Part I: John Joseph, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon
In his autobiography, John recounts his hard times and spiritual redemption. A traumatic childhood in foster homes was just the beginning of John’s evolution. Before fronting one of the most important bands in the underground punk scene, the Cro-Mags, as well as Bloodclot, John faced homelessness, addiction, betrayal and insanity. Still, even his success couldn’t save him from a relapse that set him back to square one – rock bottom. The book is a raw and unapologetic autobiography about his life. Consider yourself warned. The events mentioned may or may not coincide with your life but the symptoms and remedies would surely do. The placid demonstration of truth presents an unmasked picture of his life.
On the announcement of the re-release of his book, John shared “A lot of stuff has happened since we released the book in 2007. I’ve updated information, added a couple of chapters and photos, but the message stays the same. I want to show others that no matter what they are going through in life, they have to never quit and never surrender. If you are willing to fight through it, you can get through anything.”
John spends time mentoring at-risk and incarcerated youths & adults, feeding the homeless and participating in charitable organizations that impact the streets he grew up on in New York City. He also has many other projects in the works including books, films and TV projects. Additionally, he is a competitive Ironman triathlete, having participated in 8 events including last year’s KONA World Championship. He’s replaced the Iron Bars of the prison system with the Ironman Triathlon as a way to constantly challenge himself physically, mentally and spiritually. John has also written another book, “Meat is For Pussies,” which is an in-your-face look at guys’ health which has become an underground success and has helped thousands of men change their bad eating habits and lifestyles.
Part II: Brian Kateman, The Reducetarian Solution
Brian Kateman is President of the Reducetarian Foundation and Editor of The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet.
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
Transcription Part I:
Caryn: Hello everybody! Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m so glad you’re joining me today. We have got one great show for you. I’m here in the Progressive Radio Network studio and I’m looking at the beautiful blue eyes of John Joseph my guest. They are blue aren’t they? Very blue! I’m really excited to have him here and to speak with him. We’re here to talk about the re-release of his book The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon where he recounts his hard times and spiritual redemption in this autobiography. A traumatic childhood that is a gentle way to put your story, John. In foster homes, just the beginning of John’s evolution he fronted one of the most important bands in the underground punk scene, the Cro-Mags, as well as Blood Clot and he faced homelessness, addiction, betrayal, insanity and today in 2017 he is one awesome specimen of a man. I am very happy to know you John Joseph and welcome to It’s All About Food.
John: Thank you for having me back. It’s been about 7 years. Might I say that you’ve aged like a fine wine. You look great, and that’s coming from a sober person.
Caryn: I wanted to say- my birthday is this Saturday. It’s Earth Day, my birthday. I will be 59 and I’m 4 years older than you. I want to talk a bit about that because we were growing up in the same scene in some of the same places. When I read your book, it brought back memories. Your book is- there are no words. I was just heartbroken for the whole scene that we live in a world that is so cruel.
John: I just gave the book to someone else- a friend of mine- and she said I can’t believe the stuff that your foster family did to you. I said, listen- there’s people out there doing a lot worse stuff to kids. I’ve heard, because I work with kids who are incarcerated, I go to prisons and I speak and I go to high schools and lockups and I get a chance to mentor these kids and the stuff that I went through, as crazy as it was and messed up, there’s a lot worse stuff that goes on to kids now a days.
Caryn: You say that a number of times, that what you went through isn’t as bad as what you’ve heard other people have gone through. It’s just mind-boggling. You talk about your foster mom and this one situation where you were fed what you call the “Oreo spit” sandwich.
Caryn: This show is called It’s All About Food so I like to bring up the food items. She would scrape the cream off with her mouth…
John: With her teeth…and she didn’t like the cream, she just liked the wafers, so she would spit it in a bowl and then whatever moldy bread was laying in the bottom of the bread drawer, she would put it on that and that’s what we got fed every single day with tea. That was it. They fed us the same food as they did the dog at the same time to show us where we fell on the food chain and how insignificant…I mean, the whole time we were there- almost 7 years, they tried to make us feel insignificant and worthless. They told us constantly no body else wants you; you’re lucky to be here. Even would take me to the nut house and say if I open my mouth this is where I’m going to end up and no ones ever going to know I’m there.
Caryn: I remember you wrote about Pilgrim State.
