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Veg Origins: Pt. 1 John Robbins

(This is a Re-Post from The Vegan Training Table, during the Vegan Mofo marathon. The theme of vegan origins and influences fits in better here.)

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My appetite and actual food consumption have not quite caught up with food production in the Plant Powered Performance Lab. So I mined the great list of writing prompts the Vegan Mofo HQ devised to help everyone get through the month and picked the most obvious one: My Origins.

Anyone who chooses a vegetarian or vegan diet or lifestyle has instantly begun to swim upstream. Unless you live as a hermit, you immediately face resistance. We are a naturally social critter, and despite the complexity of society, a big part of our psychology is bound up in being accepted by others. Challenge any of those beliefs, even minor ones, and you will feel the resistance from others. How do we make that choice? What changes us? What allows us to continue when we know it upsets others?

First comes the most basic, obvious question:

Why?

The usual answers are well known and sometimes understood, even by omnivores:
Health
Environmental Concerns
Animal Welfare

No surprise there. But this essay isn’t so much about why I believe those are sound enough reasons to swim upstream, but more about how I reached the conclusion to clean my plate of animal products. In my origin myth there are two themes that seem inseparable and somewhat obscured by the mists of hairspray from the Big Hair 1980s. They are John Robbins’ seminal work Diet For a New America and my interest in Eastern philosophy, which often includes a vegetarian lifestyle.

Those who have been around the veg world for any length of time certainly know of John Robbins and his many books, and those lucky enough to hear him speak know what a great ambassador he is. I first heard of John Robbins in a cover story interview in the Sep./Oct issue of Yoga Journal. His book came out a few months later and his name stayed as his message spread. I first read Diet for a New America in 1989. I was immediately changed. I knew that there was no way I could continue as an omnivore. It was one of those genie in the bottle moments. Just like you can’t put the genie back into the proverbial bottle, certain things cannot be unlearned once learned. The realities of an animal based diet were forever engraved in my brain from that one book by that one man. Even when I quit, the experience of that book haunted me. Those three veg themes were so clearly put forward in the book that I found it impossible to rationalize eating meat any longer. (Although I did in fact do that on occasion, always with guilt)

So with a couple of months to prepare myself, I chose New Year’s Day 1990 as the day to become vegetarian. Many would think, and I am sure that many did at the time, “just another New Year’s Resolution, dead by February.” Except that it didn’t die. It lasted 6 1/2 years until June 1996. Why it stopped is another story, and surely the more important one. Later.

For those long time vegetarians who can remember the 1980s, it was a different time back then. There were not as many resources available. There certainly was no internet and the vast sharing we can do now. Definitely no Vegan Mofo! There was the Moosewood Cookbook, which was my bible, Yoga Journal, which had some veg articles, and the now defunct East West magazine that had a macrobiotic perspective. Vegetarian Times was out there somewhere, but I don’t ever remember seeing it. There was no Whole Foods Market, and while not required, most of us shopped at least some of the time in funky little health food stores that had a distinct counter cultural vibe. But despite the paucity of information and isolation, John Robbins and THE BOOK as it came to be known by those who were spiritually minded or into alternative health care, was everywhere. As much as it was possible in such a small world, John Robbins was a celebrity. For me, he was a role model.

There was a serious benefit for me in the fact that this lifestyle was so minor and small. I had to learn to cook. Vegetables. Whole grains. Legumes. The healthy stuff. There wasn’t much processed vegan convenience food then. It was a real DIY mentality. But there was a drawback. I had never even heard the word “vegan”, and the thought of eliminating eggs or dairy never really occurred to me. That part of the message never came through to me reading Robbins’s book. I rationalized very easily that dairy and eggs were acceptable because the animal wasn’t killed. I wasn’t “eating death” as many yogis like to describe it. I did not realize at the time that egg laying hens and dairy cattle live just as brutal a life as any animal destined for slaughter. But just giving up meat seemed so radical at the time, I rationalized that eggs and dairy didn’t matter, especially for my health.

But while I can look back on the choices and rationalizations now with some regret, at the same time I am very proud of myself for even asking the questions. I am even more proud of myself for answering those questions in such a way that I could live with the difficulties and resistance such a lifestyle naturally engenders. The reason John Robbins seemed so radical was simply that very few people ever asked questions about where their food came from.

