Give Praise to Seitan: Interview with Brian Manowitz, Vegan Black Metal Chef

Vegan metalheads may sound like a strange, niche, and in a way almost precious community. And, admittedly, it is. But as someone who has been both for decades, I’ve watched with a mixture of surprise and diabolical joy as more metalheads are going vegan. 

Although Brian Manowitz may not be RESPONSIBLE for that growth, he has played a visible role through his character Vegan Black Metal Chef. He started his YouTube show in 2012–I remember watching his first episode, laughing my ass off, and being astonished to find another vegan who was into black metal. 

Since then, Brian (as Vegan Black Metal Chef) has continued pumping out material on YouTube, creating the cooking show that “he wanted to see” and showing people that veganism can be easy to do, tasty, and cheap. With his vegan-friendly black metal warrior gear and characteristic “corpsepaint,” Brian has expanded from just cooking montages to incorporate discussions on his channel. He also has written a book, The Seitanic Spellbook, and he travels around the world doing live cooking demonstrations. 

I’ve been a fan for a long time, and I had the pleasure of meeting Brian in person at the Animal Rights Conference in 2018. He’s an intelligent, engaging, nice person (like many of us metalheads), and his passion for music and veganism remain clear in and out of character. 

Brian was kind enough to chat with me over the phone about his history, his perspective, and how music and veganism coexist for him. [Editorial note: The following text has been edited for clarity.]

When and how did you go vegan?

I’ve been vegan since somewhere around 2000 or 2001. It was in my first or second year of college at the University of Florida. The fast answer I tell people is, I don’t believe in the exploitation of animals. The slower answer is, I had a girlfriend in late high school and early college, and she went vegetarian in high school. After a year or so of that, in college, I looked back and said, “Well, I recognize that as the right way to go, but I’m not ready for that yet.” So I didn’t do anything…didn’t do a damn thing. Then after about a year or so, I looked back and said, “Well…it’s been a year, and she didn’t die…so if I recognize that’s the way to go, then what am I so afraid of?” I recognized it as a fear within myself…not a fear of anything actual, just a deep-seated, conditioned fear…of nothing. I couldn’t live with myself having just this fear of nothing, so I faced that fear of nothing head on and went vegetarian for about two or three months or so. Then I went to an animal rights group at the University of Florida, saw a couple of videos, and said okay, now I’m vegan.

I also went vegan my second year of college…so it’s a good time, I guess.

I think it’s reasonable in a sense in that, that’s when I started having to buy my own groceries, in college. Before that I was far less conscious in the food-making process in general…and the lifestyle process in general.

What about black metal? When did you get into that?

I’ve been a metalhead since kindergarten or first grade. My first couple of tapes were Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood, the Skid Row album, and a handful of others. Then I got into Metallica and other thrash later in second grade or so. So I’ve been listening to metal for a very long time. I didn’t get into black metal actually until very late, until after college when I heard Dimmu Borgir’s Spiritual Black Dimensions. I was like, “What is this bullshit keyboard in my fucking metal?”…and then woke up the next day and said, “Mmm, I kinda want to hear that again.” So it was probably the early 2000s that I got into black metal in general–I was mostly into old-school thrash (which is also where a decent amount of influence comes from in my music), also Florida death metal and power metal, all sorts of stuff, but I didn’t get into black metal until significantly later.

Do you think there’s any connection between black metal and veganism for you?

The black metal veganism was sort of coincidence for me. The only real connection I see is that, with metal in general, it takes some amount of throwing off social conditioning in general to listen to these genres of music because they’re not in the pop-genre realm. And I tell people, the hardest part about going vegan is not finding delicious food to eat–that’s not hard at all–the hardest part is overcoming the social conditioning. You can take up drinking. You can take up smoking. You can take up doing all sorts of things, and people will be largely okay with it. If you go vegan, they’ll say, “You’re going to die! Why do you hate me! Why do you hate your family!” Shit like that. Every social pressure literally ever–from the advertising you see to everything else–will come down on you and try to scare you away and make you conform. I would say that that’s the closest connection of black metal to veganism is casting off the social conditioning.

I distinctly remember discovering your show as Vegan Black Metal Chef on YouTube and thinking, “Holy shit, there’s another one.” Back then in 2012 it was literally like, oh my god there’s another one. And now it’s changed so much.

That was somewhat of a frequent comment, actually.

I can imagine… So let’s start with the character, what made you want to create a Satanic vegan chef set to black metal?

It sounded like a lot of fun to me, and it’s a facet of me basically. With the Vegan Black Metal Chef stuff it was just the music that I liked and the cooking show I wanted to see. I was combining my passions for making music and cooking. When I started it, I’d been vegan for eleven or twelve years, and I thought, my food tasted pretty good, it’s not that difficult to make, and it’s really cheap. It was kind of three things that people think veganism isn’t. So I was like, I need to tell the world about this because I think it’s a very doable form of veganism for a lot of people. I thought about making a cooking show, but cooking shows kind of bore me and put me to sleep. So I just combined my passions for making music–black metal music in particular–and made the cooking show I wanted to see, and luckily a few other people wanted to see it, too.

What sort of educational and advocacy aims do you have with Vegan Black Metal Chef? In addition to the practical stuff of how to cook plant-based meals, do you have any other goals?

I guess I’d consider myself a light vegan activist, more or less…sometimes more, sometimes less over the years. I’m all for circus protests, and I think that was actually one of the protests where, during the protest, you could see it working, and ultimately it led to the closing of Ringling Bros. circus. There are a few protests like that, where you could see it working–even as people were railing against you, you could see it working. I’ll never tell anyone how to do or how not to do their activism. I think there’s a place for everything. Different people feel called to different activism, and we all have a role.

