He’s an NBA All-Star, nicknamed The Claw for his exceptional ball-hawking skills, who has won Defensive Player of the Year honors multiple times. He’s one of the rare athletes who’s in it purely for the game and shows zero interest in the fame, which makes him even more intriguing. But is Kawhi Leonard vegan?
No, Kawhi Leonard is not vegan. He once said he was vegan, but he said it as a joke in response to being offered a pizza topped with the penis of a bull. He eventually did eat the pizza, and he continues to eat animal products to this day. He hasn’t claimed to be vegan on any other occasion.
Why Kawhi joked about being vegan
In 2019, Kawhi played for the Toronto Raptors alongside Serge Ibaka. Apart from playing basketball, Serge also enjoys cooking. He has his own show called “How Hungry Are You?” where he invites teammates over for a conversation and an unusual meal. So, naturally, he also invited Kawhi on the show. Kawhi accepted, and the episode was released in April 2019.
In the episode, Kawhi opens up more than he generally does in front of a camera, and the two actually spend a lot of time talking. But, eventually, Serge reveals the meal to Kawhi: a pizza topped with the penis of a bull. For dramatic effect, Serge prepared two penises and kept one of them intact to show to Kawhi when revealing the pizza.
Right before revealing the pizza, Serge asked Kawhi how hungry he was, and Kawhi said “starving.” But that changes very quickly after seeing the penis. Kawhi’s initial reaction is “oh nah,” followed by a variety of other ways to say no, and “I don’t think I’m hungry anymore, bro.” But Serge doesn’t take no for an answer and tries to change his mind in various ways, like by mentioning how much protein is in there and by bringing up Kawhi’s ancestors from Cape Town who he claims ate penis.
Eventually, Kawhi tries to get out of it by saying he’s vegan and can’t eat it. Serge then argues that the pizza is vegan too because a penis is not regular meat. But Kawhi insists: “I’m vegan. I can’t kill cows. Like, I’m not with that.” And because of the way he says it, you might think that he’s serious, but then he says: “I’m just playing.”
Kawhi and Serge eat the pizza, and Kawhi reveals that he had decided to eat it before Serge even told him what he had cooked: “I was gonna try anything that you made.”
You can see the full episode here. Serge reveals the pizza at the 17 minute mark:
What the penis pizza says about society
In our society, the interaction between Serge and Kawhi is considered funny because we can all understand why Kawhi didn’t want to eat a bull’s penis. Many people would have responded in the same way as he did. But the fact that we view this as entertainment actually says a lot more about us than we might realize.
Because the reality is that the two penises in the video came from two real bulls. Bulls who were most likely taken away from their mothers on the day they were born, so that the milk meant to nurse them through infancy could be sold to adult humans. Bulls who only got to live 18 months, in captivity, before being sent to a slaughterhouse to have their throats slit, instead of living a full life of up to 20 years. All for dairy and meat that we don’t even need, and so they could have their penises put on a pizza as a joke.
The fact that we focus completely on Kawhi’s disgust and pay no attention to the life and deaths of these animals shows how big the blind spot for animal exploitation in our society is.
What Kawhi normally eats
The video doesn’t give us insight into Kawhi’s regular diet and how it has changed over the years. But, luckily, he has spoken about that extensively in 2017.
Reflecting on his diet in college, he said: “Being in college, you don’t have the money to even get organic foods or eat only organic vegetables, organic drinks. You really just go with what you have in front of you. And the college I was at, we were a mid-major, so we didn’t really have all the perks and stuff like that other teams might have. We ended up eating a lot of fast food.”
But that changed when he went to the league: “Obviously, the NBA is different. This is a professional job, and they want you to play at your highest level. So I’ve learned a ton being with the Spurs just about basic nutrition. … It was actually pretty easy, because I really didn’t enjoy eating fast food, especially as I got older. It just didn’t taste good to me. I’ve always liked home-cooked meals. And my mom moved to San Antonio my rookie year and would cook for me, so it was an easy transition.”
“Plus,” he continued, “I wanted to better my eating habits before I even got drafted. That summer, there was a lockout, so I had a long time to get everything situated. It was like a four- or five-month wait until I was actually able to be seen by the Spurs. So learning throughout that entire time about good eating habits was a key.”
Speaking about his diet now, he said that he doesn’t eat the same meals every day and doesn’t eat at the same time every day. He just tries to “make sure whatever [he’s] eating is fresh and clean and good for [his] body. That’s about it.” He mentioned rarely eating breakfast because of his schedule, but eating “an egg-white omelet with some bell peppers and mushrooms [and] maybe a side of a bunch of different fruits” on the days that he does eat breakfast. And he said that when he needs to gain more weight, he’ll “either add more vegetables or proteins to [his] meals.”
With regards to meals on the road, he said: “I just try to stay away from beef and pork. I’ll try to get something like grilled chicken or fish. Something like that with some vegetables.” If he’s in a hurry, he’ll opt for “hole-in-the-wall sandwich places … someplace fresh and healthy, like a juice bar.”
Animal products aren’t necessary
Kawhi has significantly improved his diet by cutting down on fast food and eating more fruit and vegetables. And he has also cut down on some animal products, like beef, pork, and egg yolks. But he’s still under the impression that he needs certain types of meat and other animal products in his diet, and that’s a misconception.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t need any animal products, and we can actually improve our health by adopting a balanced plant-based diet. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals in the U.S., has officially made the following statement:
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Athletes need more protein in their diets than others, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics specifically addresses this as well:
“Vegan diets typically meet or exceed recommended protein intakes, when caloric intakes are adequate. The terms complete and incomplete are misleading in relation to plant protein. Protein from a variety of plant foods, eaten during the course of a day, supplies enough of all indispensable (essential) amino acids when caloric requirements are met. … Protein needs at all ages, including those for athletes, are well achieved by balanced [vegan] diets.”
Many athletes have improved their performances by cutting out animal products entirely. Some of those athletes are featured in the Netflix documentary The Game Changers.
Veganism is more than a diet
Although cutting animal products out of our diets is a big part of veganism, it’s not the only part. Veganism is fundamentally about avoiding animal exploitation in all aspects of life. So, it also applies to clothing and any other topic. Hopefully, Kawhi will look into it and decide to turn his joke about being vegan into a reality.
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