Rory Freedman speaks with such conviction about healthy eating that it’s hard to believe she once lived on a daily diet of bacon double cheeseburgers, fried ham-and-egg sandwiches and soda.
Back then, the New Jersey native and coauthor of the bestselling Skinny Bitch books felt like she was going through the motions. “My whole life was just kinda ‘blah.’ I didn’t care about anyone but myself,” she says. “Health was the last thing on my mind. I was just not a happy person.”
But 15 years ago, Freedman received a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) magazine in the mail, and after reading an article about slaughterhouses and factory farms, she knew her life would never be the same. “Up until that point, I had always called myself an animal lover but had never really thought about what was going on with the animals I was eating,” she confesses. “Once I learned about it, I knew that I couldn’t possibly contribute to the torture of animals just because I liked the way meat tasted.”
On that day, she vowed to stop eating mammals and eventually cut seafood and other animal products from her diet. And as she changed her eating habits, her entire outlook began to shift. “I started caring about my health for the first time in my life,” she says.
Still, Freedman, now 34, was the epitome of an “unhealthy vegetarian” at first, eating pizza 10 times a week and basing her diet around convenience foods. Gradually, though, she began to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into her diet, and the persistent nausea she had once experienced finally dissipated.
The transformation she saw in her own well-being, combined with her commitment to animal rights, inspired her to share her vegan beliefs with others. When her friend and eventual coauthor Kim Barnouin suggested they go into business together, Freedman had an epiphany. “I realized that while there are some great books out there that talk about veganism, factory farms and slaughterhouses, they often don’t reach the mainstream because, in general, nobody wants to read about this stuff,” she says. “We’re very much a ‘don’t tell me, I don’t want to know’ society.”
Freedman and Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch (Running Press, 2005), a vegan manifesto packaged as an irreverent diet plan, soared to the No. 1 spot atop the New York Times bestsellers list while also stirring up a hornets’ nest of criticism for their “hidden agenda” and in-your-face approach. “People don’t want to be rattled,” Freedman says. “If you read the book and you’re angry that you’re getting information that you didn’t plan on getting, then to that I say, ‘You’re mad that I’m telling you these atrocities are going on, but you’re not mad that they’re happening and that you’re a part of it?’”
The book, which Freedman says is not intended as a weight-loss guide, encourages readers to eliminate animal products and bolster their diets with fresh, whole foods — leafy greens, veggies, fruit, nuts, legumes. “The truth is, when you’re eating the right foods, and you’re happy and you’re positive, your weight sorts itself out.”
Freedman concedes that many people are intimidated by the all-or-nothing approach and might not be ready to make dramatic shifts in their diets. So, she encourages people to do what they can. To that end, she recommends that people feel free to experiment with “fake” meat and cheese products designed to make the veggie-centric shift easier. (For other expert views on the pros and cons of such products, see “The Perils of Fake Meat,” in “The New Veganism.”) “Don’t be worried about being perfect overnight,” she advises. “It took me 15 years to evolve into being a vegan. Just do something.”
Freedman has definitely followed her own advice. With a new title, Skinny Bastard (Running Press, 2009), set to hit bookstores this month, she and Barnouin will have published five books — including a cookbook, a guide for pregnant women and a self-help journal — as well as a series of workout videos, all in the past four years.
Now living in Los Angeles, Freedman balances the intense demands of her schedule by making nutrition a priority and spending time with her best friends — including her two adopted labs, Timber and Joey. “I take the dogs hiking every single day,” she says. “Just getting the sun on my face helps. I’m working hard but enjoying life.”
Even with her success, Freedman acknowledges that she doesn’t have all the answers. “I often limit my opportunities and my experiences by dismissing things because I think I already know exactly how it is or how it’s gonna be,” she says. “I think the best thing for people to do is to just stop for a second, step back from what it is you’ve already decided, or what you think you know, or how you’re sure you feel about the issue, and visit the possibility that the way you’re doing things can be improved upon. And that your life can be dramatically different by making small changes to your diet.”
See the behind-the-scenes footage from our photo shoot with Josh Donlan at experiencelife.com/videos.