This post is part of our new series, Unsung Vegan Heroes- stories about vegan activists, real people doing really amazing work. People who work hard to bring positive change in our world. People who make a substantial, yet unrecognized, contribution to the vegan movement- people whose actions are unknown or unacknowledged. People just like you.
“In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs.” – Daniel J. Boorstin
Meet Anya Todd: Activist, dietitian, and unsung vegan hero who works tirelessly on behalf of the animals.
Anya Todd RD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition. Residing in Cleveland, Ohio, Anya has worked with a variety of clients in the last decade of practice. She has counseled children and adults in areas of weight management, chronic disease treatment and preventive nutrition.
Anya received her BS in nutrition from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and completed her internship at the Cleveland Clinic. Along with a passion for nutrition, Anya enjoys cooking and obtained vegan culinary training at the School of Natural Cookery in Boulder, Colorado. Anya holds additional training certificates in adult and pediatric weight management from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, along with certification in plant-based nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation.
Currently, Anya teaches the Maternal & Pediatric Nutrition course as well as a Sports Nutrition course for the Wellness Forum Institute of Health Studies and also sits on their Health Advisory Board. Additionally, she serves as the State of Ohio’s coordinator of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
An ethical vegan, Anya lends her time to many animal-related causes. She co-founded Mid-Ohio Animal Welfare League, which is an animal advocacy organization whose main purpose is to promote respect for all animals and bring low-cost sterilization services to communities. Anya shares her house with her spouse and a gang of four-legged friends.
We asked her a few questions, here’s what she had to say:
What type of clashes do you experience with client’s doctors (or other dietitians) because of your plant-based approach to health and how do you overcome them?
Well, I have taken myself out of the market of working for hospitals & the like if that gives you any indication. It is not necessarily due to personal clashes with fellow health professionals but rather due to the systemic foundation upon which our current health system is built – treatment of disease rather than prevention. And within that, the lack of knowledge about plant-based nutrition within the medical community (including fellow dietitians) is equally disappointing.
I am encouraged by the fact that more health professionals are seeking training about plant-based nutrition. I teach a few courses for various programs through the Wellness Forum Institute for Health Studies – and students include physicians as well as everyone from dietitians to midwives to physical therapists.
Do you think (vegan) pregnant women get pressured/bullied out of becoming/remaining vegan during pregnancy? How do you prepare your clients for those negative reactions?
Many women come to me with stories of how their OB/GYNs placed pressure on them to incorporate animal foods back into their diets while pregnant – as many health professionals sadly believe you cannot have a healthy vegan pregnancy. These women wish they would have known about my consulting services during their pregnancies because some women did give into the pressure from their doctors and their families. Mind you, these are the same health professionals & family members who likely would not question the eating habits of a pregnant woman consuming the “Standard American Diet.”The hypocrisy is absurd.
Luckily, many of the pregnant vegan clients I see are working with supportive health care providers & families. When women do encounter negative reactions, my goal is that I have empowered them with nutritional knowledge to combat the myths as well as set personal goals which ensure they are meeting their dietary needs during pregnancy.
How do you overcome client misconceptions about an animal-based diet versus a plant-based diet? Are there some that are harder to break than others?
Let’s face it, there are tons of misconceptions regarding nutrition in general for a variety of reasons. Much of it goes back to many health professionals not having a strong foundation in nutrition. Most people seek nutrition advice from their doctor, not a dietitian. Doctors are not the nutrition experts nor should they act like it and vice versa. I am not advising clients on how to treat infections as that is out of my scope of practice. I would refer a client to his/her physician. And don’t even get me started on Dr Oz…
Many of the clients I see are already at a point of being committed to making veganism work for them – so I do not need to convince them to ‘buy in.’That being said, the protein myth is still alive and well. “How am I going to get my protein without any animal foods”is something I hear to this day.
If I am working with an omnivore client, typically they are looking to lose weight – and weight loss comes with its own set of misconceptions. My nutrition plan is always going to include incorporating a large amount of plants – and I am always surprised by how many people fear fruit and starchy veggies because of the ‘sugar,’but at the same time they are drinking diet soda and eating fast food. Surprisingly, convincing people to eat ‘real food’ can be a challenge.
What is the biggest misconception that vegans themselves make about health?
I think the biggest misconception is that veganism equates to health. Meaning, being vegan is enough to ensure one is not at risk of chronic disease development and does not have to worry about ensuring adequate nutrient consumption, and that simply is untrue. I certainly know my fair share of ‘junk food’ vegans who fall short in several key nutrients, including calcium & even fiber. There are vegans out there who do not like vegetables. I cannot fathom such a thought!
If you could only recommend one thing to someone trying to live healthier (aside from going vegan), what would it be and why?
Make beans, greens & whole grains the focus of your meals. The amount of wonderful nutrients available in these foods is very high, while being very inexpensive to purchase. They should be the foundation of any diet – vegan or otherwise.
What is your favorite form of vegan activism? How would you recommend others to get involved?
For me personally, being friends with as many meat-eaters as possible is my favorite form of activism. To some vegans, that may seem odd, but way too often I see vegans basically become very isolated in who they spend time with. At that point, you are preaching to the choir, in my opinion. I completely understand the camaraderie in being with other vegans, and I very much enjoy my time with all my fellow vegans; however, I went vegetarian nearly 25 years ago because a family friend was one, and I thought she was ‘cool.’ I have had several friends & family members embrace veganism simply because I led by example. Remember, most of us weren’t raised as vegans, and all it takes is that one personal connection to make a world of difference for someone. And sharing delicious vegan food is never a bad thing, either!
Anya is involved in a myriad of vegan projects at any one time. Here’s the latest. Check them out, join in if you can, or lend your online support. Not only do these events help the animals, they help connect vegans with other vegans. What could be more inspiring than that?
- Speaker at Cincinnati VegFest: Inaugural Cincinnati VegFest April 13, 2013
- Speaker at Cleveland VegFest: Inaugural Cleveland VegFest June 1, 2013
Find out more Anya at: