Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi everyone! I am Bill Muir, RN aka SGT VEGAN – Combat Veteran, longtime VEGAN (since 1992) and author of the book VEGAN STRONG
I live in Los Angeles, CA, and I am a Registered Nurse at a Veteran’s Hospital. My website is www.sgtvegan.com, IG: @sgt_vegan, FB: sgtvegan. I am working on speaking all around America and the world, so if you are looking for a vegan speaker for your event please get in touch!
What lead you to veganism? How long ago?
I first became a vegetarian for LENT in 1992. I didn’t know other vegans or vegetarians and I was only planning to stop eating meat for 40 days. I stayed VEG after LENT because of course I felt pretty good. When I got some PETA literature at a punk rock show and became exposed to the horrors of factory farming it solidified the decision that I had already made to GO VEG.
Later, when I found out how milk and cheese were produced, I was left with a decision: How much animal cruelty was I ok with? When I realized that the answer was zero, then I had to GO VEGAN. That was August of 1992. At time of writing it has been 27 years and I still haven’t died from PROTEIN deficiency!
How was it being vegan in the Army?
As you would guess, it is tricky to be vegan in the ARMY. It is not that you are forced to eat meat, dairy, or anything like that, but that you are often forced to function with inadequate food options for extended periods of time. Basic Training- Bootcamp- was like that. I worked out for 20 hours a day on less than 1500 calories, and it took it’s toll on me. Medic Training, Airborne School, and my duty station weren’t as bad. After all the training was complete, I was stationed in Italy with the 173rd Airborne, and life was pretty good. There were vegan options everywhere, I had my own apartment and a car, and I regained most of the weight that I lost in Bootcamp.
When it came time to deploy to Afghanistan, I knew that I had to be smart. I wasn’t about to go through the starvation of Bootcamp, but I was going to WAR, where there would be no stores and limited access to healthy vegan foods. I put together 2 big boxes of everything that I thought I might need, from ramen noodles to soy milk, and sent it to where I would be in Afghanistan.
Upon arrival, I was told that one of boxes “exploded.” Whether it exploded, was hit by mortar fire, or was stolen I will never know. I was in a slight panic – the “chow hall” – what we called the cafeteria- was NOT vegan friendly, it was basically 2 Marines opening cans. I had to bring my A-game here because this was WAR and I could not allow myself to starve, because that makes you weak. I would have to find a way to eat, and I wasn’t going to eat animals because that would be ridiculous.
At first, I ate the Halal MREs that were meant for locals and the Afghan National Army soldiers. Some officer caught wind that I was doing that and told me I couldn’t, so I instead went to eat at the Afghan chow hall. I wasn’t allowed to do that either, and just when I started to get frustrated I found a solution. There was a website that had been started stateside called “anysoldier.com”, where deployed military could list the things that they needed for people to send them. People usually asked for things like Maxim magazines and cans of dip, but I needed food! When the internet signal was up I wrote a post and waited.
The response was incredible! On days that mail came in via helicopter, boxes upon boxes of shelf stable vegan products flooded into my Forward Operating Base. I went from surviving to thriving. I was eating great, sometimes even better than the other guys. I had so much food to go around that I was able to share with my fellow soldiers.
Around this time my friend Dana wrote to Tofurkey and asked if there was anything that they could do to help as well. Tofurkey sent me many boxes of their shelf stable tofurkey products, probably a week’s supply. Since I had long been a fan of their food and had eaten many a Tofurkey roast for Thanksgiving and Christmas this was a little taste of home. For anyone that has ever bought Tofurkey, there are pictures of people all around the world on of people holding Tofurkey. I sent Tofurkey a picture of me and a package of shelf-stable Tofurkey (along with a 105 mm Howitzer and the Afghan mountains) and it was one of the most viewed images of “VEGAN POWER” IN 2007.
Did the other soldiers give you crap? Did you get any converts?
Yes, people messed with me, but they kept it friendly, because they didn’t want to piss off the guy whose job it was to save their lives. The military is not a place for the soft or weak. As an AIRBORNE MEDIC my job was to jump out of planes with other soldiers, and then to start fighting the enemy and taking care of wounded soldiers. I would be expected to be in peak physical and mental condition, and to persevere despite the odds being stacked against me. Since I was in great shape and good at my job people just accepted me being vegan as part of who I was.
