Vegetarians Going Vegan…A Growing Trend

russell_brand_kristen_bellOver the past few years, it seems to me that many longtime vegetarians are deciding to become vegans. Perhaps this is a reflection of the growing popularity of veganism due to documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, and bestselling books including The Kind Life by Alicia Silverstone and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Or maybe it’s because vegetarians have come to the realization that the cruelty to laying hens and animals exploited for their milk is just as horrendous as killing animals for their meat.

Two major celebrities who recently made the switch from vegetarianism to veganism are Russell Brand and Kristen Bell.

Russell Brand has been a vegetarian since age 14, and a vegan since October 2011.



“Even as a junkie I stayed true (to vegetarianism)-‘I shall have heroin, but I shan’t have a hamburger.’ What a sexy little paradox.”




At  age 11, Kristen Bell became a vegetarian. She became vegan in January 2012.



“I have always been an animal lover. I had a hard time disassociating the animals I cuddled with-dogs and cats, for example-from the animals on my plate, and I never really cared for the taste of meat. I always loved my brussel sprouts.”


I figured that Russell and Kristen were way too busy to let me interview them, so I decided to interview my brother, Matt, who was a vegetarian for 26 years until recently deciding to go vegan. Matt is one of the nicest, most interesting, and honest people I know (he takes after me, LOL!). In my opinion, his transformation after making the switch from vegetarian to vegan was nothing short of stunning. Please note that Matt admits to not maintaining an especially healthy diet until he became a vegan, and his lifestyle change also included exercise. I hope you enjoy this interview with my happy and healthy vegan brother.

My brother, Matt, approximately one year into his vegan lifestyle

My brother, Matt, approximately one year into his vegan lifestyle 


ME: How long have you been a vegan, Matt?

MATT: I’ve been a vegan for 13 months, and before that I was a vegetarian for 26 years.

ME: Do you mind my asking you how old you are now?

MATT: Don’t you know? 😉  Going to be 57 next month.

ME: Of course I know, wise ass. I’m just trying to establish a background for the readers. Anyway, how old were you when you became a vegetarian?

MATT: 30 years old.

ME: I recall you being an extremely picky eater as a child. In fact, your entire food repertoire consisted of hamburgers and hot dogs, if memory serves. How good is my memory?

MATT: You left out pizza!

ME: I certainly did! Moving on, what were your reasons for becoming a vegetarian?

MATT: I was always aware that I was eating a dead animal, and though I ate meat I’ve always been slightly repulsed by it on some level. That’s the core of it. Health, politics, morality, and animal rights were secondary, I’m embarrassed to say, but whatever gets you into it, right…? I only ate beef – no other kind of flesh. I started to realize how easy it would be to simply give up meat altogether. I was savvy enough to realize that I had to seriously reevaluate my eating habits if I wanted to get proper nutrition. I began in the mid-1980s, when there was a lot less good info than what is available now. I read that I needed to mix certain foods like legumes and grains at every meal in order to get the complete protein to replace meat. It’s now understood to be a lot easier than that to get proper nutrition. Although I worked at that, I can’t say that I ate correctly in many other ways.

ME: Ah, yes… you became vegetarian because of “the gross factor.” That’s as good a reason as any. Can you describe, as best as you can, what your typical diet was like when you were a vegetarian?

MATT: Unfortunately, I didn’t maintain an especially healthy diet – until I became a vegan. I ate a lot of cheese, pasta, fattening foods. My diet was not especially well balanced, and I didn’t cook for the first 15 years, so I always ate out. I’ve never been a big dessert guy, but I often ate huge portions of my main dishes, always with a soda. Not a good thing.

ME: I appreciate your honesty. What were your favorite foods when you were a vegetarian?

MATT: Spaghetti, pizza, Indian food, Mexican food, pizza, Thai food, beer, soft drinks, pizza, pizza, and pizza. Actually, I still love those things, but with alterations.

ME: Did you have any health issues as a vegetarian?

MATT: Yes. Some diet-related problems were obesity, borderline high cholesterol, high blood pressure. I was pre-diabetic. I was living proof that vegetarianism doesn’t keep you thin and healthy, if anyone is under that illusion. And, of course, it didn’t help that my exercise routine was inconsistent, at best.

ME: Not a pretty picture. Again, I thank you for your honesty. So, you have been vegan for 13 months now, right?

MATT: Yup.

ME: What inspired you to make the leap from vegetarianism to veganism?

MATT: A couple of factors:

Last May I arrived at a point in my life when I was at my heaviest ever and I felt horrible. Just totally uncomfortable in my body. My friend Ted told me about the Blueprint juice cleanse, which he was doing. I’m not a believer in crash diets and special cleanses, but it sounded like an appealing way to kickstart a healthy lifestyle change. It involved relatively fresh juices that were flash pasteurized. Expensive as hell, but paying all that money made me feel like I was making a serious commitment. I kept it up for four days.

