Meet Author & Activist Sherra Aguirre
“The contradictions of racism, sexism, speciesism, environmental harm, economic disparity, underlying American society can no longer be ignored. Change will not be easy or quick, and there will be significant challenges, some of which may take us backward before we go forward. My hope is that despite, and maybe even because of our current challenges and those to come, we will rediscover our moral compass and lay the groundwork for a society in which all can thrive.”Sherra Aquirre
Sherra Aguirre is a health enthusiast, environmentalist, and food justice advocate who improved her own overall heart health and eliminated symptoms of hypertension despite a significant family history of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure, by adopting a whole plant-based diet. Passionate about empowering others to maintain vibrancy and good health throughout their lifetimes, in 2016 Aguirre decided to sell a successful, award-winning business that she founded and led for three decades to focus on sharing her passion for healthy diet and lifestyle.
Aguirre is the author of the book, Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease. Her book strives to empower readers with the simplest, most effective way to prevent or even reverse the nation’s number one killer, heart disease, despite family history. Aguirre hopes her new book will make the change to a healthier diet and lifestyle more accessible, particularly to African Americans and other communities who are at high risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Aguirre writes about the healing qualities of compassion, simplicity, and gratitude, and the ripple effect vegan eating can have on individuals, families, and communities.
Q & A
Q: Tell me a little about your book. Could you give my readers an overview?
Sherra Aguirre: Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease empowers readers with the simplest, most effective way to prevent or reverse our number one killer, heart disease, regardless of family history. Its premise is that enjoying good health naturally at any age starts in our kitchens by changing what and how we eat. Although this book is important for anyone who wants to enjoy a healthy life free of chronic diseases, it targets women, especially African American women. Black women who are on the front lines of the fight against heart disease, the nation’s number one killer, are sixty percent more likely to have high blood pressure and twice as likely to have a stroke than white women.
In the book, I share my own story of reversing high blood pressure despite a history of heart disease on both sides of my family with a plant-based diet based on nutritional studies and the recommendations of cardiologists who have demonstrated patient results for many years. I write about the healing qualities of mindfulness, compassion, simplicity, and gratitude, as well as the ripple effect vegan eating can have on individuals, families, and communities. And there are tips for success and recipes to ensure no one has to choose between great food and great health!
Q: What is the most important message you want your book to convey to readers?
Sherra Aguirre: Communities of color are leading the escalating statistics for diet-related illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and common cancers. These illnesses are preventable and even reversible with a plant-based diet. Medications manage symptoms, however, unless we change what and how we eat, underlying conditions do not go away, and health can continue to decline over time.
Q: What makes your book unique in the health and wellness space?
Sherra Aguirre: The title is a tell. The concept of joyful living is first and foremost in my approach to a healthy vegan diet and lifestyle. I want to completely flip the script that says plant-based eating is about sacrifice and denial. When we focus on what we have to gain and how to enjoy the journey with great food, those things are not only unnecessary they are counterproductive. We can enjoy all our favorite flavors, tastes, and textures in plant-based foods.
Q: What are the top reasons people are choosing a plant-based diet?
Sherra Aguirre: There are three primary reasons people are choosing a plant-based diet, and Black Americans in the U.S. are three times more likely than other groups to identify as vegetarian or vegan according to a study by BBC in 2020.
- Health and wellness concerns are primary drivers of the change to a vegan diet. The science is clear that eating a diet of primarily whole plant-based foods significantly reduces risk for chronic lifestyle illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, common cancers and even cognitive decline.
- Animal rights and ethical treatment is another concern that drives a vegan lifestyle.
- Concern for the environment is increasingly important as a reason to eat plant-strong. Large scale industrial animal farming and feeding operations are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Q. At what point did you know your personal commitment to an all plant-based diet was more than a path to better health?
