and goes the distance
LANGLEY, Washington––“I’m going to become a mommy to a little girl this fall!,” Alina Zavatsky posted to the Vegan Runner Eats Facebook page on May 31, 2017.
“I’ll be sharing more info on Vegan Runner Eats,” Zhukova Zavatsky pledged, “including my experience with running a 5k [five kilometer roadrace] a few days ago while 20 weeks pregnant––stay tuned!”
Explains the Vegan Runner Eats “about” page, “Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism,” all of which are among her frequent Vegan Runner Eats themes and topics.
“Alina hopes,” she finished, writing of herself in the third person in her typically self-effacing way, “that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.”
First of the “Flying Finns”
Zavatsky, in authoring Vegan Runner Eats, follows a long line of fellow vegan and vegetarian endurance runners who attributed their success in part from abstaining from meat, and told the world about it, beginning with the vegetarian bricklayer Johannes (Hannes for short) Kolehmainen (1889-1966).
The first of the “Flying Finns” who dominated Olympic running events for decades, Kolehmainen won the marathon at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp with a time of 2:32.
Emulating Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi (1897-1973), remembered as the greatest of the “Flying Finns,” turned vegetarian at age 14. Nurmi went on to win nine gold medals and three silver medals in the 1920, 1924, and 1928 Olympics. Undefeated for 14 years in his prime, Nurmi clocked 2:22 in his only marathon, which was two kilometers short of the current standard distance. Nurmi last ran competitively at age 69 in 1966.
Endurance greats of today
By now tens of thousands of elite runners, merely good runners, and just dedicated and enthusiastic runners have confirmed the training methods that Kolehmainen and Nurmi introduced, including abstaining from animal products.
Among the most noteworthy of the early 21st century are Josh Garrett and Scott Jurek. Running to promote the organization Mercy for Animals, Garrett in August 2013 completed the 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, in a then-record 59 days, 8 hours, 14 minutes, breaking the previous record set just 11 days earlier by Heather “Anish” Anderson of Bellingham, Washington.
The record has since been broken at least twice more.
Eat & Run
Jurek, of Seattle, was already an elite ultramarathoner, with several 50-mile victories behind him at age 24, when he turned vegetarian in 1997, then vegan in 1999. Jurek went on to win the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run seven consecutive times, has won at least 30 races of 50 miles or longer in all, and in 2015 ran the entire 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes, breaking the previous record by three hours.
But Jurek often mentions among his most satisfying achievements authoring the 2012 best-selling autobiography Eat & Run, each chapter of which concludes with a vegan recipe.
Zavatsky credits Jurek with inspiring her running career. Zavatsky began her blogging career at the same time. Early installments of Vegan Runner Eats chiefly documented her diet and training regimen.
Turned vegan with husband
But Zavatsky had already come a very long way before that. Born Alina Zukhova in Uzbekistan, then part of the Soviet Union, she came to the U.S. in 2006 as a university student, met her husband Rob Zavatsky and married him in Sepember 2012, then turned vegan with him in 2013.
“Right away the pleasures of American cuisine turned out to be irresistible to me,” Zavatsky told readers of another vegan blog, Forks & Knives, in January 2014. “To compensate for all that fattening food, I took up running for the first time in my life and immediately fell in love with it.”
Beginning to compete as a runner in 2010, Zavatsky ran her first marathon in Pensacola, Florida, two months after their marriage. Her time of in 4:04 was good for third in her age division. She has run two marathons since: 4:08 at Pensacola in 2014 and 4:15 in Seattle in 2015.
“Nobody faster than me showed up”
These are all quite respectable performances for any recreational runner, albeit far from the elite level achieved by the British vegan sanctuarian and firefighter Fiona Oakes, holder of five marathoning and ultramarathoning world records.
“I acknowledge that placing high in my age group often happens,” Zavatsky says, “not because I’m a running genius, but because the race was small, and nobody faster than me showed up. Nevertheless, I’m always glad when this happens!”
Despite the title, the blog Vegan Runner Eats is only partially about running, and probably even more about vegan recipes, helping others to become vegan, and finding good vegan food on the road, when Zavatsky and her husband travel.
Changes in mindset
“The most important thing that going vegan has helped me realize,” Zavatsky offers under the heading Changes in my mindset, “is that all living creatures deserve to be respected, even if we don’t always understand their ways. In my case, my respect for living creatures goes beyond being kind to animals: it circles them and comes back to us humans, and makes me truly believe that we all deserve equal rights, regardless of our race, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation. As natural as it may sound, I t’s still appalling to me that in this day and age, some groups of people around the world still have to fight to prove that they deserve the same rights everyone else has.
“Interacting with animals brings me more joy now,” Zavatsky adds, “because I no longer have to fight a moral dilemma of why I enjoy watching cows in pasture and then go out to a restaurant and eat a steak. When I was a child, I was shocked when I found out that meat came from animals, so I’m glad that I finally don’t have to silence my conscience by doing ‘a normal thing that everybody else does.’”
