Nichelle is Happy Herbivore's Editor and Editorial Manager and this past weekend it was her birthday... the big 3-0.
Today Nichelle is sharing her journey with us — her journey to better health, a happier life, what it's like working at Happy Herbivore, and embracing a new milestone.
Hiking to Bash Bish Falls in Taconic State Park.
May is my birthday month and has always been an important month for me — for a long time, it meant parties and unicorn birthday cakes, but significant things have happened for me in recent Mays as well. I turned 30 on Sunday, and it felt a lot better than I ever could have guessed it would, much of it thanks to Lindsay and Happy Herbivore. In my years reading this blog, I have been inspired by the stories of so many fantastic Herbies. I found myself reflecting on my own journey and feeling so grateful for this community as the milestone age approached. In addition to turning 30, this May marks my 3-year Herbie-versary and my first month as the Editorial Manager for HH. So here it is, my Herbie story.
I had been vegetarian for years — on and off for much of it, admittedly, due to some difficulty adjusting with family and peers, plus a serious weight gain in college (I pretty much lived on the caramel latte, cheese pizza, french fries, and beer diet). I had always loved fresh fruits and veggies and was very interested in doing what was best for animals and my own health, but I lacked the financial means and willpower to really do it right. After all, I could get those frozen cheese pizzas for a dollar, and I worked in a Mexican restaurant where sitting in a booth with fried tortilla chips and queso dip was my preferred way to spend downtime. (I also suffered debilitating migraines, horrible menstrual cramps, and had a less-than-clear complexion at this time — shocker!)
Me with my birthday Thai tofu lettuce wrap. Fancy drink not pictured :)
Once I was on my own and working, I eventually got more serious about my diet and was a better vegetarian. This went on for a few years and I lost a lot of that weight, but I still didn't feel very healthy. I started doing a lot of reading, and after poring over books like Skinny Bitch and Eating Animals, I was convinced. I decided I was going to start making changes, and one of the first websites I came across (luckily!) was happyherbivore.com. I was really attracted to Lindsay's positive vibe (we are happy herbivores) and "do the best you can" approach — it made me feel like this was something I could really do for myself, not preaching a perfection that seemed unattainable. I started reading the blog daily and trying out delicious, uncomplicated recipes like Salsa Chickpea Lettuce Wraps and Portobello Steaks (HHC wasn't out yet, but I snapped up all of the then-available recipe e-books and still have a copy I had bound by a friend at work). I didn't make a "cold turkey" change, but I was excited about the progress I was making and how much better I felt.
I decided to take part in the HH 30 Whole Days Challenge, which was beginning in May 2010. I have always been the type of person to be motivated by a challenge or a game (people generally do not enjoy playing board games with me), so I knew this was the perfect way for me to really get the last of my bad habits out of my system. The premise was simple — a month plant-based (obviously) and whole, unprocessed foods. I replaced my daily soy chai chargers with black coffee (it was black coffee or no coffee at all, and I was notready for that). I tried more HH recipes, really thinking about everything that I was eating and drinking in a whole new light. I wasn't perfect, but it made a huge difference for me, and I felt so much support from Lindsay and the HH community. I ended up losing almost 10 pounds that month and felt absolutely enlightened — there was no turning back for me after that.
Not a great photo, but I love it anyway — right after Lindsay signed my book.
Also that month, Lindsay had posted a status update on Facebook saying that some readers had been giving her a hard time about her typos (she was busy balancing HH with other things). I was working as a proofreader and was always a grammar nerd, so I emailed her with an offer to help out and hoped she wouldn't find that to be too odd. She replied kindly and graciously (of course!), and I began looking over various things here and there. I was happy to volunteer a bit of my time to work on something I really enjoyed. I proofread for an accounting firm at that time — although checking financial statements is necessary, thrilling it is not. I felt like Lindsay had given me such an amazing gift, and I was excited to be able to give back in some small way.
One of the best perks of this arrangement was that I got to know Lindsay personally and we became fast friends. When HHC came out in early 2011, she asked if she could stay with me for a Pittsburgh stop on her book tour. We finally met in person, and it was like we'd known each other forever — no awkwardness. I got to help out at her book signing and food demo (R.I.P. Right by Nature), we ate delicious food (I miss you, Mad Mex!), and I got my own book signed (which I was secretly freaking out excited about).
[Lindsay: I added this photo without Nichelle knowing it. She is clearly judging me for enjoying the smell of maple syrup. haha!!]
This is the first weekend Lindsay and I met in person. No task too small: I'm unwrapping spoons.
A few months later, I took a week off work at my day job and went as Lindsay's assistant to Vegetarian Summerfest, which was an awesomely inspiring experience, and I confirmed a crucial indicator on the unspoken friendship test — she was fun company for a road trip! We ate more delicious Pittsburgh veg food (this is what I do with guests), and I got to tag along to her talk as part of the Authors@Google series. Google offices are like the coolest places ever.
Lindsay and I at breakfast at Vegetarian Summerfest. Such a fun week!
Fast forward to a couple of years later: I have recipe tested for three HH cookbooks, I was the editor for Lindsay's handy travel e-book, I copy edited HHA (a dream come true), and now I am the Editorial Manager for HH (an even more rewarding dream come true). I can say that even over the past three years, the amount of interest in the plant-based lifestyle has skyrocketed. It's more popular, more accessible, and I get to read stories and comments every day about how many lives it's changing. I have seen friends and colleagues change their thinking about eating (many are now HH fans!). It is a gift to feel inspired and hopeful every single day through HH and the first time I have felt reallypassionate about every single aspect of something I do professionally.
My name in HHA! My grandma made copies of this page for her scrapbook.
I can't say I'm a minimalist yet, but that's what I'm working on now. I use my HH books almost daily, and I have accumulated an impressive spice collection (I can make somany things just with what's in my spice drawer and pantry now). I also use and love love love the meal plans, which I keep in a dorky binder with tabs for my favorites (I took a lunch break while writing this today and made a Chickpea Love Wrap in less than 5 minutes). I live in upstate New York now with my boyfriend (also plant-based and just the most supportive, creative, talented, funny, best person) and our cats. I can honestly say I'm in an infinitely better place in many ways than I was when I found HH 3.5 years ago and I am looking forward to my thirties.
My spice drawer, labeled and organized by frequency of use.
I cannot express how lucky I feel to be part of the HH team and community. Thanks to Lindsay, Scott, and Team HH (this includes the pugs) for creating this great environment that inspires people like me to turn small daily changes into big life changes.
I commemorated this milestone birthday and Herbie-versary with my very own Herbie tattoo, done by Dan Ferrara (my fantastic boyfriend). My Herbie is in progress in the photo below, but still very fresh and not looking his best just yet. I'll be sure to post a photo on Facebook when he is healed. In the meantime, you can catch me on Twitter and Instagram, where I share lots of photos of my food (tons of HH recipes) and our kitties.
Herbie tattoo in progress!
We love you Nichelle! I (and Happy Herbivore) would not be where we are today without you, your loyal support, hard work and dedication. I am so thankful you were brought into this world 30 years ago and into my life 3.5 years ago. I am forever changed. And I hope you are too.