With myself, a large amount of my activism I call passive-ism, in the sense of just showing people what to do, not just what not to do. I think both have their place–telling people what not to do can be fantastic. But it takes a whole other skill set, mind set, and approach set to show people what to do instead of what not to do. When you tell someone not to do something, it sort of leaves a void that was filled and had a practical reason in their life. It wasn’t some extra action that they did–it filled a purpose. Now that purpose still needs to be filled, and they don’t know how to fill it, or it’s not easy for them…and if it’s not easy there’s a higher chance they just won’t do it and will just find another way.

In my book as well, there’s a lot of sidebars of what I call “practical mysticism” and personal development and things like that, because that’s a big part of my life. I guess I’ll always be showing those things: doable veganism, personal development, and activism by feeling whatever your call to activism is.

It sounds like you’re doing a lot of important activism by dispelling some of the myths about veganism and doing a cooking show in a way that’s amusing and fun and engaging. I think that’s really cool and important.

It’s one way to sort of either yell or speak forcefully at someone that “Veganism is cheap! It’s easy to do! And it tastes good!” And show them that in a longer format through the videos, and convince them of that.

Speaking of the show and the character, what would you say has surprised you the most with Vegan Black Metal Chef?

Well I’m honored and humbled that anyone still gives a damn. That’s been pretty cool. And I’ve traveled the world, doing live cooking demonstrations in front of tons of people all over the world. I’m surprised anyone liked it to begin with. I’m gonna do it no matter what to answer the question of what do vegans eat. At every job I’ve ever had, it’s the question at every lunch period: “What is Brian eating…?” You can’t just say, “I eat chickpeas and onions and other things,” you have to show them entire meal ideas. Some people may have never heard of chana masala or other things, and it’s like trying to explain a hamburger or a hot dog to someone who’s never seen a hamburger or hot dog before.

Yeah, and it’s so funny too how your food landscape expands once you go vegan. I had never heard of so many foods before that I found after I went vegan–like, oh my god what’s hummus? What are chickpeas?

Oh yeah I eat a wider variety of stuff now than I ever did. And better stuff now than I ever did.

Back to the veganism and black metal, it seems that more and more vegans in black metal–and extreme metal more generally–are self-identifying as vegan and being unabashedly open about it and promoting it. And people I never knew have been vegan for years are now happy to talk about–they have no qualms about saying, “I’m vegan and fuck off.” Since you’re a well-known figure in this weird center of the Venn diagram of veganism and black metal, do you feel like there’s a quiet movement happening, and a growing interest? Or is it still mostly kind of random?

It absolutely feels like it’s growing. It’s awesome that it’s far more talked about now. For example, I’ve done cooking demonstrations the last two years in a row at Wacken Open Air in Germany.

Oh…wow…

The reason for that is that Wacken is really awesome, and they listen to the people and the fans, and the people demanded more vegan stuff.

No shit…?

Yeah, and the first time that they booked me they hadn’t even seen my cooking shows. There was a random German Wikipedia page on me. It was a week or two before the festival and they were like, “Hey, do you still do this? We need more vegan stuff.” So they flew me over. Then they had me back again last year as well. It’s an absolutely growing thing there. Even at the veg fests and things where I typically do cooking demonstrations, you see little old grandmothers and then some metalheads sitting next to them…it’s an interesting mixture. I absolutely see it as a growing thing in the movement and not just being uncovered a little here and there.

One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you right now is that I’m sure you’ve seen studies and things on the news saying that we don’t have long before we’re past the climate tipping point where we’re totally screwed. So much is pushing climate change, but over and over again it’s clear that our dietary choices and the animal agriculture industries are huge players in what we’ve done to the planet and are continuing to do to the planet. It’s frustrating because I feel like that conversation so often dances around the topic of going vegan, minimizing individual action. I feel like whatever else is going on, you can go vegan right now! And that’s going to make a difference the more people do it! Do you foresee the Vegan Black Metal Chef addressing that bleak climate issue at all?

I touch on it in the book a bit, but especially with the new format of videos I’ve been making, more of a vlog style instead of just pure cooking instruction, I would absolutely talk about that.

For myself, I like to focus on things that are obviously true and not rely on statistics and things that can go back forth between being “true” and “not true.” I have a science background myself–I have a degree in behavioral neuroscience, I worked at a brain lab as a computer programmer, and I had weekly scientific article discussions. I think science is fantastic and statistical analysis has its place. But I really want to focus on things that will be timelessly true and are obviously true. Like it’s obviously true that there’s huge waste in the animal agriculture industries, even in terms of the amount of food that one has to feed animals before you obtain food from them, as well as all the fuel and other processes. At every point there’s a loss of energy in animal agriculture, as opposed to just eating plants. In a sense, the exact numbers kind of don’t matter, because it’s obvious that there’s huge waste there. As opposed to having the specific numbers being attacked or challenged, if we could all just recognize that it’s obvious there is huge amounts of waste happening, then to me it becomes pretty plain.

I tell people, veganism is the easiest solution to so many of these things. It doesn’t require policing anyone; it doesn’t require any action besides your own. No one has more decision over what they put into their mouth or wear or buy than themselves. A lot of these articles that beat around the bush with this are part of that social conditioning. If people just flat-out said the elephant-in-the-room truth, these articles wouldn’t make money–they exist to make money and have people purchase them. It’s like the third rail of social conditioning that they’re not ready to touch yet. Their amygdala acts as if it’s a personal attack…even though it’s just an idea, the brain reacts like it’s an attack on the person and throws up every defense mechanism possible. Until that whole system gets acclimated to a new reality, it will still be the third rail of social conditioning, and people will fight back as if you attacked their very being.

