Noah Hannibal, AKA Vegan Tank, is one tough Aussie. That's right, not every dude down-under is clogging up all their plumbing at Outback Steak House, or hunting crocks and kangaroos with boomerangs and giant knives, or any number of other ridiculous stereotypes that most Americans think about Hollywood's Australia. Competitive powerlifter, hero to animals, photographer, designer, and all-around gentleman, Vegan Tank is a true 21st century man, blazing a trail that redefines masculinity and stands proudly by conscientious machismo. Vegan Tank and I spoke recently, and here is his interview:
The Discerning Brute: When did you start lifting, how serious are you about it, and what are your current stats? Vegan Tank: I first started lifting around maybe six or so years ago when a bodybuilder I knew was mocking vegans saying we were all weaklings and it was impossible to get strong without meat. The guy was built like a semi truck, juiced up to his eyeballs and had arms like logs. I was outraged by what he was saying and challenged him to an arm wrestle, which was the source of much derision at the time. I was given three months to train and, having thrown myself in at the deep end with concrete blocks chained to my ankles, got straight into some serious arm training.
On the day of the arm wrestle everyone laughed and said I had no hope in hell and my enemies showed up to see me humiliated. To the surprise of everyone, myself included, I slammed his hand to the table and he had to eat his words that vegans can’t be strong.
Since that introduction to strength training I've slowly become more and more serious about the iron game, receiving a lot of help along the way from the vegan fitness ( http://www.veganfitness.net) forums where many of the strongest vegans from around the world hang out. For the last two years I've been competing as part of Powerlifting Australia (IPF affiliated) and in competition have squatted over 460 pounds, bench pressed over 400 pounds and deadlifted over 500 pounds. This year I was lucky to win gold in the heavyweight division of the Australian National Bench Press Championships.
DB: Tell me about MVS (Melbourne Vegan Strength). Are you one of the founders? How long have you been involved, and do you rule the night? VT: There is this ridiculous stereotype that vegans are all pale wasting away weaklings. MVS (http://www.veganstrength.org) started as a few guys training in my back yard to show how easy it is for vegans to get monster strong, and to smash those stereotypes. Since we started training about four years ago many of the participants have gained massive amounts of strength and gone on to compete in all sorts of strength competitions, from powerlifting to bodybuilding, strongman and arm wrestling, and done really well in many instances. For example Joel Kirkilis (http://www.treehugger.uproar.org.au/joel-kirkilis/) has recently won some big bodybuilding titles against tough competition.
DB: You and your crew have proven that one can be a successful vegan power-lifter. What is it like to see a skeptic disproved? How do mainstream people react to you and your friends? VT: The first time I trained at the Powerlifting Club I told the Coach I didn’t eat meat and he told me to get out as I would never make any progress unless I ate animals. I stayed anyway and have had a great time showing that you can make progress as a vegan. We get random drug tests and the first time the testers came in someone said don't bother ever testing that guy he's a vegan. Now I get drug tested all the time!
It's a gym and there are some pretty funny attitudes, one guy thinks I'm a born again Christian because he doesn't realize there's a difference between born again Christians and vegans. But on the whole everyone has been fantastic to the point where they now go out of their way to make sure there are vegan options at Club dinners, and I think even the Coach has warmed to me now!
Many people that we meet are surprised because we don’t fit their (incorrect) pre conceived notion of what they think a vegan is. One person flat out refused to believe it and said that we must secretly eat meat. Often people are just curious and have questions such as ‘where do you get your protein?’. The thing is our results directly challenge anyone who thinks that vegans are emaciated weaklings. When people see strong vegans smashing heavy weights it causes them to see veganism in a whole new light. It's great.
DB: The weightlifting world seems very full of machismo. Meat-eating goes hand-in-hand with manliness in our culture. How do you keep your manhood while bottle-feeding lambs? VT: It's funny because I can't think of anything more cowardly than causing the killing of an innocent animal for some food you don't need. To me 'manhood' is about standing up for what you believe in no matter how inconvenient or unpopular, and I think it takes a lot of guts in our culture for people to say I'm not going to support animal abuse. I also think a lot of good hearted people continue to eat meat, eggs and dairy because their mind somehow blocks out the fact that animals are suffering as a direct result of what they put in their mouth.
All you have to do is look at some of the vegan gorillas out there like wrestler Mountain Mike , strongman Joni Purmonen, arm wrestler Rob Bigwood, the original vegan tower of power Ryan Wilson , or some of the monster vegans in Germany who deadlift cars as they walk down the street, and you'll quickly disabuse yourself of the notion that there is any connection between meat-eating and macho. It's true what they say, real men are kind to animals.
DB: What do you eat on a typical day that you are working out? What do you indulge in? VT: I'm not what you'd call a fussy eater, if it's vegan and not nailed down I'll eat it (I'll probably eat it even if it is nailed down. If the nail is vegan I'll eat that too). On training days I always try to get big feeds in. Breakfast is a huge bowl of oats with blueberries, sultanas and soya milk. Right after training i have a pea protein shake and about an hour or so later a big protein heavy meal. Throughout the day I'll eat things like tofu burgers, mock meat curries, tempeh stir fries, satay seitan wraps, and chomp on nuts for snacks. I try to eat as clean as possible but don't always succeed, I'm a bit of a sucker for vegan heart attack food.
DB: Why do you think so many men think that caring about animals or the environment is for sissies? VT: Just like some of the worst homophobes are repressed homosexuals, I think maybe a lot of guys who think giving a fuck about animals and the environment is for sissies are really repressed animal loving treehuggers who are too afraid to show their real feelings. Hugs for them from me.
DB: Has anyone around you unexpectedly been influenced by your lifestyle? if so, tell me what happened. VT: I hope so, I think if you do your best to be a good example of how easy and healthy it is to live as a vegan, and let people come to you with their questions, they will be a lot more receptive. It's always a great feeling when someone comes up to tell you that you've helped them make their decision to go vegan. DB: What else do you do aside from weightlifting, both professionally and socially? VT: I'm heavily involved with a new animal rights group www.uproar.org.au - working on factory farm animal rescues and campaigns to promote veganism like Not Your Typical Treehugger (http://treehugger.uproar.org.au/). For a job I run a web and print design company with my friend Erik Gorton, we set up www.ethicaldesign.com.au basically as a way to fund our activism and ensure we wouldn't have to take on any clients that would make us want to shower six times after meeting with them. In the very ancient past I was an aspiring academic philosopher doing post-grad research on the moral status of animals, which is something I may return to at some stage if I ever burn out on activism. I don't really have much of a life outside of all that but I do love discovering amazing new vegan foods and traveling to the remote reaches of the world, when I can.
DB: What advice do you have for a scrawny dudes to want to get big and strong? VT: In the words of someone much wiser than me, SFW! The main thing is to cover the basics - train intelligently and consistently, eat properly for your goals, drink lots of water and get plenty of rest. This is an article I've written with some information on how to gain mass and strength on a vegan diet: http://www.veganstrength.org/veganstrength.pdf. The veganfitness.net forums are a great resource as well.
DB: What is the next big event your are preparing for? VT: Training wise my short term goal is to compete and do well in next year's Australian Powerlifting Championships. Long term I want to nail an 800kg powerlifting total and the really long term goal is to compete in the World Bench Press Championships. Personally I hope to contribute in some small way to making the world a kinder place for all animals.