Last month, Stic from the hip-hop group Dead Prez released the book Eat Plants, Lift Iron. The concept involves the naturally lithe Atlanta-based rapper attempting to gain 20 pounds from a high-performance diet focussed on leafy greens and legumes. As the blurb on the back puts it, “Finally, a straightforward book that truly understands the skinny man’s challenges and offers a realistic and natural way to gain healthy weight and muscle!” It also includes a foreword from the bodybuilder Torre “The Vegan Dread” Washington.
While rappers might not normally be renowned for their healthy eating agenda, anyone who’s been following Stic’s career since his group’s Let’s Get Free debut in 2000 won’t be surprised by the venture. While he cops to fueling a prior period of his life with the classic combo of weed and Henny, he was also part of the conscientious feasting anthem “Be Healthy,” and at one point Dead Prez were known for handing out apples and oranges at rap shows.
Taking a break from his adventures in nutrition, here’s Stic dropping details about his stock in the kale game, challenges of eating on the road, and his long-standing love of lentils.
What made you decide to write a book about eating plants to bulk up?
Well, I’ve been a skinny guy all my life, but I’m very active. I did martial arts for over ten years, I’m a runner, I do hot yoga. I live a mostly vegan lifestyle so gaining weight was something that I never did. A friend of mine who owns a gym in Austin knew a guy named Scott Shelter who was writing a book and dedicating the proceeds to animal charities, so he was like, “Yo, Stic is a vegan, you guys should connect.” So Scott asked me to write a piece for the book and that’s how I met him and found out he was a vegan power lifter and an awesome punk rock kinda dude. We had a lot of shit in common so I was like, “Yo, I wanna gain 20 pounds and you’re the man for the job.” My wife is also a nutritionist so I asked her to oversee that part. In a nutshell, we all thought it would be a cool experience.
If someone is cynical about the virtues of a plant-based diet, how would you convince them to try it?
I started because of health reasons. I had gout in my early ’20s from drinking, smoking, not resting, and leading a stressed lifestyle. Through a vegan diet I was able to detox without medicines and heal my leg and become a martial artist. For many people it’s a health choice. I watched my mother—who was diagnosed with diabetes and had to inject insulin every day—change her diet, and now she’s been off insulin for over six years and she’s thriving. Same with my mother-in-law who has multiple sclerosis, and she changed her diet and can walk again. Also, it’s for environmental reasons and about the resources in the community. The plant-based lifestyle saves so much land if you compare it to eating animals that we raise in the fast food economy as opposed to growing crops. Billions of dollars can be saved, not to mention the lives of all the animals slaughtered unnecessarily. My friend at the Humane League has data that shows that if you go vegan for one year you’ll save the lives of 33 animals. Even just doing Meatless Mondays can make a difference.
So do you grow your own vegetables?
Yeah, we do. Well, let me say that my wife grows the vegetables and I carry the heavy shit! We have a garden in the back yard—about ten by ten—and we grow things like cilantro, herbs, lettuce, tomato, squash, watermelon, spinach, and collards. And then we participate in a local program in Atlanta called Truly Living Well which is about urban farms. They turn vacant lots into organic gardens for the community so we do that every Wednesday.
If someone is looking to follow your lead and eat healthier, what would you recommend as a first step?
You can’t go wrong with greens and water. If you eat a green with every meal including breakfast, and you drink more water and less caffeine and less sugar-based drinks, that’s a great start. A lot of people think to be healthy you have to stop doing stuff, but I find the approach of adding healthy things first is better than taking away things. Like when I wanted to stop smoking weed, that was a big part of my lifestyle so the way I went about it was instead of just stopping I would stop smoking blunts, and then I would only smoke papers. Then every time I would smoke a joint I would drink a gallon of water which is crazy. Or I would do 75 push-ups. Over time I started saying, “I don’t really need that.” And then I had all these little habits to replace the weed with. I think it’s the same with eating healthy—add the good things. And also cook more, because if you learn how to cook things the way you like them, you don’t feel like you’re missing out on any kind of taste. That’s a big reason why I think people eat poorly, because the bad shit tastes good!
What if someone tells you they don’t like the taste of something like kale? Do you have a recipe to win them over?
