Skye Gould/Tech Insider
Pete Czerwinski had reached the end of his rope.
His cancer was in remission, he was in the best shape of his life, and he had a YouTube channel, where over 2 million fans tuned in every time he uploaded a new video.
But it wasn't enough.
As a competitive eater and fitness junkie who often eats high volumes of burgers, sausages, and chicken, Czerwinski had become the target of Vegan Gains, a popular Vegan vlogger, and thousands of his fans. For months, they had infiltrated Czerwinski's YouTube videos and harassed him about his diet. Some shamed him for eating meat. More extreme trolls told him he deserved to get cancer.
Czerwinski stayed silent for 6 months, trying to rise above Vegan Gains and his band of haters. But he couldn't keep it up forever. In a now infamous YouTube video, an angry Czerwinski finally gave the antagonizers what they wanted: A real, live showdown.
Here's a video of him setting a world record by eating more than seven pounds of pulled pork in 6 minutes:
"I'm going to continue living my life the way I've been living it," he assured friends and fans in the video.
S ome commenters seemed to think a lifestyle change was necessary for Czerwinski in order to beat cancer. Specifically, people believed he need to dramatically cut down on meat. "You were at an almost guaranteed risk at getting some sort of cancer eating the amount of meat you eat," one person wrote.
"There were always people commenting [on my diet]," Czerwinski told Tech Insider in an email. "But it blew up after my cancer diagnosis."
"The comments pissed me off," Czerwinski says in the video. "Especially when I just had my f------ ball removed."
Czerwinski continued to live and document his life eating his way around the world and hitting the gym . His videos made their way onto the /r/videos and /r/fitness subreddits, where his fandom joined him in celebration when he learned he had gone into remission.
Focused on his future, Czerwinski was successful in branding his own line of t-shirts and a dietary supplement called "Furious Cuts." With his cancer behind him, it seemed the days of defending himself against those who judged his lifestyle were over.
Enter: Vegan Gains
As Czerwinski was battling and beating cancer, a YouTuber who titled his channel Vegan Gains entered the blogosphere. Vegan Gains (real name Richard Burgess), a Canadian bodybuilder, uploaded his first video, " Why a Bodybuilder Became Vegan, " where he discussed his dedication to a meat and dairy-free diet.
"I ended up finding out meat was actually the cause of many of our chronic diseases included diabetes, cancer, and heart disease," he told viewers. "I even found out that meat is actually bad for promoting muscle mass in athletic performance."
The World Health Organization has indeed released data indicating that eating certain processed meats can cause an increased risk of cancer. But the report doesn't mean all meat and fish are direct causes of cancer, nor does it mean that abstaining from eating meat will prevent you from getting cancer.
In order to grow his popularity and make a splash in the crowded YouTube fitness space, Burgess began a video series called "Worst of the Fitness Industry" - a one-by-one takedown of fellow bodybuilders who eat and exercise differently than Burgess. Within a month, Burgess had uploaded dozens of videos passionately comparing eating meat to religious bigotry and delusion (Warning: Burgess' videos include clips of violent imagery that may be disturbing to some).
By targeting channels with millions of subscribers, Burgess was gaining the attention of followers he would have been otherwise unable to reach.
One of those videos targeted Czerwinski.
His plan worked. While Czerwinski didn't acknowledge Burgess, his fans became aware of the Vegan Gains channel. "There are a couple of eating channels on YouTube and I'm the only one that gets attacked because of my recent history [with cancer]," Czerwinski said. "They used the size of my following to strengthen their agenda."
Burgess did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When followers of both men heard the YouTube stars would be attending the same fitness expo in Toronto, they were hopeful for an IRL showdown. As it happened, b oth Burgess and Czerwinski uploaded videos about their experience at the expo to YouTube, but Burgess was the only one who insinuated trouble, hinting that he came face-to-face with Czerwinski when the camera was off. Burgess described his nemesis as "pissed" and claims Czerwinski's girlfriend called security on him.
