I was raised a vegetarian. Most of my friends cannot fathom this concept. “You don’t eat meat? I could never do that,” they say. Well, if they grew up where I grew up, they could.
I spent most of my childhood in a house right next door to my grandparents, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Ann Esselstyn, two of the most dedicated plant-based advocates. Our houses are connected by a path through the thin woods separating our yards, so the ease of connection is very handy for visits and family dinners; all we have to do is yell through the trees when we hear a giant, rusty bell ring on our grandparents’ porch to gather everyone. My sister, brother, and I are constantly running back and forth on the path because my mom has forgotten some obscure ingredient when cooking, or we are searching for a lid to a tupperware, or we’re swapping items from our grocery lists.
My grandparents both run, ski, walk, bike, lift, snowshoe, swim, play tennis, badminton, and do yoga daily! I believe this youthful energy and athletic ability is a reflection of their healthy lifestyle.
My absolute favorite occasions of the year are birthday and holiday dinners. Huge, wholesome, plant-powered meals are prepared and devoured. I am a dessert person and a sucker for a delicious vegan dessert. Some of my all-time favorite recipes are my mom’s Stone Scones from the The Engine 2 Cookbook and the Chocolate Adonis Cake from the book Plant-Strong. However, my favorite meals are cooked by my father, who married into this plant-based family and makes the most delicious vegan lasagna found in The Engine 2 Diet and Plant-Strong.
My grandfather, whom we call Essy, has been a leader in the plant-based diet movement for thirty years. He currently travels the world advocating its benefits and sharing his research. His book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease clarifies how eating a whole food, plant-based diet can cure cardiovascular diseases and improve overall quality of life! It is hard to keep up with my grandparents, actually. When not giving lectures, traveling, researching, or talking to patients, Essy is biking. My grandparents both run, ski, walk, bike, lift, snowshoe, swim, play tennis, badminton, and do yoga daily! I believe this youthful energy and athletic ability is a reflection of their healthy lifestyle. The Esselstyn children and grandchildren have definitely inherited this powerful, lively approach to life as we are all engaged in athletics, the outdoors, and the arts.
My mom and her three brothers all swam competitively from childhood and even beyond college. As a result, my siblings and I have also fallen in love with the sport of swimming. My brother Zeb and I are currently collegiate, nationally-ranked swimmers, and my younger sister Bainon is an Ohio high school state champion in swimming. I currently swim for Kenyon College, a division III school which has won the most national titles in any sport, in any division, in NCAA history. I am proud to report that I am an 11-time state champion, 8-time national champion, and 2-time national record holder. All of this has been accomplished eating only plants!
My whole life, peers, adults, and coaches have questioned my diet. What I eat has set me apart from others. However, I truly believe my nutritional choices have not only been beneficial to my athletic life, but to my social and personal life. Although many people have tried to point out what they believe to be flaws in my diet and argue that I’m somehow deficient in protein, iron, vitamin B12, or some other nutrient, I just respond by saying: “So far, so good.”
I have been blessed with a courageous, competitive, spirited family that has been at the forefront of advocating for a plant-based diet. But the truth is that the benefits of this lifestyle are available to everyone. All it takes is a willingness to learn and a commitment to your own health and wellbeing. If your family and friends are skeptical, the best way to convince them is to lead by example. Either way, if you stick with it long enough, you may have some day have a plant-based “family” of your own.
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