Debate: Don’t Eat Anything with a Face

By D.R. Hildebrand

Photo: Joshua Katcher

Earlier this month, The Discerning Brute covered promotions for the debate event “Don’t Eat Anything with a Face.” It got a lot of press traction. Hosted by the U.S. affiliate of Intelligence Squared, the debate featured two two-member teams arguing each side of the motion. For the motion were Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and George Washington University and his debate partner Gene Baur, founder and co-president of Farm Sanctuary. Against the motion were Chris Masterjohn, author of the blog The Daily Lipid (sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation), and his debate partner Joel Salatin, public speaker and director of Polyface Farms.

The debate was composed of three rounds, including a question-and-answer with the audience, and to my delight it maintained an intelligent, robust, and precise examination of the motion, Don’t Eat Anything with a Face. The facts and concerns the debaters addressed, on both sides, were detailed and numerous, and, at the same time, far from complete. Nevertheless, at the end of the ninety minutes the audience was asked to select a winner. The results are illuminating. editor, Joshua Katcher was in the audience and had this to say:

“The debate was sold-out, jam packed, and the popularity of this debate was such that it crashed the Intelligence Squared website! The energy both in the crowd and on the stage was intense, thought-provoking, and above all, it was nice to her that the place where 99% of meat and dairy products (CAFO’s, more popularly known as factory farms) was not even on the table for debate, being considered indefensible by both sides. At the after party, even moderator John Donvan, author and correspondent for ABC News, admitted he’d be changing his eating habits.”

For anyone passionate about food, the definition of food, the future of food, the state of farming, or our relationship to non-human animals, this is a serious investigation of all of these topics. The only related topic not considered here is that of factory farming. Both sides of the motion agree from the outset that factory farming, and all its outcomes and implications, is egregious. The panelists debate only the motion: Don’t Eat Anything with a Face. It is worth watching:

One of the main points raised by the two who argued against the position was that many animals are killed in growing vegetation. But according to research, more animals are still killed in farming them directly:

What I Learned from the ‘No Meat Athlete’ Book Tour

by Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Hey Discerning Brute readers! It has been a long time and boy have I been busy. Last month the No Meat Athlete book, by Matt Frazier from came out and I’m very happy to be the co-author.  Matt created his site to write about his journey to qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon as a new vegetarian. He had no idea his ethical dietary choice would improve his running, and not only get him to Boston, but turn him vegan and into a 100-mile race finisher. That’s 100 miles. Running.

The book is not about him though. It is more of a guidebook for anyone who wants to eat healthy, learn the facts about plant-based nutrition and be motivated to run or exercise more. It’s fun and informative with practical, science-based nutrition that I was fortunate to contribute. With so much inaccurate info out there about vegan diets and exercise, it feels great to hand people this book! Because when it comes down to it everyone could eat better and exercise more (Except for Ed Bauer. I think that dude has maxed out his exercise and fitness.)

Matt did an epic 6 week 40+ event book tour and I hoped on in for the Southern California, Arizona and Austin events. Each one was different- sometimes at a running store and sometimes at a restaurant- even a non-vegetarian one (“we just love what you are doing!”). The response though, stayed the same- “I am so excited to eat more plant-based foods.” We heard this multiple times at every stop. Sure, seasoned runners and seasoned vegans showed up but the majority was people who are new-ish to either plant-based eating or running and fitness- or both.

One question stands out that represents where we are going. A young woman asked during the Q&A, “We now have your book, and Scott Jurek’s and others, but what did you do before that?”

Now I’ve been vegan since the mid-90′s and athletic for the better part of that time so at first this question caught me off guard. Then later that night I realized what her question means. We’re reaching entirely new people. Duh. My NYC Discerning Brute vegan athlete talk in the Spring packed the Jivamukti Yoga School, but it was mostly vegans, athletic folks or vegan athletic folks. Great people, whom I love, but on this recent tour we did something even bigger: reached entirely new audiences.

It’s going beyond vegans and, finally, showing everyday fitness folks the benefits of eating more plant foods. And running is on the forefront of plant-based athletes. We have Scott Jurek, of course. And my friend Catra Corbett has been vegan almost two decades and is about to run her 100th 100-mile run. All I know is that 100 squared equals hella miles. Not to mention Mike Arnstein and Donovan Jenkins, two ultra-runners I featured on my Day in the Life of Vegan Athletes video series. And of course there’s the legendary British marathoner Fiona Oakes who just this week set a new women’s record for the Antarctic Ice Marathon and now holds the world record for total aggregate time of marathons on each continent plus the North Pole. I didn’t even know that was a thing and lo and behold a vegan has the record. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that your everyday runner is now interested in plant-based eating!

Originally vegan fitness was about doing athletic events to say, look we can do it too!  Now it’s: I want to be vegan for the performance advantages. And for many people the ethical and environmental reasons soon follow suit. What a beautiful thing that is happening and I am incredibly stoked to be a part of it. If you are already eating this way and being physically active you are ahead of the curve. If you’re not yet doing these things, the resources and momentum are there for you to begin right now.


