An Interview with Myq Kaplan

31-year-old Myq Kaplan finished in the top 5 of the latest season of Last Comic Standing. Kaplan has appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and had a Comedy Central Presents special. And get this: he makes jokes about vegans that are actually funny. Could be because he’s a vegan himself.

Myq took some time to chat with me about veganism, comedy, and food. And I tried my best not to be funnier than him. I think I succeeded.

What’s your vegan story?

In high school, I remember thinking it might not be necessary or desirable to eat animals, but decided they were too delicious to think about it further. In college, I thought about it and decided to give it a shot, to have my behavior match up with my thinking, and it worked out. Then a couple years after college, I decided to fully align ethics with what I believed, I should give veganism a shot, and that worked also. For me, it’s just about the factory farms and unnecessary horrible conditions that the meat industry raises animals in, for meat and dairy and eggs–I’m a fan of the concept of farms that treat animals nicely, free-range, organic, local, cage-free, etc., if people don’t think they can make the full transition to not eating any animal products (or just cutting back the amount of meat and dairy they eat, because it doesn’t need to be an all or nothing thing necessarily), but for me, it’s been working out so far.

With every joke targeted at vegans being some lame variation of “PETA means People Eating Tasty Animals! HAR!”, it took a vegan to say something actually funny about being vegan (seriously, “I don’t care about the environment… I eat the environment” was a brilliant line). How have crowds responded to your bits about veganism? Has comedy-as-activism had a noticeable effect?

I don’t know that my jokes have necessarily made people change their minds about eating meat or dairy, but hopefully I’ve at least been able to let people know that vegans and vegetarians aren’t all humorless, patronizing jerks. (Humor-FULL, patronizing jerks, maybe.) Crowds respond to jokes that are funny, and that’s what I aim for in my comedy. I think most people feel like vegetarians and vegans are judging them for eating wrong or living incorrectly, which might make them less open to hearing what they might view as reasonable or legitimate arguments for the lifestyle, and more likely to ridicule it for being different, which I think is a very natural and human thing to do. I try to tap into what people perceive, and come at the issue from a non-threatening, non-judgmental place, finding what’s funny about the concepts from both sides. My aim is just to make good jokes, and hopefully people of all diets can appreciate that. (And if it makes people think on top of that, then great.)

Last Comic Standing has changed a lot from season to season (they used to have the comics live together, they used to do “challenges,” they’ve turned the finale into a show with five people, etc.). What surprised you about the Last Comic Standing process as someone in the thick of it?

I don’t know that much was surprising about it to me. Surprise! As far as what fans might be surprised to learn, I imagine some fans know more than others. Some people think it’s just like American Idol, where people who have never done comedy line up to see who is the fresh new face of comedy, when in fact, standup takes years of doing to get good, in general, unlike singing where someone COULD be great after only singing in their basement for years. I don’t know if that’s surprising to anyone, but if it is, surprise!

The judges on Last Comic Standing were a lot less annoying than on “American Idol.” They weren’t there to cut people down, but to offer some actual advice and point out what worked in each person’s set. They seemed like they probably hung out backstage and talked with you guys as peers versus judges on something like American Idol where you can picture the judges whisked away in their respective limos, far far away from the contestants. True?

Oh, that was all an act. They may have played nice for the cameras, but in real life, our judges were whisked away plenty, in four limos per judge (one for each of their limbs, so you might call them “limb-ousines,” but not limb-os, because that’s a silly game and this is as serious as not getting into heaven) to castles atop a cloud with a moat made of lava full of sharks made of piranhas (in 3D, coming to you this August, or last August, depending when you’re reading this), no expense spared on the dimensionality of the piranha-sharks.

Sincerely, each judge had their own dressing room but certainly they did interact with us like human beings, colleagues in the business of comedy. They are all really great comedians and down-to-earth people, so the answer to your question seems like “yes.” True!

PS I know nothing of the American Idol judge situation, but my acceptance of your assessment thereof is not legally binding.

There seemed to be a period there in the late 90s where stand-up comedy lost the mainstream appeal it had earlier in the decade. What brought it back?

