We wrap up Veganuary this weekend with journalist Jessica Scott-Reid and Wpg Blue Bombers Fullback John Rush to talk about the benefits they have personally experienced being vegan, the history of Winnipeg’s first vegan restaurant, and John’s new food blog “Rescue Dog Kitchen” for the benefit of animals
Kevin : John we’ll start with you. So obviously being sidelined is nothing new for professional athletes. Since there are many reasons a player cannot play their game of choice like injuries and stuff like that. What’s it like when everyone is sidelined, especially, since you’re Winnipeg Blue Bomber and you guys are coming off the highest high to nothing. What’s that like for you right now?
John: it’s definitely interesting. I’ve been playing football since I was nine. So at the time when we canceled the season it had been 17 straight years of football and sports being my life. So, to not play football for an entire year was something that was very new to me and obviously many within my profession. So, it was a definitely a very different feeling to have a summer where you could actually do things and not be in pain. I would obviously much rather be in pain and on the field playing. So, it was it was definitely a very difficult transition from doing something for 17 straight years and then all of a sudden abruptly come to a halt. It wasn’t ideal but it’s not like we were the only sport or profession that was sidelined and effected by this.
Kevin : I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Cinderella Man with Russell Crowe where He’d been a boxer for a long time and he had all these little injuries from years of boxing and he was sidelined for a little bit and couldn’t box. In the time that he wasn’t boxing, all those little injuries had a chance to heal which made him a better boxer once he returned. Over this time do you feel that your body has been healing from all the years that you’ve been playing football?
John: Oh, yeah. All the little things where you never have enough time to heal up especially during the season. A lot of football is just maintaining. You’re just trying to be good enough to play and to be good enough to just strap on the pads and go. You’re never really allocated enough time to fully heal. But yeah, hundred percent having almost a year and a half to heal injuries that you’ve been putting off for 17 years or however long it may be. It definitely was nice to be able to work on things that are going to hopefully make you better and hopefully heal up to so you can come back better.
Kevin : Jessica Scott Reid you are Winnipeg based journalist who is a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Free Press. You cover animal and environmental issues as well as plant-based food and vegan culture. How did you and John connect?
Jess: That’s a good question. I think because here in Winnipeg, the vegan community is quite tight. We connected online. I think John’s Instagram has a very popular following, lots of interacting online and we became friends that way first. I became very intrigued by the stuff he’s doing online. The recipe creations, the animal advocacy. He’s doing so much off the field and I just really became interested. I’ve written about him a couple of times now.
Kevin : Okay. So it’s a last two days of “Veganuary” so before we get into the main topics that we’re going to be talking about for each of you, maybe you guys can talk about when you stopped eating meat and why. Jess… we’ll start with you.
Jess: For me, it was an ethical reason. I know John’s concerned with health, which is another big one and it became that for me later on too. For me first, it was for animals, for the environment, just really learning about the impact of animal agriculture on the animals and the planet. Once you can’t unknow and then I started diving into vegan cooking and found it not only easy, but enjoyable and I felt good eating the food so it wasn’t a tough transition and “Veganuary” is where I started trying it for one month and then just never stopped. Now it’s four years later.
John: So, mine was at the start a little bit different. It’s interesting why I continued it ethics but at the time, I always laugh about it now, but before I was vegan, I was a huge vegan hater. My brother and his wife did it one month of every year because that’s what Beyonce did. When she would talk about it in her book I would make fun of them endlessly about it. Before I learned about veganism and at the time I went vegan, I was working with a trainer and he suggested I go vegan. I needed to lose about 30 pounds and he’s like “listen John, you’ve done literally every other diet”. I tried keto, I tried intermittent fasting, I tried all those weight loss diets and they just weren’t working. It wasn’t sustainable for me. I wasn’t losing the weight. So he’s like “listen, go vegan. It’s really good”. He was a vegan at the time and I didn’t know it actually and said he’d help me do it. He’s said “at the end of the month, if you hate it so much, we’ll just go back, we’ll go back to doing something else”. So I went vegan for a month and during that month, I really started to worry about other things. Like at the time I was cutting my hair for cancer and and raising funds for cancer and things like that. I started to learn about how veganism and eating a whole food plant based diet is really good for your health and, making sure you’re living a long, healthy life, cancer prevention and things like that. I found it really interesting especially considering how many women in my family have had cancer. I’m obviously a huge dog advocate and work with a lot of rescues and things like that. I started to learn about how pigs are actually more intelligent than dogs. If you have ever adopted a dog or owned a dog, you understand that dogs have personalities and they feel feelings and they feel fear and things like that. So if you should take an animal like a pig, that’s actually more intelligent than a dog and you equate it to what we do to them with slaughter houses that’s actually really messed up and we probably shouldn’t be doing that. So I started to learn about all the other factors that involved in veganism. The end of the month came around an I though I’d be a really bad person if I knew all these things and decided not to continue being a vegan. So I was a hater at first but I I turned into a truther or after that. .