“I’m over preaching veganism”
But Zavatsky hastens to add, “I’m over preaching veganism and judging other people for eating meat. The truth is, I hardly ever talk about being vegan to other people in my day-to-day life. In my first few months of being vegan,” Zavatsky admits, “I felt like I had to convince everyone I cared for to join me on this new journey to health and sustainability, but as time went on, I realized that we all have our different paths. I arrived at the idea of going vegan by myself, without any influence from someone I personally knew, so the most I can do for my close ones is to plant a seed of thought into their minds after they (hopefully) notice my progress. If we try to shame or harass somebody into going vegan, we may just turn them off instead.”
The message of kindness
Zavatsky produces Vegan Runner Eats with four concepts in mind:
- I want this blog to convey the message of kindness. You are never going to feel not welcome here just because you are not a ‘perfect vegan’, or not a vegan at all.
- I want this blog to inspire you, so that maybe you at least gave a thought to eating less meat/cooking at home/beginning to exercise, etc.
- I want you to feel better after reading my posts because no matter what they are about, they are all intended to convey a positive message.
- I promise to never lower my standards to shaming/bullying anyone for their imperfections because we all are a work in progress, plus there’s already plenty of negativity in this life.
Against boycotting non-vegan businesses
Zavatsky offered probably her most controversial posting, Never Say Never: Why I’m Against Boycotting Non-Vegan Businesses That Offer Vegan Options (and a Few Cases When I’m For It), on May 18, 2017.
“When it comes to spending money at non-vegan businesses, the vegan community seems to be divided on whether or not those businesses are worth supporting,” Zavatsky began. “To clarify my point, I’m talking about restaurants, stores, and companies that are not vegan overall but list vegan-friendly options as a part of their menu or product offering. Every now and then some of them get called out for selling something made with a certain degree of cruelty, and various animal welfare organizations plead for average vegan shoppers like you and me to boycott them.
Endorses boycotting as tactic
“Overall,” Zavatsky wrote, “I agree that calls for boycotting can be beneficial: even if a store or a restaurant doesn’t lose all of its business, the outcry of animal rights advocates raises awareness about the cruelty that animals in food supply chains of those businesses have to go through.
“However,” Zavatsky continued, “I do believe that sometimes boycotting a non-vegan business that otherwise is willing to accommodate vegans can be impractical for a lot of people, or even counterproductive for the vegan cause.”
Non-vegan businesses, Zavatsky pointed out, “may be the only option for vegans in some situations. For vegans who have lived in vegan-friendly meccas like Seattle, Los Angeles, or New York, traveling through the Deep South or the rural Midwest will provide a sobering experience, once all of the vegan snacks brought along have been depleted. A situation like this will make anyone develop a new level of appreciation for a Subway veggie sandwich or a Taco Bell fresco bean burrito.
Opportunity to start a conversation
“The opportunity to boycott non-vegan businesses is sometimes an example of privilege,” Zhukova Zavatsky added, recalling having had to walk for 45 minutes each way during her student years just to shop at Walmart, the nearest grocery store. “Nor will I ever look down on people (vegan or not),” Zavatsky pledged, “for whom shopping at stores like Walmart is the only affordable and accessible option.
“By buying vegan products or ordering veganized food options at these businesses, we prove that the demand for vegan options is strong,” Zavatsky continued. “There’s an opportunity to start a conversation about veganism,” and Zavatsky observed, “Non-vegan restaurants with vegan menu options provide for a smoother socializing experience.”
With that much said, Zavatsky emphasized that “There are situations when I believe that avoiding a business or a product is best out of moral considerations. I use these questions to form my judgement about such cases,” Zavatsky explained:
“Does this business has a known history of abusing humans or animals? Has this business been addressed by animal or human rights organizations with pleas to stop the cruel practices, yet the abuse continues to this day? If I (or less privileged folks) stop buying products or services by this business, can we all survive just fine?”
“Last refuge of a scoundrel”
ANIMALS 24-7 would offer one amendment to Zavatsky’s criteria, in that economic and political history demonstrates that boycotts based on where something comes from, as opposed to who specifically produces it, tend to backfire by punishing the innocent as well as the guilty, and enable the offenders to hide behind their national flags. As the vegetarian lexicographer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) observed, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
(See Why boycotts cannot stop bullfights, pigeon shoots, or any culture-based cruelty.)
Vegans of Whidbey Island
But Zavatsky earns praise from standing up to a challenge in the same thoughtful, considered, good-humored manner for which she and Rob have become known as part of the table discussions at the monthly Vegans of Whidbey Island potlucks, hosted mostly by Jill and Dave Campbell at their Someday Farm Vegan Bed & Breakfast just outside Freeland, Washington, about halfway between the respective headquarters of ANIMALS 24-7 and Vegan Runner Eats.
Jamaka Petzak says
A very interesting article. Thanking you and sharing to social media, in hope.
Alina Zavatsky says
Thank you Merritt and Beth for featuring me and my blog in your article! On a side note, I didn’t realize that Merritt has such an extensive history of running marathons and ultramarathons! That’s definitely something to aspire for!