I was lucky to meet Kate McGoey Smith at Calgary Veggie Fest this year, and her story had a lasting impact on me. I wanted to share it in the hopes that someone else might be inspired by Kate’s incredible story of a plant-based transformation. Grab a tea and get comfortable; this post is longer than most. 🙂
When you first meet Kate McGoey Smith, her cheerful smile is one of the first things you notice. And these days, Kate has a lot to smile about. Founder of the not-for-profit organization Fork Smart, Kate helps others adopt a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. This labour of love is inspired by Kate’s own experiences – it was a plant-based diet that saved her life.
In 2007, Kate was given between 2 and 5 years to live. She was first diagnosed with diabetes and then eventually with pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare form of high blood pressure in her lungs. The diagnosis came as a shock. Kate didn’t smoke or drink, and had been conventionally healthy until that point. After receiving her diagnosis, the married mother of 3 says she was reluctant to share this information with her children, one of which was still in grade school. “I didn’t want to tell them the prognosis but they saw me deteriorating quite quickly.” Within months she was legally blind due to her conditions, was placed on the lung transplant monitoring list, and required continuous oxygen.
“There I was with a white cane, a nasal cannula in my nose, a tank on my back – I call it like, scuba diving on land.”
Kate relied heavily on her husband for support, but the challenges of her condition made it impossible to live normally. She was unable to do most things by herself, and became isolated. When she did spend time outside of her home, the stigma she faced as a result of her cane and oxygen tank was disheartening. One exchange between herself and a stranger ended with him saying, “If I were you, I would just take a shotgun and kill myself now.” Kate’s world was becoming a dark and scary place.
It was late one night listening to George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC that she received information that would change her life. “He said, ‘you know, you could find me at midnight eating anything in sight from a pig farm. But then I watched the documentary “Forks Over Knives” and it changed my life, it might change yours.’ And I was intrigued.”
Months later, Kate was finally able to see the documentary when it came Calgary, and due to her then-deteriorated condition, says of the theatre stairs, “it was like climbing Mount Everest.” But Kate was inspired by the whole food, plant based approach she saw in the film. That inspiration would make her brave that mountain an additional 3 times, as she and her husband took their children individually to see the film. “We said, “We are going to make this change”, and we wanted to be respectful of each of them, to help them understand.”
Kate’s family took the plant-based plunge in December of 2012, a decision she says did not intimidate her. “I figured, if I can get through that, I can conquer any other time of the year.” Of this time, Kate says that their perspective was key. She made the decision to commit fully to the diet until her birthday in April, giving her 5 months to really try it. When it came to challenges and cravings, Kate says she used the end date of April to maintain her motivation. “Any time I was really tempted or my husband was really tempted, we would say, ‘I want this, and, I can have it, in April.”
But April came, and Kate found that she had no desire to return to her former way of eating. Within 15 months of adopting a whole food, plant-based diet, her vision was restored, she was removed from the lung transplant monitoring list, and could now get around during the day without oxygen. Her nightly oxygen intake was reduced by two thirds, and she only requires a small amount during exercising, which she is now able to do 7 days a week. Some aspects of her health may never recover completely, but the change she experienced gave her a new lease on life. This transformation is what inspired her to start Fork Smart.
“I told my kids that I think you have an obligation to contribute, in whatever way you can. And that’s what drives me; I want to live up to that.”
Kate started Fork Smart following the completion of her Food for Life certification in 2014. The organization offers nutrition classes, events, and one-on-one coaching to help people achieve their goals of eating whole food, plant based. With several plant-based nutrition certificates under her belt, Kate uses her life experience and educational training to provide an introduction to the 4Leaf Program, as outlined by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies. Fork Smart operates solely as a cost recovery program; Kate receives no personal income from providing these services, and money received is put directly towards operation costs.
In April 2017, Fork Smart is bringing Dr Caldwell Esselstyn to Calgary, well-known doctor of cardiac medicine and author of Treat and Prevent Heart Disease. The two hour seminar will feature a presentation from Dr Esselstyn as well as his wife, plant-based cookbook author Ann. This event is one of the largest Fork Smart has put together to date, and holds special significance for Kate as Dr Esselstyn’s words were the ones that had given her hope that she could heal. Fork Smart also promotes this event under the name Heart Calgary, a move Kate says was done to remove as many barriers as possible to potential interest.
“We want to broaden our message to as many people as possible, without any preconceived ideas about what nutrition should look like. We want people to hear directly from Dr. Esselstyn. He’s done the research.”
Kate McGoey Smith is an inspiring, living example of how dramatic the shift to a plant-based diet can be. And she’s making the most of her new-found health. In addition to Fork Smart, Kate is an active volunteer and is continuously adding to her degrees and certifications. Her lifestyle example continues through to her children; one of her sons, a college student, enjoys the health aspects as well as the ease with which he is able to stick to a budget while eating plant-based.
But Kate says that if she had one piece of information she could pass along, she says she would urge vegans to adopt and promote a healthy, whole foods lifestyle, along side concerns of animal welfare and the environment.
“If you’re healthy, you can actually embrace the animals and the planet, and what’s actually so amazing is that the animals and the planet get healthier right along with you.”
Oil-free cooking might seem challenging, but it’s actually very easy! Kate gave me her oil-free banana bread recipe so you can try it for yourself – grab the recipe [here].
For more information on Fork Smart their nutritional educational services, please visit her website at ForkSmart.org. If you would like to purchase tickets for the April seminar with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, visit the event page at http://www.heartcalgary.com