Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 92
Bill Muir (a.k.a. SGT Vegan) on veganism in the military, and being vegan for 28 years
Karina Inkster: You're listening to The No-Bullshit Vegan Podcast, episode 92. Bill Muir speaks with me today about being vegan for almost three decades, including during army training and deployment, the two books he's authored, and much more.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina your go-to, No BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. So we're coming up to the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is pretty unbelievable. I hope that you and your family have been staying healthy and safe. My husband and I are definitely trying to continue being patient, but we're really missing things like group dinners with friends and musical events and having people over to our house. But like pretty much everyone else, we are doing our best to stay connected, using things like Zoom, and we're exploring more of our immediate area. We're actually really lucky to be living in Powell River, especially now. We've got endless ocean, lakes, forests, mountains, and honestly, not a lot of other people around. We actually just went for a hike this past Saturday, and we didn't see a single other person the entire time.
So anyway, hope you are doing okay, all things considered. And if you do need an extra kick in the butt to get a workout done, or you want some vegan recipe ideas, or you just want to say hi, get in touch with me anytime. I'm really happy to connect. Just send me a message over on Instagram, @KarinaInkster, or you can also use the contact section at nobullshitvegan.com.
Now the K.I team, which is Coach Zoe and yours truly, we do currently have three spots open for coaching clients, if you're ready to level up your strength and your vegan nutrition. So get your application in at karinainkster.com/apply. But I always love connecting with listeners in any capacity, so get in touch and let me know how you're doing.
All right, introducing our kick-ass guest for today: Bill Muir, AKA Sargent Vegan. Bill left a cushy job teaching English in Japan after 9/11 to join the army as a combat medic. A vegan since 1992, Bill adhered to his plant-fuelled diet throughout his rigorous army training and deployment to Afghanistan. Since being honourably discharged from the armed services, Bill has earned a certificate in vegan culinary arts from the Atlantic Union College and a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree from Drexel University. And he's also authored the books Vegan Strong and The Adventures of Sergeant Piggy.
Bill now resides in Los Angeles, California, and serves veterans as a registered nurse at the West Los Angeles Medical Center. He's been interviewed on numerous TV shows all across America and has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered. In non-pandemic times, Bill travels around America, giving talks about being vegan, and appears at veg fests and fitness expos with the Vegan Strong team. Bill's favourite vegan meal is vegan ramen at T’S Tantan in Tokyo, Japan, which sounds amazing! And one of the few things I miss about living in a larger city is actually the amazing vegan ramen. Enjoy our discussion.
Hey Bill, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.
Bill Muir: Thank you very much for having me.
Karina Inkster: I am very excited to hear all about your background story, see what comes up in our discussion. You've got a really interesting history and combination of things happening like author, RN, past history in the military, super long-term vegan. Very interesting. So why don't we start with the vegan piece and then we're going to tie that into everything else eventually. So how did you come to veganism? This is like almost three decades ago, way before it was cool. What the hell happened?
Bill Muir: Someone actually within the last two years said, “well you were a vegan before it was cool,” and I kind of said yes, but then I stopped, and I was like, are you inferring that being vegan now is cool? because if so, I mean that fucking rules!
Karina Inkster: Dude, I haven't gotten the memo yet because there's still a lot of BS out there around veganism and it's not “cool” in every sense, but I see what you're saying.
Bill Muir: I mean I went vegan back in 1992, and was vegan in the military. I lived abroad for eight years and was vegan there and I'm still not used to a) vegan being cool, b) I'm still not used to being able to go to one of our many burger joints and get a vegan burger. Like there were decades where if I went to say like, Carl's Jr, I don't know why I would, but if I did and I asked for the vegan option, besides giggles and laughs, they would just give me an empty bun and that would be the vegan option. People used to go and do that cause they would be like, “look at me, yum, yum, yum, I'm eating a vegan bun." But so how did I go vegan? I’ll try not to sidetrack myself too much. So I went vegan, I actually went vegetarian first as a joke in 1991, I say as a joke -
Karina Inkster: As a joke?
Bill Muir: As a joke!
Karina Inkster: Ok I need to know more about this!
Bill Muir: So I was a snarky punk rock kid. You probably wouldn't get that from the Sergeant Vegan background, but I was originally a punk rocker, and my mom asked me - my mom and my dad and my family raised us all Catholic, very religious household - they said, “Hey Lent is coming up.” For those who don't know, Lent is the 40 days before Easter that Jesus of Nazareth was in a desert or some shit like that.
Karina Inkster: That's the best description I've ever heard!
Bill Muir: I know that doesn't have anything to do with Easter bunnies or eggs, but that’s what Lent is, leading into Easter. Easter is, you know, the time Jesus died and rose from the grave, allegedly. So they ask me what I was going to give up for Lent. Catholics traditionally give up something, like we'll say they'll eat less candy or they will stop smoking. Something positive. It’s supposed to be good or just something to kind of be Jesusy.
Karina Inkster: Ha! Jesusy!
Bill Muir: As a joke I said, “Hmm Catholics don't eat meat once a week during Lent. I won't eat meat the entire length." So nowadays if you said, hey, I'm not eating meat for a month and some change, people would just say oh, that sounds like a nice healthy cleanse or something like that. Even in the Midwest, if you said that no one would lose their minds. But in 1991 - since I can curse I’m gonna use it - mother fuckers lost their minds.
