Five BIG Reasons to Smile.

This may be my favorite post to to date.

As with the last giveaway, this was a toughie. I could not believe how many honest, thoughtful, and beautiful answers I would receive from readers answering the question:  

How would you describe your own vegan evolution?

My mom visited me over Memorial Day weekend, and we had a ball dining out at some fabulous vegan joints in Brooklyn and the East Village. My favorite part of the weekend, however, was that on Monday evening, we went through all of the answers emailed to me, and I allowed my mom to help me choose the winners. We were so touched, so moved, so completely blown away by the answers that we couldn't fully narrow it down, and we decided that instead of only choosing two winners to feature, we would select five finalists. I immediately contacted each lady and asked that they share a snippet of their personal journey, and a few pictures, if they were so inclined.

Below, you will find five very different women's stories that have led them all to the same place - a more compassionate way of eating and living. Some changed their diet for health reasons, some for the pure realization of no longer wanting to contribute to any animal's pain. What connects these lovely ladies is the desire in them to change, despite the odds not always being in their favor. While not everyone is completely vegan yet, each lady seems to be well on her way there. I am beyond proud to share these life-affirming stories with you all. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have! 

FINALIST #1:  Alison Silveira, Oregon

"My evolution has been fifteen years in the making."
"I went vegetarian when I was fifteen, along with my best friend at the time.  I was a very unhealthy vegetarian and survived off of fake meat and salad coated in ranch dressing.  The rest of my family continued to eat meat, so I had to make due with whatever I could, as I was a teen with no job to buy my own food.  Then I went to college, and I was even poorer!  I survived off of day-old bagels and ramen noodles.  I met a few vegans, but they seemed so restricted, and they were very underweight.  I just couldn't imagine going to that extreme!  

I got married when I was twenty-three and moved onto a navy base that had a commissary with a wilting produce section.  My husband barely made any money like most members of the military, so we ate a lot of boxed pasta and canned food.  I got pregnant at twenty-five and decided to start eating meat because I was having a hard time getting any fat and calories into my diet.  We were eligible for WIC, so there was a lot of dairy and cereal as part of the program.  

Shortly after my husband got out of the navy, my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes - which is an autoimmune disease having nothing to do with lifestyle - at the young age of twenty-months old.  With his hospitalizations, we had to eat out of cafeterias (we were in the south, so it was all fried) or at McDonalds.  I got pregnant shortly after that and thus began the cycle of more fast food.  We finally moved back to our hometown in Oregon.  My husband was flying out to work for a month or so at a time, so by then I had a newborn who was nursing every hour and a diabetic toddler, and I was alone.  I was always on the run, and we ate a lot of drive-through, delivery, and junk 

I was approaching two-hundreds pounds, and I knew someday I would have to tell my son that I was a type-2 diabetic because I let myself go, all while he had another type of diabetes, and there was nothing he could do.  I watched him struggle every day, and I realized that I needed to take care of myself so I could take care of him.  My joints ached,  I was always tired, and I was getting bad acne, so I decided to Google "diets", and I found that dairy was a culprit.  Looking down at my body rolls, I remembered that I was thin when I was a vegetarian, so I thought about trying that again.  Well why not go all the way?  

My daughter loves everything vegan - in fact, she just stole my Trio bar when I set it down!  She is nursing, almost two years old, and seems less fussy without me consuming dairy. I'm a little over three months into this way of living, and I'm already down eighteen pounds, and the aches and pains are gone!  When my son eats vegan (He doesn't eat vegan all the time - he spends a lot of time with the inlaws who eat meat and demand cow's milk, but I'm going to try coconut milk really soon - shhh...), he of course still needs insulin, but his sugar doesn't seem to spike as badly. 

I don't feel  restricted at all now like I thought I would when I look back at those college days. I love to cook now that my kids aren't hanging off of me 24/7, and it's fun to try new things. Most recipes make a lot of food, so I can freeze them for later use, especially when my husband is gone and the chaos begins. So that's my story!"  

The photo above is of Alison with her daughter.

FINALIST #2: Robyn Lazara, New York

" Like a necklace, perhaps my personal vegan evolution is best described by stringing features together: Eye-opening... Curious... Invigorating... Alienating... Uncertain... Reconciling... Committed... Lifestyle... Seething... Protecting... Harmonizing... Peace-making... Rewarding... Breathtaking. "

"I was inspired to use a necklace metaphor here because the giveaway was for jewelry!  It essentially describes different phases of my “vegan evolution”.  At first, it was very eye-opening for me to learn about the health benefits of a vegan diet, so I went ahead with it out of curiosity, discovering that dropping animal products out of my diet was very invigorating.  