John: Yeah, Pilgrim State! People wonder how come kids keep quiet. They put the fear of God into you. The other thing was- my mother was suicidal. We went home on one visit and she tried to cut her wrists and take a bunch of pills and we had to call my uncle because we asked when we were coming home. She flipped out. We knew not to say anything because if she has another nervous breakdown, we’re never going to come home so that’s where that whole diary came in and we hid this diary. My brother came up with the idea to just write down everything that they did to us. When we finally left that home, the social worker broke down crying. The thing was- I always say people that hustle on the streets- if you look at the history- you’re not born that way. You do that as a result because human instinct is to survive. So, whatever we had to do to eat- and there are humorous moments in the book. They were taking us and they’re like how the hell are these kids gaining weight? We were stealing. We found out where they kept the money. That’s what they were doing it for. They have 6 kids and getting $300 a month for care, clothing. Clothing we had to just wear stuff until it fell off. Then go back to the poor box and pick out more clothes. They never bought us clothes. We never got clothes the entire time we were there. We were never allowed in the refrigerator the entire time we were there. They kept us in a garage sleeping on cots and this dirty den and we had to sit out in the patio in the freezing cold. Christmas time you’re hear them celebrating and we’re out there. So it was a lot of stuff to deal with, but it was the humor that got us through and then the fact that we were able to start getting over on them. But, even when we stole money from them, we basically ate just enough but we always bought my mother gifts. Thinking like if we buy her this…we bought her art and I stole a fish tank one time out of a damn aquarium like a 25-gallon fish tank- running down the street with it- because she said she wanted a fish tank and it was calming. Then we had to hide it in the woods until her boyfriend who didn’t want us around…I won’t say what we were doing, but they have a term for that when we’re getting in the way of his sex life. So that’s why he didn’t want us around.
Caryn: And ultimately you were there for him and his demise later on.
John: You see that? Because that was the arc of the growth. We’ve become a lot closer since the release of the book and all of this stuff that went on.
Caryn: Your mother did terrible things but you now understand why and what she was going through.
John: My father raped her twice and that’s how me and my younger brother were born. We didn’t know that. She didn’t tell me that until I was 40. Even that moment was so powerful because I just kept hurling hurtful things at her because she let that man move into the house. When her husband gambled the house away behind her back and he was a recovering alcoholic, he was in AA. He became a gambling addict and gambled the house away. He was hitting her and had I would have known that I would have beat the crap out of him after what my father did to my mother. She never told us and then when they went to get divorced, she had nothing because he gambled away the house. Then I was doing good at the time, I signed a record deal and all this other stuff. I go and I get her an apartment. I mean, she left with nothing. Like, her clothes in boxes. I had to buy her furniture, a TV, get her an apartment- all of that. Then she turns around and tells me, “I got to tell you something, the man who didn’t want you around who you were abused for 7 years, I let him move in.” That’s when it hit the fan. Since she told me her side of the story and the book, and all this stuff that’s gone down, I was there for her. Then when he passed away from cancer, he sat on my stoop- he was a big guy- he worked for Con Ed, he was one of these burly Con Ed dudes- he was down to about 115-120 pounds, dying of cancer. My mother never put him in hospice, she took care of him. This was right before he went into the hospital, maybe a week before. He sat on my stoop with tears in his eyes and asked me to forgive him. And I did. Then when he was in the hospital I went and put holy water on him and played all this stuff to help him transition to the next life. Through all of this whole ordeal we’ve become a lot closer. That foster home- it developed a lot of food- thank God that I found- it was Gary Null- listening to him in ’80 and ’81 in a squat and I wrote about that in the book.
Caryn: You had your little radio.
John: On a little radio. I think it was BAI or something right? I listened to him on this little transistor radio. No windows, no plumbing, dangerous gang dudes trying to come in a take the building from us and by candle light. I sat there taking notes from the stuff I learned from Gary Null. That’s why when I came in I was like I want to meet him and tell him how much he’s affected my life from back in the day. Thankfully I found a healthy way to eat. I’ve had food issues from being starved as a kid. I always thought the food was going to run out and I would over eat and all of this stuff. Now I’ve learned through training for Iron Man and diet and all this stuff and writing books and being around guys like Rich Roll and Brendan Braziers of the world. They’re next level studs.
Caryn: I just want to say this book, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, is just an incredible story and anyone who is complaining about anything in their life- when you read this book, you’re going to shut up. You have been through so much that most people can’t even imagine anything like that happening to them. But the most amazing thing is your heart has stayed open, and you are an incredibly good person, and you’ve made so many amazing choices. You’re on a healthy vegan diet, you’re fit.
Caryn: Organic. Awesome. I just don’t understand how you’ve managed to rise above.
John: I got three letters for you, and I tattooed them on my leg. I learned them from the Bad Brains in 1980- it’s called PMA. Positive Mental Attitude. That’s the next book I’m almost done with right now. I’ve been working on it for about two and a half years, about PMA. At the time I came out of jail- because if we fast-forward I was on the streets for almost 2 years. Then I got incarcerated, I was in some of the worst places a juvenile at 16 could go. I was in Spofford in ’78- I spent my 16th birthday there. Then I went upstate for 18 months, 3 months in Spofford, got stabbed in Spofford- fighting everyday. Upstate in Lincolndale and then I came out and I got arrested again and at the time my mother had been seeing or dating this Navy recruiter and offered me the Navy as opposed to possibly facing more jail time. So, as I always say and my brother E says, the state didn’t raise no fool. So we took the Navy. He got in trouble again. My brother was locked up with me in the same place. We were both on the street. Because at a certain we said, you know what? We went down this road and we tried to let New York State handle our business and take care of us and they failed miserably. Because they never investigated that home, then they put us in these crazy boys homes, and all these other messed up families. Except for the McGallens who were cool in Garden City. But at that point we were damaged goods, so they got rid of us quick. So then we just said you know what? We’ll take our chances on the street of New York and c’mon, the streets of New York in ’76, ’77 it ain’t no joke.