Sherra Aguirre: From the beginning, I also felt strongly about the animal rights aspect. I spent summers as a kid at my grandparents’ farm in East Texas and was always around chickens, pigs, horses, and cows. I saw my grandmother kill a chicken by grabbing it by the head and twirling it to break its neck, then tossing it on the ground where it flopped around until it died. Although I still ate the chicken at the dinner table, I would hide when she went to pick one from the hen house to kill. As horrendous as that sounds, it pales by comparison to current factory production and slaughterhouse methods.
Q. You say in the book that people sustain their choice to eat plant-based when they have more than one compelling reason to do so. Your initial reason was your concern with your family history of heart disease. Is that your most powerful reason at this point?
Sherra Aguirre: With my own health and compassion for animals being my original motivation to adopt a vegan diet, understanding the environmental devastation of our current industrial food production system through pollution of the air, water and soil clenched it.
Q: How does eliminating meat and dairy connect to the issue of climate change?
Sherra Aguirre: By eating a vegan diet of whole plant-based foods, we show compassion for our planet and take a major step toward reversing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions from industrial animal farming. It is estimated that going vegan for just two-thirds of meals while still occasionally eating animal products would cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by almost 60 percent. Additionally, meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, but use 83% of farmland, while an estimated 690 million people go to bed hungry every night according to a report by the United Nations.
Q: What are some tips for success in sustaining a vegan lifestyle?
Sherra Aguirre: Some tips for sustaining a vegan lifestyle are:
- Share your decision to eat plant-based with a friend or family member who will offer their support, not necessarily because they agree, but because they will respect your choice.
- Find organizations and others in your community who are also promoting and enjoying a vegan lifestyle for additional social support and sharing resources.
- Practice self-compassion by making the transition at your own pace.
- Learn how to make simple and quick meals you love at home. It’s especially important to tweak your favorite recipes to make them meat and dairy free, while keeping the flavors.
- As you experience the benefits of plant-based eating – more energy, weight loss, better health, celebrate! The victories help us appreciate the journey and stay the course.
Q: What are your tips for eating as a vegan in mainstream restaurants?
SA: An essential skill for vegans and the first tip is to have a healthy snack before and not to go hungry! In my book, I talk about learning to “game” a mainstream restaurant menu. I started having so much fun with the challenge that it felt like a game! There is more detail in the book, but the steps are to focus on the side dishes and salads for vegetables, fruit, nuts, etc. I usually start with a salad that has ingredients I like and then scan other salads for things like avocado, roasted potatoes, corn, berries, or raisins that I might ask to substitute for any meat or dairy ingredients on my selected one. I usually ask for plain balsamic vinegar instead of a prepared salad dressing, because waiters often don’t know all their ingredients.
In addition to salads, I often add a plain baked potato and if you’re not oil-free, they taste great drizzled with a little olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. If I’m in the mood for dessert, I’ll ask for a cup of mixed fresh fruit, and to really go wild, spoon a little maple syrup over the top!
Q: In your chapter on food addictions and cravings you give a simple “secret” to making healthier food choices. What is that?
SA: Food addictions may require professional support to overcome. Regarding cravings, in my book, I explain why “don’ts don’t work” which means that focusing on what you can’t have is self-defeating. To make any positive change sustainable you have to focus on where you want to go and not on what you’re leaving behind. Finding recipes, restaurants, and delicious plant-based foods that you enjoy is part of the journey. There are tips and strategies in my book to make your journey successful and fun.
Q: You speak of love and compassion as the most powerful motivators for change. How have you incorporated that power in your own self-care?
Sherra Aguirre: In Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease I share an experience that changed forever the way I think about taking care of my body. After beginning to experience symptoms of burnout and grieving the loss of my mother, I joined a wellness class in which a speaker shared a powerful metaphor about the love every cell in our body gives us every moment of our lives in a tireless effort to keep us well. She went on to say that because we don’t understand or see what they do, we take it for granted and make their job harder with many of the everyday choices we make. Try as they may to cope, eventually, our cells may be overwhelmed and no longer able to protect us.
