Okay, so by domination I mean making a tiny, tiny dent in the universe (for now, that is … muhahaha). But let me have my fun.
Last Friday, the German version of No Meat Athlete was published. My extensive knowledge of German tells me the title should surely be Nein Meat Athlete, but alas, that is completely wrong. And only one-third German.
This is a big deal — apparently Germany is a hotbed for veganism in Europe, the last such place I would have imagined. The stereotype of sausage, bratwurst, hamburgers, weiners and schnitzel is just that, a stereotype. Part of the heritage, maybe, but not the modern everyday. (I’ve never been to Germany; this is just what I’m told.)
So it’s awesome to be a part of that movement. Even more awesome to know that there’s the potential, these days, to start something silly on your laptop that ends up across the sea.
An Interview for the German Release
Daniel and Katrin from beVegt.de, the biggest German vegan running blog, wrote an additional foreword for the book, and they’re even doing a German book tour with publisher Compassion Media to help promote it. For which — having done my own book tour and still needing to take a nap every time I so much as think about it — I’m endlessly grateful.
Thanks, Daniel and Katrin!
Daniel and Katrin asked me to answer a few interview questions for their blog, and I liked their questions so much (especially the one about activism) that I thought I’d share them, along with my answers, here. If you speak German, you might have more fun reading the interview on beVegt.
(Oh and speaking of translations, the French version, for sale in Quebec, Canada, was published earlier this year. For that one, they changed the title to something that translates as “Run Better, Run Veggie.” I’m still waiting for a Spanish version, so that I can actually read it.)
Hope you enjoy the interview, and if you’ve got German friends, please spread the word about the release of the NMA book there. (And see the end of this post details about a big summer sale we’re doing on NMA shirts and training programs.)
1. Matt, your book “No Meat Athlete” will be published in a German edition soon. For whom have you written the book? What can readers expect from it?
No Meat Athlete is for two types of people: the fit person who wants to eat less meat, and the vegetarian or vegan who wants to be more active and a better example of someone who eats this way.
It’s essentially a guidebook to this whole active, plant-based lifestyle. There are recipes, nutrition guidelines, training plans, and inspirational stories, all approached from the place of not just how we can make these changes, but how we can make them last.
2. Back in 2009 when you started your blog No Meat Athlete, did you expect that this would be the start of a global movement? What do you think: Why are No Meat Athlete and the idea behind it so successful?
I had no idea that it would become what it has! Honestly, the extent of my vision for No Meat Athlete was that a few people would like the blog enough to wear a t-shirt to show everyone at their races that they could do this on a plant-based diet. That was it! I even remember thinking, after we had sold maybe 40 shirts and I had a few extras lying around, “Okay, I guess these last few aren’t going to sell. Oh well, that t-shirt idea was a fun experiment.” Luckily I gave it one more try and ordered more, and lots of people started seeing and wanting them.
If there’s a single reason No Meat Athlete has been a success, I think it’s that my attitude towards going vegetarian or vegan is not the common, preachy one that scares a lot of people away from plant-based diets. The fear that I’d have to become one of “those people” kept me from trying this diet sooner. So I try to just be a normal, genuine guy — not an activist — in my writing, and surprisingly enough, that has resonated with a lot more people than other, harder-sell approaches usually do.
3. All around us we see plant based runners who label themselves as such in public and happily show off their plant powered lifestyle by wearing running shirts with vegan messages etc. (we do it ourselves all the time!). What makes people so open and outgoing about being a “no meat athlete”?
For most people, “No Meat Athlete” is a contradiction. There’s this perception that it can’t be done, that you can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet, that you’ll be weak and tired if you don’t eat meat. So to be a walking (or running) example, right there alongside someone else in a race who eats a typical diet and believes all that nonsense, is pretty powerful for both the individual and the cause.
And let’s face it — people like calling attention to and being recognized for what makes them unique. And being an athlete who eats a plant-based diet despite years of indoctrination in the “you need meat to be strong” mindset is pretty darn unique.
4. You have initially tried a plant based diet in search for a way to increase your running performance and qualify for the Boston marathon. Have your motives for being a vegan changed over time? Today, what makes you think that being vegan is the right thing to do?