Caryn: Yeah I remember you writing about that. I mean I was a good little girl going to New York City to see theater when I was in junior high school in the 70′s and 8th avenue was a scary place.
John: I mean, we called it the deuce back then, it wasn’t even called Time Square. I’ve seen people get stabbed, shot, I mean personally, I got shot with a 22 in a drug deal. After coming out of lock up and getting re-arrested, I took the Navy. I went to boot camp- we were at Fort Hamilton ready to ship out January 3, 1980 and my brother said, hey I know a place right down the block that sells angel dust. We went and bought; I think it was 4 or 5 bags of angel dust. We went to boot camp dusted on angel dust. I’ve never been on an airplane before. I went on an airplane high on angel dust and then went to boot camp and woke up and was like, what the hell where am I? But I was in great shape because when I was locked up I boxed, I lifted weights. In lockup, one of the terms they say is you got to get your weight up. I went into lock up 130 pounds soaking wet. I came out 165-pound beast that trained all the time, played sports, boxed. So I was definitely- and I had this anger issue. But the thing was, even in the Navy I was smuggling drugs, I was dealing drugs, I was selling acid. I caught a drug case in Norfolk, VA and then I met the Bad Brains and they had just started getting into Rastafarian and that was the major turning point of my life. The singer had read Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich or whatever, talking all about PMA and all this stuff. He put it into his lyrics. He had this song called “Attitude” and it was like blitz speed punk rock. Then I just took to that. The psychiatrist they had me seeing in the Navy said I was a time bomb waiting to go off. I did. I exploded on this guy and beat him with paint cans. The whole thing, I was facing going to Leavenworth because of the drug case and then beating this guy on my ship. They had to medivack me by helicopter off of the ship in the middle of the friggen Caribbean on the way to Brazil back to Puerto Rico. Every chain of event was like the universe, God, Krishna whatever, was just laying everything out for me to make this change. If I didn’t get the infection in my wisdom tooth and have to go to the hospital, it was just crazy how everything kept happening. Then I got a hold of- so I split from the Navy and went back and fought these Puerto Ricans in this gang- crazy stuff, you can’t make it up!
Caryn: The book is over 400 pages.
John: My uncle was like, this is like a lethal weapon you can kill somebody with this book. It’s like he didn’t expect…
Caryn: What I love about it, you’re jumping around all these things- you can’t get the drama or the intensity unless you read the entire story.
John: It’s taken out of context.
Caryn: But, I’m still blown away by this happy ending or this happy beginning.
John: Well you know what it was? It was getting into A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada books, Bhagavad-Gita and starting to get into yoga and meditation. The Bad Brains, the main thing they told me was you can work with us, I got into this fight- this chain fight- and these guys were trying to kill me with knives, and I got stabbed in the shoulder, but I fought them and I gained respect on the street. I knew that in lock up. You don’t let people do things to you, you know? After what happened to me as a kid, what these people did to me and what these other kids did to me in this home. I said nobody’s ever putting their hands on me again. I learned how to defend myself and that’s out of respect these Puerto Rican gang members we’re like…and they had the #1 heroin and cocaine spot in America- down in the lower East Side and they were like, “Yo, you’re the only one who ever stood up to us…respect.” Then the Bad Brains gave me a job. But the main thing they said was, “You can come on the road with us, but you have to eat Ital, meaning pure plant-based. You can’t take drugs and you can’t drink.” And I said, “You know what? You could have told me to worship Skittles and I would because I love the band.” But thankfully their soundman was a raw foodist who was into Viktoras Kulvinskas, I met him. I went to see Viktoras speak at Integral Yoga Institute cause I worked at Prana Foods. They got me a job in a health food store. I started educating myself and the catalyst for change was when I stopped eating meat, all of those anger issues subsided. This amazing aura just kicked in and I started being like, for the first time in my life I started to feel peaceful. I just read this quote the other day, when you eat an animal, you’re eating every single second of tortured time that that animal has had in their life. You’re ingesting that. That’s affecting your consciousness. Even all these Bhagavad-Gita, all these vedic teachings say the same thing. You’re ingesting the karma of that animal. When I stopped eating meat and I went on this like raw food diet I was like wow, the change was just so dramatic, it was crazy. Then I got into yoga, martial arts….the whole world of higher consciousness opened up. Then I started chanting Hare Krishna, I lived as a monk for 2 years. Although the leaders after Prava left the planet did a bunch of crazy stuff too so, that was even some next- and you read the book so you know what I’m talking about. This resiliency, that’s what this whole trip has taught me- is resiliency and flexibility. You know you have to fight through things in life. The code of the warrior is never quit. Never quit. You never surrender. That’s what they drill. Like my boys in active duty Navy, I just met him and his kid. He is a team leader too which means he is responsible for other guys that they make at home a lot. He’s one of the most resilient, never panics in situations, I’ve learned a lot just from watching just what he’s been able to do in the last 16-17 years of his Navy career. He took me- he was one of the stars of Act of Valor so he takes me to the Intrepid for the premiere. There’s all these Marcus Luttrell, Seal Team 6 guys, like the baddest of the bad, and he’s like this guy, I used to go on the road with him, he used to take me to the yoga spots. And they’re like, what?? You learn a lot and that’s what I try to surround myself with A type personalities. I still have a lot to learn.