The other factor was you. You had successfully changed over to a vegan diet, and you suggested I try it for a few days or longer to see how I felt. I took your challenge, and I think you were a bit surprised to find out I stayed with it.

The bottom line is I didn’t merely change over to veganism. My mindset was to permanently change my lifestyle to become healthy and to eat as well as I could. I started exercising three to four times a week. I didn’t want to think of this as going on a diet, because diets end. I meant for it to be a permanent lifestyle change, so I had to find a way to eat that allowed me to be satisfied for the rest of my life.

ME: I was actually quite surprised that you stayed with veganism. Pleasantly surprised! I like the way you describe the change as a lifestyle change, as opposed to a diet. Did you find the transition to be difficult?

MATT: Surprisingly, not at all. The juice thing was a great way to launch the change. I’ve found that when you eat a well-thought-out, well-balanced diet, you become satisfied with proper portions of food. “Proper” is pretty small compared with the portions I used to eat. I’ve enjoyed cooking as an occasional sport over the years, but now I cook a lot, and I’ve become pretty good at it. When you enjoy your own cooking, it makes it easy to stick to a healthy diet. You can control everything you put in your mouth. A novel concept after all the years I brought home my meals from outside.

ME: I agree that you’ve become quite a good cook. I love your stir-fries, homemade pizzas, and sorbets. Could you talk about all of the dietary changes you made when you went from being a vegetarian to a vegan, in addition to nixing the dairy?

MATT: Obviously no more eggs or dairy. Lots of tofu (though I probably eat more processed tofu products than I should). I eat a lot less sugar, white flour. I traded white rice for brown or brown basmati and various whole grains. I still eat a lot of the “ethnic” food that I love. I go to the farmers market in town and buy fresh fruit and vegetables. I eat lots of beans and nuts. I bought a juicer. I also take a couple of Garden of Life Vitamin Code multivitamins for “50 and Wiser Men” twice a day. Plus I drink a lot of filtered water and tea.

ME: Sounds excellent! Have you felt differently at all since you made these changes?

MATT: Big time.

ME: How so?

MATT: I feel physically comfortable, and I like the way I look a lot more these days. I have a lot more energy. I sleep better. I actually feel euphoric sometimes. I think my mental acuity is sharper (or maybe it was so dull to start with that it just seems that way…). I just feel healthier overall!

ME: Did the condition of your health change in any way since you made the change?

MATT: It changed dramatically. I lost weight in a slow and healthy way, over a period of about 10 months. I dropped from 224 lbs to 178 lbs, and have maintained the latter weight for about 3 months. (I’m ready to lose more, though.) My total cholesterol dropped from 199 to under 150 in the first three months of my new health regimen. All of the red danger flags I had on my blood work disappeared. My sleep apnea has significantly improved. Allergies – which I’ve had ever since I can remember – have pretty much disappeared: I no longer need my Zyrtec and Clarinex pills. And I haven’t gotten sick at all. I attribute all of this to the one-two punch of changing my diet and getting regular exercise.

ME: It seems almost too good to be true! Are you finding it harder to be a vegan than a vegetarian?

MATT: Not really. It’s a learning curve that requires a bit of discipline. But that applies to anything that you’re striving to achieve, I guess. I’m having a lot of fun cooking, which I find very rewarding on a number of levels. So that makes it easier.

ME: Are you enjoying the foods you are eating as a vegan?

MATT: Very much.

ME: Do you have any favorite vegan eateries or restaurants?

MATT: Veggie Heaven in Montclair, NJ, and Denville, NJ. I like Candle 79, Franchia and Blossom in NYC too. And Maoz falafel!

ME: Those are my faves too! Do you have any favorite guilty vegan pleasures (and I’m talking about food!)?

MATT: The scallion pancakes at Veggie Heaven – deep fried. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

ME: What are some of your favorite meals that you prepare for yourself at home?

MATT: I make homemade lentil or veggie burgers with sweet potato “fries” (i.e. baked). Lots of stir-fries and sauteed veggies. Thai and Indian dishes. Soups – hard to screw those up. Pasta sauces from scratch. Kale chips. I’m always trying out cookbook recipes, and I’ve developed my own. I improvise a lot, and am almost always happy with the results. Also, I got some great recipes from your website.

ME: Thanks, Matt. Do you mind if we talk about your being vegan in the world of dating?

MATT: Uh oh. Nope – don’t mind.

ME: Great. Do you find being vegan to be a hindrance at all to your dating life?