John Robbins opened my eyes to the realities of our food choices long before Food Inc., Super Size Me, Forks Over Knives, or Michael Pollan. Even before Dr. Dean Ornish published proof that a veg diet can reverse heart disease, John Robbins showed eating animal foods has serious detriments to our personal, physical health. I’ve always been interested in health and fitness, even though I was not a successful athlete. But I wanted to enjoy my physical self, so Robbins spoke to me. My favorite sports have always been outdoor sports, and at the time surfing was my passion. Surfing brings you into very close contact with the environment, and often, nasty human made pollution. Robbins spoke to me about how our food choices affect the natural world that I love to play in. I grew up always having pets of some kind. Loving animals of certain species while blithely ignoring the suffering of other species no longer made sense because Robbins spoke to me.

But mostly John Robbins showed a beautiful interconnectedness and symmetry where health exists on many planes that all intimately connect to each other. Years later I would encounter this thought again from the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh who created a neologism to express this, interbeing. We are all in the act of being, and we be in a way inter-connected to each other, to other animals, and the larger web of life on earth. Our personal physical, emotional, and spiritual health depends on all those other beings. The health of all those other beings depends on our personal health. John Robbins showed this to me in 1989.

Thank you, John.

Race Report: ICE Breaker Triathlon

Starting the run, feeling better step by step

Starting the run, feeling better step by step

April 6, 2013
Folsom Lake
Granite Beach, CA

Reversing Aging Through Racing

If I raced to almost the exact same time I did three years ago, that means I am not slowing with age. If we are supposed to lose function and fitness as we age, and I haven’t, does that mean I have reversed aging? I say yes. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. It also explains why folks in the older age groups look so great. They’ve reversed aging too. So as long as you don’t overdo it and get injured or overtrained, then you too can reverse aging.

The Race

I wasn’t super motivated to race two weekends in a row. What would that show me? Usually these races have a couple of weeks in between, although I haven’t raced the ICE Breaker recently. There is little else on my calendar for April since I gave up on the Sea Otter Classic due to logistical issues, so I jumped in at the last minute. This race is very similar to last week’s XTERRA, except this race has the bike leg on closed roads instead of trails. As a result it is quite a bit shorter, taking me about one hour less that the off-road version. That should make for faster recovery, right?

Swim: 1/2 mile
Bike: 13 miles road bike
Run: 4 miles trail run

SWIM:
Started great. The breathing tactic paid off again as I have yet to train my swim. As we got further out in the lake the cloudy, breezy weather showed up as some chop that began to push me around. Unfortunately, I kept my head down and followed some feet. They were the wrong feet to follow. I kept swimming wide, wasn’t sighting often enough and I felt my swim collapse. As bad I thought it was going to be, I actually went a few seconds faster than the previous week! Never give up. Note to self: sight the buoys for yourself, don’t trust others.

BIKE:
Two laps on closed park roads. Like the mountain bike leg, these roads constantly have you thinking. Shifting, climbing, descending, cornering, there is never a dull moment. I thought I was going fast, but unlike the swim, this was deceptive. I went slower than the last time on this course. Reflects the need to do much more bike training. Running does not seem to translate into bike fitness the way the reverse does.

RUN:
Killed it. Felt great, and felt even better as the run went on. I kept lifting my pace gradually and I didn’t blow up. I actually went several minutes faster than the previous week on a course that was a half a mile longer! I attribute this to riding a bike leg that was an hour shorter and on roads. Mountain biking really beats up your legs before a run.

NUTRITION:
Two small Japanese sweet potatoes and plenty of time for digestion. Felt hungry at the start, but so what? Took in one bottle of HEED on the bike, nothing on the run. Two servings of Recovery Accelerator immediately after while walking and cooling down. Ate several onigiri rice balls for lunch while driving home. Fillings were pickled ginger, miso, umeboshi paste. A little short on protein for recovery, so I need to create another filling with beans or tofu to use for recovery meals.

SUPPLEMENTS:
I just got my Hammer order for this season, so I brought back the supplements that I think give an ergogenic boost. Controversial and not truly necessary, I still like experimenting with them. I used their Daily Essentials along with some Endurance Amino before and after. Again I used the curcumin and proteolytic enzymes to help with inflammation and muscle recovery. I felt my recovery went well, but the race was an hour shorter.

