John Waddell talks to Claudette Vaughan about his new book But You Kill Ants.
Claudette: How did But You Kill Ants first come about John?
John: I saw a need for it. I was finding there were so many varied questions being asked about veganism and the vegan lifestyle. Sometimes I just didn't know the answer and other times, about half an hour after the person had left I'd say to myself, "I wish I had said such and such". I thought to myself: "Why doesn't somebody write a book giving as many answers as possible to veganism in one hit?" The answer arrived immediately. That 'somebody' should be me. If I feel I need it, maybe others feel the same way too.
Claudette: Out of all the 100 questions and 100 answers in the book which one is asked the most frequently from non-vegans?
John: That's easy. The one most frequently asked is, "Where do I get my protein from?" This is by far the most common question. I say let's improve that question to: "Where do we find protein and also reduce heart attack, stroke, food poisoning and other risk factors"? Protein is plentiful in wholemeal bread, beans, corn, lentils, peas, oatmeal, broccoli, tofu and nuts. For those who eat less naturally have a look at these figures to compare. Hamburger substitute 'Natraburger' has 7.6% protein and Longa Life's 'Notburgers' also most double at 14.9%; Zoglo's Vegetarian Nuggets and Vegetarian Schnitzels have 17%; Kelloggs 'Nutri-Grain' and Sanitariums 'Nutmeat' contain a whopping 21.9%. You can still do better with 27% in some peanut butters. For comparison, Four N Twenty meat pies have 7.3% protein".
Claudette: What's next most frequently asked question from the book, John?
John: There's a mixture after that but so many questions asked are based around health issues. Questions such as: "Where do I get my strength from"? assuming that if you are a vegan then you must be weak. I answer this by saying: "What do tennis stars eat between games: burgers or bananas? What precedes marathon races: beef barbecues or pasta parties"?
Bananas offer quick energy for tennis players: pasta stores it for the demands of a marathon's 42km. Both are excellent for carbohydrates, the best energy source, which meat lacks. Public knowledge lags behind modern nutrition. Hal Higdon ran six marathons in six weeks, said: "My 1963 training diary is particularly frightening. The pre-race meal was orange juice, bread, milk, and a 6-ounce steak." The word soon leaked out to the sports world that steaks were out, pasta was in... Today, just about any runner knows that spaghetti is a better pre-marathon meal than, say, scrambled eggs or steak.
Claudette: You started marathon running at age of 56. Tell us about that please.
John: I started marathon running at age 56 for the race, 2002 Sydney. Prior to that I was never a runner - in fact, not only the worst in my year throughout my school days, but the worst by far. I became hooked on marathon running (and my training from 3am four mornings a week); Canberra April 2005 is my 11th event. These events attract me for the health aspect but also for the marvelous friendships with fellow-runners where the atmosphere is primarily of helping your opponents through the difficulties of the race rather than beating them. Now I've taken up the additional challenge of ultra-marathons. Because I am not a natural runner, I can only credit my vegan diet for any success. It has brought a win in the Sydney Marathon Over 60s, and a second in the Canberra ultra-marathon for the same age group. If nothing else, it does show that no-one need believe that being on a vegan diet for decades would cause health deficiencies
Claudette: If 'Health' is the first category most people ask you about, in terms of categories, what comes next?
John: Per subject most questions are first asked about health then religion as some see veganism as a clash with a biblical perception that God gave humans permission to eat animals. Ethical questions are asked next, then there's the nonsense ones.
Claudette: Oh yeah! Tell us some of those ones.
John: I like to call them the 'weirdo' questions like: " If animals weren't meant to be eaten, why are they made out of meat"?
In this book I cover the widest spectrum of questions and concerns. When I first started making a list of every objection and question I found I had about 80 odd questions. Then I just waited for the other 20 questions to come to me to make the book an even 100 questions. In my dealings with people I have generally found them uninterested in receiving encyclopedic answers to questions on veganism. They want something to the point that they can use in a debate situation or conversation. So with every question I have limited myself to a one-page only answer, still providing details but user-friendly at the same time.
Claudette: What's the reception been like to But You Kill Ants?
John: It's been very pleasing. It's heartening to hear from people in the vegan and vegetarian scene to hear them say it's been useful to them. What I am finding is it has helped people who have found it difficult to explain why they are vegans. It's that that makes it all worthwhile. The hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours I've spent compiling this information is being put to good use and that's always gratifying. Now that it's gone into its second edition, it means I've been able to improve on it in some areas I weren't happy with - just a couple of minor things though. With a book it's an ongoing process and one is never really satisfied. Like vegan education, its an ongoing work-in-process.
Claudette: Why is the term 'vegan' threatening to many meat-eaters, especially men?
John: There was once a very successful 70's campaign called, 'Feed the Man Meat'. It is partially responsible for spreading the idea that you can't be a man, if you don't eat meat.
Claudette: And what about your views on this latest 2005, " On Australia Day Feed the Man Lamb" controversy? They said there is nothing more Australian than lamb on the BBQ and the face of the campaign being macho Ocker Sam Kevovich.
John: Yes that's right. Some of us got upset over that but we must find the ability to laugh at ourselves to move forwards on this path. We should be accustomed by now to taking abit of criticism. Remember, we vegans are out-of-the-ordinary. Through their eyes we are abnormal so we have to accept that the majority are going to say, "There must be something wrong with someone who doesn't drink cow's milk and who doesn't eat meat."
Besides that, right from childhood we have to remember most of us come from meat-eating families. We grew up with our parents and I still respect and love my parents, don't you?
I am grateful for the bulk of my life has been illness free so now I can give something back. All profits from But You Kill Ants will go back to the Australian vegan and vegetarian community.
If you are interested in buying a copy of John's book please contact John by email.