It’s time for another edition of my Rebel in the Spotlight series. This one is another double-whammy, featuring my good friends Kelsey McLaughlin and Maggie Coogan.
For those of you who don’t remember, this is my Rebel in the Spotlight series, where I ask the same 25 questions to my fellow food, nutrition, and fitness enthusiasts. I’ll be interviewing people who have completely different viewpoints and practices when it comes to healthy living, which makes it all the more interesting to get a glimpse into their perspectives. The focus of these interviews isn’t for you all to learn more about the people themselves, but to get a better appreciation of different (and sometimes contrasting) eating and workout regimens, and understanding that there is no one right answer to living a healthy lifestyle. It’s all about what works best for you and what personally motivates and inspires you.
Everyone who will be featured on this spotlight series are true rebels to me in every sense of the word. They have their own way of doing things, despite how the vast majority of the public behaves. They are taking health and happiness into their own hands. They are reaching and obtaining their goals themselves, instead of waiting around for it to reach them. A rebel is someone who rises, even in opposition or resistance. All of these people have dealt with opposition and resistance in some way, shape, or form in their diet or fitness journeys, and I believe this is definitely something worth admiring and celebrating. I hope these people serve as inspirations to you, as they have to me, and I can’t wait to share their different philosophies with you all!
I know most of you all think you could neverrrr be vegan because it’s “too restrictive” and you “can’t survive without pizza and ice cream”. Well, Kelsey and Maggie truly exemplify the fact that it IS possible to live life to the absolute fullest while remaining 100% plant-based. They still get to eat their favorite foods, and better yet, they’ve learned so much more about food throughout their journey. I love hearing about their latest vegan dishes I neeeeed to try and seeing how their view of food has completely changed, from being simply something you need when you’re hungry, to something that can make or break your ability to be your best possible self.
Let’s get a glimpse into the minds of 100% plant-based eaters–
25 Questions with Kelsey and Maggie
- How old were you when you started your health/fitness habits and what prompted it?
K: I originally became interested in a whole, plant-based diet my senior year of college after seeing the documentary Fork Over Knives. For three years following that, I experimented with reducing the amount of animal and processed foods in my diet before making the ultimate decision to go vegan. After reading Dr. Michael Greger’s, How Not to Die in January 2016, I was completely convinced that a whole, plant-based diet was the healthiest and happiest way to live.
M: I’ve eaten a more or less balanced diet since I was little. I owe that to my parents, who sent me to school with snacks like apple slices and carrots as opposed to Pringles and Gushers. But my more recent transformation happened when I was 24 (I’m 26 now). I teetered on the edges between pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan my whole life. I struggled with the moral issue of eating animals which I claimed to “love” but continued to eat fish and the occasional poultry because I didn’t know what plant foods could fill those voids.
Then I read a book by Dr. Michael Greger called How Not to Die, and it changed everything. Admittedly, it had been easier to turn a blind eye to the animals and to our planet because there’s such a disconnect between food on your plate and the suffering it’s caused elsewhere. But after learning this information gleaned from clinical nutritional studies, I couldn’t turn a blind eye to my personal health, too. That suddenly made the decision really simple.
- How would you describe your cooking style in 3 words?
K: Simple yet delicious plant-based
M: Simple, Wholesome, Satisfying
- What is your signature dish?
K: A Mexican Three Bean Chili recipe that I adapted from the Minimalist Baker blog. It’s loaded with beans and veggies and topped with avocado, lime and green onion. It’s so delicious; I can never go more than a month without making it. Also, it’s really easy to make, cheap and can feed ten of your friends. It’s always a crowd pleaser.
M: My go-to is a diverse veggie bowl tied together with a homemade dressing. My favorite mix is quinoa or brown rice with roasted sweet potato, black beans, wilted spinach, sautéed onions and peppers, topped with avocado slices and a homemade tahini-lemon-maple dressing. I could eat that meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Do you believe in weekly meal prepping? Why or why not?
K: Yes, absolutely. The key to eating a whole, plant-based diet is making it easy for yourself. I tend to make big soups, stir fry’s and other things that will keep in the fridge and heat up easily so that I only have to spend one or two days a week cooking.