Kevin : John, I’m sure you must get a ton of questions being a pro athlete. Like, where do you get your protein and how did you first tell other guys that you were playing with that you had stopped eating meat? What was their reaction and what are the questions that you get being a pro athlete, as far as saying that you don’t eat meat anymore?
John: It’s actually kind of funny. I talk about this a lot. I actually wrote an entire blog post about where I get my protein from because I was just so tired of answering it. Funny thing is I actually get significantly more protein approaching it now as a vegan than I ever did when I ate meat because I’m just so super aware of where I’m getting my protein from now. I’m always looking for foods that kind of give me more protein. Crazy enough for the entire first year I went vegan I didn’t tell anybody on the team. I was afraid it would affect my position. I thought I might lose my job because of it. There’s obviously a huge negative connotation with that especially in male dominated sports. A lot of people think that you need meat to get your protein so I didn’t really tell anybody for the first year but then obviously it’s not really something you can hide for forever especially with my Instagram. If you go to my Instagram, it’s obvious that I’m a vegan. So so people started to figure it out eventually and honestly everyone always asks me if the guys rip on me for it or make fun of me. It’s not like that at all. We obviously have a great team here full of great guys but the guys are more just inquisitive, more than anything. They’re interested because their entire lives, much like me, since the time you were nine years old, you had these volunteer coaches telling you, you needed to eat meat to get protein. You had these dads that were coaching you and they’re just like “you want to be strong? You gotta eat meat”. It’s kinda drilled into you from the time you are nine. Back then I’m not going to question my coaches…they’re my coaches. So you believe it. So you grow up believing you need meat, you need meat and then all of a sudden you get a guy like me. That’s just sitting there. Doing the exact same thing as them and even beating them. People were like “how the hell are you doing this?”. What’s going on? Like where are you getting your protein?” So they’re more just like more inquisitive and asking me questions. Like, man, we’ve been told her entire life, to eat meat. How do you play and how do you get your protein? How do you do these things without meat? So it was like there was never like a team meeting about it where we all sat down and I was like “oh yeah, I’m a vegan” lol
Kevin : John has Something to say, everybody listen up. lol
John: Yeah, exactly. It was never anything like that but guys just started to find out and it was just something that the guys knew about it. The coaches know about it. Everyone knows about it, but if the guys have questions they know they can come ask me. I bring in treats for them all the time. I love baking the guy’s treats like pop tarts, cinnamon buns, cookie dough, all the things like that. They love when I bring them in for them and treat them that way. That’s my little introduction to them that you don’t need meat on your plate. It’s been interesting. It’s been really interesting having the conversations with the guys and, guys, guys will be guys. If they’re going to make fun of you, they’re going to make fun of you. It’s going to be about something. So, it comes up occasionally, but it’s never malicious. And honestly, most of the guys, almost a hundred percent of the time are just wondering how I do it and how they can incorporate it as well.
Kevin : Obviously different people are different mentally and physically. So maybe we’ll start with you, Jess. Let’s talk about some of the benefits you personally have experienced from living a vegan lifestyle.
Jess: It’s definitely multiple benefits mentally sort of spiritually. It really feels good to align your values with your actions. I’ve always been an animal lover. I’ve always been concerned about the planet ever since I was a young kid ever since I watched free Willy. basically, I felt strange, even though like you guys were saying it was always ingrained in me too, that, it was part of nutrition. Right. We saw the Canada food guide growing up in school that this was something that was required on your plate. But it always felt even as a child, a little bit strange to me that I was doing this. And so later on as an adult, and it was actually upon having my own child where I started to really question the ethics of doing this and why I, cared so much about dogs and cats or, dolphin, but here I was eating, chickens and pigs. And so. Mentally and emotionally it’s, it has been super beneficial to finally, live aligned that way. Physically, honestly, I could say that as a woman who’s again, tried many diets just for different reasons. This is the easiest way to eat. Everything I like without having to really worry about being gaining weight is honestly just the easiest way to maintain without doing almost anything. I can eat all of the fettuccine Alfredo I want and nothing bad happens. And just your lack of inflammation that comes from eating dairy products is common for a lot of people, so there’s just a lot of great mental and physical benefits I’ve found and, and just generally felt very easy.
