No dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal
byproducts for the Montreal Canadiens tough guy
— Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2009
First, the eyebrows arch quizzically, then the
legend’s nose crinkles in disapproval.
“Ferguson never would have
accepted it,” huffs Henri Richard, 11-time Stanley Cup champion, uber-competitor,
the Pocket Rocket himself, speaking of John Ferguson, the former Montreal
Canadiens tough guy.
It’s a natural enough reaction from a man whose
off-season preparations used to consist of switching from golf to tennis in
He has just been informed that Canadiens forward Georges
Laraque, boulevardier, animal-rights activist and perhaps the most feared
pugilist in the NHL, is a vegan (“a what?” Richard said), a militant one.
dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts, Laraque
has been on a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes since June
While he says he was partly motivated to improve his health for the
hockey season, Laraque insists the decision was made primarily for political,
rather than nutritional, reasons.
Everything changed, Laraque said,
after he saw Earthlings, a 2006 documentary that is widely celebrated in
“It’s unconscionable what’s happening to animals
in this country and the way we treat animals we eat. … I realized I had to make
some big changes,” Laraque said.
Though Laraque said he will no longer
buy leather of any kind, he hasn’t rid his closet or hockey bag of previously
purchased leather products because, “that would be a further waste. And this way
I don’t forget.”
Laraque, who also does yoga daily, an activity he
picked up as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, said he’s never felt better and
reported for training camp at a comparatively svelte 245 pounds.
lost some weight, but I’ve been working with a really great nutritionist and
I’ve never had this much energy,” he said.
“I think it’s also important
to break the stereotype that all vegans are skinny people with long hair,” added
Laraque, as unlikely a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
as the NHL has ever seen. (This summer he sent a letter on the group’s behalf to
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, protesting the Canadian seal hunt.)
Laraque couldn’t think of any other vegan NHLers off the top of his head.
But the burly winger finds himself among a vanguard of current and former
pro athletes who are eschewing most meats.
Laraque cites Major League
Baseball player Prince Fielder, former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, NFL tight
end Tony Gonzalez and retired NBA player John Salley as vegetarians who inspired
Richard, who readily admits that he’s often astonished at the
lengths to which today’s hockey players go to train, hails from an era when Guy
Lafleur prepared for the season by cutting back from three packs of cigarettes a
day to two, or so the legend goes. (“It didn’t matter, he was always faster than
everyone,” Richard joked.)
And though Laraque is undoubtedly an outlier
in the Canadiens dressing room and in the league, he’s not alone in his
Mike Cammalleri, who joined the Habs as a free agent in the
summer, strives to eat organic, fresh and local foods.
“I find it helps
my energy levels stay high throughout the season,” he said.
also regularly practises Pilates and occasionally will throw in a few yoga
exercises, “but I don’t really have the patience for yoga.”
Not all the
Habs are in tune with the new ethos. Fourth-year forward Guillaume Latendresse,
who has overhauled his off-season regimen in each of the past two seasons, says
he switched to a high-protein diet, but that he’s not willing to renounce meat
“[Laraque] has invited us all out to a vegan restaurant …
but if I go, I’m bringing a steak in my jacket pocket,” he joked.
a tough-guy, famously hidebound culture like pro hockey, Laraque remains a
curiosity, but he’s resolved to carry on spreading the word.
still think it’s kind of funny, but I’m not doing this to be funny,” he said.
“There are more puppy mills in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, and no laws
to shut them down. People get slapped with a fine and six months later they
reopen. Do you think that’s funny?”