Professional wrestler Austin Aries has released a book called Food Fight - detailing his veganism, success in sport, and desires to see a 'food revolution'.
Aries, who turned vegan in 2011, has twice been TNA World Heavyweight Champion. He's also won the World Tag Team title and is a six-time winner of the Divisional Championship.
More recently, Austin moved to WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] and is currently expected to wrestle for the WWE World Cruiserweight title. He's known as 'The Vascular Vegetarian', and 'The MV3 – Most Valuable Vascular Vegetarian'.
Great Vegan Athletes [GVA] was honored to be invited to speak with Aries as part of his book launch.
During a Skype interview, Aries told GVA about his journey to veganism, the demands of his sport, and his concerns about the food industry.
Aries grew up eating animal products regularly. As a young adult one of the crucial moments in his transition was a chance conversation.
He says: "This guy said to me 'you really shouldn’t eat red meat and pork, it's not good for you'. ]
"I had no idea. It became this journey. They make it easy for us to keep our head in the sand.
"I'm someone who once his head out of the sand, I couldn’t put my head back into the sand."
He added: "There are so many reasons to give it a try. Whether you’re doing it for your own health or whether you’re doing it for the environment. Our factory farming industry causes more damage than the entire automobile industry but we don’t look at that."
Since then, the athlete has embraced veganism enthusiastically. We discussed the various reasons people are drawn to eliminating animal products, and he felt that they all applied to him.
He said: "There's also the humanity of what we do to other creatures. In most industrialized countries you have options, you have choices.
"We've been misguided to live in the other extreme where every time you sit down you eat animal products."
A large part of the motivation to write the book was Aries' growing understanding of the food industry and concerns about how unhealthily many people's diets are.
"I go around the country and meet lots of young fans," he said.
"I notice how many kids are unhealthy at such a young age, they're already set up for disease which is all preventable. It's awful. Our parents aren't educated, it's not part of the curriculum. Our doctors are not educated at all."
What the Health
Aries is enthusiastic about documentary What the Health, which considers the negative impact of the meat and dairy industries on Western health.
He said: "I felt I was a part of it, it was the things I've been talking about. I'd encourage everyone to watch this. You realise the level of corruption. The people who are supposed to protect us, and make us healthy, are driving it all for profit.
"One cool point they made in WTH is that all proteins come from plants. Some of the strongest animal on earth are vegetarian."
Austin Aries is looked up to by young fans, who see his amazing fitness and strength, and know that he lives an incredibly demanding lifestyle. For this reason, he strives to use his platform to spread a responsible message.
He said: "What I do is one of the most demanding roles from a physical standpoint…we are on the road constantly, we do pay per views once a month. In so many sports you may have a boxing match twice a year, footballer, basketball players play once a week.
"[My sport] is so demanding. We go out there live, there are no stunt doubles, there's no protective gear. You don't fake gravity.
"The other aspect is the travel. We’re constantly in aeroplanes, hotels, rental cars. Being in the seats takes its toll on the body but also the options for eating on the road are really bad.
"A plant based diet is very low in inflammatory levels. Every time you eat you’re either feeing or fighting illness. I feel that over the last 17 years I've been fighting - not feeding - illness."
Time for change?
Aries hopes the truth around diet, health, and ethics will come out - and he is keen to play his part in ensuring it does.
"We had that moment when the tobacco industry put their head in their hands and said 'OK you caught us'," he said.
"We're getting close to that with the corporate food system. When they finally admit they haven’t been truthful, then people will start looking at food differently. If people stop buying the food that’s poisoning them, then the big corporations will clean up their act.
"It's going to be bad for the meat and dairy industries."
Perhaps the key to change lies in making the changes to our views of food that Austin Aries himself has made.
He said: "I was raised to look at food in three ways. Do I like the way it tastes, how much does it cost, how fast can I get it.
"That’s how society views it. At a certain point I started thinking ‘how good is it for me, how much nutritional value do I get for my dollar, and where did it come from’.
"When people start looking at things that way you’re going to see more veganism."