Michael Franti is the musical creator of Michael Franti & Spearhead, a band that blends hip-hop with funk, jazz, reggae, folk and rock. Franti’s Say Hey (I Love You) reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was featured on the Showtime series Weeds and during the opening credits of the 2010 film Valentine’s Day. Franti is an outspoken proponent for social justice and will perform a live acoustic version of his upcoming September 21, 2010 album release, The Sound of Sunshine, at the 12th Annual Power to the Peaceful Festival in San Francisco.
In an exclusive interview with Vegetarian Star, Franti addresses the issue of raising children vegetarian, Meatless Monday, John Mayer and more.
You have children. What’s your take on raising children vegetarian/vegan? Should parents force it on them? Or wait until they’re old enough to decide?
I feel when you raise a child, you raise them with whatever circumstances you live in. If you take an Inuit family in Alaska, for example, they eat fish year round and there’s no choice. They don’t have an option so the kids grow up eating fish and never think otherwise. Whatever you choose to feed your kids is your decision and in America we have a lot of choices. You’re not forcing your child, you’re just choosing to eat a certain way. But I do think as kids get older, just as they want to play video games, sports, watch TV or whatever – it’s their own choice and we have to respect the choice of others. My oldest son decided to become vegan when he was 14 and that was on his own accord. He’s now 23 and still predominantly vegan. My 11 year old son eats chicken from time to time but he’s never wanted to have any kind of beef or pork or anything like that.
Between tofu, tempeh and seitan, what’s your favorite?
Tofu. Because it doesn’t give me gas and the others do. I like the flavor of tofu. Some people don’t like the flavor of plain raw tofu, but I love it. I toss it into just about everything – salads, smoothies, shakes, everything.
Describe some interesting, tasty vegetarian food you’ve eaten during the past week.
Café Gratitude here in San Francisco is an incredible raw restaurant. They recently opened up “Gracias Madre,” a vegan restaurant that has all items of a San Francisco Mission District taqueria, but it’s all vegan. They make incredible mushroom tacos – it’s my favorite item on their menu and what I’ve most enjoyed the past week.
What was it like touring with John Mayer?
John is a really incredible talent. He has the ability to do what a lot of musicians wish we could do which is write, sing and perform. He’s a phenomenal guitarist. Rarely does anyone have all 3 of those things. He’s often surrounded by controversy. Beginning of our tour he’d made some remarks in a Playboy interview. Rather than it being a point of division on tour – it brought us together as friends in the dialogue and how he expressed his remorse of it all.
Do any of your songs address vegetarianism, animal rights or environmental issues?
Well – no. They don’t specifically. My songs are all about living with an open heart and making decisions about living your life every step of the way. I try not to write about one issue in particular, but rather try to make more universal. I don’t want to offend anyone who has to live a certain way based on where they live. And I don’t want anyone to think that I’m shaming or passing judgment on them for the way they choose to live.
I’ve heard you use biodiesel on the tour bus and discourage the use of water bottles. Any other green practices you do, including at home?
At the Power to the Peaceful Festival we produce in San Francisco, we have made an effort to make it cleaner and greener each year. We encourage the vendors to use compostable everything. We work with Clean Vibes to properly dispose of glass, paper, compost and plastic. A few years ago in my home we began to eliminate all together any bags we’d get when going grocery shopping. Whether it’s paper or plastic – bring your own. You’ll see what an amazing difference it will make.
How long have you been a vegetarian and vegan and what were your motivations for going veggie?
I remember reading an article about President Reagan having a colon operation for colon cancer and in article it said you have 50% risk of colon cancer if you eat red meat. So I immediately stopped eating red meat. Then I began reading about all kinds of hormones going into chicken and poultry, so I stopped eating anything that I called “Techno Meat,” which was meat filled with hormones. Then I discovered there really wasn’t anything I could find that didn’t have it – so I just stopped eating meat all together.
Do you have a favorite vegetarian or vegan celebrity and why?
I would have to say my favorite male would Woody Harrelson. He’s a good buddy of mine. I wrote a lot of songs from my last album in his house. Alicia Silverstone who wrote a really fantastic book about eating healthy would be my favorite vegan female.
Is Meatless Monday, a day designed to get people to eat less meat for environmental reasons in both the U.S. and the UK, a step in the right direction? Or should we be thinking of more ways to convince people to eat less meat or go vegetarian entirely?
I’m somebody who believes less meat is the way to go. Just by my own experiences and I think you will find some people who are opposed to vegetarianism because they think it’s weird, some say it just doesn’t work for them, and some say there’s no way they could stop entirely. If you look at things mathematically I think we’d make more impact on the world if there was 50% less meat eaten rather than 1 out of every 100,000 people to not eating meat all together.
Finally, if PETA knocks on your door asking you to strip for one of their “I’d rather go naked” campaigns.
Yeah – I’d probably do it.
Photo: PR Photos
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