkinson’s disease resulted in an addiction to pharmaceutical drugs. As a result, he was abusive and physically violent. My mother was a loving woman, obsessed with the benefits of healthy eating and natural healing, so their views were incompatible. Due to their conflicts, I cried often and couldn’t find peace anywhere. The constant fear of violence from my father led to a habit of overeating to compensate for my negative emotions.
As a teenager, I rebelled against everything my parents had taught me. Angry because of the trauma I had gone through, I resisted when my mother told me a vegetarian diet was the healthiest diet. I was a defiant overeater of junk foods until my mid-30s. My emotional confusion led me to experimentation with alcohol and drugs (this was the ’60s, so both were at the forefront of female liberation, which was popular at the time). My emotional and mental balance fell along with my physical health and brought me face to face with major depression. I became catatonic and suicidal, finally being diagnosed with a severe case of hypoglycemia, which often mimics schizophrenia.
From my lowest depths, I began to emerge as a new person. I had an epiphany. Invited to a friend’s party, I went into the kitchen to get a beverage. Inside the refrigerator, I saw plastic-wrapped packages of meats, animals cut up in their own blood. This shocking image shook me into reality. Perhaps it was the sensitivity gained from my own experiences that forced me to relate to the suffering of the slaughtered animals. By the time I closed the refrigerator, I had become a committed vegetarian. It changed all of my thinking and led to the advancement of my life’s work.
I also realized that I had to meet my overeating problem head-on. I started to consult natural health doctors in an effort to get back on the road to health and well-being. At the same time, I began to examine my own psychology to learn what was eating at me. I came to the realization that I needed to love and honor myself with my life choices. I soon found that transitioning to a
plant-based diet was not easy for one who was accustomed to the standard American diet. Even with my mother’s health-food teachings, which I understood, it still took me nearly five years to master the transition and integrate these changes into my life.
I found that my body wasn’t craving more and more food, but healthier whole and real foods. When I stopped eating animal foods and ate plant-based foods, my body was getting the proper nutrition, and I no longer desired junk food. The empty calories had never satisfied my body’s appetite anyway. They were the wrong foods for me. With all of this learning and newly acquired knowledge under my belt, I began to teach and work with others struggling to make the switch (that was 38 years ago).
I traveled to Los Angeles, with only a credit card and a prayer. For a couple of years, I did the food for celebrity parties for Howard Lyman’s presentations about Veganism. I was happy with my new success, as any of us would be, but realized that I wanted to contribute in a greater way to those who could not afford high-cost coaching or a personal chef. It was at this point, many years after making my own transition to a plant-based diet, that I decided to write a book with the hope of making that transition easier for others on the same path. “Vegan Bite By Bite” continues to garner grateful reviews from readers, and the book was selected as “Best Books — 2011 Editor’s Pick” by Amazon Kindle. I have found the greatest joy in doing this book was not the fulfillment of accomplishing the task, or any money coming in, but to read the many thankful emails and hear, as well as see, the radiance of people now living healthier lives.
I encourage all of you that have a dream to persevere! Have the faith to continue, knowing that doing what you love is important and that you have a valuable contribution to make. With faith and dedication to your purpose, you can realize your dream. My story is not one of rags to riches, but one of perseverance to faith, which is still with me today. How’s that for an American dream?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marilyn Peterson continues to consult and teach in Los Angeles, CA, where she resides with her husband. Marilyn is the author of “Vegan Bite By Bite,” an in-depth book about how to transition to a plant-based diet.