I love Sundays. Why? Because of football. Maybe it’s the excitement of the game or the thrill of rooting for a team or simply because it reminds me of watching NY Giants football with my grandfather when I was a little girl. In any case, I love this game. Yesterday, my team (the Giants) won and Tony Gonzalez, a tight end for the Atlanta Falcons, caught two touchdown passes. Anyone who knows me quickly learns about my inherited love of the NY Giants, but they would probably be surprised that I keep track of Gonzalez’ stats. Tony has quickly become one of my favorite NFL players and not because he’s on my fantasy football team. Nope, it’s because Tony is an ethical eater.
During a preseason game, I happened to catch an interview with a supposedly vegan football player: Tony Gonzalez. I had never heard of him but was quickly absorbed in what he had to say! Gonzalez was quick to point out that he is not actually vegan, but he is picky about his meat sources, buying only grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. I found the interviewer very dismissive and rather rude about the whole thing, but it was enough to get me hooked. I had to find out more about this guy!
Tony Gonzalez played sports all through high school and college, excelling at both football and basketball while studying at Cal, and was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1997 NFL draft. He never paid much attention to his diet or to the advice of the team’s nutritionist, Mitzi Dulan. However, after two major health scares, Gonzalez began to worry about life after football and the long-term damage he might be doing to his body by neglecting his nutritional needs. In an interesting twist of fate, it was during this time that Tony learned of The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, a controversial book about a research study supposedly linking meat consumption to poor health. Although the methodology used to draw conclusions in the study and book has been the focus of much criticism and debate, it really spurred Gonzalez to learn more about food, nutrition, and health. He finally approached Mitzi, the Chief’s nutritionist, and asked for some help. I couldn’t help but smile when I learned her advice: read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both books by Michael Pollan. After learning about our food system, Tony committed to an ethical food lifestyle and worked with Mitzi to create a diet that would keep him healthy and fit. After adopting his new diet, Tony’s health improved and so did his on-field performance. He led the NFL in most career receptions and most receiving yards for a tight end and went to his 9th consecutive Pro Bowl.
The diet is laid out in Tony and Mitzi’s new book, The All Pro Diet. In it, he explains why it is so important to eat whole, unprocessed foods, avoid sugary drinks and snacks, buy organic fresh fruits and vegetables, and only eat meat from animals raised humanely without antibiotics and hormones. In the book, Tony talks about checking out farms with Mitzi and taking his family shopping at farmers markets. It even includes recipes! Although I knew a lot of the background presented in the book, I still got a kick out of reading about ethical eating and the merits of organic food from a football player. He doesn’t exactly fit into the yuppie stereotype often associated with people who consider these issues when determining what to eat. I think it is further evidence of the universal importance of eating well, for yourself and the planet.
The All Pro Diet is available on Amazon. It's an easy and worthwhile read, and would probably be a great gift for someone who is just learning about our food system and looking for practical advice and inspiration. For more on nutrition and health, you may want to check out Mitzi's food blog.
The All Pro Diet
Tony Gonzalez' profile on ESPN.com
Wikipedia: Tony Gonzalez (and references therein)
Stats from Pro-Football-Reference