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The Vegan Chief

A Q&A with AVP of Public Safety and Risk Management Gene Labonte

When you think of vegans do visions of hippies with incense and dreamcatchers swirl in your mind? Assistant Vice President of Public Safety and Risk Management at Salem State University Gene Labonte is breaking that mold. A vegan for over 10 years, Gene Labonte discusses how his healthy lifestyle positively impacts his life.

For those who may not know, please define a vegan diet.
In the strictest sense, a vegan diet consists of plant-derived foods. A strict vegan does not consume any animals or animal products. This includes all meats including chicken and fish. Additionally, a vegan diet does not include dairy/milk or eggs. 

How long have you been a vegan?
I typically tell people that I maintain a plant-based diet because my approach to eating is not based on ideological reasons; although I don’t discount that. But for the purposes of this discussion, I have been vegan/vegetarian for approximately 10 years. I say vegan/vegetarian because there was a period of time when I ate some dairy and eggs. At this point, I don’t eat dairy and very rarely eat eggs. 

What made you choose the vegan lifestyle?
It was primarily a health-based decision. I want to feel good and stay healthy for the long-term. 

What is your advice for someone who is considering a vegan diet?
Don’t be afraid. Start out by talking to people who maintain a plant-based diet and who have a good depth of knowledge about it. Read any number of books that detail the long-term health benefits of a plant-based diet. If the positive facts don’t convince you then read any number of books or watch any number of documentaries that detail the negative health effects of a non-plant based diet. 

What do you eat on a typical day?
A nutrient-rich smoothie, some fruit (apple or banana), raw veggies, quinoa, large amounts of leafy greens.

What’s one easy way someone can incorporate more vegetables into their diet?
Start with some raw vegetables as a snack. Maybe some carrot sticks, cucumbers, peppers etc. Try to incorporate some leafy greens into each meal.

Why is eating healthy especially important in your role as police chief?
As chief, I am not out on patrol on a regular basis but that does not mean that I am not going to be required to respond to something or get involved in a quick response to a public safety related matter. Throughout my law enforcement career, I have been committed to health and fitness and that was true even before I converted to a plant-based diet. My early law enforcement career was much more physically demanding coupled with significant stress. The long hours, varying schedules, heightened state etc. all place stress on your system. Currently, the daily stress is more mental/emotional than physical but it still places a strain on your body. I want to perform at a peak level in everything that I do. I love to train as I believe that it helps me perform better on a daily basis both mentally and physically. My dietary choices and my eating habits associated with a plant-based diet help me stay sharp, help me perform better when I train and therefore help me in my job. Beyond that, the plant-based diet makes me just feel better overall.

What is your exercise regimen?
I typically workout/train approximately 90 minutes per day on average. I am a morning guy so I am typically in the gym at 6 am or out running prior to that. I do a combination of weight training mixed with a variety of aerobic/cardio endurance training. I do a minimum of five days per week of the 90 minute gym time. My off days generally include some form of physical activity whether it be yard work or just an hour-long walk.

What’s one easy way students can incorporate more exercise?
Schedule it. If you approach exercise as something that you will do just when you have time then it probably won’t happen. You need to make the time and you can always find the time for some form of exercise. Schedule it. If you are not the gym type then just start by going for a walk or a bike ride. There is a form of exercise to suit everyone.

What’s your go-to snack?
Raw veggies or a piece of fruit.

What’s your advice to someone who has difficulty putting down the unhealthy snacks?
Just stop! And you can do it if you really want to but you have to want to feel good. I truly believe that that average person does not even realize that they feel like crap. Honestly, if they commit to cutting out the junk, the processed foods, the meat etc. and tried a plant-based diet for just a few weeks they would be amazed at how much better they feel. The average person does not know how bad they feel or how poorly their body is performing on a daily basis.

What’s your morning routine?
Out of bed between 5-5:30 am and in the gym. I am typically pacing outside the gym door waiting for it to open at 6 am unless I am out running.

What’s one thing our students can do today to live a healthier life?
Eat more plant-based foods, cut out gluten, cut out dairy and schedule exercise. Just those few things will result in a significant change.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Eat more plant-based foods, cut out meat, cut out gluten and absolutely cut out the dairy. And in all honestly probably don’t take things so seriously. I am a pretty intense guy and I have been that way for a long time. While it has its benefits in helping me in my approach to a healthy lifestyle and training it also has some negative effects. Balance is important. 

Please speak to your doctor before changing your diet.


Taylor Lawrence
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