Pro football player creates vegan food blog to help animal shelters

Jan 25 2021, 5:00 pm

The Friendly News is a collaboration between TELUS and Daily Hive. Together, we’re creating a space for important, feel-good community stories to be told, where Canadians can immerse themselves in uplifting news and articles featuring community leaders giving back during a time when we all need it most.

Written for Daily Hive by Jessica Scott-Reid, a Winnipeg-based writer and animal advocate. She is the co-host of Paw & Order, Canada’s animal law podcast.

For so many Canadians, lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has meant spending much more time at home.

For some, this has inspired new projects, hobbies and even businesses to fill the time. That need to fill time, along with a desire to do good, is what motivated one CFL player to take on a new endeavour during the cancelled 2020 football season.

“It was June, and I’m just sitting there thinking: This is the first summer I’ve had off [of football] since I was nine years old,” says Winnipeg Blue Bomber, John Rush.

Winnipeg Blue Bomber John Rush.

Winnipeg Blue Bomber John Rush.

The fullback and Grey Cup champion asked himself, “What do I do with all this time?”

The answer? Start a food blog, to share the joys of vegan cooking, and to raise money for animal shelters. Within a few months, Rush’s Rescue Dog Kitchen was born, and to date the site has had more than 95,000 views, and has raised over $3,000 for a local animal rescue.

It was upon recommendation from his trainer that Rush went vegan [meaning avoidance of all animal-derived foods] four years ago.

“I needed to lose about 30 pounds because I was switching positions,” he recalls.

Losing weight was often a struggle for the 6’1 athlete who says he had previously tried a variety of other diets with little success. His trainer was vegan, and assured Rush that eating plant-based would help him cut weight without losing strength.

The benefits, Rush says, were almost immediate. He started sleeping better, he recovered faster after practices, and the chronic inflammation he had in both knees, due to injury-induced arthritis, started to go away.

“It was nice being able to squat again,” he laughs.

He lost the weight. He also learned more about the sentience of farmed animals and the cruelty they endure, as well as the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. So Rush stuck with the diet, and then took on vegan cooking as a new skill.

From sharing his many plant-based meals on social media, Rush amassed a large online following, with many curious about what a vegan athlete eats in a day.

It only made sense then, that with his forced time off from football, the popular athlete would parlay his cooking talents into something even more productive.

“Being an athlete it’s just my mentality, that I’m always striving toward something, always working towards the next goal. But when the pandemic hit and football stopped, I didn’t have anything to work towards,” he says.

So he considered what could be his next play, “and I thought, I really should do more for the animals. I have a platform, I have a voice.”

Enter Rescue Dog Kitchen, the online food blog, which Rush says was inspired by the work of friend and fellow vegan food-blogger, Candice Hutchings, aka The Edgy Veg.

But it was his own rescue dogs, he says, that motivated him to connect the blog to a cause.

Bone and Baily, Great Pyrenees mixes who he adopted after they were abandoned, he says, “just seeing how much their lives have changed since I adopted them, how happy they are now, and thinking about how many other animals don’t get that chance.”

Rush is a vocal advocate for pet adoption and believes not enough people are aware of the dog overpopulation problem in Canada, and how buying dogs instead of rescuing them feeds into that issue.

He adds that because most animal shelters are under-funded it is important for him to donate half of the profits generated by the blog (through ad revenue, merchandise and affiliated links for tools used in some recipes) to shelters and rescues. His first donation went to Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter, and he plans to branch out to other groups and shelters as more funds are generated.

With widely-shared recipes like Greek pasta salad with tofu feta, vegan beef stew and his mom’s special tomato sauce, Rush’s Rescue Dog Kitchen is turning out to be both a delicious pastime and a form of activism, for the athlete in seemingly perpetual offseason (he has also taken a day job at a bank).

“The way we currently treat animals, all animals, is so poor and it’s not sustainable,” he says.

“I could have written a blog about anything, but I really wanted to show people that you can live life without animals on your plate.”


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