I’m not sure. I imagine the Internet had something to do with it. Also comedians being good and people finding out about it (maybe through the Internet? but also real life?). Uh-oh, a question I don’t know the answer to! I hope that’s all right. I mean, I’m not sure that I would say comedy today DOES have “mainstream appeal.” There are still plenty of people who have never been to a comedy show, compared to almost no one who has never been to, say, a movie. Or a concert. Stand-up doesn’t have the respect that the visual arts get, I’d say; even if people don’t go to museums that much, they probably PRETEND to go to them more often than they go to comedy shows. But there certainly HAS been a resurgence in comedy in the past decade, with at least some subset of the population caring about it, and I honestly don’t know what all the reasons are. I’m just happy it’s happening, because I started doing it in the early 2000s, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m selfish and appreciative to the forces of the universe. (To answer a question you didn’t ask.)

What’s next?

I just put out a CD a few months ago called Vegan Mind Meld. It’s available on Itunes, Amazon, and at www.myqkaplan.com (which is my website–you can tell, because it’s my name). I’ll also be on tour with the rest of the top 5 finalists from Last Comic Standing, for the next several months. And hopefully I’ll be on your TV some more as well.

I know you probably hate this question, but I feel I have to ask… “Vegan Mind Meld”… what inspired that title?

I do not hate that question. I’m not a big fan of hatred. (I don’t hate it, though.)

The title came from a joke that I have, and I like it because it represents a lot of what I and my comedy are about–sci-fi dorkery, my dietary lifestyle, words, connecting with people, thinking, etc. You know, hilarious stuff.

PS. What inspired this interview question?

Favorite meal (either made yourself or at a restaurant)?

I like a lot of things. One of my favorite restaurants in NYC is a place called Blossom, and I like pretty much everything I’ve had there. I’m also a huge fan of peanut butter. And other things.

(Below is a video of Myq’s performance on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. There’s some not-appropriate-for-younger-kids stuff in there, just so you know.)

10 Ways to be a Kick-Ass Vegan

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I know one Joshua Hooten that loves when magazines list the “x Ways to ____” teasers on their front cover, so Josh, this one’s for you.

You’re vegan.  Awesome.  But are you the most kick-ass vegan you could be?  Are you pretty kick-ass, but looking for ways to increase your ass-kickitude?  Try these ideas on for size.

  1. Make a vegan gift basket.  Do you have a friend that just went veg?  Harken back to your first few weeks… I remember thinking, “Jeez… am I doomed to a life of soy hot dogs and lettuce?”  Go to your local co-op and grab some Red Star nutritional yeast, agave nectar, soy jerky, and some other fun convenience foods.  Then maybe toss in a cookbook or print out some recipes from the web.  Arrange them artfully and there you go: a vegan starter kit to help get your friend on the road to veganism.  (Kudos to my wife who recently did this for a friend of ours that recently went vegetarian.  Great idea.)
  2. E-mail local restaurants and bakeries and ask them about vegan options.  I pretty much stole this one from Isa’s article from the last issue of Satya, but it’s a really good one.  You may not get many responses, but if you can start getting vegan options (with the word “vegan” attached to it) into some local eateries, the vegan love and wisdom will spread like a ray of hippie sunshine.
  3. Talk to other activists.  In person, if possible.  It can get difficult when you’re sitting at a desk all day to remember that there are other people out there who take veganism and animal rights as seriously as you do.  So talk with them.  I’m not officially a member of any organizations, primarily because most of the ones near me are in DC, which isn’t really all that near me.  But when I volunteer at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, everyone talks about activism, animal issues, food (usually while cleaning the pig yard), and social issues.  I always come away from a day of volunteering reinvigorated and bubbling with new ideas and inspiration.

    When I was in Portland last month, I attended a really great gathering of activists from different causes to discuss burnout and infighting.  I walked away from that not only more inspired than I’d ever been, but wishing that I could go to something like that every month.  Keeping the dialogue active is essential to keeping ourselves excited and motivated.

