Living the Vegan Life in the Ballet World. Interview with Joel Calstar-Fisher

Joel Calstar-Fisher grew up in Bedfordshire, England, but studied at the Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham for four years. He then finished his last three years of training and education at the English National Ballet School in London. 

Joel’s older sister was initially the one who started dancing, but Joel soon found himself tagging along.

“Like most men, your sister goes, you want to do it, then you end up falling in love with it.”

As of August 2021, Joel is a member of the Estonian National Ballet, which is where I have the privilege of working with him. 

Funny enough, the word that Joel was vegan got around before I even had the chance to talk to him. Having tried being vegan myself, and still having a soft spot for all-things vegan, I was immediately intrigued. I find that when someone is vegan it assumes a level of maturity since sacrifice, self-discipline, and compassion are often necessary traits to live the vegan life. Also, the fact that the only vegans I had ever known were female added to my curiosity of his story, and what it was that lead him to be vegan.

Like most, people Joel knew what veganism was, but grew up with the same nutritional education and understanding as everyone else.

“I always knew what it was, and I was always aware that it existed. But I was brought up in a school system that always said, you need the standard nutrition: proteins, fats, carbs, and a great source of protein is meat, or well, animal products in general. I was just like, ok, that is a standard part of the human diet that you need. I always thought, why would vegans cut out something so vital to a human diet? Little did I know that I was quite mistaken there!”

It wasn’t until he joined the English National Ballet School that he had both the freedom and the inspiration to go vegan.

“Things didn’t start changing until I went to the English National Ballet School just because that’s when I first took over my own nutrition. At the Elmhurst Ballet School, it’s a boarding school, so they prepare the meals for you, you go in and get your food. It would have been very difficult to follow a plant-based diet. But as soon as I had control over what I was putting into my body, I started making choices about what I was fueling myself with. That’s when I thought, hang on a minute, what can I do to help the planet and help myself simultaneously, and then, you know, veganism.”

Veganism, in a way, found Joel as he was looking for a better way to live and eat. Thankfully, he had a lot of great influence around him. 

“There were a lot of people, women, in my class, who were vegan, and I was thinking, ‘how do you fuel yourselves because the days are so intense?! Why would you cut protein out of your diet?’. I was very obnoxious and was like, ‘I must have meat, I’m an athlete, it helps recovery, protein builds muscles’, ya, I was just very arrogant in my opinions about veganism, not a good thing. But, one of those people was my, now, girlfriend, Pippa. As I spent so much time around her, I became exposed to her world, and realized, wow, ok, it’s easy! I began to research and the thing that was really big for me was, you know, you’re scrolling through social media, Instagram, and you see a post that says, ‘sensitive content’, you view it and it’s footage of a slaughterhouse or something, and it’s sad. Makes you feel awful. And I thought to myself, ‘well, hang on a minute, if I’m watching this and feeling repulsed by the conditions these animals are being kept in, yet still consuming animal products, I’m funding that industry. Therefore that makes me a hypocrite. So, I was like, I’ve researched this, I disagreed with everything that’s going on, so why not just eat the plants?”

Though Joel had his lightbulb moment, he took the slow and gradual route to ease his body into it. 

“I was a vegetarian for a year and a half before fully going vegan. I would recommend this kind of transition to anyone who wants to go vegan. For me, it was kind of easy because I’ve never been a fan of dairy. I remember being in the kitchen cooking and I thought, ‘I don’t like milk, I don’t like cheese, you don’t need eggs, so, I’m pretty much already vegan, I just need to change what I have for breakfast.”

As we talked about his distaste for dairy we took an interesting and I think very challenging tangent.

“If you think about dairy, it’s weird. The thought that it’s a cow’s breast milk…there is a reason why people stop consuming breast milk at a certain age, it’s because your body no longer needs it. But it’s considered a delicacy. It’s literally just fermented cow milk. Then suddenly people are repulsed if you were to offer them dog milk or something. But that’s the same, it’s just you have this affiliation that dogs are pets. It’s just a cultural norm. But just because something is a tradition or culturally appropriate doesn’t make it morally right. And that’s the thing that a lot of people don’t get or aren’t aware of.”

Joel is firstly vegan from an ethical standpoint but says that the health benefits are a huge bonus.

“The first thing I immediately noticed was the sleep quality. I suddenly started sleeping so much better, and I had so much energy in the morning, and that hasn’t stopped. Almost two years of being plant-based, and I still have that energy burst every morning. The other big thing for me was the health of my skin. I started being plant-based at sixteen/seventeen, which is a time when acne is still very much present. But my skin just cleared up instantly. I just thought why didn’t I do this sooner? There’s no point in spending loads of money on moisturizers and face scrubs when you can just eliminate the junk itself. For me, the benefits just kept building up. Even during the lockdowns, I was building muscle and building strength, which was the complete opposite to the  perception of veganism I once had. Also, when it comes to dancing, it has really helped with my recovery speed! I’ll wake up, after a day of pushing myself, and normally you’d think, oh great, sore body for the next day, but that’s very rarely the case now.”

There are a few things you have to keep up with if you are going to go plant-based. Calorie intake and vitamins.

“The main thing you have to remember is that animal products are quite calorically dense, which means when changing to a plant-based diet, it’s great, you can eat as much as you want because you need to hit that caloric intake. There are certain supplements you have to take, like B12 and omega 3, and vitamin D, I mean everyone should just take those supplements anyways.

Many think that living plant-based, especially as a male athlete, would be extremely challenging, if even possible, but Joel says, it’s just about educating yourself. 

“My overall health has improved just because I know what I’m consuming and how much I need to consume. You can be vegan and still be unhealthy, but if you do the research, you know what your body needs, you’ll be set. Through educating yourself you actually become a good cook too. But the bottom line is, whole foods, whole grains then you’re sorted.

For me a normal day looks like, oatmeal in the morning, it fuels you, you can put whatever you want with it, and you’re full but not bloated. A lot of snacks! Nuts, seeds, nut butters, dates. They are just the absolute best. But in terms of actual meals, I tend to have whatever. Lunch and dinner are interchangeable, but something along the lines of lentil bolognese or vegan chili, it’s very easy to cook whatever you want, for it to fill you and still taste great. Look through cookbooks and make it your own.”

Another myth is that being vegan is more expensive. 

“I found it actually cheaper. If you’re buying the vegan junk food (I.e. cheese, fake meat…) then ya, but if you stick to whole foods then it’s significantly cheaper.”

Wherever you are in your food journey, I hope this interview serves as a fresh perspective, and I hope it inspires you to take care of both your body as well as the planet. May we all learn to be honest with ourselves, not be afraid to face harsh realities, and in turn grow to make better and healthier choices.

In closing, to anyone who is still intimidated by the thought of going vegan, Joel says,

“It is sustainable, I’m still here, I’m still alive, and I’m in the best shape of my life.”

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