When Kellijane Prescott became pregnant last year, her OBGYN laughed as he listed all the foods she would need to abstain from as a soon-to-be mother; foods like sushi and raw eggs, or staples like deli meat and certain cheeses.
“He was like, ’I don’t even need to tell you this,’” Prescott said. “Everything that could put harm to you and your baby was not vegan.”
Prescott has been vegan for the past 10 years. An outlier in her family of meat-eaters, she first experimented with the lifestyle change when she was 12, taking her doctor’s advice that cutting out processed foods might treat the debilitating irritable bowel syndrome and other issues she experienced at the time.
She learned as much as she could about adopting a vegan diet from online sources and some of her teachers at school. Now 22, she says she’s experienced positive benefits from her diet that go beyond her initial medical problems.
“That clean eating, though, you feel so much better,” said Prescott. “I’m more clear in the head. I have more energy. I used to have to use an inhaler for my asthma; I don’t even have to do that anymore. I don’t take allergy medication anymore. I’m never in pain anymore. I used to be on acid reflux medications and stuff. I got off of everything just so fast.”
While Prescott became vegan for medical purposes, learning about food production and nutrition sciences influenced her understanding of the ethical and political questions behind large-scale meat and dairy production. She now attributes her diet to environmental reasoning as well.
“I started learning about animal agriculture and factory farming, and how 80 percent of the rainforest is cut down to be cattle farms,” Prescott said. “I’m just like, ’Oh, my gosh, we just need to take a step backwards and stop eating meat because it’s destroying our planet.”
When she learned she was pregnant, however, she agreed to go back to eating meat if it meant maintaining her weight goals and calorie intake to feed both herself and her baby. Throughout her nine months, however, she never felt it was necessary to eat anything non-vegan.
“I didn’t crave it,” she said. “Everyone says you have these cravings. That’s all BS. It’s just an excuse to eat whatever you want.”
She worried after she fainted several times early in her pregnancy due to low blood sugar, but her doctors informed her that this is common in pregnant women who have yet to adjust to consuming more calories. She quickly got used to eating every two hours.
“I had lots of nuts handy, and I always was meal prepping because when you’re pregnant eating is your job, basically,” said Prescott. “Lots of smoothies, you know, and replacements for nutrients like spirulina in a smoothie for a good B12—that kind of algae that is in the ocean has a lot of those good B vitamins. And then doing hemp seeds and flax seeds for my Omega-3s and Omega-6s instead of eating fish.”
Understanding nutrition and learning basic cooking techniques were essential to following her vegan diet, as this allowed her to find necessary nutrients in different plant-based sources, as well as prepare heavier meals like sautéed vegetables, sandwiches and soups.
“I had to eat greens with every meal. That’s really important; dark, heavy greens because they have a lot of protein,” said Prescott. “Like, lots of broccoli, lots of spinach, lots of kale.”
Aside from fruits and veggies, legumes and lentils also provided her with filling amounts of protein. But Prescott also cites meat substitute products–like the jackfruit tacos she made in her partner’s food truck last summer, and plant-based protein powders that are increasingly available as reliable alternatives.
“I like to buy vegan roasts and some of the replacement meats,” said Prescott. “I love my vegan nuggets from Whole Foods, and they’re soy-free, non-GMO.”
Choosing to remain vegan while pregnant concerned even some of her family members until her doctor assured her that she and her baby were in good health. Her son, Sterling, is now 2 months old and she believes his health speaks for itself.
“He’s 75 percent above his weight and his height,’ Prescott said. “Like, he’s the size of a 4-month-old, and he’s just 2 months today. He can hold his head up, he can stand up, so I don’t care what people think.”
The public perception that veganism causes malnutrition meant Prescott’s online posts about her vegan pregnancy occasionally drew criticism from commenters who accused her of starving her baby. Others marveled at the fact that she had put on any baby weight at all.
“People [were] like, ’Wow, I can’t believe how fat you are.’” Prescott said. “On the internet it was like every day. That was like a daily thing where a guy got so mad at me he told me he was going to eat my pug. People go that extreme.”
Prescott meets the negativity with a kind of positive mindset that comes from her dietary choices, she said. She is currently enrolled in a program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and will receive her certification as a health coach in May. She says she wants to help vegans and non-vegans alike make healthier food choices.
“I understand why people eat meat,” said Prescott. “It’s like the middleman. It’s easier. The animal eats those plants with the vitamins and nutrients that you need. I know that now, that all of that stuff comes from plants.”
She says she’s uninterested in forcing her lifestyle on anyone else, even her own child, who she’ll introduce to meat when he’s slightly older.
“I’m not going to force him to be vegan, and I’m not going to force him to eat like his dad either,” Prescott said. “I’m going to give him a choice, because I kind of wish I’d got a choice, you know?”
Anyone considering a vegan lifestyle should speak to a nutritionist about their specific dietary needs, and numerous resources exist online for reference. Vegan or not, however, Prescott believes all mothers should focus on finding positivity in all forms.
“Those nine months are crucial, and you don’t want to consume any negative energy and you don’t want to be around any negative people or anything,” said Prescott. “You just want to be in the happiest place you can be so that they, for the rest of their life, their little footprint is happy and positive.”