Athlete and nutritionist Matt Ruscigno has conquered many athletic feats: a 508-mile bike race, 24-hour mountain bike marathons and an Iron Man triathlon. But even more impressive is his ability to do all this on a plant-based vegan diet.
Following a vegan dinner at Pomona College’s Frank Dining Hall, Ruscingo came to Rose Hills on Monday, Nov. 3, to discuss his decision to go vegan. Ruscigno, a registered dietitian with a degree in public health nutrition, has been a vegan for over 19 years. He is a living example of veganism’s compatibility with athleticism, among other vegan athletes such as Jehina Malik and Scott Jerik.
Ruscigno discussed other benefits of veganism, including environmental justice, social justice and an overall decrease in chronic diseases. He also focused on how veganism can drastically lower our environmental footprint. These points resonate with many college students today as California continues to suffer from environmental harm and a disastrous drought. Sean Zhu PO’ 17 said in an interview with TSL that the talk inspired him to reduce “[his] red meat intake and see how it goes, and go from there.”
Touching on veganism’s reputation as an extreme and unhealthy diet, Ruscigno argued that the meat and milk industry are behind advertising campaigns that hide the benefits of veganism from society. Because of their protein obsession, consumers are often swayed away from a plant-based diet. Ruscigno showed a classic archetypal milk campaign that featured a young girl kicking a ball and holding a glass of milk. Ruscingo then joked that “if she had scurvy, she couldn’t do this,” touching on how emphasis on vegetable consumption has fallen by the wayside.
“Being an athelete, I wanted to see what he was going to say, because as long as I can remember, it’s been ‘Protein! Protein! Protein!'” Alex Seidal PO ’18 said. Coming away from the talk, she mentioned that she was inspired to follow a more plant-based diet.
Ruscingo noted that it is okay that many people’s understanding of nutrition is skewed and that veganism is criticized. This “force[s] you to justify your decision” every time someone argues that veganism does not provide enough protein, despite the compelling evidence provided by nutritionists that it does.
Many students liked the way Ruscingo made veganism seem approachable and not as drastic as it is stereotyped. Ruscigno offered tips on approaching veganism, showing how veganism is not necessarily overly restricting. He showed some samples of easy plant-based meals, but also said that it is fine to have some Ritz crackers on the side.
Jack Lally PO ’18 said that he “was pleasantly surprised that Mark was not aggressive and made veganism seem appealing and good for the environment and health.” He believed that Ruscingo was “especially convincing; it’s been hard to stop thinking about the talk since it ended.”