Matt Ruscigno, Rip Esselstyn, and Matt Frazier at Whole Foods HQ after giving a presentation about the No Meat Athlete book and vegan sports nutrition.

Matt Ruscigno, Rip Esselstyn, and Matt Frazier at Whole Foods HQ after giving a presentation about the No Meat Athlete book and vegan sports nutrition.


Protein Obsessed

by Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Protein is one of the most contentious issues of  plant-based diets, from flexitarians to raw vegans.  Much has been written on the subject and one can hardly mention veganism without the topic of protein entering the discussion.  I’ve no doubt added to these discussions over the years. In my professional life I’m often defending the protein-343x300_the-basic-four-food-groupsadequacy of vegan diets and ‘proving’ that it is possible to get all of the amino acids you need from plants. We know amino acids as the building blocks of protein: our bodies require the 9 essential amino acids to perform day-to-day functions in metabolism and muscle development. Protein is a nutrient and by definition a nutrient is a compound that our bodies require to survive. In other words, if we don’t get a nutrient and have a prolonged deficiency, we die. This is serious stuff.

Vegan nutrition expert and Registered Dietitian Jack Norris argues that we may not meet all of the amino acid needs easily and should be concerned about our lysine intake and vegan blogger and author of the Vegan Pregnancy Survival Guide Sayward Rebhal recently wrote about a health issue that may have been related to inadequate protein intake.

So should we be concerned about protein or not? What’s the point here?

The point I’m trying to make is that this obsession over protein is dangerous – because it elevates one nutrient over the others. And there is a historical precedent for this. The first food recommendations in the United States, back when nutrition was a new science and the main function of the USDA was actually agriculture, protein was given superstar status with it’s own group. It makes sense, in some ways, because protein is the basis of all living things and one of the earliest studied nutrients. But over decades as the food square changed to a pyramid and then to a plate, the meat/protein group remains. It’s one of the few nutrients that gets its own group. What about choline? Why doesn’t choline have its own food group? It is a nutrient and as we’ve learned, if you don’t get enough of it you can die! But choline deficiency is extremely rare, you say. Well so is protein deficiency! I want my choline food group!

Wheat Germ has 202 mg Choline per cup. Get that pep, tired husband!

The difference is our national obsession over meat and animal products. We equate eating the flesh of an animal with power. It’s no coincidence that those who question our protein status also question our masculinity as vegans. Because it’s not really about protein, it’s about power and dominance. Protein is a meta-nutrient in that what it means and represents has become more important than what it actually does.

Protein is a meta-nutrient in that what it means and represents has become more important than what it actually does.

Discerning Brute Ed Bauer showing that he not only gets enough protein, 
but all nutrients.


This over-concern with protein has penetrated the plant-based movement. In the year 2013 we have a huge number of vegan athletes to point to as examples of how one can get their protein from plants and still kick ass in a variety of disciplines. But have you noticed how many of those vegan athletes either have their own protein powders or are promoting one? If we can get enough protein from plants, why do we need supplements? Is replicating the historical obsessiveness over protein a good idea? Or to constantly feel the need to prove our masculinity? Is this the world we want?

As a nutrition professional, athlete and someone who grew up with punk-rock DIY ethos, I say no, it’s not. With very few exceptions, we can get all of the amino acids we need from eating a variety of plant foods. Not just ‘protein foods’ but whole foods.  Now this isn’t a green light to not think about getting enough protein or how healthy your diet is. I’m just saying that protein isn’t any more important than the other nutrients we need to eat on a daily basis. We need to be conscious of our diets, but this needs to extend beyond protein.

If you’d like to read more about the science of plant protein please see my post on No Meat Athlete or this Vegetarian Resource Group article by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD. if you are interested in learning more about the needs of vegetarian athletes I highly recommend the book Vegetarian Sports Nutrition by Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RD or see my documentary series, A Day in the Life of Vegan Athletes.

Fall Cleaning

• I just completed a 3-day Blueprint cleanse – the “Excavation”, as they refer to it on their site. It was shockingly easy… dare I say delicious, and I even went to my Crossfit class and still performed well while cleansing. Gilt City is offering a discount today on the cleanse at 16% – 20% off retail. It was easy because everything is numbered, delivered and considered for you – all you have to do is keep it cold and drink it. Even the busiest of us can handle that, right? Gilt Cit is by invite only, so click here for you invite.
BluePrintCleanse: NYC


Brooklyn Grooming offers some fantastic men’s products. From the hair pomade, mustache wax and facial serum, to the tattoo balm, beard oil and shaving oil – this NYC-based operation has us vegan dudes figured out (not everything is vegan, make sure to click on “vegan products”).
Commando Beard oil 1oz.

• Let Jack Black take care of those hard-working  hands when they get rough, cracked and cut - their range of vegan products include Industrial Strength Hand Healer and Mr. Fix It Antimicrobial Wound Rescue Silver Gel. Strength Hand Healer with Vitamins A & E 4002O

• Bulldog has a strong stance on animal testing and using vegan ingredients. All of their products, including their excellent Facial Wash and Facial Scrub are made with ingredients like dead-skin-cell deep-sixing coconut shell powder, skin-tenderizing shea butter and invigorating green tea extract.
Original Face WashOriginal Face Scrub

Get yourself into that kitchen!