Yeah, for sure. I wanted to frame all this in the context of black metal because, as you know, black metal is quintessentially bleak (in sound and philosophy), it’s often misanthropic, it’s very much about creating an atmosphere of dread and dark emotions. And that can be a good thing for those of us it resonates with…it can be cathartic. I find it very therapeutic when I’m feeling down to throw on some black metal and get that combination of the visceral jolt of the energy as well as the dark atmosphere that helps me experience and process my emotions.

Yeah, if they don’t come out in a healthy way, they’ll come out in an unhealthy way.

Exactly. And that’s one thing I don’t think a lot of people understand about black metal, the function it serves for those of us who listen to it. [Click here and here for some interesting scientific discussion of metal and positive emotions.] So when you’re faced with all this stuff, how do you use this music when you’re confronting all the bad shit that humanity does and the bad shit that’s going on…do you find a similar sense of using the music you make and listen to for help in what we’re facing as a species and as a planet?

Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. That’s a huge amount of the reason I make music in general and make that music is to express those kinds of things and feel those emotions and be in that space in a way that I can be in that space and then not be in that space–I can experience that and do what I need to move forward. It’s an amazing, cathartic experience for that. It’s essential to feel and express all the aspects of emotion, not just the ultra-positive ones…though it sort of leads to positivity in a sense, by truly feeling the problems and the issues with the world and then being able to do something about it.

Vegan Black Metal Chef with Michael Winslow.

On the same note, it’s really hard to be vegan sometimes…with all you see going on, not just related to climate. Having black metal as something you listen to and create yourself, do you tie that in closely to your experience as a vegan? I’m sure you get frustrated a lot being vegan in the world. Is music something you use as an outlet to deal with that frustration?

Yeah I mean that’s largely what I’m into music for. If I wasn’t making music, I don’t know what the hell I’d be doing at the moment…

Hope isn’t something that we talk about in the black metal world, understandably, but what if anything do you feel hopeful about?

I mean you don’t see fewer vegan products in the stores these days. Like you can focus on numbers and things, or you can focus on the fact that it only seems to be growing in the stores for people to buy. It’s not like the vegan section is shrinking and shrinking… It’s an absolutely growing movement. Every veg fest I go to around the US and around the world, every year is bigger than the last. On the socio-political spectrum, both people on the “left” and the “right” hate it because it’s one of the last bastions of rational thought and truth, of speaking truth to power. Arguments just become weak against it and become silly. So the hope comes because the truth is on our side. You can only ignore facts and ignore truth for so long.

To wrap this up, do you have any words of seitanic wisdom for everyone reading, trying to manage the deep despair and bullshit that we’re dealing with?

It’s all about bringing consciousness to your actions. The more all of us do that, the more the world will suck a little bit less.

Hail Seitan. Thank you.

 

Advertisements

To Err Is Human(e)

i.

While there are some excellent exceptions to the rule of factory farming … (selling ethically raised meats, eggs, and dairy), being a veg*n in Virginia is an important way to avoid benefiting from the suffering of animals–directly or indirectly.*1

This is a terrible thing to say about animal agriculture. Not only dangerous and harmful, but just blatantly wrong as well.

Now, you are probably anticipating, perhaps almost reflexively at this point, one of my cutting assaults on the myriad problems contained, both explicitly and implicitly, in this quotation–a mildly abusive disabusing of any notion that there can be any such thing as “ethically raised” animal products, based on biology, history, and my experiences rescuing animals from any number of farming situations.

And you are right. But there’s a catch:

I wrote this.

This utterly shameful utterance is mine, and not from distant times before I was vegan and while I still held fanciful notions that animals and animal products were ours to eat. No, I was vegan when I wrote this in 2010…

One of the problems with writing is that at some future point you may find yourself performing a retrospective, either by will or by force. Sometimes that can be illuminating, sometimes it can be a foray into the warmth and fuzziness of nostalgia, and sometimes that can instigate a moment of growth. Sometimes it can also be fucking painful, filled with embarrassment and dismay that you could ever have believed–let alone stated–such nonsense.

I had occasion recently to look back at some old blog posts and articles of mine dealing with animal agriculture, and I found myself thoroughly appalled at sentiments like these, which betrayed not only a lack of consistency with my own then-professed vegan ethics, and not merely an easy acceptance of animal exploitation and consumption as societal givens, but also a pervasively ridiculous lack of understanding of the very animals I was attempting, so I thought, to defend.

All of this, while still forcing me to shake my head in disbelief (I’m doing so as I type, mind you), is in a certain degree explicable. Don’t get me wrong: my viscera scream out at the inexplicable attempt by anyone to talk about “ethical” animal products in earnest, and it makes this entire trip down memory lane rather agonizing. Still, it is by no means an aberration of how we, generally, both vegans and non-vegans, deal with basically every instance in which the interests of non-humans and the whimsies of humans collide: we get what we want and find ways to make ourselves feel better about hurting others in the process.

I don’t mean that as a cop out. I don’t want to walk down this lane, but I believe it is both instructive and illustrative of just how easy it is to be vegan without also committing to an anti-speciesist fight for liberation and the end of oppression, and thus not really getting at the root causes of why we oppress other animals.

