Featuring: Kevin Duffy



"At 37, I know I could kick my 20-year-old self's ass."

New York firefighter, Kevin Duffy, was recently awarded the 2019 sexiest vegan title, He was also featured about two years ago in a New York Times article entitled, “Two Ironmen, a Garage and a Vegan Agenda.”

In addition to working in Yonkers at one of the busiest fire stations in all of New York City, he's also an incredible IRONMAN triathlete and endurance runner who gets up at 4:00 AM for training runs, rides, swims before heading to the station. 

At the age of 19, Duffy tragically lost a brother in 9/11 and has found a deep personal purpose in the plant-based lifestyle. He is dedicating his life to demonstrate what's possible with the power of plants.

Support for this week's episode comes from Nutramilk - the easiest and fastest way to make your own plant milk at home!  Enjoy a $50 discount and free shipping with code PLANTSTRONG. Seeking a solution for making the plant-strong lifestyle convenient and inspiring?  The Plant-Strong Meal Planner offers 1000s of recipes customized to your preferences, an integrated shopping list, and grocery delivery!  Our Engine 2 Coaches are on hand to offer support and answer any questions - all for $1.90 a week when you sign up for a year.  Visit our Plant-Strong Meal Planner today!

Rip Esselstyn: Today's show is brought to you with support from the NutraMilk. We just finished our Camp Plant-Stock weekend and folks were going nuts over the NutraMilk. The NutraMilk team had displays running during our oatmeal buffets each morning so that guests could hose down their bowls with fresh almond milk and fresh oat milk. It was wildly popular. More than anything, people were blown away by how quiet these powerful blenders are. Despite running three machines in the dining room, no one could hear them. They're like silent and that's pretty darn remarkable. If you'd like to make your own plant milk at home, again, I can't recommend the NutraMilk enough. Take $50 off and enjoy free shipping with the code Plant-Strong. Visit TheNutraMilk.com.

Rip Esselstyn: During season one of the Plant-Strong podcast, I've been coaching our Bronx firefighter who you've all gotten to know extremely well, Joe Inga, to clear the hurdles and finally wholeheartedly adopt the Plant-Strong lifestyle and have it stick. I know firsthand how hard it can be trying to assimilate with the other guys at the fire station while doing your own thing and keeping your attitude nice and humble so you don't come off like an arrogant know-it-all and risk getting alienated by all the all the other guys and gals at the fire station. That is something that no firefighter wants.

Rip Esselstyn: I also know how hard it can be battling a chronic lack of sleep, which can lead you to backslide into old habits, but I am happy to report that Joe is doing fantastically well. He's down over 40 pounds. His blood work is absolutely gorgeous. His attitude on life has never been as upbeat and positive. He's got an arsenal of recipes that are now just second nature for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and everything is just running on all cylinders. To broaden the support that Joe has in New York and to show him even a greater amount of Plant-Strong love, I reached out to another member of the FDNY who has adopted the lifestyle and proven that this can be done and it can be done well and it can be done for a long period of time.

Rip Esselstyn: Today's conversation is with firefighter Kevin Duffy. He was recently awarded the 2019 sexiest vegan title, pretty cool title. He was also featured about a year and a half, two years ago in a New York Times article entitled Two Ironmen, a Garage and a Vegan Agenda. He's an incredible athlete who gets up at 4:00 AM for training runs, rides, swims before heading to the station. He works in Yonkers at one of the busiest fire stations in all of New York City. He tragically lost a brother in 9/11 and has found a deep personal purpose in the plant based lifestyle. He is dedicating his life to demonstrate what's possible with the power of plants. I truly hope that this conversation not only inspires Joe, but I also hope that it inspires all of you. Let's get after it. Welcome to Plant-Strong.

Rip Esselstyn: I am here with Kevin Duffy. Kevin, you are a firefighting brother, but you're not only a firefighting brother, you are a Plant-Strong firefighting brother. You work at what fire station in New York City?

Kevin Duffy: I work at station three in Yonkers, New York, just outside Manhattan.