Caryn: We all do…that’s what life is about- learning. But I think you are an important messenger for a specific group of people who can understand you and hear you because you speak their language. You’ve been through the hell that they’ve been through and then you couple that with this open heart. I imagine you’re a great help and provide a lot of hope to the kids that…you work with and you mentor at-risk and incarcerated youths.
John: You know, yes, 100% I Just was at Goshen Annex Maximum security.
Caryn: You know because if I went there nobody would look at me and listen to me.
John: You know what? Here’s the whole things, and I’m going to tell you because I think it was like 6 or 7 years ago, I spoke at the first High School. It was in East New York. All like gang members, Crips, Bloods, whatever. Am I allowed to curse?
Caryn: You can say whatever you want.
John: All right, I didn’t know that! Now we’re getting off the rated-G shit, here we go. I’m going to tell you exactly what they said. It was wintertime, I had a coat on. The English teacher had read my book and was like I want you to come speak to these kids because they’re all starting to get in trouble. As soon as I walked in, I heard the rumble, “Who does this white motherfucker think he is trying to come here and tell me some shit what the fuck does he know?” So as soon as I got to the library and I started breaking down my story and then telling them what I went through, I had their complete undivided attention. Then I broke out my passport and I started showing them, look where I’ve been all over the world. You know where all the guys that are locked up and went through all the stuff that I did? They’re either in jail, they’re drug addicts, or they’re dead. I said, you’re at a point right now in your life where every decision is going to be very, very crucial to how you’re going to live your future. Even when these kids are locked up, I met these kids doing 8, 10 years in Goshen, they were already sentenced and I said look it’s never too late to change. You work on yourself when you’re inside. You be a better person, you follow the rules, you’re going to get out, you’re only 16-17 years old. You’re still going to have part of your life there.
Caryn: That’s a universal message.
John: The other thing is I just did an interview with my friend who writes for Psychology Today and Huffington Post and he’s a psychiatrist. He said you have more effect on these kids than anybody with a degree. Because I walked in their shoes. They could care less if you got a PhD. That don’t mean shit to them. What means something to them is I understand what they’re going through. That’s why I work with these kids. I get these kids to change their diet and do all this other stuff, I give them books…
Caryn: We just have a few minutes left; I can’t believe the time just flies.
John: That’s what happens when you’re having fun. That’s what they say.
Caryn: I want to talk about your other book Meat is for Pussies.
John: Thank you for saying the title…
Caryn: I have no problem saying it! I think it’s an important book. You had first published it and then Harper Collins came out and published it. You were telling me earlier that you had some challenges with that because a lot of people take offense to the title. What’s important about it again, is you coming from where you came from and the language that you use in the book- certain people are going to relate to you, your language, and your message and hear it! Then take positive action.
John: Right. Oddly enough, most of the people that bought that book were women who bought it for their dudes. I received thousands and thousands of emails since that book first came out in 2010 and then was re-issued, from dudes saying “Yo thank you for writing this book because none of these wackadoo vegans were ever getting through to me. The way you put it and the way you talk, dude, the light came on.” I said, “Bro, that’s the way I learned it. I learned it from guys like H.R., and the Bad Brains who produced their album. Honestly this guy just got a write up in GQ magazine. He’s a vegan bodyguard and he’s Justin Bieber’s bodyguard in Australia. My friend Ian Norrington, and he’s 6’3 240 pounds like Muay Thai fighter and he went on tour with me. I was training for my first Iron Man at the time, so everybody else was getting shit faced and drunk, living the rock and roll fantasy bullshit life. I’m getting up at fucking 5 o’clock in the morning after playing, going for runs, swims, hitting the gym. And he’s like bro how the fuck are you doing that man? And I had a copy of my book Meat is for Pussies. I gave it to him. By the end of the tour he’s stopped eating meat and he’s never looked back.
John: He even got “vegan” tattooed on the side of his lip. When you pull the lip down it says “vegan.” Then he’s gone, he’s got like Hells Angels working for him in Australia with his prior company. He turned around and got all them to go plant based. It’s a grass roots movement. You’re not going to hear this information in the main stream.
Caryn: No but you’re going to hear it here at Progressive Radio Network!
John: That’s right with Caryn Hartglass!!!
Caryn: John, thank you for coming and I love you.
John: You’re the rockstar. Woo! And say hello to Gary Null for me. Tell him John Bloodclot loves him.
Caryn: I will do that.
John: Thank you!
Caryn: Okay we’re going to take a quick break and then come back and talk about the Reducetarian Solution.
Transcribed by Adella Finnan, 5/1/2017
Transcription Part II:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! Hello everybody, hello everybody! Test one, two, hello everybody! Okay, I’m ready for the next part. Oh, I’m all fired up after seeing John Joseph. He is one amazing guy, and I really recommend reading The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon. If you want to feel something, you will feel a lot reading this book, and the wonderful thing is it has a happy ending. And I think you might be able to find a little bit more compassion when you see people who are homeless or people who are struggling in one way or another. When you know they’re story, you know that it really may not be their fault and that they’ve been through hell.
