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At 6’3″ and 245 lbs, it’s hard to believe this NHL tough guy has a soft spot for animals. But Laraque is the only openly vegan player in the NHL, and when he’s not starting fights, he’s changing the perception that you need to eat meat to be strong.

After seeing the documentary Earthlings— nicknamed the “vegan maker” due to its horrifying footage of animal treatment— Laraque officially gave up all animal products on June 1, 2009.

Animals aren’t his only passion—he’s also a humanitarian. A Haitian-Canadian, Laraque teamed up with World Vision and the NHL Players’ Association to start Hockey for Haiti after the January earthquake. His goal is to raise $5 million to rebuild a children’s hospital, and he’ll be going to Haiti in June.

Laraque seems to be as full of surprises off the ice as he is when he’s throwing hard hits for the NHL. In February 2010, he joined the Green Party of Canada.

Corporate Knights met up with Georges in the parking lot of his favourite organic market, Marché Tau, in Brossard, Quebec to talk sticks, steak, and saving the world.

Did you find it hard making the jump to veganism?

No, because I have three big reasons: compassion for animals, health, and the environment. A lot of people say eating meat is tradition. Well, back in the day, women couldn’t vote. There’s a tradition. Can they vote today? Hell, yeah. Society evolves. The youth are educated, they’re careful of what they’re eating, people are eating organic, and there are vegan and vegetarian restaurants around the world. Whether we like it or not, people are eating less and less meat, but not fast enough.

Do you think people who watch hockey will see things your way?

With my notoriety, I can captivate an audience that scientists and environmentalists can’t—the people who go to hockey games, drink beer, and go to steakhouses. They go to steakhouses and feel tired and want to take a nap. But when you eat, you shouldn’t feel that way— you should feel energized. If your body’s working that hard to digest meat, you’re wasting that edge you could have used to play sports.

The stupidest question some people ask me—people defending the fact that they’re going to keep on eating meat—is, “What right do you have to talk about animals? You beat up people.” But animals don’t stand in line to get slaughtered. They can feel pain. They don’t stand in line to get cut up to finish on a plate. But when I fight someone on the ice, I fight a millionaire— someone who is willing, someone who does the same job as me. So you can’t compare.

Can business help us save the world?

Any business can change to be better for the environment. People say if there are no more slaughterhouses, what are we going to do with the industry? Well, would we tell people to smoke more to keep encouraging the tobacco industry? Instead of building factories to slaughter animals, we could grow greens. When you look at the amount of grains they give to feed animals—that’s enough to feed the world.

There is talk you may be investing in a vegan restaurant in Montreal?

I can’t name it yet, but yes. I can help people have another choice for where they eat. Another big stereotype is that if you’re vegan, all you eat is tofu. I barely even eat tofu. I want to play a role on the business side of changing the economy, because it’s one thing to talk, but another to act.

You’re involved with the Green Party. You can lose a lot of friends when you get political. Did you have any negative experiences?

When you’re in the public eye, you will get criticism. But there is not one person I cross on the street who doesn’t shake my hand and say they are happy that I’m working with the Green Party. So if somebody’s going to criticize, I guess they don’t care about the future and the environment.

Would you ever consider playing a more public role in the Green Party in Quebec?

A lot of people ask me that, and I don’t say no, because I would’ve never thought I would’ve done the stuff I’ve done. I dreamed that I would be in the NHL, and being a black kid, I had less than a 0.001 per cent chance. I made it. If somebody had told me I would be an animal activist or a member of a political party when I was 20 years old and ignoring the environment, I would be like, “Yeah, right.” Anything can happen.

You’ve shown a lot of support for the people of Haiti. Tell me about that.

Yes. We approached World Vision because they’ve been in Haiti for 30 years. They were there before the earthquake. They’re going to be there for the long run, and Haiti needs people not just for quick visiting, but people there for a long time.

…People will respect you [for your humanity], not by how many goals you scored. If the guy working at the dollar store does more for society than the hockey player does, he’s a bigger and better person than you are. Because then you’re just a toy, just entertainment— people yell at you and tell you what to do. But it doesn’t do anything for society.

You want to be more than entertainment?

I want to be a person of impact and make change to society for the better. I’m always going to be this way, because that’s what’s important. That’s what counts in life.

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