Karina Inkster: Mother fuckers lost their minds! Yeah. I can only imagine!
Bill Muir: My family doctor said I was going to get sick. Friends told me nice knowing you kind of stuff. My mom was very worried. So were friends, family members, and everybody. And why? Because we’re heavily brainwashed into thinking that meat is like oxygen, that we need it to survive. So at the end of 40 days, spoiler alert: I did not die. Spoiler alert: I did not get sick. At the time I was a college wrestler and I felt pretty good. Being just vegetarian, it felt like, if anything, I felt better, but I mean, I was an in-shape 18 year old at the time. So you know, people are going to often ask me, how was it before you were a vegetarian man? I was 18, you know? And I was an in shape 18 year old at that.
So it's not like I had any, like I went vegan and one day later I cleared up my, you know, diabetes or something like that. I felt great before. I felt great after. I thought, you know what? I'll just stick with this. And as the semester progressed, and as I kind of thought more about it, being vegetarian started to align with my punk rock philosophy, with sociology, ‘cause I was a sociology major at the time.
Then I got ahold of some literature at a punk rock show that people were giving out. PETA pamphlets 'cause back in the day with no internet, because this was pre-internet, If you wanted to learn about something, you had to like actually read it and have it in your hands.
Karina Inkster: Imagine that eh?
Bill Muir: Yeah, that's some crazy shit! So I read about what factory farming was doing to our planet, how awful factory farming was. Then I started to think, you know, what? This vegetarian thing that I've locked into that everyone's telling me I'm an idiot or I'm going to die or something like that, it's actually something that more people should be doing. And in fact, we knew even then how bad factory farming was for the planet and slaughter houses and stuff. And I was just like, this completely aligns with what I want to do, which is make the world a better place. And then one fateful day, sometime in August of 1992, I got a hold of, at another punk rock show -
Karina Inkster: I’m seeing a theme here.
Bill Muir: Yeah. I mean, because back in the day, if you've ever heard of the band Rage Against the Machine, they had actually said at their shows, and this was actually around the same time, you could learn more about society at a Rage Against the Machine show than you could the regular news. But anyway I got ahold of a PETA pamphlet about the dairy industry and I started to realize like, wow dairy is rape. It's not just some wonderful cow prancing all round and giving more than enough milk. And the whole, if a cow didn't get milked, it would explode. It was weird, creepily raping these cows, forcing them to give birth. Their babies are becoming veal. Then they kill the cow too. Then I just realized if I'm going to have a cheese sandwich, I might as well make it a cheeseburger because they're killing the cow either way.
And then I thought, okay, I have to pump the brakes and think about this. How much animal exploitation, how much animal cruelty am I okay with? The answer really was zero and it was a binary choice. It was either take part in this thing that I find to be fucking awful or say no, and to say no to animal cruelty meant to be vegan. And I've been vegan ever since. People have given me a lot of guff about it as you would guess. Or since this is a rated E show, a lot of shit for it. I've had to put up with a lot of stuff, but no one has ever really given me a good reason why. I mean, definitely not medically, not philosophically or physiologically, why you need meat to live. It's just be more normal like us kind of crap. If to be normal is to destroy the planet and kill animals for no reason, then fuck that shit. I want nothing to do with it.
Karina Inkster: Oh my goodness. Well said, well said! I love that. So this you're pretty young at this point. I also went vegetarian first and then went vegan, but it took me five years to have that holy shit moment of, oh I'm actually supporting the veal industry by drinking milk. And oh, I'm supporting the chicken meat industry by eating eggs. That whole thing took me five years, because again, this is the nineties, this is, you know, not a ton of information out there, takes a while to figure it all out. Also, I was young. I was 11 when I went vegetarian.
Bill Muir: Oh wow! But you were way ahead of everybody else then.
Karina Inkster: Yeah but this is late. This is after you. So in the whole time frame -
Bill Muir: I mean not me, but you were ahead of almost everybody else. I’m gesturing to the world.
Karina Inkster: Sure, yeah. but it also wasn't like a holy shit moment. One of my business coaches used to use that term a lot - “the holy shit moment,” like some catalyst, you know? It was a slow getting more information thinking about it, figuring shit out, you know? But it didn't take you very long. This seems like it was from one year to the next kind of thing.
Bill Muir: Well, I went vegetarian in… I guess I was officially calling myself vegetarian by April because my birthday's on tax day here, April 15th, just in case anyone wants to send me shit - just kidding!
Karina Inkster: I’ll keep that in mind.
Bill Muir: So I had gone vegetarian the beginning of… like started to transition for that Lent thing in March. Then I remember, I specifically remember my mom saying like, what did I want for my birthday dinner? And saying it had to be something vegetarian and her saying, oh, I thought it thought it was just going to be a 30 or 40 day thing. And I'm like, nah. And then by that August, so eight months later, I was officially saying the word vegan, and then following it up with what a vegan was since no one knew what that word meant.
Karina Inkster: Wow. That really is a pretty fast transition. That’s impressive.
