Adopting a plant-based diet

By Cathy Claesson with Rachael Brown

As an ex-vegetarian and someone who has come to love eggs and lean protein, I have stubbornly resisted my husband’s enthusiasm for eating a vegan diet. It has been less than ideal for family meal planning, but we had figured it out.

Recently my doctor recommended I switch to a plant-based, whole food diet. Did this mean I was going to have to cave in and call myself a vegan? Luckily, no. Coincidentally, I got into a discussion the day after my doctor’s appointment with Rachael Brown, the author of For Fork’s Sake: A Quick Guide to Healing Yourself and the Planet Through a Plant-Based Diet. Here is what she had to say about some of my questions before I gave this new way of eating a try. It’s only been a few weeks, but I am seeing and feeling the difference.

Q: I really don’t like labels. Call me stubborn, but I really don’t want to identify as vegan.

A: No problem. Being vegan is more a lifestyle choice based on avoiding exploitation and cruelty to animals. While I love animals and don’t choose to exploit them, I got into eating this way because of the effects on my health. Heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer run in my family. I wanted to do everything I could to avoid getting them, so I don’t identify as vegan. If pressed, I say we eat mostly plants.

Q: I gave up red meat years ago, but I still eat chicken because it’s better for you. Isn’t it?

A: According to top plant-based physician Dr. Michael Greger, the answer is no. Chickens have been genetically modified to grow fast and  have about ten times more fat than they had a century ago. Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has admitted that one of the substances given to chickens to prompt quicker weight gain, less feeding and a pinker color of meat is arsenic, which is a poisonous chemical and it is more toxic than mercury. When ingested, arsenic can lead to many types of cancer.

Not only that, but tests conducted on raw chicken across the US have found that 97% of tested chicken breasts harbored bacteria that can make you sick. Why so much bacteria? Because chickens are raised in Concentrated Agriculture Farming Operations (CAFOs), those massive industrial farms that smell horrible when you drive by.

Q: But I only eat free-range organic chicken. Plus, chickens can’t be that bad for the environment, right?

A: Lucky you, you’re in the top .1%! 99.9% of chickens raised in the US are raised on factory farms. These farms release large amounts of waste into the environment in the form of leaching nitrates and pathogens. Biodiversity loss created by factory farms is often found downriver and even miles away in the ocean in the form of dead zones, where nothing can grow because of the significant nutrient pollution and too little oxygen.

And even chickens on free-range, organic farms often spend as much time confined in crowded spaces as conventionally raised chickens.

Q: Well chickens aren’t that smart anyway, right?

A: They can be as smart as cats and dogs.

Q: I actually crave eggs and chicken. Will that ever go away?

A: Your taste buds regenerate about every two weeks. So, if you give it up, your taste can literally change in about two weeks. Preferences and emotional ties to eating can take some time to work out, but can also be changed, especially when you’re feeling so good from eating differently.

Q: Isn’t eating whole food plant-based more expensive?

A: Actually, when you take the meat, milk, cheese, butter, ice cream and eggs out of your cart you’ve just eliminated the most expensive items. You can fill your cart with veggies, fruits, beans, whole grains, pasta, nuts, and seeds and still come out ahead.

Q: Athletes need more protein though, right?

A: Actually, no. Excess protein is hard on your body. You can get all the protein you need by eating a variety of vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruit. If Scott Jurek can run ultramarathons eating a plant-based diet, we’ll be okay.

Q: I just don’t have the time. You must spend all your time cooking?

A: No more than anyone else, and probably less, since I cook up big batches of food we can eat throughout the week and just throw together for different meals.

Q: How do you know this really works? Isn’t this just another diet trend like keto, paleo or gluten-free?

A: Because in 17 days of eating this way my cholesterol dropped 50 points. Per carotid artery tests and a calcium score test, I’ve reversed heart disease. Once you learn the benefits of eating this way, you’ll never have to research the next eating fad to come along!

For Fork’s Sake: A Quick Guide to Healing Yourself and the Planet Through a Plant-Based Diet is available in many local book stores and online,

For Fork’s Sake



about rachael brownRachael J. Brown earned her Plant-Based Nutrition Certification and Food Systems and Sustainability Certification from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and eCornell. After being diagnosed with high cholesterol in her late 20s, she discovered The China Study and started exploring the science of nutrition. After just 17 days of eating WFPBNO her cholesterol dropped 50 points. That was the beginning of her family’s journey from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a Whole Food Plant-Based No Oil (WFPBNO) lifestyle.

A licensed practitioner of massage and Pain Neutralization Technique, Rachael is also a certified yoga and Pilates instructor and a spiritual director. She completed the 12-Day McDougall Program and has led corporate mindfulness seminars. She received her B.A. in geography from the University of Washington and has been an adjunct professor in nutrition and wellness.

Rachael belongs to the University of Washington Alumni Association, the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies’ Whole Communities program, and Eat for the Earth, as well as Plantstrong and McDougall communities.

Rachael is happily married with two grown children. She lives in California, where she can usually be found trail running, rock climbing, cycling, and bikepacking with her husband.

Read stories of vegan athletes here.