Game on for rugby player Brendon Bale: Vegan Friendly UK's new CEO
From childhood, Brendon Bale has been a rugby fanatic. The community, freedom and love of sport have been at the heart of his career to date. His passion for rugby has expanded into the world of veganism, having founded the world’s first vegan rugby club! This bold decision has been sweeping the online vegan community, resulting in an exciting new chapter in his vegan journey as the CEO of Vegan Friendly UK.
We can’t wait to discuss the whos, whats and whys behind Brendon’s fascinating journey, so let’s go for a ‘try’ and dive straight in!
V-Land UK (V-L): Congratulations Brendon for being hired as the new CEO of Vegan Friendly UK! They are such a powerhouse for the vegan movement. What do you hope to contribute and what are you most excited about with this new role?
Brendon Bale (BB): Getting the opportunity to lead Vegan Friendly UK is huge. For me, it was an immediate yes. Being able to work full-time within veganism is just incredible; Vegan Friendly UK is an international, non-profit charity organisation looking to make veganism accessible. I want to hit that mission by supporting, promoting and certifying as many restaurants, hotels and products as possible. Adding more value here in the UK by attending and speaking at exhibitions and events to show what we can offer.
There are so many different organisations out there that can come together through veganism and spread kindness as a collective. I want to continue building our social presence by networking with as many people as possible. I’m in week four of the role and learning something new every day! I will already say that the people working at Vegan Friendly UK have such a strong bond. That’s one of the best feelings, as I’m joining a team that is super connected and I’ve never experienced this on that level before.
V-L: Your journey into veganism began when you and your partner decided to try it out in an attempt to help heal a herniated disc in her back. Tell us, what or who reinforced this decision and how did this lifestyle change affect your fitness?
BB: My wife and I travelled to Australia not knowing much about veganism. She has been a lifelong vegetarian and we’ve both always loved animals. At that stage (about seven years ago), veganism started popping its head up. She had quite a bad back and it was one of many driving forces for trying out an anti-inflammatory diet. But, realistically, the whole connection to animals was always there. We tried removing meat and dairy from our diets and went along with it for a week, which felt amazing. Coming from the ex-forces and being a rugby player my whole life, I was taught to eat meat and omelettes to “get all your protein in”. For me, it was six weeks of heavy learning and experimentation with new dishes. With that, we found we were enjoying new types of food!
As for my physical performance, I completed a fitness test and managed to shed a solid minute off my personal best for running a mile and a half! That was an immediate indicator that I was onto something. It definitely started off health-focused for me. It’s also a confidence thing, because initially, I didn’t want anyone to know in case they judged me for it. Being in an alpha pack scenario in the military and rugby, you don’t want to show any weakness. Straight away on the rugby pitch, I was ahead of the pack, so throughout those first six weeks I felt amazing, and we’ve both never looked back. We grew that connection between us and animals, so the journey has progressed from a health perspective to the wellbeing of animals and the environment.
V-L: The Green Gazelles are aptly named after the herbivorous animal that boasts an incredible amount of agility, strength and speed. Therefore, establishing the world’s first vegan rugby club with this name is spot on! However, this will challenge the wider societal perceptions of nutrition and athleticism. You once said, “It’s about breaking down the stigma associated with players or athletes who follow a plant-based diet”. In your experience, both on and off the pitch, what do you feel you get asked the most regarding vegan nutrition, and why do you think this is?
BB: When attending tournaments, initially, I thought we would get a lot of negative feedback from other teams. But because we were good on the pitch, we received a lot of respect. Players from other teams would approach us in person or via Instagram asking, “Where do you get your protein?”, “How do you get your meal plans?” and “How can I try it?”. The biggest questions are about protein and how to transfer from meat to plants. It’s quite straightforward, really. My first talking point is vegetables and the sheer variety of meals you can curate to get everything you need. I’ll also connect them with our club nutritionist, who can build a plan that utilises what you need. In rugby, you have different types of body sizes, so for a scrum half like me, you’ll need far less than other players for example.
Another big one is “Are you lacking B12?”. The thing is, when did they last check for themselves? For me, it’s about receiving a question and trying to point people in the right direction, be that a nutritionist or some useful online resources such as Vegan Friendly UK. There are so many resources out there with vegan meals with nutritional values already quantified for you!
Lastly, “It must be far more expensive being vegan?”. But overall, there was relatively positive questioning because there is genuinely a lot of interest. We’ve hit a good market where we are not forcing people to be vegan. It is merely demonstrated before their eyes, and we are able to offer advice should anyone want it.
