The Real Benefits of Being a Vegetarian Swimmer

Photo Courtesy: RM Jelley

Guest commentary by Jim Perilman

Turning 75, an age up year for Masters, I realized with lightening-bolt amazement I am a late-blooming vegan.

After six months being vegan my body, soul and spirit feel altered. By “soul” I mean a broadened capacity for compassion, by “spirit” the embrace of a larger life purpose. Not surprising if one believes, “We are what we eat.”

95% of Americans eat meat products with dire results. Heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, etc., plunge healthcare costs into unrecoverable debt.

What has happened in this country (and worldwide) to create this unacknowledged meat addiction?

Following World War II, family farms were abandoned, replaced by immense, mechanized factory farms. Refrigerators, freezers, microwave ovens, snack food vending machines, and the advent of “fast food” transformed America’s eating habits. Food companies merged into giant corporations.

Materialism surged. Charge accounts and credit cards, and “keeping up with the Joneses” propelled the American Dream of “having it all.” Throughout the years, however, the unbridled impulse for more has become a nightmare of obesity, over-stuffed closets and garages, even as consumer craving for stuff goes unsatisfied.

What was proudly deemed “progress” sixty years ago has morphed into human illness, environmental devastation, and soul-wrenching horror for billions of animals with emotions and instincts similar to humans. Animals seek freedom as we do.

Factory farms
Norm Phelps, animal rights activist for 20 years, writes, “Factory farms constitute the most intense cruelty that the human race is capable of. They are, in fact, concentration camps in which sentient, sensitive beings live out their all-too-brief lives deprived of fresh air, sunlight, space in which to move about and stretch their legs or wings, and the ability to live in social communities suited to their natures. Their suffering is so intense and unrelieved from birth to death that insanity is a regular consequence of life in an animal factory. The helpless animals’ minds are simply crushed by pain and deprivation.”

Our pets: selective compassion
We love our pets: dog, cat, bird, whatever, but so selectively as to defy reason. Cows, chickens, pigs, fish, etc., apparently aren’t worthy of life because we too much enjoy eating them! People are aware of animal cruelty but adamantly refuse to witness it and truly feel it. Such is the power of willful ignorance, ultimately enacted against one’s own soul and spirit.

Meat consumption is inherently violent. The violence then turns on Nature herself (species and habitat extinction), or toward other humans (war, crime, brutality), or is repressed into states of denial, hypocrisy, depression, paranoia. It all begins with our food choices!

Conveniently for our sensibilities, factory farms and slaughterhouses exist OUT OF SIGHT. Consumers see only the supermarket product packaged in styrofoam and enveloped in plastic. The product ingested with total dis-association from animal misery.

Reminiscent of the cigarette companies assuring us that smoking was healthy and would make you popular, and that nicotine wasn’t habit forming— meat and dairy advertisements conceal the truth about holocaust animal suffering.

Sadly, where profit beckons, our culture embraces animal domination and exploitation: puppy mills, zoos, circuses, horse and dog racing, recreational hunting and fishing, and medical research. The animals are voiceless and vulnerable, virtually enslaved.

Animal farming is not sustainable.
Methane gas emissions produced by concentrations of excrement from factory farms, feedlots and slaughterhouses spike global warming. Rain forests are cut down to raise mono-crops (corn, soybeans) to feed livestock while one billion human beings are malnourished or starving. Fresh water resources are dangerously depleted as animal farming requires 10 times more water than vegetable farming.

Swimmers, take a deep breath and exhale. We are streamlining into reality about the consequences of our food choices.

Purchasing animal products perpetuates animal farming, environmental degradation, and risk to our health by daily infusions of animal cholesterol in our veins and arteries.

Animal cholesterol induces heart disease (the leading cause of death in America) by stroke or heart attack, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, a host of chronic diseases.

When disease is identified, the patient suddenly becomes a victim of a predatory health care system— facing recurring doctor appointments, referrals, blood tests, drugs, changed prescriptions, surgery, hospitalization, chemo, radiation, stents, pacemakers, on and on.

Ironically, the patient is made to feel like a commodity— confined and dominated— as did the animals the patient uncaringly consumed for years!

Dead animal flesh is filled with toxins: pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics, including the trauma of fear-filled slaughter. We don’t need animal products. We aren’t living on the frontier or in Iceland. Meat eating is a conditioned taste augmented by condiments (ketchup, mustard, relish, sauce, lemon juice, etc.).

The good news
A plant-based diet high in fiber naturally cleanses the blood and reverses arterial clogging. Choose life!

Regular exercise and adequate protein are essential for building muscle. Animal protein, however, isn’t necessary and is harmful. A plant-based diet is perfectly adequate and sustainable for a growing world population.

The Challenge
There is virtually no acknowledging the fact of meat addiction by government, organized religion, or mass media.

Apart from dismissing junk food, do swim coaches discuss protein alternatives or experimenting with a plant-based diet? Are they meat addicted themselves?

Are swimmers sharing opinions with friends and family about healthful eating? Or is the subject agreeably taboo? PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB

The issues noted above are inter-related and compel our attention as athletes and human beings. Disturbing, yes, and controversial, lifelong habits need re-examining.

Households with spouses, kids, in-laws, pose a bewildering conflict of food preferences. Workplace stress, commuting, coffee and sodas, fast food lunches— are truly daunting challenges to right eating.

One person at a time
We can only change if consciously informed and inwardly led, one person at a time. Doing so becomes a life-altering revelation. Plant-based meals are delicious. Veggie burgers rock! Lentils, beans, nuts, vegetables, fruits are super foods.

Masters athletes are natural role models for the next significant revolution and evolution in human progress: animal liberation.

As vegans we restore sanity and active longevity to our lives, respect for our fellow creatures, and heal the Earth.

Highly recommended reading, “The World Peace Diet” by Dr. Will Tuttle; recommended viewing, a video on You Tube, “Earthlings,” both resources profoundly insightful.

Earthlings Movie

Jim Perilman swims for Walnut Creek Masters. A two-time All American and three-time national champion, most recently at Santa Clara 2014 in the 50 breaststroke. He has 225 top ten swims. Jim became a vegetarian at age 70, a vegan at 75. He has three grandkids and lives in Lake County with a standard poodle, Luna).

Swimming World’s Jeff Commings has experimented with moving to a vegetarian lifestyle, while still being a world-class Masters swimmer. Read about his diet changes here  and here .

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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