All in all, a great race. Many thanks to TBF Racing for producing such great events!

Relax! The Holidays are Here!

The holidays are here, and with it comes all kinds of anxiety about all kinds of things. But one of the big ones for many people is holiday weight gain and loss of fitness. Athletes are often terrified about losing their hard won fitness as the season winds down, and the days get shorter, close and wetter. Everyone worries about the dreaded weight gain, whether casual exerciser or top age grouper. There are roughly six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year’s, which seems like a long time with which to do all kinds of damage. Fittingly, it seems every fitness or health oriented magazine or website has all kinds of complicated advice about how to avoid the pitfalls. I have got a simpler plan, don’t worry about it.

RELAX!
Research shows that the average holiday weight gain for adults is one pound.

That’s it. One pound.

The problem is that most people never lose that pound, so after ten years, you have ten extra pounds. Also, the more overweight you are, the more you tend to gain.

But, if you are reasonably active and motivated, you can deal with that pound. You can prevent it with a few counter measures strategically applied. Even if you gain some, you can implement some austerity and lose it after New Year’s. It really is not as bad as you think. All through human history there were periods of feasting, and gaining a few pounds was not a bad thing. Things have changed a bit now, so we must exercise more caution, but there is no reason to get paranoid. You can enjoy the holidays, indulge some, and still get right back on track for the coming season.

So, do not fret. It is not the end of the world, only the end of the year. Just flex that muscle between your ears a bit and you will be fine.

Those Amazing East Africans!

The Vegan Mofo project over at sister blog The Vegan Training Table is taking up nearly all time allotted to blogging. So I’ll split a post in two to prove to Google that Vegpedlr is alive and well and still blogging. The Vegan Training Table project is based on a theme of spotlighting and celebrating plant-based athletes both traditional and contemporary. It grew from my great respect and admiration for the Tarahumara and East Africans who have had tremendous success in distance running eating plant-based diets. They are not traditionally vegan, and they eat so little animal food out of necessity rather than choice. But they show that not only do athletes not need any animal food, they can do very well without. It is my opinion that such a diet is optimal. While East African and Tarahumara runners may not be vegan, their typical dishes can be easily adapted. I hope that they make me just as fast!

I already blogged about the Tarahumara, made famous in Born to Run, now it’s time to look to the great Rift Valley in East Africa, where the most successful competitive runners come from. No one country has dominated a single sport more than Kenya has dominated distance running. If you add in next door neighbour Ethiopia, you have near total domination. Many people have investigated this dominance, and there is no one answer to explain their continued success. Rather it is a number of factors, from living at altitude, barefoot running and a simple plant-based diet. Both of these countries are poor, and the dietary staples of runners are the same: unrefined starches in the form of whole grains and legumes along with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Very little meat, some dairy, and no supplements. That’s it. Simple.

For Ethiopians, the staples are injera, a fermented crepe like bread, and vegetable or legume stews. For the Kenyans, it’s ugali, a cornmeal like porridge similar to polenta, and leafy greens and legumes. Meat is for special occasions, since it’s just too expensive. And on this simple diet, these East Africans have won practically all international track races from 800m to the 10K, and most road marathons as well. That goes for both genders. They’re not held back by a “poor” diet, they lead the pack!

Coming Up:

More on the typical nutrition of an African runner and why it works

Coming up at The Vegan Training Table:

Ethiopian dishes

Kenyan inspired dishes

PCRM Vegan Kickstart Review

So.

I intended to use this PCRM Kickstart as a kick in the pants to erase some not so salubioius habits and replace them with better ones. Well, life interfered. It became busier than I thought, and in ways that surprised me. I had planned that I would try all these new wonderful recipes and blog about them. I wanted to support and inspire others that were new to this lifestyle. So I kept my head above water,and with one trangersession, I managed to stay on task. But I wanted to blog about more, especially the practical bits. Well, maybe next time.

Boo me!

I wanted to do more, write more, and share more about hoe this is a wonderful lifestyle that is not so difficult to maintain.

FAIL.

If it is so easy that I can’t even write 250 words about it, then truly, how easy is it?

