The Manly Vegetarian™

The food industry and television sitcoms would have us believe that only anorexic 16 year-old girls are drawn to vegetarianism, and that no real man would eat like an herbivore, any more than he'd watch figure skating. This section aims to destroy that myth, with facts replacing assumptions.

BradleyVegan Wins World Boxing Title vs. Undefeated Champion  Vegan Tim Bradley won a split decision against the sporting world’s favorite, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, much to the consternation of sportswriters everywhere. Pacquiao had been a five-to-one favorite. Many question the decision, but every fighter knows the cardinal rule: Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges. Now, the superiority of a plant-based diet is not proven by a single victory over a meat-eater. Boxing is a hard sport (as my signature eyepatch might suggest), and there are many factors in excelling at it beyond diet. But both men were unbeaten when they faced off, and no one is going to claim all Bradley’s wins were bad decisions. His string of victories and his going toe-to-toe with the highly touted Pacquiao is enough to prove our point: no one needs meat to be strong. The percentage of vegans in the US is small, but, despite that ”shallow bench” a number of vegans have made a name for themselves in martial sports. Considering the odds, that is significant. I know of no study that has been done to objectively measure the effects of veganism on sports, but there’s a reason the gladiators chose to be vegan (see below). At any rate, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., considered by many the best boxer, pound for pound, in the world, thinks Bradley a worthy opponent and hopes to fight him next.

Rip of Engine 2
Brian Fitzsimmons
Real Men Eat Plants   Did you know there was such a thing as a professional triathlete? Well, there is, and that’s how Rip Esselstyn used to make his living. Now he makes his living saving lives as a fireman. He also helps to save lives, including those of his fellow firefighters, by encouraging people to eat vegan and avoid those all-too familiar diseases of affluence. When he persuaded his entire fire engine company to go vegan the health improvements were dramatic. He's recently authored a book on the lifesaving regimen, The Engine 2 Diet, $13 plus $3 shipping at this site. (Remember, Amazon supports dog and cock fighting and sells paté de foie gras.) Rip isn’t just winging it; he is well-grounded in nutritional science, partly by virtue of the research of his father, Dr.Caldwell Esselstyn. Among Dr. Esselstyn's memorable quotes: “Having the USDA design your food pyramid is like having Al Capone do your taxes.” A video of Rip in the kitchen here. You can hear a podcast interview with him here.Leo

Leonardo Da Vinci, Vegan Bad Ass   Sure, Leo was one of the greatest artists in history, a brilliant sculptor, an inspired architect, a gifted engineer and an inventor whose concepts were centuries ahead of his time. But we guys don’t care about that egghead stuff. The main thing is, he was a tough dude. Biographer Elbert Hubbard tells us, “In physical strength Leonardo surpassed all of his comrades. He could twist horseshoes between his fingers, bend bars of iron across his knees, disarm every adversary, and in wrestling, running, vaulting, and swimming he had no equals. He was especially fond of horses, and in the joust often rode animals that had never before been ridden, winning prizes from the most daring." Did I mention he was vegan?

Veggie StrongVegetarian Strongman, Dead Before hisTimeJoe Rollino was a professional strongman and boxer who could bend quarters between his fingers and who once lifted 3.200 pounds. He was also a vegetarian throughout his life and until his untimely death. He was hit and killed by a minivan as he crossed a Brooklyn street in January of 2010, just two months short of his 105th birthday. Vegetarianism will improve your health and extend your life, but its protective effects only go so far. Mr. Rollino had been a friend of Harry Houdini and Mario Lanza, among others. One powerful vegetarian doesn’t prove a plant-based diet will make you strong. But Joe proved it won’t make you weak.

Quote: “Many athletes have drawn inspiration from the most powerful animals—bulls, stallions, and elephants—all of whom eat entirely vegan diets—while a pussycat is a heavy meat-eater.” ~ Neal Barnard, MD

Veggie Jocks   A new site is under development which will focus on the fact that it is not only possible to eat veggie and do sports, it is actually to your advantage. This site grows out of a site originally developed for a single high school. Learn diet tips to improve your sport, or add your own expertise. Lots of great info here. For example, did you know that experiments show that vegetarians have two to three times the endurance of meat-eaters? Well, yes, you probably did know that, but share the knowledge with others on your team. Maybe not with the ones in the same weight class you’re trying out for, though...