MATT: I didn’t think so until recently. I asked a woman I was dating for a few months about what she thought when we first started seeing each other. What issues influenced how our relationship would progress. She said she seriously considered the possibility that my being vegan would be a deal-breaker. She was a carnivore, and she didn’t like that I wasn’t. I didn’t have the same problem with her being a meat-eater, even though I felt it would be preferable if we had vegetarianism in common.

ME: Wow! That’s quite interesting! How did you deal with these issues?

MATT: In this particular case, we cooked a vegan meal together. Which was fun and romantic. Generally, I choose to eat in restaurants where my date and I can both eat whatever we want. If you’re going to date a non-vegan, you’re obliged to live and let live.

ME: And many people say that vegans are pushy and preachy. You are clearly not either of those things. Let’s talk about the rest of your lifestyle. Okay?

MATT: Okay.

ME: You have not worn shoes, belts, or other clothing containing animal products for many years, even before you became vegan. Is that correct?

MATT: I did my best. It was very difficult to find a faux-leather belt, or some other material, that was suitable for the workplace, and I wore man-made shoes long enough to royally screw up my feet. At that point I’m sorry to say I caved in and bought leather shoes for a short period. Eventually I was able to find cruelty-free shoes that worked for me.

ME: Sorry about your feet. But the vegan shoes now available have come a long way. We’ll meet and go shopping at Moo Shoes downtown soon. Don’t be sorry about caving in with the leather shoes. In my opinion, veganism is not about perfection. For how many years, approximately, did you mostly abstain from using animal products?

MATT: I made a solid effort to use cruelty-free products for as long as I’ve been a vegetarian.

ME: Was this difficult for you?

MATT: It was very difficult. I had to learn the “code” of the ingredients in shampoos, soaps, etc. I avoided companies that tested on animals, so there was all that to be aware of. These things are a lot more transparent now.

ME: I admire you and respect you for your efforts over such a long period of time. Do you now have any favorite, comfortable cruelty-free shoes that you wear which you could recommend?

MATT: For casual wear I love the Crocs Santa Cruz canvas loafers. Lightweight and super comfortable. They’re about $55 and totally worth it. I have about 4 pairs in different colors. The style might not be for everybody though. Haven’t found a formal/business shoe that I’d especially recommend.


ME: Again, you need to visit Moo Shoes or The Brave Gentlemen Shop online, but thanks for the casual shoe recommendation. How do you feel now that you are 13 months into your vegan diet or, rather, your vegan lifestyle?

MATT: Great!

ME: Do you believe that you will be vegan for the rest of your life?

MATT: I do.

ME: For any of our vegetarian readers out there, would you recommend that they make the leap to becoming vegan?

MATT: I would. Cheese and eggs are replaceable. As regular VAP readers know, there are great cheese alternatives such as Daiya and Go Veggie! I make great veggie burgers without using eggs. It can be tough going to restaurants with friends, but it’s also tough as a vegetarian. You learn to make adjustments. I feel so much better physically that at the end of the day it’s really not a hard choice.

ME: For the record, Matt, on the many occasions when you came to my home for holidays and celebrations before I was a vegan, did I have enough decent vegetarian foods for you to eat?

MATT: Always! Even before you were vegan. Generally speaking, I’ve found that it’s always a good idea to let your host know what your diet is, or remind them, so they won’t be surprised or offended when you don’t eat. I usually tell them not to go to extra trouble, but that’s a bit disingenuous since I’m an invited guest and they’re going to want to cater to me.

ME: I never appreciated your commitment to vegetarianism until I became a vegan. For most of my life, being a fashion diva was more important to me than abstaining from the use of animal products. I feel really badly about that now. For the record, will you now forgive me for being somewhat dismissive of your vegetarianism during the years before I became a vegan, and understand that I may have been sleepwalking through my life at that time?

MATT: I never took it that way, but if you need to do a mea culpa, feel free.

ME: Thanks, I need to do a mea culpa. What the hell is a mea culpa, anyway? For the record, Matt, on a scale of 1 to 10, how great are my vegan homemade tempeh reubens?

MATT: I’d put it on a scale of one to DAMN. It would be a DAMN!

ME: Love that answer. I have to remember to post that recipe. What about some of the other vegan foods I make for you such as my Split Pea Soup?

MATT: Love it. Glad you don’t make it with the fake ham flavor. Don’t like that. Can’t think of a meal you made that I didn’t like. (Do I get invited to your Thanksgiving now?)

ME: Yes, you are invited. I’m sure you knew that you would never be invited over to my home again if you didn’t answer my questions the way I wanted you to.

MATT: Now you tell me!

ME: Ha ha.

ME: You are an awesome musician. Can you tell us a little bit about your band Empro Express?

