Staten Island’s most famous export — the Wu-Tang Clan — didn’t just turn hip-hop on its head a quarter of a century ago; the group redefined what music meant, again and again. And they may be about to disrupt another industry: food. Specifically, they’ve become critical voices in leading the consumer shift away from meat, eggs, and dairy.
In the 25 years since the release of the group’s first album “Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers,” eight of ten members are now vegan. And in true Wu style, they’re not being quiet about it, either.
In a recent interview with Metro News, Clan member Inspectah Deck (Jason Hunter) says he’s one of the few remaining non-vegan Wu-Tang Clan members, but he’s working toward going fully vegan.
“It’s just about healthier living,” he said. “Once you get older, your body functions differently. The best thing to do is be preventive about a lot of things. You can eat right, that’s a big plus once you hit 40. Keep your muscles tight and have good circulation. I also try to drink fresh juice, especially on the road.”
Wu co-founder RZA (Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) was the first to go vegan years ago, and has since become an advocate for animal rights issues, lending his voice to campaigns for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Last year, his wife Talani Rabb, designed a vegan Wu-Tang makeup line with Milk Makeup. There’s a vegan Wu-Tang Clan clothing line, too. Fellow co-founder, the GZA (Gary E. Grice), has also spoken out about diet — particularly traditional Southern food, which he called the “slave man’s diet” in a recent video.
Wu and White Castle Vegan Burgers
Last year, after White Castle launched sliders made with the vegan Impossible Burger in New York and New Jersey locations, several members of the Wu-Tang Clan appeared in a campaign for the burgers. Ghostface Killah (Dennis Coles), GZA, and RZA all appeared in the ads that featured a hotline customers could call while waiting for their burgers.
“Peace. My name is RZA9000, formerly known as the RZA. I have uploaded my consciousness into a supreme data system and now I possess the knowledge infinite,” the voice of RZA plays in the ad. “Together with the Wu-Tang Clan, we will slide through space, seek wisdom, and expand the parameters of the mind. If you are an Earthling and you need answers, call 1-833-4-SLIDER.”
The move toward healthier living may seem to stand in contrast to rap songs like the Wu’s “C.R.E.A.M.” about a lifestyle of chasing money and success (the song title’s acronym stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”). But the lines are blurry; there was a vegan pizza named after the legendary song in the group’s honor last year.
The band’s origins (including the name Wu-Tang Clan and some of the band members’ stage names) come from the highly disciplined martial art of Kung Fu. Traditionally, Shaolin monks ate a mostly, if not 100 percent, vegan diet, similar to that of Buddhist monks.
“It is a common misconception among many people that eating meat is necessary for providing the energy needed in vigorous kungfu. In fact, the reverse is more probably true,” Sifu Wang Kiew Kit of the Shaolin Wahnam Institute told Pangea Builders. “Traditional Shaolin monks were strict vegetarians, and there was no doubt that they were tremendously powerful. Why? Where did they get their tremendous energy? About 80% was from heaven chi, i.e. from the cosmos, and 20% from grain chi, i.e. their vegetarian diet.”
The Shaolin (Vegan) Way
And while a White Castle slider may be a world away from a traditional Shaolin diet of steamed vegetables and rice, it’s a significant departure from the meat- and dairy-laden diets that have been linked to a number of health issues, particularly among Black populations. A motivation that runs deep for the group members who’ve watched friends and family members battle chronic diet-related diseases.
But going vegan is also a move that encompasses compassion, something also intrinsic to the Shaolin.
“We are all the same in all the ways that matter. It doesn’t matter what we look like, how old we are, what language we speak, or who we love,” RZA said in a PETA campaign last year.
“It doesn’t matter if we have fur, or feathers, or fins,” he says, “we’re not different in any important way.”