meet Marc Bekoff
Since the age of four, a lucky "child of the 1960s,” I’ve been an athlete. In the early years, I competed in speed skating and alpine skiing with the total backing of my family, especially my father, who was a serious handball and hockey player. I was a competitive ski racer until I was 17 years old, racking up many victories on the icy slopes of many ski areas in the Northeast USA, including the coveted Silver Skis competition. After I turned 30, I also played competitive tennis for a number of years and was able to achieve a ranking in some Western states in the 35 year-old category.
In the late 1970s, to stay in shape for tennis, I bought a clunker bike and rode up and down a bike path along Boulder Canyon in Colorado. I really loved cycling. In fact, my tennis playing ended when I discovered bicycle racing around 1980, when I was 34 years old. I was a very good climber and people said I just had to race, so I gave it a shot. I was hooked and gave up tennis after losing in the first round with a score of 6-0 in a rather big tournament to someone I’d recently beaten 6-0. I’d cycled about 200 miles that week and was pooped.
I raced bikes for many years, winning well over 100 races in the United States and some in Europe. In 1986, at age 40, I won my age-class at the Master’s Tour du Haut bicycle race (also called the “Age-graded Tour de France”). I was the first American to do so and I remain the only American to win this grueling stage-race.
During those years I was a carnivore. Although I didn’t eat all that many animals or animal products, I admit that when I was training and riding between 10,000 and 12,000 miles a year, I consumed my share of bacon cheeseburgers and french fries.
I also was studying animal behavior, focusing on the social behavior of wild coyotes and wild birds. I was very interested in their emotional lives, something that began when I was around three years old according to my parents. They told me that I was always asking them what other animals were thinking and feeling when we lived in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. I also asked them if the squirrels, birds, cats and dogs were happy where we lived. I even talked to a goldfish who lived in a bowl on my folks’ kitchen counter. Why not? I felt he looked lonely and needed a friend. All in all, I was “minding animals” back then, wanting to be sure they were well taken care of, and also knowing that they were thinking and feeling beings.
In 2002, I published a book called Minding Animals on the topic of animal emotions. All in all, I’ve cared about nonhuman animals for decades on end, and feel as if it’s in my “biophiliac” genes.
I’m telling this story because I came to realize in the late 1980s that there was no reason at all for me to eat other animals, and so I began cutting way back on including them in my meals. I was racing a lot and afraid to change my diet, but in the spring of 1990 I decided: no more meat. I slowly transitioned to a vegetarian diet, eating very small amounts of cheese from time-to-time; and in 2005 I “went vegan.” For the few years before that, I estimate that my diet was far less than one percent “animal,” consisting of rare small bites of cheese.
After I stopped serious bike racing, I continued to cycle, and still do today, at the ripe old age of 72. Depending on the weather, and my writing and traveling schedules, I usually put in 200-250 miles a week. My friends know I’m “one of those #*$&#ing vegans” – they really are saying this jokingly — but I’m neither self-righteous nor arrogant about it.
People often ask me how I do what I do “living on veggies.” Of course, I eat more than just veggies, but my answer is “I’m doing just fine, really great.” In fact, I feel as good or
better than I’ve ever felt before. I ride, write, play, and look forward to each and every day with joy. I’m a total optimist.
Just before I began writing this short essay, when I told someone I’d cycled around 8000 miles in 2017, they were incredulous and at first didn’t believe me, and then doubled down when I mentioned I was vegan. They were aghast. They said something like, “You can’t do that without meat and potatoes.” I assured them that I do and plan to continue for as long as I can. And, potato fries are high on my list.
In both September 2016 and 2017, I won my age-class on a timed section of a climb from Boulder to Nederland, Colorado that was around 15 miles of steady and steep uphill. I prepared for it each time by eating a lot of pasta laden with olive oil, capers, garlic, various vegetables, and chili crunch, followed by desserts of dark chocolate, berries, and heaping scoops of vegan whipped cream. I relax after a day of cycling and writing by watching crappy TV shows and sipping very peaty single malt scotch, often twirling the golden liquid with Twizzlers. I know that’s weird, but that’s what I do.
At age 72 I feel great, sleep around six hours each night, ride a few hours each day when the weather permits, and continue to write essays and books about animal behavior, animal emotions, animal protection, and compassionate conservation. My latest books are The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce, 2017, Beacon Press), and Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do (March 2018, University of Chicago Press). I wrote about play behavior in dogs for the Vegan Health & Fitness’ special “Fun Issue.” I plan to do what I’m doing forever.
You can find out more about me at marcbekoff.com.