M: To a certain extent, yes. I don’t plan out every single meal but I’m a huge fan of cooking a massive batch of something and storing the bulk of it in the fridge to use during the following days. I do this often with soups, curries, and my favorite 3-bean Mexican chili (accompanied by my cashew-avocado-lime cream, of course). I LOVE to skip cooking for a couple days and just throw a bowl of something in the microwave for a minute.
- If you got to cook a meal with anyone in the world, who would it be (besides Maria Tripodis)?
K: Shannon Martinez, she is the chef at my favorite vegan restaurant, Smith & Daughters in Melbourne. Her food is incredibly delicious, interesting and so different from what I am capable of making. I would love to see how everything is created. I would learn a lot. Her menu is constantly changing and has included everything from chili cheese dogs made from pumpkin to fried “chicken” and waffles that taste just as good as the real thing.
M: Chloe Coscarelli, the mastermind behind the incredible plant-based fast food joint byChloe.
- What does your typical breakfast consist of?
K: I call it a choco-nutty banana milkshake. It consists of cocoa and cacao powder, a frozen banana (with the skin), peanut butter, cinnamon, ground flax seed, dates and almond milk.
M: I typically do a monster brekky bowl that involves anywhere from 8-20 ingredients, depending on how much time I have and what’s in the kitchen. The staples are oats (in granola or oatmeal form, accompanied by almond milk), ground flaxseed, peanut butter, a banana, a pile of mixed berries, and cinnamon. Add-ons include chia pudding (chia seeds + almond milk or coconut yoghurt), cashews, walnuts, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, dried cranberries, cacao powder, bran flakes, homemade applesauce, kiwi, peaches, plums, the list goes on. Show me a carnivore that gets that many nutrients, antioxidants, clean proteins and good fats from their breakfast! Nothing keeps me fuller or more satisfied than my breakfast bowl. After that meal I could easily blow right through lunch time without a twinge of hunger, yet I never feel sluggish or overfilled.
- Do you weigh yourself on a regular basis? Why or why not?
K: I have only weighed myself three or four times in the last two years. I have been traveling a lot over the last several years and don’t always have a scale where I’m living. If I had a scale in my home, I would probably weigh myself once a month just out of curiosity.
M: Nah, I prefer to use that one pair of jeans that fluctuates between a little loose and a little tight to determine how in shape I am. I noticed long ago when I started exercising regularly that I was gaining weight (there was a scale at the gym), but I was definitely thinner and stronger than my old self, as my trusty jeans would attest. So I decided the scientists are correct—muscle does in fact weigh more than fat—and scales do not provide a reliable measure of fitness.
- What are your 5 most frequently consumed foods?
K: Avocado, kale, bananas, chickpeas, tomatoes
M: Avocado, Oats, Bananas (just narrowly beat out berries), Wholemeal bread, Spinach
- What do you love most about cooking?
K: The satisfaction I feel in knowing I am making something delicious that is also nourishing my body
M: I love the comfort of knowing every single ingredient that went into my meal. I don’t have to wonder how much oil or salt was used in its creation or whether it came out of a freezer or contains pesticides. I’ve worked in enough restaurants to know that you’re often getting a lot more than what’s listed on the menu.
- How much water do you drink a day and how do you stay hydrated?
K: I actually drink a ridiculous amount of water, more than anyone I know. I have no idea how much, but I pretty much carry around a water bottle with me at all times lol. I am also a big tea fan. I like various herbal teas as well as caffeinated.
M: I carry a big 750ml water bottle with me EVERYWHERE. It’s like a security blanket because the thought of being thirsty and stuck without water gives me anxiety. Taking sips of it has become a reflex, but I still don’t drink enough. Most days I’ll fill it 3 times, but I’d like to drink at least 6 of those daily.
- If you could eat only 1 source of protein, 1 fat, and 1 carb for the rest of your life, what would they be?
K: Black beans, avocado and wild rice- and they all go so well together.
M: 1 source of protein: black beans
1 source of fat: avocado, but peanut butter would be pretty hurt to hear this.
1 carb: is butter a carb…? Ok seriously, wholemeal wheat bread
- What is one food or nutrition fact you wish everyone knew?
K: Food is medicine, more specifically whole, plant-based food.
