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Punk Pioneer is Hardcore Into Health

John Joseph McGowan, 55, is lead singer of influential punk and thrash band the Cro-Mags

John Joseph McGowan

Photograph by Brent Humphreys; Stylist: James Boone Humphreys

Going vegan helped McGowan to turn his life around.

like to toot my own horn, but I will say that the Cro-Mags’ 1986 debut album spoke a lot of truths. The music was brutal, but the message I sang was positive. Now I’m touring with my other band, Bloodclot, and I’m performing at the same level I was at when I was 20 years old — doing backflips off the stage. But it’s not the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll fantasy life. I’m drug-free and sober. I haven’t eaten meat since 1981. I’m not on a pulpit preaching this like I’m better than everybody else. I’m saying this because I’ve been down in the trenches.  

I came out of an abusive foster home, and as a kid I was selling drugs, doing drugs — just a mess. Then in 1980, I went to see this hardcore punk band called the Bad Brains, and the singer was talking about “PMA” — positive mental attitude. I developed an attachment to the band and ended up working for them. They took me to a vegan Chinese restaurant, and everybody in the place looked so vibrant and healthy. No eggs, no fish, no meat, no dairy. I tried it and noticed changes in how I felt right away. Food became the spark for me to completely change every other aspect of my life.

John Joseph

Courtesty John Joseph

McGowan has competed in nine Ironman Triathlons. He recently placed in the top 10 percent of competitors in his age group worldwide.

I’ve been cooking my citrus stir-fry for years. You can get the flavors that you are accustomed to by just substituting the meat with a plant-based protein like tofu, which is made from soybeans, or seitan, which is made from wheat. I’ve had staunch meat eaters try my cooking and get blown away.

I live in New York City, and it’s a Thanksgiving tradition for me to go out and feed the homeless. We provide anywhere from 500 to 1,000 meals to others in need. It’s something I’ve done since 1982, having been homeless myself. Afterward I either go see family in Queens or I have friends gather at my house, where I make my citrus stir-fry along with sweet potatoes, broccoli, salad and bread. It’s a meal to celebrate the holidays in a healthy and compassionate way.

I’m glad to see people waking up to what they’re putting into their bodies. You’re either going to invest your time and money in living a healthy lifestyle, or you’re going to invest your time and money in going to doctors and taking medications. It’s never too late to change.

Ironman Stew

Serves 6


  • 5 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
  • 2 cups potatoes, cubed and peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 cups mixed green and yellow zucchini
  • 2 cups green beans, chopped
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 cup kale, chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, chopped
  • 2 cups mixed red and yellow cabbage
  • 1 cup navy beans, soaked until tender
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups Gardein Beefless Tips (seitan)
  • 2 tablespoons tamari, divided
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons hing (an Indian spice) 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • fresh parsley for garnish

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 4-quart soup pot. Sauté the potatoes, carrots and thyme. Once they get slightly tender, add the remaining veggies. When everything is tender, add the navy beans and water. Simmer with the lid on, and stir occasionally.

2. While the veggies are simmering, heat the remaining oil in a 10-inch frying pan. Once the oil is hot, add the tofu and seitan and sauté on a medium-low flame. Brown on all sides and add 1 tablespoon of the tamari. Keep sautéing for 2 minutes; stir carefully so nothing burns or breaks. Add the tofu and seitan to the veggies, along with the remaining tamari, the spices, basil and salt.

3. Drop the flour into a frying pan and brown it on a low flame. Don’t let it burn. Slowly add some of the liquid from the pot so it forms a paste. Make sure you get the lumps out. Once the flour bubbles, add it to the soup pot. Simmer until all the veggies are tender and the beans are thoroughly cooked, not starchy and dry inside. (Use a fork to test.) Serve over brown rice or with bread. Garnish with parsley.

Nutrients per serving: 123 calories, 10g protein, 11g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 5g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 295mg sodium

Chef McGowan

Photograph by Jeff Elkins; Food and Prop Stylist: Frederique Stephanie

Citrus Stir-Fry 

Serves 4


  • 1 10.5-ounce bag Gardein Mandarin Orange Crispy Chick’n (seitan)
  • 4  tablespoons arrowroot powder
  • 1/2  cup water
  • 3  tablespoons tamari (a thick  soy sauce)
  • 2  tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3  tablespoons apple cider
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2  tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2  cups broccoli, chopped
  • 2  tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1   cup bok choy, sliced
  • 1/2  cup red bell peppers, sliced in long strips
  • 1/2  cup yellow squash, sliced in 1-inch strips

1. Prepare the seitan according to the recipe on the bag and set aside.

2. To make the sauce, mix the arrowroot in 1/2 cup water and heat this in a small saucepan on low heat. Once the sauce thickens, remove it and stir in the tamari, lemon juice, cider and cayenne. Cover and keep warm.  

3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the broccoli and ginger for 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining veggies and the seitan; cook until the veggies are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the sauce. Coat evenly and serve over your grain of choice.

Nutrients per serving: 258 calories, 11g protein, 31g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 10g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 604mg sodium

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