In other words, there is no lack of examples of vegans hedging their bets when discussing veganism and animal rights, wanting to “stop cruelty to animals” and to “choose compassion” whilst simultaneously being terrified of offending, angering, or otherwise disturbing their interlocutors–or, even worse, not actually believing that animals deserve autonomy, not nicer management. This is one reason why “factory farming” is such a useful bogey in the realm of debate: vegans can avoid stepping over the “extremist” line by allowing all sorts of exploitation, as long as the meat (or milk or eggs or whatever) isn’t from a “factory farm”; and, without having to stop enjoying meat (or milk or eggs and so on), a non-vegan can list the many reasons why and methods by which they DO NOT support “factory farming.” Isn’t that great? We all get to enjoy the low-hanging fruit!

ii.

Life with (rescued) chickens…

Because I’m feeling masochistic (when aren’t I?), let’s consider another example of my mistaken prior arguments:

The lack of widespread, reliable protection for farmed animals makes it an ethical imperative that we become conscientious consumers of animal products. Unless we buy direct from the farmer, how can we be sure we are not paying for factory-farmed animals. Even if we don’t opt for the most humane step of going vegan, and so refusing to turn animals into mere commodities, we can become vegetarian. Or if we do use animal products, we can shop compassionately, researching the producers of them.*2

Sigh.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the central issue is a mindset that feeds the Humane Myth–and shows how vegans perpetuate the Humane Myth constantly. There’s almost a grudgingly fleeting effort to broach the possibility of veganism as the only acceptable response to animal exploitation, and it gets lost in the distracting gesticulations that seek to steer people away from “factory farming” rather than from what matters: the systemic oppression of non-human beings.

This example is so useful, and damning, because of how visibly ethics–which demand considerations of justice and autonomy of other beings, regardless of species–are buried under the miasma of “humane” exploitation. Indeed, “humane” is a particularly revealing device in this case because it is so clear that it’s all about us, about humans, and not about other animals. The fact that “humane” elicits a spontaneous overflow of feeling that something is approximating humanness is exactly why it’s so problematic: calling exploitation “humane” is only possible when it’s really about us, and what we want, and what serves our ends. In fact, “human” plus “e” does not equal “happy animals.”

Thus, it is irrelevant how much we know about a farmer or a farm, just as it is irrelevant where, how, and by what methods or with what intentions a non-human animal was born, raised, used, and killed. These are all trappings of human solipsism, a speciesist selfishness that allows us to believe that treating another being, who isn’t like us, sort of like us, means we can pretend they aren’t being meaningfully harmed by our actions. Because of our privilege as humans who benefit from a system of domination, we are able to pick and choose what aspects of their experience we want to trouble ourselves with…a mental prestidigitation that is absolutely necessary for us to perform in order to even conceptualize the word “humane” in regards to animal agriculture.

And that’s exactly what I was doing, which I see so clearly now provided more than enough material for anyone to believe they can find a way to eat animals and still be a swell human(e).

Fuck.

iii.

Godric was found with a necrotic food, probably from a tether wrapped around his leg, which required amputation.

In the ensuing eight years since I wrote those terrible things, a lot has happened. Marriage, animal rescues, a move, and being battered about by the tide of public awareness. Also many new family members have come, and gone–so many individuals who have made me understand what it means to care enough for someone else that your own self-interest seems less of a scream and more of a whisper.

And loss. So much loss.

I feel very little for the person I was back then, with that mindset: no anger, no sympathy, nothing really beyond shame at what I said. If I’m to be honest, I think it best he is a thing of the past, and I don’t have to deal with him much anymore. Perhaps you’re thinking that I should extend some compassion to the him who was me. Perhaps you’re right. I won’t, however, though you are welcome to.

Reading my own words, I feel as if I’ve betrayed every animal who is living and has lived with us here, as family…the time and context of that other person-I-was don’t matter. All that matters is how seriously wrong I was.

So what I needed then is not compassion but a good talking to, a firm nudge towards the fact that all forms of animal exploitation are inherently unethical and irrevocably harmful because they happen most significantly in the biology of these beings, not just on the farm or in the slaughterhouse. Even more, I needed to meet those individuals who actually endure the violence of domestication and exploitation, to experience for myself who they are and what their lives are like and how trivial the supposed distinctions are between one method of animal farming and another, between one species and another. Even more still, I needed to feel how priceless they are in order to understand the absurd offensiveness of how little we value them. For therein lies the strongest rebuttal to all my bullshit about ethically raised this and conscientiously consumed that. All my human(e) hot air is revealed to be nonsense in the face of their fates as beings bred to be consumed by us.

My wife and I have rescued hundreds of animals in the ensuing years, and every one of them has meant something deeply to us. Every time we lose someone, I get another peek behind the curtain of the Humane Myth, and I see yet another way human actions have harmed these beings under human oppression. I see all the things we could not save them from: reproductive diseases, compromised immune systems and pathogens waiting to pounce, hormonal imbalances, muscular and skeletal abnormalities, injuries, negligence, cruelty, apathy…all for the convenience and pleasure of humans. I also see all the ways in which “sanctuary” is as much about giving dignity to them in death as it is about giving them an opportunity to experience life, and letting loss inform how you live with the ones you still have: the loss of loved ones brings with it the cruelest and most unforgiving insights into what they suffer at human hands.

What I wish for my then-self is not a vague and coddling compassion, no, but that I had been able to know before opening my mouth the individuals whom I have known since then. How they live both under and despite human domination is more than sufficient an argument for us to stop harming them, and really all we need to do to see this is to shift our focus from ourselves and onto them.

Frost (at top) was dumped in a state park and was sleeping on a parking sign in the cold, rainy winter weather when I caught him.

