We at Love Child, love any reason to share a wellness routine that might positively impact the life of even one our readers. We shared our Acai bowls for your pregnancy cravings last summer, our obsession with paleo-inspired food trailer turned brick and mortar Picnik and coming soon, we’ll share our interview with Rachel Musquiz, owner of tumeric-based food truck Curcuma. Today we are turning our wellness attention tpo Avalon McKenzie, a senior designer for Whole Foods Market who has followed a vegetarian diet since middle school. Avalon invited us into her home to share why she chose this lifestyle, how it influences her personal style and beauty routines, and shared resources for any of our readers who are interested in learning more about becoming vegan. As Avalon puts it, feeling and looking good starts from the inside out. Photography by Katie Jameson
Tell us a little about what you do professionally, past and present.
I’m a graphic designer and illustrator. I think I always wanted to be an artist. For a long time I thought I’d go to law school, but I remember my mom telling me, “Pursue what you love. The money will follow.” I went to Parsons School of Design, originally to study fashion design, but changed my major to communication design, and it was the right decision. I feel really fortunate to be making a living doing what I love. Right now I work as a Senior Designer for Whole Foods Market. Before now, I worked for Free People, at the Urban Outfitters headquarters in Philly, designing their catalog and website. I’ve also freelanced since college, with brands like Victoria’s Secret and Eberjey.
What was your journey like to becoming a vegan?
I became a vegetarian on a dare in the 8th grade. My family was living in California at the time. We had to dissect cow eyeballs in science class, and a friend suggested a group of us become vegetarian for a week. I distinctly remember her saying something like, “you probably don’t want to, because you’re from Texas.” And of course, I took that as a challenge and never looked back. My mom cooked mostly vegetarian meals growing up, so it never felt like a sacrifice. Once I started reading about the meat industry, it wasn’t tough to stick with it, and I’ve progressively become more principled in my decision making. It’s been a really spiritually satisfying process. I want to walk as lightly as possible.
Can you break down what it means to eat a vegan diet?
Following a vegan diet means not consuming any animal products, so everything I eat is plants! I think there are three key reasons people choose to go vegan: animal welfare, the environment and personal health. I originally went vegetarian in middle school, because of animal rights, but all three reasons keep me motivated to stay on a plant-based diet now. Eating vegan is more simple than you’d think, especially with how many new products there are, and it’s one of the most environmentally responsible choices you can make.
Is your husband also vegan?
Yes, Cody is vegan too, which makes it really easy. I think it’s become so political for both of us, that I’m glad to be with someone who shares the same values. He definitely prefers hearty dishes, whereas I’d eat salad or soup for every meal, so that’s the trickiest thing to negotiate, but we have fun finding new recipes together.
Was Cody vegan before you met?
Cody was vegetarian when we met, and later became vegan. I must have rubbed off on him! We went back and forth between veganism and vegetarianism a few times in the 6 years we’ve been together, but never back to eating meat. I think Cody misses fried egg sandwiches, and I definitely feel allured by French cheeses at times, but I think we both feel like the benefit outweighs the desire. Plus there are so many plant-based substitutes now, that you can stick to veganism without sacrificing taste.
Where are your favorite places in Austin to find a vegan meal? Has this become easier in recent years?
I think Austin has always been a pretty veggie-friendly place. Sometimes it means there’s only one or two options, but you can make it work. Bouldin Creek, Casa De Luz and Mother’s will always be vegetarian favorites. I love New India and Café No Se, both on South Congress. We’ve been going to Beer Plant a ton lately. It’s a new vegan gastropub in Tarrytown. I feel like most vegetarian restaurants feel pretty “hippie-granola,” which I love, but it’s not always great for a date night. Beer Plant is like the perfect spot. They have delicious mac and cheese! They even serve “chicken” and waffles for weekend brunch. Bufalina is also up there. They have a delicious marinara pie and they’ve always been really accommodating in making any pizza without cheese.
How does your decision to be a vegan influence other aspects of your life?
This is such a big topic. Making ethical decisions really matters to me, and the problem is that the world is essentially run by big business. Most large corporations aren’t geared towards treating animals humanely, and full transparency isn’t an industry norm. After years of eating vegetarian and vegan, I eventually drew a line in the sand for myself when it came to other products. I also have to say that since the election, I’ve been even more conscious of where my money goes. I think voting with your dollar is the biggest political move you can make.
