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.

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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.”

Kefir: The hush-hush nutritional gem of the Caucasian Region

First off, I bet a few of you are wondering what the heck is kefir?

Kefir is a probiotic drink made with either kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter culture.  There are two types of grains, milk kefir and water kefir.  Milk (dairy) kefir grains are (duh!) used with milks such as goats milk, coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk.  Water kefir is used with sugar water, fruit juice or coconut water.

Kefir grains are comprised of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship.  NB:  It is not an actual ‘grain’ such as wheat or oat,  ‘grain’ merely describes the appearance of the culture.  Think cottage cheese.  It looks very similar!

milk kefir grains

milk kefir grains

The dominant micro-organisms in kefir are Saccharomyces kefir, Torula kefir, Lactobacillus caucasicus, Leuconnostoc species and Lactic Streptococci.  These beneficial micro-organisms are what makes kefir stand out from virtually all other cultured milk products.  Typical cultured milk and yoghurt products on the market today usually use only one, and rarely more than three species in the culturing process.  Furthermore, the heat-treating manufacturing process characteristic of these products kills the beneficial live ferments.

Centuries old kefir was first discovered when the shepherds of the Caucasus mountains noticed the fresh milk they transported in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into a tarty beverage.

Mystery surrounds kefir as legend has it that kefir grains were gifted to the Caucasus people from Mohammed, who instructed them on how to use the grains.  Mohammed forbade them from teaching others how to prepare kefir, or passing kefir grains to anyone else, because they would supposedly lose their ‘magical strength.’  This may explain why kefir grains and their preparation are shrouded in such secrecy.  Check out the historical tale involving a beautiful woman, Irina Sakharova, who reportedly enticed the then-prince of Russia into giving her kefir grains.

Ferments (sauerkraut, kim chi, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh et al) are said to be an essential part of overall nutrition. These ‘super-metabolizers’  assist in gut health, increase digestability of foods, minimise constipation, preserve foods, and increase nutrient assimilation.

Kefir’s Health Benefits

New York Times best-selling author Dr Perricone is also a renowned healthy aging expert and dermatologist.  He rates kefir as one of his Top 10 Superfoods, reporting the drink has been “famously credited with the extraordinary longevity of people in the Caucasus.  Hospitals in the former Soviet Union use kefir—especially when no modern medical treatment is available—to treat conditions ranging from atherosclerosis, allergic disease, metabolic and digestive disorders and tuberculosis to cancer and gastrointestinal disorders.

A number of studies conducted to date have documented kefir’s ability to stimulate the immune system, enhance lactose digestion, and inhibit tumors, fungi and pathogens— including the bacteria that cause most ulcers. This makes a lot of sense as scientists have since discovered that most ulcers are caused by an infection with the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori and not spicy food, stomach acid or stress, as physicians erroneously believed for years.”

Veering off the traditional dessert route, this take combines the tartness of homemade coconut kefir with the sweetness of mangoes.  I had chopped mango stored in the freezer already, due to a buying frenzy in the summer months!  You can use whatever fruit is in season.

The chia seeds thicken the mixture into a pudding or custard consistency, and reminds me of the sago pudding served in Chinese restaurants during yum cha.

coconut + mango + chia

coconut + mango + chia

Coconut Kefir Chia Pudding

500ml homemade coconut milk kefir drink
handful of diced frozen mangoes
heaped tbs of chia seeds (how many tbs depends how many puddings you want to make)
stevia, to taste

Mix chia seeds and stevia with coconut kefir.

Pour approx 150ml of coconut chia mixture in each serving glass or bowl.

Drop in a few diced frozen mangoes in each glass.

Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to thicken.

Optional: decorate with drizzles of agave and some fresh mint leaves to garnish.

Coconut Kefir

2 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup milk kefir grains

I simply made the coconut kefir drink by combining approx 1/4 cup milk kefir grains with 2 cups coconut milk.

This was left to ferment in a tightly closed glass jar for 24 hours (in the pantry).

I then strained the milk kefir grains and put the fermented milk in the fridge, reusing the kefir grains for another batch.

If it’s too tart for your tastebuds, you can add some agave or honey to the strained milk.

The resulting taste is very similar to the drinking yoghurts widely available in Europe.

Took these babies to a friend’s house for dinner where it brought back all-too-distant memories of sun, sand, surf and mango daiquiris!

tropical kefir pudding

Cal C, Bio C… how ’bout homemade Vit C?

After the chilly weather we’ve been having lately, it seems like an appropriate time to write about vitamin C.

Vitamin C plays a part inn maintaining healthy tissues and a robust immune system, helping iron be absorbed more effectively into the body.  It’s included in many over the counter supplements, and has long been an ingredient in beauty products, heralded for its ability to protect the skin from environmental pollutants and free radicals.

Historically, vitamin C was instrumental in the fight against scurvy.  Sailors who embarked on voyages for months on end with no adequate supplies of fresh fruit and veg were especially susceptible to the illness.  Nowadays it’s the usual remedy for the common cold.

There is some thought that vitamin C may help the heart and blood vessels due to its traces of rutin and hesperidin. It is used for hardening of the arteries, clot prevention in veins and arteries, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  The bioflavanoids have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, and the monoterpenes expedite wound healing.

Did you know orange peels contain higher levels of vitamin C than its juice?  Per 100g, orange peel has 136 mg of vitamin C while its flesh contains about 71 mg/100 g.  Fruit peel is rich in vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, calcium, selenium, manganese, zinc to name a few – containing many times more of the “good stuff” than its pulp.  You can read detailed nutritional info on the orange here.

Day 1 in the sun

Food sources rich in this vitamin include guava, citrus fruits, red capsicum, kiwi, grapefruit, strawberries, brussel sprouts and rockmelon.

Browsing the shelves at a local chemist, I found some processed vitamin C supplements selling for over $32!  Crikey!  One must wonder the efficacy of these products, given the exposure to heat during the manufacturing process and the widespread use of (cheap) genetically-modified food sources such as corn.  Go figure.

Dr Ben Kim, a Canadian chiropractor and acupuncturist, gives a low-down on vitamins quite eloquently:

  • “The majority of commercial vitamin supplements are made up of synthetic vitamins
  • Synthetic vitamins do not perform the same functions in your body as vitamins found naturally in whole food
  • Many synthetic vitamins deplete your body of other nutrients and tax your kidneys before being excreted through your urine

Vitamins do not exist as single components that act on their own. Vitamins are made up of several different components – enzymes, co-enzymes, and co-factors– that must work together to produce their intended biologic effects.”

In the ingredient list of vitamin C supplements, the majority contain only ascorbic acid or a compound called ascorbate, which is a less acidic form of acorbic acid.  Ascorbic acid is NOT vitamin C. It represents the outer ring that serves as a protective shell for the entire vitamin C complex, much like an orange peel that serves as a protective shell for an orange. “

He states naturally present vitamins from food sources are complete in terms of their necessary components.  Synthetic vitamins (majority of supplements on the market) are merely isolated portions of vitamins that occur naturally in food.

Authentic vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables contains the full suite of the elements below:

  • Rutin
  • Bioflavonoids (vitamin P)
  • Factor K
  • Factor J
  • Factor P
  • Tyrosinase
  • Ascorbinogen
  • Ascorbic Acid

For next to nothing anyone can make their own vitamin C powder out of orange peels, complete with live enzymes to ensure 100% bioavailability of the vitamin in your body.

Homemade Vitamin C Powder

Orange peels
Sunlight
Powerful blender / spice grinder / coffee grinder

We’d just chowed down on about half a dozen oranges so had plenty o’ peel to spare!  Make sure you wash your peels first.

Place the peels in the sun to ensure they fully shrivel and dry out.  I left mine out for 2-3 days.

Put dried peels in your blender / grinder and pulverise until the consistency of a fine powder.

Store your homemade vit C powder in an airtight container.  I keep mine in the fridge.

OMG.  The aroma when I opened the lid of my blender can only be described as intense citrus utopia!

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Day 3 in the sun

Just 1 teaspoon provides more than the daily dose of vitamin C your body needs, regardless of age or size.

Another idea could be to put some dried peels in with your favourite teas (orange ginger, anyone?), however the high temperature is likely to destroy the enzymes.

I’ll be adding my vit C powder to my usual breakfast smoothie and even sprinkling it on top of salads!

C no evil, hear no evil

C no evil, hear no evil