Husband and wife Chantal Denny and David Harrow talk to Vegan Life about how their lives were transformed when they discovered veganism, prompting then to launch the Vegan Lifestyle Association
After a series of health scares, rescuing a flock of ex-battery hens and the passing of a special friend, husband and wife Chantal Denny and David Harrow’s lives were transformed when they discovered veganism. Now they’ve turned their passion – and their newfound zest for life – into a force for positive change, by launching the Vegan Lifestyle Association.
‘I actually grew up on a farm and our family had meat with every meal. I was always around the animals as a youngster, my dad even took me to an abattoir to see the pigs we’d reared go to slaughter,’ David told me. ‘It wasn’t until many years later that I realised how cruel and unnecessary this was. Ever since I can remember I’ve been overweight – even as a child. My weight continued to creep up as I got older, and before I knew it I was clinically obese. I adored cheese and drank upwards of five lattes a day – all of which helped to pile on the pounds. During a routine visit to my GP I mentioned that my dad suffered from diabetes. The doctor decided to test my blood, since there is often a hereditary link, and gave me the shocking news that I had Type 2, late onset diabetes. My GP referred me to a Dietitian, who unhelpfully referred to everything I should eat in terms of ‘digestive biscuit equivalents!’ Of course this did nothing to help me understand my condition or how I might begin to manage it, so I continued on in my normal eating habits becoming more and more overweight.
Chantal continued ‘David and I first met in 2007. I began studying an MSc in Health Science which included a module on Diabetes Care Management. This meant I was able to advise David on the types of foods he should be eating in order to keep his diabetes under control – or so I thought. As my knowledge about the power of food grew, we began eating healthier and moved to organic foods and healthcare products, and David’s blood sugar and energy levels began to slowly improve.
Two years later David and I got married, but shortly after our happiest day, we were dealt a devastating blow when Sally, my best friend of 33 years, was diagnosed with cancer. We’d been inseparable since the age of seven and shared everything. She was the kind of friend who knows you better than you know yourself. I knew we couldn’t just sit back and let it take her – we both hit the internet and started researching, hunting for an answer, a cure, anything that would help her prognosis.
After reading the China Study, Sally gave up both beef and dairy products. Despite overhauling her diet, undergoing a double mastectomy and two rounds of intensive chemotherapy, in 2010 she developed secondary cancer of the lungs and bones. She passed away just six weeks later. I was devastated. In the months that followed, I became obsessed with finding answers as to why this had happened to her. Nothing could have prepared me for what I found. My research opened my eyes to the ways in which we farm animals as nothing more than commodities and how unhealthy intensive farming systems are. We immediately changed to what we thought were more ethical choices – free range, organic meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
Whilst Sally had been going through her treatment, David and I had rescued four ex-battery hens through the British Hen Welfare Trust. We watched these frail, de-beaked, featherless ‘egg machines’ blossom into the beautiful, intelligent, sentient hens that they were supposed to be. One day as I stood watching them from the kitchen, preparing chicken breast for our supper I thought, “what am I doing?!” I was caring for these lovely birds yet still eating them! We stopped eating chicken, and at the same time we heard about meat-free Monday so began to incorporate that into our week as well.
As time went on and I did more research, I began to realise that I didn’t want to eat meat products any more – I didn’t want to contribute to animals’ suffering and everything was telling me that eating meat was also bad for my health. In January 2012, both David and I decided to go vegetarian and switched to only using products that weren’t tested on animals.
However, a year down the line into our new and ‘improved’ vegetarian lifestyle and we were both feeling dreadful. David’s diabetes – which had been improving – had plateaued, and I had gained a lot of weight. I had constant back problems, joint pain and swelling as well as migraines. Some days I could barely walk. I had so many tests; blood tests, x-rays, scans, and was told, “Sometimes there just are no answers.” My diet was never once reviewed.’
At the same time, during a routine check for diabetic retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye), David was told he had problematic symptoms in one eye: ‘Doctors told us that this was very serious, that once the retinopathy began to develop it could not be stopped – only slowed with laser surgery – which could cause permanent tunnel vision and blind spots. I was completely dumbfounded. Facing the prospect of becoming blind at such as young age was devastating. But, having been told there was no alternative, we pushed for the most cautious route we could take – to have lasering in the worst quadrant, rather than the whole eye and to then see how it went.’