Veggie Vindicators Vie for Victory in MMA You may or may not enjoy Mixed Martial Arts; sometimes it's a beautiful ballet of athletic skill, a combative pas de deux; sometimes it appears graceless and mean. Sometimes there is blood, though the injuries are usually less serious than, say, those of football (pro and amateur) or skateboarding or equestrian events (three deaths per year in Canada, vs. none for MMA). I personally believe it to be the best all-around test of toughness in martial arts. It is not necessary for veg*ns to win every match; the very fact that, despite their still small numbers, they can be competitive in strength and combat contests is enough to prove you don't need meat to be strong and tough. MMA is not going to be everyone's cup of tea - as veg*ns we deplore causing pain - but these are true sportsmen, unlike hunters who bestow the title upon themselves but can scarcely claim to give their “opponents” a sporting chance. I, for one, am pleased to see athletes defeating stereoptypes along with their adversaries.

Why not get some friends together for a vegan fight night every time one of the vegan or veggie competitors takes the ring? And if you live in or near Knoxville and would like to give MMA a try, to compete or just for exercise, allow me to recommend my friends at Warrior’s Path. It’s non-profit.

Vegan FighterThe Vegan vs. the Beef-Fed Farm Boy   I don’t know how many East Tennessee vegetarians are fans of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but I've followed martial arts and, more recently, mixed martial arts for years. I’ve even participated, just a bit. There is a series called The Ultimate Fighter which follows a number of young hopefuls through a training regimen, elimination matches, and a final battle between the two finalists for the year's title and a "six-figure contract." I'd already decided to root forMac Danzig just because I liked his complete indifference to whether or not his fellow trainees approved of him. That and the fact that he put up a hummingbird feeder on the grounds of their training center. I'm not a regular viewer, but I did happen to catch all his preliminary bouts, which he won, qualifying for the final spectacular match-up. It was not until the introduction to that episode that I realized he was a "strict vegetarian," or vegan, as well as an animal-rights advocate. It was a fight between the heavily muscled beef-eating farmboy and the swift and cunning vegan. Guess who won? (Psst: It was Danzig)

An interview in which vegan fighter Danzig touches briefly on his diet. Note also the PeTA clip.

How about getting friends together for a vegan fight night every time one of the vegan or veggie competitors takes the ring?

MoreiraRicardo Moreira: Fighting for Animals  VSET Board Member Kathie calls to my attention Ricardo Moreira, who seems to have been regarded as the only Vegan fighter in UFC before Mr. Danzig gained fame. The information provided in the link above is slightly out of date, but emphasizes Mr. Moreira’s dedication to animal rights and animal welfare, as well as to the health benefits of a meat-free diet. Thanks, Ricardo, for helping to dispel the groundless myth of ”high quality“ and “low quality” protein. More on Ricardo Moreira as it comes to our attention. [P.S. I know of a vegetarian or vegan MMA fighter (Catch Wrestling style) in Billy Wicks' stable in NC. I hope to learn more soon.]

Jake ShieldsJake Shields: the Punishing Power of Plants  A life-long vegetarian - and Tennessee born - Jake Shields has shocked the world of Mixed Martial Arts with a record of 25 wins, 4 losses and one tie. His wins include victories over some of the best known names in combat sports, including PRIDE & UFC Superstar Hayato Sakurai, Former UFC middleweight champion, Dave Menne, UFC middleweight contender Yushin Okami, SHOOTO world champion, Akira Kikuchi, WEC Champion Carlos Condit, UFC and PRIDE veterans, Renato 'Charuto' Verissimo, Jeremy Jackson, Steve Berger, Shannon Ritch, Milton Veirra, Mike Pyle and Ray Cooper, UFC reality show winner Diego Sanchez, 7x Jui Jitsu World Champion Leo Santos and 3x BJJ World Champ & Absolute Champion Viniciuse Magalhaes, as far as I know all meat-eaters.