M: I’m doing a two-part fact here, because I want to shout this one from a mountain top: PLANTS CONTAIN PROTEIN, and most Americans consume way more protein than is necessary!
- What current nutrition fad do you hate the most?
K: The protein craze, especially the supplements, power bars, etc. You are getting enough protein people, in fact majority of Americans consume way too much protein. People should really be concerned with the lack of fiber in their diets.
M: Paleo. It’s ridiculous to me since in today’s society, a paleo lifestyle cannot exist. It is literally not possible to eat meat that is as healthy, lean, clean, and sustainably sourced as it was for the CAVEMEN thousands of years ago. Just because you’ve got the same menu as a caveman doesn’t mean it’s equal in quality and purity of ingredients (and let’s be real, they’re bending the rules a lot with these paleo desserts and salad dressings and even “paleo mayo” which I saw last week). We live in a completely different world than the cavemen did, so it’s silly to think we can eat the same way they did. Also, a little thing called evolution leads me to believe cavemen didn’t have it quite right—why would I try to emulate a species that died out before the last ice age? They evolved. I think our diets should, too.
- What is your favorite form of exercise and why?
K: Yoga, definitely. I love trying all the different intensities and styles. I also love the calming effect it has on me afterwards and all the deep stretches.
M: Yoga. I like a meditative sort of exercise, and I feel so efficient building strength and stretching at the same time. But I do supplement this with something more active, like a quick run, a few times a week for the sake of cardio exercise.
- What is your current fitness/body goal?
K: I just want to improve and get more consistent with yoga. I go through phases where I will do it constantly then I sort of fall off the wagon and don’t practice for a couple weeks. I also want to start running. I don’t have any specific goals although I would love to be more toned.
M: I want to be thin; I ain’t no hippie. But that’s not Priority One. I’ve realized that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Just because a girl is thin or a guy has huge biceps doesn’t mean they’re getting all the nutrients they need and their organs are running perfectly. You’ve only got one body, one vessel to carry you through this life. Shouldn’t you treat it like a car you want to last forever and give it the best oil and keep it super clean? I eat to nourish my body, but that nourishing food keeps me in shape, too.
- How often do you pig out and eat whatever you want?
K: I’d say about once a week, I have a day where I am constantly snacking, usually over the weekend. I am still eating plant foods though so I never feel like I am putting bad stuff into my body, just too much food.
M: Every day! I eat whatever I want every single day. This is because all I want is wholesome, filling, plant-based foods. That must sound SO cheesy, but seriously, I have learned enough about meat and dairy and trained my mind and taste buds such that I literally don’t want to eat those foods ever again. That being said, I also live in a city with a strong, fast-growing vegan community, so it’s relatively easy to find incredible vegan meals, plant-based gourmet pizza, and cafes and bakeries with a vegan selection. And I rarely restrain myself from those.
- What food is your guilty pleasure?
K: I am in New Zealand right now and they have an incredible chocolate coconut cream ice cream by Little Island.
M: Doughnuts… Unfortunately, sugar is vegan, and bakers seem to have just discovered that the egg typically found in doughnuts is completely unnecessary! So these days I can find crave-worthy vegan doughnuts that are way better than the stock standard ones I used to find back home. Luckily here in Melbourne one of these delicious treasures usually costs $6-7 so that’ll keep me in check.
- What motivates you to stay consistent with your diet and workouts?
K: The diet part is easy. A plant-based diet aligns with my core values of protecting my health, the animals and the environment. Knowing what I know now, animal and processed foods come at too high a cost for everyone involved to seem appealing anymore. It’s easier for me to be consistent with yoga when I am signed up at a studio. I am more inspired and motivated when I am surrounded by like-minded people. Also I want to make the most out of an expensive yoga membership.
M: My body! If I start eating more processed foods and fewer fruits and veg, or if I start skipping workouts, I see and feel the consequences of my negligence. It’s the biggest motivator to get back into my routine.
- Who, in the food, nutrition, or fitness world, inspires you the most?
K: Dr. Michael Greger. He has dedicated his life to explaining the scientifically proven health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet. He has spent all his time, money and energy trying to educate and heal as many people as he can with his knowledge. If I hadn’t read his book, I am not sure I would have made the leap to a plant-based diet. I am now a happier, healthier version of myself thanks to him.
