From ages six to 12 I was a Tiger. That is to say, a member of the losingest team in our division of New Haven’s recreational youth soccer league. Running around outside with my friends are some of my best memories. Sadly, ages 12 to 27 were devoid of athleticism of any kind. I might even refer to those years as era of extreme sedentariness. But when I was a 27-year old graduate student and I noticed my fingers growing into my keyboard and my body merging with my desk chair, I decided I needed to move my body.
Cross-Fit and Community
Since making that decision, I’ve become a running nut and tried all different kinds of exercise. Besides running, I hadn’t fallen in love with anything until I discovered CrossFit. CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that leaves you in a sweaty heap trying to decide if putting yourself through workouts is an act of self love or self loathing. But one thing that gets you through such tough workouts is the bond you share with the people doing it with you and cheering you on even as they struggle to keep going. The only other time I’ve experienced this kind of instant community was almost a year ago when I went vegan. All of a sudden there were tons of new people and internet friends in my life cheering me on, offering support, recipes, dinner invitations, links to all kinds of resources, more information and support than I could imagine, especially from people I barely knew.
Putting it All Together
So, maybe you can imagine my excitement when I heard about a vegan-owned CrossFit gym in Portland, Oregon called PlantFit. According to PlantFit’s website, the gym’s owner, Ed Bauer, went vegan after reading about animal exploitation in animal agriculture and food production. I was thrilled to discover that a serious athletic facility has a committment to ethical veganism, rather than veganism purely for optimal athletic performance (which is a lovely side benefit of morality).
PlantFit is located in Portland’s Vegan Mini Mall and offers group workouts and personal training with Bauer, whose resumé of fitness certifications and accolades is intimidatingly rich. I live in New York City, so the commute to PlantFit for my daily 7 a.m. workout is out of the question. Still, I am inspired that Bauer found a way not only to combine his passion for fitness with his ethical veganism, but that he’s created a space for others to do the same. I imagine that gym members are learning all about the benefits of veganism – and not just the health benefits. The gym’s website – starting with Bauer’s own bio and a link to a Mercy for Animals video – makes it clear that ethical veganism is foundational and important. Yet I don’t get the feeling that the gym caters exclusively to vegans, nor do I think that the information available on the website would be a turnoff to non-vegans – making PlantFit a perfect way in for those who aren’t totally there yet. I think Bauer has done something great. He’s managed to create a cruelty-free space within a community that isn’t typically associated with veganism (many CrossFit enthusiasts follow the Paleo diet), and he’s done it in a skillful way.
Working Out and Speaking Up
In the year since I went vegan, I’ve struggled with being outspoken with regards to my veganism in a way that inspires, rather than alienates, people. In an effort to be compassionate and understanding without downplaying how important I consider my ethical decisions, I sometimes veer toward compartmentalizing my veganism – wearing it out and proud when I don’t think it would alienate anyone, and then keeping more quiet than I feel I should when I fear I might. Needless to say, I am still discovering how to be an outspoken vegan advocate. Though I won’t be opening a gym anytime soon, PlantFit and Bauer inspire me to create spaces that are within my reach and capabilities, spaces that fuse rather than compartmentalize my “non-vegan” passions with my ethics. Hopefully, once this is a space I feel comfortable in, I can invite others to share it.
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