Rip Esselstyn: How long have you been a firefighter?

Kevin Duffy: I've been a fireman for seven and a half years. It'll be eight in June.

Rip Esselstyn: Okay, so that's actually not too long. I mean you're kind of, in some ways, you're still kind of green, aren't you?

Kevin Duffy: A little bit. Yeah, fair. Halfway sort of, almost halfway there kind of deal.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah, but you've seen a lot, I bet, in that seven and a half years.

Kevin Duffy: I have. I've seen some good action and some good jobs in my time so far.

Rip Esselstyn: What inspired you to become a firefighter seven and a half years ago?

Kevin Duffy: A friend of mine who works on FDNY had approached me to take the test up in Yonkers, where we're from. He'd been doing the job and kind of painted the picture for us. He comes from a line of civil servants of cops and firemen. It's in his blood and that was it. He just kind of opened my eyes to it. I hadn't really thought about it before that. Then once I looked into it, I realized it was a pretty good, pretty awesome job that I thought I would love. I went after it pretty hard to get it.

Rip Esselstyn: Right. It's not easy, easy to get onboard the fire department, I'm sure of that. Seven and a half ago, what were you doing before you were a firefighter?

Kevin Duffy: I was a carpenter in Manhattan. I was a bartender. I'd been a ski bum. I'd kind of had a bunch of odd jobs traveling around, but back and forth between bartending and in carpentry construction for about seven, eight years before the fire department.

Rip Esselstyn: I'm dying to know. You gave up being a bit of a ski bum, the carpentry, the bartending and you become a firefighter, so at what point did you see the light and decide that you were drawn to this whole plant based world?

Kevin Duffy: It was in 2013. A buddy of mine, we started training for Ironman races and he'd done a few. He approached me saying that that was probably going to be the missing link to all the training we'd been doing. He had kind of put in a lot of hard work and long hours and realized trying to figure out how guys were getting so fast and kind of how the guys were pushing the envelope. That was when he stumbled upon a couple of athletes who had switched over and had some good success with it so we dove all in and gave it a whirl.

Rip Esselstyn: Was this guy a firefighter or no?

Kevin Duffy: No, he's a friend from growing up. He actually works in Manhattan in finance but was big into ... We got into triathlon together probably about 10 years ago. He kept furthering the distances, half and then full. I was about a year or two behind him. He opened my eyes to the plant based movement, to being Plant-Strong.

Rip Esselstyn: I think it's awesome that you were open minded enough to embrace this lifestyle. You decided to go, I guess, you decided to go all in. Was it easy or hard at first?

Kevin Duffy: When I had heard the science behind it and the real life stories of athletes who explained it pretty simply with their results, it really clicked. Knowing ... It was a challenge to get creative with the food, obviously, and keep it interesting and filling and nutritious, but once you found a couple people you could follow and what they were doing and just kind of mimic that, we just kind of copied and pasted and did what these guys were doing.

Rip Esselstyn: Who were some of the people that you were like inspired by and you started to follow?

Kevin Duffy: Originally, we'd come across Rich Roll back in the day and his podcast. Then the first episode I listened to was David Carter, who was the 300 pound vegan. When he explained how he got rid of all of the arthritis, shed the weight, put the muscle back on, was sprinting with the running backs, doing drills with the linemen, tackling with the linebackers, he was all over the field, that was it. I was like, well, if that's all he did to cure and get faster and stronger then that's what I'm going to do because I can get a little leaner and stronger and faster and push the body, see what it can do. It was a little challenging at first. I would say the challenging part is the public, is the opinions.

Rip Esselstyn: Right.

Kevin Duffy: In my head it made sense, but to everybody else, it's always an uphill battle trying to explain to people.

Rip Esselstyn: What are some of the opinions that the public or the other guys at the fire station have predominantly?

Kevin Duffy: All the questions that came firing and still come to this day, where do you get your protein? You're going to wither away to nothing. How do you have any energy? Do your bones in your ligaments and your joints hurt from all the training? Are you getting enough calories? You need animal protein. You need milk. You need cheese. You need all this stuff to feel full. What are you going to live on? It was everything but that, everything but the cholesterol and the heart disease and the inflammation and the acidic diet and the wasted saturated fat calories and just running off of good fuel from the earth to sun and the water.

