Alex Honnold on Food
I recently caught up with my friend Alex Honnold on something other than his most recent climbing exploits. While he is constantly pushing the climbing envelope, Alex has also been going through a bit of a food and eating revolution. Many of you know that aside from climbing and everything encompassing the professional climbing lifestyle, a lot of my free time and interest is spent around food. I think I always fancied myself as someone who was really into food and health; but it wasn’t until I started to spend a lot of my time in the bay area did I realized how much of a gumbie “foodie” I was. Slowly over the past four years I’ve tried to eat and buy more local and sustainably grown foods by shopping at farmers markets and through new ventures like Good Eggs.
The past few months I’ve noticed through social media that Alex has been changing his eating habits. The random comment would pop up in my news feed about a book he read, how he was thinking about not eating meat, how Scott Jurek (famous ultra runner) was a vegan, and so on. His comments on food started to strike me, and one day a video link popped up that Cedar Wright made about Alex when they traveled to South America last fall. Big granite walls and a fantastic diverse culture were the backdrop to the video, which had a storyline on Alex’s passion about the environment, his new foundation, and small changes he was making in his life to help. In the video he said one of the things he did was sign his mom up for a CSA box (community supported agriculture). That peaked my interest and I wanted to know how much of a role food, eating habits and choices are playing in his life. Below are a handful of questions that I asked Alex about his ongoing journey with food and how it impacts his climbing, how he feels, how important food is to him and even what he cooks (or doesn’t cook)….
– What inspired your personal eating revolution?
My sister has always been vegan and my ex girlfriend was a vegetarian (who leaned vegan) so I’ve always been exposed to that kind of eating. And I’ve always sort of appreciated it as a lower impact way to live in the world. I was one of those things that I sort of wanted other people to do but lacked the personal strength to actually do myself. Then I read China Study, Mad Cowboy, Eating Meat and a few other diet/environmental type books and finally gave it a try. After not eating meat for a few weeks I really did feel a bit better, and certainly felt better about myself. I haven’t really looked back.
– Tell me about the last time you ate meat, did you know if was going to be the last time? Have you craved it since?
I don’t know the last specific meat I ate. I was in Mexico, so it was probably a chicken burrito or something. Once day I just stopped and didn’t really think about it too much after. I didn’t think of it as “the last time,” and in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if I ate meat or fish at some point in the future, especially with the amount of traveling I’m doing. But I’m doing my best to avoid it. I haven’t craved meat at all, in fact I find the idea more disgusting the longer I go without eating any.
– How have your food habits changed your athletic performance, if at all?
I don’t think they’ve change performance a whole lot. About the time I stopped eating meat, I started keeping a training log of all the exercise I was doing. I think that with a better diet I have been doing more hours a week of exercise, so I suppose over time that could lead to improved performance. But it’s certainly no magical thing. And the better diet isn’t just that I stopped eating meat, it’s that I’ve been eating a ton more fruits and vegetables now in the places of the meat I used to eat.
– How/what do you eat when you travel so frequently? Are you conscious about your food choices when traveling?
This is a work in progress. Right now I’m in Central Europe and it’s a super meat heavy place. Honestly I’ve been hungry a lot and not finding super great substitutes. Hopefully I’ll refine my technique as I go, or find some way to compromise or something. In remote third world type places I’ll probably eat meant, or whatever is available. We’ll see how this goes, I’m only 4.5 months in, so I’m still kind of learning.
– How, if at all, are you implementing local, sustainable, non GMO, organic foods into your food habits (ie Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin thinking)?
I don’t worry about this kind of stuff very much, though all things being equal I would choose local and organic. But I don’t really live in one place enough to even learn how to source local/organic food. I often buy organic in the grocery store, though it’s sort of a haphazard thing. Local is just a perk if I happen to at a farmer’s market or something, which is really rare for me. And honestly, I’m not convinced that local food can really feed the whole world. It’s great if you live in California, but what if you live in Ontario? Sometimes it’s just nice to eat strawberries, even it it is wintertime …. that’s the beauty of the first world …
– Do you see your foundation implementing any parts of healthy food systems into it’s core?
I doubt it, just because it’s not really a true passion of mine. We’ll see where it goes just because obviously the foundation and my eating practices are serious works in progress. But at the core, I’m just not THAT worried about where food comes from. I think there are bigger more underlying issues int he world, like energy accessibility and clean energy.
– If you are living out of your van, on a normal “road schedule” (ie no third world travel) what is an average day of food/cooking for you?
My normal breakfast is either some kind of cereal/yogurt/fruit mix or some kind of egg/vegetable mix. Lunch is generally a snack type food while I’m at the crag, something like bread and hummus, fruit, Clif products, random things like that, depending a bit on what’s available and what I’ve been eating too much of. Dinner is much more variable because I like to eat out with people whenever I can. I hate cooking for one, but when I cook it’s often some kind of pasta with veggies or something like that.
– And what would have been a “normal” few meals before you stopped eating meat?
My eating was super similar before; I rarely ate much meat anyhow, except when I was eating out. Then I would always have a burger or meat covered pizza or whatever. And my go to dinner used to be mac and cheese and tuna. I’m still basically eating the same “normal” breakfasts, I’ve just started adding more veggies to them.
– What is your “go to” meal to prepare or your favorite dish/food?
Mac and cheese and tuna used to be my favorite easy thing to make, now I don’t really have a great favorite. I really prefer eating out. I like Indian food or Mexican or Thai or whatever. Basically I like and food I don’t have to cook.
– What would you like for dinner when you come up to the house in May? 🙂
Surprise me, I’m more curious about what a “foodie” normally eats.
I think all this stuff is a kinda of interesting but there are so many other things that matter more to me. But maybe it’s like a long, slow work in progress If I really noticed a big difference in performance or health, I would pay more attention to my food, but so far the effects have always been too subtle. But maybe as I improve things here and there (like no meat and more veggies) I’ll start to care about it more.
Do you know Scott Jurek? Once of the things I admire most about vegans and super diet conscious type folks is how in tune they are with what they are eating. Stacey and I went out for Ethiopian food with Scott and his wife Jenny and if was amazing what he knew about the food and what was in it and how it was cooked and all of that. Ethiopian food always just looks like a bunch of piles of mush to me. He would look at a pile, taste it, and be like “ooh roasted garbanzo bean, simmered in x and mixed in y.” It was really cool to me that he even knows what all these different plants even are. I don’t even know HOW to eat some roots and exotic vegetable. It makes me feel like a real tool to not even know which part of the plant is edible. Anyhow, super fun to do an interview about something other than risk and fear.