Donnie H: From fried and fat to fit and fabulous

I met Donnie Hemphill a year or so ago, and since then we’ve met up a handful of times every few months.  At each encounter, it amazes me how he seems to be turning back the hands of time.  At nearly the milestone of 40 years young, he has the energy and youthful glow of someone at least a decade younger.

Born and raised in farm country Davenport, Iowa, Donnie earned a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering degree from the University of Iowa.  He is working as a Civil Engineer and has worked in  the States, Libya and is now settled in Australia.

His renewed zest for life has sparked his current hobbies of Latin dance, photography, and becoming fit again after years of being a “lazy fatty” – his words!

He is truly enjoying livin la vegan vida loca lifestyle… which includes gently spreading the word.

A bit of background:

I was born and raised in Iowa.  Yes.  You are correct.  That’s where Captain Kirk of Star Trek was born, or will be in the future.  My last girlfriend said “It is like a movie place.”  That it is.  Thinking Field of Dreams?  You’re right on.  Corn and soy bean crops all around you; and a State Fair where you can get everything fried on a stick.  Even fried butter.  A beautiful place, but also a land where mega hog farms are polluting the air and ground water, and a place where if you speak out against eating meat you will likely be ostracized by the majority.

Being an Iowa boy, I grew up eating the local fare and by my adult life I required meat at nearly every meal.  Like most I was completely disconnected from where the meat I was eating came from.  It wasn’t until I moved to Libya in 2008 that I was reconnected.  There I saw the animals before and after.  But none the less I ate all sorts of lamb, baby camel, pigeons and even sheep heads boiled north African style.  I went with my Mexican friend to buy them from the butcher and several Moroccan friends prepared them.  I ate mostly the tongue as the cheeks and skin were extremely greasy.  Goodness, the memory of the tongue going down my throat gives me the creeps.

Iowa boy pre-vegan

In the early Libya days we were in a hotel and had rather nice brekkies and dinners but the lunch at the office was extreme – you would be asked, ‘chicken or beef?’  and would receive a warmed up shwarma TV dinner, piece of fruit (the best part), and a rainbow of sodas to pick from.  Later it was five of us to each mansion villa and my Moroccan friend would make me 2 boiled eggs in the morning.  Lunch had evolved into a nice buffet; a mixture of Arabic foods and some Western dishes including with many veggies and salads, and hummus with way too much tahini.  So you could eat healthy there, but I didn’t.  Dinner at the villas was horrible attempts at making Western foods due to politics and policies, so shopping for food and preparing our own dinners became a routine and cherished social event, often  accompanied with bootleg booze, sheesha smoking and Moroccans.  Good times..

My colleagues were evacuated from Libya due to war in 2011, I had left just days before major conflict broke out and travelled to Malta to stay with a girlfriend.  After welcoming half of my colleagues who arrived by ferry boat, I returned to the US.  During my time at my parents’ house in Iowa, I would eat bacon or sausage every morning; mostly because I couldn’t have it in Arabic Libya.  I fattened up a bit during that time I think.  After a couple of months at home, I headed off to Australia stopping in Poland first.  A girlfriend and I travelled Krakow & Warsaw and I recall being angry when she made me eat at some healthy raw veggie place in lieu of the marvellous pizza joint I had spotted earlier.  I remember not wanting this healthy raw vegan crap.

BEFORE: bloated and lethargic

BEFORE: bloated and lethargic

I eventually arrived in Australia and transferred directly to Hobart, Tasmania (as you do).  I spent a few weeks there, seeing a bit of Brisbane too, and finally arrived in Perth to settle into and start my new life.

I arrived in Australia a meat eater.

Opening up to vegetarianism and veganism: 

The point of my trip to Poland will make sense now.  We decided to date long distance – Miss Poland and I.  Something we did to pass the time was read books to each other on Skype.  I did all the reading aloud, yes, I was whipped.  Ha ha.  Continually finding new and interesting books to read became a chore.  One day I saw a book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I laughed, and thought to myself, “This will be funny if I get a book called Eating Animals.”  The cover read, “this book will change you.”  I thought to myself, “No way.  I’m from Iowa.”  But wouldn’t ya know it, the cover had been right.  The book did change me.  The laugh was on me.  This book was my first real introduction in to veganism.  I had vegan hippie friends in the past, but no one ever explained why to me.  They just looked at me like I was from a different country as I ate my sausages, biscuits and gravy whilst they nibbled away on rabbit food.  But I never asked why either…  Perhaps this is why I now gently inform people about why I am vegan, only after luring them in with a raw vegan cheese cake.

Back to the book.  This one, like many others, touches on all the basic arguments for becoming vegan, but its unique delivery comes with lots of psychology.  Several points sank in quick to my then 37 year old skull; sustainability, factory farming, by-catch, health risks, why eat some animals and not others, and so on. 

After reading the book, I was changed.  I couldn’t get the philosophical arguments out of my head, yet I still loved my learned taste for meats and animal products.  With my brain was now switched on, I began to slowly reduce the amount of meat I ate.  My primary health motivation for some reason was to prevent cancer, so I decided to eat natural vegan foods, as many different colours and types as I can get my hands on.  Throw in a few super foods like hemp seeds and chia seeds, and how could you be wrong?

