Living the WELL Life

Vegan is not a dirty word. - by Jami Appenzeller

Monday, December 28, 2009

Your journey to total wellness is waiting - take baby steps!  To some people the word vegetable, (let alone the word vegan), is rarely uttered these days.  So a vegan lifestyle is not one that’s so readily embraced.

The idea of routinely consuming vegetables may be a reminder of your fourth grade school lunch experience – you know – where the hairnet wearing “lunch lady” would stand behind the line up of daily food choices, glancing at your tray and then up at you, disapprovingly so. Using looks that could guilt a mob boss into a confession, her daunting glances were signals for you to select a good-for-you vegetable as you reached for the chocolate pudding or sugar cookies. As an adult you may still pass on those peas, so as to outsmart the lunch lady in your mind. Sound familiar?

The word vegan also gets a bad rap because of the stereotypes it tends to conjure up in the minds of the masses. But, today’s vegans aren’t Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging, Buddhist-hippies designing macramé wall hangings, or at least, not all of them. In fact, they’re all around us, and if you add in the raw food enthusiasts, well – it seems like everyone is trying to eat healthier these days, to some degree. So, I’ve decided to give my own family a “refrigerator makeover.”

Wow, what a revelation that was! The word vegan will probably continue to get the cold shoulder by America’s Twinkie contingency. To me, it’s healthy music to my ears (and colon). For the Appenzeller-Yanceys, it was all about just getting started. I had to stop playing that game show in my mind, “Will They Eat It?” and just let them all make decisions organically. Could I sell Seitan? (And I don’t mean the little red guy down below!) Could I tout tofu? Would Tempeh tempt? Some of you might not even know what I am talking about, already. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know ANY of these words until 2007, and am only just considering letting any of these items cross my lips in food form; it was hard enough learning to even say the words let alone eat these unfamiliar items.

I was skeptical, yet confident that I could rock the soy if armed with some good, fooled-them-all recipes. Hubby Llyod had a semi-open mind, but the rest of the minds in his clan were closed for business. I knew this was going to be a long, tough “change,” and I’m still hoping that my refrigerator and my kids don’t have a melt down. Heck, who am I kidding? I hope I can handle my new mission! Raw? Vegan? Semi-vegetarian? Organic? Low-sodium? Low Carb? Ugh, it’s already starting to overwhelm me, and I have only just begun Personally, I think we’ve all been well-informed regarding the “basics” of what all these terms mean. I’d like to think that after reading PhillyFIT for five years now, we’ve all moved past the meat-'n-potatoes lifestyle and at the very least, are eating primarily organic meats and veggies. I learned a mantra on the Montel Williams show, “Everything of the earth and with color.” (Meaning, the brown grains vs. white – anything that grows and isn’t man-made – and has color, is good for you.) The raw part however, well, I have to admit, at first, I thought that referred to raw fish (Sushi and Sashimi) and meats (Carpaccio and Tar-Far)! A blonde moment, I know.

My assumption only revealed and highlighted my own lack of understanding, and yes, I have been reading PhillyFIT too these past several years. I really ought to know better by now. But I don’t, or at least, I didn’t. I soon learned that fruits and veggies were the building blocks of the raw-foods movement. Raw is really about not cooking out all the “good stuff” that naturally grows in the foods. Not boiling out all of the water and oxygen from the vegetables. But I still had a lot to learn and I knew it. I think all of us have some familiarity of the inherent health benefits of eating raw, such as the unbelievable antioxidants and magical allergy relief properties, but I knew that there were so many other reasons to go raw and I desperately wanted to learn more. Suddenly, I was obsessed with jumping on the healthy-eating bandwagon, but, no joke, it was...and IS, REALLY HARD! I am not good at it, at all.

But I’m sort of digging the whole concept that I am finally INTERESTED in it, at least. After all, that’s a start, right? To me it’s all about taking baby steps. I was hungry all of the time, and I mean all of the time. Whenever I ate “healthy,” I also craved certain loyal, go-to, gratifying junk foods in my sleep. I daydreamed about specific foods even while I was eating other foods. And although the idea of eating “anything with a face” TOTALLY GROSSES ME OUT. I just gag over the idea of eating an animal, I can’t even think about the origins of my meal when I’m preparing one in the kitchen. I kind of “don’t look at it,” and somehow I get past the reality of my actions. Truth be told, I am constantly in a battle between social morality and damn-it-I-want-that-now. I’ll tell ya, when that grill gets goin’ and the smells waft by my unsuspecting nose, all I can think about is that juicy burger seducing me to the dark side. I cave. And I take the walk of shame back to my lawn chair. As for my family, well they’re a hardcore carnivore clan – If it’s meat, it’s a treat. If it’s raw, expect a brawl. If it’s organic, start to panic!