The impact of her message about the unconditional love our trillions of cells give us came at a time when my own self-care was fractured. I began to listen carefully to my body’s signals and to return this love and compassion through better food and lifestyle choices.
Q: Why is the issue of ethical treatment of food animals so important to you? Why should readers be concerned?
SA: It has been said that the day we no longer accept the needless killing of animals for food or entertainment, the taking of a human life will be unthinkable. Normalized violence toward animals desensitizes us to violence against other human beings. By changing to a plant-based diet we use our power as consumers to reduce demand for meat and dairy produced under the inhumane and unsanitary conditions for factory farmed animals and slaughterhouse workers exposed to unsafe working conditions. What is less known is that deforestation required to produce crops for industrial animal feeding is also driving mass extinction of many wild animal and insect species and is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.
Q: Although your work draws heavily from nutritional science, reviewers have commented on a spiritual quality that runs through this work. How do you connect what some see as two separate if not opposing points of reference?
SA: Great question, and one I really struggled with while writing the book. My first drafts really emphasized the research and nutritional studies. It was a learning experience for me and hugely valuable for my own health journey and to share with my readers and others. It is exciting and there is growing validation for the benefits of a plant-strong diet. It also revealed how much we have yet to learn about the human body. At the same time, the ancient wisdom traditions of health care which embrace the mind/body/spirit connection always resonated with me as well and were reinforced by my meditation and mindfulness practice.
I initially tried to downplay the energetic, intangible, or spiritual aspects of health, however, the science kept leading me back to it, by pointing out how much we do not yet know. My breakthrough occurred when I began to see the two points of view not as separate and distinct. Instead of worrying about how to connect them, I gave up trying to disconnect them. That is when the writing became more creative and authentic. I could affirm what research shows us – that the more we learn, the more we realize there is to learn.
Q: What are your thoughts and greatest concerns about the current social and political climate in the U.S?
SA: We are at a tipping point in so many ways – the issues of climate change, the erosion of democracy, public health crises, a growing wealth divide, increasing gun violence, and a resurgence of white supremacy. And as if all that wasn’t enough our divisions are heightened by mainstream, online, and social media options that allow people to choose their reality and “facts”. I believe this is the most dangerous condition because it polarizes people in a way that makes it extremely difficult to find common ground on any of the critical issues we face.
Q: What is your hope/vision for the future, if you could have things change in a particular direction?
Sherra Aguirre: My belief is that the fear of change, a major driver of the current social and political divide, will not prevail in the long term. However, we have to face the fact that we will not return to what we thought of as “normal”, and that substantial change is inevitable. Global warming alone will dictate that. The contradictions of racism, sexism, speciesism, environmental harm, economic disparity, underlying American society can no longer be ignored. Change will not be easy or quick, and there will be significant challenges, some of which may take us backward before we go forward. My hope is that despite, and maybe even because of our current challenges and those to come, we will rediscover our moral compass and lay the groundwork for a society in which all can thrive.
Q: If you could educate the general public about anything, what would it be?
SA: As you might imagine from the message in my book, the way I believe I can make a difference is to advocate for a plant-strong diet, optimally eliminating meat and dairy products altogether, to protect people and families from the chronic illnesses of heart disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S., along with diabetes, obesity, common cancers and even Alzheimer’s disease which are all fueled by the standard American diet. My goal is to make sure that everyone, and particularly communities of color who suffer most, know that better health is within reach, and it starts in our own kitchens.
Q. Are there any last thoughts you’d like to leave readers with?
SA: Taking the one important step of adopting a plant-based diet of delicious whole foods will not only have significant health benefits, reducing demand for meat and dairy products will be a huge deterrent to global warming due to the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions the industry produces. A third benefit important to many is a reduction in the unethical, inhumane and unsanitary practices in large-scale animal feeding and slaughterhouse operations which provide over 90% of all supermarket meat products.
You can purchase Sherra Aguirre’s book Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease here.
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