Environmentalist, engineer, and land surveyor, Frank Avila was elected as a commissioner to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago for a six-year term in 2002 and re-elected in 2008 and 2014. Somewhere in between those years he became vegan. Here’s why.
How long have you been a vegan? I’ve followed a vegan diet since July 2004.
And why did you choose to become a vegan? I realized that I needed a major lifestyle change. I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was overweight. I had high blood pressure. I knew that if I didn’t change my lifestyle, I would follow in my grandfather’s footsteps, who passed away from prostate cancer at 72. I’m now 79 and as healthy as can be. Karyn Calabrese, a raw vegan chef, recommended a lifestyle retreat center to Sherry, my wife. Sherry took me to the Optimum Health Institute in California for a three week retreat. This retreat saved my life.
What was so special about this retreat that had transformed your lifestyle to veganism? Well, first, the diet was entirely raw vegan. The facility was very nice. It included meditation, daily yoga, exercise classes, a swimming pool, on-site massages, educational lectures about chemicals that go into personal care products and cosmetics. There were drug addicts and there were cancer patients. There was a lot of freedom to choose what you wanted to do, but everything related to a holistic way of living.
After those three weeks, what bodily changes did you notice? Everything was different. I lost 25 pounds. My blood pressure was down. I had energy and was more relaxed. I was even nicer to people!
What has been the most challenging part of being a vegan? The most challenging part is easily dining out, as most restaurants aren’t equipped to serve fully vegan dishes. Simple salads are often as vegan as it will get, but those get pretty boring. Another challenge is being friends with people who are not vegan. My wife is neither vegan nor vegetarian, so we have to be conscious of our decisions at the grocery store.
Run me through a typical day on your vegan diet. I wake up and drink 16 ounces of water. I have steel cut oats or a homemade smoothie. Smoothies are either entirely vegetable based or fruit based. The fruit smoothie includes coconut oil and the following organic fruit: apple, pear, bananas, pineapple, blueberries/strawberries. The vegetable smoothie includes water and a combination of the following organic vegetables: broccoli, carrots, celery, cilantro, herbs, turnip, mixed greens. Lunch meals vary, but my favorite is to buy a Buddha Bop entree from Amitabul restaurant on the North Side early in the week and then use it as a base for meals within the next few days. I pair it with fresh vegetables from the grocery store. Another favorite lunch meal includes an Amy’s California vegetable burger with fresh vegetables. Dinner usually consists of homemade vegetables tacos (vegetables with organic sprouted corn tortillas from Whole Foods). In between all of that I drink water - never soda or any sugary drink.
What is your all time favorite vegan dish? My favorite vegan dish is a mixture of mushrooms, mixed greens, carrots, celery, broccoli, cilantro, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and cayenne… all on a bed of quinoa.
What is your guilty pleasure? Almond chocolate… vegan of course!
What advice do you have to those who aspire to be vegan? You have to put your mind to it! The diet you follow now is the diet you’ve most likely followed your whole life. Changing that isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely possible! Recognize that most people are taught that you need to eat other animals in order to survive… that you need fish to get B12… that you need chicken for protein… that you need beef for iron… and that you need milk for calcium. Of course, you need B12, protein, iron, and calcium, but you can get them from non-animal sources. It just takes dedication and hard work to successfully make the change. Put your mind to it, and you can do it!