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John Joseph – Committed to life

Words: Felix Dickinson

Images: James Hartley

Whether you know him or not, John Joseph is the amalgamation of everything you could hope to be when embracing your 5th decade. A human being so well trodden in this wonderfully complex game of life that it seems his last resort is to now swim, run and cycle his way to his own finish line. 

This is man that has truly seen it all, from the horrors of the foster system of New York during the late sixties, to Alphabet city in its prime and the madness that came with it, especially if you made your money selling angel dust to junkies. He has toured the world relentlessly with a number of the most iconic punk-hardcore bands and over the span of half a century, also completely turned his life around and now actively seeks, with huge enthusiasm, the behemoth challenge of Ironman competitions, worldwide.

Much of this he owes to adopting a plant based diet. Something he has actively practiced for a solid 37 years and counting and through such attributes most if not all his athleticism to.  

“When I did my stint in the Navy, we stopped in Montego Bay around 1980 and this was the first time I heard about Ital food. It immediately planted an idea in my mind.”

Ital food is the term the Rastafari movement have given to the diet they adhere to which focuses on the elimination of all animal flesh and by products as well as processed foods instead choosing to consume that which grows freely from the earth around them. Ital is the shortening of Vital, the food which your body truly needs to survive and run at optimal levels of fitness and health.

John came from an upbringing of starvation during his foster years, most notably when he and his brother were kept like slave children in the garage of a foster family’s home and fed whatever had gone off in the fridge. They fed the dog better than they did the brothers, and so he recalls once the necessity of crawling out at night and eating the dog’s food so as to suppress the intensity of hunger being experienced. 


The severity of an experience such as this when growing through such a vulnerable stage in life is enough to give even the strongest of humans relentless food issues growing up, but instead, he focused his energies towards allowing food to become both the fuel and medicine he needed to shape his athleticism.

During the 80s, the Bad Brains toured relentlessly, and JJ was there for the majority of the ride.

“Veganism was different back then. It wasn’t anything close to what we have now. If you got fed at all on tour it was usually inedible, so instead we started rolling with this massive pot. We would bulk buy rice, beans and tahini then locally source fresh produce in every city we hit. That was The Yot. We cooked The Yot at every show. Pull up, fire on, beans in the bottom, rice, hard food, broccoli, greens, seasoning, cook it all down and throw tahini on top. That’s what we ate, every day, for months and they still smashed out shows like it was nothing, but now, it’s never been easier. From Taiwan to the Netherlands, it has never been easier to take your diet seriously and remove the bullshit from your life.”

John credits much of his ability to perform as he does both on stage and in competitions to his very well rehearsed and strict diet. 

“You know, a lot of people tell me how they just don’t think they can make that transition and I tell them it’s as easy as trying it for 30 days, just try it for 30 days, mixed with some basic mindfulness. Meditate for ten minutes every day, stop drinking alcohol and smoking whatever you might be and really focus your energy on the challenge you’ve set yourself and see if you think it’s as hard as you originally imagined. The mind can be your best friend or your worst fucking enemy, but you will never know until you do the experiment.”

A common theme that runs throughout the vegan community is the repetition of seemingly idiotic questions that are fired towards them, from the sudden obsession with protein deficiency (a condition that is so rare in Western civilisation that most people are pushed to find a single documented case) to the idea that without the consumption of meat and dairy, you will inevitably be a pasty, rake thin human with a limp handshake and holier than thou demeanour.

“I had this guy come up to me and say, “You know what, I read your book [Meat Is For Pussies] and if I’d heard that coming from some twiggy Vegan, I’d have called bullshit, but then I look at you and I think, ok, this is different.” And that’s what this is about. It’s about leading by example and PMA all day. I turn 55 in a couple of months and I am still banging out Iron Man competitions like it’s nothing. So what is your excuse?” 

John is not the only example of a celebrated athlete that also claims a plant based diet, you have people such as Rich Roll, who notably did 5 Iron Man competitions back to back across Hawaii for a week straight, Mac Danzig the heavily accomplished MMA fighter who has actively promoted veganism and animal rights since 2004, Jake Shields, another MMA fighter with a huge number of wins under his belt, Patrik Baboumian, Germany’s strongest man, who holds the world record for completing a 560kg Yoke-Walk in 28 seconds. “Don’t forget the women! You have to understand that there’s a lot of kick ass women out there, really taking names and they’re the ones putting the men onto this lifestyle, too. The women have always been good at that, setting the fellas onto the straight and narrow.”

Meagan Duhamel, the World Champion figure skater of two consecutive years, Fiona Oakes, the record setting and breaking Grand Slam marathon runner, as well as World Record holder for the fastest women’s marathon run in the Arctic circle, Pat Reeves, a cancer survivor who took to veganism as a means to heal went on to break the world deadlift title repeatedly and Heather Mills, who set five World Records in less than a year across a variety of disability winter sports, including downhill skiing and ski jumping, also described as the fasted disabled woman on earth, with a recorded speed of 167 km whilst speed skiing, all actively promote and credit a plant based diet as their be all and end all for optimal performance. 

John has just finished his latest Iron Man and went straight into training for the next, whilst also juggling his time on tour with Bloodclot.

For a further insight into the life and times of one of Hardcore’s most fascinating individuals, pick up his book Evolution of a Cro-Magnon (I also highly recommend the audiobook, voiced by the man himself) and if veganism interests you, then another published title of his ‘Meat Is For Pussies’ is also a must read to round off the depth of insight into the man really doing the most. 

“Here’s the thing; you have to show people what you’re doing. You have to really walk the walk and be the badass you’re capable of being. No one is going to take advice from someone that looks like they’re having trouble staying alive, but if you’re out there kicking ass and taking names, motherfuckers will see that and want the same.”