Happy Herbivore Blog

Inspirational Interview: Courtney

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Today's inspirational interviewee is someone very special to me... she's my sister! But that's not why she's being interviewed. Courtney's story is one that will make you go hmm.... It's a reminder that we really are what we eat.


HH: Let's start with the millon dollar question: How long have you followed a vegan diet and what made you go plant-based? 

Not long; almost 4 months completely. I did try to work in a few vegan meals a week before I went completely vegan. I was motivated by my allergies. 


Yes. My allergies were the main reason. 

What kind of allergies did you have? 

After a lovely series of allergy testing, I found out my food allergies are black pepper and cottonseed, and my outdoor allergy was to Bahia grass. 

What kind of symptom did you have?

I couldn’t breathe, ever. When I called my doctor for a visit to talk about my symptoms, the woman that answered asked how long I had been sick! I told her that I wasn’t sick, I just couldn’t breathe. My nasal cavities were so swollen and blocked that the specialist wasn’t able to use a nasal endoscopy. 

How did these symptoms affect your life?

I had problems breathing. This also caused problems sleeping. I would constantly wake myself up throughout the night, and in the morning my mouth would be dry and yucky. I had problems working out because I wasn’t getting enough air. I couldn’t breathe through my nose at all. 

So why not just take allergy medication for the grass and avoid the foods you were allergic too? 

I did! First I was on allergy medication from my regular doctor, but when it didn't work and I got fed up, I went to a specialist. The specialist diagnosed my allergies and gave me 2 prescriptions. He also encouraged me to avoid food containing black pepper and cottonseed oil, which were what I was allergic to. 

Cottonseed oil? I've never even heard of that. Sounds like a pretty easy thing to avoid, right?

That's what I thought too. I knew cottonseed oil was in some peanut butters and processed foods, but I already avoided those foods for my health. Avoiding black pepper had its challenges, but it wasn't impossible. The specialist also gave me a handout about cottonseed allergies, which said that I should avoid milk and conventional produce. 

Why would you need to avoid milk and fruit? 

Since cottonseed cakes are fed to cattle, it is excreted in their milk. The handout also said that some fruit stands polish their fruit with cottonseed oil. So I decided to avoid cows' milk and non-organic produce. 

So you started feeling better then? 

No. After eliminating those foods and trying to use my prescriptions for a few months, I still didn't feel better. I still couldn't breathe. 

So what did you do?

I did more research online. That is where I found out that the cottonseed not only comes through cow's milk but that it was also stored in their meat... beef. After finding that out, I had set my mind up to go completely vegan. I thought I was able to avoid cottonseed by looking at the ingredients of something, but where do you get the ingredients of a filet? I never thought that what the cow was eating, I too was eating. It gave a realistic meaning to “you are what you eat.” 

Once you eliminated all animal products from your diet, did you experience any relief in your symptoms? 

Yes. I went off all my indoor/food allergy medicine about 2 weeks into being completely vegan, with no negative side effects. 

What about your outdoor allergy?

Knowing that Bahia grass is very popular where I live, I was more reluctant to stop taking my outdoor allergy medicine. Then one day, I decided that I would start a local honey regime daily. I did that for about a week before I stopped taking my outdoor allergy medicine. I still have a spoonful of honey daily, but I have not taken any allergy medicine in about 3 months. I also don't have any symptoms. 

Have there been any other benefits from your dietary change? 

I generally feel better; my energy is greater. I’ve become more regular. My mom said she could see a difference in my complexion, and that was only a few weeks into me going vegan. 

Although you're free of symptoms, you're not “cured” of your allergies. You're still allergic to black pepper and cottonseed. A lot of people think having allergies makes veganism hard or impossible. Has it been difficult for you?

I find planning ahead helps. I also try to bring food with me, or eat ahead of time when I'm going somewhere that probably won't have food I can eat. For example, when my mom had a little get-together, I brought food for myself. Sometimes it’s hard though. I went to a lunch buffet that had steamed veggies, without oil or butter, but they were seasoned with spices including black pepper! 

How did you first learn about veganism and its abilities to cure allergies?

(laughing) From you! Having you and happyherbivore.com as a resource has been a blessing for me. I also saw a speech that Alicia Silverstone gave on YouTube (search Authors@Google Alicia Silverstone). She was talking about how her complexion and allergy problems were solved just by changing her diet. That motivated me to do my own research.

Do you recommend the vegan diet for other allergy sufferers? 

Absolutely. It makes living with allergies so much easier. Vegan (and vegetarian) food that you buy in the grocery store (like the boxed or frozen food) is great about listing all the actual ingredients used instead of just putting “spices.” Everyone knows about peanut allergies, but not everyone knows about a garlic or a mint or a black pepper allergy. If you are buying things at the store that lists “spices” as an ingredient, you may still be eating something you are allergic to. Also, I would recommend a daily local honey regime for people with outdoor allergies. If you do allergy shots, all you are getting is a small dose of what you’re allergic to in order to build up an immunity to it. Since bees pollinate everything, you can use the honey to do the same thing. Although, you do have to use local honey for this. It has worked great for me. 

Lastly, a person following a vegan diet for health reasons is not necessarily a vegan — meaning someone who eschews animal products for ethical reasons. What's your opinion on this? 

