VEGANA SPOTLIGHT: Jeshanah NaraBemi
Occupation: Founder of Casa Coquí
Vegan Since: 2013
Heritage: 50% Puerto Rican, 50% Ecuadorian
MY VEGAN STORY
One night, about 6 years ago, I got a call from my dad with bad news.
“Your sister has breast cancer.”
“What?! How is that even possible? She’s the healthy one in the family!”
In fact, my older sister was the only one who ate salads, exercised daily, and looked slim. The rest of us enjoyed junk food, laziness, and looked like the Michelin Man. That phone call put my health into focus for the first time in my life, because if my sister (“the healthy one”) could get sick, then it really could happen to anyone. That fear (that I could be next) fueled my quest for knowledge. How could I prevent cancer? My sister was way past that, since she was diagnosed Stage 4 and had to have a double mastectomy to keep the disease from spreading. Luckily she recovered just fine, but you can imagine how scary it was for me to see my big sister in the hospital with tubes all over and little pieces of tape where her breasts used to be. All I could think was, I can’t let this happen to me! [talking to my boobs] I love you guys too much!
So I started researching online for clues to help me prevent cancer. To my dismay, article after article suggested a link between dairy consumption and reproductive cancers. But if I give up milk, what will I drink with my cookies? [gasp] Can I even make cookies without dairy? Don’t even get me started on cheese. The thought of giving up my favorite foods was enough to make my head explode! That’s when I turned to my vegan friend, Crystal, for help. When I told her about my decision to ditch dairy, she congratulated me and in her excitement blurted out very matter-of-factly, “Humans are the only species to drink the milk of another animal.” WHAT? I found myself getting defensive and angry about her statement. And then I thought about it, and realized I was getting mad about the truth. After all, you don’t see cows drinking human breastmilk. That was a pivotal moment for me, because I could no longer ignore the fact that my dietary choices directly affected the lives of another species.
Determined to learn more, I stumbled upon some excellent documentaries on Netflix that unveiled the disgusting practices of factory farming and outlined the dangers of the Standard American Diet. After watching each film, I found myself implementing a new change, and without even realizing it I was well on my way to becoming vegan. At one point I thought, I’d better stop watching documentaries or there won’t be anything left to eat! Yet for every animal product I gave up, I found many more alternatives to replace them that were healthier and eco-friendly too. I went from no-dairy to no-beef, followed by cutting down other meat-eating to once a week, then once a month. Afterwards I cut out eggs and honey, became pescatarian, started replacing my animal-based clothes and household products with cruelty-free options, and finally dropped seafood altogether to become vegan once and for all. The entire process took a little over 2 years, and as of today I’ve been vegan for 3 years.
In that time, I’ve realized that aside from the health benefits of being vegan, there are many other rewards as well. You see, veganism is way more than just a diet or list of restrictions. To me, it’s a lifestyle choice and a burgeoning movement based on compassion as its highest value. As a vegan, I see non-human animals as my fellow beings, not as commodities for me to exploit, and therefore abstain from consuming animal products. This way of life compels me to think before I act, especially in our fast-paced consumer culture today, and I find it so empowering that a single person can make a positive impact on the world at every meal.
Wanting to do more, I began volunteering for the local vegan Meetup, for which I am currently an Organizer. Launching popular events like our monthly Vegan Potluck Supper Club, in which vegans and non-vegans alike can eat together in a fun and supportive environment, made me realize how great the need is for more vegan options locally. It wasn’t until I became more active in the virtual vegan community through social media that I fully grasped just how big that need is. Turns out people everywhere are hungry for more vegan options! I used this knowledge to fuel my quest to do more for the vegan movement, and after many nights of brainstorming I came up with Casa Coquí, my vegan Puerto Rican restaurant concept. This business fulfills my vegan quest while simultaneously honoring my heritage, and I sincerely hope it becomes a place where others can come celebrate their compassionate choices.
Shoot for progress, not perfection. If you’re just starting your vegan journey, all the changes you face may seem overwhelming. Start by giving yourself credit for wanting to make a change. That’s half the battle! We don’t know what we don’t know, and most of the people in the world remain blissfully ignorant to the consequences of consuming animal products. You’ve already taken a HUGE step just by becoming aware of the benefits of the vegan lifestyle. Now all you have to do is take action. Pick one change you can easily commit to (like Meatless Mondays) and gradually implement more from there. Pretty soon making more compassionate choices will become second nature to you and you’ll wonder why you didn’t go vegan sooner!