  4. Donate small.  Do you donate to one of the large animal rights organizations?  Have you thought about whether or not your money is being spent in a way you approve of?  If the answer is “no” or “I’m not sure,” then consider donating your money (or time!) to a smaller, local organization.  Small non-profits can have trouble raising money when directly competing with larger organizations for your dollar.  With a small, local organization like a rescue or sanctuary, you can find out specifically how your money is being spent and you can physically see how your money is directly helping the animals.
  5. Join a CSA.  When a friend told me about the concept of Community Supported Agriculture a few years ago, I was floored.  It was exactly what I’d been looking for: locally grown organic vegetables picked in the morning and delivered to you by that evening for about the cost of vegetables at the local supermarket.  It really is one of the best things you can do as a vegan (aside from growing your own): you’ll support local farmers (with all the ecological benefits that go with it), you’ll get fresher, more nutritious vegetables, and the taste will be beyond anything you can buy in the store.  It’s a win for everyone.  Search for a CSA near you.
  6. Clean out your cleaning closet.  Cleaning products tend to last for a long time (confession: I still have a functioning “stain stick” that I bought before my freshman year of college in 1994), so even if you’ve been vegan for a while, you probably still have a bunch of cleaners that were tested on animals or contain nasty, unnecessary chemicals.  I’m sure you’ve already switched to greener cleaners and only have the old cleaners around because you don’t want to put them to waste or dump them in a river.  Well, donate ’em.

    I found out today that a local thrift store that benefits the homeless needs dryer sheets.  Why?  The store cleans up clothes and gives them to homeless men and women going on job interviews and, thus, needs dryer sheets.  What a perfect way to get rid of those old animal tallow-filled beasts I have sitting down by the dryer!  Look up a local shelter and see whether they’d be able to use your leftover cleaning supplies and then never look back.

  7. Make an animal care kit for your car.  In each of our cars (yes, we have two… thank the suburbs for that), we have a basic animal care kit.  Making Kind Choices has a section on creating one that you may want to look to for suggestions (also covered briefly here), but here’s what I’d start with:

    an animal carrier that could hold a cat or small dog, a very simple leash that can easily be placed around an animal’s head, a card with the numbers of local animal control, rescue organizations, and shelters, pull-tab cans of cat and dog food, a towel, and print-outs of what to do when you find birdspossums, turtles, owls, and other animals.

  8. Read.  At any given time, I’m reading 3-4 books.  One of them is always somehow related to animal rights.  Go ahead: build a reading list and see what your local library has in stock (or just walk and browse the shelves – start at Dewey Decimal 179.3).  Read something that you may not agree with.  Challenge yourself.  Read outside of your comfort zone.
  9. Give a talk.  Here’s one I’ve been meaning to work up the nerve to do for a while now.  Ideally, I’d like to find a group of young or beginning vegetarians to talk to about veganism, like a high school or college animal rights group.  Spread the knowledge!
  10. Stay healthy, like Dead Prez said.  One of the best ways to promote veganism is to be happy and healthy.  Don’t turn into a vegan cheerleader necessarily, acting bubbly when you’re not feeling it, but eat well, be positive, and be a good role model for veganism.  Three cheers for the non-cranky vegan!

Classifications of Vegetarians

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I’ve complained before about “faux vegetarians” who muck up things for the rest of us by claiming vegetarian status when they still eat chicken. After all, how’s a vegan supposed to get soup in a restaurant if the staff has been trained to think of chicken broth as vegetarian? But, truthfully, there is some value in labels as a means to communicate what one does or doesn’t consume to someone else. Below contains what I consider to be a complete and correct list of the terms currently in use. Please feel free to let me know if you find any of this incorrect or misleading.

The two (well, four) most common types of vegetarians are:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians don’t eat beef, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products. (Similarly, lacto vegetarians consume dairy but not eggs while ovo vegetarians eat eggs but don’t consume dairy.)
  • Vegans consume no animal products or animal by-products. This means no beef, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy (many vegans also avoid honey). Veganism also extends beyond the diet. Vegans avoid leather, wool, silk, down, etc. Some people use the term strict vegetarian for people who follow a vegan diet but still use animal products in other parts of their lives.

There are also some restrictive subcategories of veganism:

  • Fruitarians eat raw fruit and seeds only.
  • Raw/living foodists eat at least 75% uncooked (items may be heated up to 110 degrees), unprocessed, organic fruits and vegetables, with the intention of preserving more vitamins and minerals. There are very few “pure” raw foodists though many people “eat raw” at least occasionally.