John: It’s actually pretty crazy. Some of the health benefits I noticed almost immediately I, I talk with it sometimes. I still, I honestly can’t explain it really. But I started sleeping way better. immediately, so I went vegan overnight and they the first week I was sleeping, like I was only sleeping like five or six hours. But I was waking up feeling like I was sleeping 12 hours with, eh, it was crazy. It was honestly insane. So I think I was like, wow, like this is, maybe, and that’s actually what initially got me to dive deeper into it. And then it’s always embarrassing to tell people, but I developed arthritis in my knees at 23 years old from playing football and, and. Tearing my ACL is and stuff like that. So I have obviously terrible joints and knees. And when I, when I went vegan, they actually started to alleviate a lot of the inflammation in my knees. And I was never able to squat past 90 which poses a lot of problems when we do play a position that kind of. Requires you to squat past 90. So but I, it was, it was very difficult for me to do that with my knees. And then when I went vegan, I started to the inflammation, started to subside and I started to, be able to squat pass by, like my body can actually do this. This was amazing. And I thought it was doing something as long with my workouts for awhile, because. I was at the time working in a group with a bunch of other CFL athletes in Toronto and every, we come in and they were always complaining, man. I’m so sore. I’m so tired. Like what the hell I got workout, kick my butt. And I’m sitting there like, and fueled, I feel great. Am I doing something wrong? But then I’m like, but I’m like, I’m like lifting the heaviest here. I’m like, should I be lifting more? Like, I don’t know, late. So like, I was recovering so much better. Like I was just like my body was just recovering. I was putting on more muscle and it was just so much better. That was just like performing so much better by doing this. And I’m like, and ultimately that’s what made me learn more about it, which was, which is amazing. But yeah, like my body just started feeling. So much better because of it. I was like, wow. Maybe there is something to these crazy vegans, you know what I mean?
Kevin : I read a few of your, , interviews and articles that, that that you’ve participated in.
And that was the main thing that stood out for me, like number one is sleep. Is my enemy I always feel tired when I get up. And as soon as I read that, I was like, I got to try this, obviously, if you were a vegan hater before, quote unquote and within a week you’re noticing changes that made you stick to it. That’s gotta be a dramatic difference, right?
John: Yeah, no, exactly. And, and, and there’s, there’s a right way and wrong way to do everything, right? Like that. Well, a lot of people think inherently that anything vegan is healthy and it’s just not true. Like Oreos are vegan, which is terrifying to think about, consider their cream cookies. So you’re like, okay, well what are actually in these things? But but if you, if you just go go and eat an entire box of Oreos every day, I’m going to take a Gander and say that your, your sleep’s not going to be very good. You’re not going to be an overhaul. Very healthy. So so they, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything. But if you’re eating, you’re eating the healthy foods and yeah. And you’re getting all your, your, your, your fruits and vegetables and grains . It changed your life? It’s crazy. Honestly,
Kevin : I knew there was a catch. Okay. So La Vegan Week took place January 17th to the 23rd. Did you guys participate? Did you go to any restaurants during that time?
Jess: We ate so much food that week. We started picking up things from different places for each other before and after work kind of stuff. We demolished quite a bit of food. In the end, The Roughage Eatery. I mean revolutionary, the things that they can do with all of their mock meats and cheeses, but I also really enjoyed Monuts. They did a Filipino box, which was really interesting and Charisma India, they always have an amazing vegan platter that’s always available that I’m always happy to have, especially during that week. John what were your favorites.
John: My wallet and waistline, we’re not happy after last week. We ate quite a bit. I loved obviously roughage. I loved their French dip. They also were entered fried chicken week and they had a fried chicken burger that was absolutely phenomenal.
Jess: They won one of the judges awards.
John: It was phenomenal, even though it wasn’t technically a part of the vegan week. I really did enjoy the rebel big Mac pizza pizza fan myself. So I was definitely very, very happy to enjoy a good pizza in Winnipeg because there’s not a lot of places that do a good vegan pizza here. So to have that was a real treat. The only thing I was upset about was that it wasn’t longer. I was hoping we can maybe create a two week, month, or even. all of January. That would be nice
Jess: There was super popular. A lot of restaurants joined in kind of at the last minute that weren’t signed up right at the beginning. And even like some coming in halfway through the week wanting to join in. So it was, it obviously was a big success.
