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Our second Real Vegans interview features Cheryl Derricotte of San Francisco, CA. Cheryl hails from Washington, DC originally and currently works as a Senior Facility Manager at a tech company in San Francisco, in addition to being an artist (check out her art at CherylDerricotte.com). Continue reading to learn more about Cheryl's story, her views on veganism today vs. a decade ago, and, of course, her favorite foods!

Cheryl Derricotte

How long ago did you become vegan, and why?

It's been about 8 1/2 years - my 9-year vegan anniversary will be in March! I went vegan initially for health reasons. I always have had really high cholesterol (my doctors think it's genetic), and had been on medicine for a while and then just decided - I'm going to try something new! I had been a vegetarian for about six months already, and that started to make a difference in my health - and then I went vegan! I don't want to mislead anybody and say that becoming vegan has been the magic bullet, however. I still take some medication, but it's a different type and a much lower dose than before. My doctor is always telling me how much my vegan diet is helping me manage my health.

I like to tell people that I went vegan for self-preservation, and have stayed vegan for planet-preservation!

What was it like going vegan 9 years ago?

I'm originally from Washington, DC and was still living there when I went vegan. There might have been one or two vegan restaurants at that time - but that was it! Veganism was not nearly as prevalent as it is now. My family was very supportive at the time because I pretty much ate like a vegetarian as a child, there just wasn't really a term for that back then! So to them, it made sense.

What was your transition like from vegetarianism?

I was able to find a lot of helpful information on veganism from Dr. Neal Barnard and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and did his 21-Day Kickstart. There was an annual Veg day in DC, so that was a great way to connect with people and learn some things. But veganism was nowhere near the level of acceptability or common knowledge that it is today.

Do you have any tips you'd give to people considering going vegan?

Start with one of the great programs out there, like the 21-Day Kickstart. Tracye McQuirter has published on African-American diets and veganism and is a great resource for transitioning some of the traditional soul food recipes. Colleen Patrick Goudreau also has a good 30-day starter program. I encourage people to put together a plan and a timeline for themselves. I didn't go vegan overnight - I eased into being a vegetarian over six months and then I went vegan. Some people might be able to go vegan overnight, but I think people can set themselves up for success by asking themselves what type of person they are when it comes to change and plan accordingly.

Cheryl's impressive collection of vegan cookbooks!

What does your diet look like today?

I mostly eat out, the reason being that I work for a company that provides meals. We always have a vegan option, and making sure that we have the food is part of what I do - I'm the Senior Facility Manager at a tech startup in addition to being an artist. One of the things that's also really nice about work is that even though everyone is not vegan, there are a lot of people who are either vegetarians or veg-interested, so I'm really fortunate that there's a really good climate for vegetables and that overall, people are really concerned about what we're eating and from where it's sourced.

In terms of my own cooking on the weekend, I love vegetables. I love figuring out what the big vegetable I cook for myself on the weekend is going to be, whether that's a pot of greens or baked potatoes. I love beets of all kinds - I even have a beet tattoo on my arm (red beet!).

Have you always loved vegetables, or is that something that developed as you became a vegetarian/vegan?

I've always loved vegetables. As a little kid, my grandmother would ask me what I wanted to eat, and I would always ask her for a fresh beet! I'd spend time with her in her kitchen as she boiled my beet and put a little butter and salt and pepper on it - and I was so happy, just eating my beets! I was never into meat, but I'm part of a generation where everyone believed that if you didn't have meat or milk, that was bad - that you wouldn't grow!

What's your favorite meal to make?

Butternut squash mac n' cheese and Bryant Terry's jerk tempeh recipe. I also made Minimalist's Baker's one-hour vegan pot pie recipe for a Thanksgiving potluck and even non-vegans were raving about it!

What is the one item always on your grocery list?

Silk Vanilla Soy Creamer - for coffee!

Favorite guilty vegan food pleasure?

Unreal Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups - they're like vegan Reese's!

What are some of your favorite Mylk Guys items?

I really appreciate being able to order The Butcher's Son items because I'm based in SF and can't always make it over to Berkeley. I also love being able to get Miyoko's! Overall, it's so nice to have Mylk Guys and know that everything is vegan - and not have to read through all the labels to double check.

What are some of your vegan restaurants in the Bay Area?

I love Shizen. But you have to go early! I went with some friends a couple of weeks ago and by 4:45pm there were already people in line!!

Outside of the Bay?

Sneaky Pickle in New Orleans. It's not a full vegan vegan restaurant but they have mostly vegan options and they're great people. Usually, 90% of the menu is vegetarian, heavily leaning vegan.

From Spicy Pickle's Instagram @yousneakypickle

Favorite vegan businesses outside of the food realm?

I'm an Urban Decay person - I love their lipsticks and eyeshadows. I like Alba Botanica for face wash and moisturizer. Ellovi is a small company that makes really great body butters. Synergy out of Santa Cruz and Alternative Apparel in San Francisco for organic clothing.

What do you think the vegan community can be doing to make it easier for others to transition to vegansim?

I think it's really important for the vegan community to stay positive. I get dismayed sometimes when I see fighting online. I think it's really important for all of us to show that there are reasons bigger than ourselves for us to be vegan. Even though it's been the default in America that meat and milk should be staples, I think more and more people are concerned about the environment and they're starting to make connections on how their everyday practices like what they eat, wear or put in their homes can either support the kind of global community we want or hurt it.

From a practical standpoint, I think the first step is introducing someone to a great vegan meal. After that, continue to have a conversation - maybe share one of the great vegan films that have been released over the past few years. I think it's important for us to gently guide people into a vegan lifestyle. Also, it's one thing to begin to eat vegan, and it's another to fully commit to a vegan lifestyle - that can take some time for people. Part of our job as vegans is just to show people how powerful they really are through their choices of what they consume.

What gives you hope as a vegan?

Seeing so many great vegan businesses flourish, and seeing an increased focus on sustainability across the board. I'm really inspired and hopeful by the amount of popular public education that's happening right now, and knowing that people are taking some of these documentaries about the link between veganism and the environment to heart.