Then there are the classifications of vegetarians that aren’t really vegetarians. Their inclusion here does not imply an acceptance of these often confusing, misleading terms, but rather to serve as a reference.

  • Pesco-vegetarians eat no beef or poultry but do eat fish.
  • Pollo-vegetarians eat no beef, but do eat poultry.
  • Semi-vegetarians or Flexitarians eat “less” meat (than who? Most people? Themselves, before? Ted Nugent?)

And, finally, there is the one classification that I made up but at least one person thought I was serious about:

  • Cannibal-vegetarians eat no animal flesh, with the exception of human flesh. These folks might do good to consider starting a company.

This page also has some very good information about classifications and definitions of the varying types of vegetarian.

Cookbook Review: The Vegetarian Family Cookbook

Cookbook author Nava Atlas has penned a series of successful vegetarian cookbooks with a special appeal to families and those looking for simple ways to prepare unique meatless meals. Books like The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet, Vegetariana, and Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons have been go-to books on my shelf since I became vegetarian and her latest, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook is a great addition to her previous publications.

One of the notable differences you’ll find in The Vegetarian Family Cookbook is that while not all the recipes are vegan, there are many expanded vegan options, a difference that reflects a change in Nava’s own life since her previous book. In the lengthy and informative introduction, she discusses soy mayonnaise, non-hydrogenated margarine, and soy milk as well as the reasons she and her family have eliminated cheese and eggs from their diets.

Also included in the introduction are a list of compelling reasons to “go organic,” a list of essential cooking tools, and the best oils to use for cooking.

Onto the recipes.

One of the first recipes I tried was for “Seashells in the Sand,” a simple couscous/bulgur-based dish with small shell pasta. The recipe as it’s listed is quite bland, but the recommendation for “adults” is to season it with fresh herbs or pine nuts. For me, a little marinara sauce did the trick.

A more successful pasta recipe was Pasta with Enlightened Alfredo Sauce. I opened for the vegan version and the end rich was light, yet relatively creamy.

The Baked Tofu Nuggets were tasty, but could have used a bit of a kick. They were made a bit better, though, with an excellent, very easy-to-make vegan tartar sauce on the next page.

One of the best, and simplest, dishes I tried was the Macaroni and Cheese with Secret Silken Tofu Sauce. Why “secret”? Because most people won’t even notice it’s in there. Again, I made the vegan version using Soymage vegan cheddar and the end result was very good. One of those simple, kid-friendly comfort foods that doesn’t require a disgusting packet of powdered cheese. But while this one is good hot, it’s even better cold the next day. This one is served well by some steamed spinach (I needed a whole bag) and some sun-dried tomatoes mixed in. It would probably also work well with some of the new Tofurky kielbasa or Italian sausages chopped up and tossed in.

The favorite around our house, though, was the exceedingly easy but fresh-and-tasty Middle Eastern Pita Bread Salad. With plum tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, parsley, and a few other ingredients, this fattoush is a great go-to meal, especially in the summer when bread salads taste even better with fresh, locally grown vegetables.

The Vegetarian Family Cookbook features over 275 recipes in the normal categories (breakfast, soups and stews—something Nava Atlas excels at, as seen in her excellent Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons, main dishes, side dishes, and sandwiches) as well as a few categories you won’t normally find in “family” cookbooks (tofu and seitan get a thorough treatment as do “wholesome baked goods”).

What’s great about Nava Atlas’ latest effort is that while there are good “family-style” cookbooks and good vegetarian cookbooks, the two categories have not been married in such a successful way to this point. The recipes are simple and while some may be too simple for advanced adult palates, the “Embellish It” tips suggest easy ways for adults to spark up a dish. Who knows, perhaps this cookbook will inspire families to actually eat the same meal, or only slight variations thereof. That would be quite an accomplishment.

Visit Nava Atlas’ web site In a Vegetarian Kitchen and order her book through the Veg Blog’s affiliate link.

An Interview with Josh Hooten

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The husband-wife team of Josh Hooten and Michelle Schwegmann run the Herbivore Clothing Company, which sells non-lame vegan gear (think “Praise Seitan“) and has been publishing the “vegetarian culture” magazine Herbivore for just over a year.