Kevin : So speaking of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, I like many other people think of a vegetarian and vegan restaurants, mostly as a new thing. When in fact, Jessica, you, you have discovered that that is not true, that Winnipeg’s first plant-based restaurant dates back to the early 19 hundreds. So maybe you can talk about that.
Jess: Yeah, it was an amazing discovery. It was in one of these Winnipeg vegan groups online. The guy who owned Winnipeg Trolley Company, Steven Stuthers, was looking through old postcards for old photos of trolleys and he was able to spot in the background of this postcard in downtown Winnipeg a street sign for Apple Tree Vegetarian Restaurant that dated all the way back to 1907 through the archives of the Free Press and the Tribune. We were able to drum up a bunch of really cool advertisements and even one menu for their Thanksgiving that showed all the things that people were eating as far as vegetarians at the turn of the century. It was something I was shocked to see. I definitely did not think that here in Winnipeg we would have had a vegetarian restaurant from that far back, serving things like mock meat and a lot of nut-based foods, but there it was. I wrote an article for the Free Press about it and it was pretty popular. I think a lot of people were surprised.
Kevin : Yeah. The surprising thing about that article was a lot of the reasons that people were choosing to not eat meat back then are basically the same as the reasons that people are choosing right now right?
Jess: Yeah, that was an interesting part that I found too. He did make a lot of health claims. Some of which were very on the nose, some of which were not. I spoke to a vegetarian food historian for the article who told me that back then it was because it’s when slaughtering of animals moved from off the farm to centralize slaughter houses but this was before there was any such thing as the CFIA (Canadian food inspection agency) or any kind of inspection. So there was a lot of animal slaughtering going on out of public eye like we have today too. There were concerns about the quality of the meat at that time. And so apparently that’s when vegetarian based foods and mock meats really became a thing because people were trying to find an alternative Sources of protein sources of energy which is still today a concern amongst a lot of vegans about transparency in the dairy and egg industry.
Kevin : John, obviously you’re not one sit still while this break or hiatus is going on and you’ve created a vegan food blog. So maybe you can tell people what it is and what the main purpose of it is.
John: I created a vegan food blog. It’s called the rescue dog kitchen. As the name suggests it’s an ode to my two rescue dogs that I have adopted currently they’ve given me a lot and I wanted to give something back to them because dogs have helped me so much in my life. I’ve been adopting dogs since I was nine years old so they’ve given me a lot. I wanted to create something with all this free time that I’ve now found myself with. So obviously I love vegan food and love eating. Eating is basically part of my job. So I a lot of people always ask me what I eat and where I get my protein from, et cetera, et cetera. So I was like, why don’t I create something where I can point people to and be like, Hey, this is what I eat. This is how I do things and these are the foods that I like to create and make and this is how I get my protein. So on my blog, I talk about the nutrition of the foods and things like that. It’s not all healthy foods like the other week. I dropped a vegan ginger snap cookie recipe. They’re not healthy at all but you know, you gotta treat yourself every once in a while. How it works is I donate 50% of the proceeds I earned from the website or through the ad revenue so it doesn’t cost people anything. The more people that come to the website the more the more money we raise and 50% of the proceeds from the ad revenue, the merchant and the affiliate marketing that I do through the website, I donate back to dog shelters and the other 50% I just reinvest into the business to help grow it so we can reach more people to earn more money so we can help more dogs. So that’s how it operates. Like I said, dogs have done so much for me in my life personally so I understand that they need all the help. There are many shelters and rescues and things like that are very underfunded so I wanted to try and help out and I have all this free time.
Kevin : Okay. So I’m assuming you both cook many recipes since, you’re probably spending a lot of time cooking your own food. What is your go-to kitchen tool or appliances when it comes to making vegan recipes?
Jess: My first is the NutriBullet or some people use the Ninja. Anything that you can turn cashews or sunflower seeds into cream sauce that is just like a go-to. You have to have something that can pulverize so that you don’t have to worry about dairy and turning seeds and nuts into cream sauces like magic. You need to have a good NutriBullet for that. That’s mine.
John: I just bought a high-powered blender this year. I got the Ninja Blender actually and it is a game changer. I will have to agree there but my personal favorite is the nine in one Ninja foodie. It’s a nine in one air fryer, instant pot, dehydrator, steamer and there’s like five other functions. It’s revolutionary. I was I was an air fryer hater for a long time and now it is a game changer. The amount of things you can do with an air fryer and then instant pot. It’s crazy that more people don’t own them. Honestly, I highly recommend,
Kevin : That’s perfect. Thanks, you guys for coming on the show today.