MATT: The Empro Express Big Soul Band is a classic soul/R&B band that plays around the NY area. At the moment we have 14 pieces, so it’s a pretty big sound. We cover Motown and Stax and other ’60s soul. I’m one of two guitarists. 


ME: Tell me about the vocalists that appear with Empro.

MATT: We have a variety show of sorts, where our different singers take a particular song. They back each other up, sing solo, duets – it’s mix and match, and the audiences seem to enjoy the format. We have a great bunch of guys who when apart from the band are called Spank. They do a cappella tunes on cruise ships, Atlantic City, corporate affairs. They made it to Vegas in the latest season of America’s Got Talent. Sandra Taylor is a multiple winner of Showtime at the Apollo, and Norman Davis is a phenomenal singer who’s been with us for years. Finally, we have Danny Smalls, aka Geechie Dan, our own Otis Redding. Danny was recently featured in a NY Times article. He’s appearing as a singer in a movie coming out this November which stars Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whittaker, Angela Bassett and Morgan Freeman.


ME: I love Empro Express and its colorful cast of characters. I was so disappointed when Spank got cut last week from America’s Got Talent after making it through four rounds. Does Empro Express have any upcoming appearances scheduled?

MATT: Nothing on the immediate horizon, though we just played at Lucille’s Grill at BB King’s club in Times Square. We’ve also recently played the main room at BB’s, Connelly’s in Times Square, and a great venue called City Winery.

ME: I really enjoyed Empro’s last City Winery appearance. Do you think Empro will be playing at the New York City Marathon again this year?

MATT: I sure hope so. We’ve played at the Columbus Circle station for the past few years, as well as at the Finish Line. It’s always a lot of fun – very inspiring for us, and hopefully for the runners. Especially when we play “25 Miles”!

ME: I’m sure it is! Thank you for the interview Matt, and for letting me post this video clip of Empro Express, one of my all-time favorite soul bands.

MATT: Thanks, Debby!

ME: Namaste!


  1. Matt, your story is so interesting and compelling! I think lots of people will relate to it. Change can be gradual or it can be kickass—you’re an example of both! You expressed feelings that I have had during the course of working things out for myself. It’s great that you are now a healthy vegan and are such an inspiration to Debby!
    PS I watched your band’s video and totally enjoyed it!

  2. Helen Maxman says:

    Debby, what a great interview with Matt! Matt, I am so impressed and inspired by your level of commitment to your vegan lifestyle! You know I live pretty close to you in NJ, so when Debby comes in to have lunch with you at Veggie Heaven, you guys better invite me to tag along!!!!!! Congrats on your new healthy lifestyle, you look GREAT!!!!!!

    • Matt Ruderman says:

      Hey, Helen! Hope you and your family are well. Thanks for the kind words. Will definitely invite you along on our next VH pilgrimage. Will be great to see you again.

  3. Andrew Begg says:

    Fantastic, great reading, and well done Matt!

  4. Russell Brand is not vegan. He’s trying to be vegan but says in an interview that he sometimes uses eggs. Then explaining that it’s too hard to not do that when baking (making veganism promotion tougher for us as almost all celebrities do). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g7tWGJUG_o is where you can find that. I truly hate that celebs say they are vegan (Ellen Degeneres once endorsed eggs on her show!) and then sell out, it harms veganism, so it harms animals, the earth and even humanities health.
    The interview itself is awesome btw, I so relate to your brother ;p

    • Yikes! Thanks for this information. I have read endlessly that he is a vegan. I, too, become troubled when celebrities announce that they are vegan and then change. Although everyone has a right to live how they want to, I think the celebrities should be held to a higher standard because they become role models. Maybe they should stop announcing to the world when they “try out” a vegan diet. Glad you liked the interview.

  5. Very few people go from being omnivorous to vegan overnight; most go through a phase of being vegetarian, though don’t consider it as a ‘phase’ at the time. When I became lacto-vegetarian at the age of 19 (having thought about it for a year), I’d never even heard of the word ‘vegan’. This was back in the mid-80’s. Becoming vegetarian was itself a transition that took place over a few months, so I can’t date it to any one particular day.

    I followed a similar process when becoming vegan a few years later. Again, it was a transition to see if I could manage it. The only significant dietary change was from skimmed cows’ milk to soya milk (which is an acquired taste) and paying more addition to food additives.

    I had already given up wearing leather shoes as a vegetarian and I have never owned a leather jacket; I wore trainers (sneakers) most of the time. If I had to wear proper shoes (for work or whatever), I had these plastic ones that made my feet sweat. It wasn’t until the early 90’s that good quality non-leather shoes became available.

    Oh BTW I am not a fan of Russell Brand regardless of whether he is vegan or not. I just don’t understand what other people see in him.

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