For years you tried to convince me to go vegetarian for animal rights issues, but I was never motivated. However, I always did care about animal welfare, so I avoided factory-farmed meats and products. My then-boyfriend was a hunter and that was usually the only meat I ate. Even though my decision was based on health, as I learn more, meet more vegans, attend vegan meetups, etc., I find I'm motivated by several factors. 

Thanks Courtney!

Homemade Sugar-Free Vegan Yogurt (tofu yogurt) Low-Fat too!

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Recipe

A bowl of cold vegan yogurt piled high with fresh fruit is one of my favorite summer breakfasts. It's cool and refreshing, plus its loaded with fruit (which I can't seem to get enough of during this heat wave) and protein so I stay satisfied until lunch. My only complaint is how expensive vegan yogurt is at the store here in NYC and how much sugar is added to most brands, too.


I've been buying Wildwood's unsweetened plain soy yogurt for a while -- which I love. Then the other day I ran out and wondered if I could make my own soy yogurt with silken tofu. Turns out I absolutely can -- and for a fraction of the price!

Recipe:Homemade Vegan Yogurt (Tofu Yogurt)


Make soy yogurt at home for a fraction of the price with silken tofu!



Combine all ingredients in a blender, whizzing until smooth and creamy. Taste, adding more sweetener as desired. (Agave or other syrup sweetener may be substituted for the maple). Add in fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries or more banana for fruit-flavored yogurt.

Inspirational Interview: Matt (part 2)

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Last week we talked to Matt about his decision to go vegan and his uphill battle along the way (Matt was allergic to veggies and fruits!). Today we'll touch on Matt's other uphill battle: going vegan as a dude... and how his life has improved since.

HH: Last week you told us one of the reasons you were skeptical about adopting a vegan diet was that you thought it would make you "less of a man." Tell us about that.

I worried that my friends and family would make fun of me and that somehow I would be less of a man for passing up meat. I later realized it was exactly the opposite. Meat and dairy contain large amounts of hormones that changes our chemistry, making men less manly. (Milk is full of the female hormone estrogen). Animal products also contain artery blocking cholesterol which restricts blood flow to important parts of the male anatomy, making men less manly in a more specific way.

You also had a hard time believing the health claims of a vegan diet and doubted conventional wisdom could be wrong. How did you overcome society's myths?

I doubted that society could be so wrong about such a central issue. If all my friends, doctors, family member and favorite TV shows said eating animals was normal, who was I to disagree? But through my wife's patient and loving way, she showed me that there were excellent answers to my questions.

I always believed that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The vegan claims were extraordinary but the evidence -- the evidence was nothing short of world changing. The more I learned the more I didn't care what others thought of my change in diet. For once I had a clear understanding of my health and I could finally improve it.

Like your wife, you've experienced several positive changes in your health since adopting a vegan diet. Tell us about that.

I started sleeping better so I no longer need my sleep apnea machine to get a good night's rest. I used to catch every cold and flu that came around. Weeks of enjoyment every year were lost to feeling nasty but not anymore. Since I've gone vegan I have yet to catch a cold. If I feel unusually tired or I feel the early twinges of a soar throat, I go to bed. With a bit of extra rest, I'm back to my normal self when I wake up.

I'm also off all prescription medication and my asthma has improved. I rarely even take pain medication. My overall mood has been much more stable and I can focus better than ever before.

And of course, best of all, my food allergies are almost completely healed. (See part 1 for more discussion).

Did you experience these benefits right away?

The first few weeks I didn't feel very different and at times, I felt worse. In retrospect I can see that I was dealing with a lot of withdrawal from the foods I'd become addicted to. I was addicted to caffeine, sugar and excess salt and oil. I was vegan, but not healthy. Still, even with all that, I was dropping weight and my energy was improving. I also eventually broke all my addictions.

When your wife, Natala, was interviewed in this series, she shared her considerable weight loss. Have you had the same good fortune?

At this point I've lost close to 70 pounds. It used to take an enormous effort to lose even the smallest amount of weight but not now. It doesn't matter what I do, if I'm more active or less, I still lose weight. I still have more to lose before I reach my goal, but I'm not worried about it.

You mentioned you're more active now. Tell us about that.

The first thing I noticed after going vegan was a remarkable improvement in my desire to be active. I always wanted to be the kind of person who is naturally active... not the person dragging myself against my will to the gym. For the first time since my youth, I found myself wanting to go outside and play.

I love hiking now and being outdoors. When we lived in San Diego I would spend hours riding and exploring the boardwalk. Before I was vegan, I would have gladly traded any of these for another hour at my computer.

Last question: Any advice for those interested in helping their partner go vegan?

The most important thing is that you don't force the issue. Natala was kind and gentle in her response and concerns. She never labeled me as stubborn, arrogant or lazy. Instead she made it clear to me why going vegan was so important to her. She told me about the benefits because she was excited about it and not to manipulate me. It was always my decision.

the best thing vegans can do for their partners is to educate themselves and be ready to loving answer questions or concerns. Don't treat it as another diet, but a major lifestyle change. Make sure your partner knows how important this is to you.

Well said, Matt! This has been one incredibly inspiring and informative interview series. Thank you so much!