Okay, but we’re here to tune in love and that’s what I like about this show. It’s about unconditional love for everybody, that’s what we’re doing. And it happens to be all about food. Okay, so before I move to my next guest because I know I’m going to run out of time like I always do, I just wanted to tell you two things. So, Compassion Over Killing, a wonderful organization, during the Earth Day period which is my birthday, April 22nd Earth Day, they have what they call an annual VegWeek and they have a 7-Day VegPledge and I always like to tell people about it so if you’re thinking about moving to a vegan diet for pre-vegans or for reducetarians (which is what we’re going to be talking about in a moment), you might want to sign up for the free 7-Day VegPledge. You get recipes and tips and more. Go to www.usvegweek.com. www.usvegweek.com. Of course, all year long you can go to www.responsibleeatingandliving.com. That’s my non-profit, and you’ll get recipes, tips, and more. Please my visit my website, too. And then the other thing that’s coming up at the end of April is the Food Revolution Network Annual Summit, Summit 2017, and that’s with John Robbins and his son, Ocean Robbins. I work with them, and I will be behind the scenes at the summit answering your questions online as you listen to all the interviews, and I’m also introducing a recipe every day of the summit. So, that’s another fun, free event and if you want to register for that, you can go to my website, www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and register for the Food Revolution Network’s Annual Summit. Okay that’s done, check!
Now, let’s talk about the Reducetarian Solution, and I’ve got the editor of that book, Brian Kateman. He’s the president of the Reducetarian Foundation and editor of The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet. Welcome to It’s All About Food, you’re right here in the studio with me, Brian.
Brian Kateman: Well thanks for having me on the show.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re very welcome. Okay, so I want to talk about this book and there are things I like about it and there are some things that make me a little uncomfortable and we’ll talk about all of those things.
Brian Kateman: Ah, this is going to be interesting, okay.
Caryn Hartglass: But, we tune in love here so it’s a gentle, safe place to be. So, first tell me about the Reducetarian Foundation and your mission.
Brian Kateman: Sure, well what we’re trying to do is reduce societal consumption of animal products. When I was in college, I learned all about the impacts of factory farming not only on our health and the planet but on the lives and experience of farm animals, seventy billion of them worldwide every year that are slaughtered, and I decided then I wanted to go vegetarian. I mean this was an exciting opportunity, I was recycling, I was taking shorter showers, I was that guy on campus who was the environmentalist. But, I really hadn’t made the connection to food issues and when I did, it was mind-blowing so I decided then I’m going to be vegetarian, this is going to be really good and it was good. I felt healthier, I felt as though my actions were in line with my values. The problem was there were times when I wasn’t perfect, and I remember one Thanksgiving, for example, my sister calling me out across the table as siblings will do as I grabbed a piece of turkey and “I thought you were a vegetarian, Brian”. And I explained to my sister and my family that plant-based eating is not about being perfect, it’s not an all or nothing premise. The more plant-based meals we have, the better our health will be, the better the planet will be, and the fewer animals will suffer. And so I said I’m tired of using the word “vegetarian”. This is not getting at what I want which is I want to try and reduce the amount of animals products that I can as best I can but not feel like I have to be perfect about it. So, words like “semi-vegetarian” and “flexitarian” do a pretty good job at getting at that. They describe people who primarily eat plant-based foods, but it still felt like there was a large amount of people in my life who may not be interested in veganism or vegetarianism and may not even get to the place of flexitarian or semi-vegetarian but would be open to reducing the amount of animals products that they consume and so I collaborated with a friend and came up with this word that would describe someone who reduces the amount of meat they eat and low and behold, Reducetarian came into existence. And ever since then, I’ve really been on a mission to educate people on the value of eating fewer animals products, understanding the horrors of factory farming in terms of all the issues we care deeply about but not worrying so much about being perfect or pure in a sense. And at the Reducetarian Foundation, we have lots of education and outreach programs designed to engage people with the message and one of those outreach platforms is the book which is meant to spread this message to as many people as possible.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, very good. Well, I applaud you for your work and I agree with the premise, it’s horrible what goes on today with factory farming, and your book with all the different voices here because you have chapters by many different experts and authors that are related to food. They talk about the morality, the ethics behind it, the health issues behind eating plants and animals, and also the environmental impact and the economic impact. We talk about all of those things on this program. I’ve had many of the authors on this show. I love a lot of them, Carol Adams and Jean Stone and Melanie Joy, let’s see there’s a lot of wonderful people here, Nick Cooney of course, Mark Devries. Yeah, Ginny Messina, we love them all. Okay, and that’s good. I remember in 1987 when Diet for New America came out by John Robbins as I mentioned before, I work with John and his son Ocean with the Food Revolution Network and it was I would say groundbreaking at the time. He connected how our food choices affect health, environment, treatment of animals. We weren’t hearing a lot about that. There were some undercurrents with the Vegetarian Resource Group and some other groups but that book really got the message out to many, many people. And John had a message. He wasn’t labeling, he wasn’t telling people they had to be perfect but he did talk about how if you reduced your meat consumption by ten percent, what a tremendous impact that was and that was a great message at that time and John still has that message. He talks about how it’s not important to be perfect and all of that is really good. That was thirty years ago, and I would like to think that we’ve come further since then and in some ways we have. The word “vegan” is now somewhat mainstream in many circles. We have more vegan and vegetarian foods in supermarkets and on menus. It’s a lot easier today than it ever was, we’ve got soymilks and vegan cheeses and all that, it’s wonderful. And now there are investors that want to invest in plant food processed foods and fast food restaurants and things like that. All that’s wonderful. But, I guess the way some of the people in your book justify doing what they do is what made me a little uncomfortable. So, for example, we’ve seen this with other movements recently where we compare something we want to change today with something that had happened before. So, I could take some of the justifications that people use in the book and compare it to women’s rights or civil rights like compare slaves with animals and we’ve come along way now most of us don’t believe in slavery and our laws support that to some degree even though there unfortunately still are slaves in this country and all over the world, we just may not know about them. And it wasn’t too long ago that women didn’t have the right to vote. I just learned recently from this show that in the seventies, women weren’t allowed to bartend and California was the last state to finally allow women to be bartenders in the early seventies.
