A few weeks ago, during the solar eclipse, I found the answer I’d been seeking while sitting in a field, within the path of totality, at a small community college in Kentucky.
Months earlier, after watching my cooking show, my friend Andrew advised, “If you want to grow your channel, do two things: hang some Boston sports banners in your kitchen and deliver a weight loss message.” His reasoning? My show is Beantown Kitchen. Boston is my brand. Therefore, local sports should be reflected on the set.
“Not happening”, I told him. You see, I’m not much of a sports enthusiast. A Red Sox banner, draped over my blender, would look silly. And leading with weight loss? A vegan diet is not a panacea; there are no guarantees it will skinny-proof its followers. Furthermore, weight loss diets don’t have very high success rates. If I influence others to adopt a vegan lifestyle, I hope it’s truly for life and not just until the next diet fad comes along.
Still his advice nagged at me. After all, I am committed to sharing information about the benefits and palate pleasures of a vegan lifestyle. If I can capture others’ attention with a healthy weight loss message, why not go for it?
I was sitting with my sister and her family, pondering this question, while staring at the sun through eclipse viewing glasses, in a state that has the 7th highest obesity rate in the country. And when compared to other states, it is ranked 1st when measuring deaths caused by cancer, 8th by heart disease, 11th by stroke, and 14th by diabetes. 
The culinary traditions of Kentucky likely contribute to these statistics. An hour earlier, I had experienced the nature of the state’s cuisine while cruising past these assembled hot trucks: Louis’ Smoke Shack, Happy Hog Barbeque, and Fried Pollo’s Kitchen. Okay I made up those names…but that was the gist of it. On top of that, in large swaths of rural Kentucky, it can be hard to find health promoting fresh fruits and vegetables.
There was a strong sense of camaraderie on the field that day. We met eclipse chasers from four separate continents who made their way to Kentucky to observe totality for the 1st, 2nd or even 3rd time. And then there were viewers hailing from closer locals. Amongst this group, this is what I observed: middle-aged sky-gazers, many overweight, a few in wheel chairs, a few with walkers, a few with amputated limbs and one vision impaired, walking with a cane. I don’t claim to have any knowledge of their health, but I do know about the ways a disease like diabetes ravages the body. I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was observing the outward manifestation of Kentucky cuisine and the deleterious effect it can have on the human body.
Despite our differences in geographic origin, there was one thing we all had in common: awe as the moon totally eclipsed the sun.
Glasses off, we gazed skyward, witnessing the spectacular: the umbra, the silvery darkness, the electric feeling in the air and then…the diamond ring!
Oh to have experienced this magic for even a moment longer…that sense of collective wonder and gratitude for the stars and heavens above.
For me, this shared experience generated a profound sense of connection with all the eclipse viewers on the field that day. And with that, my compassion expanded to include all who suffer from the standard American diet: animals, the planet and most certainly humans too.
I also experienced a mindset change. I’ve been aware that education is an important part of the solution to our health care crisis, specifically informing others that a mostly whole plant diet can be beneficial to health. But I hadn’t realized how important it is, for me as an individual, to focus on this message, how much people are suffering and need to hear it.
Andrew is right. While I don’t plan to espouse a “go vegan, get skinny” message going forward, I will certainly share the benefits of eating mostly whole plant foods and inform that this can be a powerful and sustainable path to weight loss and good health. I find the depth of unnecessary suffering, due to diet, to be profoundly troubling and I’m committed to do what I can to help. I’m not ready, though, to hang a Patriots banner over my oven. That, my dear friend Andrew, will take a bit more convincing.