Sexy Vegan Joshua Katcher : Fighting for the Rights of Those Who Can’t
Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves - and then there’s Joshua Katcher, the vegan animal rights activist whose arms are enveloped by a multi-hued tapestry of avian tattoos. "My tattoos are birds that have gone extinct over the past three hundred years," says Katcher, "so my tats are kind of a memorial, but also a reminder to keep focused."
With that kind of focus, it’s small wonder that throughout our nearly three-hour brunch at Café Blossom on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the effervescent and darkly handsome Katcher is repeatedly recognized by the vegan restaurant’s patrons and those who come in from the street.
Ever since the New York-based Katcher launched his website, The Discerning Brute ("Fashion, Food, and Etiquette for the Ethically Handsome Man"), in 2008, Katcher’s public persona has been increasingly displayed in the media spotlight, including a two-page nude centerfold for Time Out New York’s HORNY issue. Featured on Oprah.com as a "vegan superstar," Katcher was also named "The New Sexy Vegan," by UK’s The Guardian, as part of their list of new faces and top trends for 2010.
It was in 1951 that the Vegan Society defined veganism as "the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals," which today is widely understood to mean the avoidance of all animal products, either through ingestion or by adornment. Raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, Katcher became a vegan in high school after witnessing a film on slaughterhouses. What was originally a weeklong commitment by Katcher and his secondary school classmates has become Katcher’s raison d’être as a man. "One of the most tortured existences is to have values - and not live by them," says Katcher, quoting a maxim that has becoming something of his mantra.
"Fur is not fabulous. There’s something wrong if the most luxurious items in fashion are dead animals."
An afternoon spent with Katcher produces a flurry of (often irrefutable) philosophical apothegms - and I scribbled furiously to capture as many of them as I could, while eating, chewing, and swallowing. "So many people are searching for signs of life in the universe," says Katcher, holding up the recent Style issue of The New Yorker, the one with the satirical cover of animals in fur coats parading down a catwalk, thereby illustrating the absurdity of one animal wearing another animal’s fur. "And here we are destroying our own companions on the planet. Why would meeting an alien be any different from the sentient beings, the many species that already surround us?"
As an artist, activist, vegan chef, and MTV television producer, Katcher’s most recent endeavor is The PINNACLE Initiative, his forum for re-energizing the 1970s NO FUR pin (with its slogan "Real people wear fake fur"), which was arguably the precursor to the AIDS ribbon and its multiple awareness accessory variants. "The fur issue is one of the oldest issues within the animal rights movement. There’s such an indifference to the suffering of fur animals. Fur is not fabulous. We have to talk to the industry; we have to make them see. I want people to be accountable, to know where what they’re wearing is coming from - and to know that they are responsible whether they like it or not. There’s something wrong if the most luxurious items in fashion are dead animals."
And Miss Jackson - how does Katcher feel about Miss Nasty’s recent twin massive Blackglama billboards in Times Square, with Miss Jackson wearing only dead animals? "I mean, you can take this to the limit... I mean, as a Jew, our hair was stuffed into mattresses; our fat was used for soap. So, tell me, where does it end?"
And what about faux fur, or recycled fur? As Katcher explains, "If you make something desirable, it creates demand. So if you’re wearing faux fur, then you need to showcase the NO FUR pin."
"I’m using the same imagery as the industry: something that can be captured in a picture," says Katcher about The PINNACLE Initiative. "Peter Max is going to be doing a pin. And John Bartlett - he’s recently gone vegan. Ultimately, the truth is hard to silence. People are openly talking about the fur industry now."
Or as Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in Eating Animals, "We can not plead ignorance, only indifference."