How and why did you go vegan?
Before going vegetarian I was initially a big pro meat advocate, didn’t like many vegetables, and was very ignorant to top it off, which is never a good combo. I can remember all through my school years and teens walking around eating raw meat in shopping centres, eating my mother’s mince raw before it even made it to the frying pan, and even sucking the insides out of raw sausages at BBQs, much to the disgust of my family and friends. So it’s always amusing when people ask me if I miss meat, and I explain to them that i’ve eaten meat in ways that would truly revolt them and no I absolutely don’t miss that at all.
Phil on a six day hike through the Andes on the way to Macchu Picchu
My initial switch to vegetarianism was solely because of my first girlfriend who was a long time vegan and huge influence on my decision through her patience and compassion. Then after years of continual drumming about the dairy industry and its inherent cruelty, I finally sat down and watched the documentary Earthlings and subsequently decided I would never touch animal products ever again in my life, it had that big of an impact on me. So the moral of the story is, if I can go vegan anyone can!
Did you encounter any difficulties? If so what were they and how have you dealt with them?
Not really, because the years of being vegetarian and consuming soy milk and mock meat products had already made my transition to veganism far easier, and when I finally dropped the eggs and cheese it wasn’t difficult at all. I do tend to enjoy the mock meat products a great deal as I was never a huge fan of eating lots of veggies and I still like to have a meat-like product like tofu/tempeh/mock meat in my meals. It was a little more difficult when out and about to find food though. Certainly eating out is always painful unless you are lucky enough to live in Melbourne where the vegan options are plenty. Travelling interstate a lot for work I often find myself at airports trying to find something substantial I can eat. My saving grace these days is to always keep a stash of Clif Builder bars and lara bars handy for those moments.
Taking the pups for a walk
How have your family and friends reacted to your veganism? Have you influenced anyone else to go vegan?
My family for years thought I was going through a fad being a vegetarian and never took it seriously no matter how many arguments we had over the dinner table, and how many times I explained the reality of where their food comes from. Then when I went vegan I was suddenly considered ‘extreme’, though my family now is at least accommodating of vegan meals and will eat them around me and try the food. Funnily enough after going vegan my sister followed suit and has been vegan now for 3 years, though my pressuring her to watch earthlings constantly may have had a part in that.
I have influenced several of my long time friends over the years to go vegetarian and some have even gone vegan and remained that way. The best part is that my family and friends have always enjoyed the food options I have given them to try, and stated that if is was easier to find them they would have no issue eating vegan more often. My work colleagues have always been very understanding and will generally eat veggo meals around me when we go to lunch, and my boss has even changed her lifestyle around to raw veganism in the last couple of years which I like to think i had a part in.
Another sickly thin vegan?
How do you feel switching to veganism has impacted your health?
When I switched from a meat to vegetarian diet around 11 years ago I lost around 8kg in the subsequent months, but this was more due to my poor dietary choices at the time and dislike of many vegetables. I found the biggest change after going from vegetarian to vegan, much to my surprise, was that my weight training wasn’t affected, and actually got better. I managed to perform my biggest bench press (150kg raw), squat and deadlift just 2 years after going vegan, while my previous best during my powerlifting (and heavy meat eating) years at uni had always been 142.5kg. I get blood tests done fairly regularly as well and my cholesterol and blood pressure are very low, and all other vitamin/nutrient levels are also at very healthy levels. Overall i just feel a lot cleaner inside without the dairy and have incorporated a lot more fruit and veggies into my diet as well in recent years.
Can you describe some of your favourite meals?
I’m pretty simple when it comes to meal choices and also quite picky which doesn’t help given I am already vegan. Most mornings I love a big bowl of oatmeal with soy milk, chia/flax/sunflower seeds, and fresh/frozen berries on top, or alternatively i might just have a big sandwich with natural peanut butter along with a green smoothie for an energy boost to start the day.
Lunches and dinners I love most things with mock meats and tofu, so the Fry’s range of schnitzels/burgers/sausages can always be found in abundance in my freezer, and I love making baked Tofu marinated in soy sauce and olive oil and sprinkled with nutritional yeast and using this either in a burger or just eating as a snack cold.
My personal favourite meal would be chickpea and lentil salad with olive oil and lemon juice, a chopped onion, and baked tofu or tempeh cubes added for the extra protein kick. Since I’m not on any particular fat loss training regime, I’m quite liberal when it comes to raw vegan ice-cream and vegan cheesecake, raw chocolate, and any lollies that don’t contain gelatine I can get my hands on. It also doesn’t help that my girlfriend is a fantastic cook and specialises in vegan deserts.
All that computer programming has given Phil biceps of steel
Have you encountered any absurd stereotypes, comments or negative attitudes?
Well in the past I was often subjected to the standard lines like “where do you get your protein”, “what do you eat”, “all vegans I have known are sickly thin and pale” etc. I guess I am fortunate in that I’ve not received too much negativity over the years except from old school mates who will still persist after 11 years with the “get some more pork on your fork” type comment in an attempt to get a rise out of me. Mind you these are the same friends who over the last decade i have consistently beaten in bench press and arm wrestling, so they don’t really have a leg to stand on with their juvenile comments. On a positive note, it’s always worthwhile when somebody is generally impressed with your appearance and physical strength and re-evaluates their previous misconceptions about vegans.
Is there anyone who has particularly inspired or helped you?
My ex girlfriend had been vegan for over 20 years and was extremely patient with me over the years, and to be honest if it hadn’t been for her influence I may have never ended up where I am today. I was also very much inspired by Joaquin Phoenix, along with Robert Cheeke, Alexander Dargatz and Avi Lehyani from vegan bodybuilding a few years back.
What do you think are the most effective ways of helping veganism to become more mainstream?
Certainly presenting yourself as an ambassador for veganism through both healthy body and mind to shoot down the stereotypes and help educate and inform the general public is a great start. Guys are definitely harder to win over as there is a huge macho barrier surrounding the consumption of meat, and many men feel somehow emasculated by removing flesh from their diet. The more normal people perceive us to be, the more inclined they will be to listen and ask questions about the vegan lifestyle, and it’s certainly a positive sign to see an increasing number of vegan products and options appearing in supermarkets and restaurants each year.
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