How and why did you go vegan?
How? I became vegan the same way everyone does, by stopping putting animal products into my mouth… is there another way? I was vegetarian since I was a young teenager, but I didn’t turn vegan till my early twenties. I always knew eating animals was wrong, but I guess I was a bit thick, because it took me a while to realise that milk and eggs directly result in the death of animals as well… I was also held back by my atrocious cooking skills. Then I moved in with a couple of superlative vegan chefs who set me straight.
Swimming in Antarctic waters where Ralph crewed as part of the Sea Shepherd whale defense campaign
Did you encounter any difficulties? If so what were they and how have you dealt with them?
When I first became vegetarian, I was young and knew exactly zero about nutrition. The change of diet was about as poorly researched and planned as it could have been, but I still worked it out. The transition to vegan was seamless and effortless. It’s really not that hard. I go to the supermarket, take some food off the shelves, take it home and cook it, just like everyone else.
How have your family and friends reacted to your veganism? Have you influenced anyone else to go vegan?
People treat your dietary habits with the same excitement as you do. Since I have never felt being vegan was a particularly big issue, no one else made a big deal out of it either. I suppose over the years I have “turned” three or four vegans, and over a dozen vegetarians. Interesting I did not tell even one of them to “stop eating meat”; they work it out themselves once they have all the information.
How do you feel switching to veganism has impacted your health?
I would like to say that it makes me feel better, but I haven’t eaten meat in over twenty years, so I really have nothing to compare it to. I don’t think the science is really clear on the health impact of veganism until you are considerably older. In another few decades we can predict my level of obesity and general cardio-vascular health will be better than average, and my chance of diabetes, cancer and heart disease are all lowered, which sounds like it might be cool. Some future me probably thinks I am doing a great job now.
You’ve competed in and won several Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions training as a vegan, can you tell us a little more about that?
I have competed in BJJ for over a decade, watching it grow from a pretty obscure martial art practiced by half a dozen internet geeks to the massive four hundred competitor events we have now. I have won medals in my weight category a few times, both at the State and Pan-Pacific level. There are a little group of vegetarians and vegans at my academy, and I spend extra time teaching and training them. I have nick named them “Team Vegitsu”. See what I did there?
Ralph demonstrating a triangle choke
Can you describe some of your favourite meals, takeaway or home cooked?
At home I am a huge fan of the stir fry. Give me an excuse to put large volumes of vegetables, tofu and mock meat into the one dish and I am in heaven. Change the sauce a few times a week and hey presto! Suddenly it seems like you are a skilled cook. Fortunately Melbourne has lots of good places to eat out for vegans. I need all the help I can get.
Have you encountered any absurd stereotypes, comments or negative attitudes?
Actually, very few. Since I don’t tend to wear my veganism on my sleeve, by the time people find out about it they have usually already made up their mind about me. When the topic is discussed, I tend to find the shortest, simplest explanations cut through most of the rubbish. Q – Why are you a vegan? A – (always with a look of incredulity) Because I don’t want to kill animals.
Is there anyone who has particularly inspired or helped you?
Well, I suppose I have already mentioned the two vegans who converted me with their mysterious baked, stuffed, stir-fried, Hungarian capsicum soups and other crazy yet divine foodstuffs. And I should also thank my sister who went vegetarian just before I did in high school, and thus bore the full brunt of my parent’s displeasure. When I switched over a few months later she had already won the hard battles for me! Finally, I should mention my childhood ethics idol, Tripitaka from the late seventies TV series ‘Monkey’.
What do you think are the most effective ways of helping veganism to become more mainstream?
Don’t preach. If people are interested, they will ask. Veganism is such an obvious moral choice when you have all the information, it doesn’t need to be ’sold’ or dressed up as something special. It can help to have clearly worked out what you are going to say before you end up in a theoretical/moral discussion, however. I think I could discuss vegan morality in my sleep, I have had to explain it to omnivores so often.
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