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To say that I love meat would be like saying that I love breathing air.  It’s a given.  A God “given” given.  As a youth, I grew up in Meatropolis of America aka Texas.  Specifically, in the suburbs surrounding the sweltering, smog-filled southern metropolis.  The first slaughterhouse I visited in my youth (twelve-ish) during a school trip should have completely and forever scarred me from ever eating meat in life, but – it didn’t even really faze me that much.  By that point in my life, I knew how hamburgers and hotdogs were made (thanks PBS).  The idea of porterhouse steaks growing on trees had long sense given way to the reality of cows, pigs, etc. going into a factory and coming out as nicely sized and specifically portioned chunks or links.  Even after seeing a live slaughtering, I believe we ended up at a Burger King establishment that afternoon – with a Whopper, fries and chocolate shake.  I believe I was thirteen when I first went doe hunting and shot, skinned and carved up my first deer.  I was fully indoctrinated into the life of the Red Meaty God and he gave me gifts of shank, round, T-bone, ground, flank and rib trinkets almost every night for a good period of almost 30 years.

Mmmm, meat.

I believe it was sometime around 2002 that my thought process changed a bit.  Make no mistake, I still love my red delicious beef, but I began to replace some meals of red meat with that of poultry and fish.  Now, I always loved poultry and fish too, but in general, I had them the only way that was allowable to my southern sensibilities – fried.  By this time I had graduated from college, was living in a modest apartment in Richmond, Va and had a good career managing a securities trading desk at Wachovia Securities.  My best friend’s little cousin was about graduate high school and was going to play in the All-Star HS Football exhibition game in Dallas, January of that year.  So a few of the fellas bought a plane ticket and traveled on down to the “Live Large.  Think Big.” city.  One of our boys already lived in Dallas, so we stayed at his place.

For years prior to the trip, I never weighed more than 166 lbs. wet.  Not an ounce up and down.  However, my desk job, including all the perks of getting taken out by wholesales, eating at fancy restaurants and dining on the best fast food Richmond had to offer had taken its toll and within a few years I was teetering on breaking through the 220 lb. mark.  The first night at my boy’s home in Dallas, I took off my shirt to put on another as we were going to hit the clubs, when the traditionally most overweight of our crew started laughing wildly and pointing at me screaming, “OH MY GOD, KHARI’S FAT!”  After a good chuckle (at my expense) with the fellas, I vowed that when I got home – I was going to become the lean machine I once was.  Suffice it to say, I was back down to a toned and lean 185 lbs by the beginning of summer.  I was eating less red meat, working out 2-3 hours every night and walking around more at the office and at lunch time.

After marriage and one, two, THREE kids it became impossible to keep up that lifestyle and have a happy home.  My work out routine became sporadic and my eating became, for all intents and purposes, gluttonous.  Fast forward to 2011:  our third child was still a glimmer in our eye and at a portly 250 lbs, my wife asked me to watch this infomercial by Dr. Bernard regarding low fat, low sugar eating aimed at diabetics.  I (mentally) scoffed at the notion, but – there was something in her voice that made me take her more seriously than I would have on this subject any other time.  So, I watched.  I listened.  I absorbed.  I felt as though God were speaking to me and telling me that I was a fool if I didn’t take what was being said seriously.  What Dr. Bernard was talking about wasn’t new science.  He wasn’t talking about dieting or the new and latest eating method.  He was talking about eating in a way that was respectful to your body, your life and your health.  He wasn’t talking about saving the animals or hugging trees, but how living healthy was conscientious to your well-being – a healthy eating and living lifestyle.  He was talking about Veganism.   Not in the hippie, matted hair, looking real suspect way (I know that sounds judgmental, but that’s how I saw it initially), but as an alternative to specific types of ailments, self-inflicted diseases and a reduction of toxic chemicals in your system.  I could GET WITH THAT!!!  However, I had issues – specifically, my ignorance of veganism, how the food would taste and specifically what I could and couldn’t eat outside of anything that once had a face.  So I did my research.  I’m not going to lie, when he said eating pasta and rice was okay, I jumped up and cheered.  I could get down with anything else, but not having rice or pasta in my diet was pretty much a non-starter.

No rice? No pasta?