For me, it’s not so bad, because stir fried veggies and rice or chili are always great options. But for anyone else looking for more practical advice about food addictions, sorry I wasn’t so much help.

Moving forward (the only thing we can do) we can resolve to do better. Everything gets easier with practice, so we should not panic if we blow it along the way. Try to find a way around whatever block it was. There is a way, we can find it.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Vegpedlr

PCRM Vegan Kickstart Week One DIY:

A bean.

A green.

A grain.

I love simplicity, even if I don’t show it. I love alliteration and rhyming because it makes things easier to remember. So I tried the formula:

A Bean.

Garbanzos. I cooked a huge pot and had some left over ready to use.

A Green.

Cabbage. I had a cole slaw blend that I decided to repurpose.

A Grain.

Rice. It feeds most humans and I love it.

Looks like a curry! So I fashioned a curry based on Simple Bombay Aloo.

I added carrot, the cabbage mixture, and some green beams and eggplant I had laying around. For curry powder I used the last of my Sri Lankan curry powder, which is hotter and different from your average curry powder. Served on top of rice, it made a great dinner and lunch the following day.

Week One of the PCRM Vegan Kickstart

What a blast!

As I shared on the forum, I thought I had “been there, done that” with regards to a 21 day vegan challenge. That’s true, I’ve done it, but what I didn’t realize is how much more fun you can have when it is a team effort. Big ups to the whole PCRM team for organizing this. Bigger ups to everyone who takes the challenge, tries hard, and posts in the forum with their successes and failures. Together, we can make this stick! So for everyone who stuck it out through week one even if you fell down (I did) congratulations!

Here are the salient points from Week One:

The recipes are awesome!

I modified them a bit based on ingredients I had on hand, but the base was brilliant.

I LOVE the daily message with a celebrity.

Some of them I had never heard of, so it was great to learn about others on the same path.

The forum is great!

Already I’ve connected to an Australian blogger and  someone from the “mother country.” Brilliant!

Recipes:

The Moroccan Stew

Good, but I modified it and messed it up a bit on the way. Taste was spot on.

Chili

I’m an experienced chili cook, but I have not made it in awhile, extra yum!

Other recipes that looked good but I missed were the zucchini sandwiches, curried lentil tomato soup and white bean hummus. Since I live alone, some of these recipes last a few days, but I will try as many as possible.

So, to all you Kickstarters, congratulations on finishing week one!

I wish you all the best of luck in the next week.

PCRM Vegan Kickstart September 2012

The racing season is mostly over, school is back in session, and I need to find a new writing and blogging groove. No more grueling mountain bike races, maybe one more short sprint triathlon, but my real focus will be training for a December marathon. In contrast to triathlon and mountain biking, running is much simpler. Less time consuming too. I just have to keep pushing my one long run each week and maintain the rest of the days.

So what to write about?

I think it’s high time to leave Maffetone, heart rate, lactate threshold, and heart rate variability on the sidelines and get back in the kitchen. After all, this is the best time of year for fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market. Thanks to my sister, I found out about PCRM’s 21 Day Vegan Kickstart, and signed on to help support her and a friend, along with anyone else on the forums making the effort. I could use a little inspiration, and this challenge looks like a good one. My midseason break from training has been refreshing, but I need a new focus. The Kickstart lays out a meal plan complete with shopping lists. I won’t follow all the meals, but I will follow the rules. My breakfasts are uniform: oats and fruit, and lunch is nearly always left overs from dinners. But I will try  as many of their dinners as I can for a little variety.

So my first Kickstart meal was Moroccan Bean Stew with Sweet Potatoes.

It came out more like a soup, a LOT of liquid. I winged it on the spices, but the flavor was good. Needed more heat, and some sriracha fixed that up. I added some red bell pepper, zucchini, and green beans because I had some laying around. And its funny that the garbanzo and black beans the recipe called for I already cooked up in the slow cooker before I signed up. Brilliant. I didn’t have the couscous, so I used a wild rice blend, which was OK. Too much liquid and a little over cooking of the veggies made the final dish a little mushy. I’ll keep the leftovers separate when packing my lunch. The next recipe is a black bean chili, to which I’ll add some extra veggies as well.

In addition to the how to, they’ve got an impressive list of celebrities adding their inspiration. Today’s message from NBA star John Salley was interesting, since I don’t follow basketball. Hopefully this community effort will lift me out of the Back to School doldrums.