 In tandem with this, I had formerly close friends develop issues with my new choices, and I noticed that social invitations were not as forthcoming, which was quite alienating.  So I admit that some uncertainty developed, but as I continued to read up about it and satisfy my curiosity, I decided my ethics about how animals were treated needed to reconcile with my behavior. 

 So I committed myself and became a 100% ethical vegan about 6 months after my initial experimentation with it.  After adopting this lifestyle, I found myself seething almost all the time about various animal abuses, but found that channeling that energy into actions conducive to protecting animals was quite cathartic and actually a calling!  I also discovered a true harmony in my life by exercising this daily compassion and becoming part of this larger peace-making movement, which is so incredibly rewarding and breath-taking."

In addition to her volunteer work, Robyn has also begun a blog! Check out for more information.

Photos of Robyn above include: Photo #1: Robyn (and her cute vegan boyfriend Bryan) with a bovine friend at Farm Sanctuary, Photo #2: Robyn with her adopted pig at Farm Sanctuary, Photo #3: Robyn with Jessica Mahady, the force behind Veggie Conquest and Robyn's Veggie Prom planning partner, at the 2010 Veggie Pride Parade in Veggie Conquest aprons.

FINALIST #3: Cheryl Hindman, Massachusetts

"My evolution began one day at my local library."

"I, of all people, would probably be the last person my friends would see as a vegan. I live on Cape Cod in Massachussetts, where lobsters, fish, and cookouts are a big part of the life here. It took me losing everything to see what was really important in life.  I used to weigh over three hundred pounds. I had gastric bypass surgery in 1997 and lost all of the extra weight, but I never really felt great - like really great. Food was always fighting me.    

I got married, purchased a home and a business, and then I lost it all in 2008. All that was left was me and my dog, Vinny (a carne corso mastiff). My dog kept me sane - he was my only reason for not just giving up.  He was my strength when I had no one.  Because of Vinny, my love for all living creatures intensified.

My husband and I eventually worked things out.  I started trying to get myself back together and started reading a lot, but I was always tired and sick with the flu a lot. To make matters worse, I drank a case of diet coke a week and was having trouble walking. Little did I know I was poisoning myself!

In hindsight, a trip to my local library one day saved my life.  Don’t ask me how or why, but a book on the "New Arrivals" shelf (a shelf I usually never look at) stuck out to me. It had a picture of a bee on it and was called A World Without Bees. It saddened me greatly, and tears flowed down as I read it. After reading it, I wondered “What on earth is going on here? What else is happening?” That same week, Oprah was on and featured Alicia Silverstone and her book, The Kind Diet. I bought it the next day, read it in one sitting, and that was it! 

The next day, I went food shopping. My husband was skeptical - he had reason to be, since I used to live on candy and ate everything I wanted - but he helped me clean out the cabinets of all the bad foods and supported me.  No one seemed to take me seriously, though - it was rough at first, and it still is. I recently read Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur in two days, and it made me cry so badly, but it also made everything in this world finally make sense to me. I finally knew why I was here and my purpose in life - to be a better human being. 

The last sixty-five days as a vegan have been amazing! I feel like I am twenty-five again - no joint aches, I'm never sick, and I'm never tired. I eat wonderful food, and I save animals on a daily basis by not contributing to the big, cruel farming industry.  I can handle crying because these animals are worth my tears. I know I will get stronger, and people will start taking me seriously - I'm even planning on getting a tattoo to prove that this is my new life! I am also proud to say on June 19th I will be doing an orientation at Maple Farm Sanctuary in Mendon, Massachusetts to do volunteer work on the farm.  

Being an animal activist is a rough road. No one wants to hear bad news or the truth, but if I have to lose a few friends over it, then I'll gain new ones, and the animals can also be my friends. Just like my dog, Vinny, who is always faithful. My friends still think I can't put my high heels away to work on a farm, but I will love proving them wrong! They really have no idea what they are missing. I am still working on my husband. I even protested at home and warned him to watch what he ordered when we went out recently, as I may get up and leave the table! He got pasta. He’s coming around slowly."