For cosmetics, I didn’t toss out everything in our bathroom, but rather started replacing everything with cruelty-free products. Eventually I had a makeup bag and shower full of things that were less toxic for me and for the planet, and it feels better knowing that no creature was harmed in the process. My favorite brands are W3LL PEOPLE, Evan Healy,RMS, Trilogy, Dr. Bronners and Davines. There are also several Sephora brands that don’t test on animals like Tarte, Smashbox and Kat Von D. I’m still trying to find the perfect vegan mascara. Replacing Dior Show is not easy, but it’s worth not giving money to unethical brands.
For clothing, it gets a bit more complex for me, and really becomes a larger conversation about consumption, sustainability and quality. As someone who loves fashion, clothing has actually been the most difficult aspect of veganism, and full disclosure: for now, I can probably only claim to be a dietary vegan. I’ve changed my shopping habits now, and I will say that most items have a high quality vegan alternative—like buying fabric tennis shoes, non-wool sweaters, etc., but over the years I’ve invested in some leather shoes and accessories that I haven’t chosen to part with. That being said, I don’t have a huge closet. I think most people who know me would be shocked by how minimal I keep things. Nice designer items can last a lifetime, and when it comes to sustainability, investing in classic pieces and buying less can do a lot of good. I also believe strongly in shopping vintage and second-hand. When I buy new things, I do more research, and I’ll invest more. I definitely subscribe to the concept of “price per wear,” and I will say that I’ve saved a ton of money in recent years purely because my standards for shopping are a lot higher.
At Parsons, though my major was graphic design, I took almost all of my electives in fashion, and many classes focused on sustainability and supply chains. The more you know, the more complex the conversation becomes. That’s why veganism is just one piece of the puzzle. For example, a few years ago I bought some vegan leather boots and I felt really good about it. Over the course of a year, I ended up buying three identical pairs because they wore out so quickly. In the same span and still today, I have a pair of leather boots I bought in college. They’ve been resoled and conditioned a few times, but they’re still in great enough shape to wear for years to come. I’ve had an inner-battle for a long time. I will say that fur is never acceptable, and I would never wear a leather jacket. I also don’t believe in fast fashion. I’ve made up my own rules, and not everyone would agree with them. Seriously. It’s so political in so many ways. The hard truth is that climate change is going to eventually reach a crisis point, so it’s important to be informed. I essentially just try to weigh all the options and find the least harmful, most responsible choice. And I really try to take good care of what I own.
For groceries, we shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods Market. I will say that after working for the company for over 4 years, they truly operate with integrity. The quality standards far surpass other retailers, and it gives me peace of mind knowing my money is going towards suppliers doing the right thing. I also love the Mueller Farmer’s Market or any farmer’s market for that matter!
Let’s talk about your wellness routine. How and when do you find time? How do you fuel your body before a class or race?
Gosh, I’ve been kind of lazy lately. I grew up playing every sport, and as an adult, I’ve always found a way to be really active. It’s the best stress relief. My only rule is that it has to be fun. Once something get’s boring, I switch. I really love Barre3 and Ballet Beautiful. I also love yoga, but sometimes I need more activity to make my mind slow down. I enjoy running, and got super into it, running my first half marathon, but I have to admit that Texas weather is not the best for training. A marathon is still on my bucket list.
I’ve been really interested in learning more about medicinal herbs and mushrooms lately. I have a favorite smoothie recipe that I’ve been hooked to: 1/2 cup sliced frozen banana, 2/3 cup frozen cherries, 1 tsp almond butter, 1/2 a scoop of Vega vanilla protein powder, 1/2 tsp Reishi, 1/4 tsp Ashwagandha, 1/4 tsp He Shou Wu, 1/4 tsp Chaga and enough almond milk to blend to the desired consistency.
What items are always stocked in your refrigerator?
I always stock an abundance of fresh produce. I really think feeling and looking good starts from the inside out. I’m also a pretty thrifty shopper, so I often buy the produce that looks most delicious or what’s on sale, and create recipes around it. People complain about the price of healthy food, and that’s a whole other conversation, but I will say that a vegan diet of whole ingredients is super cheap! We eat really well at home on a dime!
