When a book called Meat is for Pussies: A How-To Guide for Dudes Who Want to Get Fit, Kick Ass, and Take Names comes across our desks, our interest is piqued. Flipping through the pages of this straight-talk manifesto for men, it becomes clear that this is a different kind of book—one that pulls no punches when discussing the protein myth, what really goes down in the meat industry, and how to ditch the medications and get healthy once and for all. Author and punk rock icon John Joseph (he’s the front man for the Cro-Mags) is a tough guy-turned-compassionate vegan, and he wants to show men that going vegetarian is actually the macho choice. In this exclusive interview, VegNews’ Colleen Holland talks to John about shattering the link between eating meat and masculinity, America’s health crisis, his favorite vegan restaurants, and more.
Colleen Holland: What’s your vegan story?
John Joseph: I came from a world of violence—an alcoholic father, abusive foster homes, New York City streets in the 70s, and jail. After almost two years of being incarcerated, I was a mess and addicted to drugs, alcohol, violence, and bad food. Then, in 1980, I had the great fortune of meeting a band called the Bad Brains, who were Rastafarians and vegetarians. Their sound man, the late Jay Dublee, was a raw foodist and educated me on the benefits of raw food, juicing, yoga, meditation, and more. I healed from the inside out and never looked back.
CH: Why did you decide to write a vegan book targeting men?
JJ: Because I know that if it worked for a f*cked-up criminal like me, it can help anyone. There are so many kids looking for a way out. So many adults with bad health, and so many so-called experts filling their heads with crap.
CH: What about the title? Any pushback?
JJ: My whole take on using a controversial title like Meat is for Pussies is that it’s the language those guys use. I actually had a dude in the gym tell me all vegans are pussies. So after I challenged him to some ring time (which he refused), I thought, “I’m going to throw it back in their faces.” Truth be told, they are the ones the vegan community has not been able to reach. I recently had gang members tell me they went veg and lost 50 pounds after reading my book. Ex-cons, iron workers, and cops tailgating at football games are now throwing veggie burgers on the grill. So if someone wants to criticize me, fine. I’ll take it, because I’m out in the trenches, I’m meeting and converting dudes they would never be able to even have a conversation with. I’ve received thousands of emails thanking me because the book changed their lives. And why? Because I come from their world, from the road they’re walking. I can relate to them, and above and beyond anything else, it’s my duty to pay forward the gift of knowledge I’ve received.
CH: Obviously, our country is in a health crisis. How do you think we got here?
JJ: In my book, I call it “The Great Food Bamboozle.” You have industries getting away with putting pure poison out there. To me, that’s criminal. Most of the food on supermarket shelves did not exist 100 years ago. It’s Frankenfood made in a lab. It’s meat jacked up on hormones. Poisonous dairy, fish, and eggs.
CH: What’s it going to take for men to embrace a plant-based lifestyle?
JJ: Well, when they get sick and tired of being sick and tired, they will ask questions like I did. The answers are out there—just not in the mainstream. I always try and relate to guys by asking them if they want be around to see their kids grow up. Or how they feel about being on half a dozen different meds. Or boner pills, because if they aren’t on them yet, they will be. But above all, I always say “example is better than precept.” In other words, if those of us who live a plant-based lifestyle are bad asses, working out, and being positive, others will want to change. I mean sh*t, I shouldn’t even be alive. At 52, I’m competing in Ironman triathlons and still touring with my band. That in itself is a friggin’ miracle and a testament to the lifestyle.
CH: Why is there such a misconception that meat equals masculinity?
JJ: For years, TV has told us that “meat is what ‘real’ men eat.” It’s been drilled into our heads. And the protein myth … In the early 80s, I actually had Puerto Rican bodybuilders at this old-school gym in Alphabet City tell me that if Alpo dog food was good enough to make their pit bulls strong and aggressive, then it was good enough for them. They actually cooked Alpo burgers on a grill out back! That’s an extreme case, but you get my point. For years, however, I think vegans and veg heads looked like crap: scrawny, emaciated dudes that didn’t work out, so the meat dudes were turned off from making the switch. But now, they are seeing pro athletes going plant-based. UFC fighters, NFL players—the paradigm is shifting, thanks to dudes like Rip Esselstyn, James Wilks, Mac Danzig, Rich Roll, Brendan Brazier, Jon Hinds, and the rest of the plant-based beasts.
CH: If a guy wants to eat fewer animal products, what should be their first step?
JJ: Educate themselves. Read and watch documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. They need some fear tactics to show them their future. The meathead-mullet-tiger-striped-workout-pants-thing with steak and a raw egg shake is so 1980. Guys, the phone is ringing, and it’s for you—it’s 2014 calling!
CH: If a guy doesn’t cook, what’s your advice?
JJ: There are tons of great restaurants and health food stores across the country, and the world for that matter. Use the website, Happy Cow. I do. Look, guys, you can’t stay stuck on stupid. You should be fully knowledgeable about everything you stuff in your face. As they say, “any doubt, leave it out.” Cooking for me is meditation, though. Thirty-four years later, I can throw down hard in the kitchen. So go get some cookbooks, my brothers, and get going. If you free your mind, your ass will follow.
CH: How do you stay healthy?
JJ: I’m in the gym almost every day, and as I said, I also compete in Ironmans. So I’m out biking, running, and swimming. I also eat a whole food, organic, plant-based diet. No GMO’s for me. But we have to exercise our minds, too. The mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It can drag you into your own personal hell if you let it. Try some meditation. Keep that PMA (Positive Mental Attitude). Food alone can’t solve all the issues in the world, but it’s a huge start in the right direction.
CH: What are your go-to vegan snacks while traveling?
JJ: I tour and travel a lot. Airports never have any food fit for human consumption—well, except for LAX. They have Real Food Daily; Cali peeps are ahead of the curve. But I always have a bag of organic fruit, nuts, and raw bars, and I even travel with a Nutribullet and kale nowadays and bring my Vega on the road. Bottom line: If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Don’t let that happen.
CH: What are your favorite vegan restaurants?
JJ: New York City’s Angelica Kitchen and Candle 79, and Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles. Hands down, NYC and LA has ‘em all beat for vegan food.
VegNews’ co-founder Colleen Holland has no doubt that it’s just a matter of time before plant-based protein is fully embraced in mainstream culture.
John Joseph Photo by Ray Lego