Last Update: December 2, 2022
Thrive Market is more than an online grocery store; it’s a community of over 1 million members and 500 employees with their own unique stories. Our members are parents and teachers, first responders and climate activists, artists and athletes—all doing healthy their way. We thought it was time to celebrate them, so welcome to Thriving Outside the Box: a series that puts our members in the spotlight and shares the inspiring, real-life stories that bring us together.
When we talked to Todd Anderson, aka @turnipvegan on Instagram, it was from the driver’s seat of his new RV. Anderson was heading out of town for a weekend camping trip — something of a test run before embarking on a full-time van life adventure this summer.
“Four years ago I’d be like no, camping’s not for Black people!” Anderson told us with a laugh. He credits the choice he made over 5 years ago to go vegan (“cold turkey,” he says — no pun intended) with opening him up to a wealth of new possibilities. “With that one decision, I started tearing down all these walls that had been holding me back my entire life.”
Behind the colorful fruit juices and playful images of lion’s mane mushrooms is a dad, an athlete, a musician, an educator, and an inspiration to people who are curious about plant-based eating but feel intimidated — because it seems hard, or because they simply don’t see themselves in the lifestyle. We talked to Anderson about his journey to better health, the importance of representation, and what’s making him feel hopeful about the future.
Thrive Market: Before you went vegan, what was your outlook on food, nutrition, and wellbeing?
Todd Anderson: I was an athlete my entire life. I always played basketball and worked out. But I always ate badly. Eating was just something I overlooked. I really focused on performance and my outer appearance and building muscle and things like that.
Also, doing music, I found myself in a very toxic environment. A lot of the guys would smoke, they would drink, and just mentality-wise, it was not a good environment.
TM: Was there a particular moment when you decided to go vegan?
TA: Me and a group of buddies had taken a trip to Vegas and we just had the time of our lives…we partied so hard. I got back and I had a hangover that lasted almost two days. I was like, I gotta do better. I need to make better food choices. I was 39 years old, and I felt like my body was breaking down.
I remember sitting down and turning on the TV and I was like, let me see if I can find something that will inspire me. I find this documentary called “Food Choices.” I ended up watching it and maybe 15 minutes in, it said that we’re the only species that drinks milk from another species.
That one line for some reason connected with me. Right away I was like, hold up. I’m 39 years old. I don’t drink milk from my mom anymore. Why am I drinking milk meant for a calf, with all these hormones? I just started thinking common sense and logic. I really felt inspired to learn more. By the time I got to the end of the documentary I’m like, you know what? This vegan lifestyle sounds ok. Maybe I should test it out.
That day, I went cold turkey. I just told myself that I’m going to try this out for a few days and go from there. By the third or fourth day I started noticing that I had more energy. I didn’t feel so heavy. I got addicted to that feeling and that sustainable energy. So I was like, ok, let’s keep going!
TM: Why did you decide to share your vegan lifestyle on the internet?
TA: Right away my mom, my sister, my friends had these little cool jokes they would make. Oh, what are you going to eat, grass? A lot of people looked at it as a phase. So I was like, I’m going to show you what I eat. That’s why I started the page. It was not to become an influencer. It was really just so I could show my friends: you’re making fun of me? Look how good this looks!
Another reason I started @turnipvegan is that I went online to search for something to inspire me, and I only found a few people that I felt connected to. It’s not a Black or white thing, but we have to see ourselves in things in order to move forward.
TM: What lessons have you learned through the experience of going vegan?
TA: At the time [that I first went vegan] I was working as an admissions counselor, traveling from San Diego to Phoenix and recruiting high school students, getting them excited about college. I was on the road, never at home.
I was at an event, and I remember the waiter coming out and setting this big ol’ pile of bacon on the table, like BOOM! Bacon and cheese were the two things that were hardest for me to let go of. And I remember looking at it like, oh my god, that looks so good. And I was like all right, I’m just going to have one piece of bacon. I gotta eat.
And then I stopped myself. I said you know what, this is the mistake you make all the time. That’s been my pattern in life. I’ve said I was going to do a lot of things in my life that I never followed through on. So I said nope, I’m not going to do it.
It was a difficult moment, but I remember walking away feeling so empowered and feeling free to be able to have a choice. I think that was the first time I understood the power of the choices we have.
TM: Your decision to commit to veganism seems to have had a ripple effect on the rest of your life.
TA: The beautiful thing about it is, it doesn’t stop there. If you can change something you’ve been doing from day one, you can probably change these other things. That’s what happened to me. I was able to accomplish a lot more things. I finished my Master’s degree. It empowered me.
TM: What advice do you have for people who are curious about veganism?
TA: Everyone’s path is different. I always recommend people go at their own pace and not put pressure on themselves. Really just sit and think about why you’re even considering doing this. Try to go beyond the surface and really dig deep to figure out why. Once you get to that point, hold onto that.
That’s what carried me through. I went vegan because of my health. I was approaching 40 at that time; that’s the time when a lot of people in my family started slowing down. That was in my mind. I really wanted to live a longer life. So I held onto that. Later on it became more about animals and the environment. Now I’m fully committed. So I recommend really holding onto your ‘why.’
Also, think about a few of your favorite foods. Try to explore those favorite foods in a vegan lifestyle. Maybe a meatless Monday or going for dinner at a vegan restaurant. Find your favorite dish and try it out.
That plants the seed in your mind and allows you to start gradually changing the mentality. Food is something we do from day one. To expect to break that habit out of nowhere can be very difficult.
TM: What’s making you feeling optimistic about the future right now?
TA: The next generation is so incredible and open-minded. They have access to so much information. I’m seeing a lot of the next generation embracing veganism and caring more about the planet. They give me a lot of hope.
The second thing is, when I got into this space, there weren’t many Black people involved in veganism. I think Black people as a whole looked at veganism as ‘not for us.’ Recently I saw a study that said African-Americans are the fastest-growing plant-based group in the U.S. That makes me so happy, because I know where I come from and the food I used to eat. I know what we consider soul food isn’t always best for us. To see that the culture is waking up and caring more about what they put in their bodies gives me hope too.
Oat Milk: Anderson drinks it daily; an unofficial poll says it’s the most convincing dairy dupe.
Vegan Mac & Cheese: Anderson always likes to keep a box close; this Thrive Market exclusive happens to be gluten-free as well as plant-based.
Herbal tea: A loose-leaf version like this one from Green Heffa Farms would make a great base for one of Anderson’s signature fruity elixirs.
Photo credit: Todd Anderson and Israel Palacio
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