Veganism still has an outdated stereotype of a jaundiced, skinny, tree hugging hippy, but that view is hanging on by a thin thread which finds itself now being unralleved by the world of professional sport.
By contrast our standard image of a pro Rugby player is a privileged meat eating giant with cauliflower ears and way too many friends.
The two rarely mix, but Leeds Rhino Anthony Mullally is changing all that.
A 6ft 6inch vegan weighing in at a staggering 17.4stone with piercing blue eyes and stance only relatable to that of a Rhino, Mullally strolls into the Hyde Park Book Club shaking the hands of the staff he clearly knows well.
The Hyde Park Book Club resembles a disused petrol station at best. Hidden amongst Leeds’ side streets I would never have come across the location if not for Mullally’s recommendation. Glancing at its exterior I would never have imagined they serve hands down the greatest vegan hot dog I have ever consumed. Unapologetic stomach satisfying vegan food and damn good smoothies where you least expect it. Mullally is at home here.
I wanted to talk to Mullally about how to dispel the myth that you need to eat meat for muscle mass. As the evidently highly educated prop spoke he included information from his personal training and nutritional studies and explained global findings to me, but I realised almost instantly his words seemed insignificant when compared to evidence sat right in front of me. You don’t need graphs and lectures (which Mullally does very well by the way).
You just need to look at him.
Easily one of the largest men on the pitch, Mullally sealed a crushing victory in a game in which I witnessed the Rhino’s beat Salford’s Red Devils 44-2.
He charges towards his opponents without fear or hesitation. With direct intention and a force only relatable to the world’s largest and strongest mammals – Of which, he reminds me, are all herbivores.
In professional sports no one wants to come across as weak. Making lifestyle choices that aren’t part of the crowd’s thinking isn’t easy. Sticking by them is even harder. Going vegan meant Mullally was going against the team’s norm.
Anthony recalls the way his team mates would tease him about his diet in a jovial matter of fact way.
“When we eat out the lads would pass me the plant pot on the table to eat”
He appears to take it in his stride but he does show a sensitive side. “They don’t really do that anymore” he continues, visibly relieved.
Wikipedia lists his nickname as ‘The Vegan Warrior’ the sound of which makes him cringe. He is, without question, a warrior on the pitch but out of the game you see a gentle giant who states ethical reasons as a large part of his reasoning behind turning vegan, second only to health. His third reason being respect for the planet and playing his role in protecting it.
It isn’t only his diet which displays his strong moral heart. Mullally works closely with homeless charities and wants to educate after rugby.
He proudly tells me about his recent DEXA bone scan. Conducted as a measure of reassurance when doctors were unsure of the impact his new diet could have on his bones. The bone density scan showed that over the period of him changing his diet his bones actually became stronger. “The idea of milk being good for your bones is a myth” claims Mullally, completely obliterating any anti-vegan myth I ever believed before.