Animal News

Laraque happy to veg out - Sep 16th 2009

Laraque happy to veg out
Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2009

SEAN GORDON,The
Globe and Mail

First, the eyebrows arch quizzically, then the legend's nose crinkles in disapproval.

"Ferguson
never would have accepted it," huffs Henri Richard, 11-time Stanley Cup
champion, uber-competitor, the Pocket Rocket himself, speaking of John
Ferguson, the former Montreal Canadiens tough guy.

It's
a natural enough reaction from a man whose off-season preparations used
to consist of switching from golf to tennis in early August.

He
has just been informed that Canadiens forward Georges Laraque,
boulevardier, animal-rights activist and perhaps the most feared
pugilist in the NHL, is a vegan ("a what?" Richard said), a militant
one.

No
dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts,
Laraque has been on a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and
legumes since June 1.

While
he says he was partly motivated to improve his health for the hockey
season, Laraque insists the decision was made primarily for political,
rather than nutritional, reasons.

Everything
changed, Laraque said, after he saw Earthlings, a 2006 documentary that
is widely celebrated in animal-rights circles.

"It's
unconscionable what's happening to animals in this country and the way
we treat animals we eat. … I realized I had to make some big changes,"
Laraque said.

Though
Laraque said he will no longer buy leather of any kind, he hasn't rid
his closet or hockey bag of previously purchased leather products
because, "that would be a further waste. And this way I don't forget."

Laraque,
who also does yoga daily, an activity he picked up as a member of the
Edmonton Oilers, said he's never felt better and reported for training
camp at a comparatively svelte 245 pounds.

"I've lost some weight, but I've been working with a really great nutritionist and I've never had this much energy," he said.

"I
think it's also important to break the stereotype that all vegans are
skinny people with long hair," added Laraque, as unlikely a supporter
of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the NHL has ever
seen. (This summer he sent a letter on the group's behalf to Prime
Minister Stephen Harper, protesting the Canadian seal hunt.)

Laraque couldn't think of any other vegan NHLers off the top of his head.

But the burly winger finds himself among a vanguard of current and former pro athletes who are eschewing most meats.

Laraque
cites Major League Baseball player Prince Fielder, former Olympic
sprinter Carl Lewis, NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and retired NBA player
John Salley as vegetarians who inspired him.

Richard,
who readily admits that he's often astonished at the lengths to which
today's hockey players go to train, hails from an era when Guy Lafleur
prepared for the season by cutting back from three packs of cigarettes
a day to two, or so the legend goes. ("It didn't matter, he was always
faster than everyone," Richard joked.)

And though Laraque is undoubtedly an outlier in the Canadiens dressing room and in the league, he's not alone in his approach.

Mike Cammalleri, who joined the Habs as a free agent in the summer, strives to eat organic, fresh and local foods.

"I find it helps my energy levels stay high throughout the season," he said.

Cammalleri
also regularly practises Pilates and occasionally will throw in a few
yoga exercises, "but I don't really have the patience for yoga."

Not
all the Habs are in tune with the new ethos. Fourth-year forward
Guillaume Latendresse, who has overhauled his off-season regimen in
each of the past two seasons, says he switched to a high-protein diet,
but that he's not willing to renounce meat altogether.

"[Laraque] has invited us all out to a vegan restaurant … but if I go, I'm bringing a steak in my jacket pocket," he joked.

So
in a tough-guy, famously hidebound culture like pro hockey, Laraque
remains a curiosity, but he's resolved to carry on spreading the word.

"People
still think it's kind of funny, but I'm not doing this to be funny," he
said. "There are more puppy mills in Quebec than anywhere else in
Canada, and no laws to shut them down. People get slapped with a fine
and six months later they reopen. Do you think that's funny?"