I had a chance to speak with Josh about Herbivore and being vegan in a very non-vegan world. He told me to go away.

Actually, it went something like this:

Let’s start with your “Vegetarian history” (when you became/why you became “one of those people”).

I went vegetarian about 7 years ago and vegan 5 years ago. Prior to that I had a very serious case of denial. I had veggie friends who were excellent role models but for some reason I held on to the stereotypes I had developed about vegetarians and was very stubborn. Despite the fact that some of my best friends were anything but the stereotype, I just wouldn’t let it go. Then one day my old roommate rescued a goose from a busy intersection near our house and somehow that lead to an epiphany for me about her seeing this goose wandering around, scared, and confused, in traffic (with a fishing hook through it’s wing) and how I would have stopped traffic to help too. But then I’d eat a chicken without thinking twice about helping it out of it’s own confusing and frightening situation. So I decided to stop eating meat. Then a couple years later I was reading Diet for a New America and was shocked at how I thought I had this great compassion for animals by not eating their flesh but didn’t think twice about milk and eggs and so forth. During the reading of that book I truly felt like it would have been less cruel to eat beef than eggs, but I wasn’t going to eat beef, so I couldn’t keep eating eggs. Same with milk, etc. It was a very big moment in my life, I remember where I was and what I was wearing when I decided to go vegan. And I REALLY didn’t want to go vegan. I didn’t want to be inconvenienced by learning all this new stuff and having to start cooking for myself and so forth. But when I read the truth, I knew what I had to do. I really didn’t feel like I had a choice.

I assume you went through all the typical family-and-friends issues when you went vegan. Any good stories about being “The Vegan” (as one of your recent issues refers to it)?

I have a few friends and family stories, some of which I can now look back and laugh at but most are kind of a punch in the heart. Meaning, it doesn’t feel good to not get support from the people who you’re closest to. Which, oddly, always seems to be the group that is most resistant for the people I know. Why is it always family who show you their ass when you make big changes like going vegetarian?

Anyway, I had one friend who would get uptight about a column I wrote for a website and how, in my column, I “couldn’t go a week without mentioning veganism, can you?” I told him it made me sad none of my friends supported my decision, or gave me any credit that I might be on to something and maybe they should look into it. Anyway, I told him I wasn’t going to listen to his shit anymore unless he learned about this thing that had changed my life. I told him to read Diet For a New America, and once he did, he could criticize me all he wanted because he’d finally know what he was talking about. He went vegan before finishing the book. His eyes opened up just like mine had.

Shortly thereafter he’d call me on a regular basis to tell me all the messed up things he was seeing that before never would have occurred to him. Like how his mom had triple bypass heart surgery and on the way home from the hospital his family stopped for dinner at a steakhouse to celebrate the successful surgery.

How’d you decide to start the Herbivore Clothing Company?

For the first 3 years I was one of those “I don’t want to talk about my diet, it’s a personal choice” kind of vegans. I didn’t know any other vegans, so I didn’t have any backup. At first this was because I wasn’t very good at talking about it, I was new to it, and couldn’t recite facts, which I thought would be important. Then one day I decided that was dumb. I had important information that should be shared (regardless of whether or not I could remember how many baby chicks are ground up per year in the United States, or why hunting isn’t an effective means of wildlife population control), especially with people I cared about who I often found saying the same dumb, ignorant things I used to say about vegetarianism. And I was proud that I was vegan, so why wouldn’t I talk about it in the right context? So, like any good American would, I turned to consumerism to speak my beliefs for me and I went shopping for an animal rights message shirt. But I’m a bit of a design snob and couldn’t find anything that I liked or that would express my views in the style I would prefer. So I decided to make a shirt, then thought, there must be other people out there in my shoes. Why don’t I make a few dozen of this shirt? Why don’t I make several designs, a few dozen of each?

I’m a graphic designer by trade, so I knew I could handle that part ok. And I’d just recently learned how to make a really sloppy website, so I knew I could handle that too. I had a friend who owned a screenprinting company how knew where I could get really nice quality, sweatshop free t-shirts and he would let me trade design work for printing with him. So why not? That was a couple of years ago and it’s been going well.