And let’s not forget that raw is war spelled backwards. When I first started cooking more healthfully, weeding out meats and dairy from my family’s diet – well, it was a bit of a war in the kitchen and feeding a hungry, angry army ain’t no picnic. Sometimes I “fool” the family. See, I can write about this and get away with it as my oldest son Derek is too busy with his V-Dub (Volkswagen) buddies this summer to slow down enough to read this issue, and my middle child Darion, flips through the pages of PhillyFIT, but doesn’t really sit and “read” it cover-to-cover yet. (I think he’s looking for photos of cute girls in half-tops, but pretends to be “seeing how well I have done with regard to selling ads” or something related to the business side of things. (Yes, I find that to be charming, his way of showing interest in my job.) The kids just assumed that those were pieces of meat marinated in barbeque sauce (not), but Lloyd, well, I can’t fool the big guy. I think I have spoiled him this past year or two. He has been my guinea pig taste tester since I started this venture, so he is wise to my tricks at this point. Often, I alter recipes so that there is less pasta in our Pasta Primavera and lots more interesting veggies. Other times I bait them with “just wait ‘til you see what’s for dessert!” (This strategy takes the focus off cauliflower mash and on to brownie sundaes.)

I typically confess my white lies a few days after the meal and much to my surprise; no one is ever terribly upset. Disbelief? Yes. Do they feel betrayed? No. Somehow, I think my entire family is on to me more than I realize. I no longer peel off the ketchup label of the “organic” brand; the kids don’t even seem to notice the huge words across the milk carton anymore either. But, trust me, that wasn’t the case “in the beginning.” Lloyd and I experienced our first “organic” session way back in 2007, when Susie Beiler of Spectrum Health Consulting, invited us to participate in a “PhillyFIT Challenge.” She basically challenged a few of us PhillyFITTERS to take her “whole foods” challenge. This consisted of a couple hours of Q and A as she informed the group about nutritional truths and myths. Her goal was to recondition us to begin purchasing farm-fresh this, freerange that and unprocessed whole foods. Susie made a dent and got us thinking. I even tried avocado for the first time after watching Susie eat it like it was a frosted Pop-Tart. She made it look so damned good, that after she walked away, I just had to walk over and grab the left over piece and try it! OMG, one of my favorite foods now! We listened to her workshops, we nodded (we drank the organic Kool-Aid, so to speak) and we discussed her ideas and concepts for days to come. It helped that we truly enjoyed Susie’s informative sessions; her passion was contagious, but was that enough to make us “cross over?“ She’ll tell you, it’s not preaching, it’s teaching – one person at a time, with an aim to make a difference in this confusing age of food wars. Fast forward a year—our next experience was at the first PhillyFIT Winter Wellness Retreat, a full week of “nothing but pure health and fitness, all day, every day!” And (wait for it) it was one hundred percent organic. Even our toilet tissue in the home was organic!

The coffee....the creamer....the sugar...the breads...the name it; we didn’t eat it unless it was officially stamped Certified Organic. I was prayin’ that some organic TastyKakes would drop from the sky on day two. After just three days, we found ourselves begging our group Reflexologist to “work” on our feet – more specifically, the part of our feet that manipulates the…um…well, bowel section of our poor little innards. Yes, we were all so constipated from such a dramatic change in our diets. You could say we were all full of cr*#! Things were getting metabolically funky; but, in all honesty, it was worth it. It was shocking to see, firsthand, just how amazing it felt by week’s end. The energy, the clear thinking – the restful sleeping – the beginning of what I’ll call our Journey to Total Wellness. And I mean it; we are going to truly embrace this lifestyle with vigor sooner or later! I think it’s accurate to say that I started out gung-ho. I was full of piss and organic vinegar. However, sadly, human nature took over and I slowly slipped back to my Nutter Butter; and yes, Whiskey Sour stand-bys. I simply couldn’t find the time to shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. (Didn’t know about back then – check that site out!) My will faded and my plan to go green went black. Those stores weren’t geographically friendly and that proximity issue actually sabotaged my plans. I really need Trader Joe to open a store next door to me, (Hey, I’ll even donate some land in my back yard!)

From time to time I’d have a good week, and really enjoyed those new meat-substitute items with my family. But soon, we’d slip back into our quick and easy old routine of stopping by our convenient, local, fast food joint. I let myself down and I let my family down. Those Golden Arches were majestic, beckoning structures against the blue sky and they summoned me. They said: “Jami…over 250,000,000 sold, what’s one more? 250,000,000 people can’t be wrong! Why do you think they’re called Happy Meals!?”