Rip Esselstyn: You've been doing it now seven and a half years. No, no, that's how long you've been a firefighter. You started this how long ago again?

Kevin Duffy: About three and a half.

Rip Esselstyn: About three and a half years ago. What did the other guys at the fire station think now that they've seen you do it and you're sticking to it and you're not going back to your old ways?

Kevin Duffy: We've got a few guys come on over to the good Plant-Strong side. There's still some naysayers in every crowd. Then there's people who are curious, but I've gotten a couple of guys on board and they've experimented for themselves and for their families and have seen the results and it's trickled down, which is pretty cool to see. It's a tough crowd to persuade, but I've just gone back to leading by example. Now, just doing my thing, they know my routine. They know that three or four other guys are doing same routine. They've adjusted to catering to ... We make meals together where it's maybe half and half. We incorporate our good stuff and they're eating the traditional stuff, but it's been good so far. It was a challenge at first, in anything, and in life in general, for even friends outside of work.

Rip Esselstyn: Joe Inga, he's a firefighter at station 72 and he's trying to do this. The other guys at the house, and he's at a house with five guys, are not as supportive because the way it works there is that everybody has to pitch in for the meal. Even if he doesn't want to eat this meat laden meal, he still has to pitch in his 12 or 14 or 15 bucks, which is unfortunate. How are you working it at your fire station?

Kevin Duffy: We usually do ... Guys will ask kind of what we're going to cook and then what they're going to cook. We kind of do a lot of a la carte stuff now where we'll do tacos or burritos or fajitas and you'll get the beans, the rice and the peppers and onions and guac and the pico. Then those guys will grill chicken on the side or steak, but it's all encompassing. We'll all contribute as long as ... I'll usually have some sort of dish that I'm going to provide, whether it's a stir fry or a salad or quinoa or roasted veggies and stuff like that. I always tell people I'm going to eat all the sides so I'm going to make a lot of sides and you guys can stick to the traditional meat, the meal that they think is the most important part, but really I'm just kind of dancing around the outside.

Kevin Duffy: We have the same issues too where we're all laying out the same ... We WAC it up, as we call it. WAC is we all contribute, so we WAC up the meals and divide it evenly and whatever you eat, you eat, but I always make sure there's some good stuff on the plate. Yesterday I was at work and we ordered pizzas because we were out all day. We were out on a gas leak and a transformer fire and medical calls and stuck elevators. We just didn't have time to stop and cook or shop or anything so we just got pizzas on the fly and we got two arugula pies.

Rip Esselstyn: Cheeseless?

Kevin Duffy: Yeah. It's tomato, red onion, arugula, nice salad pizza, as it's called, but they make a good one down by us, the one shop. We ordered two of those and then there was all the other [inaudible 00:13:54].

Rip Esselstyn: What's the name of that shop?

Kevin Duffy: A&V Pizza in Yonkers is pretty good. That's our go-to spot for an arugula pie.

Rip Esselstyn: How many guys are at your station and how many of them are now kind of following the Plant-Strong lead?

Kevin Duffy: I work with ... I'm on an engine company. We have a ladder truck with a tower ladder with us and we got the chief riding with us too, so there's 10 guys in my house on a tour and there's about 40 plus that rotate through weekly. I have about four guys also on board with me, three or four guys that are all in. There are a lot of guys kind of experimenting and watching what they're eating, just kind of starting with cutting out cheese or maybe a little less meat, but I got 4 out of maybe 40 plus.

Rip Esselstyn: I would imagine you're probably the most fit of all of them. Is that fair to say?

Kevin Duffy: Yeah.

Rip Esselstyn: You can be modest.

Kevin Duffy: Yes. I would say that's a fair statement.

Rip Esselstyn: I mean, so when that's the case, when you're the fittest and you're eating this way, it's hard for them to knock you. I mean they can make all the fun they want of you, but deep inside they probably know you're doing the right thing.

