Kristie Middleton is the Vice President Of Business Development at Rebellyous Foods, an innovative food production company creating delicious, affordable plant-based meats for the foodservice industry. She is the author of MeatLess: Transform the Way You Eat and Live—One Meal at a Time. Kristie travels and speaks frequently to groups associated with food and nutrition and is a regular speaker at national animal protection conferences.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, a suburban town in the southern part of the state with one sister. We always had animals in our home – dogs, hamsters, fish, a bird, hermit crabs. When I was a little girl, my sister, as many older siblings do, taunted me. She told me eggs were dead baby birds, so I stopped eating eggs.

I didn’t connect the dots between my love for animals and my diet until I was in college. A marketing professor discussed euphemisms and how we often use words to describe things to make the meaning more appealing. She asked us how appealing it would be to eat “chicken nuggets” if we instead called them “processed flesh of dead animals.” It may or may not have been her intention, but those words impacted me. When I’d sit down to eat a ham sandwich, I started thinking about eating the “processed flesh of dead animals” and couldn’t do it. So I became a vegetarian. This set me on the path for how I would live the rest of my life.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

You make your own happiness and you can choose how you feel about things. This can be harder to execute, but the realization that you can determine how you feel about things and how to react to things can shift your life. Instead of getting caught in a bad mood when something goes wrong, you can notice it, sit with it, and let it go.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

In terms of advocacy, when I got involved in the movement to help people eat more plant-based foods, at the time, the notion was you had to go vegan if you truly cared about animals or the environment. Over the last decade, there’s been a dramatic shift in the way people think about the topic and I support the move for reduction. While I’m personally vegan and have been for more than 20 years, I made that transition gradually. Most people don’t do it overnight. They may stop eating beef, then chicken, then fish then cheese, or some combination of those. But there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s about progress, not perfection. I think that we can make a much bigger difference in the world when many people try to reduce meat consumption, than when a small percentage try to go vegan. And that same philosophy applies to many behavior changes.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

A couple of years ago I was going through a very difficult time in my relationship – I was on the cusp of a divorce with my husband of nearly 10 years and then within just a couple of months of each other my cats who had been my beloved family members for 12 and 14 years died. I felt like I was losing my entire family all at once. It got easier each day with time with the help of my friends and community. I adopted a new cat and started volunteering at a rescue. I ventured out and met new people and opened myself up to new experiences. It’s cliché, but I learned that no matter hard things may seem at the time, there is light at the end of the tunnel and sometimes the daylight is brighter on the other side than when you entered.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

Build relationships and help people. Whether it was working in the food industry to help institutions get more plant-based options on menus or helping implement animal welfare policies at major corporations, I believe the key to success is to build solid relationships, prove yourself to be a trusted partner, and people will want to work with you.

What is your morning routine?

I wake up at 6:30, feed my cats who are always eager to greet the day, start my coffee and do a short stretching and workout routine. Next, I do a short meditation and read the day’s passage from The Daily Stoic and an affirmation, shower, grab that cup of coffee, write down three things I’m grateful for and start my workday. If I’m in writing mode I wake up earlier, pour coffee, and start writing immediately after feeding the cats. I found that it was critical to carve out a time early in the day when I had no other obligations or distractions to be able to think creatively.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Weather permitting, I go for a hike or walk every day. I found that it was as important to my mental health as it is to my physical health. I’m fortunate to live minutes away from gorgeous trails so even at the end of the workday I can generally get in a 45-minute to hour hike. If I don’t, I just don’t feel right.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

Scheduling and having a routine. It can be easy to get distracted from meeting goals when you’re constantly on the defense with your time. I am most productive and efficient when I deliberately carve out time for the things I want to accomplish.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

From a moral perspective, one of the books that set me on the path for my career trajectory and the way I live was Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. After reading the book and learning about the ways in which animals are systemically abused for food, clothing, entertainment, and more, I decided I wanted to devote my life to helping end animal suffering.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

More of a passage from Tao Te Ching – 15, in particular, this line:

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”

It has come in handy in helping make decisions – essentially to slow down and be thoughtful about decisions until the right decision is clear.