Vegan Daniel Negeanu has dominated the card scene for two decades
With appearances in movies like X Men: Wolverine and Katy Perry’s Waking Up in Vegas music video, you could be forgiven for thinking Daniel Negreanu is an actor or artist. In fact, the 41 year old Canadian is actually one of the world’s most successful poker players, with a clutch of titles to his name-including the distinction of being the youngest ever person to win the World Series of Poker [WSOP ] championship 18 years ago, aged just 23.
The title led to a nickname that’s stick with him ever since-Kid Poker. Outspoken, charismatic, and a master of intimidation Daniel now has an incredible second WSOP win to his name, along with an additional six WSOP bracelets under his belt. And it’s not just the prestige: winning at this level means big bucks, and Daniel is the biggest live tournament winner in poker history, with over $35.5 million dollars in overall earnings.
Away from the card table veganism is one of Daniel’s biggest passions. He made the decision to cut out meat back in 2000, when he had concerns that his typical card players’ diet (heavy on red meat and beer, light on plants) was doing him no good. He felt a different type of diet may help him perform better: total concentration and the ability to stay mentally stimulated for hours on end is of utmost importance for a card player.“It was kind of an experiment”, he explains. “I noticed really close to immediately that once I eliminated meat from my diet, I had more energy and I felt better.”
He attributed previous lethargy to food choices-ones that affected his ability. “I would eat barbecue meat and mashed potatoes on a night out but the next day, whenever I’d eaten something like that, I always felt heavy.”
His attitude followed where his behaviour led: after enjoying a plant-based diet, Daniel thought more about veganism as a lifestyle: the impact of agriculture on the environment, and on animals.
“As I learned more about veganism, and animal farms and the way animals were treated, it just disgusted me to the point where I could never imagine eating animals again,” he says.
“I watched documentaries like Cowspiracy, but even before that I had read books which really pointed to what we’re creating in this world and how it’s not sustainable in the long term, and how we have to make some adjustments relatively soon, otherwise we’re gonna have serious global problems.”
As these beliefs became more fundamental to the way he lives, he started to adapt a strategy he could use to approach people to talk to about veganism. Explaining he doesn’t try to ‘push his beliefs and values onto people’ in a rude or arrogant manner, he claims there are times when he feels obliged to question the morals and practises of his friends and family – asking whether they are truly comfortable with the choices they are making. “Typically in America, if you ask someone if they would eat a dog, they’re disgusted with that. But in many Asian cultures, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat dogs. So when I ask that question, I’m specifically asking why would you eat a cow or pig, but not a dog? Because they’re cuter? More intelligent? Pigs are just as smart.”
“I think people are born into this mentality, which is enforced by their family and society, about what is OK and what isn’t, but it’s not actually based on any rational logic. Why do we hate the thought of torturing cats or dogs, but we’re completely OK with de-beaking chickens, hanging cows upside down, treating them horribly? I just try to put it into perspective for people, so that they’re at least aware of their decisions.”
He sees one of the fundamental issues facing veganism now being the spread of false information and the untrue beliefs many hold about the movement. “The big issue for a lot of people, which stops them from going vegan, is this big myth – “where do you get your protein?”. I’m actually involved in a documentary with a bunch of vegan athletes. The strongest man in the world, the strongman champion-he’s vegan. He gained 40kg on a vegan diet. The idea that you can’t get enough protein without meat is an absolute myth. I’ve met arm wrestling champions, UFC fighters, plenty of boxers and NFL players who are vegan. Really, there needs to be some educating of the public on what is possible. People are so hooked up on this idea that you gotta eat meat to get muscle. I’m the strongest that I’ve ever been by far, and I’m on a full vegan diet – with no steroids!”
That’s not to say his transition to veganism was entirely smooth: he admits struggling with nutrition when first trying a vegetarian diet, overeating cheese pizza. “You can get it really wrong”, he warns. “I think for a lot of people, starting out and knowing what to eat is the hard part.”
He solved this issue by learning more about nutrition, now eating a balanced and tasty diet, composed with the help of a ‘nutritional assistant’. He says: “When I think of a meal that will sustain me, I look at fruits, vegetables, some grains, some beans or legumes, maybe some nuts or seeds. A typical meal would be some sort of bean soup, with a salad and vegetables, or maybe some baked beans with brown rice and asparagus or broccoli on the side. Maybe some cashews and almonds in there.
“You’ll find yourself full just from a simple meal like that. As for fruit – it gets such a bad rap, it’s so bizarre to me. People are so concerned about the sugar in fruit, but it’s different sugar. It’s not the same as fructose from sugar canes, and it’s not bad for you.”
So what for the future of veganism?
Referring to both the environmental damage caused by the meat industry and the average health of meat eaters around the world, Daniel says: “I think scientists have actually made it quite clear that if by 2050 we don’t limit our animal consumption then we won’t be able to sustain ourselves, so I definitely think we’re already heading toward a vegan movement. The rate in which meat eaters get heart disease is vastly greater than in those who are vegetarian or vegan. That’s really undebatable. I don’t think there’s any science that can disprove that fact.”
Bearing his own troubles in mind, what resources would he recommend someone thinking of becoming vegan, but who might need a little help in that beginner’s stage? He doesn’t take long to think about that question, instantly mentioning what he considers to be one of the most helpful books on the subject; 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart by Neal D.Barnard. “It’s a great basic guide to help people with the transition. If focuses on meal plans for beginners. Neal D.Barnard also introduces some of the fake-meat type products that exist. I don’t really eat them, but it’s still a great book for people in that initial transition phase”, he says.
Now he’s somewhat of an expert on the topic, where are the best places for a vegan to eat in Las Vegas? He has a number of favourites, including several in The Wynn Encore Resort. “Every single restaurant in The Wynn has a vegan menu. It’s really great, you can go with people who aren’t vegan and they don’t feel weirded out. In terms of purely vegan, there’s a place called VegeNation in downtown Vegas which is really good,” Daniel says, adding that California is also a fantastic place for vegans.
For almost twenty years, ‘Kid Poker’ has dominated the poker circuit – but how much of his success can be accredited to veganism? According to Negreanu; a lot. “Being vegan makes me a better poker player”, he once told Vice. Considering his seemingly unshakeable career and vibrant, upbeat mannerism, I’m inclined to believe that veganism has indeed changed the poker player’s life for the better.
Sophie Jackson is a writer for the poker news site pokerlistings.com.