As far as converts, no one changes anything while they are deployed – they don’t give up smoking, they don’t change religions, and they don’t eat healthier. In WAR every day could be your last.
Did you meet any other vegans? Soldiers or people who lived in foreign lands?
I knew an officer in the 173rd Airborne who was vegetarian. Other than that, I knew plenty of other vegans while I was stationed in Italy. I often hung out with the guys from the vegan metal bands REPRISAL and PURIFICATION. I had met those guys when they toured Japan and our bands played together, and it was both fun and weird to be hanging out again in Europe under very different life circumstances. While I was in Italy I was also active with an animal rights group, though I usually didn’t understand what was said at their meetings.
Was there ever a psychological conflict between the act of war and the tenets of Veganism? Share any stories.
The thought that made me go vegan in the first place all the way back in 1992- the desire to make the world a better place- was the same thought that made me join the ARMY after 9/11. I knew that America was going to war with or without me, but I thought that someone like me who CARED about people would be better than some kid that just saw the job as a path to college. As a medic I spent most of my time caring for wounded locals and I believe that me being there DID make the world a better place.
For me, the conflict arises in that I don’t fit comfortably in the boxes that society would like to stick me in. I am not a pacifist, BUT I AM A VEGAN and I feel very strongly that killing animals for no reason is wrong and is one of the reasons that our planet is currently struggling with climate change.
I think that people like me, and other athletes and bodybuilders and mainstream people who fight the outdated stereotype that vegans are weak, skinny, or fringe are the future of this movement. It is my life’s work to bring vegan into the mainstream, and I won’t stop fighting until every cage is empty and every animal is free.
When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?
Gradually. Everyone should transition at a speed that is comfortable for them.
Do you believe we should show children the process of how animals are turned into meats?
After a certain age, yes. I don’t believe in showing 3 year olds, but maybe after 10 years old it is ok.
What does being vegan mean to you?
I don’t go out of my way to kill anything. That being said, if something – a person, a cow, or a spider – came into my apartment with the intention of doing me harm, I would defend myself. I think that most people shop at supermarkets that sell animal products, so not supporting restaurants just because they are not totally vegan doesn’t make sense to me. Bottom line: I have been vegan in the desert and forest, in cities all over the world, and in a war and I’ve survived. The only situation where being vegan might be impossible is the ZOMBIE APPOCALYPSE, and even then I think I’d be ok for a couple of weeks at least. I think that when we define VEGANISM in a way where it makes being vegan into a hardship it does the movement a disservice. It is unhealthy to eat animals, it is destroying the planet, and of course it is cruel, SO WHY DO IT? We need to define VEGAN to the world as a BETTER WAY TO LIVE, not an INCONVENIENT WAY TO LIVE.
Is it every vegan’s duty to become an activist?
I think everyone is welcome to define “activist” in their own way. I speak around the country, and soon the world about veganism and go to protests. I think posting pictures of delicious VEGAN FOOD on IG can also be very effective, and just talking to family and friends and advocating for animals and the planet in your every day actions is also huge. Don’t let anyone try to push you into something that you aren’t comfortable with, even if they say it is for the greater good.
How compassionate or empathetic are you towards non-vegans?
Very. I have a lot of friends that aren’t vegan, and most of my family isn’t either. There has to be a mutual respect. That being said, dating someone that doesn’t care about animals can be very hard, especially if the relationship gets serious, and sometimes that in itself will end a relationship.
Any recommended Vegan books?
My book, VEGAN STRONG. Find it here on AMAZON: Vegan Strong: The Ultimate Field Manual for a Kick-Ass Plant-Fueled Life
Any recommended social sites, blogs or pages?
Yes! Check out my IG and website above, and the website of the VEGAN WEIGHTLIFTING TEAM I belong to IG: @veganstrongteam, AND www.veganstrong.com
What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?
There are a couple places that I LOVE in my hometown of Philadelphia, PA: Blackbird Pizza – all vegan pizza place, and Grindcore House, an all vegan coffee spot. Best place for vegan sweets is also In PA- the legendary VEGAN TREATS!
Some encouraging words for new Vegans?
GO VEGAN AND STAY VEGAN STRONG!
What is the vegan scene like in your city?
LA is pretty amazing. No complaints. If you don’t like the city you are living in, you should either move or make where you live better.