Quotation Sources:
*1: https://insteading.com/blog/virginia-license-plates-vegetarian-vegan/ (2010)

*2: http://hopeful-ink.blogspot.com/2010/12/cruelty-of-factory-farming-by-justin.html (2010)

From Commodity to Absurdity: Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Days and (Non) Flying Chickens

This past Saturday, 17 February 2018, the 35th annual Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Days event took place in Ridgeland, Wisconsin. You probably haven’t heard of it, but let me save you the trouble and get to the point: along with a “greased pig” catching event, this celebration of “pioneer” spirit features a “chicken toss.”

The “toss” is not as banal as it might sound, though. Chickens, who have spent hours in cages with no protection from freezing weather, are carried up to the roof of a one-story building and thrown out to the crowd. Tossing isn’t enough entertainment, of course, so part of the fun is chasing the terrified chickens en masse and grabbing any you can. You catch ’em, you keep ’em.

I’m hoping at this point that you’ll grasp the severity of the problems wrapped up in the basic premise and plan of this “family” event. But let me clarify a few things that might help: 1) most chickens are not capable of flying very well or far, so being hurled from a high spot (onto concrete, no less) is not going to end well for them; and 2) chickens are prey animals, so being handled by strangers and landing in a scrambling crowd of large (mostly drunk, entirely clumsy) mammals is surely even more terrifying than hurling through the air as you struggle to “fly.”

My friend and colleague Quincy Markowitz took part in an effort not only to stop the event and protest as it went on, but also to save as many chickens as possible. They were able to wrest four sick, maimed, and stressed chickens from the crowd… Her firsthand account after the event and accompanying photographs are heart crushing:

Today, I am going to tell you all some horrible stories and share some awful images. I am so sorry to have to even make this post, as I know it will bring tears and frustration.

All four of our rescued chickens are doing well and recovering from their abuse. We will have more follow up on them this week.

For now, we need to talk about the victims we couldn’t save. I will tell some stories of pictures I did not get, and some that have pictures to accompany them.

We arrived yesterday at Ridgeland Pioneer Days at 11am. Almost immediately, I heard a child telling his dad about the chicken he will catch, and how he will feed him grass until he dies and they eat him.

We stood in the crowd as we waited for the event to begin. Most people were drinking beer, there were many children. Right as the throwing was about to happen, people started chanting “feed us!”

It was a whirlwind. The crowd was ferocious, battling for chickens, grabbing them by their necks and wings. When one would fly into the bar wall across the street out of panic, the crowd laughed.

I saw a rooster on an awning, terrified, trying to stay away from people. Children threw snowballs at him until he fell off.

I saw two children and an adult stuff their chicken into a plastic bag. These chickens are said to be pets and well taken care of, but we watched them die there.

I saw two women force-feed a chicken beer for a photo op before posing for the picture kissing her on the beak.

A friend told me of a rooster caught with a broken foot. I found the man who caught him and asked for him to be surrendered to us. The man told me that he will be kept if he can mate with his hens, and then he will be eaten. They would not give him to me.

My friend, Steph, saw a rooster with severely swollen feet and wattles consistent with fresh frost bite. These chickens suffered frostbite within the 24 hours before the event.

We have so much more evidence and so many more stories to be revealed, so please keep following us and PLEASE, start planning to come to Wisconsin next year and show up wth us to stop this event.

The icing on the cake was, as I was leaving with my sweet Dolly in my arms, crying and frustrated, a group of men catcalled me. They asked if I was single and what I was up to later. I should not be surprised at any level of degradation these monsters are capable of, but somehow I was taken aback, not expecting myself to be victim to their abuse.

This is a so called “family friendly” event. I feel sick for the children being raised in this environment.

28056584_10211283321414003_1850982922164414290_n
27868118_10211283320613983_19885967060571584_n
27867793_10211283320213973_1168725792810297457_n27972865_10211283320573982_5729847211530165434_n
27867131_10211275567060149_1867875394508343344_n28166565_10211283348134671_1671902773524753221_n27971787_10211275567100150_4545133172043782382_n

I’m grateful to Quincy and others for braving that horrible event and saving those they could.

Is any of this worse than what happens to chickens and other farmed animals in animal agriculture? No, it isn’t. Is it more wrong and violent and exploitative than so many other forms of so-called “entertainment” that use the bodies of animals for human titillation? No, it isn’t.

Still, I am utterly dumbstruck at this ridiculousness not just because it shows some of the worst side of humanity. Ridgeland Winter Pioneer Days’ “chicken toss” event also reveals just how little value chickens have as commodities for humans; as commodities, there really isn’t anything humans can’t do to them.

If you look closely, what you see is that people who have already neglected their chickens (see Goby’s untreated sinus infection and Shrimp’s untreated frostbite?) dumped unwanted (not primarily useful/profitable) animals knowing full well what would happen to them…and not caring.

Not even not caring: DEFENDING what happens to them. As amusing as the flying, terrified chickens were to some people, even more hilarious was the effort to speak out against this absurd cruelty. Indeed, chicken farmers specifically wanted everyone to know how well the chickens are treated, and since they’re just food anyway what does it matter? That’s what chickens are FOR, right?

Human beings rationalize, justify, and excuse many of the things we do to animals via arguments about necessity–biological, financial, cultural, ecological. There’s no justification that holds water, in my mind, but ideally it’s a conversation that can happen with a reliance upon a wide set of facts and experiences.

It is also important to realize that an extension of our commodification of living beings under our domination for food (and so on) is a sense of free reign and impunity. We lock chickens and other “food” animals into the ontological position of being consumables, and doing so guarantees that many humans will feel entitled to use them in any way whatsoever, for whatever reason.