PhillyFIT’s second Retreat hit and we were willing to “be good" a little longer, a couple weeks longer. We had more discipline and support than the debut retreat. We were no longer sheepish rookies. We pushed ourselves, we knew what to expect and we embraced the mantra of “less complaining, more results!” By the third retreat, our journey to total wellness lasted several weeks and then months, and so on. Enter Joel Odhner, “Transformation King” and CEO of (Joel has been featured on Dr. Mehmet Oz’s XM Radio show, which is under the Oprah & Friends Network.) I met Joel at a local high school’s health and fitness event. He was presenting in the middle of the gymnasium floor. Well, it was a tough crowd as Joel was demonstrating, I’m so glad I heard his important info! Not many bodies remained at the event by the time he presented, but guess what, it’s about quality, not quantity. Little did he know, “I” was his audience that fateful day! I might not be one hundred people, but I have to admit, I have become one heck of a client for him, spreading his word to anyone who asked what I am up to.

Joel did not suspect that he had one great big prospective client off to the side, trying hard to hear what he was cooking up! All I could make out over the faulty loud speaker was: “Cut up the avocado, wah, wah, throw in a few cherry tomatoes, wah, wah, add orange and grapefruit slices - all fresh of course, then mix in your fresh basil, salt and pepper.” WTF? (With The Fruit?) Was I hearing this dude correctly? This demo on raw foods was eyeopening. (You can learn more about Joel Odhner at by the way!) I just couldn’t imagine that fruit and veggie combo. Susie was also at the event, manning a booth promoting her services, so I ran over to her and she too had a dumbfounded look on her face. We both admitted to never have concocted those ingredients on our own. Yeah, I had to taste the dish, and much to my amazement it was delish; and yes, I still make it today – I’ve even added crushed red pepper to the fruit mix for more of a bite! Lloyd even asks me to make it when I pack his lunches. (Go ahead, say, “Awwwww,” I admit to still be crushin’ on my husband and do all I can to remind him of me when we’re not together.)

I ended up chatting with Joel that pivotal day and quickly realized that we could easily become good friends. We had/have similar interests, and travel in the same professional circles (know many of the same people). We discussed him coming to my home to actually SHOW ME how to make some vegan foods, raw foods – heck, anything new, healthful and tasty! I just needed some help getting started (baby steps). I had always dreamed ofhaving my own personal chef, (but could really only afford Chef Boyardee). However, I was optimistic that I could be coached by Joel. He was open and flexible, and even seemed to have the patience for a client like me (phones always ringing, just when he is at the height of explaining the main ingredients of a recipe). During my personal one-on-one session, he prepared a week’s worth of delicious and inventive recipes with me. The total cost for the groceries he bought on his way over was about $125. And, he prepared several incredible meals from that sum . The value was mind-blowing. I thought that “shopping the perimeter of the market” was costly (that’s typically where the fresh produce, milk and other specialty items are). Boy was I wrong, wrong, wrong! Joel is a really interesting guy—not what you’d expect. He’s…well, normal, just like you, and me. He’s totally laid back and even admits to NOT being what people expect. He’s what I call “a perfect eater” (won’t touch junk food or sweets, no meat, etc.) He does admit to occasionally having a taste or bite here and there if he’s insanely hungry and there are no other convenient options. He is an advocate of everything in moderation and balance; he’s all about trying your best and NOT beating yourself up. He reminded me that he didn’t become this “perfect eater” overnight, and still isn’t. That was refreshing. I started to realize that maybe I really could fit in with the extra health-conscious group of people. Maybe they really were, or are, like me. “It’s hard to let go of old habits,” says Joel, “It’s impossible to ditch them all at once. Instead, try replacing items for other items slowly. Take away something (soda, chips, heavy meat items), but replace them with new and interesting experience like Cliff Bars, Gourmet Tofu, Marinated Satan. This method gives your body and your taste buds some time to make the shift, and you’re less likely to revert back to old behaviors.”

During one of our three cooking sessions we’ve now had, Joel mentioned that he’d prefer I drink regular Coke, if I NEEDED TO have a soda, as opposed to Diet Coke. The idea of anything “manufactured” with sugarsubstitute chemicals sends him over the top. He doesn’t feel that there’s anything splendid about Splenda, in other words, and all things are not Equal. He draws the line when it comes to eating anything that isn’t “real.” He also doesn’t eat berries that aren’t certified organic, the pesticides used to keep them are basically like eating pesticide out of the jar! YUCK! My debut, personal cooking lesson was four long hours. It was challenging to take in all the info, so note taking was critical. I still fantasize about having a chef do my cooking once a week, allowing me to escape the house for a few hours, and then returning to a magical refrigerator full of perfectly cooked, healthy whole foods. (Why is it that food cooked by someone else is always so much fun to eat?) In my fantasy, that chef also brings along his dishwasher partner. Ah, yes, that would be most excellent. And his massage therapist buddy tags along as well. (Okay, my mind is starting to slip into a different direction here, back to the original point.)


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