What does everybody else do when motivation sags?

Weekly Plan: Week of July 16

Peak, Taper and Rest

Yup, that’s the plan. BIG race this weekend, the Tahoe Traill 100, a 100K mountain bike race that also serves as a qualifying race to get into the infamous Leadville Trail 100. I did this race last year on a lark as a personal challenge, only hoping to finish within the time cut-offs. I succeeded, so of course I wanted to do it again and see if I could improve on my time. Using the Maffetone Method of developing a great aerobic base and avoiding high intensity training means my “peak” is a little different. What I’ve done is accumulate volume by not taking days off, and stretching my workouts a little longer each time. Then my “taper” will be three days of reduced training, then three days of rest to absorb all that volume. Then race!

Monday:

Two hour MTB time trial. Aerobic climb to compare fitness to last year

Short transition run, depnds on bike time

Dinner- Jeff Novick’s SNAP curried cauliflower and potatoes

Tuesday:

60-75 min run

40 min swim

Dinner-Turkish Eggplant and rice, green salad

Wednesday:

90 min. road ride easy

Dinner- Italian potato/green bean casserole, green salad

Thursday:

MAF test on the track

swim

Dinner: Curried vegetables and dal

Friday:

walking

Dinner- Fuhrman style GOMBBS (greens, onions, mushrooms and potatoes)

Saturday:

Drive to race venue for athlete’s meeting

Dinner- Pasta

Sunday:

RACE!

Go as FAST as possible!

Vegan Athletes in the Mainstream Press

Can Athletes Perform Well on a Vegan Diet? – NYTimes.com

Of course they can!

Elsewhere on-site, an inspiring story by an amateur athlete that I can relate to well:

My Vegan Marathon – NYTimes.com

With recent plant based athletes like Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, and Rich Roll sharing their success stories, it’s a great time to represent this lifestyle. While none of them follow the starch based McDougall diet that I feel is best, they all attribute nearly all their success to their nutrition.

But it is interesting to see  more exposure and discussion of plant based lifestyles and high level sport. What was mocked by many, including so-called “experts” a few years ago now gets fairly balanced coverage. I thought the interview article with professionals was good. It explains that just because a diet is vegetarian or vegan does not necessarily make it healthier. There are plenty of plant based junk foods, and basing your caloric intake on oil, refined flour, sugar, fake meats and cheeses will not promote health.

Here are few quotes I found particularly interesting:

“You do have to be diligent about protein intake if you’re vegan. I have clients, especially women, who say, ‘Oh, I put a few chickpeas in my salad.’ But that’s not going to do it.”

Perhaps. If you’re not eating enough whole plant foods, I can see this happening. But that’s not a healthy diet. If you’re eating intact starches and vegetables with enough calories, protein will not be a problem. Look at the Kenyans. The comment also reflects a bias many of us have where we pigeon-hole certain nutrients into certain foods and forget about the big picture. In this case it’s beans for protein. Whole starches average 10% of calories from protein, and green vegetables have more protein per calorie than most animal foods. I will concede that some research indicates that an absolute value of protein of 1.2g/kg of body weight maximizes recovery. For some, that may take a little extra effort.

“The one issue is vitamin B12, which is found only in meat; B12 is important for endurance athletes, since it affects red blood cell production. “

True. But we already know that, and it’s easy to fix. And it’s probably not nearly as dangerous as people think, especially when it also affects omnivores as well. Dr. McDougall explains the research quite well in his article.

“My feeling is that hard training trumps everything. Diet, if it’s healthy, isn’t going to make that much difference.”

Yes and no. Consistent training is the most important thing. The body adapts gradually. Time out due to injury, illness, or overtraining stall progress. But I firmly believe only a healthy diet allows for that long term progress. Without proper nutrition, the body won’t recover well.

Diet is certainly key fro me. I have raced the last three weekends consecutively for 4-8 hours each time. With plenty of time for reflection at the back of the pack, I realized that 10 yrs ago, eating the Standard American Gourmet Foodie Diet, there was no way I could have done even one of my recent races. Now I love racing, and as soon as my legs aren’t sore, I’ll be back training for the next one. Without my whole foods, starch based diet, I can’t be active.