What’s for dinner? In this series, meet Northwest Floridians and find out how their dinner plate looks different than yours and why. From the gluten-free Huwa family to the vegan Holliday/Browning family, find out what factors determine our diet.
Editor’s note: In this series, meet Northwest Floridians and find out how their dinner plate looks different than yours and why.
CRESTVIEW – When Mackenzie Holliday went vegan, she could finally breathe.
It was New Year’s Eve 2012 when she and her husband, David, tossed out every animal-based food in their kitchen for ethical reasons. Their decision to become vegan came after months of watching documentaries about animal cruelty and the vegan lifestyle, namely the documentary “Forks Over Knives.”
While the initial reasoning was purely ethical, becoming vegan had its health benefits, too. After only a week, Holliday noticed she could breathe better.
“I didn’t realize I had a breathing problem,” Holliday said. “Everything became clear and focused. I was like, ‘Wow, I feel like I can take a deeper breath.’ I think it was the dairy. I was always heavy in dairy. I was never a huge meat eater, but I had tons of milk, yogurt, ice cream – it was my favorite. I think that made a big difference.
“Everybody loves cheese.”
The Crestview couple and their daughter, Allison, 9, have been vegan ever since and later influenced Holliday’s mother, Linda Browning, into the same decision.
Going vegan has had more health benefits than Holliday imagined.
Holliday started her vegan diet eating faux meats and junk food, trying to replicate what she was eating before, but vegan friendly, she said. After fully adjusting, a then 200-pound Holliday focused on eating healthier for weight loss. She lost 70 pounds, going from an extra large to a small. She is featured on the “Forks Over Knives” website as a vegan weight loss success story.
Today, Holliday is a personal fitness trainer. She even wears a vegan themed tattoo.
“I’m soft advocate,” Holliday said. “I don’t push people. I lead by example. I like doing athletics, showing people like, ‘Look what I can do on plants.’”
Browning didn’t always support her daughter’s decision; she fought it.
“I fought her on making Allison vegan,” Browning said. “I felt like, ‘My dreams finally came true, now I can’t make cookies with my granddaughter. I can’t take her for an ice cream.‘ I thought, ‘How is she going to grow? Where is she going to get her protein? Where is she going to get her vitamin D?’”
The protein question comes up a lot for Holliday.
“I tell them, ‘Protein is in everything you eat,’” Holliday said. “Protein is in bread. Protein is in white rice. It’s not just in meat products. Black beans have a huge amount of protein. Same with oats.”
Most Americans have too much protein intake, Holliday said. It makes people sick, she said.
“It can give you kidney problems,” Holliday said. “It can cause cancer – especially if it’s an animal protein. We don’t have hospitals filling over lack of protein. We have hospitals filled with heart attacks and high blood pressure and diabetes.”
Browning remembers hosting a vegan Thanksgiving dinner for her daughter’s family and not adhering to the animal-free meal herself.
“My ex-husband and I sat there and ate Cornish game hens in front of them,” Browning said. “Now that I’m vegan — I’m getting choked up — I still think about that and think how rude that was of us and how that must have made them feel. I think about those things now and get emotional about it.”
After seeing Holliday‘s before and after photos, a man Browning previously dated suggested switching to a plant-based diet.
He was a Southern man and heavy meat eater, Browning said. He was overweight and had almost died from high blood pressure.
“He lost 30 pounds in the first three months and 10 more after that for 40 total,” Browning said. “He got off all the blood pressure meds. He lowered his cholesterol. He would eat, and his ankles would swell up. From day one of being vegan, they never swelled up again.”
Exactly three years after Holliday went vegan, Browning made the switch, too.
“That’s really the only resolution I’ve ever made in my life,” Browning said. “It’s been a really easy one to keep, and the best thing I’ve ever done, other than my two beautiful kids. Every vegan will tell you that they wish they would have done it sooner.”
Browning remembers Allison once asking her parents why Grandma and Grandpa eat animals. Her decision was also primarily for ethical reasons.
“Kids are more likely to understand veganism for the ethical reason,” Browning said. “They say we all start out vegan. Eating animals is a learned behavior. We all loved animals as kids.”
Allison is on board with the vegan lifestyle. Vegan bacon is her favorite.
“One of my least favorite times as school is lunch because I will sit next to a person with a tray of just meat,” Allison said. “Meat everywhere.”
The first year of eating vegan is the most creative one, Holliday said.
She experimented a lot in the first couple of years, especially with soups. Being vegan makes cooking fun, she said.
“I got really bored cooking,” Holliday said. “I was 25 and I got tired of tacos and spaghetti. It’s fun to learn new recipes.”
Holliday is a fairly healthy vegan, she said. Some of her go-tos are fresh fruit in the mornings, Ezekiel English muffins with peanut butter, smoothies, chickpea sandwiches – which taste like chicken salad sandwiches, she said.
“Dinner is a variety of things,” Holliday said. “Usually I ‘veganize’ a typical dinner like spaghetti.”
“You can veganize anything,” Browning said. “I’m a veganizer.”
Browning once made a bacon alternative out of coconut. She makes loads of vegan baked goods.
“I’m not a healthy vegan,” Browning said with a laugh. “I’m a junk food vegan.”
One of Holliday’s favorite vegan dishes she has made is glam chowder.
“It’s like clam chowder, but you use shitake mushrooms for the clams because they’re chewy,” Holliday said. “And you make a cashew cream to put in there and potatoes, carrots and celery.”
Holliday and Browning are members of the Crestview Florida Vegans Facebook page and Pensacola Vegans page, where people share tips for cooking and shopping vegan as well as organize group gatherings. They agree being vegan is cheaper at the grocery store.
“Long before I was vegan, I used to go into the grocery store and go into the meat section and the cheese section and eggs and stand there and go, ‘What are we going to eat? I can’t afford this,’” Browning said. “I was starting to buy cheaper and cheaper cuts of meat and smaller blocks of cheese … We eat like royalty now.”
Her favorite part: No grease.
“No smell in my kitchen,” Browning said. “Nothing yucky or gross to clean up. No salmonella.”
Being vegan wasn’t mainstream when Holliday did it.
She and David, an air traffic controller for the U.S. Air Force, lived in California at the time.
“Three months after going vegan, we got orders back to Eglin,” Holliday said. “I was like, ‘What are we going to eat out here? There’s nothing. Vegan is a foreign word.’”
But, now most people are supportive. Holliday’s family cook and dine out, often at Bamboo Sushi Bar & Hibachi and Pepper’s in Crestview.
“People have always been really open when I’ve told them,” Holliday said. “They haven’t given me a hard time, even at restaurants. They’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll see what we can do.’”
David’s colleagues used to give him flak for the first couple years of being vegan, she said.
“Now they’re really supportive,” Holliday said. “Last year he came back for a visit from Korea and his entire crew threw him a vegan potluck.”
Holliday doesn‘t force her lifestyle on nonvegan friends. When people are ready to change, they will change, she said.
But, after learning about animal cruelty, Holliday will always avoid the meat section at the supermarket.
“You have a blindfold on,” Holliday said. “You don’t know what’s there.”