The Discerning Brute’s Resident RD, Matt Ruscigno returns with a call to action. Getting into the kitchen, even if it’s your first time – or what you dread most – is one of the most empowering, radical and healthy things you can do.

There was a time in US history, long ago, when it was normal for someone, almost always a woman, to spend 3 hours a day in the kitchen. Three hours of food preparation a day! Then around the 1940′s the principles of the industrial revolution and systematic time-saving devices were applied to food production. No longer did one have to make pancakes from scratch, you could just add water! Why bake bread when you could buy sliced bread? Picking vegetables out of your garden? How uncivilized! Don’t you know that you can buy them frozen and just heat them up in a new special type of oven?

Slowly, but surely the kitchen changed from a space of production to one of consumption. Then that consumption moved out of the kitchen into restaurants. When the preparation of food went from individuals to corporations we may have gained time, but we lost skills, dietary variety/uniqueness, nutrients and most importantly autonomy.

Most of my college students have no idea how to prepare foods. Cooking means heating up the individual ramen container in the microwave. Many have never cut up a vegetable or a piece of fruit. But we can’t blame them- our 2012 world continues the tradition of consumption over production. Who has time to cook and eat healthy? The world between microwave soup, drive-thru hamburgers and home-made plant-based meals is filled with seemingly insurmountable barriers. But there is hope. I won’t lie; I love cheesy motivational quotes and one of my favorites is:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

It’s simple, but easy to forget because we want to be 500 miles into the 1000-mile journey and that seems so far away that we never take that first step. The same is true about getting into the kitchen.

There’s a lot to be concerned with in today’s world. And rightfully so. One of the most powerful things you can do is take responsibility over your food choices by getting back into the kitchen. When you do so you are:

  • • Deciding which foods are best for you, the environment, other people and the animals.
  • • Creating for yourself- food preparation is an art.
  • • Not paying someone else to do the work for you.
  • • Becoming more autonomous and less reliant on a global economy that makes decisions for you.
  • • Eating healthier! Fresher ingredients, prepared at home have more nutrients and you can control what is added. It always tastes better when you make it yourself or for someone you care about.

Getting into the kitchen
That first step is the hardest, I promise. Sauteing swiss chard and garlic from your garden in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet will come, but you have to build up to it. Right now ask yourself what you are capable of and start from there.

-Sandwiches are classic AND easy. You aren’t technically cooking, but you are preparing your own food the way you want it! Try some vegan deli slices with tomatoes, lettuce and avocado. Half the price of buying it out and you can put all the avocado you want on there! Or hummus. Sure you can soak your own garbanzo beans and make it from scratch, but if you buy it prepared and make a sandwich you are still taking steps toward DIY kitchen awesomeness.

-Home-cooked meals don’t need to be complicated. Think-> grain, veggies, legumes, sauce. That’s it. Pasta, jarred tomato sauce and sauteed frozen veggies isn’t going to win you any awards, but it will get you in the kitchen eating food that YOU made.

-Find recipes that fit you. Forget whatever weird ‘ingredients you never heard of’ recipe from the newest, fanciest cookbook. Veganize what you like!

-Make it fun. Cook for friends and lovers. Cook with friends and lovers! Slicing garlic isn’t a chore, it’s a patient, relaxing activity that connects me to my family and my history (no mafia jokes please). What did your grandmother or grandfather make in the kitchen? How much fun can you have messing it up before you get it right?

-Tools for the trade. I’m minimalist punk kid at heart but when it comes to kitchen tools I don’t skimp. Sharp knives, blenders, cast-iron skillets, woks…there’s no stopping what you can do. Consider a rice cooker. When I don’t know what I feel like eating I just put brown rice in the rice cooker while I’m thinking- that way I don’t have to wait for it later.

I love to cook and my ongoing joke is that I don’t make really fancy foods, but I do make regular meals taste great. You can do the same. Below is one of my favorite recipes AND it’s super easy.


Practical Peanut Sauce
I love peanut butter. And this sauce is lazy fancy and so much better than anything you can buy in a bottle. And WAY cheaper. Check out the recipe:

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup veggie broth or water
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or other mild vinegar)
1 tablespoon sweetener (agave, maple syrup, unrefined sugar, etc)
2-4 cloves garlic or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon powdered
1 tablespoon sized piece of fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon powdered
Sriracha or other hot sauce to taste

It’s a very variable recipe. You can adjust the garlic, the spiciness, the sweetness, the thickness- whatever you want! It’s super fun to make. And the directions are easy:

1. Put all ingredients in a blender (if using powdered ginger and garlic you can just mix in a bowl!).
2. Blend.
3. Serve over sauteed vegetables (my favortiess are broccoli and red bell peppers), with tofu and noodles.
It saves well in the fridge so I make a huge amount and eat it for a few days. I’ll even dip raw vegetables into it while it’s cold! Yum.

Enjoy yourself in the kitchen- it’s a radical thing to do these days, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be joyous. I’ve some more simple, tasty recipes on my site,