Cheryl's photos include a photo of her loyal and loving dog, Vinny, and a recent photo of a glowing Cheryl.

 WINNER #1: Liz Bowie, Australia

"I looked into your eyes, and I saw your humanity. I understood that you feel pain, that you grieve and love. I wanted no part in hurting you. I wanted to help you. I continue day by day to honour you by the simple choices I make, and what a joy it has been."

"I grew up in Australia in a typical 'meat and vegetables' family. The plight of animals never really crossed my mind. Sure, I loved them, but it was just not something my family or I discussed. In my early twenties, I went to acting school, and there I met a woman who was vegetarian. She inspired me to give it a go. I still don’t even think at that point ‘animal rights’ was in my consciousness - even she was doing it for weight loss reasons (acting, after all, can make you very self aware physically). Regardless of the reasons for starting, I have never looked back. I began to read about animals and their treatment, and I learned where the meat I had eaten came from and how exactly it arrived on my plate. PETA was very instrumental initially in educating me. Online videos were also crucial.

After several years as a vegetarian, I took it a step further and began to learn about other crimes against animals, like animal experiments, the veal industry, sow stalls, as well as the plight of dairy cows and egg-laying hens, and all the other by-products of these industries (leather, fur, etc). The list is unfortunately endless... 

What I began to feel was that any involvement in supporting these industries was completely unacceptable. How could I, or anyone, for that matter, who is aware of the facts and the brutal reality about the way we treat animals, continue to support it? To this day, it still baffles me. Linda McCartney was right when she said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, EVERYONE would be vegetarian."

I also started doing volunteer work in Sydney for Animal Liberation and Animals Australia and continued this for several years until I had my son, Jasper. Always a very sensitive person, to say the footage I have seen and the things I have read devastate me is a massive understatement. Now, when I'm not looking after Jasper, I devote my time to writing about animal rights and veganism. I love interviewing inspirational activists, vegans, and authors, like Kathy Freston or Heather Chase
I have also started a blog - - so I can share my journey of being a vegan mum. I am so grateful that my husband and I have embraced veganism - having all this knowledge means we can share it with our son. I wish that someone had told me the truth about animals when I was younger, so I could have been raised vegetarian. Luckily my son has me as a mum, and I know he will be one healthy, compassionate, and very happy boy because of it.

My journey began eighteen years ago, and now it fills my heart with sorrow, for the pain animals must endure, but also, and most importantly, hope and joy. Hope because there are people fighting for these beautiful creatures, and joy for every special moment I have with them."

 Photos of Liz include: Photo #1: Liz and her husband with a rescued pig at Edgar's Mission in Victoria, Australia, Photo #2: Liz with the same rescued pig at Edgar's Mission, and Photo #3: Liz, her husband, and her baby boy, Jasper.

WINNER #2: Kylee G., United States

"I would describe my vegan evolution as an evolution of my self. I am a seventeen-year old who has recently had unknown medical issues, affecting my mobility and just about every aspect of my daily life. I was mad at myself, mad at my body, and mad at the world in general. I stumbled upon a video of animal cruelty, and my life was changed for the better. I realized if I couldn't control what was happening to MY body, then I could control what was happening to the body of another creature. I learned to turn my anger and confusion into love and compassion. I have evolved into a person I can be happy with inside and forget about the flaws people see when I walk slowly. Veganism has given me my life back, a new one that I am so excited to explore! "

"Six weeks after a bought of H1N1 flu in December, I developed mobility issues. In the mornings, I couldn't move my body at all without assistance, not even my mouth to talk. Later in the day I could move around slowly, but not much, and I was in constant pain. I could not use my hands to write or even hold a book. I had to be taken out of school my junior year of high school to be home tutored, and I had to miss out on being in "The Sound of Music" with my school's theater troupe (acting being my real passion). While other girls my age were worried about finding the right prom dress, I was worried about whether or not I would even be able to attend my junior prom. The doctors were befuddled, they couldn't seem to figure out what was wrong, except for the possible connection with the "swine flu". 
Four months after I got sick, I saw an interview with actress Emily Deschanel about her commitment to veganism that would forever change me. In my heart, I always knew that I would become a vegetarian when I was ready to really accept what I was eating. I just never thought it would be this soon. After the interview, I was intrigued. Emily spoke so passionately about veganism - it was truly inspiring. I went on a Google frenzy, learning as much as I could, and then I finally watched "Meat is Murder" and other videos that focused on animal slaughter. From that moment on, I knew that I would become a vegetarian. I tried to cut meat out of my diet slowly, but was soon repulsed by it, and on my seventeenth birthday this past March, I officially became a vegetarian. 

