KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important regardless of where you live, and for Cornelius Cheatham, an engineer at the Afghanistan Engineer District-South, eating well is not negotiable but wholly possible, even in Afghanistan.
A vegan for more than 11 years, Cheatham said that his diet was the result of an experiment. “I decided to detoxify my body for one week by not eating any meat, just vegetables,” he said. “After the week was up, I had unbelievable energy and my mood was even better.”
Cheatham continued the meatless diet with the intent of seeing how long the good feeling would last. “Needless to say, I haven’t stopped yet. As time progressed, I really started to study nutrition and the effects that food has on the body. What I found reassured me to continue my diet.”
Fresh fruit and vegetables from dining facilities on Kandahar Airfield supplement the mostly organic food Cheatham orders from the States. “It is sometimes a challenge to get the fresh ingredients I want, but usually I can make do with what is available,” he said.
Other South District employees noticed that Cheatham made his dinner almost daily and began asking questions. “I saw Cornelius cooking dinner frequently and one evening I asked him if I could join him,” said Ed Starnes the chief of the claims, terminations and disputes section at the district. “I discovered that he was cooking many of the things that I eat at home.”
After talking with Cheatham, Starnes decided to test a vegan diet for himself. “I was already on a weight loss regimen and I thought I could take it to the next level with Cornelius’ diet.”
Cheatham provides several employees with the information and techniques that help them make better food choices, said Starnes who deployed from USACE Savannah District. “In the class he presents healthier and flavorful options that don’t take a lot more effort than cooking normally.”
“I don’t preach to the people in my class,” said Cheatham who deployed from USACE Baltimore District. “I show them that there are alternatives and there are other ways of looking at food. I didn’t advertise my diet or the class, interest spread by word of mouth.”
Qiana Davis, an attorney at the district who deployed from USACE Louisville District also attends Cheatham’s cooking class. “What Cornelius does is actually quite simple and making dinner with him has changed the way I eat,” she said. “He is all about educating people on how to ‘eat to live’ and when I, and a few others, asked him what he would recommend to help us lose about 15 pounds, he stepped right up.”
Cheatham told them that if they committed to his diet for 30 days, he would help them reach their 15 pound weight loss goals.
“Since I changed my diet, I have felt better and lost weight. It is easier to eat healthy now because we act as a support group as well,” said Davis.
Not everyone who takes Cheatham’s cooking class has converted to veganism, but all agree that eating more plant-based foods has helped them feel better.
“I still eat meat,” said Starnes, “I just don’t eat it every day. I’ve lost 53 pounds since I deployed to Afghanistan and eating the ‘Cornelius diet’ has helped me continue to lose weight and still be healthy.”
Davis agreed. “Cornelius uses his most valuable resource, his time, because he really wants people to live a fulfilled, healthy life. Now I have all the tools necessary to succeed and eat to live.”