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.)

An Interview with Brownbird Rudy Relic

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Brownbird Rudy RelicEvery so often I get a CD to review that not only blows away all other unsolicited submissions, but anything I’ve recently purchased.  Brownbird Rudy Relic’s Anti-Stereo Acoustic Holler Blues is that type of disc.  Hands down, it’s my album of the year for 2007.  Quote me on that.

Brownbird Rudy Relic is a “a straightedge Vegan Chicano purveying traditional acoustic blues music.”  Whoa.

His music is intense.  You know how when you hear an amazing singer hit that perfect note and you get chills up and down your spine?  That happens from the first note of Anti-Stereo Acoustic Holler Blues.

Enough about the music for now.  Go check out his MySpace page and his vegan blog, buy his CD, and keep an eye on the pages of Herbivore in 2008, as I’m going to threaten Josh with death if he doesn’t let me write a feature on this dude.

Who are your five favorite blues singers?

Son House, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Mamie Smith and Washboard Sam.

But.

In all honesty, I am always hesitant to answer this question: not because I don’t have them but more so because I refuse to let an affinity for a segment of blues musicians to define who I am. I obviously have a sincere affinity for the blues (after all it is what I play) but my personal partiality is not the barometer that I use to gauge my place within the blues itself.

I prefer to think of myself as a bit more enlightened than the average member of the blues bourgeoisie (which I would never claim to belong to) for as a blues musician I am sum of my musical and personal experiences; I don’t ape a particular style or long for days of yore – I have never sung about antiquated themes nor do I intend to. I don’t tell stories: I share my life with the listener.

For frankly, I would be nothing without the DIY ethos of Punk Rock, the rollicking Rhythms of 50’s Rock n Roll, the over-the-top drama of Mexican Ranchera, the sweet supple sounds of Doo Wop or the poetry put to page but such poetic masters like Neruda or Plath.

I am the blues, but I am all of these things as well.

How does one manage to make fun, foot-stomping blues whose lyrical
roots are clearly in painful experiences?

Both the music and the lyrics fight for supremacy. The can exist outside of each other but they would mean little for they share a sincere and symbiotic relationship. They are both built on a foundation of pure emotion but lay on different ends of the spectrum – one is the lucid feeling of happiness, the other is the horrendous feeling of pain.

The result is what my music is: an amalgam of everything I have experienced, from the depression of lost love to the weight of insecurity to the confusion that often mars life.

Please oh please tell me all about the vintage equipment and
recording techniques you use.  Permission to geek out as much as you
want: granted.

Geek out granted…

In the late 40’s Ampex created the first 1-track home recorder. It was a bulky small dishwasher sized wonder that allowed a user to demo out tracks without having to enter a studio.

This is the machine I used.

I split the one track to two 30’s Era Model 55 Shure Unidynes by using a 2-dollar Radio Shack splitter and some electrical tape.

I recorded live in a rehearsal room designed for opera (read: natural reverb) and did everything live (obviously sans overdubs). Because the recordings themselves could not be set to level afterwards (as there is little more than volume) each Microphone had to be strategically placed to fit each songs vocal and guitar specifications. Since I did not have an engineer (or anybody’s help at all) I had to cut a track and meticulously listen to the play back to ensure that everything was near perfect as there was (and is) no way to change the tracks afterward.

Finally the tracks were transferred to CD without the use of digital manipulation and mastered to industry standard from the original transfer CD.

Picture of Brownbird Rudy Relic @ CMJ ganked from suckapants Do music and veganism ever cross paths for you, or are they two
separate worlds that never shall meet?

My veganism will always play a role in what I do because it is such an integral part of who I am. I’ve always tried to use the fact that I play music to help AR and/or Social Justice causes by donating my time and the proceeds (when I can) to what I see is a greater good.

With that said I am still a bit of an unknown within the Vegan movement and I hope to change this in the coming years.

I am a compassionate person, this is why I play the blues and it is also why I am vegan.

For you see, underneath the greasy pompadour and blues aura lays a hippy of monumental proportions.

Your dream gig: where would it be held and who would be making the food?

Most people who know me well know that I love vegan food with an unbridled passion – I can talk about if for hours and I can consume it much the same way.

Most people who know me also know that I have the biggest crush on Isa Chandra and the mere thought of her cooking at an event that I might be playing at sends me into a dizzy spell.

So. Dream gig? Anywhere Isa’s cooking and there’s room to pull up a chair and play.

Seriously though, I don’t strive for dream gigs or acclaim, just intimate moments where the wall breaks down between musician and audience. Where our thoughts, feelings and emotions become connected like thatched fingers and where we, together, are the only things that matter at that precise moment. To me that’s the dream. It’s what I chase everyday.

Up the vegans!

Brownbird Rudy Relic’s Anti-Stereo Acoustic Holler Blues is available now via CD Baby.  He’s currently performing live anywhere that’s cool and working on a 7″ with Orb Mellon to be released next summer.

