Joshua Katcher – The Discerning Brute

Goodlifer: Joshua Katcher - The Discerning Brute

Joshua Katcher is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, self-taught vegan chef, businessman, activist, television producer, self-declared hotshot and jack-of-all-trades. In 2008 he founded “The Discerning Brute,” a resource for intelligent men who want to make ethical, informed decisions concerning their lifestyles. With signature style, wit and savvy, Katcher shows us that we don’t have to make sacrifices when choosing to live discerning lives — being good is hot. 

When did you become a vegan and why?
I grew up absolutely loving animals and playing in the woods. Most children love animals (you’ll notice we rarely have to stop them from trying to eat the cat or dog, like a natural carnivore would). I believe we are broken of our love for the landbase and other creatures at an early age. It’s tough to hold on to that love in this culture, where ‘success’ and ‘progress’ typically means exploiting and destroying the natural environment, animals, and each other.

I embraced the fact that I was an environmentalist and animal advocate at an early age. It just made sense to me to be compassionate and empathetic. When I watched a documentary about slaughterhouses in high-school, that sealed the deal for me concerning animals. I’ve now been vegan for over a decade.

Goodlifer: Joshua Katcher, The Discerning Brute.

Joshua Katcher, The Discerning Brute.

Basically, I saw something happening to individuals that I thought must be incredibly torturous and painful and I said to myself “I have to try and stop this. This is wrong.” So I began my journey into trying to understand why these atrocities happen — how they’re related to other atrocities, and what can be done.

Then, when I learned that the reason so much rainforest is being cut down is for cattle grazing, and how most of the world’s grains goes to feed cattle instead of the starving people whose land was taken to grow it; these facts just added fuel to the fire.

I grew up reading comic books too and the theme of justice has always resonated with me. Not revenge, but fighting for clarity and truth and justice always seemed possible.

I love the name of your blog, how did you come up with it?
Being discerning and being a brute at once seems like a contradiction, but all I am trying to do is provide an alternative source of cultural identity to the Hummer loving, t-bone eating, leather jacket wearing, out-of-touch man. You can still be a handsome, strong man while protecting our landbase and the animals living in it. Essentially it is self-defense and self-preservation, right? Many men are told that compassion and emotion are signs of weakness. That “caving in” under the desires of others, or showing empathy is emasculating. Most men in this culture are brought up to exemplify stoicism and logic. On a deep level, it is logic and objectivism that are truly put at risk by emotion — and thus, control itself; at least, this is the conventional perception. Emotions are a far cry from being logical — they cannot be measured or mapped. There is no emotional stock market or well-being index; how would one measure compassion, love, hatred, or indifference? The name ultimately means that being discerning about our impact on others can coexist with our animal strengths. Any guy can be compassionate and make more ethical decisions without giving up his manhood.

It’s great that you are leading by example, showing your fellow males how it can be done. But how do you spread the gospel without scaring carnivorously inclined friends away?
I learned to cook! I can cook vegan meals that have and will continue to knock the socks off of skeptics. I think it’s the duty of vegetarians and vegans to learn how to cook and bake well (or at least know where to buy the good stuff). Pleasure is an incredibly convincing argument.

I shy away from the term “gospel” because, unlike a religion, issues involving animal rights, social justice and environmentalism require no blind faith in anything, per se. They are happening right here in this physical world and we can see them and hear them and prove it. Animals cry out. People cry out. The ecosystems we depend upon to survive are falling apart. It is quite the opposite of a religion or gospel. As far as helping people open their eyes to the everyday decisions they make that are perpetuating these problems, it’s important to remember that being compassionate doesn’t require being a martyr or sacrificing style, taste, or pleasure. I spread the word with amazing, delicious food and cool clothes and fun activities and making friends. It’s shocking how easily and enjoyably we can all make lifestyle changes that help.

Katcher in the kitchen, making his Chocolate & Cinnamon Vegan Rugelach.

Katcher in the kitchen, making his Chocolate & Cinnamon Vegan Rugelach.

Yeah, it just takes that one bit of extra effort, which is totally worth it. As a big supporter of home cooking (check out The Discerning Brute’s recipe section for all the dishes mentioned here and more), what are your go-to dishes? What advice do you have for people who claim they can barely turn on the stove?
Cooking is like drugs for me. Or therapy. But at first, it was a chore. With practice, though, it became very pleasurable. My go-to-dishes are the soul-foods I grew up loving, veganized. From grilled-‘cheese’ to stuffed shells, from ‘sausage’ and peppers heros to walnut-mushroom pate. For the people who claim they can’t cook, go buy a cookbook! Force yourself to try and try again until you succeed. There’s no magic to cooking, it’s just like any craft. Practice makes perfect.

Katcher's Lobster Mushroom Tostada Tower (no it does not contain lobster meat).

Katcher’s Lobster Mushroom Tostada Tower (no, it does not contain lobster meat).

Katcher's Savory Summer Roll with Cuke Salad.

Katcher’s Savory Summer Roll with Cuke Salad.

You never wear any type of animal product either, right?
That’s right. There’s really no need to. There are so many amazing, sustainable, warm, hi-tech or simple textiles that it’s simply laziness or production politics that prevents most fashion designers from making the switch.

What’s your favorite vegan fashion line or designer?
That’s difficult to answer! There are so many designers doing amazing things from shoes, to accessories to denim to outerwear. Some of the designers I’ve been keeping my eye on are Vaute Couture, April 77, Matt & Nat, Trousers London, Velour, The Hill-Side, Novacas, Bourgeois Boheme, Loomstate, Bassike, Edun, Preloved, and Turk + Taylor. I keep praying that Stella McCartney will do men’s shoes!

