A week ago I mentioned on this blog that I was reading through a book titled Meat Is For Pussies by John Joseph. In my post I stated that although I agreed with much of the substance of the book in its advocacy for a plant-based diet and healthy living, I had some issues with the style of the writing. I also stated that I was considering doing some sort of response to the book to address my issues. If I went through with it, it would be my first commentary on this blog related to a book. With my departure for Europe less than a week out and having no experience since college in doing any sort of literary analysis, I had originally assumed that I would never get to doing this, however I came to realize that there’s actually not much to say here. The items I would be addressing do not require much elaboration, so a lengthy post would be unnecessary. A short post would also have the benefit of limiting the damage I inflict upon myself in proving that I don’t know anything about criticizing literature. With this line of reasoning, and my usual cautionary instincts strangely missing, I went ahead and started writing, and below are the results.
“Look, I’m not going to preach to you about how you like to have a good time, because that’s not my thing. I judge no one. What you do for fun is your own business—well, that is, unless you bring your drunken asshole antics into my personal space. Then we got issues.” [emphasis mine]
I think it was here, in the opening paragraph of Chapter 2 of Meat Is For Pussies, that I snapped. The author, John Joseph, had irritated me with his apparent inability to go a single page without spewing profanity, but when I hit this blatant contradiction I knew I had in my hands a fundamentally flawed book. I cannot help but wonder who, if anyone, edited this book, and if they told John Joseph of the inconsistency between the above statement and the title of his book, as well as his commentary on the intelligence and worth of those who do not subscribe to his lifestyle. Although I’m not a vegan myself, I agree with most of the content about eating healthy and maintaining an active lifestyle, but John Joseph has shot himself in the foot with how he wrote this book. Meat Is For Pussies is sadly an example of an overall solid message dragged down by a poor choice of communication style as well as the contradiction noted above.
John Joseph writes in a very abrasive, expletive filled, in-your-face style. As a former violent criminal, convict, and drug abuser, (among other things) John Joseph’s writing style is understandable, up to a point. To his credit, in the introduction of his book John Joseph makes it clear that his intention is to deliver a “… no-holds-barred, New York—style beat-down on real health and real nutrition.” (Page xxi) This is meant to convey that he is giving you the hard, no BS truth and not what you’re being told by society/Corporate America/the government/insert malevolent force here. I’m guessing John Joseph chose this provocative style because he believes his audience is ignorant and/or apathetic and they need to be shocked into action. Certainly there is value this aggressive style of writing, however within it there is a thin line between being helpful and being insulting, and John Joseph has crossed that line.
It’s not an official rule, but from my limited writing experience I do believe that one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an author is to demean the intelligence of your audience. Even if you really do believe your audience is clueless or dim-witted, as John Joseph clearly does, you should still show them the level of respect due all individuals, even those you hold in low regard. On page 16 of John’s book, while discussing drug and alcohol addictions, we read “Now let’s take a look at that word for a second: in-TOXIC-ated. The root word being toxic, as in poisonous to your fucking body, numb nuts.” [emphasis his] There are a number of other points where John Joseph commits similar sins, but this one clearly demonstrates what I’m talking about. Even when a person is genuinely misinformed or foolish, this is not how you speak to them in professional writing.
There is a lot of profanity in Meat Is For Pussies, and the sheer amount of it puzzles me. Why all the swearing? Is this what people like to read these days? Is this a testament to what our society’s level of communication has been reduced to? I suspect if we were to ask John Joseph, he would say the reason for his language is that it is who he is, and that his writing voice reflects his talking voice. Given his rough history, there would be merit to that explanation, though it would also speak volumes to his communication skills. How John Joseph speaks and writes is of course his prerogative, but how a person speaks and writes has a substantial impact on the effectiveness in communicating a message. In the case of Meat Is For Pussies, the swearing makes John Joseph seem less like a serious writer and more like an irreverent teenager who thinks he knows everything but actually needs his mouth soaped.
To wrap up this failed attempt at literary critique, let me mention two more things I noted while reading the book. First, at the end of Chapter 2 John Joseph explains that he doesn’t use the word “vegan” because it has taken on too much negative connotation. Speaking of the vegans who have given a bad name to the movement, John Joseph states “I personally believe the negative connotations that have come to be associated with the V-word can be attributed to the judgmental, self righteous attitudes of a particular subgroup of individuals.” (Page 23) Living in Boulder, Colorado, I know exactly the type of people he is talking about, but at the same time does John Joseph not realize that he’s talking about himself? To be blunt, John Joseph makes the “preachy” vegans I know seem not so bad, and I’d sooner hang out with them than him. Second, John Joseph perpetuates the common myth in our society that people who play video games are obese, sickly losers. It is unfortunately true that there are gamers who are like this or worse, and these are the ones who get all the coverage in our mainstream media. But just as there are both agreeable and disagreeable vegans, there are both well-adjusted gamers and ones that are not living healthy lives. If John Joseph doesn’t want us to be making broad generalizations about vegans, he might take care to not be making the broad generalizations about groups he clearly has no meaningful knowledge of.
That’s all I have to say about Meat Is For Pussies.With my imminent departure for Europe, I can’t give this book any more time, and that’s probably for the best. There’s a lot more that could be said here, like a discussion on the book’s title and the association of female genitalia with weakness/lameness, or perhaps an analysis of the worldview undergirding the book’s message. It is highly unlikely I’ll come back to this discussion, but on the plus side the process of writing this post has proven somewhat cathartic. In closing I’ll leave you with the following image which I came across on Facebook and which states my main issue with the book far more concisely than I ever could.