Joshua Katcher, animal activist, fashion icon, and vegan gentleman, is also the man behind The Discerning Brute blog, founded the Brave GentleMan online men’s shop and the PINNACLE initiative against fur in fashion. Most recently, he became an Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Fashion at LIM College. Somewhere under all those hats, I found Joshua and he graciously took some time to chat with me.
Allison Rivers Samson: The Discerning Brute is such a wonderful resource! What prompted you to start the site?
Joshua Katcher: Thank you. I started The Discerning Brute simply because men’s lifestyle issues and masculinity in general were not addressed or catered to in the vegan, ethical or sustainability realms. A lot of the vegan lifestyle media has been geared toward women, and what’s even more problematic is that most mainstream men still perceive veganism as an abandonment of power and pleasure; an anemic regimen for the wimpy. In a recent interview Dr. Hal Herzong (author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals”) he explains that the sex ratio in the animal protection movement, about 75% women, has not changed in over 100 years.
The Discerning Brute, and the projects that have emerged from it like the Brave GentleMan online store, my shoe and suit collaborations, and my new journey into being a college professor, are all in an effort to reveal that compassion is not disabling. Quite the contrary, it is a source of incredible strength and innovation. There are countless examples of incredible athletes, amazing food and really cool clothing and accessories in the vegan realm.
Because mainstream masculinity is a roadblock to sustainability, it must be examined, challenged and changed – but it won’t happen overnight. Men are terrified of being perceived as feminine – which, sadly, is equated with weakness in our culture. That fear runs deep, and affects diet, clothing, expression, and activity. So many men are afraid of being seen as compassionate because, on a deep level, emotion puts logic and objectivity – and thus our sense of control – at risk. I hope to provide a place where some of this necessary evolution can take place.
ARS: I am so glad you’re doing this! It’s true that culture can get in the way of sensibility. Tell us about your vegan journey.
JK: I never thought I’d be vegan. I learned about the devastation happening in South America due to clearing forests for cattle grazing and for growing crops to feed the cattle in tenth grade. I decided to try giving up meat, and at first it was just a personal challenge to see if I could do it for a few days. It was easier (and more fun) than I thought and I just stuck with it. Then I took Animal Liberation by Peter Singer out of the high school library and it just blew my mind. Animal rights became a huge focus for me, and connected seamlessly with the environmental and social justice issues I was already interested in.
ARS: Veganism can indeed weave together holistic solutions to numerous injustices. Who/what were your influences to become vegan and more conscious in your lifestyle?
JK: Peter Singer’s book and PETA pamphlets at the hardcore and punk shows I would go to played a pretty influential role in my decision.
ARS: What is “ethical handsomeness?”
JK: Ethical Handsomeness is simply a term that awards an ethical lifestyle the same degree of respect we so often give to what’s superficial. An ethical lifestyle is truly a thing of esteem and a man who leads an ethical lifestyle is ethically handsome.
ARS: How true! What do men say is/are their biggest challenge(s) in adopting a compassionate lifestyle?
JK: Most men who have not yet gone vegan typically hesitate due to the perception that they’ll become social pariahs, and fragile sissies. For guys who are in the process or newly vegan, the biggest challenge is not seeing themselves reflected in vegan culture.
ARS: Again, culture plays a significant role and shifting cultural perceptions is a primary objective in the vegan movement. What are your tips or suggestions for anyone feeling the call to be more ethical in their lives?
JK: Knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon said almost half a century ago. Devour as many books and as much media as you can. On a more practical note, I’d say not to feel like you have to change your whole life overnight. Veganism is not a religion – it’s a social justice struggle, and every step in the right direction counts, so don’t be overwhelmed by the idea that this is some pursuit of perfection. Take it one step at a time and you’ll see how easy and fun it can be.
ARS: Yes! It’s not about perfection. Living in New York, you have a plethora of possibilities for eating at fabulous restaurants for every meal. Do you go out to eat regularly or do you more often cook at home? What’s your current go-to meal and/or favorite restaurant?
JK: I cook at least one meal a day at home – but the New York lifestyle definitely lends itself to grabbing things on the go whether it’s coffee and a bagel or a wheel of vegan cheese. Based on proximity, I am at Champ’s Bakery frequently, but I am a sucker for Candle 79, Pure Food & Wine and Blossom.
Thanks Joshua. We are big fans of ethically handsome men like yourself and we’re always thrilled to be able to share a male perspective, especially when it’s as eloquently expressed as yours.