Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for firefighters, but Warwick Fire Department Lt. John Halloran is hoping to change that for the better. His solution: a vegan diet.
“Science has shown us that the further away from animal products in our diets and the closer we get to plant-based foods, we greatly reduce our chance of suffering heart disease,” said Halloran, who recently beat out more than 100 people from across the country to become one of 10 male contestants to advance to the final round in PETA’s Sexiest Vegan Next Door 2013 contest. The winners – one male and one female – will be announced May 9. Each will receive a free vacation for two to Maui, Hawaii, courtesy of HumaneTrip.com. “If anything that can come out of this, [it] is to get firefighters more on track with reducing that rate of heart disease.”
Halloran, a 41-year-old Wakefield resident who also stars as the vocalist for cover band Those Guys NPT, said that while the guys at work enjoy poking fun at him for entering the contest, they’re gradually becoming open-minded to his vegan lifestyle. To learn more about it and improve their health, a group of firefighters have been eating vegan at the station the last few weeks.
On Thursday, Halloran brought in bean-based veggie wraps, along with some healthy side dishes. After preparing everything at home, he quickly cooked up the wraps and served them to a hungry bunch of firefighters. The men slathered their wraps in fresh avocado and veganaisse, a veggie-based mayo, and piled their plates with organic beets, as well as couscous tossed with red onions and pineapples.
“It’s been pretty good so far,” said firefighter Mike Moretti. “It’s healthier.”
Firefighter Matthew Maraia, along with firefighter Steve Ciambrone, agreed.
“I think it’s very eye-opening to the stuff you put in your body,” Maraia said. “It does make you feel better.”
“You don’t have that afternoon drag,” Ciambrone added.
Lt. Gary Oatley feels the same. He recently began a four-day stretch of work at the department and ate only vegan.
“It’s the first time I’ve left work lighter than I’ve gone in,” said Oatley. “It’s definitely healthier.”
After finishing their wraps, Halloran served a medley of organic strawberries, blueberries and bananas for dessert.
“This is awesome,” firefighter Scott Jensen said.
Halloran is pleased that his fellow firefighters are supporting him, but he’s more excited that they are making healthy changes to their diet.
“They may not be sticking with it seven days a week, but it’s making a difference,” he said.
For Halloran, who grew up in Lincoln and has been a member of the WFD since 1997, becoming vegan has certainly made a difference. Between two jobs, he often works 70 to 80 hours per week, sleeping an average of five to six hours a night.
He started the process of living a vegan lifestyle four years ago, avoiding consuming and using animal products. Soon enough, health issues he dealt with, such as high cholesterol and acid reflux, began to fade.
“I’m a singer, so the reflux was really affecting me vocally,” he said. “Once I got rid of all the animal products, it was noticeably different for me.”
Prior to changing his diet, his cholesterol was just under 200 and his energy level needed a boost. He also needed to lose the 20 pounds he gained since joining the WFD.
“Now, I’m the same weight I was when I graduated high school in 1989,” said Halloran, noting that his cholesterol dropped to 141 and continues to remain at a healthy level. “I feel like my body found its natural weight. If you’re eating good quality food, it’s basically like medicine for your body. Your body is loving it. There is that expression, ‘You are what you eat,’ and it’s so true.”
He credits his former physician, Dr. Carla Cesario, for planting the seed in his head to go vegan. Instead of giving him medications, she put the responsibility of his health into his hands.
“She said, ‘I could give you a pill, or you could make some changes,’” Halloran said. “It really got me thinking.”
Halloran then slowly began to eliminate animal products from his diet. He started with dairy before moving on to red meat and pork, then chicken and fish. While he went through a bit of a withdrawal phase for red meat, he doesn’t crave it – or anything else.
“I don’t miss any foods,” he said. “My five food groups are beans, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. I know those are sides for most people, but for me they are the main dish. The staples in my everyday life are beans, whether it be lentils, black beans, garbanzo beans. They are packed with micro-nutrients, fiber and protein.”
He also read a few books to help him along the way, including “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, which discusses specific plant-based foods designed to take care of functions in the body at the cellular level to protect it from chronic illness. Another book, “The China Study,” as well as the documentary, “Forks Over Knives,” which examines the relationship between the consumption of animal products and chronic illnesses, also left lasting impressions on him.
“Watching ‘Forks Over Knives’ and reading ‘The China Study’ should be a requirement for firefighters,” Halloran said. “I’m getting the word out that you can change your health by changing what you eat.”
Not only does eating vegan improve health, it also saves animals. According to PETA Associate Director of Campaigns Lindsay Rajt, going vegan saves more than 100 animals a year from the violence of factory farms, slaughterhouses and fishing nets.
Halloran strongly opposes factory farming, noting that the animals are treated horribly before they are killed and sold for human consumption.
“It’s simply not right,” he said.
On a high note, Halloran has full support from his wife, Maryellen, and their three children. He said Maryellen, who suggested he enter the contest, never ate a lot of red meat but brought her consumption level down even more after he made the switch.
As for the firefighters, they are trying to do the same. Resisting urges to eat meat hasn’t been easy, especially with temptations literally being delivered to them at Station 8.
“A delivery showed up here with a large meat-lovers pizza all paid for from Station 4,” Moretti said. “We didn’t take the pizza. We told the delivery guy he could have it.”
To vote for Halloran, visit http://features.peta.org/sexiest-vegan-next-door/Finalists.aspx. Click on his photo under the “Male Finalist” section and then click the “Vote Now” button. But hurry, as voting ends on Friday at 12 p.m. EST.