I was so bitter about what was happening to my body, but I realized if I couldn't control what was happening to MY body, then I could control what was happening to the body of another creature. I learned to turn my anger and confusion into love and compassion. Although not 100% vegan yet, I have reduced animal products to a bare minimum and am moving towards becoming a vegan within the next year. Since March, my health has taken a turn for the better, although we are still without answers. I can move my body in the mornings, albeit slowly, and everyday tasks that I had needed assistance with I can now accomplish by myself. I walk almost "normal", just a little slow. 

I was able to take a day trip to New York City with my family, and in May, I attended my junior prom and danced the night away. Whether or not my change in diet has helped my condition, I do not know. But in my heart, I believe my new kind diet has led to my recovery, and I will come out of this battle with a new, better way of living."

Photos of Kylee include: Photo #1: Kylee in her school's fall play back in November before she got sick, Photo #2: Kylee in New York on a trip with her family, and Photo #3: Kylee with her mom and dad on Prom day.

Endless thanks to these brave, beautiful finalists, as well as to every person who entered this giveaway contest. You are all my heroes!

And keep your eyes out for the next giveaway: this week, I'll be featuring Marilee Geyer and her amazing organization, No Voices Unheard, complete with a review, interview, and giveaway of their latest book, Ninety Five!


Ali said…
haha didn't even think when I was sending the photo in that my baby girl is doing a kissy face (I did not teach her that), perfect for this blog. Loved reading these. Kylee I hope you get some answers! I wonder if there is something autoimmune going on since you got sick after the flu, I know with diabetes a lot of kids/teens/adults are believed to have a trigger from an illness, not sure if other autoimmune diseases are the same. But there is tons of new diagnosis' after the flu season
Plate+Simple said…
These stories are so thoughtful and beautiful. I am truly touched and re-inspired.

Thanks for this.
Myra Wolf said…
Every answer to the question was beautiful. Every single one. I know both Lindsay and I felt emotional (a good thing), as she read each sentence to me. I felt emotional because as all of you embark or continue on this journey with everyone...everyone of you matter so very much and...
I use to have alittle block of wood with black simple letters on them that said,

Every Life has a Story.

(my son asked if he could have it and I said yes, so now he has it :)).

All of you have a life story and every living creature has one too.
I am so touched by the number of people wanting to write and share their paragraphs, sentences and stories here. It is a loving, huge family here of life and I am honored to have gotten to read all the replies before anyone else. Every life story is so important.
I am proud of all of you...and to the two ladies..enjoy wearing those awesome necklaces!! xoxo

to the moon and back Lins..I love you! You did a beautiful job putting all of this together!! xo
Truly Beautiful and Amazing!

Amen~ Glory Hallelujah!

Thank you all for sharing your stories- so many lives will be touched...

My day just got a little brighter because of this post :)
Agree with all the comments here. You never leave here without being uplifted, encouraged, and empowered. That's my reason to smile today.
Papi's Girl said…
All of these stories were touching but Kylee's story really hit deep. It saddens me that many people suffer diseases because of their lack of nutrition knowledge. Without a doubt I truly believe Kylee's health turned around for the better after she adopted a vegetarian diet. Congratulations to all of the finalists. Thank you for sharing your journey.
Kaitlyn Jane said…
I love Kylee so much!! I remember when she first changed her diet she was so excited and happy. And now she seems to be getting better, even if it is little by little. Hopefully she will get better soon!!


(From one veg to another)
Sharyn said…
What beautiful stories, thanks for sharing ladies.
Kylee said…
Thank you for all your support guys! It really means a lot to me!

And Kaitlyn, thank you. You made my day with that comment! <3

Love to all!
CurlyLocks said…
Loved the stories...truly heart-warming and "reasons to smile."
Lacey Rose said…
Kylee! i'm soo happy for u and when u sent that video, i couldn't belive what they did to anamials i knew it was pretty bad but not that bad thank u for opening my eyes to what was happen to anamials ur a amazing friend!!!!!
Melissa said…
What a neat post! Thanks for sharing the stories and pics. Very inspirational!
Kylee said…
Thank you lacey! I'm glad that I could help a friend see what was truly the right choice!!!
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