Chantal followed: ‘At my wits end with both of our health situations, I took to the internet again. In the process of trying to find out just why we were so ill and what we could do about it, I read a lot about the harmful effects of dairy. I came across a ‘Viva!’ video called ‘A Calf and a Half’ about milk production at one of Cadbury’s dairy farms, followed by a lecture by animal rights activist Gary Yourofsky. I then attempted to watch the documentary movie ‘Earthlings’. I got 22 minutes in before I broke down and cried for hours.
That was the turning point for me and for us. No more dairy, no more eggs, no more ignorance. I knew then that I needed to follow a vegan diet and lifestyle – I owed it to every voiceless, non-human animal that was suffering. Having made the decision I actually felt what can only be described as an enormous sense of relief. It felt instinctively ‘right’ and everything suddenly made sense. I knew instantly that becoming vegan was 100% the right decision and an ethical obligation for me.’
David said ‘Just two months into going vegan we both started to see and feel massive improvements in our health. Chantal was improving all the time and I was losing weight whilst eating fabulous, filling and delicious meals – it was incredible. So much so, it made us wonder whether it would help with my retinopathy.
We went to my next eye review with great trepidation. I was so worried they were going to tell me I needed more laser surgery – I had already noticed a blind spot in the eye they had treated. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. The doctors inspected my eye and told me there were no new blood vessels forming, that the condition was stable and they would see me again in another two months. Elated, we couldn’t help but feel that cutting out the dairy must have been responsible for this. With hindsight, we realised that our vegetarian diets had led us to eating massive amounts of cheese. My next appointment came and again my condition had gotten no worse – in fact it had shown signs of improvement. In line with this, my blood sugar levels were reducing all of the time, my blood pressure was down and my cholesterol was within the normal range. It was miraculous. I couldn’t wait to see what the next review would show.
At the next appointment we saw a different consultant and Chantal saw the pictures of the back of my eye – once again there had been no new growth of vessels, and almost all of the previous vessels had disappeared, resulting in a beautifully healthy retina. The ‘impossible’ had happened, my retinopathy had been reversed. When we asked this consultant if it could be down to our vegan lifestyle she confirmed that veganism had helped to significantly lower my cholesterol and blood pressure which had improved the health of my eye.
When we left the hospital we broke down in tears – not just with relief, but because other people aren’t as lucky as I’ve been, yet the answer is so simple. People are being told that laser surgery is their only option. They are losing their sight needlessly. I regret that I went ahead with that first laser treatment without seeking a second opinion or conducting further research, but at the time we had no idea of the massive effect going vegan would have on our lives and on our health. Given what we have learned and experienced, nothing would make me revert away from a vegan way of life – and now we just want to share this ‘best kept secret’ with as many people as possible.’
Chantal added: ‘We’ve now been vegan for over two years and have yet to find any negatives. I thought I’d miss bacon, milk and cheese but there are so many great alternatives on the market and plant-based cooking opens up a world of flavours. I’ve lost almost three stone without dieting, my blood pressure and cholesterol levels are below average and couldn’t be better. My iron and B12 levels are up – despite the fact that I have inherited sickle cell trait – which usually manifests as anaemia.
The pain in my joints, feet, back and hands has completely gone, along with the migraines and all my other ailments. My skin has improved, my hair is glossier, I have more energy, better cardio fitness and mentally I’m ready to take on the world! I am left feeling incredible – not only physically but also in my heart, conscience and soul.’
Chantal and David were so affected by their journey to veganism that they went on to create the Vegan Lifestyle Association – it’s mission being to save animal’s lives, human’s lives and to help protect the planet. The organisation is an altruistic, non-profit project, funded by donations and run entirely by volunteers. It promotes the multiple benefits of the lifestyle in a contemporary way, and is helping to reverse the negative stereotypes that many people still hold when they think of veganism.
The VLA’s first campaign “It’s Easy to be Vegan” highlights just how simple the lifestyle is to follow. The association is free to join and offers all the help you need to progress to a full vegan lifestyle.
For more information visit: www.veganlifestyleassoc.com.