Bill Muir: But I think, because I didn't know that, I mean, nowadays there's a million like vegan or vegetarian or whatever books or influencers or whatever. And there's a bazillion Google searches you could do so you could find “the best” or whatever, and I use it in quotes because “the best” is whatever works for you. I didn't have it, the advantage of any of that. I just did what I thought I was going to do at the time. So it worked for me and then I'm not dead. Would it have been better to transition any other way? I don't know. I mean, we're going to have to rewind the tape in like 70 years when I'm dead.
Karina Inkster: In 70 years or in seven years?
Bill Muir: 70.
Karina Inkster: Okay, good. Just checking. I heard seven and I'm like, no, that can't be right.
Bill Muir: Well, you wouldn't think since I'm 47 now that I'm going to make it to 117.
Karina Inkster: Hey you never know!
Bill Muir: But to challenge everyone who’s hearing this: Why the fuck not?
Karina Inkster: Why the fuck not? Yup, why not man? So how did your family respond to the vegan piece? I mean, you already mentioned the birthday dinner where your mom was like, ah, I thought this was short term. Did you get a lot of shit for it from your family? What's the deal? You're still pretty young at this point.
Bill Muir: Yes, I was 19. Yes I got a lot of shit for it, but to be fair, they were just responding with whatever society had told them. They were responding to whatever a family doctor had said, they were responding to common sense stuff in their minds. It wasn't that they were being jerks about it. That's what made sense to them. And also to be fair, so maybe not in the beginning, but as someone that was a punk rocker transitioning into being what we call in underground music, a hardcore kid, later I got into Earth Crisis and a lot of those bands that are advocating a vegan revolution. I was probably not the easiest person to be around. I mean, my mom brought up a couple of years ago that I had wrote, “meat is death,” on one of her cookbooks and showed that to me.
Karina Inkster: Nice one!
Bill Muir: And I thought, man, I was fucking awesome!
Karina Inkster: You could put it that way.
Bill Muir: But I also had to think that way. I also had to think, yeesh! Could you imagine having to put up with this mother fucker? Like listen to the probably crazy shit that came out of my mouth and I would probably start off a conversation with humans’ lives are the same as cows’ lives or… and some of that stuff, vegans might be able to say like, well, you know, all of our lives matter. I must be like, no, your life and an ant's life is exactly the same. Fuck you if you don't agree with me. It'd be like eeeee!
Karina Inkster: Little cringy to some folks I’m sure.
Bill Muir: Little cringy! I’ve since scaled it back immensely. But I mean, that's the advantage of 28 years in the game versus like one. I'm able to say like we have to live with one another, we have to tolerate one another. I can give you a million, not you, but someone a million reasons why they shouldn't put a dead animal in their mouth. But at the end of the day, that's what they decide. It's not going to help veganism or the animals if I knock that hamburger out of their mouth or whatever. It hasn't done anything. It's just made me look like a jerk.
You know, I occasionally see on the inter-webs where someone will say like, you should be a jerk to everyone, that's not vegan, like that. They'll say I'm not eating with them. They’ll take a liberation pledge. I'm not eating with other people who eat meat. Man, none of that shit works. None of that shit works.
Karina Inkster: It really doesn’t. It doesn’t. Nope.
Bill Muir: None of that will actually work to change people's minds. What does work is back off, give people information, let them do it themselves, and then cook them food that just blows their mind. That will work. But being a jerk-off to somebody only means that they think you're a jerk-off. And then next time they meet a vegan, they'll be like, ugh.
Karina Inkster: Yes, exactly. I got to tell you this whole, like don't be a dick-face, don't be a shit-head is basically how I try to operate as a vegan. I mean, as a human too, I try my best. But I do have to tell you that one of the gyms I used to train clients at - so I did the whole in-person training thing for seven years before I went online. And the second gym I worked at, it's kind of the same idea as a hairdresser salon. Like you rent a chair and then you have your own clients. It's a gym space that's not a commercial gym. It's just trainers training their own clients. Anyway, the second gym I worked at was particularly bro-esque in the atmosphere. Lots of things like, oh, that's pretty good for a vegan, lots of poking fun at veganism because they thought it was hilarious, right?
And I'm just doing my thing, whatever. We had to pull up contest that I happened to win. And so there were a lot of things about, oh yeah well, pretty good for vegan nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you know? Anyways, I tried not to be a shit-head about it. Tried to bring in delicious food to share. The whole thing about how that's actually more useful than just, you know, fighting back essentially. Fast forward three years, and one of the dudes who was most in that whole space of, oh, pretty good for a vegan, contacts me out of the blue and says, hey, I need help going vegan, and I thought you'd be the person to contact. So you're absolutely right. You never know. You never know. And the being cut off, like I'm not going to eat with people who aren't vegan. Being so-called militant, it doesn't work. It really doesn't. So I'm a hundred percent with you.
Bill Muir: I mean, it's a shame because I would love that all the angry words and slogans that I've hurled at people for like literal decades, I would love to think that it helped. It hasn’t.
Karina Inkster: No, sadly not.