Shit like this “chicken toss” is scarily irrefutable, though, because its absurdity lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with our needs or the animals’ lives and everything to do with human callousness, with our willingness to abuse our power over others in ways that have no actual “value” or purpose other than diverting us from our boredom. This event is the equivalent of a child burning ants with a magnifying glass and sunlight.

There were children here, yes, but this time the metaphorical magnifying glass was being held by adults who bear the full moral responsibility for their actions. There is no situation in which this event cannot be considered cruelty to animals, something that would get you arrested had you been chucking chihuahuas onto the concrete below…

It’s worth mentioning that there were law enforcement officers at the event on Saturday.

They were there to monitor the protestors.

“In a World That Is Half Asleep”: Interview with Lindsay Schoolcraft

By Justin Van Kleeck

It’s been a long while since I did an interview for this blog, and it was my interview with Samuel Hartman, formerly of Kentucky black metal band Anagnorisis, that prompted me to start this blog in the first place! Since then, more and more vegans are showing up in extreme metal, which I find both encouraging and interesting. There even seems to be a more vocal vegan fan base of metalheads. We’re everywhere!

I discovered Lindsay Schoolcraft in the usual way, a random click on social media, and realized she was a vegan in one of the best known black metal bands, England’s Cradle of Filth. She’s also busy with a solo project and a new venture, Antiqva, with fellow vegan, Xenoyr, vocalist of Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris. Lindsay is doubly unique for being a woman and a vegan in heavy metal, so I was interested to get her perspective on the scene and the movement…

When did you go vegan, and why?

I went vegan the few days been Xmas and New Years of 2012. The documentary Food, Inc. really gave me a good look into how demoralizing the industry is towards the treatment of animals for food.

A lot of people seem to think it strange that someone who’s vegan would also be into extreme metal. What connections if any do you find personally—are they two sides of yourself, for example, or is it more directly related?

There are quite a few people in metal who are vegan and it is really not uncommon or not unheard of anymore in this genre. I view myself more as a classical musician who fell into heavy metal.

Photo by Ya Cheng Photography, courtesy of Lindsay Schoolcraft.

How’d you fall?

Ha ha, well I was training to become a classical composer, conductor, and singer and at the time I was listening to more and more metal. Then Cradle of Filth showed up and I couldn’t say no to the offer.

I’ll avoid basic questions like how you eat vegan on tour…but I’m curious about other aspects of the “vegan struggle.” First, what sort of conversations about being vegan do you have with fellow musicians? Are they most often antagonistic, or congenial? And second, do you notice any differences of tone discussing your veganism with other metal musicians versus metal fans?

Since the lifestyle and diet is still completely unheard of to some it becomes hard sometimes to get the venue staff to be able to cater to you and make you the food you need. There are times when you’re stuck in remote areas, Texas being an example, and you have to settle for a basic salad that night. I’m not picky, I’m happy to take whatever I can get. The trick is to stock up on snacks like nuts and apples.

I don’t really have this struggle amongst my peers on the road. Since it’s so common now it’s not a problem for me anymore. I still get some shit online and in person from some fans. Some people really don’t like the movement and try to tell me I’m dumb or extreme. But I’m just trying to be peaceful over here and not contribute to any suffering.

It’s also unusual to be a woman in extreme metal, though thankfully that’s becoming less true with time. What’s your take on the role women have to play as metal musicians and key figures in black metal and other genres? Have you personally felt a change in the culture?

Women are a rarity in heavy music, but we are becoming a lot more common these days. There has been a change in the attitude towards the female gender, but we still have a long way to go before we are fully heard. I honestly would just like some equality and my gender not be something that divides me in any way from anyone else.

You’ve teamed up with another vegan, Xenoyr of Ne Obliviscaris, for your project Antiqva. What’s it like working with other vegan musicians? Have you collaborated with other vegans in the past? Do you up your advocacy game when you do? 😉

Our friendship has a long history and we did bond mostly over our veganism and our love of darkly things. When we toured together we were the only vegans in our traveling party so we would get away to find food we could eat, talk about the subject, and through there found a common ground for the art we want to create: which we are now creating together!

You’re also doing a solo project as well. Can you talk a little about that, and does your veganism influence your personal music writing in any way?

I’ve actually written a song on this album coming up as a political anthem with another guest vocalist who is a vegan as well. It touches on all the topics our world faces today. We are all no better than anyone else and we need to start seeing that more than ever. Other than that the album is very personal and really displays my vocals outside of Cradle of Filth. I’m excited for people to hear it. It should come out next year.

Vegan community can be really helpful in so many ways. Who are some of your best vegan music friends, and why do you think vegan musicians can be important advocates for the movement?

My biggest influence and help to go vegan is Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy. We’ve shared a lot of stories and experiences the past few years. She is really knowledgeable and has a big heart for animals. And of course there is Xen, The Vegan Black Metal Chef, and The Vegan Zombie who has been good friends and great support. Sharing recipes has always been our thing.

We have a platform which gives us a voice and it’s not just what we say but how healthy we become too and can show people our progress and hopefully inspire them to take better care of themselves too.

Lastly, why is being vegan totally metal?

It’s courage to stand up for something unpopular in a world that is half asleep. That’s pretty much some very metal lyrics right there.

Open Letter to an Open Wound

There have been times in my life when I spoke truth to power loudly and publicly. I felt my anger like a star, burning and bright. The embers are still glowing, but I have been tired. I am so much water.

Addressing the wounds of the world takes a kind of strength I started to lose as the wounds of my family and my own tender being burst open. There is no clear delineation between these pains as they’re felt – the pain of living with genocidal systems operating all around us, the pain of loss, of intergenerational trauma, illness, abuse… they bleed into each other. So many wounds eventually look the same regardless of how they were made or the intentions of those who made them.