And how did that eventually translate into becoming magazine publishers?

We started the magazine for the same reason we started the clothing biz, just substitute “wear” with “read” and “clothing company” with “magazine.” Example: “As fashion conscious, urban vegans who were convinced of our own cleverness and humor despite any evidence of this, we felt we didn’t have anything vegan oriented to wear. So we started a clothing business.” OR: “As fashion conscious, urban vegans who are convinced of our own cleverness and humor despite any evidence of this, we felt we didn’t have anything vegan oriented to read. So we started a magazine.”

I really wanted there to be a magazine that was about celebrating our culture as much as it was about the issues behind it. We couldn’t find one that was covering the stuff we wanted to know about, so we made one.

And we wanted to show the humorous side of the vegetarian community too. Veggies are so often cast as humorless, rhetoric spewing grumps and that is just not my experience. So many of our friends are fun loving knuckleheads how are passionate about the issues but still love to laugh and have fun and celebrate their lives.

What are your current distribution channels?

We handle the subscriptions through our site, and our newsstand distribution is handled by Big Top Newsstand Services, which is the distribution arm of the Independent Press Association. We’re really excited about working with them as their mission is to support independent publishing and keep that voice alive in a world where ever fewer media outlets exist. If we hadn’t gotten picked up by Big Top, we would have had some hard thinking to do about distribution and whose pockets we would have been lining by trying to go with another distributor. Big Top gets us into a lot of indy bookstores and co-ops as well as bigger corporate chains. I think this is indespensible because as little as I like corporate chains, how many pro-animal rights voices exist on that bookshelf? Little to none, so we feel really proud that we don’t have to curtail any editorial content and can still get an expose on chicken factory farming onto a Barnes and Noble newsstand. Other magazines will write about those topics, but not usually from a pro-activist standpoint, which we think is a really vital voice.

A few months ago, I was staying at a hotel outside of Chicago and I was wearing my “Praise Seitan” shirt. We were heading out to the Chicago Diner, but before we did, I had to go through the “recreation area” (where there’s a pool, game area, etc.) to get to the front desk. I forgot that I was wearing that shirt and got a lot of scared looks from kids who were old enough to read but not old enough to know about wheat gluten and such things. On my way back from the front desk, I had to cross my arms to avoid scaring any more little kids. Have you had any strange reactions like that to any of your clothing line/stickers/pins?

Not as much as my friend Chad from Food Fight Vegan Grocery who makes buttons that say “I Love Hunting Accidents.” What a cold hearted bastard.

That’s almost as cold as Jeb in issue 3 who said what he learned from Atkins was to be careful when walking on ice.

I just got a note the other day from someone saying we were doing a good job except the Praise Seitan shirt wasn’t to her liking. I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Thanks? Piss off? Relax? I didn’t know what to say. I got a note from a very serious Christian once who was really upset about the shirt. She said she was a vegetarian and a Christian and she didn’t appreciate the pentagram (made out of forks) and so forth. She said I should stop making them and that it wasn’t funny. I told her, with all due respect to her faith, she should spend her time lecturing her meat eating Christian friends about compassion, rather than lecturing a vegan about Christianity. Oh boy, she didn’t like that. I don’t know what to tell people who get upset by that shirt. My feeling is, if they get upset by that shirt, they were going to get upset by something that day and the Praise Seitan shirt just happened to come along.

That brings up an interesting point: a lot of very religious people still eat meat and, as pointed out in the current issue, it’s actually a main part of many religious holidays and ceremonies. I’m particularly bothered when I see a church having a celebration and they’re doing a pig roast. They wouldn’t consider wheeling out a dead body from a funeral to put in the middle of the celebration, so why would they wheel out a dead pig on a spit?

What do you think causes this seemingly paradoxical behavior in otherwise religious and spiritual people?

Tradition. That’s all I can think of. My experience has been that very pro-meat people don’t ever have any solid back up for their stance, they only have tradition or vague statements like “It’s natural, we’ve done it forever.” Completely ignoring the fact that there is NOTHING natural about hacked up chicken parts in plastic wrap at a grocery store. If they were out there with a spear running down their food, they’d have a leg to stand on but grocery stores aren’t much like the forest, so that argument topples right over. And most of them I’ve heard do with a little inspection.