Bill Muir: What has happened with my parents, my mom went more or less vegetarian. My dad eats Beyond Meat and Impossible now more than he eats like regular meat and they'll do it when I'm not around. They'll do it. My brother's also vegan through my influence, I'd like to say.
Karina Inkster: Oh I’m sure!
Bill Muir: But they’ll do it, even if they're not around, they'll just do it. And my sister - neither of my sisters are vegetarian - but they're now slowly moving toward it. Why slowly and why didn't they embrace it quicker? Maybe because most of their brothers were jerks about it.
Karina Inkster: It’s possible.
Bill Muir: I mean, it's probably less my brother than me. My brother has been always the more, “live and let live.” I took the whole activist thing more to heart thinking that I was helping. Now it turns out I was probably hurting. But you know, you live and learn and now now we can actually hopefully get shit done.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. So you were obviously vegan during a time where it wasn't so-called “cool.” I'm using air quotes on that.
Bill Muir: No, it was fucking not cool at all. Not cool at all. Maybe with our group. So I went in and out of having friends that were very similar to me being vegan straight edge, and that was a whole movement, but it was so underground that I don't think that your average Joe or Joette would ever come in contact with us - maybe at a protest. I mean maybe if you went to a punk rock show, you would see us there, but otherwise you might not even know it. So when I was around those people, then it was like, you know, echo chamber, we all had very similar views. But then I moved to Japan and then I was active in that music scene, but pretty much I was basically on a desert island as far as being vegan or whatever.
Karina Inkster: Yep. I think it's a pretty common experience for folks who went vegan around that time, regardless of what niche subculture they were in. But let's talk about your experience in the military, especially as a vegan, because that just blows my brain - how that was possible slash how you survived. Seriously, I’m sure that a lot of this is my own stereotypes and stuff.
Bill Muir: No, you're not wrong. Someone actually just DM’ed me about this, like today, like two hours ago, and I was like, watch my videos. ‘Cause I think I talk about vegan veterans in the videos and I have in Vegan Strong a whole chapter about it. So I went vegan - sorry. I decided to go into the military a little bit after 9/11. I watched 9/11 pretty much in real time, like a lot of people, but I was living in Japan at the time. So watching it a world away, it just made it feel very somehow more powerful probably because it was so far away. Like it was my home, my kind of somewhat idealized idea of home because I only went there once a year. It’s under attack. It's literally on fire and you know, the whole coming from that punk rock background, the immediacy of, you know, DIY do it yourself, make shit happen. Don't wait for someone else to do it. You do it.
It made me think, okay, I could do what my other liberal friends are doing, which is sitting at home and like angrily judging the world, telling their TV screen what they think but not actually doing anything. Or, I could do what made sense to me at the time which was the leave my cushy job and existence in Japan and join the military. Then as far as having to sort out the, you know, vegans are supposed to be about non-violence, well, you'd be actively killing people. I thought, you know what? I’ll go in as a medic, that way I'm helping the locals, I'm helping my own soldiers or whoever I was with. And I'd be able to like make a change, make the world a better place. It definitely fit with my PMA, positive mental attitude, like punk rock philosophy, even though being in the military is the least fucking punk thing you could do, it somehow made sense.
And that's what I did. I left Japan, I sold all my stuff and moved back to the States. I looked at the different branches. I decided I wanted to become a paratrooper and I wanted to be a combat medic. And that's pretty much what happened. The main thing, I think back in the day back before I got so into punk rock, that kept me from joining the service was kind of actually weirdly I didn't want to wear leather combat boots.
Karina Inkster: Well that’s an interesting aspect. I hadn’t thought of that!
Bill Muir: Yeah! That was actually something that - I thought about joining the service kind of early in college, and after I became vegan, I was like, I can’t, I won’t. So I had to reconcile that. And basically I thought, well, I think the good I could possibly do is going to outweigh the possible pitfalls of doing something that's kind of like in a grey area.
I think it's very similar to in a lot of ways when people talk about like, oh I'm too vegan to eat the impossible burger or I’m to vegan to do this, or to drive, and I say if you tell people that you can't drive because driving, you know, using fossil fuels or whatever is not a vegan thing, you're basically telling people that they shouldn't be vegan because there's no way that you could live in society and therefore you're just eliminating the being able to actually do the whole thing of being vegan. Make it practical. So anyway, I joined the military and yeah, at your original question, it was a culture shock. It was culture shock being back in America, because I was mostly used to even just speaking Japanese and not English.
So now I'm back to speaking English, but it's now with people from Texas to Hawaii and it just that culture clash. Like you would guess, and like I told the person, the guy who asked me today, yeah, having to live off of and get my food from the dining facility meant pretty much starving to some extent. I made it the eight weeks, but I lost like 15 pounds and I was not fat. So it was 15 pounds I did not want to lose. But I made it through just like any vegan who's had to, you know, eat something undesirable at one time or another. I went through that. So I guess my basic training experience, I would sum up through food, practically speaking breakfast, what do you need for breakfast? You can think of all the Just Egg and vegan blueberry pancakes, or chocolate chip pancakes you want, but practically, what did I eat? Dry corn flakes most of the time.
Karina Inkster: Oh my goodness. So that's going to fuel you for what, two minutes?
