One-half of the Non-Prophets, Rhode Island resident Sage Francis is a rare beast in hip-hop: he’s a vegetarian emcee/spoken word artist and he’s not timid about saying so. While he’s not the first person in hip-hop to leave the beef for a battle (like the 2000 Scribble Battle, for example, which he won), he’s one of the few that talks openly about it in his lyrics. On “Different,” from his solo album Personal Journals, Sage says:
Growing up in a microscopic town prepared me well for this petrii dish, /
Where talk is invisible to the eye and they hate the guy they’re speaking with. /
I’m a real vegetarian: No chicken…not even fish. /
I’m a real underground rapper: My tape quality sucks, my records are warped and my CD skips.
In this e-mail interview with Sage, he discusses how he became vegetarian and how some of hip-hop’s well-known vegetarians may not be walking the walk.
Ryan: Let’s start with the basic background stuff—what type of vegetarian are you? How long have you been vegetarian? What led you to choose to stop eating meat?
Sage: As my vegan friend puts it, I am a ‘half-assed vegetarian.’ I eat dairy products. I stopped eating meat in 1996 and it was basically done on a bet. My straight edge friends tried telling me that I was addicted to beef because of all the drugs that are pumped into cows. I knew the only reason I ate meat is because it was made available to me in different forms and for very cheap (which is absurd). So I stopped eating meat for a year just to prove them wrong and then when i tried to go back to eating meat again I was repulsed by the flesh.
Ryan: So that was some reverse psychology they pulled, huh? While you proved to them you weren’t addicted, their bet showed you the light. As the years went by, what types of things surprised you and disgusted you the most about food production?
Sage: Basically, they pulled the old, “Oh you couldn’t stop eating meat even if you tried.” Well, I proved them wrong. I most certainly wasn’t to meat. I ate it out of convenience. I truthfully believe that they believed I was physically addicted to eating meat and I knew that was nonsense. I had never been addicted to anything. Not to my knowledge anyway. The thing that disgusted me most about meat was that… I am composed of meat. I don’t feel like chewing flesh. It grosses me out. I know where it comes from and I know how it gets to my plate. If I can have an alternative to meat, I will always go that route. I can’t believe all people don’t do that.
Ryan: What are some of your favorite veggie dishes/recipes?
Sage: I absolutely love vegetarian makki. That’s about as classy as I get. Other than that, I am a sucker for pizza. I’m one of those people.
Ryan: How about restaurants? Are there any favorites in towns that you visit but don’t live near?
Sage: I believe that the only ALL veggie restaurant in RI is the Garden Grille [Caf�], which is unbelievable. Classy joint with scrumptious meat alternatives. My favorite place to eat in Providence is the Meeting Street Cafe which specializes in top quality food of all sorts. I have written many love letters and break up letters in that place.
Ryan: Vegetarianism is one of those topics rarely discussed in hip-hop (aside from every rapper and his mother saying, “even vegetarians have beef with me” or some such). Animal rights, specifically, seems to come up even less frequently, even among political emcees… do you think this disconnect is similar to the one that often exists between environmentalists and animal rights activists?
Sage: Ha ha, good call on the over-used vegetarian punchline. But humans have a lot of wrinkles to iron out between themselves before ‘animal’-rights becomes pertinent subject matter in hip-hop. I do wish ALL people could see the benefits of vegetarianism but there’s a lot of work to be done before that sort of awareness permeates the mindset of rich and poor.
Ryan: What do you think is the most urgent thing people need to know about food production/vegetarianism/etc., even if
they don’t go any further in exploring the topic?
Sage: A conscious diet should be a healthy one. A conscious vegetarian diet is a healthy one. You are not making a sacrifice to your body by depriving it of meat, that is a social fallacy. A true revolution begins with your daily eating practices.
Ryan: When it comes time to tour, have you faced any difficulties finding good eats on short notice?
Sage: Most of the time we are forced to settle with gas station cuisine. Horrible, horrible eating habits on tour. And touring Europe will definitely test a vegan’s faith.
Ryan: In a recent poll, England was named the most vegetarian-friendly country, which kind of surprised me because while Asian countries do eat a lot of fish, it’s not unusual for anyone (not just vegetarians or Buddhists) to eat a dish with seitan or tofu in it. I would have expected somewhere in Southeast Asia to be easier to find veggie food since it’s so ingrained into their culture. Did you find any European countries that were more friendly to vegetarian visitors than others?
Sage: That poll sounds like complete bullshit. Granted, there are a lot of Indian restaurants in England, but there is no way that any spot in the UK is the most vegetarian-friendly in the world. Quite the contrary. From my understanding, there are Asian countries that used to be strict vegetarian until they became westernized. From personal experience, the good old northern US of A is the most vegetarian friendly, but there is one buffet-style veggie restaurant in Montreal that takes the cake. I forgot the name though.
Ryan: Dre from Outkast is vegan, Dead Prez go so far as talking about raw foodism… who else in the hip-hop community is vegetarian/vegan that you know of?
Sage: Dre and Dead Prez may talk the talk, but like most rappers I have a sneaky suspicion they ain’t walking the walk. It’s like… KRS claiming vegetarianism on one song and then I read an interview where he was eating chicken. So who knows. Recently I heard a member of Souls of Mischief say he was vegan. Sole is vegan, Odd Nosdam is vegan, Yoni (Why?) is vegan, and I am the half-assed vegetarian.
You can find out more about Sage Francis at Non-Prophets.com. Be sure to check out his solo work (Personal Journals, the Sick of… series, Makeshift Patriot), his work with Joe Beats as the Non-Prophets (the outstanding 2003 release Hope), and his material with Art Official Intelligence.