An interview with Leo Babauta

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This is the first in a new series of interviews with veg*ns.  The idea is simple: 5 questions about what they do and how it relates to veganism.  I’ll post new interviews periodically and will try to talk to a variety of people from different backgrounds, including some folks you may never have heard of before.

Our first subject is Leo Babauta, proprietor of popular productivity blog Zen Habits and author of Zen to Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity SystemZen to Done (ZTD) is a minimalist productivity system that is perfect for those of us that think David Allen’s Getting Things Done sounds great, but feel a little funny inside when starting to think about a “tickler file” and “next actions.”  Leo is a transitioning vegan, so I talked with the father of six about how his simple philosophy goes beyond just checking items off of your to-do list.

Why is it so important to simplify how we manage our to-do list?

The more complicated our productivity systems, the more friction there will be for us to use them. Too much friction means that eventually, you’ll stop using it once or twice, and then it will start to fall apart.

Keep things simple, and you’re more likely to use the system. Another reason: most of us are pretty busy. We don’t have time to for the upkeep of a complicated system. We need to use tools that don’t require management … that just help us do what we need to do, and no more.

Lastly, it’s important not just to simplify the system, but simplify what’s on your to-do list. ZTD asks you to only pick the three most important things to do each day, rather than trying to tackle a laundry list of tasks. This simplicity greatly reduces stress and increases effectiveness.

All the cool kids use GTD and it seems like a great system, but I was never quite able to get on board because it felt like I had to learn too much. Have you heard from others with a similar problem?

That’s one of the main reasons I developed Zen To Done — I’d been hearing from many people who “fell off the GTD wagon” for one reason or another. It turns out there are just a small number of reasons most people stop using GTD (or don’t start using it in the first place). ZTD addresses those issues: it simplifies things, it gives your work day some structure, it focuses on the important stuff, it reduces what you need to do, and it makes things easier to use.

How is ZTD helping you transition to veganism?

Well, the two aren’t directly related, but the key to ZTD — simplifying things — is also the key that is leading me to veganism. My philosophy is to simplify things, to eliminate the non-essential, and in my opinion, meat and animal products are non-essential. They aren’t necessary for survival or enjoyment, and the death and suffering of animals isn’t necessary for our well-being either. As a result, I am attempting to eliminate as many of those products from my life as possible.

At the moment, I am completely vegetarian, and I don’t drink milk or eat eggs or buy leather. I’m trying to eliminate other foods with dairy or other animal ingredients, but I’m taking a longer transition to that goal than others might. It’ll happen eventually.

What are the main hurdles you think keep most people from even considering veganism?

I think it’s just a matter of what people have been raised to think. They have been raised with the misconception that meat and milk and eggs are not only good for you, but essential to a healthy diet and to our survival as humans. Vegans know that’s not even close to being true.

Most people (myself included) have been raised to love certain foods, and the thought of going without them (steak! ice cream! cheese on pizza!) is unthinkable. It seems like suffering to them, and anyone who “puts themselves through that” must be masochistic to intentionally suffer. Of course, once you transition to vegetarianism and veganism, you know that it just takes a little while to adjust to being without meat and milk and other animal products, and once you adjust, the thought of eating those things is distasteful. And vegan food, it turns out, is delicious.

Vegans also often are perceived as angry, self-righteous people, and this is caused by some vegans who actually are that way. Not criticizing them, but it’s just that in my opinion, we will only get others to accept the concepts of veganism by patient education, by being friendly (and not trying to debate people all the time), by cooking great vegan food and letting our friends try it out, by being positive instead of negative. That’s the way you win people to any cause. Negative tactics just turn people off, and in the end, if we do that, we are harming our cause.

What has ZTD not been able to do for you?

ZTD doesn’t actually get your work done for you. I wish it did! But it asks you to focus on doing. You still have to actually do the work yourself … fortunately, it helps you to simplify what you need to do and focus on the right things.

ZTD also doesn’t do windows. Or cook vegan food. Or give very good back massages.

It’s a simple system designed to keep your life simple and keep you productive and organized. That’s all. :)

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.

An Interview with Sage Francis

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Sage Francis

One-half of the Non-Prophets, Rhode Island resident Sage Francis is a rare beast in hip-hop: he’s a vegetarian emcee/spoken word artist and he’s not timid about saying so. While he’s not the first person in hip-hop to leave the beef for a battle (like the 2000 Scribble Battle, for example, which he won), he’s one of the few that talks openly about it in his lyrics. On “Different,” from his solo album Personal Journals, Sage says:

Growing up in a microscopic town prepared me well for this petrii dish, /
Where talk is invisible to the eye and they hate the guy they’re speaking with. /
I’m a real vegetarian: No chicken…not even fish. /
I’m a real underground rapper: My tape quality sucks, my records are warped and my CD skips.

In this e-mail interview with Sage, he discusses how he became vegetarian and how some of hip-hop’s well-known vegetarians may not be walking the walk.