Bill Muir: When I got tired of the dry corn flakes, I was just like, I can't eat another bite. Then I started
putting fruit cocktail, like that really shitty from an industrial can with those cherries, in it.
Karina Inkster: Horrid, horrid!
Bill Muir: Then when I couldn't eat that anymore, then I just started putting it in my coffee and waiting until it kind of mushed up. None of that is good. And I don’t suggest it. At the same point, What do you fucking do? Like I could have just said to myself, what the fuck do you expect? You are not joining the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts, you're joining the fucking military. You know, if this is where you can't take it anymore, just like the breakfast is not to your liking, what the fuck is it going to be like - and I did Afghanistan for a year - what's it going to be like, when shit gets real, you know? People who are weak don't last through tough times and in a way that just served as another toughener.
But since I had made it through the kind of rougher nineties being vegan I just went back into suck it up mode and that helped. Being able to say there's always been a worst time and I will make it through this too. And I made it through.
Karina Inkster: Amazing!
Bill Muir: Lastly, when it comes to food in the military, it wasn't all like that. There were some training scenarios that were equally limited, like sometimes during like a field training exercise or FTX, it could be a little rough when you're relying on MREs those pouch meals. There are some vegetarian MREs, there's no vegan MREs. So you're trading stuff to get enough calories, mostly peanut butter and that lousy fruit cocktail shit.
Karina Inkster: Oh man.
Bill Muir: But airborne school was a breeze other than the jumping out of planes thing. And I got more than enough food. As when I was in medics training, that was easy too. Why? Because I was with, instead of being at Fort Benning, Georgia home of the infantry, I was with other medics and they're going to always feed those people better and coddle them more. Why? ‘Cause not all of them were going to be going out in the field with infantry. They were going to be in a cushy hospital. You couldn't be expecting people that are never going to have to suck it up or sleep on the ground to be doing that. So it was easier. And then my normal unit, when I went to Italy to be in the 1-73rd Airborne, that wasn't that bad either. I was living in Italy. Have you been to Italy yet?
Karina Inkster: Not yet. Been to other places in Europe, but not Italy.
Bill Muir: Vegan food is amazing. I actually went the other direction with weight. I put on weight. I was like the chubbiest vegan who worked out every day and ran five miles plus because I was eating like a pizza a day, not a piece of pizza, but the whole pizza. And there was a gelato place that had soy gelato. So I was getting a kilo, 2.2 lbs of ice cream a week.
Karina Inkster: Oh my goodness, Holy shit.
Bill Muir: So I was eating like there was no tomorrow. And I'm glad later in my military career that I did, because when I went to Afghanistan, it was back to suck it up mode for a bit.
Karina Inkster: That makes sense.
Bill Muir: Basically, what happened was before I went to Afghanistan, I knew that it was going to be sparse. I knew what it was like in basic training. And I was like, I can't let myself go calorie deficient and start getting that brain fog when you haven’t eaten and you're starving when I'm in real shit situations. So I got clever, I found out where we were going in Afghanistan. They gave us an APO address in the armed forces, like a post office box that you could send stuff to if you wanted. They had mostly thought of if people wanted to send their whatever, like I can't think of anything that they would've thought that was for, but they just had the address.
So I sent myself, I got to industrial sized boxes. Like you could fit a large midget to maybe a small, small… like gigantic. And I put every manner, if it was a non-perishable vegan item from the early two thousands, it was in there. From soy milk to ramen, to cliff bars, to whatever, anything you can think of. It was in that box. And I sent two of them. We got to Afghanistan, they were doing the first briefing. And they were like, okay first off Doc - and they called me Doc, because I was a medic - got some bad news. One of your boxes exploded and there was shock and amazement and utter terror on my face for my food.
Karina Inkster:Yeah. I would have the exact same reaction.
Bill Muir: I go, “exploded?” with the hand jester and that same voice. As you could guess, I got shit for that for at least six months ‘cause every time we were attacked, someone would go “explosions” or “exploded”. I just said it like that, like “exploded” with the hand.
Karina Inkster: Oh man!
Bill Muir: So, shock, terror. I ran through that box in about a month and I started to think like, what am I going to do? Like, yeah, we had somewhere where we were designated to go for meals. It was basically two marines who were opening these industrial tins. Cooking was like, basically, I mean, not a campfire, but maybe two steps up from that. No vegan options other than bread and like some vegetables washed in some dirty water. What am I going to do? Through luck and what have you, I found out about a website called anysoldier.com, which civilians can send people who are in the services, food or whatever. I put on there that there was a vegan that I knew, namely me, and needed stuff.
And it blew people's minds that somebody in the midst of all the chaos after 9/11 would join, not only join the military, but would do it as a vegan and then decide to serve in Afghanistan as a vegan. People vegan or not were sending me stuff. I got a ridiculous, like, I could only put it as a ridiculous amount of stuff and it definitely saved my ass. The company Tofurky found out about it and Tofurky sent me a bunch of stuff too.
Karina Inkster: No way!
Bill Muir: Yeah. So you remember that thing on Tofurky boxes that said like, you know send us your picture with Tofurky in the most random spot?
Karina Inkster: Yes! Did you do that?