In addition to fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, I always have fruit preserves, vegan mayo, fancy French mustards, vegan pesto, miso, Chao cheese, almond milk, Chameleon Cold Brew, hummus, peanut butter and almond butter. I also keep a lot of ingredients to make sauces on the fly, like sriracha, soy sauce, rice vinegar and ume plum vinegar. I’m kind of a pantry nerd too. I always keep our pantry well stocked with all of the staples and spices I need to throw a quick meal together, like nice olive oil, pasta, dry and canned beans, dried lentils, canned tomatoes, rice, quinoa, couscous and other grains. We also have tons of nuts, dried fruit, hemp seeds and other superfoods for smoothies and trail mixes. I buy in bulk and use mason jars to eliminate packaging waste whenever possible.
Favorite on-the-go snacks?
Lately I’ve been obsessed with watermelon radishes and sliced carrots with lemon hummus. Otherwise, I’ll grab a piece of fruit. Apples are my favorite, but when they’re not in season, I’ll opt for whatever looks fresh. Dinner at home is definitely a ritual, so I usually try to snack less and save my appetite for mealtime.
If someone is nervous to completely change their lifestyle, what are some easy, first steps they can take to incorporate some of the vegan benefits?
I think it’s all about small changes. I believe (and the science shows) that the more plants you eat, the healthier you will be. If you want to dip your toes in, try a recipe that’s naturally vegan, like an indian curry, soup or veggie stir fry. Or try going vegetarian for a week. Compare how you feel! I have so much more energy eating vegan. I think there’s always a way to make a better choice. If you can’t give up eggs, meat or dairy, at least make sure you’re buying from a company that treats the animals well. It’s worth the extra bucks.
I also find that knowing the facts is the best way to feel and stay motivated. When you see what’s behind the products, it’s easy to opt for a veggie taco over a meat one. Documentaries I’d recommend are: Forks Over Knives, Sustainable, Cowspiracy, and Earthlings. There are also tons of great books out there.
You’ve been hard at work cooking during our photo shoot. What are you making and can you share the recipe?
Sure, it’s Red Lentil Dal!
4 1/2 cups water
2 cups red lentils
3/4 cup lite coconut milk
1 tbsp red curry paste
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
1-5 Thai chili peppers (optional)
Cilantro for garnish (optional)
2 cups water
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp earth balance
Boil the water and lentils. Combine coconut milk, red curry paste, salt and spices, and add to the cooking lentils. Add black pepper and chili peppers to taste.
To cook the rice, boil 2 cups of water. Once the water is boiling, add the rice, salt and vegan butter. Cover and simmer on low, making sure not to open the top.
I love Mind Body Green, Well & Good, Kris Carr, Tara Stiles, the Sun Potion instagram, Into the Gloss, Love & Lemons and the Free People blog (they have surprisingly great wellness content). For general foodie information, I love The New Potato and The Kitchn—If I have a general kitchen question, like how to make a certain sauce, I almost always go there. For podcasts, I really love The Rich Roll podcast. He’s a vegan ultra-marathon runner, and he interviews all kinds of guests. I also really love Cherry Bombe radio and Tastes of the Past, which are both on Heritage Radio Network.
How would you describe your personal style.
Tough question! I think I’d describe my style as simple with artsy details and 1970s reference. Ultimately, I aspire to look like a laid back French girl! Don’t know how close I’m getting though! I really love the European mentality of doing more with less, and buying the best quality you can afford. I admire the style of Jane Birkin, Linda Rodin and Caroline de Maigret. Some days I’ll wear a white tee and Levis, other times, I’m wearing a peasant blouse. I’m never going to have perfectly blown out hair. It’s just not “me,” but I will put on a fun lipstick.
As far as designers go, I love Miranda Bennett. She is a close friend, and I live in her cotton gauze blouses and dresses. All of her products are naturally dyed and made here in Austin by an all-women team. I really love Doen blouses! They’re a female collective in LA with a transparent supply chain, and all of their stuff is dreamy. I’ll occasionally splurge on high-end designer items if they’re classics, but I really love vintage. I love going to the city-wide garage sale and searching second-hand shops.
What’s next for Avalon?
In the long term, I’d love to come up with some kind of concept that communicates my interests—veganism, wellness, the environment, saving money, financial responsibility etc., but for now, I’m just focusing on my artwork. Hopefully the future will present the right opportunity!