Brian Kateman: Wow.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just mind-boggling, and people have used the Bible to justify slavery, that sort of thing. And so I see people justify eating animals in the same way as they’ve justified the exploitation of women and people of color. And so there’s this morality issue, and I’m at a point because the climate, our environment is in such turmoil that I think we need to be shouting this information really loud and not soft-selling it as much. And one more thing I wanted to say, I agree that we can’t be running and shouting in their faces, “What’s wrong with you? You have to be vegan!” That never works, I know. We have to come to a place and be loving and nonjudgmental and compassionate absolutely. But, there’s like this fine line because I’m a vegan and like Victoria Moran said in this book, she would love everyone to be a vegan. Me too! And I know that that’s not going to happen or at least not right way, but I think it’s wrong to kill animals and to use non-human animals for food. Period. That’s all.
Brian Kateman: Well, I think your points are really valid, and I’m very sympathetic to this argument because I’m extremely concerned about factory farming. I’m not happy that there are seventy billion land animals that are slaughtered each year and that the estimates for fish are so great, we can’t even figure them out, perhaps in the trillions. I’m not happy that we’re seeing climate change accelerating in unprecedented rates, that we’re seeing loss of biodiversity, that people are suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes. We could go on and on with the problems in the world and that can feel quite gloomy. So, the truth is though that and I think this is to your point, that progress happens incrementally. I’m not an expert in these civil rights issues, some of which you mentioned, but my understanding is that if we had been perhaps saying that we want I don’t know, perfect equality for women or for every race, etc., we’re still not there. There are still issues in those spaces and so to be pragmatic, sometimes we have to focus on wins that are achievable. It’s great to see that plant-based eating is on the rise and it’s becoming more popular and I am so excited about that particularly in the future food space because most people choose food based on price, on convenience, and on taste. They don’t choose foods based on what we’re discussing here even though perhaps we’ve come to that decision ourselves through ethics or environmental issues or simply perhaps trying to improve our health. Most people are not vegan, most people are not vegetarian. The percentage of vegans and vegetarians has remained about the same. About two percent roughly for vegans, maybe five percent for vegetarians. A number of studies show that people who are vegan or identify as vegan or a vegetarian actually aren’t, they occasionally eat animal products themselves. Reducetarianism is inclusive of anyone who’s trying to reduce the amount of animal products that they consume regardless of their motivation or the degree of reduction they’d like to see. So, I think “Meatless Monday” and “Vegan Before Six” and “Weekday Vegetarian”, many of these strategies that are discussed in the book, are wonderful but I’m also very supportive of vegetarianism and veganism because those individuals are also reducetarians. It’s just that they’ve done such a good job of reducing their consumption of animal products that they’ve reduced it to zero. And so I’m worried that there is a certain segment of the population that may not be receptive to veganism or vegetarianism. There certainly are, they are special. I think that a lot of my friends who are young perhaps are really angry at they’re not getting what they want in the political system and they want to go vegan to protect the environment or they’re unhappy with animals. But, I think of my parents who live in Staten Island, New York. It’s not known to be the most progressive..
Caryn Hartglass: Red state.
Brian Kateman: That’s right, that’s right. I grew up eating Buffalo wings at Applebee’s or Buffalo wings at Chili’s and a hamburger at Applebee’s. My parents to this day say they don’t like the taste of fruits and vegetables. I love my parents but they often say, “Are you still doing that vegetarian thing?” And so I think of them as sort of I don’t know, the average demographic and I suppose I’m optimistic that people will reduce the amount of animal products that they consume but may not go vegan. But, I want to push this point a little bit further. Imagine that we could get someone who’s eating two hundred pounds of meat a year to cut back ten percent. That would be pretty amazing, right? That would be twenty pounds.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, that’s what John Robbins was saying in 1987, yeah.