Someone very close to me has been abusive for years. He is a writer too, and he sometimes sends long letters full of manipulative, threatening language. I have written countless drafts back to him, detailing everything he’s done to me and everything I’ve witnessed him do to people I love, foolishly hoping he will see the truth in my words and desire to make amends, my dream of restorative justice.

I learned the hard way that any communication with him backfires. He will select one word and twist it to suit his toxic narratives. My communication is an invitation for him to attack with more intensity, and he’s made it clear to me, at times even saying so explicitly, that he does not care to hear what I have to say. He is not interested in understanding or accepting responsibility. He has exhausted my anger.

I’ve found it difficult to write as a result. Not only have I felt on a deeply personal level a horribly frustrating futility in my words, but I am terrified of replicating the language of abuse. I share genes with this person. Our demons are close. The slightest hint of his voice in my own silences me quick. I have felt this in other ways. The poisons of our world infect and confuse. The fear of irrevocably fucking up, the fear of turning into the very thing I am fighting… it can be debilitating.

Even when I manage to move through those fears and channel again the righteous rager, I eventually come to a stillness that asks, then what? And the answer from the wise, always, that we need to heal and build.

I suppose in some ways that’s what I’ve been trying to do, starting small, starting with myself – build from the ground up, build something from a place of understanding and care. It’s not as glorious as the fire-breathing dragon I can be, so adored. Healing is not glamorous. It’s painstakingly picking through a trash heap. It’s all the things that no one is going to applaud me for doing, that no one may see at all. It’s having to just keep moving forward, keep waking up, keep doing what I have to do to stay alive despite the parts of me that feel defeated and despaired. It’s finding the good not just in spectacle, but in intimacy.

My abuser isolates himself, and I know it’s easier for him to maintain his illusion of power that way. At times when I have tried to reach him, I get a glimpse of someone vulnerable, and then that person is locked away, and the tyrant appears. This happens too when we create nations and borders and hierarchies, constructed inequalities to prevent the intimacy that would reveal our shared vulnerability: what it is to be alive on Earth, to feel fear and pain. Even the work of healing is painful. It can feel like there is no escape, no relief, and I too have chased those twin pillars to destructive ends, seeking power and simply finding more pain.

I cannot escape my fear and pain, but I can manage them. Just as I must continually combat manifestations of oppression in myself, the work of healing my own trauma and illness is an ongoing process. I can’t say I acknowledge my white privilege and understand the system of racism and then be done with it. I must be attentive, always listening, checking in, reflecting.

I have been writing this for months now. I keep coming back and making adjustments, but I know I am in many ways just avoiding the moment of reaching out. I am so practiced now in seeing my words atrophy, in reaching out a hand to have it slapped away. It’s heartbreaking as someone who cares so much about connecting and believes so deeply in the power of language to help us do that. I don’t want to let an abusive person take that away from me. I cannot write a letter to him, but I can write one to myself and to you. And my hope in this for understanding, connection, and healing is not so foolish.

 

How Pre-packaged Avocados Reflect The Way I Approach Social Justice

You might have seen this image floating around the internet for a while. It’s not a new image. But every few months, someone reposts it and it gets a new life.

Last week, it showed up again on social media and a few people had a good chuckle. Of course they were chuckling at the expense of middle class people with middle class problems. But several dissenting commenters also showed up to the discussion to present a different perspective. There were plenty to choose from. But this is one [very white] example.

At first, I conceded the point and flogged myself for being an ableist dirtbag who hates all people with physical disabilities and vowed to do better. But then I thought about this more objectively and came to a different conclusion. The church of social justice demands that we all share the same party line, and if we don’t we face immediate, harsh, and permanent retribution for that sin.

But I think there’s a better way to look at this. And here’s why.

First of all, I’m confused about why this commenter invoked food deserts. It seemed like a strange place to go considering that two of the key indicators for what constitutes a food deserts are based on 1.) affordability and 2.) lack of geographical access. The avocados in this viral image were being sold in Sobeys, the second largest grocery store chain in Canada, for more than double the price of an un-packaged avocado. Therefore, they miss the mark on both indicators. At best, I feel like we’ve just gotten comfortable with throwing the phrase ‘food deserts’ out there whenever someone is having a discussion even remotely related to food justice in some type of intersectional feminist jargon bingo.

These bad boys were being sold for 6 USD.

It’s like the recent pre-peeled oranges fiasco in Whole Foods. Sure, people with physical disabilities can benefit from them. But Whole Foods is a gentrifying organization who was selling those oranges at an extortionate price. The physically disabled were not collectively sighing with relief at their newfound good fortune. They were trying to pay their electric bill and drinking dollar store orange juice instead because Whole Foods was already stunting on them.

Second, there’s the claim that products like these avocados (broadly called infomercial products) are designed for people with disabilities but marketed to rich white people in order to make them available and affordable. And yeah, that would totally make sense…

except there’s no evidence that marketing infomercial products to clumsy white people with too much money was a noble effort to help people with disabilities. It’s most certainly true of SOME of these products but by no means all of them and not even the majority. Included in that claim is the urban legend about the Snuggie being originated for people in wheelchairs. But that’s been (repeatedly) debunked.

Third, I feel like we jump to apply the phrase ‘people with disabilities’ very liberally, but it doesn’t have a lot of value. No two people with disabilities are the same EVEN if two people have exactly the same condition.

