DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist & do not offer nutrition advice. I share my story here of my experience with this certificate course as it has been part of my own individual path to improve broader knowledge as an advocate of veganism.
Last month I completed the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate course offered by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. I have always enjoyed food but when I became vegan back in 2014 my interest in food issues, ingredients & nutrition began to gradually gain even more depth. My professional & creative work was greatly affected too as I began to turn my camera lens more & more to the culinary world & focus more on photographing food. Much of my published work to date focuses on vegan food & stories surrounding people committed to a vegan lifestyle & advocacy.
I took the unique & renowned program offered by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies primarily to learn more about WFPB (Whole Foods Plant Based) diet for myself. I also have been eager to expand the nature of my advocacy beyond (but still inclusive of) ethical veganism to a more plant based approach for societal & environmental health reasons as well.
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Experience & Testimony in the Plant Based Nutrition Certificate Program
offered by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies & eCornell
Taking part in this Certificate Program was a definite turning & landmark point in my whole foods plant-based journey. When I became vegan, I was aware of the distinction between consuming vegan food & being on a whole foods plant-based diet, but as someone who made the change for ethical reasons related to animal welfare, my primary commitment was really focused on elimination of meat, dairy, eggs & other products relying on use of animals for production. My way of eating naturally incorporated many whole foods plant-based dishes but I also continued to consume heavily processed & refined foods.
When my family & I moved to Sweden in early 2017, it was a critical transition in which we sold or donated a huge portion of our household goods plus two cars, moving on savings & a plan to just establish ourselves here & start another chapter of life. For our first several months we were grocery shopping on a much more restricted budget than we had ever been used to. I quickly realized that I could do without a number of “specialty” (often pricey) vegan products I had grown so accustomed to. I also realized I could do without a lot of items that I generally didn’t eat for nutrition but rather for pleasure. It was down to the basics & it was also a real experience in my palate also changing. Our meals quickly became very rich with grains, legumes, fresh veggies & fruits. Here in Sweden, oat milk is the main plant based milk available (other types are available but this is the most common) & that became a staple in our fridge as well My husband is not vegan but over the recent years has become very savvy at veganizing dishes we can enjoy together & I have also observed my food choices impact some of his choices over time (such as a massive reduction of animal dairy in his diet).
This shift has been important to me because it has connected budget to meal prep which is critical as a fairly common misconception is that eating vegan or being plant based is prohibitively expensive. I will always enjoy fine dining when I can & it’s fascinating to see what is developing in the realm of gourmet plant based & vegan cuisine but it’s important to be able to share with people that this way of eating is not about being trendy or posh & that in fact it is one of the most practical routes to take when eating on a budget.
A significant part of my initiative to take the course offered by the T Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies was to begin working on my awareness of health & nutrition aspects related to whole foods plant-based eating. My initial pull to veganism was rooted in animal rights issues & while I had become fairly well versed in issues related to animal cruelty & abuse in the food industry & had an ever expanding knowledge of what vegan eating entailed, I was short on knowledge & awareness related to real healthful plant based eating & nutrition. I’ve considered myself an advocate since my early days of transitioning to veganism as I quickly felt compelled to use my voice for these issues & I knew that learning more about Plant Based Nutrition would help guide me in being more healthy & sharing that knowledge as well. As someone who has wanted to begin integrating the aspect of health into my advocacy, the Plant Based Nutrition Certificate program was indispensable.
I have fielded questions regularly from people over the past few years who, for various reasons, are changing their way of eating. People who want to eat less meat; people who are curious about vegan eating but have a difficult time conceptualizing dishes without meat & dairy as they are so used to cooking with those; people who are moving towards plant based for health reasons but also are unfamiliar with how to cook or even grocery shop for that type of diet; people who develop allergies during pregnancy or breastfeeding or whose children have allergies (e.g. dairy) so they are learning to make meals without many of the (non-vegan) ingredients they used before.
