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xxxxxxxThe Vegan Runner
by Judy Fisher
With Photos by Bruce Fisher
(previously published in the Silver Strider May-June 2010 print edition)
Is the term Vegan Runner an oxymoron? Can an athlete perform on a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts? There are many athletes who are proof that it is, indeed, possible to be a competitive athlete without eating animals or animal by-products (no beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, or milk products). While eating a plant-based diet has not conclusively proven to give an athlete an advantage over the meat-eater, the satisfaction I personally get from eating cruelty-free is reason enough for me to be a vegan. I believe it is the best thing a person can do for his or her mind, body and spirit.
Years ago, my Old English Sheepdog died, and my tribute to him was to become a vegetarian. An acquaintance asked if I was being a hypocrite, since I continued to use animal by-products, such as honey, milk, leather, silk, and wool. Instead of researching to find if the animals were raised humanely and if the product was obtained ethically, I decided to simplify and eliminate as many animal derived products from my daily life as I could. Thus, I became a vegan.
Many athletes live, compete and thrive on a plant-based diet: Scott Jurek, ultrarunner extraordinaire, Bill Pearl, four-time Mr. Universe, Martina Navratilova, tennis champion, Dr. Ruth Heidrich, six-time Ironman finisher and age-group record holder, Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses, both track and field greats.
Is it easy being a vegan? Yes! Surprisingly to some, there is a plant-based food item to replace most or all animal-based foods. Many are made from soy or rice and are very nutritious and appetizing. There is a vegan substitute for ice cream, eggs, hot dogs, mayonnaise, ground meat, baloney, BBQ short ribs, chicken, beef, and cheese. There are vegan breads and chocolate. Most recipes can be “veganized” by using non-dairy versions of butter, eggs and milk.
A balanced vegan diet offers many health benefits and helps to prevent some major diseases that are prevalent in our country, such as cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, prostate, colon and breast cancer, macular degeneration, arthritis, and osteoporosis. Eating vegan also eliminates many unhealthy foods that contribute to obesity. Where do vegans get their protein? From eating beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and soy products. Eating well-balanced meals consisting of these foods will guarantee sufficient protein.
It’s been said that a vegan saves the lives of at least ninety animals a year. Factory farming, the method used to provide chickens, pigs and cows for the dinner table, is destroying the environment. Methane from these animals, according to many scientists, is largely responsible for global warming. Farm animals are polluting and contaminating soil and water all over our country. The amount of land, food, water and energy used to raise 10 billion animals a year for slaughter could be used to grow food for all of the starving people in the world!
Our bodies are not made to be carnivorous. We do not have claws or sharp pointed front teeth for tearing animal flesh; instead we have flat back molars to grind food. We have well-developed salivary glands to produce alkaline saliva necessary to pre-digest grains and fruits. We have stomach acid 20 times weaker than that of meat-eaters, since plants are easier to digest than meat. Our intestinal tract is 10-12 times longer than our body length because plants decay slowly and need more time to pass through our bodies. That of the carnivore is only three times its body length, allowing rapidly decaying meat to pass quickly through the system. Carnivores eat their meat raw and bloody; humans like their meat cooked and seasoned to buffer the taste of the flesh. Do we need cow’s milk? We are the only species that drinks milk as adults and the only species that drinks the milk of another species. Genetically and physically, we are designed to function successfully on a plant-based diet.
Animals are emotional, intelligent and social beings. Who are we to take their lives, take their young from them, fill them with fear, causing them suffering and grief? The dead cow you eat may have been injected with hormones, antibodies and pesticides. There are horror stories about pigs, chickens, sheep and cows being raised and processed inhumanely for food consumption in huge “meat factories.” Vegans do not agree with the factory farming, killing, testing and torturing of animals.
The question should be: Why not be a vegan runner? While we can’t avoid all animal exploitation, we can eliminate the obvious, most offensive abuses from our lives and feel better for doing it. It’s about being concerned for the environment, the animals, the earth, and our bodies. It is a healthy, peaceful, loving way to live, with respect for not only ourselves, but all beings and for our surroundings. It causes far less suffering and is in greater harmony with all life. Let’s use our bodies as nature intended. After all, we only pass this way once, so let’s do it well.