Yeah, it’s easy! I’m a guy’s guy when it comes to cooking, but I love making kale. It takes maybe four minutes. All you do is put a little grapeseed or coconut oil in the pan, some minced garlic that’s already crushed, you throw that in the pan, then put the kale in there and add salt, pepper, and maybe some smoked paprika. Toss that around for four minutes and that’s a bangin’ recipe for kale that’s also rich with everything that garlic offers for the blood flow.
If you were hosting a healthy eating dinner party, what would you make?
I have a few signature dishes. One thing, I make the best guacamole in the world, let me just promise you that. It’s very simple, but it is hard to pick the avocado so that it’s firm but ripe. Then get the avocado, some sea salt, the juice of one lime, onions, tomato, and fresh cilantro, and then you just mash it up. I learned it from this Mexican cat. Before that I used to think that for guacamole you needed all these different onions and salts and whatever, but this recipe is very simple and it all just comes together.
The other thing I make that’s simple and quick is called community soup. You start out with some oil, then you go in your freezer and get your bag of mixed frozen vegetables—broccoli, cauliflower, peas, chickpeas. You fill it up with water and then you put smoked paprika, salt, pepper and garam masala, an Indian spice that’s delicious. Then you put like a can of organic coconut milk and a can of organic crushed tomatoes and—boom!—mix it up, put the top on it, and let it cook for like 40 minutes. Oh, I forgot the magic touch—fresh herbs. When you put an herb like marjoram or thyme into the soup, the flavors just come together. I also put gluten-free rice noodles and then you have the noodle soup. And if you eat fish, like I did before my plant-based experiment, you do a salmon piece and put that on top of your soup. You don’t need to go to a restaurant after that!
Have you come across problems trying to eat this way on tour?
Yeah, that’s challenging because in different countries and even different cities in the US, they have a different culture about what’s available. So like in Germany, they have sausage and bread, and it’s not gluten-free bread and the sausage is definitely not vegan! In the south, there’s definitely a lot of old-school meat and potatoes type stuff. So you need to embrace the raw food lifestyle—eating food that’s not cooked, like vegetables and fruit. You can always find like a grocery store in those areas, so I’ll get some peanut-butter and some apples for the protein and the carbs, or get a salad and some olives. And you’ll always be able to find a can of chickpeas. You make adjustments that are not ideal, but we’ve been able to do it. We actually call ahead now. For their rider on tour, some people want purple M&M’s to match their outfit, but we want a trip to the grocery store. A lot of people have Hennessy on their rider but ours is organic apples, almond-butter, and agave.
Beyond trying to eat healthy, what’s the most memorable meal you’ve had around the world?
I really enjoy Ethiopian food. That’s my family’s favorite cuisine, and I love this restaurant called Desta in Atlanta. I love that bread they serve that’s naturally fermented without any yeast, and then all of the different lentils and the ancient spices they use. But around the world, I remember being in New Zealand and we met with the Maori people and we ate meals with them. It was vegetarian-based food, Asian-inspired and with tofu, and the conversation about understanding the warrior culture was inspiring to me. I was also in the Dominican Republic and I had been a vegan for ten years at this point. And we were on the beach in this pimped-out villa, and they had chefs right on the shore making all this seafood. Something in my spirit was like, “I think I want to try some fish.” My wife encouraged me—’cause there’s this whole vegan religion like it’s a sin to follow your instincts—but I followed mine and that was the first time I had ate any meat or animal product in years. It was a liberating experience to know that I’m not addicted to it, and it was fresh and right from the sea. I’m not an evangelist vegan running around trying to judge everybody. I just think you should eat in moderation and in respect, and that you don’t have to support factory farming.
You recorded the track “Be Healthy” for the first Dead Prez album. Do you remember listening to any other hip-hop songs about food before that?
Yeah, and very directly: B.D.P.’s “Beef” is still one of my favorite songs of all time. KRS-One was the first person that I remember tackling health and diet in a masterful way. He broke down how the beef industry works and how there are steroids and things that are pumped in. And this was way back, you know, long before it was hipster to be a vegan or whatever. There were other rappers too like Big Daddy Kane was saying, “No pork on my fork/ Strictly fish on my dish.” Then I remember Rakim was like, “Fish, which is my favorite dish/ But without money it’s still a wish.” These were Muslim guys—Five Percenters—and diet is a part of that culture. So listening to hip-hop kinda made me pay attention like, “Hey, what’s my diet?” I was from the south where everything goes with food, so just hearing those things made me more conscious of what I was eating.