Dr. Veon McReynolds is the Executive Director of Tour de Hood (like Tour de France, but in the hood) and curates the space known as "The Compound" in Houston's Third Ward. Dr. V. turns our city into an outdoor museum as he leads tours through Houston's little-known gems and historic buildings, intersections and streets. He tells stories and shares anecdotes throughout the tour and before you know it, you have used your own human energy to travel more miles that you thought you could and learned exciting facts about the city. Dr. V. started taking his children on rides and when they lost interest, he began inviting the other neighborhood children to ride. These invitations grew into a non-profit organization. Thousands of miles, 200 bikes and some years later, he leads a free community ride every Wednesday, and takes private groups on rides upon request. During each ride, Dr. V. pops the lid on the cooler that's attached to his bike (via a trailer he designed and welded himself) and distributes fresh, ripe, delicious melon, pineapple, or whatever else is in season with bottles of water.
Riding bikes is great, and that is one way that Dr. V. has positively influenced me, but that's not what I'm talking about.
I met Dr. V. while serving at The Eat Gallery. He'd roll up on his bike, order one of our vegan options and a Kickin' Kombucha and by the end of his meal, we'd feel like we'd been to a master class. Of the many conversations/classes I'd attended, his journey to becoming a raw vegan perplexed and resonated with me.
It is important to note that Dr. V. is in his mid-sixties and has six-pack abs. He regularly rides his bike to Galveston and back once a week. In 2013, he completed a 1300-mile ride to Ohio, just to demonstrate the process of believing he could do something great and following it through and inspire others to plan for their greatness. He rode 100 miles a day, camped along the way and ate dehydrated fruits and vegetables.
The philosophy which grounds his raw vegan lifestyle, and the discipline is simple. "If you want to go to Dallas," he said, "You pull out the map, you look at where Dallas is from Houston, and you start going north. Nobody ever says they want to go to Dallas and then starts heading south." I'm listening, trying to track with the metaphor.
"So why do people plan to be healthy and then make food choices that take them in the opposite direction?"
A couple of years prior, I learned that my cholesterol was high and through the medical-ese, I deciphered the word "Lipitor" as one of my options. I was like, "Why? I'm healthy--I eat Papa John's pizza, Chick-Fil-A and my body weight in shrimp fried rice on a weekly basis." I was also chronically tired and unable to get a handle on my emotions from one extreme to the other--something I thought was just a function of being a human woman.
My doctor, Dr. Christine Le said, "You could experiment with your diet. My vegan and vegetarian patients come in for yearly physicals and I don't see them much beyond that." I declined the Lipitor, but filled my anti-inflammatory daily steroid prescriptions and headed to my usual drive-thrus.
Dr. V. began to (without the obnoxious air of supreme intelligence most vegans can't help) explain how his energy levels, mood, ride training and recovery had been improved by a plant-based diet. "The best way to harvest the energy of the sun is to get it directly from the plants that thrive off it. The muscle of an animal is an unnecessary middleman to get to the nutrient-dense plants that it ate."
Then he hit me with this: "While it is easy to get protein from animal products, what else are we eating? The fear, the panic, the adrenaline and cortisol those animals release stays in the blood, in the muscle tissue and enters our bloodstream. It doesn't get cooked out. So we eat their fear, we eat their stress. And it comes out."
This was a divine echo for me. I'd read The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone and tried a brief vegan challenge on my honeymoon in 2011, to my husband's...quizzical looks.
Something about Dr. V's grounded peace, his even-keeled responses to smart-aleck questions from skeptics and his gracefully clear perspective on a range of topics from the prison system to divorce to racism, his ability to hop on that bike and ride off made me want to further experiment with his diet.
Dr. V can do what he wants to do, quickly and with ease as he cycles toward his seventies. He saw where he wanted to go and moved in that direction with his diet and his exercise.
Since then, I have adopted an about 90% plant-based diet. Turning thirty-five this year, with a seventeen-month old, I am in better shape than my twenties. I'm more productive and clear. I rarely have headaches, digestive problems or unexplained inflammation. My favorite surprise is that I enjoy a more even-keeled emotional state and can practice yoga daily, run 3-4 miles easily and am completely prescription medication-free.
Dr. V living before me saved my life. Was I dying at that very moment? Of course not. But was I intentionally heading toward a destination of health? Absolutely not.
We created a visual poem for him at Folklore Films. In his film, he challenges us to say, "These are my values. Could I live up to my values?" and make daily choices to activate those values. Daily, he organizes his decisions, does what he intends and lives his values.
Dr. V has given me good directions for a healthy, robust life at any age.
Now I just gotta get my butt back on that bike.