Update: Shields is Welterweight Champ Lifetime vegetarian (and Tennessee born) Jake Shields has become MMA World Welterweight Champ. Well, one of ‘em, anyhow; MMA is a fairly newspectator sport and there’s still a shakeout period going on as to leagues. But Shields is now the Welterweight champion of one of the MMA worlds, Elite XC (I’m guessing XC stands for eXtreme Combat, but that’s just a guess), broadcast on CBS Saturday Night Fights (once the province of boxing) on July 26. If even one vegetarian or vegan succeeds at MMA the delusion that you need meat to be tough is shattered. But there are a growing number, some featured on our Manly Vegetarian page. These stalwart warriors are, of course, in the best tradition of the gladiators. Also vegetarian. Check it,

Regretably, Shields’ triumph comes at the expense of Nick “The Goat“ Thompson, another fighter I admire for not taking himself too seriously; his nickname comes from Thompson’s lack of success early on - he’s done well lately - and the “fainting” breed of goat. The Fainting Goat is a totemic figure to some of Knoxville’s most prominent vegetarians living along legended Reed Lane. Turn at the “Fainting Goats for Sale” sign.

‘Nother Update: Shields On October fourth, Shields retained the Elite XC Welterweight title with an armbar submission in the second round. Sheileds was not as dominant in the match against UK power puncher Paul Daley as had been expected. My guess: Shields had reached the point of overconfidence and had not pushed his training as much as usual. No doubt this will be a valuable wake-up call, especially if Shileds is, indeed, considering a move up to Middleweight.

Cape Buffalo
Photo by Lee R. Berger This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

Top o’ the Food Chain, Ma!   Some recent TV commercials seen in East Tennessee have shown young men salivating over the Triple Bypass Burger at a fast food chain with comments like, ”I didn't get to the top of the food chain just to eat rabbit food! I want meat!” One commercial has one of these young scholars climbing to the hood of his car and roaring like a lion to demonstrate his fierce, male, predatory nature. Never mind that these bravos are scarcely dropping onto the backs of bison and biting them to death; what about the vegan animals who send predators fleeing in terror?

Animals like the Cape Buffalo, which no lion will attack single-handedly, which have, in fact, been known to kill lions, animals so fierce they sometimes lie in ambush for human hunters who have wounded them and which are considered among the three most dangerous animals in Africa, the crocodile and the hippo being the other contenders. And speaking of the hippo, the crocodile dares not look him in the eye, as the mighty vegan hippo can snap the carnivorous croc in two. And there is the elephant*, more than a match for any lion (see a lone female elephant fight off seven lions).There is the rhino, which fears no predator but man. And let’s not forget our cousin, the gorilla, an herbivore (some populations of gorillas have been known to eat grubs or caterpillars, but no more than an insignificant 2-3% of their diet). Plainly vegans are the true Kings of the Jungle.

*The elephant is also one of the most intelligent animals on earth, giving the lie to the notion of intelligence being the product of predatory cunning. Not that macho men would care much about that.

More Vegan/Predator Smack-Down  I, as much as anyone, recognize the important part that predators play in the ecosystem. I have assisted Marcella Crawford of AWARE in the care of the wolves, raptors and other predators that have been part of her rehab and environmental education programs. I, myself, spent a summer in a cheap, leaky tent helping to restore the peregrine falcon to the Southeast. But, for purposes of this section, emphasizing how powerful and formidable plant-eaters can be, I must cheer for the herbivore. Here’s video of lions attacking a baby water buffalo.

Vegetarian Tush-Hogs Recent archaeological evidence further supports the fact that vegetarian men need yield to none as far as virility is concerned. Who would you say were the toughest guys in history? Certainly the gladiators would have to be near the top of any list of macho men and, yes, they were vegetarians. In fact those of us who have chafed under the epithet of "granola crunchers" will delight in learning that gladiators were called - probably not to their faces - a similar nickname, "barley crunchers." Forensic Anthropologists Karl Grosschmidt and Fabian Kanz tested the bones of more than 70 gladiators recently discovered in a graveyard near Ephesus, the ancient Roman capital of Asia Minor, and learned, much to their suprise - they shared the protein = meat myths common to many anthropologists - the fighters relied on a diet of mostly barley and beans to grow strong. Also, it seems they weren't overly lean, actually were a bit on the pudgy side, sort of like... well, Russel Crowe.