M: Dr. Michael Greger, who I consider to be the King of Clinical Nutrition Knowledge, and David Carter, (see @the300poundvegan on Instagram) an ex-NFL player who has made it his mission to demonstrate that you can maintain a strong, fit body on a plant-based diet.
- Have your food habits had an influence on your friends or family? If so, how?
K: Yes, I have helped my best friend become vegan. We now love cooking healthy meals together. I have also helped my parents live a healthier lifestyle by introducing them to delicious plant-based recipes.
M: Definitely! I find that although no one wants to hear about animal welfare and where their food came from, people are pretty receptive to new information about nutrition and how their food might affect their bodies. I’m pushy as hell with my family—I’ll send them every article and documentary I get my hands on—but with my friends I just wait until they ask the questions, and then I’m happy to provide answers with the scientific literature to back it up. I’ve definitely got my parents thinking twice before consuming animal products, and many of my friends are interested in trying out a plant-based lifestyle, but if it’s going to stick, it needs to be a gradual transition, so I applaud any baby step in that direction.
- If someone came to you wanting to start living a healthier lifestyle, what is the first thing you would tell them?
K: If they have the time I would definitely recommend reading Dr. Michael Greger’s How Not to Die. I know I have mentioned it a few times before but that book really changed my life. Not only does Dr. Greger do an excellent job of explaining the dangers of eating animals but he also explains all the benefits of eating a varied plant-based diet from a scientific standpoint.
M: Eat more vegetables. We ALL NEED MORE VEGGIES! Fill up on veggies first, and leave little to no room for meat or processed foods. The thing is, if you’re filling up on a steak for dinner, chances are you didn’t eat enough veggies with it. And we need the veggies. Did I mention veggies are priority? And if you think you don’t like vegetables, eat them anyway. Dress them in peanut butter or soy sauce or sweet dressings at first, and in a month’s time you will train your taste buds to like them. I also recommend the book How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger (or his nonprofit website NutritionFacts.org) to anyone interested in health and nutrition. Did I mention Dr. Greger already?
- What is your most frequently asked question about food, nutrition, or fitness?
K: Either “Where do you get your protein?” or “Don’t you miss cheese?” Plants have protein. I get plenty of protein from beans, seeds, nuts and veggies. I have more energy now than I ever have. As for the cheese, there are so many vegan cheeses and cheese recipes out there and the list just keeps growing as the vegan movement is evolving. I’ve tried and made everything from cashew parmesan to tofu feta to almond ricotta. I am definitely getting my cheese fix.
M: Every vegan will probably tell you it’s the same question: “Where do you get your protein?”
- If you were to write a cookbook, what would it be called?
K: Easy Cheesy Vegan. I want people to understand that they don’t have to sacrifice the flavors they love the most, nor does cooking vegan have to be difficult. Pretty much anything can be veganized now.
M: How to Trick Your Family and Friends into Living Healthier, Cleaner Lives with the Sneaky Use of PLANTS.
- What is your overall food philosophy?
K: In How Not to Die, Dr. Greger describes in depth the “daily dozen” foods you should be eating every day to have the optimum health. (He even has a free app called Daily Dozen to help you keep track). I try to stick as close to that as I can. The list includes beans, whole grains, berries, dark leafy greens, nuts and other plant foods. I’m not super strict with following the list but I use the list as a guideline on what to eat. For example, if I’m cooking dinner and realize I haven’t had any beans or whole grains today then I will make sure to add them to my meal.
M: Eat the rainbow! If you try to put a rainbow of color on your dinner plate, you’ll probably diversify your palette quite well. Also, eat as close to the source as possible (that is, whole plant foods). Spinach is great, but if it was cooked, pureed, and creamed in a buttery sauce, it’s not as beneficial to you as, say, raw leaves of spinach. Similarly, oats or brown rice are probably a little better for you than the wheat that’s undergone some processing to become bread.
- How can people reach you/find your work?
K: Facebook messenger is the easiest way to reach me.
M: When you go vegan you’ll automatically be inducted into our cult, and I’m always at the Tuesday night meetings.