This is Part One of Two in a series about our love for food, cultural practices, nutrition, the way we treat animals, what the Torah (Bible) says about eating animals, and where I think the puck is going (that last part is the one bit about entrepreneurship, or future forecasting what I believe will be a very lucrative opportunity for the right entrepreneurs). This is more about what I've learned about these topics over the past four years in adopting a mostly vegan diet than my typical Lucky7 posts about entrepreneurship (with the notable exception I just mentioned above). I will not be offended if you stop reading now, and you now understand the context if you continue to read this post. I want you to know what you are getting into before you proceed; I believe this post will be a Matrix-type learning for you ("take the red pill, Neo") and once you know the truth you cannot "unlearn" it. You have been warned. :) Having said all of that, this is a topic that I'm very passionate about. My drive to write this post comes from the many questions I get from people about my diet, so I'm writing this post to openly share what I've learned and this will also be more efficient - and comprehensive - for me than telling bits and pieces of this learning each time in conversation. My drive also comes from losing my father to a heart attack because of his diet. He was too young to pass away, and I miss him very much. I wrote a tribute to him here - he was an amazing entrepreneur and man.
Before I begin, I would like to thank my good friend, Ryan Cush (one of our best for many years at Bazaarvoice and an executive of Food on the Table, recently acquired by The Scripps Network), for discussing and reviewing this series with me. He is a wise and good man, and I always enjoy collaborating with him.
I can't remember the exact date, but it was in 2010. We had a monthly speaker series at Bazaarvoice and I had invited Rip Esselstyn, the author of The Engine 2 Diet to come speak. He gave a terrific speech - one of the most passionate I've seen. His signature line was "real men eat plants because they want to live a long time for their families". His speech rewired my thoughts about food - that I, like him, could be plant-strong. Rip looked the part - he had achieved many athletic milestones as a plant-strong triathlete. He looked good, lean and strong. I took the 30-day challenge and volunteered to lead the Bazaarvoice "Engine 2" Tribe. Around 50 people at Bazaarvoice joined me.
In all truth, the challenge was very hard. Eating is something you do at least three times per day. I had to be very conscious of what I ate. When traveling, this compounded matters. My mind played tricks on me - replaying "facts" that had been taught to me as a child, like "Doesn't your body need meat?" and "What about the protein?". Rip had addressed these questions in his talk but I had been taught by society for so long that I still asked myself these questions. But these questions were merely a disguise for what I really wanted - the taste of meat again.
The results were astonishing. Rip had suggested we take a cholesterol test at the end and my results came back so low that he said, "Now you have the blood of a world-class triathlete." I felt great. I had stayed 100% plant-strong, even with lots of travel, for 45-days straight (the challenge was 30 days). I had lost around 15 pounds and weighed around 183. The results for the other 50 Bazaarvoice people were also amazing. Some people had dropped 25 pounds and looked better than I had ever remembered them. Most importantly, they felt great too. I knew there was no going back - we had learned something very important. You could eat plants and survive - and thrive. Bring on the veggies, please.
Like everyone, my connection to food began as a child. I was a very skinny kid growing up. People said I had a great metabolism. I ate whatever tasted good, and that meant a lot of meat. My father would regularly bring back red snapper from his fishing trips. I ate a lot of fish. I ate a lot of steaks. I ate a lot of lobster. My father said my diet would motivate me to become wealthy one day because "I ate like a king".
Like many young men, I wanted to change my body when I hit puberty. I wanted to start dating and I thought that adding muscle would help. This was the era of Arnold Schwarzenegger, after all. It was time to Pump Iron. I worked out like crazy. I ate a massive amount of food. Looking back, it was so wasteful. But it worked. I went from around 140 and 6'1" when I was 14 to around 225 and 6'2" by the time I was 20. I have the stretch marks on my arms and chest to prove it; I grew that fast. It took a lot of maintenance. I needed to be at the gym at least 90 minutes almost every day. It worked, though. My dating situation improved significantly. It eventually helped me meet and marry my dream girl - we met at a gym. I knew that working out would always be a part of me. It felt good to be strong. It felt good to accomplish such a transformation.