Joe CurlsAlmost East Tennessee Veggie Powerlifter  Joe Walsh, board member of Asheville's relatively new vegetarian group has for some years been a competive weightlifter, and a successful one, winning a number of trophies in his weight class and leaving ominivorous competitors scratching their heads. “How can this happen? I mean, he gets no protein!” The Asheville Vegetarians (Veggieville) website reports that Joe won the strict curl competition for his weight class in the open category. He also triumphed in the bench press in his age group. He wore a farm sanctuary t-shirt during the competition and a VEGAN t-shirt when he accepted his trophies. The site reports that Joe has won numerous other trophies in the past. Not only does Joe develop his great strength without ingesting animal proteins, I think it is fair to say that athletes who eschew meat are not likely to use steroids, either. In this case we can be sure, as the competitors were drug-tested. Bravo, Joe, and thanks for helping dispel the image (Garrison Keillor et al.) of the vegetarian as a frail, helpless creature.

CheekeVegan Body Builders: A Lot of Cheeke  Get some tips on shaping up the natural way with vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke. Robert is not only knowledgeable about chemical-free bodybuilding, but he is a hell of a nice guy and an animal rights advocate; I met him and bodybuilder Tonya Kay and others of his sinewy Vegan Fitness crew, men and women, at the ’06 Animal Rights Conference and again this year, and, though I've been involved in sports for years, I never saw a healthier group. (Ya know, a woman with a little muscle is quite hot, like a lioness.)

Many of us became vegetarian for reasons other than health concerns, reasons like avoiding unnecessary cruelty and saving the planet, but growing healthier is certainly not to be sneezed at. Unfortunately, many of us watch our diet while neglecting exercise, equally important to our well-being, if not to the planet's. (Then again, commuting to work by bicycle, for example, is good for both us and our world as well.) The Vegan Fitness folks have put out an excellent DVD on vegan exercise and sports training, called Vegan Fitness - Built Naturally, available at their website. Check out Robert’s Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness page for other tips and resources.

Get muscle without drugs. ‘Roids can make you as powerful as the wolfman, but they can also make you devour your loved ones.

Famous Vegetarian Strong Man?   Ya know, I’d really LIKE to claim Sri Chinmoy as an example of what a strength athlete can accomplish on a vegetarian diet. But I’m afraid I have to come down on the side of the skeptics on this guy. In the linked photo the 74 year-old fitness - and enlightenment - guru is seen wrist curling a weight labeled 203 pounds. But Mr. Chinmoy has been the subject of a great deal of controversy, so I’m afraid we’ll have to take his claims with a pound of free-flowing Morton’s salt. Some have claimed that the dumbbell in this photo looks like it’s made of wood, and, anyway, why would anyone make a two-hundred-and-three pound dumbbell. Plus, hey, you can tell those numbers were just written on with a magic marker. But I know that cast weights often have a grain to them, are seldom exactly the weight intended, and you'd have to have a special mold to have the weight embossed into the dumbbell (which also would not be a hard prop to manufacture). But that seems a lot of weight for that plastic chair... Some who have seen video have accepted that the weight is real, but say the guru’s actual movement of it was minimal. Sri also claims to have lifted 7,000 pounds with one arm. When I was working near the YMCA I was striving to lift 1000 pounds, just to say I did. I was lifting the weight with my entire body, a partial squat from a rack of about a foot or so, and had’t gotten past about 900 when I moved away. But even at that weight the Olympic bar was bowing badly, and I had to scrounge to find enough plates. Seven thousand pounds with one arm? Naaah.