Taking on disability rights advocacy is the right thing to do. But choosing which disabled group to prioritize is completely arbitrary in this circumstance. In the case of pre-packaged avocados, the people who benefit from them are already in a seriously privileged position versus the people who are hurt by their production. The amount of waste generated alone is a net fail based on the damage done to already overburdened ecosystems. And this has a disproportionate impact on indigenous human and animal populations, many of whom have physical disabilities themselves.

And I don’t mean that in a tangential esoteric way. I mean a direct and measurable real-time impact!

And in general terms, a huge number of infomercial products are manufactured in places where labor conditions are so abominable that they literally CREATE physical disabilities among workers and then lock those workers in cycles of poverty.

So when referencing ‘physically disabled people,’ it’s more productive to speak with greater intention and clarity about who we’re talking about instead of reaching for a hypothetical person. Because which people and what disabilities is so obscure here as to be completely lost.

Fourth, let’s talk again about affordability. The pay gap for people with disabilities in the United States alone is at least 13%, and I’m being generous for the sake of discussion. Some research places it at 37%, and the average pay gap climbs even higher still depending on what state you live in. In fact, people with physical disabilities often earn what’s called sub-minimum wages. And that’s before you factor in pay gaps based on race, gender, and type of disability. In short, these avocados are not the hill I want to die on.

If, as suggested by the screen-capped comment, you have some condition that allows you to dice onions and tomatoes and cilantro for guacamole…but lack the dexterity to cut an avocado…yet can still gnaw your way into this exceptionally restrictive packaging that would challenge a very able-bodied person, then I completely empathize with you. I won’t question your disability or interrogate your desire to make this bizarrely specific food. However, if you’re buying all these pre-packaged ingredients in order to enjoy the satisfaction of making your fresh guacamole (which was also a suggested possibility), I might ask you for a loan. Because I’m a baller on a budget, and you’re clearly a Rockefeller making the guacamole of millionaires.

And last but most importantly, I feel like we’re arguing for disability rights from the wrong perspective. If products like these are marketed to rich, clumsy, lazy, entitled white people in order to make them affordable to people with disabilities, then that plan isn’t working because 1.) most of those products remain inaccessible based on their price point and the low incomes of the people who need them and 2.) people with disabilities should not have to rely on the purchasing habits of incompetent white people who like mass-produced convenience goods frequently manufactured in slavery conditions by people in economically disadvantaged countries.

At the end of the day, we collectively want to do right by everyone. And that’s not a bad thing. But this whole situation reminds me that a lot of our activism is wrapped up in performance. And we are assuming a dangerously prescriptivist nature in our interactions with one another. We don’t need to be in a competition to appear to be the most woke, gang.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach to our food justice requires us to think more critically and investigate further than just outrage based on what we think is right. We should look past the immediate situation and see the global consequences for oppressed communities instead of just seeing at individual products through a strictly imperialist worldview. Sometimes a pre-packaged avocado is just a white people answer to a white people problem. Don’t believe me? See avocado hand. Apparently it’s a real thing and it’s hilarious…although considering that we’re calling it a medical condition, that’s probably ableist to say. Even if we’re talking about people who I guess cut their avocados like a serial killer.

P.S. I actually did run this by a friend of mine with multiple physical disabilities (including issues surrounding hand mobility). When I asked her if she felt like the lives of people like her were improved by pre-packaged avocados, she laughed in my ear. To quote, “Child, leave me alone. Avocados are the whitest thing you could be bringing in my face right now. You know what improves my life? Pre-made guacamole. You know what else improves my life? Jars of salsa. I don’t need to make that either. And nobody campaigning for my right to do it. In fact, I don’t need to cook any of my own food in order to feel validated as a person in a wheelchair. What I NEED is FOOD.”

For the record, she also tried a Snuggie once. And you know what she learned? That trying to operate a wheelchair while being draped in yards of fabric with sleeve holes is a goddamn catastrophe.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The One

As I type this, a weeks-old baby has snuggled up on my wife’s shoulder, where they (we’re not sure about boy or girl yet) had crawled up of their own volition in order to “perch” while also seeking comfort, warmth, and safety. All these are natural behaviors of a young one, though Angelica has never known their mother. All that Angelica has known of humans—up until a truly miraculous effort in the past few days—is at best horrifying. And yet now they find comfort while sleeping against a human face.

This is a life that was destined for death—that had nearly every cog of the human cultural machine turning against its continuance. And yet, here Angelica is with a future unfolding ahead of them.

While I was on a long rescue trip the other day, someone told me—commenting on a post I wrote to mourn the loss of another individual—that I had convinced them the emotionalism of individual animal rescue was fruitless, and general vegan education is what matters.

I sometimes wonder if veganism is just an argument to some people, a theoretical position in a field of debate, untethered from actual lives. I don’t see how any of this matters if we devalue individuals so much right now in the hopes of someday saving thousands from peril. I don’t see how we can have any actual attachment to thousands if we don’t want to see the one.

What is clear, at least, is that Angelica did not ask to be here but is, right now, and wants to be. I guess I’ll always prefer to respect that and see injustice in terms of individual harm, knowing all too well how much injustice we do to them…and how hard they fight simply to be, despite all of our nonsense.

Their desire to live and our connection with them are not phenomena that we can quantify, or measure for efficacy, and the reality of who they are is lost to us when stretched to billions and billions–to terms beyond our ability to viscerally comprehend. Connecting with individuals can greatly galvanize us as we fight for justice, building outwards from these relationships in ways that challenge the computational commodity-mongering of capitalism.

Justice is not a currency and will not be found in our wallets or our rhetoric. It is forged in the connections we make and the willingness we have to mediate our power by the sort of personal respect for others that directly challenges our wielding of it.