One thing “traditionalists” fail to grasp is that we’ve also been hating and killing each other over the color of our skin forever too, but that doesn’t make it right. We’ve been hating and killing each other over our religious beliefs forever, but that doesn’t make it right. Having a selective view of history to prove your point doesn’t make for much of a debate.

As for religious and spiritual people who eat meat, I have no idea how you can preach compassion and peace and eat meat. It baffles me every time I think about it. Even if their God did intend for us to eat the animals he/she put here, surely he/she wouldn’t enable them to suffer, then let us torture them with factory farming practices. No idea how otherwise sensitive people keep the blinders on.

What’s the reaction been from those within the vegetarian/animal rights community to your clothing and magazine?

As far as the Praise Seitan shirt goes, it’s far and away our best seller. A lot of responses have been along the lines of “finally I can fly the vegetarian flag with a sense of humor!” As for the company in general, people seem to dig it. It’s very validating to start two companies based on the hunch that there are a lot of other people out there like us and have it work out. It’s validating and scary. What else about them is like us? Do they all also swear like sailors and make up drunken dances called “Gorilla versus the Escalator”? Do they have an attacking type manuever called “The Butt Saw”?

Also, we were nominated by Utne Magazine in their Independent Press Awards in the Best New Title category, which was a real honor. So getting recognized outside the community is also very cool.

That said, I have to point out that just like everywhere else there is competition and underhanded stuff going on in the community, from a business standpoint and other areas. I have no time for this bullshit. We’re all here trying to save lives, getting competitive about business stuff undercuts the supposed goal.

What business lessons have you learned from your short time running Herbivore? What’s been your biggest obstacle?

Running vegetarian companies will never get you on “Cribs.” The biggest obstacle is not being able to afford to launch all the new products and projects we want and not having enough hours in the day to get everything done. But that’s actually a good thing. Keeps us motivated.

I imagine that most of the money that comes in goes right back into the business. Has it been a challenge to “pay the bills” at home?

Most of the money does go back into the company. But we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pay most of those bills on time, as well as sponsor a cow at Farm Sanctuary for the past two years (his name is Boris), as well as lend what support we can to various AR groups including Student Animal Rights Alliance, PETA, the SHAC 7 legal defense fund, Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary, and a few others. Our feeling is that there’s no use in starting a company if you’re not going to support the community that is supporting you.

I imagine that by the time you start a business based around vegetarianism, you’ve learned pretty much everything there is to learn about food, slaughterhouses, and corporate greed. Have you had any “vegetarian epiphanies”—things you didn’t know before going into this business?

Well, one thing you just have to accept is that you’re going to be spending a lot of money with companies who aren’t vegetarian and aren’t down for your cause. Meaning I’m paying someone to print my magazine and they are taking my money and buying meat with it I’m pretty sure. It’d be nice if that wasn’t the case, but you do what you can. Or for clothing, the person who manufactures our blank shirts, I’m sure their whole company isn’t vegetarian. But it’s a good company who don’t subcontract with sweatshops like a lot of garment industry types, and they are rolling out organic cotton options thanks to their customers inquiring with them about it. So you have to hope your choices balance out. If I didn’t start the magazine, that printer or shirt maker wouldn’t have my money to go buy meat with. But, on the other hand, I got a note from a vegetarian woman today who’s husband eats meat. She said he flips through Herbivore and is becoming more compassionate as time goes on (not only because of the magazine) and she thinks he’ll quit meat soon. Or a person who we run ads for said he had been vegan for years and then started eating dairy. He got Herbivore and went back to being vegan, refreshed and excited about it again. So there’s always a trade off and if we didn’t think we were doing more good than harm, we’d quit.

I wouldn’t call them epiphanies, but being vegan and not terribly excited by capitalism, I question all our decisions and try to make the ones that are most in line with our beliefs. Sometimes we’re wrong and sometimes we can’t figure out why one way would be better than the other, but we do question them all.

Gardenburger or Boca Burger (assuming they were never bought by Kraft)?

Gardenburger. Portland Represent! Even though they just moved to Idaho! (or was it Iowa?)

Not sure. I think they’re both actually the same state.