V-L: Vegan athletes are appearing left, right and centre these days, from F1 Racer Lewis Hamilton to Wimbledon Champion Novak Djokovic. What vegan athletes do you or the team feel particularly inspired by, and why?
BB: On a personal note, there are two people that spring to mind. One is Anthony Mullally, ex-pro Rugby League sensation known as ‘The Vegan Warrior’. Through setting up the Green Gazelles, we’ve built a bit of a friendship which is super cool. For me, he is quite inspiring because he was a Grand Slam-winning rugby player who inspired people in a different way. As a massively built guy, he’s shown ‘clear as day’ that you don’t need to eat meat to thrive within the sport.
Another one is Jade Konkel-Roberts, who is an international vegan rugby player for Scotland. Again, she’s someone I’ve spoken to quite a lot. She does things in such an inspiring way without overdoing it. An amazing high-performance athlete for Scottish rugby, who just happens to be vegan. Along with so many more professional athletes across the industry who are absolutely smashing it. All of this is evidence-based, too, and I feel very privileged to have spoken to these amazing people and kept the mission going.
There have been times when life has been challenging both during and post-COVID that disrupted my mission. You find yourself just stopping what you are doing, but it’s those chats, friendships and people you connect with that collectively help each other. That’s why Green Gazelles is never going to go away. We are going to keep building, keep growing and inspiring change.
V-L: Nothing unites a group of people more than a great meal at the dinner table. As seen on Channel 4’s online mini-series Flex Kitchen where the Green Gazelles enjoy some Heinz bean burger kebabs, cooked by vegetarian actress and comedian Kerry Godliman. It must feel amazing to raise awareness of veganism, whilst doing what you love. Do you have any other upcoming projects or events for the community to look out for?
BB: Absolutely! That day with Kerry was just brilliant! So, on June 3rd we are playing at Summer Social Sevens, which is a big rugby tournament and sports festival with thousands of people going. We have partnered with Vivo Life, who are doing a tournament takeover with us, giving people the opportunity to try loads of vegan snacks whilst providing advice to the various players competing at the event. From a vegan point of view, we will spread the message to many people, which is very exciting.
Beyond that, we are joining Sanctuary Coffee to support a local ex-racing Greyhound Rehome & Rescue facility in Wimbledon, as well as supporting The Word Forest Organisation in planting lots of trees, building classrooms and empowering women in Kenya.
Furthermore, a big longer-term project is The Big Green Clash Rugby Match, where we will have men’s and women’s rugby, an eco-village and speakers, all based around tackling climate change and raising awareness for animals. That’ll most likely be coming next year, so there’s a lot of stuff on the cards! Lots of rugby, training days, and exciting new partnerships, and we just want to do more and more.
V-L: Do you have a favourite pre-workout or post-match meal or any must-have snacks to recommend for those working on their fitness whilst obtaining optimum vegan nutrition?
BB: A good one is overnight oats, or a healthy porridge in the morning with fresh fruit and chia seeds. I normally go for banana porridge. As for post-fitness, a protein shake or curry. I try to prepare meals due to busy days, so something full of veggies and quinoa with a focus on fresh whole food meals is always a good choice.
V-L: Under your direction and determination, the club has established a clear mission to raise awareness of the health benefits of veganism in the sports industry whilst raising money for charity, encouraging eco-conscious habits and growing your network of players, members and partners. Where do you hope your mission will take the Green Gazelles in the future and how can the vegan community help?
BB: I want the Green Gazelles community to firmly establish The Big Green Clash as a big annual event to be able to attend each year. I want us to have more impact at animal sanctuaries and schools. It would be great to talk in assemblies and play rugby sessions with children. I just want us generally being a force for good and to spread kindness into as many places as possible. Building beyond rugby into other sports so we are more like a vegan sports club. Continue to inspire change and keep the mission going, focused on giving back. Anything we can do to help other like-minded people and organisations, we want to be there and support.
Any love from the vegan community would be amazing: follow us, support us and share our journey as it would be massively helpful.
As Brendon said earlier, having a community of like-minded people surrounding you can empower anyone to achieve their mission. The sports industry constantly evolves, with awareness surrounding vegan nutrition becoming a massively debated topic. So V-Land UK would like to invite you to read up on some vegan MMA fighters who are proving you can still kick some ass on a plant-based diet, and consider sustainable sportswear.