Sexy Vegan Joshua Katcher : Fighting for the Rights of Those Who Can’t
"Fashion isn’t only frivolous; it’s also a powerful visual communicator."
For the sartorially astute Katcher, fashion has always been a conduit for his activism. As a student at Syracuse University, he recalls, "I was reading a lot about the police state and thinking about how uniforms carry a lot of weight. Military uniforms, for example, are about power and intimidation. The gun - most often it’s not used; it’s more of an accessory. It’s displayed for a reason. Even with a suit and tie, you take on some of that intimidation; it’s about power. Fashion isn’t only frivolous; it’s also a powerful visual communicator. Fashion really owns the visual aesthetic language."
For Katcher, the understanding of fashion’s power enabled his own transition into an ethical Beau Brummell. "My interest in fashion is a consequence of my activism," he says. "Fashion has always been a tactical approach to activism. I realized that I didn’t look like someone that you’d want to take advice from, so I had to ’tailor’ my message to the tastemakers. Today, it’s necessary to embrace the truth of fashion: how you look while you’re saying something. It’s like, ’Here are these cops’ - and people listen."
"Fashion is both superficial - and functional. The thing about the fashion industry is that it knows how to manipulate our desires. It’s about power - what you wear is like a victory flag wrapped around yourself."
For many young gay men, fashion has often provided camouflage for their nascent desires, and as Katcher concurs, "I was vegan before I was out as gay. I was terrified; I felt I had totally compromised my manhood by being vegan - and then I was gay, too."
While it hurts to hear, on the other hand, Katcher’s experience as a closeted gay man still mirrors what too many young gay men face today - even in an era of increasing LGBT visibility. "My awareness of gayness was so limited. I was into punk - and so what I saw in the gay group, I thought, ’That’s not who I am.’ So, for me, knowing I was gay was a source of sadness and depression. One of my first crushes was a boy dancer at my bar mitzvah." Katcher laughs as he recalls recently viewing home videos of that event. "It’s so funny," he says, grinning, "but all through the movie, you can see my head turning and my eyes totally watching this guy dancing."
Ultimately, it was Katcher’s sister who came out first. "My sister beat me to the gay alter," he says, laughing. "I beat her to veganism, but she beat me to coming out."
"What would I want others to do if I couldn’t represent myself?"
Vegetarianism has been a part of humanity for at least as long as Homer; in The Odyssey, for example, Odysseus comes upon the island of Lotus-eaters, a fact also referenced by Herodotus who encounters a similar tribe in North Africa eating only the fruits of the lotus plant. Historically, vegetarianism has been connected with cultural reform movements, such as public health, temperance, and anti-vivisection.
When asked if he sees any parallels between the pursuit of LGBT equality and the animal rights movement, Katcher replies, ""One of the difficulties in the animal rights movement is getting people to feel true empathy. It’s getting people to ask themselves, ’What would I want others to do if I couldn’t represent myself?’"
"As gay people," Katcher continues, "we should be more aware of the oppression of other groups that are not in positions of power. Animals cannot organize like gay people - yet they still have families and friends. We should be more aware of the oppression of others because we should be informed by what has happened to us throughout history - and not be silent about it. It’s like the slogans SILENCE = DEATH and NEVER FORGET; it’s liberating to look at those slogans because you realize those slogans were always intended to transcend their timeliness. They speak to the future."
Speaking of the future, a 2010 report from United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management advocated a "global shift toward a vegan diet," contending that a vegan diet was critical for mitigating global issues of hunger and the damaging aspects of climate change. Recent studies have calculated that upon switching from the average American diet to a vegan diet, a person reduces his/her CO2 emissions by one and a half tons (3,000 pounds) per year.
Furthermore, on average, vegans have a lower body mass index than omnivores, which has also meant lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, prostate and colon cancers. And yet, less than one percent of the American population identifies as vegan, about which Katcher says, "When you mention veganism to people, asking them to think about it, sometimes people have a panic attack. When, really, what you want to recommend to them is to try it out for three or four days. Or one day a week. Or go vegan for one whole week - and see how you feel. Feel the difference."
Several studies have determined that vegetarians scored lower on depression tests and had better mood profiles. "What’s great about veganism is that it’s not only better for the environment," says Katcher, "but it’s also great for your health. I mean, you don’t get a package like that too often."
Perhaps, as with everything else in a capitalistic culture, veganism has to be sold to the population at large - and with that thought, Katcher starts riffing on possible vegan advertising slogans. "It’s like, you know, as gays, you could say ’Solving the population crisis - one homo at a time,’" he says, grinning, "So how about ’Go vegan - because you weren’t already weird enough.’"
And as for garnering media attention, what’s better than having a former US President announce his recent conversion to a vegan diet - just as Bill Clinton did recently.