Today I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my oldest and dearest friends Alex Loker. Alex is 46 years old and lives in Alexandria Virginia with his wife Lori, son Max, and two meat eating cats. When he’s not keeping PBS on the air using his awesome skills of IT management he likes to ride his bike and roll around the floor doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
How long have you been a vegan?
I started January 2nd 2014.
What inspired you to become a vegan?
Two things really. The first was a death sentence from my doctor. Well, it was more of a “death warning”, but it still hit home. I’ve been overweight for the last decade or so with my weight fluctuating up or down 20bls, but basically hovering around 200lbs. I’ve had high cholesterol and I’ve been taking statins to try and keep it under control for the last few years, and my blood pressure hasn’t been great. When I went to go see the doctor in December of 2013, I was also having mild chest pains. They sent me to the cardio doc and ran tests. Everything came back OK in the sense that I wasn’t having a heart attack. Yet. But….the doc has an app (image that), where they plug in your height, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and other stats and come up with a percentage of likelihood that you’ll have a cardiac event in the next five years. My percentage was 97%. And the doc told me that the symptoms of a cardiac event for 1 in 4 men is sudden death. Like I said, not a death sentence, but certainly a death warning.
The second thing that made me change was related to the first. I read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Esselstyn. It blew my mind about dietary cholesterol and eating animal products and what it does to the heart and cardiac system. Dr. Esselstyn has been reversing heart disease (of which I was showing strong signs of) for years in his patients using mostly a vegan, no-oil diet. So I decided to try becoming “plant strong”, which is vegan no-oil (which means vegan and no butter, no olive oil, no added oils at all) to reverse my probable heart disease.
After 7 months on a plant-strong diet I am down 35 pounds to 165 (the lightest I’ve been in 20 years), my cholesterol is down 120 points, my blood pressure is a normal 120/70, and according to my doc – my percentage of having a cardiac event is down from 97% to 5%.
What was your biggest challenge in becoming a vegan?
Although it took me a few months to figure out what I can cook that actually tastes good, that wasn’t the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge was dealing with eating out with people, especially business clients, co-workers, and people in non-family social settings. Try going to a steak house in Texas with business clients and not ordering steak! It’s always an interesting conversation. At first I felt like an idiot ordering a baked potato with no butter and a side of steamed broccoli. But I’m used to it now and ordering non-meat meals in social situations is much easier.
Do you have any meat eaters at home? If yes, how do you handle meals?
Yes, my wife and son are meat eaters. They do their thing and I do mine. My wife Lori will pick up extra vegetables, guacamole, oatmeal, really any staples I need when she goes shopping. But the actual cooking is done separately. It hasn’t been a big deal for us.
Any advice for people wanting to make the transition to vegan?
I think it was in the McDougal cookbook (highly recommend by the way,) that I read a similar question and I have a similar answer as the authors of the book. You cannot survive on salads and fruits. If I had to eat only salads for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be a vegan. You should plan on replacing meat at a meal with a starch. Use rice, pasta, potatoes; whatever starches you like. Just don’t expect to become a vegan and eat salads all day long and be happy. The starches provide a lot of the texture that meat used to provide. They provide something to sink your teeth into. They can be flavored with whatever cuisine you like; Indian, Italian, Southwestern. Whatever your palate likes you can flavor your starches with spices for that cuisine.
Is guacamole a vegetable? I kid, but it has to be a tie between the avocado and the sweet potato.
Your go-to spice:
Kitchen tool you can’t live without:
Nothing stands out as something I can’t live without. But more advice for folks thinking about becoming vegan. There is more cooking involved. You’ll be boiling more water, microwaving more frozen veggies, baking more potatoes. I couldn’t live without all that kitchen stuff, but there’s nothing different required than when I ate meat. But now I can’t run out and grab a quick, hot, delicious, dinner from a local restaurant like I could when I ate meat. So cooking has been paramount to my success.
Favorite vegan product:
Beer. Hey – it’s not meat! OK, I would have to say Wasa crackers are also great. Have you ever tried to find a cracker with NO added oil? I dare you to read the ingredients of the crackers in your local grocery store. I must have read 100 cracker boxes looking for a no oil cracker. Wasa are the only crackers I can find that are vegan with no added oil. And Trader Joe’s house brand Mushroom Spaghetti Sauce is another no-oil vegan product that tastes great. Most spaghetti sauces have added oil, so I use Trader Joe’s quite a bit.
Can you share one of your favorite recipes with us?
This is from Lindsay Nixon’s “Happy Herbivore” cookbook. They’re called Cheater Peanut Butter Muffins. I love these things. I found the recipe after being burned out on Oatmeal and Grape Nuts for breakfast. They do take a little bit of prep time, but they’re delicious!
1 red apple
1 cup white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (I use Quaker instant)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
2 TBP almond milk (or any other non dairy)
1 ripe banana
2 TBP smooth peanut butter
-Preheat over to 350
-Core and dice apple, measuring out 1 cup and placing the rest in a food processor
-In bowl, mix flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda together. Add diced apple and set aside.
-In blender, add maple syrup, vanilla extract, water, almond milk, and banana. Blend until smooth.
-Pour blender mix into flour mix. Stir until smooth.
-Add peanut butter and stir to mix
-Spoon into nonstick muffin pan
-Bake for 15-20 mins.
Thank you so much for sharing Alex! The muffins were delicious!