Brian Kateman: Yeah, it’s wonderful. Agreed. Let’s say that we could get a person whose eating five pounds of meat a year to go vegetarian. That would be a five-pound reduction. I just feel like we’re going to in this current climate, be able to save more animals, help people and the planet by understanding that there’s different motivations and different messaging that will relate to different people. Most people who eat less meat, sorry, people who eat less meat are more likely to become vegetarian and people who are vegetarian are more likely to become vegan. And so I feel as though getting people just started on the path will actually advance all of our shared goals and that’s really what the book is about is bringing together all these different voices and all these motivations under a shared paradigm. And I’m very excited about that.
Caryn Hartglass: I was trying to remember, I made a lot of notes and there was something I remembered and I’m not quite sure who said it, maybe it was in the forward… Anyway, it was talking about the different diets and oh yeah, here it is, right here the forward, Mark Bittman who writes, “It’s true that the word itself, Reducetarian, is a relatively new one whether it replaces or complements flexitarian (which is less specific), less meatatarian (which is roughly equivalent), vegetarian (somewhat stricter), or vegan (much stricter) remains to be seen”. And when I read that, “vegan (much stricter)”, I went I don’t agree with that. Vegan diet is not a strict diet. When you don’t see animals as food, you don’t see not eating them as something you’re missing. It’s not strict to me and I’ve found and I’ve said this before many times, every time I eliminate an ingredient or something from my diet, my food world expands so I don’t see it as deprivation. I don’t see it as strict. I see it as opening my world and when I see things written like that, I don’t think it helps because people take it in and go, “Oh, this is going to be hard because eating less and if I’m ultimately moving in this direction, it’s going to be strict and I’m going to be lacking”, and that’s not fair.
Brian Kateman: Well, I think certainly I don’t want to misrepresent that plant-based eating can be delicious and it can be achievable but I also don’t want to mislead people who are feeling uncertain and unfamiliar.
Caryn Hartglass: But, when they say a vegan diet is strict, that is misleading them because it isn’t.
Brian Kateman: Well, it’s stricter in the sense that it reduces the amount of options.
Caryn Hartglass: But it doesn’t! So, people are used to grabbing a burger and fries and when
They go vegan all of sudden, this whole plant kingdom, there are forty-five thousand different kinds of legumes, there’s so many different kinds of every plant, it just opens your world and you start to discover them. You start eating a far more varied diet than you ever did before, and I want to see that promoted.
Brian Kateman: I think that message is in there. I think the word “strict” just means that you can understand that a person can eat lots of the beautiful plant-based foods on the menu, but when they go to a barbeque and perhaps in a certain social situation, the only food that’s being served is a hamburger or wings, in that particular moment, they might feel as though their options are limited. Now, I eat primarily vegan food. I love vegan food. I’m making smoothies everyday. I’ve upped my Reducetarian game, but when I first started out, it felt intimidating. I don’t want to lie. It did feel intimidating. I think that the book has a number of tips and strategies that override that message and make it clear that while being perfect and pure can be difficult and that’s not what we’re advocating, it can be easy to eat plant-based foods. I suppose I feel that people are intimidated and fearful and some people when they hear they have to go vegan, what they think is they have to give up all the foods that they love and they haven’t quite caught onto the fact of your point that there are lots of delicious, plant-based foods that are nutritious, good for the planet, good for our health, and expenses, etc. I think putting people on the path and just acknowledging their own emotional experiences is important because otherwise I think it’s kind of I don’t know, it just seems agenda-y or misleading to tell a person that it’s insanely easy to go vegan today, you should do it right away. There are some people that will resonate with, but there are others. I know my parents, I’ve been trying to get them to go vegan for a long time and I’m just excited right now when they do Meatless Monday if for them that’s a start. My parents can’t pronounce the word “quinoa”. Sometimes, I feel as though there’s this sort of optimism and a lack of understanding around how challenging it could be for the average, everyday person who may not have these swanky, plant-based restaurants here in New York City or access. So look, if I vote, I want a vegan world. I’m very clear about my agenda, what I’m trying to do. I hope one day we can close Reducetarian Foundation, we can stop using the word Reducetarian, we can tell everyone to go vegan because so many people are there. But, there are right now a lot of people who are resistant to even eating a plant-based food once a day and that’s what we’re trying to do is get them on the path.
Caryn Hartglass: Let me ask you, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this but as a vegan, when I meet people either in a business situation or a social situation and I unashamedly (or whatever the word might be) say I’m a vegan or maybe we’re having a meal together, many people have the need to say, “Oh, I don’t eat a lot of meat” or “I don’t eat a lot of dairy”. Why do people say that?
Brian Kateman: Well, this is part of it. They’re threatened.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re threatened because deep down, they know there’s something to all of this, right?
