RZA of Wu-Tang Clan Has a Beef With Meat

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RZA, the leader of the groundbreaking hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan, is a producer, rapper, writer, director, film scorer and actor. He is also a promoter of a meatless lifestyle.

The 54-year-old creator gave up red meat in the mid-1990s, followed by chicken, fish, and eventually dairy and eggs. He has since worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, started a vegan clothing line and appeared in a surreal video series with other Wu-Tang members to promote White Castle’s meatless Impossible Sliders.

In a recent interview, RZA, whose real name is Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, talked about why he went vegan, cultural links between masculinity and meat and how going meatless just a few days a week would help the planet. Here are excerpts from that conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

There’s increased awareness these days about the environmental harms of meat consumption, particularly beef, along with health concerns. Why did you stop eating it?

For me, it was consciousness. It was just the awareness of life itself. It became almost illogical, almost unethical. Why does the animal have to die for me to live? And then learning that our digestive system really has a hard time digesting red meat. As I became more conscious, it started to make less and less and then no sense to eat a dead bird. To even eat a dead fish.

What about dairy?

Eggs and milk and cheese were the last things to go from my diet. There were multiple reasons. And it was tough. The animal is not dying. It’s the animals being useful. Look, I’m a New Yorker. There’s nothing like the New York slice of pizza. But I realized how much mucus was building up in my own body. And the process of the milk we are consuming is so chemically infused. Even with pasteurization, there’s still other elements of bacteria that are getting into our systems. Eggs was another tough one. But eggs are so porous, and they hit them with chemicals. And there’s mistreatment of those animals. So now you’re consuming that trauma.

Some say that it’s natural for humans to eat meat, that we ended up with bigger brains because of it.

We’ve been taught a lot of myths. Back in my meat-eating days, man, I could knock out 20 chicken wings. I could knock out easily three pieces of steak. At the end of the day, it definitely had an effect on my personality. I was definitely more aggressive, and more aggressive without purpose. We have a country that had to build soldiers and factory workers. We had to make sure that our population was growing and being strong with what we had. I think meat is necessary during war times. But now in our own world, the necessity of hunting has been removed and diminished. I feel evolved, and the proof of it to me is my children who grew up, the majority of their lives, not never having no red meat, no chicken, a couple did pescetarianism. They’re healthy, very intelligent, very talented young people.

Why do you think there’s an association between meat and masculinity?

There was a generation that grew up with bodybuilding. When you’re a bodybuilder, you need a lot of protein. The assumption was that the strongest source of protein is going to come from the animal. It has been propagated through culture, propagated through films. We didn’t know in the ’80s that there was another way.

Does the impact of climate change factor into your thinking about food?

Well, now, yes. The data is out that we’re destroying our own atmosphere just for the pleasure, not the necessity. Meat and beef and all these burgers are pleasure food, and we’d rather destroy our environment for our pleasure, and it’s foolish of us. We’ve got to snap out of our tendency to fulfill our immediate pleasure and sacrifice our long-term gains.

A larger percentage of Black people identify as vegan compared with the rest of the population. Do you have thoughts as to why?

For the Black community, health has been a struggle, from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, all these different things that have plagued our community for some years. I think as generations kept growing, you start seeing us drop certain things.

What would you say to somebody who is concerned about the environment and thinking about cutting down on meat, but who is worried about what life is like without it?

Start with one day a week at least. Moderate yourself. I didn’t go cold turkey. It took me years to get to veganism. I started with giving up red meat. Then chicken, then fish, then eggs and cheese. You don’t have to rush yourself into that. Let your natural body speak for you. But if you’re thinking about helping all of us, helping the world, at least knock out a couple of days a week.

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