At an imaginary awards show for vegans and all things vegan, Margaret Chapman would win— hands down—the Surprise Vegan Award.
I imagine Margaret and her two rescue cats curled up together on a cozy couch. Margaret is holding an antique teacup filled with something steaming. She looks out the window leading to tree trunks and glimmering shady patches with stumps, those same stumps where she places her smoothies and homemade meals for the incredible photos she shares on her Instagram, @plantphilosophy. She’s wearing her “Vegans like it raw” shirt and a loose fitting cotton hoodie. Both of the cats blink slowly and sleepily. I catch flashes of her bass and treble clef tattoo on her wrist as she sips.
“It’s not easy being raised by a family of BBQ restaurant owners,” she confesses.
Until very recently Margaret’s father was the hardworking co-owner of a small chain of BBQ restaurants throughout Texas. He quite literally had to “eat and breathe his work,” explains Margaret. “He had to sample the meat and visit the factories where the meat comes from,” she says. “BBQ was in his nature.”
And for a long time, BBQ was destined to be a major part of Margaret’s life, too. Margaret paid her dues in the family business. “I saw it all,” she says. As a former employee at one of the BBQ restaurants she was on the front lines of our meat-loving society.
“It’s hard to believe I was able to do that,” she says. “I am worried there could be some upset people out there who didn’t realize that about me.”
Vegans tend to get “upset” about a few, specific things, but welcoming a former BBQ industry employee to the community is certainly not one of them. In fact, vegans are probably the first to rejoice when a former BBQ enthusiast makes it over to the cruelty-free side.
And that’s exactly what has happened to Margaret.
In late 2013, Margaret’s Instagram—packed with photographs of sumptuous, vegan meals, majestic cat pics, and details of her health journey— was featured on the “Suggested Users” page. From there her account blossomed to over 40 thousand followers in under a year.
Now, nearly four years later she has become one of the most celebrated vegan bloggers with 186k followers on Instagram, her own website, and a wealth of original recipes and resources regularly inspiring people from all walks of life to replace animal products with plant foods.
Some might say she sought atonement for her former charbroiled ways, and earned it 186 thousand times over. But the road to this day in Margaret Chapman’s life was not always bathed in that shimmering #afterlight glow we see gracing our Instagram feeds.
Margaret’s struggle with her health and weight began in childhood, and it led to over a decade of frustration with her body, misunderstandings about food, and a diagnosis of hypothyroidism at the age of 17.
“Since then, my weight has been the biggest struggle in my life,” she explains. Hypothyroidism, also known as an under active thyroid, comes with a long line of symptoms including fatigue, constipation, weight gain, brittle hair and nails, and even depression.
As most hypothyroid sufferers are diagnosed in middle-age, Margaret’s diagnosis at 17 meant something was seriously wrong. Though the condition can be linked to a number of causes, Margaret believes it culminated after years of poor dietary and health choices.
“I’ve struggled with my weight since about the age of 13,” she says. “That’s when I realized I was bigger than the kids around me. After high school is when I started really packing on the weight, and until 2013 or so, I was completely clueless as to what I needed to do to finally get in shape.”
As a child, Margaret grew up with hardworking parents who were rarely home to prepare healthy meals. “I had to fend for myself, eating what I thought was food out of wrappers. Lots of microwaved mac & cheese, ramen, Doritos, potato chips, frozen TV dinners or pizzas, little Debbie snacks and desserts. I ate fast food daily—basically anything and everything mainstream that’s pure garbage for you.”
Eventually, doctors prescribed her a drug called Synthroid to help balance her thyroid levels and relieve her lethargy. Without the knowledge to alleviate the cause as opposed to the symptoms, Margaret recalls, “The drug only made me feel worse. I took it for about two years. My dosage was raised twice, but I kept gaining weight and my symptoms persisted.”
Moving back to Texas in her early twenties did nothing to improve her health.
“Everything in Texas is all fried, all the time, so that did not help. I just kept gaining and gaining.”
Margaret described her life at that time as melancholic, depressing, and often hopeless. She found herself “never having anything nice to say. I wasn’t very pleasant to be around.”
She felt estranged even from her own self—often spending days in desperate spirals of self- loathing.
Margaret reached her lowest point around Christmas of 2012.
“I was peaking 300 pounds. I hated myself, my life, and who I was. I always blamed my surroundings for being the source of my unhappiness, but the reality of it was my own fault and lack of motivation to make a change to get my life together. I let myself get to this point in which I couldn’t even recognize myself anymore. That’s when I finally got my act together and said enough is enough.”
After a year feeling less than satisfied while consuming a pescetarian diet Margaret decided to take things a step further.
“I wasn’t seeing or feeling any results as a pescetarian, so I further educated myself about veganism and all the benefits. It only took a couple of documentaries for it to finally click. I wanted to lose weight, but I also wanted to live a cruelty-free lifestyle as well as inspire others to do the same.”
With a natural eye and love for photography, Margaret joined Instagram in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2013 that she felt immersed in a colorful, healthful world of supportive, like-minded people on journeys of self-discovery and personal improvement—many of whom had beaten their own struggles with weight, self-esteem, and health.