Actually, my initial motivation for becoming vegetarian (and the same one that eventually caused me to go vegan) was ethical. It’s true I was trying to qualify for Boston when I made the change, but I didn’t really think going vegetarian would help me. But I was frustrated with my slowing progress towards Boston, so I decided to go vegetarian and see what would happen. (And to my surprise, it turned out to work really well!)
The reason I’m vegan today is the same as the my initial reason for going vegetarian: I don’t feel good about eating foods that require animals to suffer, if I can sustain myself perfectly well on foods that don’t cause suffering. If there’s a short- or long-term personal health benefit to that, or an environmental benefit, so much the better.
5. Do you think about the things you do with No Meat Athlete as a form of vegan activism? If not, what would you call it instead?
No, I really don’t think of what I do as activism. It’s a personal choice for me not to eat animals, and I don’t like to tell other people that they should feel and act that way too. I prefer to be a positive example that it’s possible to eat this way and do some pretty neat things, and I’m happy to give interested people tools to help them thrive on a plant-based diet, but I never tell anyone what they “should” do when it comes to their food choices.
But I appreciate the work that activists do, and I fully understand that some people wear their No Meat Athlete shirts as a form of activism. And that’s their choice, their way way of spreading a message that I think is a positive one, so I’m glad to have helped.
I suppose you could call my approach passivism. Or maybe passiveganism. Sorry for creating a translation nightmare. 🙂
6. Habit change is a recurring theme in your book and on your blog. What is your best advice for people who want to make a change – e.g. become runners or improve their diet – but are struggling with it?
“Start small” is really good advice: if you’ve tried to make a change and you’ve failed, scale it back. Make it easier to win. If you failed at running, try to just run/walk for five minutes at first. If you failed when you tried to become vegan overnight, try being vegan just one day a week — or even just starting each day with a vegan smoothie — so that you can put all your energy and preparation into that one day or one meal, and feel what it’s like to be successful. And then increase from there, but gradually.
But I think there’s another factor that’s even more important in making a change, and that’s to really, really want (need!) to make that change. If running, to you, represents pain and something you “should” do, you’re never going to make the habit last. Figure out why you want to do it — or if you don’t have a strong reason, create one! Watch a documentary about marathoners and get massively inspired by the power a goal like that has to change your life. Same with veganism: for me, watching the movie Earthlings and reading books about factory farming created reasons for me to make a change that before seemed too difficult.
7. What is the single most awesome positive thing that becoming vegan has brought to your life?
It has made me embrace my inner weirdness! No matter how natural you might think a plant-based diet is, the fact is it makes you different. All my life I had tried to fit in, but once I went vegetarian and then vegan, I learned how much more fun it is to be unabashedly who you are. So I do lots of weird things now, and it all started with changing my diet.
8. And what — to you — is the best thing about running and being a runner?
Running is my vehicle for proving to myself that I’m capable of doing things that at first thought seemed impossible. Running a marathon, getting an hour and 40 minutes faster to qualify for Boston, and running 100 miles all seemed impossible and unthinkable to me when I first thought about them. To put in the work, one tiny step at a time — and feel what it’s like to then achieve those things — has done wonders for my sense of possibility and confidence outside of running.
9. What is your prognosis for the plant based running movement in the next few years? Is it just a fad or will it last and continue to grow? What’s your perfect scenario?
I think in its current level of popularity, it certainly has some elements of a fad. But the movement towards eating whole food (as opposed to packaged or manufactured pseudo-food) has staying power, because people see real results when they eat real food — results for themselves in how they look and feel, not just for the animals or the environment, and that’s very important when you’re talking about large-scale change. Those personal fitness and energy benefits of eating whole foods instead of a processed-food diet are there whether it’s plant-based or Paleo, which is why such seemingly opposite diets can both be so popular right now.
If I had my choice, of course I’d choose that people eat mostly plant-based instead of Paleo. But until our environmental and economic situations become so dire that people have no choice but to eat plant-based, I don’t think it will happen. Instead, we’ll see growth in the real, whole food movement, plant-based or not. And while maybe not the ideal, that’s a lot better — for our health, the animals, and the environment — than the way most people eat now.