Czerwinski's side of the story involves less security intervention. "He came to my booth, where I had a line of fans waiting to talk to me," Czerwinski told TI. "He went in front of everyone and tried to get a rise out of me. I just told him to leave. If he really wanted to chat, then he should have waited in line like everyone else."
Despite the lack of video evidence, Burgess' followers went nuts for the story of this alleged face-off and flocked to Czerwinski's channel hoping to see the confrontation from another perspective.
"The people demand Vegan Gains footage," one man wrote underneath Czerwinski's video. "Where is Vegan Gains?" said another.
Czerwinski ignored them.
As Burgess grew his follower count to 50,000, he attacked Furious Pete once again with a video calling Czerwinski's new weight-loss supplements a scam. Still no reaction from Czerwinski, who, later that month, found out his cancer had returned. While he debated sharing his personal life with his followers, he allegedly began privately filing copyright infringement claims against Burgess for using his footage without permission.
In an emotional upload, Czerwinski announced his decision to undergo radiation treatment.
"BTW, you're not going to be able to make fallacious copyright claims on my videos when you're dead," the comment read. When readers clicked through to Vegan Gains' account, they were taken a new video: " Furious Pete Has Cancer Again! Oh No! "
"Animal products greatly increase your cancer risk," Burgess says. "Furious Pete is a dumb selfish c--- who continued to eat meat, dairy, and eggs even after he learned about all of this. Now it looks like he's gonna die of cancer and if you ask me he's getting exactly what he deserved."
The comments on Burgess' video got ugly fast.
Supporters of Czerwinski laid into Burgess with graphic insults and spiteful comments about how they planned to eat extra meat in his honor. Some wrote that they wanted someone to punch Burgess in the face. Some self-identified vegans, who had originally sided with Burgess, said he had taken it too far.
Even then, Czerwinski still refrained from any specific mention of Burgess on his YouTube channel. Instead, his vlog updates starting featuring progress clips showing his 20 days of radiation treatment. His followers and fans continued to comment, begging him to engage with Burgess and tell him off once and for all.
"Personally I like some of his videos, they are funny," he responded when asked about the ongoing feud. "I just wasn't a fan of someone being overly excited that I got cancer."
In November 2015 Czerwinski was declared cancer-free, and the war that only Burgess seemed to be fighting seemed to die down for a bit. But a rejuvenated Czerwinski wouldn't be silent for long.
"The Problem With Vegans"
Czerwinski broke his silence on the vegan movement in a January 4 upload, "THE PROBLEM WITH VEGANS: THE CULT."
"Vegans are so damn aggressive in trying to influence others that are not vegans to become vegans," he says in the video. "And if you say no to them, they wish death upon you." Then Czerwinski dropped the hammer: "I hate to make this comparison, but its in the news all the time, and veganism is almost like ISIS lately."
Having finally broken Czerwinski, Burgess came flying out of the gate with a takedown uploaded on January 5. In the video, Burgess accuses Czerwinski's followers of hitting the "dislike" button on Burgess' videos en masse: "Since your followers have a tendency to dislike my videos before they even watch them, I think it's only fair that you die of cancer."
"I have and nothing happened," Burgess directly replied, linking out to his video of the Toronto fitness expo, venue of the alleged confrontation with Czerwinski.
Others, out of nowhere, jumped in to defend Burgess. "I don't even like Vegan Gains, but everything he says in this video is completely valid," a woman wrote. "He draws comparisons that are 100% true and relevant. Furious Pete needs to pull his head out of his a-."
Many comment threads devolved into name calling from vegans and omnivores alike, hashing out whether or not Burgess claims are worthy of attention. Unsurprisingly, neither side conceded to the other.
Whether they meant to or not, Burgess and Czerwinski had managed to bring their respective followers onto the virtual battlefield to carry on the fight. After more than a year of drawing lines in the sand, each man was now able to step back and let their subscribers do the talking for them.
Czerwinski did not make a follow-up video.