Kevin Duffy: Right. Yeah. I think they're all aware of that, four Ironmen ... I did one Ironman on a Western diet and then I improved my time by over an hour on a plant based diet.

Rip Esselstyn: Right.

Kevin Duffy: They watched that happen, a couple of marathons. I'm training for a 50 miler in May, 100% plant based. It's just those little actions that are, big actions really, that are kind of just lead by example, as I said, and just-

Rip Esselstyn: You're now lighter. You're leaner. You're stronger. You recover better. You're eating the most anti-inflammatory diet that's out there, and for yourself, that's exercising as much as you do. You're generating a fair amount of oxidative stress and building up free radicals. We all know the best way to mitigate that, right? All the rust that you're kind of developing is just by slamming those fruits, the vegetables, the whole grains and the beans. Anyway, you're doing it all right. I mean, I just want to like take my hat off to you or take my helmet off to you and give you a big old Plant-Strong hug.

Kevin Duffy: Anybody can do this. It's not hard. It is cheap and it's easy and it's good for you.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. I mean, all these objections that people have, it's too expensive, it's too time consuming, it doesn't taste good, it doesn't fill you up. I mean, every one of those, it's amazing how we come up with excuses for why we can't do this, but you're living proof that all those are just excuses. Let me just ask you then, so what would you say to somebody that says it's too time consuming?

Kevin Duffy: Well, everybody cooks food, right? You eat every day. It's just it's a matter of your choice. It's either you choose one way or the other, right?

Rip Esselstyn: Right.

Kevin Duffy: The end of your fork is going to help you or hurt you. It's a choice.

Rip Esselstyn: What would you say to somebody that says that it's too expensive to eat this way?

Kevin Duffy: I would say live off of rice and beans and avocados for a month and see how you feel.

Rip Esselstyn: Peasant food, right? That's super cheap. What would you say to somebody that says that it doesn't taste good?

Kevin Duffy: Well, use spices, right? Spices are flavor. I think people are confused with like fried food and heavy, greasy, oily, cheesy. Once your taste buds change and your stomach changes and your body changes, you crave the good foods as you know. You've got to just get a little creative. The internet is full of amazing recipes, your cookbooks, and there's plenty of people out there with healthy, delicious food.

Rip Esselstyn: What would you say to somebody that says that it doesn't fill you up? I can't get full, Kevin, on twigs and berries and rabbit food. Come on. I mean, this stuff that you're eating, this is what food, real food eats. What would you say?

Kevin Duffy: Yeah, I get that a lot. I eat what everyone else's food eats, right? I probably consume close to 3000 plus calories a day training now for the 50 miler. Just eat more of it. If you're not full, eat it again. That's what I'd tell people. I think people, the portions are too small for what they're considering to be good food, so get rid of that 16 ounce steak and try and eat 16 to 20 to 30 ounces of broccoli. That'll fill you up, right?

Rip Esselstyn: I always tell people, if you're not getting full, you need to eat more of the starchy veggies. You need to do more of the beans, more of the rice, more of the potatoes, right? They're a little bit more calorie dense and really fill you up. I mean, as you probably know, one of the most satiating foods on the planet are potatoes, right? Have three sweet potatoes. Go ahead. Knock yourself out, right? Have two pounds of broccoli that are seasoned just right, right? Blackened broccoli with some chili flakes, a little bit of salt and pepper, oh man. What would you say to somebody that says, "Kevin, real men don't eat plants. They eat meat?"

Kevin Duffy: I would say do 5 Ironmans, 5 marathons and 8 half Ironmans and train for 50 miler, not that I've done all ... I've done probably 80% of those plant-based. Work a 24 hour shift in a firehouse. What else? Travel the world, surf, scuba dive, ski, bike, swim, bike, run til you fall down all on plants. I don't know many guys that have checked a lot of those boxes.

Rip Esselstyn: How old are you?

Kevin Duffy: I'm 37.

Rip Esselstyn: Are you married, single? What's your status?