Bill Muir: They had sent me shelf stable stuff, and I got a picture of it's me and a 105 millimetre Howitzer and the mountains of Afghanistan. You could tell we're in the middle of fucking nowhere, you know. Probably the only picture of that type that existed at that time. And I think people were just like, these are two worlds that never intersect.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Absolutely. Wow. So do you know now if it's any, I mean, it must be better, but do you know what the situation is? For example, in basic training, like do current vegans in 2021 have more options now, or is it still a pretty dire situation?
Bill Muir: So I can tell you as recent as 2013, because I guess the footnote to this story is that I got out of the military when my time was up, specifically to open a vegan restaurant. I went to vegan culinary school. I had pretty big ideas. Then in 2008, obviously the economy took a big fucking nosedive. By 2010, I was like, I don't know if I'm going to be able to open something. What should my plan B be? And as luck would have it, the Haiti earthquake thing happens and I went to Haiti to help out. While I was there, I started, as I was back to my old medic ways, I started to think, you know, I kinda miss being able to help people like this and not just in a like, oh, you should eat better, but in a, I am helping you. I am bandaging you up and sewing you up or whatever. I missed helping like that. So I decided to go back into the reserves and get paid to work out and shoot guns again.
Karina Inkster: That’s one way to put it.
Bill Muir: And you know, it was very, very different. The reserves is a very different mindset. It's like people joke “the weekend warrior,” whatever, completely true. You know, most of those people had never been deployed. It was very weird, especially the hippie Sergeant Vegan. ‘Cause people still call anyone who’s vegan a hippie. At the same point, you know, the Sergeant part of the Sergeant Vegan, it's not fucking around. I was in the military. I'm a combat veteran. So sometimes those people, I would think it would be like, ha-ha, cute, like Sergeant Vegan. And I'd be like, you better fucking do that mother fucker! I'm going to choke you the fuck out! You know, and it'd be like that wouldn't be as cute anymore.
Karina Inkster: Not really!
Bill Muir: The sergeant part of Sergeant Vegan is both, you know, a nice anecdote that really works to tell part of the story, but it’s some no-shit stuff as well. How did I eat then? Sometimes it sucked. It wasn't that much better, except that I did have rank. And we'll often say RHIP, R H I P - rank has its privileges. I was able to say like, nah, fuck that. I'm not going to do what you ever you're telling me, I'm going to go over and do that. Or I had that kind of leeway because I was in charge of the medic section of a bigger company.
And I was able to say, I'm going to do this or that. And then when we had a field training exercise, that was like two weeks long, I was able to say, you know, what I’ve fucked around with your dining facilities enough already. I'm not going to do that. They're like, well, how about we just pay you extra money and give you supperettes? So I said, okay, let's just do that.
Karina Inkster: Well, that's not a horrible option.
Bill Muir: No, but while we were in the field sometimes, yeah. I mean, I had to suck it up and I had to bring extra food. It wasn't awful. How it is in the chow hall: I think some chow halls that I've seen have definitely come around and they offer plant-based options. The weird thing about the military is it's not as uniform as you would think. So some branches like the air force or chair force, as we like to joke, it might be super cush and easy. Whereas someplace places, some army kind of installations or the Marines might be super hard. At some places you're going to be able to get Beyond Meat. At some places, none of those options, you know, it all really depends. It shouldn’t. One of the eventual things I want to work on is getting a vegan, MRE established - I would say re-established cause they had a bean burrito at one point that was vegan.
Karina Inkster: Oh, they don't have it anymore? That’s odd.
Bill Muir: No, they did. They got got rid of that. Then they had a not vegan, but vegetarian veggie burger that from all reports, wasn't great. But you know, I think they need to have that. We need to sell it as, instead of calling it vegan necessarily, say kosher, halal, gluten-free, fucking plant-based option. Even if it's just some gruel, some protein, carbohydrate gruel and some Soylent or whatever. As long as it's calories, whoever's eating it will be happy that it's there. Maybe the worst we make it taste the more likely it is that it's going to be available ‘cause when you find something that's really, really, really, really good, and everybody wants it, they're going to take it away from the vegan.
Karina Inkster: Right. You mentioned Soylent actually, that is vegan. And I was kinda thinking that in the back of my brain, like, oh man, that could be an option. It's not the greatest, you know, most delicious thing you've ever eaten, but it's available. And in those circumstances, why the hell not?
Bill Muir: You've been vegetarian and vegan since back in the day. You know, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I've eaten so many of them, and I'm sure you have too, that at a certain point, you just want the calories. You just want to not starve.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, exactly!
Bill Muir: I remember once at a funeral eating a broccoli sandwich. The ingredients for a broccoli sandwich are: two pieces of wonder bread, broccoli. That's the end of the ingredients list.
Karina Inkster: Oh my goodness!
Bill Muir: Good? No! But it was the only vegan option there. So I was happy for it. I don't think we're asking for too much. Now to be fair to the animal ag and the world I'm not asking too much now and we're not either. We eventually will. I mean, my sites are not set on compromise. My sights are set on the end of animal agriculture. So I get where they're thinking that if they give us an inch, we'll take a yard because fuck it, I'm going to take a mile if I can get it.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely.
