Like many vegans who made the transition, Will Brooks, aka Vegan Iron Ape on Instagram, started to search out vegan organizations and followed SoFlo Vegans. The many pictures of Will showed a “scary looking” individual: muscular and heavily tattooed, who trains in martial arts; which is totally not what came across in the interviews.  Will is not only a martial artist, training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu taught by the Gracie’s, but also a gym rat, who went vegan in 2018 from the influence of his now fiancée, who is a vegan.

 

-Alba:

 Thank you for taking the time to talk to SoFlo Vegans!  After being a vegan for over a year now, what advice do you give to people going into, or thinking about the vegan lifestyle?

 

-Will:

Do not worry about where you’re gonna get protein from, plants have protein, so do your research, there’s lots of information out there.  Topics like health and nutrition, animal advocacy, different foods, building muscle, it all depends on your goals.  I also want to say that when I first started, people in my life would make fun of me; you cannot take that personally, it’s often a reflection of how they feel.  They see you doing the right thing and they lash out because they see me making good choices and it makes them self-conscious and guilty for their own choices. 

Who will make the mistake of making fun of a guy that looks “scary” like him, I think to myself.  On top of that, he does martial arts, do you really want to risk bodily harm?

 

-Alba:

How did your vegan journey start?

 

-Will:

About four years ago I started dating my now fiancée, and she opened my eyes to a lot of the things that were happening to animals, animal agriculture, farming, which in turn opened my eyes to the environmental effects.  Also, I was dealing with a lot of joint pain at the time, from a lot of working out, Jiu Jitsu and I discovered that a vegan diet reduces inflammation.  I would say that I went vegan for all three: myself, the environment, the animals and it’s been nothing but a good ride for me.  I’ve loved it ever since I started.

 

-Alba:

Do you have more tips for men and our other readers on the lifestyle?

 

-Will:

I would recommend getting involved on Instagram, subscribe to a bunch of pages, or YouTube that provide helpful information.  Go after accounts that have the information you want, it all depends on your goals.  If you are looking to build muscle, trying to be healthy, or if you are only trying to enjoy food, or be involved in animal rights, there are accounts for all that; do your research.

 

SoFlo Vegans has a little bit of everything that anyone trying to change to the vegan lifestyle is looking for.  Food, animal rights, influencers, events, materials, festivals, etc. we try to have a little of everything for everyone.

 

-Alba:

Living in Ohio, you are pretty much in the middle of dairy country; how do you deal/handle living so near it?

 

-Will:

I just don’t eat dairy, I’ve actually been dairy-free longer than I’ve been vegan.  I don’t think twice about it, once you stop and are consistent in not eating dairy, I don’t give it a second thought.  I don’t miss cheese, I don’t miss milk; I’ve always thought milk was disgusting.  There are so many dairy-free options, I will eat dairy-free ice cream and that does the trick for me.  Been here in Ohio, it makes me want to be a brighter light, an example for the ones who want to be dairy-free.   

 

This got me thinking. We have strong activism and activists in South Florida and California of course; but for those states that have many dairy farms and not that many vegans, is there any activism?  How are the vegan communities in states where most of their economy is based on animal agriculture?

 

-Alba:

Is there activism in Ohio?  How large/small is the vegan community up there?

 

-Will:

There is activism in Ohio, I have been to a couple of activism events, a few Cube of Truths with my fiancée; I have also been to an Animal Right March in Columbus. I will say that although Ohio does not have the biggest activism community, we are not like California or Florida, but it is growing every year.  I think it is growing rapidly, I know we are not at the top, but we are increasing. 

 

That is amazing to hear that the movement continues to grow not in only in Florida and California, but other parts of the country.  Since Will does not eat animal products and works out the way he does, how is his caloric intake?

 

-Alba:

How much do you eat?

 

-Will:

*Laughs* That’s an interesting question!  I’ll eat anywhere from 2,400-3,000 calories a day, anywhere from 4-6 meals a day.  I do meal prep.  On my cheat day, then the calories go way up! I probably 3,400-4,000 on a cheat day, it all depends on the day.

I am over here sitting in disbelief, after seeing the abs on this guy… he did an Instagram post for us of his three favorite abdominal exercises and I still have a stomach ache from watching him!!

 

-Alba:

Since you are a martial artist, have you noticed a difference in your training and recovery?

 

-Will:

I have noticed an improvement with Jiu-Jitsu and weight lifting. I was dealing heavily with joint pain and soreness and I actually had spinal fusion surgery.  I was dealing with all types of pains and aches.  Going vegan completely eliminated all my pain in two weeks; at one point I was taking $60 a month worth of joint supplements.  That was only easing the pain about 50%, going vegan allowed me to push 100% in the gym which allowed me to make better gains and burn more fat.  I wish other guys will realize how powerful it is.

 

-Alba:

What do you say when you are told you are not “manly” because you eat plants instead of meat? 

 

-Will:

Based on my experience, I did get made fun off and got insulted, you cannot take that personally.  As long as you know you are doing the right thing, it does not matter what anyone else thinks and I urge other men to realize that.  You are doing great things for yourself and the planet, so really, who cares what anyone else says.  They are not living in your skin, just do you and enjoy it, no matter what you do in life people are gonna say bad things; continue the course without paying attention.  It has happened to me that people have called me weak for eating only plants, it happens very rarely anymore.  I would assume because of my appearance because I am covered in tattoos, shave my head, work out and I train in Jiu-Jitsu and have “cauliflower” ears.  For other guys who are told that I would say that many of these guys can’t even take care of themselves and they are gonna pass judgment on someone who is eating healthy?  I look at it as a joke, you really know what manly is?  When was the last time you did something manly?

I also have to say that if you are basing your manhood off of your sex hormone; doctors are finding that men who are vegan have more testosterone and less erectile dysfunction.

 

I stop and think here as well…there have been many commercials on TV asking that same question.  What makes a man a man?  What is manly?  When did killing an innocent and sentient being becomes the “manly” thing to do?  Is compassion manly?  Will continues to say that he invites these skeptics to his gym and challenges them to do his workouts and prove their “manliness”.  There are more and more vegan athletes who are breaking the stereotypes of needing meat to be big and strong.  There are even documentaries that are constantly coming out like “The Game Changers”; there are many vegan athletes like Torre Washington, Nimai Delgado, and Dom Thompson.  His last sentence also reminds me of something Rip Esselstyn said when I heard him speak back in college; anyone who wants to call a man not a man because he is vegan should look at this own “performance”.  That has always stuck with me, even twelve years later.

 

-Alba

Where did the name Vegan Iron Ape come from?  The vegan part I can guess!

 

-Will:

My fiancée helped me come up with it, I wanted a name that will stand out and represent what I stand for.  I wanted a name that will represent my physical appearance; I used to have a friend that called me the “vanilla gorilla”!  But that name is so widely used and taken that I couldn’t use that.  We came up with Iron Ape, but that didn’t tell people what I am about, so we added vegan, it sticks. 

 

Makes sense, you always want something that sticks out and gets you noticed on social media.  The hour is late, and I don’t want to take more of his time, but it was an interesting conversation with another perspective from someone who is new to the movement but is reaping all the rewards.

 

-Alba:

Thank you so much Will, I had a great time getting to know you and learning more about veganism in other states.  For more information on Will, you can follow him on Instagram @vegan_iron_ape.

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