Brian Kateman: For sure! I think there are a lot of people that know factory-farming sucks and that it’s bad for many of the issues that we care about and they unconsciously or consciously know that their meat eating in some way contributes to those issues. But, this is part of the challenge is I think when back in the day I would tell people eat as many plant-based meals as you possibly can have, people seemed to think that it was either you were a vegan or you eat two hundred and seventy-five pounds of meat a year. There’s a lot of physiological literature showing that people who eat meat are sort of unwilling to adopt this identity as though they care about animals because that’s inconsistent. Our brains don’t like cognitive distance. We actively resist it. And so I do think there’s this threatening there and that’s why when someone says to me they’re eating less meat, I instantly say, “That’s amazing! You should keep doing that. That’s really wonderful”. Reducetarian is meant to be a positive identity and we’re not advocating that people have to label themselves or adopt an identity at all. But, some literature shows that when people do adopt identities, they’re more likely to be consistent with their behavior. So, I hear sometimes, “I love Meatless Monday, but sometimes it’s accused of moral licensing, the idea that people only do Meatless Monday and they don’t go further”. I think Reducetarian helps sort of convey that this is a gradient. The more plant-based meals you have, the better rather than sort of locking people into one particular strategy that can be a little more rigid.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, there were a couple of places and I found one of them and I’m trying to find the other that had some really great tips. I liked Tanya Luna’s element of surprise where she talks about “surprisifying” ———————-
Responsible Eating And Living Worldwide, Inc.
your kitchen with some fun tips about how to reduce the amount of animal products. For example, use small skillets and plates for meat and large ones for everything else. Keep meat in a closed off section of the fridge and fruits and veggies easily accessible and so on. There are many tips like that and turning eating at restaurants into a game. That sounded fun. Ask the server to surprise you with a meat free choice on menu. Now, that may work for some, I would never let any server surprise me. I have to grill them about everything that’s on the dish, but I imagine that could be fun for some people. Oh, and then it was Ginny Messina yeah who had some excellent tips about offering healthy food for children. I think that would be a great pullout section just to spread around because there really isn’t enough in terms of how to feed children healthfully. A lot of parents struggle with that.
Brian Kateman: Yeah, I think this is a big challenge. Just a lot of people are not familiar with plant-based ingredients so a lot of these tips and strategies, many of them that you mentioned, help people sort of gradually learn and get accustomed to them. And I really liked also Lindsay Nixon’s essay who advocated that people kind of stick to one particular strategy and rule perhaps. So, for example, perhaps you only eat meat when you go out to eat, but when you cook food at home, you don’t use animal products or perhaps whenever you do eat meat, you make sure it’s a really small portion so four ounces versus sixteen ounces. I do think that making the tips somewhat more contextualized and concrete helps people because “eat less meat” is sort of vague. You have to kind of be accountable to yourself, and I agree all of those tips and strategies mentioned in the book are super valuable.
Caryn Hartglass: We have a few minutes left and I could talk about this all day because I love talking about food. I did want to mention one more thing that bugged me.
Brian Kateman: I love this! Bring it on.
Caryn Hartglass: So, it was in Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc of Human Rights and he wrote at one point, where is it, I wrote it down in my notes, about the history and he said something about how our human ancestors made a tacit bargain with animals. So, there was this like silent agreement that we made where we gave them something and they gave us their meat, and I don’t think there was an agreement. I don’t think the non-human animals agreed with this bargain and the same argument is used today with “humane farming” where we’re allowing the animals to freely roam within a certain confines and animals are somewhat better treated than in those horrific factory farms. But, if you ask the animal if they wanted to be slaughtered, I don’t think any of them would raise their hoof or their claw and say, “Take me next”. So, that’s just kind of like an understanding that we have and we only have two minutes so I just wanted to bring that up because it bugs me.
Brian Kateman: Well, it’s hard with that and James McWilliams did write a really great essay about the Humane Meat Myth and the thing is that ninety-five or so percent of animal products come from factory farms and when they don’t, they’re usually very expensive and hard to find so I’m actually not that interested or really that concerned with the “humane meat” argument simply because it doesn’t impact most people particularly in the United States. Perhaps, that was flower language that should have been excised. I think in general though and I really do want to stress this, the book rejects factory farming. It acknowledges that animals experience pain and they experience suffering just like us in all the ways that matter. It explains that factory farming contributes to all of these terrible environmental causes, that it’s a simple way to improve your health and live a long time and live a healthier life. And so to the vegans and vegetarians who are listening who are I supposed concerned with some of the points that you’re raising, I think it’s just helpful to know that the core messaging I feel is preserved that simply eating less meat, starting that journey, is a really good idea. At least half of the contributors are vegan; most of the recipes are vegan. I want a vegan world so I really believe that we’re all on the same team, and I’d argue that if you know an omnivore whose resistant to the idea of eating vegan or vegetarian, this is a great book to start their thinking, to start them on the path.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Brian Kateman: Yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I think this is a great conversation and everybody should be having this conversation so thanks Brian Kateman for joining me on It’s All About Food with The Reducetarian Solution and do I have any seconds left? No! I’m Caryn Hartglass and thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. You can find me at www.responsibleeatingandliving.com and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and here’s to a vegan world and have a delicious week! Oh, and one more thing, it’s my birthday on Saturday, Earth Day, so everybody let’s celebrate Earth Day on my birthday. Bye!
Transcribed by Lauren Inbody 4/30/2017