Alexandra Paul on Vegan Activism: Her Kind Lifestyle Honors All Living Things
Aug 31, 2015 10:55AM
By Gerry Strauss
photo by Denice Duff
It may seem odd that one of the most intensely dedicated public activists is also known for starring in one of TV’s most superficial shows of the 1990s, but Alexandra Paul overturns stereotypes. Behind that signature Baywatch one-piece that kept David Hasselhoff on his toes beats the heart of a true soldier for animal rights and population stabilization. At 52 years young, she is extremely fit and knowledgeable about the vegan lifestyle that got her there.
What is your philosophy of life?
Be kind. Being kind is different from being nice. I spent my teens and 20s anxious to be nice, and all it gave me was a boatload of acquaintances and an inauthentic self. Nice aims to be popular. Kindness is about doing the right thing: justice, fairness, patience, respect. Kindness is at the heart of why I’m a vegan, and why I’ve been arrested 16 times for civil disobedience supporting peace, equal rights and the environment. Being kind to myself inspires me to exercise and live healthfully.
How has activism forged your identity and inspired others? I’ve been an activist since I was 7, when I wrote to President Nixon asking him to stop pollution. As a dedicated citizen, my mom boycotted companies that acted against her ethics. Growing up with such a role model, trying to make the world better came naturally. Walking my talk is a challenge I face daily as I choose what to buy, what to eat and how to be, and I also think it is the most effective way to encourage change in others.
What drives your commitment to a vegan diet?
I became a vegetarian when I was 14, after reading Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet, which taught me how eating meat was destructive to the planet. A couple of years later, I did a book report on Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and learned the ethical reasons against eating animals. I stopped using cosmetics tested on animals when I was a teen and stopped wearing leather, wool and silk in my 20s. I finally gave up eating dairy in my late 40s, and I wish I’d done it earlier.
Although I did it to benefit animals, being vegan has enriched my life and changed the way I look at the world. The only way there will be enough food and water for Earth’s expected 10 billion people in 35 years is if humankind stops raising animals for food, so my veganism is helping the planet, as well as my own health.
Which other aspects of your diet and lifestyle do you credit for looking and feeling vital?
My husband Ian and I go to bed early and generally get up with the sun. I’ve never consumed coffee, soda or alcohol, only water and protein shakes. I believe being a vegetarian, and now a vegan, has given me tons of energy. I also prioritize making time for my workout routine, and that helps me feel good every day.
I didn’t always have this serenity with my lifestyle and health. For a dozen years, until my late 20s, I struggled with bulimia. Becoming vegan improved my relationship with food, aligning my diet with my values, and I have never been more at peace with myself.
Why do you enjoy working out?
For me, being active is fun—not only because I feel good moving my body, but because I am also outside with friends, reading on a stationary bike or listening to favorite podcasts while stretching.
Six days a week, I do an hour of cardio; either swimming or the stationary bike. Every other day I practice yoga for at least 45 minutes to ensure that my back stays pain-free. Once a week, I go hiking for two hours with friends, chatting the whole time, which all makes it worth getting up at 4:30 a.m. I walk whenever I’m on a conference call, either outside or at my tread desk, a simple treadmill under a standing desk; I’m walking on it when I’m reading or answering emails, too. It’s the best present I ever gave myself.
Like everyone, sometimes I don’t particularly feel like working out, but all these factors make it easier to start, and once I start, I’m always glad to be exercising.
Gerry Strauss is a freelance writer in Hamilton, NJ. Connect at [email protected].