There is certainly more and more out there to choose from, but what do you have a hard time finding?
Good vegan suits! Some spring collections include cotton or linen suits, and some cheaper brands do poly suits, but there really is not a huge selection of suits that have been tailored well. It’s way overdue for there to be a higher-end, sustainable vegan suit and tux line. Also, more good boots would be welcomed. Novacas has a great boot called the “Leo,” but that’s about it.

Katcher is a spokesmodel for OlsenHaus vegan shoes.

Katcher is a spokesmodel for OlsenHaus vegan shoes.

I have furs and leather jackets that were all inherited or bought second hand. Is that ok in your opinion? Why or why not?
I think it depends. Objectively speaking, anything re-used is better than new when it comes to resource extraction and production. In a perfect world, everything would be cycled through over and over until it was just not usable anymore… and then it would harmlessly be reincorporated into an ecosystem.

However, animals are not objects any more than people. Fashion is a form of visual communication (one of the most powerful in our current culture) — so my advice to people who care about animals used in the fashion industry is to avoid any “loud” garments like fur coats, or fox tail key chains or leather trench coats — because whether we want to or not, when we make garments look good it creates a demand, and there is a chance someone who doesn’t know it’s thrift or recycled will go buy a new garment.  No one is going to jump down your throat for having a vintage wool-blend jacket or vintage silk tie — but as long as we even consider it acceptable for animals to be exploited or killed and their body parts to be turned into objects of consumption and symbols of class/status/wealth/power/beauty, respecting and liberating animals from their current status as “units of production” or “resources” will never be accomplished. All in all, it’s pretty easy to avoid animal products in fashion. There are so many amazing, durable, beautiful and eco-friendly alternatives, it just requires designers to look outside the box.

That’s a very interesting way to look at it, I’ll have to make sure to not make myself look too good when I wear my old furs, then. When will fashion dinosaurs like Anna Wintour realize that they should look outside the box and start thinking a bit more responsibly about fashion?

They never will. It’s funny you refer to people like her as dinosaurs, because that’s exactly what they are like; they are like old, slow giants with small brains who missed the evolution boat and they will go extinct one way or another. Trying to change people like that is a wasted effort. It’s very rare for someone who is in a position of power and making a lot of money exploiting others to voluntarily stop. They’ll stop whey we make them stop by waking up from the spell they’ve cast and not giving them money, or by taking their jobs because our values and message makes more sense in this new world that they clearly can not navigate sustainably or compassionately.

Who is your favorite vegan?

My rescued chihuahua, Enzo. His favorite treats are carrots and kale stems! He honestly loves his vegan food (a mixture of wet and dry from Pet Guard and  Natural Balance), and his bloodwork always comes back in tip-top shape from the vet. He is happy and healthy and no longer in an abusive home.

Katcher's favorite vegan: his rescued chihuahua Enzo.

The Discerning Pooch. Katcher’s favorite vegan: his rescued chihuahua Enzo.

How can we make being discerning and responsible “the new black”?
Honestly? By having fun. By living passionately and loudly and handsomely whenever you are able to. People are attracted to these things. Look at advertising — the biggest perversion of our desires. Imagine if compassion and activism had the same PR prowess? Activists and advocates and people doing PR for them need to take notice of this. It’s a dialect that most people understand, and instead of resisting because of a fear of violating puritanism, we should use as leverage.

Yes, kill them with goodness. What gives you hope for the future?
Hope is a four-letter-word. It is a passive state, like prayer. It allows for action to be set aside. I don’t have hope in the future because we need to make the future. This is a huge undertaking! Part of me is happy that “green” is becoming mainstream, but another part of me knows the consequences of this culture’s insatiable appetite for resources and ability to appropriate any social or political movement to meet it’s ends. Every Discerning Brute should become familiar with the problems of our economic model (watch the amazing Story of Stuff for a crash course.)

What I’d like to see and what I expect to see are very, very different. In the next generation I’d like to see an economic model that considers the fact that we live on a finite planet with finite resources, and provides indicators for personal and ecological well-being. I’d like to see the end of the corporate colossus and a return to local, self-determining communities. I’d like to see kids learning how to grow their own food and other real life skills. I’d like to see an end to factory farming, vivisection laboratories, zoos, the fur-trade, and any other industry that profits from torture and suffering of living beings. I’d like to see a shift in our deeply erroneous belief that tribal and indigenous peoples are worthless (those that are left will out-survive us for sure). I’d like to see the end of sweatshops. But what do I expect to see? Lots of “green” products, lots of greenwashing, a huge rise in vegetarianism, and the beginnings of a real movement back to rural living. Is this enough? Dare I hope?

Definitely. The least we can do is try to advocate for the future we want to see. What does the good life mean to you?
The good life is having your basic needs met. Food, shelter, water, community, and a sense of safety. Surprisingly, for so many people and animals, these basic needs are stifled. If you have them, why not actively help others get there too?

Photos courtesy of The Discerning Brute.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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  1. Hot, ethical, vegan, and environmental savvy? YES, YES, YES. Joshua Katcher is the real deal in a world full of green-washers. Great piece! Thank you!

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What constitutes the good life? It’s a question we’ve asked ourselves since the dawn of time and something we all strive for. To us, the good life is not a destination but a journey. We want to see more positivity in the world. Thinking happy thoughts makes for happy people, and happy people are more productive, innovative and at peace with the world. We believe in the transformative power of good news.

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