Ebiye Jeremy Udo-Udoma is a 24 year old international athlete coming up on year seven as a vegan.
1. Why did you decide to go vegan?
When I was 15 I went vegetarian after becoming enamored with the cartoon "Avatar: The Last Airbender." I resonated with the culture of the protagonist's native land "Air Nomads" whom were strict vegetarians and emphasized spirituality, peace, intuition, and freedom. So as childish as it may seem, my inspiration for vegetarianism came from a cartoon. I should note my transition to vegetarianism was driven by externally oriented concerns; the environment, animal cruelty, etc. As I progressed through my 15th, 16th, and 17th years I increased my study of nutrition, as well as other holistic health practices, and started making connections between the specific substances I put in my body and my well-being.
I started refining my diet and lifestyle practices more with my athletic aspirations in mind, which lead me to a fruit-based diet. I never liked eggs or dairy and when I removed whey protein from my diet I noticed that I was, by definition, vegan. Unlike my transition from omnivorism to vegetarianism, my transition from vegetarianism to veganism was for internally focused reasons, mainly my athleticism and long-term health. I soon realized that what's best for myself and what's best for the greater good of man aren't mutually exclusive.
2. How did your friends and family react when you went vegan?
There wasn't much kick-back when I initially went vegetarian when I was 15, most just thought, "Okay man, but I couldn't ever do that." Additionally, my friends and family haven't, at least to my face, made any qualms about me being vegan. I've always been a "picky-eater" and I haven't been too public about my veganism so my friends and family just consider it a part of my idiosyncratic nature.
I did have one National Team Coach who cussed me out in front of my teammates when I started my first international tournament off poorly exclaiming, "Start f***ing eating right*, which is probably the harshest response I've received, but that's just the territory of being a unique athlete. You play well and everyone wants to know your secret; you aren't playing well and any peculiarities you have become a scapegoat for the team's failure. It's not something I used to tell people as to avoid the stereotypes associated with being vegan, nor did I want people to say things along the lines of "he's a good athlete, for a vegan."
3. You stated that you haven't been too public with your veganism, but now you're ready to be public. What was the shift?
I personally don't like being defined by the things I don't do, in this case being defined by not eating animal products. I don't spend my days fighting the urge to eat eggs or dairy, nor do I spend them arguing with people who do, I just live my life and it just happens to be one where I don't consume animal products. I'm a firm believer of keeping my consciousness on the things I do as opposed to the things I don't. Although that mindset has served me well the past seven years while I was still pursuing some of what I've accomplished, I now feel veganism isn't as ostracized as it was back in 2010 and I am now at a point in my life where I want to share my accomplishments and the lessons learned along my journey with a more global audience.
I won a Harlem Globetrotters' Talent Search when I was 19, started for the US Olympic Handball Team when I was 20, and lead USA Beach Handball to it's first ever Pan-American Title when I was 22, all while being vegan. I also starred in a sports commercial. As someone who has had quite a unique journey, I think vegans and non-vegans alike could benefit from reading a story like mine.
4. What advice do you have for other folks who want to go vegan, but they think it's 'too extreme' or it's a 'white person's' thing?
As far as how "extreme" it is, there is some truth that being vegan is quite removed from the norm of eating animals and animal products so you probably won't resonate as strongly with your current personality. I would say be willing to change your lifestyle and your approach to life, but have faith that whatever changes are in store are for the best. As for it being a white person's thing, I would say look toward black vegan role models who are letting their light shine, many of which you can find on Black Vegans Rock.