Michelle Cehn is a filmmaker on a mission to make vegan living enticing, easy, and fun through gorgeous photography and visual storytelling. She is the founder of World of Vegan, co-author of The Friendly Vegan Cookbook and a YouTube personality who has reached millions through her creative, relatable and engaging vegan videos.
Let’s get to know Michelle and learn from her.
Why have you chosen to focus on a dairy detox as opposed to other foods?
How many times have you heard someone say, “I’d love to go vegan, but I could never give up cheese!” I hear this all the time.
Many people know that cheese (and dairy in general) is unhealthy, but the very idea of letting go of this substance that has become so ingrained in our diet and in our society is overwhelming. Many people turn away right there, thinking: It’s too hard. It’s too much effort. It’s too much of a sacrifice.
Well, anyone who has been vegan for a good amount of time can tell you that it’s really not difficult or a sacrifice at all. Once you learn what to eat, how to cook, where to shop, and how to navigate the world, it’s a breeze!
So my partner Allison and I decided to team up and create a program that teaches people how to thrive without dairy. In The 12-Day Dairy Detox Detox we take our students step-by-step, day-by-day, through everything they need to know to live a happy, healthy, and delicious plant-powered life.
Our students have called this program “revolutionary” and “totally game changing.” It’s been very exciting and rewarding to help people get over the dairy hump and start coasting into vegan living.
When people eliminate dairy, what happens to them?
Oh gosh, where to start? This really varies from person to person, but some of the benefits that people may experience after ditching dairy include:
- Lower cholesterol levels (there’s zero cholesterol in plant-based milks, cheese, and other foods!)
- Improved digestion
- Clearer skin (especially for those suffering from acne)
- Less chronic inflammation
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Healthier body weight
…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When you remove dairy (which is loaded with cholesterol, fat, hormones, antibiotics, and the harmful protein casein), and replace it with healthful plant-based alternatives which are packed with nutrients and fiber with none of the bad stuff, of course you’re going to feel better.
Were you raised with the food choices you currently follow? If not, what journey did you take to get there?
I wish! I was raised in a fairly traditional Jewish-American household. My family was omnivorous, although my mom was quite passionate about health, so we tended to eat on the cleaner end of the spectrum.
As a huge lover of animals, I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of 8, at which point I was left to my own devices to feed myself. For many years my diet consisted of quick and easy meals that a child could pull together, like pasta and cereal.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries, at which point I decided I would go vegan. I was unsure of how this would impact my already limited diet, but I was determined. Surprisingly, my diet quickly began to expand. I introduced more whole foods—fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and beyond—into my everyday routine and quickly became healthier and happier than I had ever been before. What started out as a mission to save animals, turned into a way to treat my body with love and respect.
In many ways it’s the ultimate form of karma. Eat in a way that’s kind to animals, and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy body and longer life.
How has Judaism impacted your relationship to food?
Judaism has helped me understand the cultural significance of food, and the camaraderie built around that. Growing up I would enjoy traditional Jewish foods like challah, matzo brei, matzo ball soup, latkes, homemade hummus, hamentashen, and gelt. Today, each of these foods holds strong ties to memories. Memories of holidays celebrated at various dinner tables, with various groups of friends and family. Memories of playful moments with my little cousins. Memories of spinning dreidels with my neighborhood friends.
I love continuing the tradition of eating these foods and enjoying the memories that surface with them. That’s why I’m so passionate about showing the world that all foods—including cultural favorites—can all be enjoyed vegan. I loved sharing Kenden’s recipe for vegan chopped liver on my website World of Vegan, because it proves just that. Quite literally everything can be made from plants, without harming anyone. Including chopped liver.
What do you respond to people who say that eating healthy is “too much work”?
While there is a learning curve and you may need to put in a little more effort at first while you learn the ropes, once you get used to healthy plant-powered living it’s not difficult at all. In fact, in many ways it’s easier (and more fun). Your food is more colorful, you can lick the cookie dough spoon without risking salmonella, and you don’t have to stick your hand up a turkey’s bum on Thanksgiving.
But remember, you can choose how much effort you put into your food. If you love getting creative in the kitchen, invest in a meal plan or a great cookbook and make yourself delicious home-cooked meals! Prefer grab-and-go meals? You can find frozen vegan pizzas, burritos, hot pockets and beyond at your local grocery store or natural foods store. There are even vegan meal delivery services popping up across the country that will deliver fresh, healthy meals to your door!
Does healthy eating have to be expensive?
No way! Think about it: the most affordable foods (like rice, beans, oats, bananas, carrots, and potatoes) are vegan.
To help crush the myth that eating healthy is expensive, I teamed up with Toni Okamoto from Plant Based on a Budget to create a Plant-Based on a Budget Meal Plan. This greatly needed tool teaches people how to hack the supermarket so they can purchase an entire week’s worth of food for as little as $25.
It covers seven days, three meals per day, with a food budget of only about $3.60 per day ($1.20 per meal). It comes with a grocery shopping list, detailed easy-to-follow recipes with beautiful photos, and tips for saving time and money.
We’ve poured our hearts into this project and strongly believe that it will help people dramatically cut food costs while serving up healthier meals. We’re confident that this resource can help make the transition to vegan much easier for many.
What do you believe is the key to changing lifelong habits?
Have a reason—or two or three! Perhaps it’s because you want to eat in a way that is kind to animals. Or maybe you want to live sustainably to help our planet survive for future generations. Or, like so many others, it may be that you want to take care of your body because it’s the only place you have to live.
Whatever your reason(s), get clear on them, and when you feel like falling back on old bad habits, remind yourself why you’re doing this. Read or re-read a book. Watch or re-watch a documentary. Google factory farming. And get in the kitchen and whip up some really delicious, irresistible healthy food.
How has your going dairy-free impacted your family and friends?
At first my friends and family thought I was crazy, extreme, and an inconvenience. Then, when they noticed how healthy and happy I was, and saw photos the delicious-looking food I was eating, they became curious. They asked questions, read books, watched documentaries, and tried recipes I recommended. Before long, many of my friends and family started incorporating more healthful plant-based meals into their own lives. Today many of my friends and family are vegan. Of course many are not, but almost all are very supportive of the idea.
What inspires you to continue to do this work?
I get an incredible dose of motivation every time I hear from someone who’s life has been positively impacted by my work. But for me, at the core, my deepest inspiration comes from the animals.
Animals are individuals who deserve a real life outside of a cage or shed, a chance to raise their babies rather than having them torn away at birth, and the opportunity to spread their wings, stretch their limbs, run, play, explore, and live in peace.
When we buy meat, dairy, or eggs, we are paying to take these natural freedoms away from animals. We’re paying companies to trap, confine, exploit, mutilate, and eventually slaughter individuals who did nothing to deserve that fate. It’s a heartbreaking system that I want no part of—and I believe that anyone who opens their eyes to what’s happening behind the closed doors of factory farms would feel the same.
What are the top three books on dairy that all of us should read?
How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger
The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
The Cheese Trap by Dr. Neal Barnard
While at first glance these may look like snooze-fest reads, they are far from it. Even if you’re not particularly interested in health and nutrition, I guarantee that these books will keep you at the edge of your seat, eagerly flipping pages so you can soak in all the information. Plus, they could save your life.
Your turn: What appeals to you about the The 12-Day Dairy Detox Detox?