Ryan: Let’s start with the basic background stuff—what type of vegetarian are you? How long have you been vegetarian? What led you to choose to stop eating meat?

Sage: As my vegan friend puts it, I am a ‘half-assed vegetarian.’ I eat dairy products. I stopped eating meat in 1996 and it was basically done on a bet. My straight edge friends tried telling me that I was addicted to beef because of all the drugs that are pumped into cows. I knew the only reason I ate meat is because it was made available to me in different forms and for very cheap (which is absurd). So I stopped eating meat for a year just to prove them wrong and then when i tried to go back to eating meat again I was repulsed by the flesh.

Ryan: So that was some reverse psychology they pulled, huh? While you proved to them you weren’t addicted, their bet showed you the light. As the years went by, what types of things surprised you and disgusted you the most about food production?

Sage: Basically, they pulled the old, “Oh you couldn’t stop eating meat even if you tried.” Well, I proved them wrong. I most certainly wasn’t to meat. I ate it out of convenience. I truthfully believe that they believed I was physically addicted to eating meat and I knew that was nonsense. I had never been addicted to anything. Not to my knowledge anyway. The thing that disgusted me most about meat was that… I am composed of meat. I don’t feel like chewing flesh. It grosses me out. I know where it comes from and I know how it gets to my plate. If I can have an alternative to meat, I will always go that route. I can’t believe all people don’t do that.

Ryan: What are some of your favorite veggie dishes/recipes?

Sage: I absolutely love vegetarian makki. That’s about as classy as I get. Other than that, I am a sucker for pizza. I’m one of those people.

Ryan: How about restaurants? Are there any favorites in towns that you visit but don’t live near?

Sage: I believe that the only ALL veggie restaurant in RI is the Garden Grille [Caf�], which is unbelievable. Classy joint with scrumptious meat alternatives. My favorite place to eat in Providence is the Meeting Street Cafe which specializes in top quality food of all sorts. I have written many love letters and break up letters in that place.

Ryan: Vegetarianism is one of those topics rarely discussed in hip-hop (aside from every rapper and his mother saying, “even vegetarians have beef with me” or some such). Animal rights, specifically, seems to come up even less frequently, even among political emcees… do you think this disconnect is similar to the one that often exists between environmentalists and animal rights activists?

Sage: Ha ha, good call on the over-used vegetarian punchline. But humans have a lot of wrinkles to iron out between themselves before ‘animal’-rights becomes pertinent subject matter in hip-hop. I do wish ALL people could see the benefits of vegetarianism but there’s a lot of work to be done before that sort of awareness permeates the mindset of rich and poor.

Ryan: What do you think is the most urgent thing people need to know about food production/vegetarianism/etc., even if
they don’t go any further in exploring the topic?

Sage: A conscious diet should be a healthy one. A conscious vegetarian diet is a healthy one. You are not making a sacrifice to your body by depriving it of meat, that is a social fallacy. A true revolution begins with your daily eating practices.

Ryan: When it comes time to tour, have you faced any difficulties finding good eats on short notice?

Sage: Most of the time we are forced to settle with gas station cuisine. Horrible, horrible eating habits on tour. And touring Europe will definitely test a vegan’s faith.

Ryan: In a recent poll, England was named the most vegetarian-friendly country, which kind of surprised me because while Asian countries do eat a lot of fish, it’s not unusual for anyone (not just vegetarians or Buddhists) to eat a dish with seitan or tofu in it. I would have expected somewhere in Southeast Asia to be easier to find veggie food since it’s so ingrained into their culture. Did you find any European countries that were more friendly to vegetarian visitors than others?

Sage: That poll sounds like complete bullshit. Granted, there are a lot of Indian restaurants in England, but there is no way that any spot in the UK is the most vegetarian-friendly in the world. Quite the contrary. From my understanding, there are Asian countries that used to be strict vegetarian until they became westernized. From personal experience, the good old northern US of A is the most vegetarian friendly, but there is one buffet-style veggie restaurant in Montreal that takes the cake. I forgot the name though.

Ryan: Dre from Outkast is vegan, Dead Prez go so far as talking about raw foodism… who else in the hip-hop community is vegetarian/vegan that you know of?

Sage: Dre and Dead Prez may talk the talk, but like most rappers I have a sneaky suspicion they ain’t walking the walk. It’s like… KRS claiming vegetarianism on one song and then I read an interview where he was eating chicken. So who knows. Recently I heard a member of Souls of Mischief say he was vegan. Sole is vegan, Odd Nosdam is vegan, Yoni (Why?) is vegan, and I am the half-assed vegetarian.

You can find out more about Sage Francis at Non-Prophets.com. Be sure to check out his solo work (Personal Journals, the Sick of… series, Makeshift Patriot), his work with Joe Beats as the Non-Prophets (the outstanding 2003 release Hope), and his material with Art Official Intelligence.