Dinner & A Book - Culinary Travels - The Underground Railroad
I tell people all the time, even if they think of veganism or being plant-based as a diet or as a fad that it's really a complete lifestyle transformation.
When I made the change, it was purely for health reasons. I was about 100 lbs heavier than I am right now. I suffered from severe cholesterol and blood pressure issues. I was pre-diabetic. My doctor basically told me that I was on the brink of having a massive heart attack. And I was only 36 years old at the time.
I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and, it literally changed my life. The very next day I thought,"Well, I've tried everything to lose weight my entire life." Growing up in restaurants and with a chef's background, it's really difficult when your whole life all you know is making rich, fatty foods that are delicious. When you're cooking and when you're a chef, your goal is to make the most delicious food you can. Flavor comes from fat. So it was really interesting for me trying to take my chef background and turn it into a plant-based one. I have a Facebook page called Joey D Vegan Chef where I give recipes and examples of things that you can do to make things plant-based, how to take a traditional dish and flip it.
One of the things that's difficult are sweets and desserts. And I'm not a huge dessert person in general, but I found I could make some things that are healthier. I have found a way to make a chocolate pie that's made with avocados, agape syrup and coconut cream. It's all plant-based, but it tastes exactly like a creamy chocolate cheese cake. I make it for people and friends and they cannot believe how good it is, but also that it's actually good for you. It's all whole, it's all real food.
What I loved about this sweet potato pie recipe was that there's not a lot of sugar in it. All the sweetening came from natural ingredients like the Michigan maple syrup, aquafaba and vanilla, all natural. It's really food; you could eat it for breakfast if you wanted to, and it really wouldn't be that bad for you. There's a little bit of sugar in the whipped cream, but that's it. Making this recipe was really easy. I would imagine you can make a pumpkin pie the same way. It's easy when you learn how to adapt your lifestyle. That's what I had to do.
There's a new documentary out called Eating You Alive. You can turn your health around, you can reverse diseases; you can change your course. A lot of people think that health is so genetic. And it is; you are pre-disposed to have certain attributes, as I was. You know, heart disease can run in your family, cancer can run in your family, but you can actually change that and reverse it by what you eat. I tell people all the time, "There are a lot of things in life that you don't have any control over. You don't have control over the weather; you don't have control over disastrous events that may happen. Even though you vote, you may not have control over who wins an election. The one thing you have absolute control over is what you put in your body." And when people make the change to say, "Hey I'm not going to put anything in my body that's going to do me harm or that's going to be bad for me." Or they make a change to do it on a more regular basis; that's obviously going to have an impact.
That's what I love about showing people a way to do some of these things. Because you could take this pie everywhere, and you wouldn't even have to tell people. You'd be like, "Hey, I made a sweet potato pie." And that's what I do sometimes, I'll make, we'll have potlucks sometimes for groups that I belong to or for family things when you bring a dish. And I'll have people eating it and be like, "Hey, by the way, that's all plant." And they're like, "What do you mean?" And I'm like, "By the way, there's no butter in that; there's no milk in that." And they're like, "How can that be? That's impossible. You have to…" And I'm like, "No, you don't. You actually don't."
The most surprising thing that I learned was that you can actually take control of your health and of your life. I learned that I used to live to eat, just live to eat. It was all I did was eat and cook. And now, I eat to live, kind of a different thing. It's a different way of looking at it. But I've learned that you can eat healthy and take care of your body, but still enjoy what you're eating. For me, food kind of always equaled love. It's kind of how I grew up in my family, in our family restaurants. Especially in a big Italian family, mangia, mangia, you eat, you eat. If you cook for somebody, that's how you show them you love them. You know, some people can do things in moderation. I always had a challenge with moderation. I think that's the biggest thing I've learned: that you can change the course of your life. You can take back your health. You can eat food that's good and good for you. I had to learn that I didn't need food.
I also learned that your body chemistry changes. I used to crave cheeseburgers and pizza and all those things. But when you start eating healthier and you introduce healthier things, your body starts to crave those healthier things. It's sort of like if you start working out a lot and you get into a healthy regimen, you crave different things. Like I crave avocados, I crave broccoli, I crave different things. And people think that's so strange. Your taste buds start to change. You start to actually taste things.
I just got to the point personally with me where I'd tried everything else, and I didn't know what else to do. So I thought, well… And I was kind of secretly hoping when I went plant based that I was like "Oh, this isn't going to work, and in another week or two weeks, I'll go back. And then I will have tried everything." But I literally tell people that three or four days after I started eating plant-based, I woke up one day and I felt like a different person. I had really bad allergies and sleep apnea, and I was almost pre-asthmatic. I used an inhaler, and I couldn't breathe very well. So, for me, going vegan saved my life in a lot of ways.