I was born a sugar addict in a small town 200 miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The word "vegetarian" wasn't part of our vocabulary.
"Nutrition" was a foreign word. "Organic" was a chemistry term. "Healthy diet" meant you were lucky enough to eat three meals a day. Sugar was a major food group, and cooking was a chore.
On the Canadian Prairies, food was utilitarian, and organic only if you couldn't afford DDT. We ate meat, refined, packaged and frozen food, lots of white bread, potatoes and milk, which went with all the snow. Oatmeal was the only whole grain we ate.
Apart from a brief love affair with baking powder biscuits, I wasn't very interested in cooking.
When I left home and started to cook for myself, I was still far away from becoming vegetarian.
Somehow the concept of a Healthy Diet entered my awareness, and cooking became a lifelong adventure.
I was thrilled to discover fresh vegetables. Broccoli - WOW! Then I found out about fish and rice, and whole grain bread. Amazing!
I first encountered vegetarians and organic food in the late sixties, when I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Back then, the Fraser Valley south of Vancouver was full of market gardens, with vegetable stands. There were Chinese green grocers, and Lifestream was the first natural food store in Vancouver. It was heaven!
I thought that the Fraser Valley might be all malls now, but Wendy McLelland of Simply Organic Marketing told me it isn't so! "We have a great Saturday farmers market and tons of small farms offering a huge variety of produce. More and more growers are going organic too." Good to know!
For many reasons, becoming vegetarian back then just felt so right. It was hard to do and harder to explain to people like my Mom, but I never would have admitted it, even under torture!
I pretended I knew exactly what I was doing, but soon found out that excessive enthusiasm, combined with an arrogant disdain for facts, is a recipe for disaster.
I grew very thin (think gulag survivor), dehydrated and weak. Feeling faint was a familiar sensation. I just thought I was too yin and needed more brown rice.
Some latent instinct for self-preservation told me that I might be malnourished, and I gave up Macrobiotics. Feeling somewhat disillusioned, I started eating a wider variety of vegetarian food, heavy on cheese, beans, and whole grains. I developed terrible gas, constipation and headaches. I was still very thin and a nervous wreck. Classic malnutrition!
'Nutrition' entered my vocabulary when I went to work as a housekeeper/companion for a warmhearted, practical, domineering, Dutch woman, (a true role model!) who recognized my nutritionial deficiencies, and took me in hand.
Molly watered me constantly, fed me vitamins, forced me to eat eggs, fish, meat, and green veggies, made sure I got plenty of outdoor exercise. Really, she saved me, which I didn't fully appreciate until much later. Thank you, Molly, wherever you are!
I returned to my own life, with my disastrous vegetarian beginning a bad memory. I started over, and gradually, cautiously became vegetarian. I've gotten lost many times, and made countless mistakes in my vegetarian journey. If I'd known in the late sixties what I know now, I'd have saved myself a lot of time and energy, not to mention malnutrition!
I found Diet for a Small Planet, Laurel's Kitchen, and Moosewood Cookbook in the seventies - that helped. And I became a maniac organic gardener, obsessed with compost. I read constantly, and the web has become a great research tool.
In the early eighties, our TM meditation practice inspired a move to Fairfield IA, where there are about a thousand vegetarians, who've been an incredible source of information and shared experience.
In Fairfield, we learned the basics of Ayurveda, which supplied some vital missing links:
During the last few years, we've added Western herbal tradition to the vegetarian mix, thanks to experts such as Susun Weed, and Rosemary Gladstar. My daughter Sarah is a budding herbalist who mixes up teas, tinctures, body care products - our cupboards are crammed with jars and bags of interesting herbal things. We've gone organic, and non-gmo, and we grow a few herbs and vegetables.
In the course of building Savvy Vegetarian, we've studied up on vegetarian nutrition with vegan dietitians Vesanto Melina & Brenda Davis (authors of 'Becoming Vegetarian'), and Virginia Messina (Vegan for Life), and so many more wonderful people.
My approach to vegetarian cooking is a combination of modern and traditional nutrition, intuition, and practicality. I have a casual attitude toward vegetarian nutrition. I know it, I use it, but I can't be bothered with all the technical names of things.
To me, great food should be not only good looking and delicious, but simple and easy. I love to experiment and have fun in the kitchen, and I almost never follow a recipe as given - not always a good thing!
In the mid-nineties, we moved to Minnesota for six years. As a vegetarian in a meat-and-potato town, I stuck out in a crowd, and people started asking me for vegetarian advice.
I soon realized that many more people would become vegetarian if it weren't so overwhelming! And that there was an awful lot of interest in vegetarianism, for a town like Mankato. I wondered how many more would-be vegetarians were out there, in need of support.
I thought, "Why not start a vegetarian website, and call it Savvy Vegetarian?!"
Since my early social blunders, I've tried to keep a low profile, live and let live. This is a lifetime challenge for a strong-willed, bossy woman who is always convinced she's right even when she's wrong. I do love giving advice - can't help myself!
But I've learned to listen - it's amazing what you hear that way. And I try to tell people no more than what they want to know. I enjoy helping people to find their own unique path, from transitional veg to ethical vegan, and I'd love to hear from you!
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian