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Here is the inspirational story of the badass Amanda Rhodes, a woman who proves it’s possible to go vegan in any situation—even while serving in the military!
In early 2007, I was preparing to be stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard at Air Station Kodiak. When you think of rugged Alaska, the first things that come to mind are hunting and fishing. At the time, that’s what I was looking forward to. I needed some quiet. I was about 22 and partied a lot to make up for the fact that my mom was dying of cancer. I indulged in a lot of food as well. I ate just about everything, and my waistline showed it. After my mom passed away, I was ready for a change from California and parties and myself. I thought getting away would change everything!
Unfortunately, you bring yourself with you, even when you escape to a new place. All the problems, fears, and anxiety and your partying tendencies go with you. I carried on that way for about two years. I was allowed to be overweight as long as I could pass the physical training tests because people tended to like me and fudge the paperwork. The only person to have a problem with my weight was me. Alaska and the stress of being in the military made me eat more and more and exercise less and less.
I worked on a cargo plane flying here and there to the wretched corners of windswept islands in the Bering Sea and desolate outposts at the tippy top of the U.S. We had these lunches that were made for our long flights with white bread and bologna, chips, and candy bars.
With all those hours and hours of darkness and blizzards as well as with work, where all I did some days was sit on my butt on a plane until our destination, I would read. I decided to read something besides fiction. I picked up a couple of nutrition books from the library. I had never been taught how to eat before. I really started paying attention to the quality of the food I was eating. Also, these books mentioned eating meat in far smaller quantities than I thought I had to. I mean, I worked with manly men who ate meat at every meal, it seemed, and the work BBQs never had vegetables on the grill—that would be blasphemous!
Yet, health advocates were for it and national governmental bodies supported it, so why not? I had definitely stumbled on to videos like “Meet Your Meat” and found out about organizations like PETA. I read articles from animal rights advocates like Peter Singer as well as from scientists who described how animals can feel pain and experience fear. I became motivated not only to be healthy but also to be more ethical with my food choices.
There were two places to go for groceries. The base grocery store had less than the Safeway in town. They both had the basics, like soy milk, tofu, veggie burgers, and veggie dogs, but that was it. I basically went from the traditional American diet to a plant-based whole-food diet overnight. I fell into a nice rotation of soaking dry beans to cook the next day to have for a few days. I would make my lunches and dinners (for the long days). The guys I worked with would see these grain-and-bean–based concoctions and ask where the meat was. I would tell them that I didn’t need it and actually didn’t want it.
I lost about 20 pounds over six months. I felt fantastic, and I lost the desire to party all the time because I wasn’t so depressed! I wanted to go to bed early so that I could get up early and go run before the sideways slushy rain and wind were too bad. It was amazing just to wake up and go to the gym without draggin’ ass the whole time I was there.
Now, I live in Corvallis, Oregon, which isn’t even close to being the mecca of veganism like Portland is, but I’m working on that! I have been in the habit of cooking for myself and eating vegan food since May of 2010. It is such a breeze now. I am the president of the vegetarian group at Oregon State University and take advantage of the platforms available to distribute information to the campus. Unlike my military coworkers, people here know what veganism is, and I have met a lot of vegetarians. What is also encouraging is that more and more people are finding out about all the benefits and don’t ever want to go back to the life that they had before …
I know that I won’t!
We commend Amanda for defending not only our country but also her own health and the lives of all animals. She is truly a hero.