busyfood.net – Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA on Meat and Masculinity
Tell me about Plant Grants.
I hooked up with [vegan cheese company] Violife because we have a similar philosophy about eating plant-based foods: making them more accessible, affordable, and sustainable for everybody. There are three things that are important to this program. First, of course, is funding. Violife is giving out five Plant Grants, $20,000 apiece, to Black-owned restaurants.
Second, it’s about mentorship and knowing how to incorporate plant-based ingredients into recipes. That’s where our [partnering] chefs—Lemel Durrah of Compton Vegan and Laricia Chandler Baker of Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat—come in because vegan restaurants around the country are getting better and better and people are really taking their time [to make good food].
Third, it’s about information. People are becoming more conscious of how they eat and of the effects their diets have on problems like high blood pressure and diabetes. A plant-based diet has been actually proven to reduce these factors in our community, and getting this information into the hands of Black chefs and restaurants will just only expand it.
What do you envision when you dream of a plant-based future, especially in Black communities?
To quote my son, the dream is that we are all “happy and healthy.” When I ask my son how he’s doing, he says, “happy and healthy, Dad.” That’s all we can ask for. That’s my dream, that we all are happy and healthy, and that starts with our body and our minds.
Life grows through the food we eat to sustain our bodies, so a plant-based life and balanced diet will only improve our bodies. Plant Grants supports my vision by making a plant-based diet readily and easily available. This grant for Black-owned restaurants, some of which are the heart of their communities, gives them a chance to have an economic infusion, to have chefs [share] mentorship and information, and turn their best dishes into something that’s more healthy without compromising the taste.
How have you seen attitudes around veganism culturally shift among men, specifically Black men?
At one point people thought veganism was preppy, but it’s shifted and I think hip-hop has helped. You see some of the hip-hop heroes being conscious of their diet and sharing it in their lyrics and in their lifestyles because there’s truth to it. There’s a truth to it, that on this planet that’s full of plants, you could flourish and be nourished from that plant.
There was a point in life where meat was a sacrifice. If your only way to survive is to sacrifice this animal to get you back to a place where you can start farming again, that’s an understandable sacrifice. But today we actually breed animals and kill them more for pleasure versus necessity. I think that consciousness is growing and Black men are saying to themselves, Yo, I don’t need it. I feel better. I think we are getting away from it being stereotypically uncool to be healthy.
Take our Plant Grants chef Lemel Durrah of Compton Vegan, for example. When you think of Compton, you think about Eazy-E and all the gangsterism, but in the midst of that community, there’s a restaurant that’s flourishing where people can go and start changing their diet. They’re not far from Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles or whatever, but there’s a choice now, and I think that’s only going to grow.
How do you think we can start changing the cultural view of meat as crucial to masculinity and therefore crucial to survival?
A few bits of wisdom: A man is known to be strong, as they say, and that man eats steak for strength. Steak comes from a cow and the male cow, a bull, is a very strong animal that can grow up to around 1,500 pounds and move tons. All the cow eats is grass. All the muscles he has, all the steak, every part of him that we’re consuming, is all built from plants. This is the animal we are consuming for strength, but what does that animal consume for strength? Plants.
You’re dealing with organic, animated life—from a fly to a chicken to a fish, these things are striving to live. In all reality there’s nothing that needs to die for a man to live. Everything is provided. I’m here as a living example of over 20 years of not putting dead animals in my body. There’s no flaw in not eating meat. I don’t have a flaw from it, and I’ve got children with no flaws from it. When I was young, I wasn’t conscious of just how much death that we cause just to try to have a life. We delude ourselves into thinking that the only means of survival is for something else to die.