Bill Muir: We're talking about life and death here. If you read the science and animal ag equals the death of this planet. Even if you don't want to think in science-y terms, they're literally killing fucking billions of animals for nothing, to get people unhealthy. So fuck yeah I'll find a way, I'll figure out a way you know, together, I'm hoping we can push to the end of animal agriculture, hopefully by 2030. I think when you just randomly choose some date, it's not going to happen.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. But you're on the right track though. I mean, this is the collective vegan mission, basically in various ways, in various industries. Like there's a lot of work still to be done. And clearly you're an important part of it, which is a nice segue to your books by the way.
Bill Muir: I love it!
Karina Inkster: So tell us what the deal is. Our listeners won't be able to see the books, but if you're watching the video version of this interview, then you will be able to see it. So Vegan Strong is one of your books, and then you also have a children's book. So tell us the deal. What is The Adventures of Sargent Piggy and Vegan Strong?
Bill Muir: So we'll start with Vegan Strong. Basically I’ve been vegan for 28 years. At the time I wrote this, it was like, I'd been vegan for 23 years. I wanted to take all the information that I learned up until that point, all the trials and tribulations, the what worked and what didn't work. I wanted to include stuff about working out. I had run a couple marathons, I'd done a lot of strength training. I'd done martial arts, and I had gone to vegan culinary school. I wanted to put all that in a field manual, like a receptacle for people to be able to read all that and be able to think, oh, being vegan is easy, non-expensive, and for everybody, because I think people until recently have been always trying to kind of flavour veganism in a way that I don't think was helpful.
Like talking about just about how what a martyr they are, or that it's something unique that only they could do, or that it's difficult or whatever. Or that it makes you a hippie because, you know, again, if hippies were in, I would be all for saying like, yeah, it's the fucking hippiest thing you could do. But because that does not speak to the majority of American, and probably not Canadian, culture, I wanted to rephrase it in a, okay, veganism is a practical thing in that I like fucking living on this planet. If we destroy the planet, it'll probably kill us too. So how about we not destroy the planet? And if animal ag is what's doing that, maybe we need to rethink that. And that's not a hippy thing. That's a, I care about life thing. I care about my own life thing.
And you know, just from anything - from you like working out, okay, well eating - studies have shown that drinking milk leads to inflammation. Studies have shown that the standard American diet leads to diabetes and obesity. So there's so many reasons why people shouldn't eat animals and they should be vegan. However, the whole perception, sometimes unfortunately from vegans, that we're all bunch of fucking hippies, has only been holding us back.
Karina Inkster: Sadly still out there.
Bill Muir: So I thought kinda make it look like a military field manual. That's the least hippie thing. A picture of me with Afghanistan in the back because why the fuck not? I thought that would kind of help rephrase the conversation. I'd reset how people were thinking about us. And to some extent, I think I was able to be successful with this. I'm very proud of what I did and it took me five years and it fucking rules.
Karina Inkster: Wow, man, when you set your brain on something, you just fucking get it done. So important!
Bill Muir: I think we're all like that. And it just depends on how long it takes you. I'm sure someone who's a better writer, who's quicker, it would have taken… I mean, it took me five fucking years, but I was working full-time at a hospital during it.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Give yourself a break.
Bill Muir: Yeah. The other book is The Adventures of Sergeant Piggy.
Karina Inkster: So awesome!
Bill Muir: Thank you very much. Fully illustrated, very super cute book on a pig that goes around the world on adventures and saves animals.
Karina Inkster: I love it.
Bill Muir: Well thank you. I wanted to make a book that especially during the pandemic, would be about adventure, the love of the world and traveling and all that. Have all that stuff in there and for kids too, because now no one's going anywhere, doing anything during the pandemic other than trying not to get COVID. But I wanted to have a little bit of seed planting in there to talk a little bit about being vegan, about going green and saving the planet. I think that's very important. That's important for us in our generation, but the next generation is going to be super important because it's their world that they're going to be inheriting.
So instead of making it, cause I've seen some vegan books that are like kind of weepy and sad and like, like Debbie Downer shit. I thought, you know, if I could make it upbeat and fun, so not only people who are raising their kid vegan could read it, but like friends, coworkers, people are like, hey, I want to buy such and such kiddo a book.
Do I mention concepts that we would do, like Sergeant Piggy goes looking for vegan ice cream? But I don’t call it vegan ice cream. I call it dairy free ice cream. There's like one or two explicit, not explicit, but mentions of not eating animals, but it's more like Sergeant Piggy doesn't eat animals ‘cause animals are his friends and not like chopped up pictures of cows and shit, making everyone sad, and honestly are not productive in this conversation. More than anything, we still need to normalize plant-based living. And this is just another thing to help normalize it. Someone reads it. Oh, of course you can be happy and healthy and plant-based or vegan, and leave that at that. Especially for ages like four to seven. I don't think they need you know, any kind of Debbie Downer, sad stuff.
Karina Inkster: Hundred percent. That's amazing. It's kind of the same idea as like the militant vegan approach to adults doesn't work. The same deal with like sadness, and I mean, there's a certain level of information that kids I think are entitled to about where their food comes from, but there’s different ways of approaching it. So I think this in a more positive way, not labeling it as officially vegan, even though technically it is, that's a pretty useful approach.
