Monday, September 19, 2011

Interview: Andrea Adams

Andrea Adams came to the United States from Germany in 1980, first working as a nurse and later branching out into the promotion of health and wellness using natural remedies and natural bath and body products.

Adams sold her business and returned to nursing in 2008, then launched her popular website and growing Facebook page last year. Now, in addition to studying toward a Master's degree in nutrition, she volunteers with a local non-profit group that aids families of children with cancer and teaches about nutrition through both private counseling and wellness presentations for groups. If that's not enough, she's also currently writing a book combining an explanation of the power of a plant-based diet with healthy recipes.

For me, Adams embodies the busy, responsive, high-energy vegan who spends much of her time helping and educating others, and I'm grateful that she recently found some time to answer a few questions about her life and work.

New Vegan Age: How did you become vegan?

The Vegan Nurse: It is really more about why I became a vegan. Five of my very good friends died within a two-and-a-half year span, and they all died of cancer. I have always had a love affair with food and nutrition and its healing powers, so I looked toward nutrition for an answer. A friend recommended that I read The China Study. I read it in just two days, and then I read it again, and when I was done the next day I turned to a plant-based diet. It just made absolute sense to me, that going vegan is the right thing to do.

NVA: Almost overnight! Wow. And how did you become a nurse?

TVN: When I was growing up in Germany, my grandmother had a certain touch. She could put herbal tinctures together and mix up potions and herbal teas that made people feel well. I wanted to do the same, and I believe that is why I chose to become a nurse.

NVA: Have you ever encountered criticism of your veganism from patients? From doctors? From other nurses?

TVN: For the most part, I have encountered very little criticism from patients and co-workers. Perhaps more of a disbelief. Most people have been told what and how to eat since their birth, and then someone says: "Listen, if you want to stop your heart disease and diabetes, stop eating meat, dairy and eggs." It can be shocking for some.

There is very little time for the bedside nurse to actually sit down with the patient and explain the why and how of eating a plant-based diet. I, however, work from my own office and do have the time. I work with my clients; I acknowledge and recognize their culture, belief, background, and their current situation. Some clients just cut out one food and deal with that; others eat one vegan meal per day, and still others change over to a plant-based diet in an instant. Everyone is different, and we need to recognize that.

However, if I may be permitted, I would like to also point out that often the criticism can go into the other direction, as well. Vegetarians and vegans are often very insulting to omnivores. I know that many vegans are coming from their heart and are defending the animals, and I totally understand their point. Then are those who are raising awareness for health reasons, and I am totally for that, as well. However, let's try to do it without being self-righteous. Let's educate and present the facts as we know them and allow everyone to make their own decisions and choices in their own time.

NVA: Do you think that plant-based nutrition will ever be a required part of all medical training in the United States? When?

TVN: There really is no easy answer to this question. However, I certainly hope that we will get to this point. I believe that, with well-known doctors and researchers such as Doctors Campbell, Esselstyn, Ornish and McDougall, as well as politicians like former President Clinton bringing awareness to the masses, and those masses demanding a change, we will get there one day. It will not be easy to change a whole nation with an ingrained belief that has been passed down for generations.

For right now, sadly, it is each person's own responsibility to seek the truth. We live in a society that treats sickness instead of promoting health. We need to understand that not only our health is at stake, but also the health of our planet and the animals. Many of those who are in charge are driven by monetary reasons and power, and I think Dr. Campbell described it best in The China Study when he wrote:

The entire system—government, science, medicine, industry and media—promotes profits over health, technology over food and confusion over clarity ... it is a silent enemy that few people see and understand.

NVA: And yet, with websites like yours and the increasing popularity of documentaries like Forks Over Knives, let's hope it is now 'less silent' and 'more understood.' But back to you for a moment. How does your German heritage influence and inform your experience and work as The Vegan Nurse?

TVN: I was raised with the belief that the right food can hold body and soul together. I remember my grandmother telling me that too much butter or too many eggs would "cut off the heart." Just listen to this phrase: "Cut off the heart."

She may have not known the proper terms, as she had no formal medical education and her knowledge was passed down to her by her mother. Years later, I realized she was talking about how bad animal fats are and how it could raise your cholesterol. My parents had the same belief, and made always sure that we ate good, home-grown fruits and vegetables. We were not vegans when I grew up back then, but I certainly believe that my parents and my grandmother laid that foundation that the right foods can prevent illness.

NVA: How does living in Northeastern Pennsylvania play a role in your work?

TVN: I certainly love living here. I moved to NEPA about 20 years ago. I feel connected to the people of this area, partially because there is a lot of German heritage in this area, and also because the lay of the land reminds me of my homeland. I also enjoy the laid-back lifestyle. Regarding my work as one that promotes plant-based eating, I think I am exactly where I need to be. Although we have clusters of vegan lifestyles here and there, I believe that there is a lot of work to be done here in NEPA just as there is in other parts of the country. However, as a wonderful add-on, I feel that people of this area are not shy about approaching and welcoming something new.

NVA: Your facebook page is very active: Several posts every day, with lots of people liking and commenting on each one. That's a lot to keep up with! Is it ever hard to stay committed to The Vegan Nurse project? If so, what rewards keep you engaged?

TVN: I am very passionate about promoting 'health through nutrition' and I feel that we, meaning those that believe the same way as I do, have only scratched the surface of what needs to be done. Most times I do not have a hard time staying committed to this endeavor, but for extra motivation should I ever need it, I will just think about my friends that I lost to cancer and that could be alive if I only knew back then what I know now.

NVA: I like that, that we've 'only scratched the surface of what needs to be done.' It's almost like we need to every day be asking ourselves, "What else can I do? To that point, what else are you working on these days?

TVN: Currently I am working on a new website. My son is the brain behind this project. We are hoping to be able to launch our new website very soon. The site will be user-friendly and easy to navigate and will be interactive. Those who subscribe to the blog will be able to post some of their own favorite recipes.

I am also writing a book. It will be an accumulation of the whys and hows of veganism, but there will also be lots of information in easy-to-read and understandable language. The second part of the book will be composed of great, kitchen-tested, plant-based recipes that I hope everyone will enjoy.

NVA: Thank you so much, Andrea. Please keep us posted about your new site and upcoming book. We'll be sure to spread the word!

TVN: Thank you! It's been a pleasure.

08-26-2012 UPDATE: Adams recently wrote that she is no longer fully vegan, but that she continues to do nutritional counseling and has started a new website. We were sorry to learn that she has had some health struggles during the past year, but we're grateful to know she is now feeling better! All the best, Andrea.