And many of those people were vegans.
“After joining Instagram and getting in contact with other vegans, I was truly inspired and decided to give it a shot. Within weeks I was feeling better than I ever have in my adult life.”
Margaret had found her new home base. Gradually, she started experimenting with recipes, doing more research, and interacting with new-found vegan friends. She even started a blog where she could share with the wider world her photography, thoughts on veganism, and plant-strong recipes and tips. Since then, that blog has transformed into one of the leading vegan lifestyle websites, The Plant Philosophy.
Within a year of beginning her vegan lifestyle, Margaret described herself as “full of life and positive energy. I truly have so much happiness for life now. Every day I wake up feeling revitalized and so physically, mentally ready to take on the day.
“Since going vegan I’d have to say my whole world has changed, for the better. I have energy, tons of it! My skin is clear and has a radiant, healthy glow. I wake up happy and ready to take on my day. I’ve finally started losing weight and have reached a state of health that’s the best and most positive I’ve ever experienced. My family has been nothing but supportive of my lifestyle change and they too try making changes in their lives here and there as well. I have a newly discovered confidence that’s really helped me in creating new friendships and relating to others on a personal level.”
When asked if she will continue the vegan lifestyle, Margaret is pretty adamant that she is not willing to give up the positive results.
“I’m happier, healthier, and nothing is more gratifying than knowing your lifestyle is helping save the earth, animals, and providing longevity. I don’t think I can live any other way now. I certainly don’t wish to go back to my old ways, ever.”
While Margaret has experienced major health success and personal improvement since transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, she cites her large family—her husband and her father in particular—as her biggest supporters.
“My dad is always asking questions, encouraging me to keep going and motivating me by helping me out with groceries and cooking. The people around me are curious and interested in learning. With that, I stay inspired and hopeful for change in those that support me. I’m thankful for such a big, loving family that accepts me no matter what.”
Margaret recognizes that one of the biggest challenges of veganism is not so much food-related as people-related, namely, wanting so whole-heartedly for others to experience the benefits of being vegan.
Nearly a year ago, Margaret’s father embarked on his own spiritual journey wherein he sought to reevaluate his purpose in life and his lifestyle. He dedicated himself to trying a plant based diet and quitting smoking, thus exemplifying how time spent around even one vegan can really inspire those around us.
As for the other guy in Margaret’s life, her husband Tim?
Well, just like Romeo and Juliet they met while playing for opposing teams—in an online video game called “Left 4 Dead” in 2009. Margaret explains she was “attracted by his voice,” and then, when they got to meet she was “surprised by his kindness.” And they’ve been together ever since, officially tying the knot on November 1, 2011. (That’s 11.1.11 in case we needed additional evidence as to how cool these two are.)
But for anyone who has seen Margaret’s Instagram feed, you might be hard-pressed to decide whom she adores more—her husband, her rescue cats, her rescue bunny, or her recently adopted Schnauzer/Poodle mix, Jordy.
“Animals are such beautiful, intelligent creatures. We truly underestimate their capabilities. My heart has a huge soft spot for all animals.”
Choosing to go vegan for health reasons, as Margaret did, came with so many more benefits than simply fighting disease and lowering cholesterol levels. A deeper sense of empathy for other living beings and kindness toward oneself began percolating for Margaret, eventually blossoming into a new way of viewing her own place and purpose on Earth.
In a recent post on Instagram Margaret writes candidly, “It’s taken me a long time to accept my flaws. I still struggle, some days are harder than others, but my heart is full. I have so much love to give to these kiddos, my husband and myself. I’m learning to love me more because they’ve taught me how.”
Currently, Margaret and Tim and their furry children make their home in Fort Worth, Texas. And from there, Margaret creates and shares new recipes, manages her website, and helps others reach their own goals through the supportive infrastructure of social media communities.
What words of advice does Margaret offer anyone interested in going vegan?
“Educating yourself first and foremost is the best thing you can do. Making little changes here and there is important in establishing healthy habits that will stick. You must also have the drive and motivation and support system to do it—and before that, you must realize you are worth it and you can do it. That’s when all the doors open ahead of you. You have to want to make the change and do it for yourself. Keeping physically fit, eating the foods you love, and loving yourself from the inside out. That’s the source of health and happiness, which is vital to a healthy life.”
And, of course, no healthy, happy person is complete without her favorite food, which for Margaret is, “Pizza! I’ve always had an obsession with sauce…and bread!”
I imagine Margaret walking into the kitchen from her couch, one cat reluctantly lolling off her lap as she departs. She removes a hearty pizza from the oven as her bunny binkies from under the table. Reaching to open the window as if she were a Disney princess summoning the forest creatures to her secret cottage, Margaret places the pizza on an iron trivet as it steams into the early spring breeze. The pizza is made from scratch with bubbling, roasted tomato sauce, fresh zucchinis, sweet red onions, and rich, vegan mozzarella.
“I don’t preach to people that adopting a vegan or plant-based lifestyle is necessary. However, I always suggest giving it a shot for a week or two. I promise you’ll feel and see a difference. What do you have to lose?”