When we officially began, we were housesitting Lorenzo’s home while he and his family were vacationing out of state.  My wife’s sister had completely cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer so that we could begin the vegan process from scratch.  It also happened to coincide with Hurricane Irene hitting the DC area.  Lucky us.  The first full day of the hurricane, I felt like I was going through withdrawal.  I was CRAVING sugar… ANYTHING other than what I was eating.  I was moody, had a short fuse and considered running out into the hurricane to the Checker’s Drive Thru down street and gorge myself with burgers, shakes and fries, but – everything was closed.  It was the longest day of my life as my body cleansed itself of decades of impurities and chemicals.

 Looking back, that hurricane was probably the best thing that ever happened to us.

On top of that, the next week we were having our own family vacation at a resort in the middle of “What’s a Vegan?”-ville, Myrtle Beach, SC.  A genius decision.  It was so anti-Vegan that we had to travel 20 minutes to find the ONLY establishment in the area that had anything Vegan and another 10 minutes to the nearest Starbucks to get soy and coffee in the same place.  That first night, we were about to give up trying to find a place to eat, but – we prevailed and had probably one of the best vacations ever.  It dawned on us how food becomes almost 50% of the experience of a trip and when that’s not really in the equation, how much more fun you can have because your money is flowing more towards activities.

Within the next four months, I lost roughly 30 lbs and was feeling so much lighter and no longer bloated after eating.  I was beginning to develop acid reflux and that was completely gone as well.  THEN – we became pregnant with kid #3 and fell off the bandwagon by January of the next year as my wife’s doctor pretty much banned her from continuing a vegan lifestyle while pregnant.  As the main food preparer in the house, it became pretty difficult to impossible to continue.  I gave it a good try for a while though, but ultimately – failed.  Now, I don’t lay this down on my wife at all.  She’s a great woman and we truly wanted to continue the lifestyle, but we also didn’t to do anything that would harm our baby.  We did some research, couldn’t find anything conclusive and decided that we’d come back to Veganism after the baby was born.

Fast forward to March 2013:  I’m back to pushing around 250 lbs again (my magic number, it seems).  I’m not getting any younger and quite frankly, I think I had just given up on the idea of getting back to my competition weight.  I had begun “cheating” on my wife by stopping by McDonald’s on the way home to satisfy the hungry, gremlin in my tummy.  Basically, I was at my low.  I even had to admit to my wife that I food cheated.  She had this look of horror on her face because she knew that’s one of the things that contributed to the untimely death of her father.  Even though she never said it, I believe she was a little heartbroken over that.  However, I HAD to talk about it because I was at a place where I knew I was going to spiral off into the deep end, or we were going to deal with an issue that plagues many, many Americans – especially African-Americans.  How could I look my kid’s in the eye and talk to them credibly about eating healthy when my daughter (with her innocent, but poignant truth) says I have a “tall stomach”?

We decided that the best thing was for us to resume our Vegan lifestyle and get right with ourselves and our family.  I no longer cheat with food.  I bring my healthy lunches to work daily.  We have limited eating out to the occasional Sunday night.  When we go over to people’s homes or occasions, we make sure to either bring our own food or eat before or after.  We don’t try to preach or change other people, but we have to live by our values and make sure that we are edifying ourselves.  Since we started living our Vegan lifestyle again, I’ve lost 12 lbs – and I still haven’t gotten back into the exercise portion of my lifestyle yet.  That’s just from eating healthy portions and staying away from all meat.  My first goal is to lose 25 lbs, but my ultimate goal is to get back down to a respectable 195 – 200 lbs for this 6’2 frame.  Not my college figure, but one that made me feel the most confident.  When my “brothas-from-anotha-motha” Justin and Marcus walk down the aisle with their fiancé’s next year, I want to know that I represent myself well, but them well also.  I’m feeling good again.  My wife is saying that I’m sleeping better again.  My kids are feeling that something has changed in me again.  My future is looking brighter again.

Being a Vegan isn’t making me happier.  Being responsible for my health and that of our family is what is making me happy.  I will never say that I still don’t have a taste for a butter-infused steak, but I just know that I no longer feel the need to act on that impulse.  Veganism is a tool.  A tool that I plan to be using from now on, proudly and confidently.