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Other Brown Vegans: Michelle Johnson

With about 2% of Americans practicing a plant-based diet, it’s no wonder many feel that making healthier changes don’t relate to their lives.  Most people don’t even know anyone with a plant-based lifestyle.

I’ve decided to start a series to spotlight past and present brown vegans (famous and non-famous) who have made a change in their lives for health and/or ethical reasons. Enjoy!

How long have you been a vegan?

My 2 year vegan anniversary was on September 1, 2011.

What made you decide to embrace a plant-based diet? Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's podcast, Vegetarian Food For Thought, opened my eyes to the cruelty of factory farming. I instantly decided that I could not participate in that system.

However, I did not plunge directly into veganism. I was vegetarian for a month and realized during that month that the same reasons I decided to forgo eating animals also apply to their byproducts. Dairy cows and chickens don't get treated any better than the animals that are killed for their flesh and eventually, those cows and chickens are killed too.

Within a few months, I discovered the wealth of information available about the health benefits of embracing a plant-based diet and the ways in which the standard American diet contributes to disease. So, while initially embracing a plant-based diet for ethical reasons, the health-related reasons also played a role in my decision.

What was the hardest food to give up? I honestly can't say that I had a hard time giving up any particular food. This is only because I tend to think in "black and white" and embrace logical "rules" easily. What I will say is that I miss being able to easily access certain foods like baked desserts--pies, cakes and cookies. I enjoyed seafood prior to being a vegan and I miss scallops, which I discovered later in my adulthood. However, I don't consider these foods as temptations because as KD Traegner of Your Daily Vegan said in a recent post, "my taste preferences do not define my morals or ethics."


Michelle (on right) with best-selling author, Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Any advice to new vegans?

1) Find a real-life support network. This is one of the first things I did when I made my decision and it was so helpful. I joined the local Vegetarian Society and a Veggie Meet Up  group, which both have monthly gatherings involving food. It's such a relief and joy to go somewhere and not worry about what I'm going to eat. Being a vegan can be socially isolating when so many of our social experiences involve food. Finding a group of likeminded people and veggie friendly restaurants in your area will help. You can also meet people online but I think the social rewards and benefits of face-to-face interactions have a bigger payoff.

2) Get comfortable in the kitchen. I can't imagine trying to eat a whole food plant-based diet if I didn't cook. Believe me, you can be a junk food vegan but your body may hate you for it. Plant-based cooking involves preparing raw veggies. Get a good, sharp knife, a cutting board and practice your knife skills, like slicing and chopping. You'll need them :)

3) Try new foods and learn about vegan alternatives that are pretty easy to find. I think that most of us grew up eating the same vegetables and grains all of the time. Since my decision, I have grown to love several vegetables that I had never tasted before. I still have quite a few vegetables and grains on my list of "foods to try." Foods like Earth Balance buttery spread, soy and almond milk and Vegenaise are easy substitutes that can make the transition to a plant-based diet easier once you know they exist.

What are some of your favorite books or websites on veganism?

Podcast: Vegetarian Food for Thought

Books: Diet for a New America, 30-Day Vegan Challenge, The China Study and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease


Vegan Dad

FatFree Vegan Kitchen


Vegan Yum Yum

Post Punk Kitchen

Please share a recipe you enjoy.

Delicious Marinated and Baked Tofu

The texture of this tofu is very chewy. You can eat it alongside other vegetables, add it to a salad or make a sandwich with it. It's a very versatile recipe. You won't believe how good this marinade is.


2 packages of firm tofu, cut into strips (not too thin)

1/4 cup dijon mustard

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 teaspoon each - chili powder, onion powder

1/4 teaspoon each - oregano, garlic powder


1. Press the tofu for 30-60 minutes to remove as much liquid as you can.

2. Dry fry the tofu. Dry frying just means frying without oil. Fry the tofu until they are golden on both sides. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Combine the remaining ingredients for the marinade.

4. Marinate tofu for at least 30 minutes. I usually marinate mine longer, sometimes overnight.

5. Preheat the oven to 350.

6. Place tofu on a sheet pan, lined with foil and bake 40 minutes.

I am an avid reader, techie and GTD enthusiast. I love to learn. Some of my current interests include: vegan cooking, minimalism, gardening, locs and increasing productivity and efficiency.

About Michelle:

I am an avid reader, techie and GTD enthusiast. I love to learn. Some of my current interests include: vegan cooking, minimalism, gardening, locs and increasing productivity and efficiency.

Reach my friend Michelle at:

Twitter - @michelle1908

Google+ - Michelle Johnson

Chelle's Zone

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