Bill Muir: Well, I would like to think so. And I think the vegan stuff can kind of slip under the radar, which is completely the reason I did it that way. I mean originally just like Vegan Strong, I was hitting you over the head with it. And then I thought, what is my main goal with this? With Vegan Strong I approached Vegan Strong originally as I did when I was a sergeant, that I'm going to choke you the fuck out mother fucker approach.
A lot of people will find that language to be a little strong and almost hard to handle, and they would have probably found that Sargent Vegan a little even stronger. So I started to realize am I kind of getting in my own way here, like with my approach? This Vegan Strong I wrote it more as how I am as an RN with, okay, hey, here sir, I'm here to help you. I'm not here to kiss your ass. I'm here to tell you what you need to do and what we need to do to get you healthy. You know, this, that, and the other, let's get you healthy. The end. I think that approach is a much more positive and the same goes with The Adventures of Sergeant Piggy. I don't think that weepy, overdoing, overbearing voice would have been productive for kids, either like, bleh!
Karina Inkster: Kids or the parents who are presumably reading this to the kids.
Bill Muir: So I don't think either, nobody would have enjoyed that. Whereas the super light, happy-go-lucky, friendly, fun, wow the world is so exciting! ‘Cause I've been to 47 countries and a bunch of those countries they're in there and it's super fun. And then like, oh yeah go green, like save the environment. Vegan stuff. And then back to fun.
Karina Inkster: Brilliant. Hey, one more question before I let you go: in your current work as an RN, does veganism come up? Do you bring it up to patients? Does it come up with colleagues? What's the situation? ‘Cause I'm presuming you're working with folks on occasionally long-term chronic issues. Not always acute things.
Bill Muir: Yes. It comes up occasionally. Not as much as I would like it to. I would like to eventually transition into that as the lion's share of my work and to be able to work. So I’m a veteran. I work with other veterans. So a specific part of the population, probably who's least likely to be interested in anything besides meat and potatoes and the worst fucking food that we have available.
Karina Inkster: That’s kinda why I was wondering.
Bill Muir: Occasionally when patients will ask, I'll bring it up or like, we could not be dumping all this insulin in you if you were able to fix your diet and if you’d consider plant-based. So majority of my time is not spent with them during meals. I work nights. I start working like four hours. I'll be there overnight. So in those cases, the only patients who are awake are like demented or they're not able to sleep because they're going through withdraws.
Karina Inkster: Right. Good point.
Bill Muir: That's not a really good time to hit someone with the I know you want some something, some kind of a narcotics or something to help you come down, but can I just tell you about plant-based meals instead?I don't think that would work.
Karina Inkster: Nope, definitely not.
Bill Muir: And then lately, because of COVID, I've been in a COVID only ward.
Karina Inkster: Wow.
Bill Muir: And with those patients, whether I work, let me see, I work Saturday night in an NA, that was COVID ICU, helping out. None of those patients are awake and they're all intubated. So…
Karina Inkster: Yeah, also not a good situation for bringing up plant-based eating.
Bill Muir: Hey sir, I know you're not conscious,
Karina Inkster: But have you considered…
Bill Muir: But have you considered…I might decrease your Propofol so you can come back to consciousness and I can tell you all about vegan living. Co-workers sometimes have an interesting take on it. I think they are pretty supportive, sometimes receptive to hearing about it. You know, sometimes they're not and blind to it. It's a mixed bag. I mean, some people have bought my book and been very receptive. Have they actually changed their lifestyle? I mean, maybe a tiny bit. If I mentioned it and I was nonstop about it, that would probably make me, if you're not into it, a rough person to work with and being able to shut up about it - like if someone ever saw my car or just for funsies looked on my social media, it's clear where I stand on all that.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Bill Muir: So I think when people are interested, they'll ask, if they're not, we'll just leave it at that. That way we can live and let live. A skill that I got out of the military, which I think for these troubling times is very important is that live and let live, like you can weirdly only in the military, I think in that society, you can have people with completely opposite views being able to put all that aside to accomplish a mission, to get a job done and more or less put up with each other’s shit, as opposed to having to bicker and argue about every last thing.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Bill Muir: Weirdly, because I work with not very many vets, but a few, we're able to do the same in that circumstance too and be friends, even if we have like ridiculously different political views. I work with a couple Trump people and we're friends. And I think that's because of this, you know, one of the many weird positives about the military in that, like they know where I stand. I know where they stand. We're good with each other. And yeah. I mean, we can have these very spirited political debates and just be able to be like, okay, I know you stand here. I know I stand here and nothing but love for you, but, you know, for reals, like, yeah.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. Interesting. Well, let's leave it there for today. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I feel like we could do a whole series of further podcast interviews. But Bill yeah, it was great speaking with you. We're going to link to your website, your books. We're going to have all that in our show notes for our listeners to check out. So yeah. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It was great speaking with you.
Bill Muir: Thank you very much for having me. Stay vegan strong everyone.
Karina Inkster: Bill it was great having you on the show. Thanks so much for coming on. Access our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/092 to connect with Bill and to get your hands on his books. Thank you for tuning in.