By Veronica Neff
Every kind of grain and color of rice fill the cabinets, frozen bags of fruit infiltrate all of the freezer drawers, and I think to myself if I see another bag of quinoa I’m going to throw it at her head. These are all of the treasures for my twin sister’s, Kellyn, attempt at being an all-embracing vegan. For the small amount of you that may not know, a vegan is someone who does not at all indulge in animal made products. Kellyn started this lifestyle when we were freshman in college, only three years after she was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. UC is an autoimmune disease caused by inflammation of the large intestine. The cause for UC is unknown and it is also chronic, lasting for years or throughout that person’s life. A UC victim must be careful to not provoke a flare-up, which is an uncomfortable ordeal that can last for months. Someone with a flare-up could experience diarrhea, bloody stool, and abdominal pain. The reason for this is also unknown, but could happen every fifteen years or so in a person’s life that has UC.
It was hard to see my sister go through this at such a young age. Especially when I could not be with her. I heard all about the 2 a.m. ambulance trips from our local hospital to C.H.O.P, the early morning nurse visits in Kellyn’s hospital room only to wake her to prick her for blood, the countless Remicade[i] dosages, and the total of two months of school she had missed. In the beginning, I remember my mother telling me how she herself had become upset when a nurse dropped the word “surgery” on Kellyn. This was when my mother and Kellyn were still “doctor shopping”. Thankfully, it did not ever come to surgery.
Though many people become vegan to demonstrate the rights for animals, my sister is only trying to reduce symptoms due to her disease and prevent possible flare-ups. Kellyn, while distraught that her diet would have to change drastically, meaning no more eating five bags of Ramen after school, found an enjoyable, healthy, and surprisingly cheap way to still eat large quantities of food.
Kellyn is able to get her protein through many unique options such as almond butter, dates, chickpeas, edamame, Bibb lettuce, red kidney beans, and so much more. Most of the time, she will have a combination of these. She visits farmer’s markets and stands regularly and always experiments with new vegan recipes. Her latest creation included sinfully combining vegetables and beans to make “brownies”.
Being home on the weekends and for the summer with her means I get to partake in some of her delicious groupings of food.
“Try this,” she said one day holding up a concoction of green and orange smushed between two pieces of bread. I crinkled my nose. “It’s mashed chickpeas and sweet potato layered with beet greens on rye.” I got a decent look at it before backing away in the opposite direction, but it looked pretty tasty. For a vegan. Despite what I may think of her food, Kellyn is anything but boring when it comes to making animal product-less meals.
Despite what I may think of her food, Kellyn is anything but boring when it comes to making animal product-less meals.
One night last summer, while I was busy cracking open a can of Spaghettios, she introduced me to quinoa and sweet potato cakes. I’m not as adventurous as my sister when it comes to food, but I decided to put down the can of sodium and preservative pumped O-noodles and humor her. She took these “cakes” from the hot skillet and plopped them on my plate. I go to reach for it but she slaps my hand away and tells me she isn’t done making my plate up. She then moved the cakes to one side of the plate, stacking them gently before walking back over to the stove to lift the lid off of a steaming pot. Taking tongs and dipping them into the pot she pulled out a big dripping pile of green and, after letting it drain in the air, quickly put it next to the cakes. I tried to relax my upper lip from a disgusted snarl because I thought it was over. I was wrong. Next, she pulled the microwave door open and out came a bowl of corn, peas, green beans, and carrots. Kellyn carefully organized all of the contents on my plate by placing the cakes on top of the sautéed kale to make room for a generous helping of mixed vegetables before putting it in front of me. Thankfully, she didn’t wait around to see my reaction. I don’t think I could have handled the pressure. As she made her meal, I picked at a specific piece of kale and an even bigger piece of cake so as to mask the sogginess of the green mush. After boldly tasting the combination, I remember a satisfying saltiness to it from the kale as well as a softness from the potato. I was surprisingly pleased. I finished my meal before Kellyn even put hers together. She mimicked the same way my plate was set up, only with a garnish of rosemary on top of her cakes for her next Instagram post.
“How was it?” She asked not looking up from her phone. I told her it was actually very good as she snapped photo after photo of her own meal. “Better than that can of gunk,” she murmured.
On her Instagram, KellynTheMelon, she shows her followers how she creates her vegan desserts, snacks, and entrees. She will demonstrate 50 ways to dress up and eat avocados, how to make dates and celery taste reasonably sweet together in her summer smoothies, and multiple ways to make plain spinach leaves look decadent after adding flax seeds and mashed sweet potato on top.
When comparing my diet to my sister’s, while I might take the prize for most enjoyable and popular food, she wins the healthiest hands-down. I’m content with my angel hair pasta with tomato sauce, ice cream, chicken and sour cream dishes, and all the cheese I can eat. Kellyn and I can connect on some level with our love for kale, but only until I dump a massive amount of salad dressing with creamy cheese bits on it and cancel out the health aspect.
As Kellyn practices veganism, she not only reduces her odds for a flare-up, but also the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. This is because of all the saturated fat, animal hormones, and cholesterol vegans are not putting into their bodies. About 16 million people are vegan in the world today. “Ethical vegans” go as far as not using any animal products such as leathers, feathers, and fur.[ii] Though Kellyn is a “food” vegan only, after she watched one animal abuse documentary promo she refuses to eat her egg yolks for reasons I forbid her to tell me.
Kellyn is very diligent when it comes to her diet. She is always focused on finding more ways to improve her health and decrease the chance of a flare-up. Diligent until my mother or father picks up the phone to call our household’s favorite local pizza restaurant, Dolce Vita.
Kellyn used to work at Dolce Vita, and the owner, Frank, and my father are buddy-buddy. It’s a vegan’s nightmare. Frank always makes sure our family’s pizza is no more than fifeteen minutes out of his oven and onto our table. There is nothing like a fresh hot pizza to waver a vegan’s sense of lifestyle mentality. Well, maybe this vegan’s.
“I was good all week,” Kellyn would tell me whenever I so much as raised an eyebrow at her after her first sniff of her pizza slice. “I don’t want my body to completely forget cheese.” Three days of vegan Instagram posts is her act of contrition to cleanse the guilt after eating said slice. One pound of strawberries, a kale and date smoothie, and quinoa cakes also follow to “detox” her body.
There is something about the way I feel after eating a meal with Kellyn. It’s almost as if I feel the nutrients sinking into my body; like I can breathe a little better afterward and the food she makes me pushes away all of the bad excess, and gives my body a clean slate. I instantly feel better about myself. I now ask my sister to make my dinner when she is home sometimes, and she will gladly and almost always voluntarily do so. She really enjoys creating new recipes together for our family at meal times, and always does so before making her own. I could never be a vegan, I don’t eat close to the proper amount of vegetables, but my sister has motivated me to try and eat healthier than I ever have before.
Seeing how far my sister has come with her disease by making it into an entire lifestyle is nothing less than inspirational. Trips to a pick-your-own strawberry field are about as exciting to her as an amusement park to a six-year-old, and farmer’s markets are a day long vacation. She made her diet change look enjoyable every step of the way. Especially for someone who was giving up sour cream. Even if she will dollop a spoonful on top of her rice every so often. I don’t let this define her willpower; being a vegan is difficult. It is something I have not tried and most likely will ever try. Kellyn the Melon has what it takes, but she also has a craving for Dolce Vita white pizza only a five-minute drive away.
[i] An immunosuppressant that helps treat Ulcerative Colitis.
[ii] Why Go Vegan?, The Vegan Society.