Vegetarian Action

Alexander Matskevich: From Red to Green

By Raena Blumenthal

With a fist towards communism, Alex Matskevich came to the United States in 1978 as a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union. In his new country, he easily embraced the ideals of a conservative agenda, endorsing the anti-environmental measure of drilling in Alaska as a remedy to overreliance on foreign oils. It wasn’t until the Spring of 1981 when he visited the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, and saw the movie called The Living Planet appear large on the screen before him, that he raised a fist towards the destruction of “Spaceship Earth.”

With his new appreciation of our planet and all of its inhabitants, Alex began reading about the “sadism of veal production” and subsequently decided to boycott veal. Shortly after, Alex traveled to Costa Rica where he marveled in the magnificence of the rainforest. He then made the connection between his own consumption of beef and the destructive forces that beef production has on the world’s rainforests, and quickly eliminated red meat from his diet. Then, while reading Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, a co-worker asked him “How come you feel sorry for cows and don’t care about other animals?” Alex had no response; it was at that moment he became a vegetarian “out of respect for all forms of life.”

When Alex became a vegetarian, he felt energized. It was on November 3, 1996 that he found an active outlet for his vivacity. While cheering on a river of athletes in the New York City Marathon, Alex was inspired by a man wearing a T-shirt that read “Heart Transplant” in large print. It was then, at age 41, that Alex made the commitment to run in the next NYC Marathon.

Alex does not make any special food provisions, as he feels that consuming a vegetarian diet, which is carbohydrate-heavy, adequately prepares him for running. However, he has encountered some difficulties as a vegetarian runner. Participating in marathons all over the world, Alex finds that, at times, vegetarian fare can be uninspired. Despite his limited diet when traveling, two weeks after running in the Rome Marathon in March of 2001, he set a new personal record in the Paris Marathon. How does he do it? He happily says it is “vegetarian power!”

So, what does a family with the “Russian mentality that the only food is meat and the rest is unnecessary side orders” think about Alex’s diet? At first his family was concerned about health complications. Now, as they proudly celebrate his successive marathon races, they are less wary. In fact, his family claims to be eating less meat. Though, “anything more than nothing” is more than Alex would like. Alex’s teenage son holds to his father’s beliefs, even in a household where everyone else, including his mother and stepfather, eats meat. Proud dad Alex says of his son, “He’s a hero!”

As a member of the New York Road Runners Club, Alex Matskevich would not mind seeing a formal vegan group formed within NYRRC, although he’s not sure he could be very active in it, due to his marathon and travel schedules. However, he knows of several vegans that “easily win every race in their age group.” Since Alex boycotts the annual “Chicken Soup Run” held by NYRRC, he would like to have a “veggie run” incorporated as part of their event schedule.

Alex Matskevich is to be admired. To move to a new country, go against the traditional Russian diet, and run in marathons all over the world, including the place of his birth, Moscow, takes a man of great courage and conviction.