Kevin Duffy: I am single, not married. I live up in Yonkers, which is just north of the Bronx here.

Rip Esselstyn: You're about six foot two and a half, six three. You're lean, you're mean. I mean, come on man, and your plant based, right? What woman wouldn't want you?

Kevin Duffy: Yeah, life is good and I can't complain.

Rip Esselstyn: That's awesome.

Kevin Duffy: I just haven't settled down yet, but having a lot of fun in life and enjoying life being happy and healthy and helping other people live to the max.

Rip Esselstyn: I know when I was a firefighter, 80% of our call volume were medical calls, diabetic emergencies, difficulty breathing, chest pain every once in a while, heart attack. What's it like for you at Yonkers?

Kevin Duffy: Yonkers is pretty similar. I think our call volume is probably 70 to 80% medical runs. That was a big thing when I switched what I was eating. Then when I would go on the calls, once that light bulb went off and you see how people live, and it's sad that people don't have the education. They have access to the food, they're just not buying it. To see these people with heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol, the medications ... People get on the stretcher to go to the hospital and the Ziploc bag is like a kid in a candy store would dream about, pills on pills. Knowing that a lot of that is curable with food was really an eye-opener to just further push this movement and my message.

Kevin Duffy: I mean, I work in the busiest engine company in Yonkers, so we're running around all day and we get our fair share of fires. It's been a busy winter, car accidents, gas leaks, transformer fires, elevator runs, Hazmat emergencies, trench rescue, water rescue, now with the winter and the ice and the ponds and stuff like that. We've seen it all. I've seen some pretty horrific stuff in just seven and a half years that most people probably wouldn't see in a career. We get it all. We're pretty busy. The sixth borough, as we're called up in Yonkers, we didn't make the New York City cut back in the day when they were zoning, but we're pretty busy up there.

Rip Esselstyn: Yeah. This is kind of getting off topic a little bit, but I know it seems like a lot of firefighters are kind of suffering from PTSD, depression. Do you guys have any way of like getting help if you've made some horrific scenes, accidents, and you're trying to deal with it beyond just the guys at the firehouse?

Kevin Duffy: Sure. We have a great program and a great medical staff up in headquarters that helps with those situations where ... I have, in particular, been back from a few and within an hour or so our medical rep from or the captain from headquarters will come down in stress department and debrief the guys and make sure you're good. Everything from there going forward, whatever help you need is obviously confidential, but they do push that. Whether guys take advantage of it or not is kind of up to them, but I know for myself, I lost my brother in the trade center. He was an investment banker, so it wasn't a fireman. That really didn't tie into why I went to the fire department, but it's kind of ironic and cool that it worked out that way now to see what those guys did. I was only 19 when that happened. I was just a kid in college. To see FDNY and what they went through, now being on the job, is pretty eyeopening in terms of that.

Kevin Duffy: I went through my own PTSD with my family and friends and everybody, on our own accord, but now being at work and seeing some other stuff, it's all in that same ballpark. Just being aware of it, and again, it ties back into the food, the lifestyle, the stress on the body, the mental, the physical, the relationships, emotional. That stuff can all be buried and pushed down or you can nurture it and help it and live a happier, healthier, cleaner life. Each thing has its own outlet, but they are ... The more studies, and I'm sure you know, your father knows, it's all tied to how the body's functioning, which is pretty cool to see now too because this is the happiest and healthiest I've been at 37. I tell myself I could kick my 21 year old butt from college who was like a dopey lacrosse player running around on cheeseburgers and ice cream, right? Yeah. It's all good.

Rip Esselstyn: You have a date on your arm. Can I ask you about that?

Kevin Duffy: Sure. This is my brother's birthday here on one arm, and this is 9/11 on the other arm, so a little tribute to him. I have another ... I have a few tattoos and another one is a tribute to him as well.

Rip Esselstyn: What was his name?