Garrison Keillor Sez He Can Kick Your Butt   He or, for that matter, any Minnesotan, as they are “carnivores,” and you are a helpless vegetarian. “We feel a great urge to gut them down and cut their throats and to devour them. They look good. And, because they are vegetarians we know they would not resist.” he says on the Lake Wobegone segment of his show. He mentions that Minnesotans have thicker blood. Those Minnesotans who do eat a lot of meat probably do have thicker blood, thick with lipids. But, as one who donates blood from time to time - and as a student in a medical field - I can tell you that blood banks, in fact, do not find that a desirable quality in their product. As a former broadcaster myself I give Keillor credit for reviving radio variety. I realize this remark was supposed to be funny. So is racist humor, which also relies upon baseless, contemptuous stereotypes. I actually wish there were a few more good vegetarian jokes; I am perfectly able to laugh at myself. I am not able to laugh at those who are compassionate in their food choices being portrayed as mewling, helpless, effete creatures lacking in sufficient cruelty to even defend themselves. I know plenty of vegetarians whom Garrison would be well-advised to avoid attempting to drag down and devour. Including myself. I’m pretty sure my vegetable-strengthened body would be more than a match for his cholesterol-clogged one. You can express your opinion as to the offensiveness of this PHC episode to American Public Media at (651) 290-1500.

Eat Like a MAN! In keeping with the growing trend toward attempting to feminize the vegetarian image, Swanson's has been running a series of commercials for their Hungry Man* dinners that slyly imply that our nation's growing ranks of obese men should glory in their girth, throw their weight around, and pity the wimps who eat skimpy sissy meals and might be blown away by a gentle zephyr for their lack of gravitas. Now Hardee's is chiming in with "Little weeny burgers are for... little... weeny... guys." A glance at the Hungry Man dinners in your store will show that Swanson's lives up to their position by scrupulously eliminating almost any trace of girlish green from the product. Yet Dr. William White, in a report pubished in European Urology, cautions that those masculine meals are likely to make our big guys a lot less manly. While cereals, nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables and especially onions and garlic can substantially reduce prostate risk, meat and dairy products have the opposite effect. So careful, guys; the "It's good to be full" campaign is full of it. Load up on meat and your virility could be gone with the wind. Not to mention your life.
*Here is an amusingly detailed but scatologically vulgar description of a Hungry Man breakfast by Matt.

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Bulk Up Without Beef. Just because you're vegetarian doesn't mean you can't pack on some muscle if you've a mind to. We hope to add some strength and fitness info to our site but, meanwhile, here's the first of a number of vegan strongmen - and women - we'll be featuring: Mike Mahler. He looks substantial enough. Remember, you are what you eat.

Vegan Shooting for Mr. Olympia. Kenneth Williams intends to become the country's first vegan pro body builder, setting his sights on the Mr. Olympia championship - the most prestigious natural bodybuilding competition in the world (we can assume vegans also don't use steroids). One look at Kenneth should be enough to convince you that a vegan diet is no impediment to building muscle. In fact his wife, Evelyn Molina-Williams, also featured on this site, feminine though she plainly is, looks like she, too, could probably kick the average Hungry Man's lardbutt. First Ken has to win some qualifying rounds; write him to wish him well or to seek his advice on building strength without meat. For information about veganism, and how your dietary choices affect animals and the environment, visit the IDA website.

Pumping Iron Naturally. Sure vegetarians get enough iron. And sometimes we like to toss it around a little, too. Whether you're into strength training for its own sake, or to augment another sport, here at the Pumping Iron Naturally page are some links to vegan athletes who are building muscle while keeping their most important one free of cholesterol.

And Don't Forget Popeye. We are reminded that Popeye derived his great strength, upon which his self-confidence and courage were based, from the healthy vegan source Spinach, whereas his hamburger-loving friend was Wimpy.

We note a certain publication swiped our witty observation re: Popeye without attribution. Well, maybe not; great minds travel in the same channel, as the saying goes. Or is that, "Fools think alike?" I always get those aphorisms mixed up.

Popeye and Wimpy © King Features Syndicate

"One farmer says to me, 'You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with'; and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle." Thoreau, Walden

Vegans may be at a bit of a disadvantage in strength sports, not because of their diet, but because most athletes who don't do meat probably don't do steroids either. But many would argue that steroid-produced muscles have an unnatural look anyway. As bodybuilder Jerry Weintz has said, "Do you want to look like you're carved out of marble, or do you want to look like you're carved out of styrofoam?"