John is the founder of Vegan Builders. He is in his early fifties and has been vegan since 16 years of age. He lives in the North West and works nationally.
How did you become involved in vegan builders?
A few of us vegans noticed there were quite a few tradespeople working in differing fields of construction, in different areas of the country, who also happened to be ethical vegans. Bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, electricians, decorators as well as the all encompassing general builder. Individually experts in their own fields and collectively capable of taking on large projects - it made sense to form Vegan Builders.
Where did you learn your skills?
I initially trained as a plasterer when I was a teenager, although I went on to bricklaying with a college distinction qualification. Site experience was gained working on building projects with local builders, and later on these skills were applied on voluntary projects at animal shelters with other like minded individuals.
You mention working with other builders, what did they make of your veganism and how did it come up?
Nowadays drinking soya, almond or any plant milk is seen as totally logical, back in the 1980's the production of a carton of soya milk at a tea break would always incite a few questions.
Initially there would always be the usual questions about protein, but as we would all be working together they would see that to do a physical job all day you needed to put the right fuel in, and I think I was proof to them that a vegan diet was the best fuel. I don’t know if any of them became vegan as a result of working with me, but I did notice green stuff appearing in their sandwiches!
Would you say working with other vegans is better than non vegans?
You have to experience both to appreciate both, very few of us are vegan from birth to adulthood, its not an exclusive diet at all, it can be for everyone and hopefully just a case of when rather than if. I've seen non vegans scoop up critters and put them out of harms way on the building site and show more vegan traits than an actual vegan. However when I get together with other vegans on the larger projects it is a breath of fresh air, and the day is usually filled with a productive likeminded humour and cohesiveness.
Do you recall the moment you decided to go vegan, and did you have any slip ups on the way?
As a child I always detested any form of cruelty, although it wasn’t till I was in my teens that I connected the dots and became vegetarian - although back then it was more a case of just omitting the piece of animal on the plate than replacing it with something else. I think that was more due to lack of cooking experience and knowledge than anything else though.!
I do remember the moment I went vegan, and what my Saturday afternoon ritual was - it was after a weeks work and usually Saturday morning shift as well, I was listening to the football with several doorstop cheese sandwiches and a pint of milk. This particular afternoon I was skimming through a book on green issues and I happened across a small section on the dairy and egg industry. My first reaction to what I read was how hadn't I known how cruel these practices were before now..... How blinkered I had been. The second reaction was to pack a half eaten cheese sandwich and the cows milk into a bag and rehome them instantly. That was that, I was vegan. I never had a slip up so to speak, although my initial lack of cooking ability did leave a lot to be desired. There was always good old faithful beans on toast to fall back on!
Is being Vegan as important to you now as it was then?
Very much so. I feel very lucky to have recognised the inherent cruelty involved in animal products, albeit not as soon as I would've liked. Anyone considering a cruelty free way of living should be positive and do it now; I have always felt better body and mind for it. Purely being vegan isn't the end of a journey - it is just the start to a ethical way of living.
You said that work colleagues had noticed your diet being a beneficial to how well you could do such physical jobs, is it any surprise to you that so many athletes are now adopting a vegan diet?
Not at all. Besides doing very physical work I have always been a interment gym user (depending on my work schedule). Fitness and strength definitely returns quicker to someone putting the right fuel into the body. The true athletes have always had a diet that include a lot of digestible vegan products, and now a lot of the weightlifting athletes have seen the benefits of brown rice, pea, hemp and many other protein isolates. Animal protein hangs around in the body decaying rather than being processed like the clean energy your body needs.
People like David Haye, Cam Awesome, and Tim Bradley are vegan and they're at the top of the game, they are living proof that a vegan diet can give you everything you need. Kendrick Farris was the only American weight lifter to qualify for the Rio Olympics and he's been vegan since 2014. The only thing that surprises me is that it has taken so long to be fully recognised.
Back to Vegan Builders - what are your long term aims?
From the inception vegan builders was mostly about putting more back in – by doing voluntary projects at animal shelters, with paid work subsidising this work. We would like to be able to do this full time, but economics mean that these projects have to be fitted in around our other work. I'd really like to encourage volunteers to get involved with us, even if they are not that skilled! I'd like to help others gain skills and experience.
I think we do the easy part - going in and building a cattery, kennel block or stables - the people I have true admiration for is the folk who work there day in day out, looking after and rehoming the animals in their care. They do a very, very difficult job.
If we can help these people and animals in any way then Vegan Builders is a worthwhile project.
Find out more about Vegan Builders here
To find out about volunteering email - firstname.lastname@example.org