Kevin Duffy: Christopher Duffy. He was 23, worked for a firm, Keith, Bruit & Woods, on the 88th, 89th floor of the second tower. He was one year into his job out of college. He was there early before work. My father ... He actually worked with my father. My dad was on the way down driving to work and watched it, watched it all go down from the West Side Highway, so he missed it by about an hour. My father missed the 93 bombing by 10 minutes in the parking garage just below. He's escaped it twice. They lost 67 employees that day, so my brother and 66 other people in a firm of only about 170. My dad had it rough, my mom ... We, as a family, it was a tough go. We've had our fair share of battles.

Rip Esselstyn: I really enjoyed my time with Kevin Duffy. He is the real deal through and through. One of the things that I love about firefighters and what I loved about being a firefighter is what you see is what you get. Firefighters, they like ... There's no pretense whatsoever. Anyway, they're just a special breed of people, but I have been giving a lot of thought to Kevin and his family and the devastating loss that they all suffered on that fateful day, on 9/11. Kevin, he is a shining example of how it's possible to go Plant-Strong, just like we've asked Joe to do. Despite the crazy schedule and the pressure that he's getting from the guys, Kevin is absolutely crushing it. His athleticism makes it hard, hard, hard to dispute that it's working for him in spades.

Rip Esselstyn: As Kevin mentioned about how in the very, very beginning it can be hard to find food you like that keeps you satisfied, it's because of that challenge that we created The Engine 2 Meal Planner. It takes all the guesswork out of finding delicious meals that you can prepare in minutes, and the recipes are customized to your personal likes and dislikes. We want you to hit the ground running with this lifestyle with hundreds of recipes at your fingertips and a friendly staff on call to answer any of your questions. If this sounds like something you need, we have you covered. It's just a buck 90 a week when you sign up for the year. Visit engine2.com and then click on meal planner. You can save $10 off the annual plan with the code Plant-Strong.

Rip Esselstyn: Each and every day, firefighters put themselves on the front lines to rescue whoever happens to be on the other end of that 9-1-1 emergency phone call, sometimes from the absolutely unthinkable and other times from lifestyle related symptoms that we know could be 100% avoided. This is why it is my life's mission to support our neighborhood heroes and arm them with the tools and resources so that they can rescue themselves from the number one cause of in the line of duty death for firefighters, which is heart attacks, and to make them heart attack proof. These men and these women, they need to perform at their absolute best day in and day out. I mean when we make that 9-1-1 emergency phone call, we expect a super man or super woman to come rescue us because our lives may someday, unfortunately, depend on theirs.

Rip Esselstyn: As you'll see next month with the one day global theatrical release of The Game Changers film on September 16th, we took a whole group of FDNY, that stands for Fire Department New York, and we put them on the Engine 2 7-day Rescue Challenge. You won't believe what happens in just seven days for these guys and gals, so be sure to go to TheGameChangersMovie.com and get your tickets today. We will have much more to follow on that very soon.

Rip Esselstyn: Next up, we are headed to the Esselstyn family farm in upper state New York to share a bountiful Plant-Strong weekend with all kinds of delicious food and athletic competition. I'm going to be sharing this with my parents, with my wife and kids, with my two brothers and their families, and my sister and her family, and of course, the star of the weekend and the star of the first season of the Plant-Strong podcast, Joe Inga and his family. We are going to have probably 25 to 30 of us toeing the starting line for this triathlon together. It's going to be a doozy of a course. I've been planning it out over the last several days and I can't wait to share video footage with you as well as the results, and of course, Joe crossing that finish line with a grin going from ear to ear. Okay, until then, as always, keep it Plant-Strong.

Rip Esselstyn: I want to thank my co-creator of the podcast, Scott Battishill of 10% Media, Laurie Kortowich, producer extraordinaire and director of Engine 2 events, Ami Mackey, Engine 2's curator of creative content, Wade Clark with Bumble Media, our audio engineer, and Carrie Barrett for technical production. I have to thank my parents, Anne and Essie, who have been such guiding lights and inspirations over the years, as well as the great pioneers of this movement who have been pushing this boulder up the mountain. As they say, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Remember, if you're digging the show, please rate us at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. With that, let me say peace, Engine 2, keep it Plant-Strong.

Ami Mackey