I began to realize there were many wonderful foods I had never really eaten.  I was fortunate there were lunch time eateries  near my office job in the Perth CBD.  I started going to one salad place that offered healthy dishes including super foods; something not so easily available in my rural American homeland.  I used to live off on 99 cent double cheese burgers or spicy chicken patties from the evil M.  Now I was eating salads with all sorts of toppings like quinoa, pumpkin, beetroot, chick peas, and brown rice.  At that time, if the accidental piece of chicken ended up in my serving, it wasn’t such a big deal.  I was still eating the occasional salmon sushi too.

Over time, my taste for beef, chicken, and pork dwindled to dislike.  If I “accidentally” got some in my mouth, it tasted greasy and left vivid visuals in my mind.  I eventually lost my taste for fish also.

I started hanging out with like-minded people in Animal Rights Advocates and Social Vegans in Perth, and made some friends with folks in Sea Shepherd as well.  It was fun discovering places to eat vegetarian and vegan foods, and to share the joy and excitement of new delicious healthy foods.  This was about the time I made the transition from vegetarian to vegan, never again purchasing eggs, milk or cheese.  I was introduced to RAW foods soon after and took some raw ‘cooking’ classes.  I enjoyed it, but it seemed a bit too extreme in the beginning.  Who can afford a $500-1000 super blender?  So I buy the raw stuff whenever I see it out and about.

Recapping – in August 2011 I read the influential book. By my birthday in October, I was eating vegetarian fair.  By March 2012, I was vegan.  And in July 2012, I was beginning to explore RAW foods; how to prepare RAW and where to buy them already prepared.

The most remarkable change since going vegan: 

I wasn’t expecting anything to happen to me physically that I could notice, and for nearly a year it didn’t.  I remained the overweight middle aged man I had been for most of my life.  I only consider myself to have been fit just a few times prior when I was training and eating better.  I am sure drinking too much alcohol and smoking cigarettes were factors in my excess weight at different times also.

AFTER: The lean, mean vegan machine

AFTER: The lean, mean vegan machine

By June 2012, I had dropped one trouser size – down from 38” to 36”.  I was over joyed!  By January 2013, I had dropped another size down to 34”.  I was stunned with disbelief.  Then by March of this year, yet another reduction occurred in my trouser size – 32”.  Obviously the combination of diet, exercise and eating habits have all contributed to my shrinking waist.  Today, I continue to tweak my program hoping to build more muscle and shed off even more fat.

Since going vegan my allergies have gone away.  To be fair, this could also be due to no longer smoking and living in a warm dry climate like Perth.

I am dumbfounded when people guess my age to be much younger, as I am secretly dreading entering my 40’s.  But with a renewed vigour for life, I’m looking forward to living the rest of my days to the fullest.  I feel like I’ve been given a second chance in life.  I’m settled in to a great city, living a simple good life, and enjoying the now.

I’m at a good place in my life.

IMG_2533

Livin’ la vegan lifestyle

My parents, to my surprise, love to humour me by eating all the vegan foods I prepare for them when visiting.  During my last trip home at Christmas, my girlfriend and I enjoyed playing tourist at the local Walmart.  I was pleasantly surprised at all the vegan products we found there.  It was interesting to compare as we had previously explored the Walmart where she was living in Puebla Mexico.

Typical meals:

So what does my vegan diet look like?  When I can, I love to look at all the exotic pretty foods you see the cute vegan girls put up on Facebook.   But at the moment I’m busy with work and dancing, and only manage to get to the local chain grocery store, where if you are careful, you can still put together healthy menus.

  1. A couple of Medjool dates or similar – first thing in the morning
  2. Veggie spinach wrap or – 8:00 AM
  3. Nibbling on almonds, sultanas, and wasabi peas all day long…
  4. Green smoothie – 10:00 AM
  5. Brown rice or quinoa with assorted grilled veggies
  6. An apple or pear
  7. Fruit and home made hummus & veggie wraps
  8. Continued snacking of almonds, rice milk, and juices

I eat a lot and am never hungry.

Advice to newbies:

Go slow and gradual.

Your life motto / personal philosophy:

Things happen for a reason in life.  I can’t say I know why, so I’m gonna just ride the snake as Jim Morrison used to say.

My Inspiration: 

Committed by Dan Matthews – I don’t know why but Dan’s stories and overall confidence about his cause really inspire me.  Some of the highlights were during PETA protests; one on an Italian fashion runway dressed as a priest, and another near my parents in Des Moines, Iowa dressed as a bunny with a sign reading “Eat Veggies Not Your Friends.”  The farmers were outraged and drove them out by arming children with bologna to throw at them.

Favourite recipe or dish:

Raw cheese cake and raw pizza

What is the point?  Who cares?:

Good question.

I don’t have the answer.

But I do know that I look better than I have in 10 years and have a renewed passion for life, all of which is intertwined with veganism in some way.  So see what it can do for you.

“Lose weight, feel better, become healthier, live longer and save the planet by becoming vegan.”

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3 thoughts on “Donnie H: From fried and fat to fit and fabulous

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to grasp so much
    about this, such as you wrote the e book in
    it or something. I think that you just could do with some percent
    to power the message home a bit, however other than that, that is wonderful blog.
    An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

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