My advocacy has expanded to wanting to provide straightforward, accessible tips for people like this. I want to be able to provide not only delicious cooking tips but also compelling reasons for people to be interested in Whole Foods Plant-Based diets. My background as a vegan has helped me get to this point but connecting the dots to a Whole Foods Plant-Based diet is definitely next level for me & I am excited to continue with my advocacy & to continue to be part of the movement of creating more awareness with this knowledge through my cooking, own form of kitchen activism as well as through the photography & written work I do.
From the types of questions I have been receiving, I know people unfamiliar with plant based eating are craving information on how to make a shift or incorporate more of that in their life but can be nervous to ask or make changes. I also craved moving forward with a base of sound nutritional understanding of the diet I myself consume. The Plant Based Nutrition Certificate program was both a great foundation & jump off point for me in this regard.
As an advocate who is extremely interested in food, I also require myself to examine & reflect on my own approach as an advocate. Real talk: not everyone is interested in animal welfare. Not everyone cares about veganism & in fact many people are put off by the “v” word as soon as you bring it up. In fact, I was one such person myself for decades (even though if you asked me over those years of course I would have said I cared about animals). I know activists & individuals whose lives are devoted to working to change & stop the senseless cruelty against animals that pervades food & other industries. I have great respect for them. I have tremendous respect for anyone who devotes their energies to the welfare & safety of fellow species. However, I realized that in my own brand of advocacy I absolutely had to reach into others areas of knowledge, not just for the outreach I seek to provide but for my own lifestyle as well.
Aspects such as dairy’s negative affect on human health & contribution to disease were one of many issues taught & explored in the Plant Based Nutrition program that were largely new to me in terms of knowledge. I had previously learned a bit about casein, its relationship to the development of cancer & it’s very addictive properties , but the course provided a sound & in depth overview of the negative health impacts of dairy consumption, particularly (along with meat) in the Standard American diet.
Becoming more focused on a Whole Foods Plant-Based diet through this course provided me with knowledge & critical skills to understand where the ways of eating that many view as “traditional” in our societies are not only greatly harming us but also ecosystems & the planetary environment. I also am now increasingly able to see where vegan diets are their most unhealthy & equipped to share that knowledge with people who are interested in cooking with less meat & dairy, being able to warn of the pitfalls of just focusing on the “vegan label” & to be able to incorporate a more whole foods approach.
My interest in ingredients, sources of food, food industry, nutrition, health & cooking has only intensified in recent years. Going vegan & plant-based can be a major change for many people with obstacles that simply prevent them from actually committing- non-supportive friends or family members, difficulty learning how to shop for a whole new range of ingredients they are unfamiliar with or simply difficulty getting past old consumption habits. I’ve always felt that the social challenges of making this change & the obstacles people experience in terms of confronting lifelong habits were among the most difficult hurdles in transitioning. I’m very excited to gradually add a new & very rich layer of nutrition & health knowledge into my lifestyle & advocacy & promote Whole Foods Plant-Based nutrition to support people who are confronting various challenges in their transition.
***I’m a photographer & writer & shortly after becoming vegan I knew I had to commit my crafts to issues related to veganism as well- particularly the food. Within a few months I had become a columnist for Vegan Health & Fitness magazine. I enjoyed contributing a range of content to this publication- restaurant profiles, animal sanctuary coverage & interviews with vegan parents. Over the past few years I contributed to a number of other publications & had a 12 part series with Vegan Italy magazine in which I interviewed vegan mothers around the globe on their journey & transition as vegans, their often plant based approach experience with vegan pregnancy & nutrition as well as interacting with doctors & schools regarding their family’s choice. I’ve enjoyed covering vegan restaurants & cafes in multiple cities as well as exploring & covering vegan menu options at historically non-vegan establishments. I continue to focus on issues of veganism in my photography & written work & my interest to continue photographing aspects of the vegan & plant based culinary world only grows, as does my enjoyment of cooking & food photography at home. For more about my work & relationship to veganism visit this post-