It is 6:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, and I am carrying a screaming (not squealing) potbellied pig named Lola to the car. I will spend over thirteen hours that day taking her to her permanent home at PIGS Animal Sanctuary in West Virginia, after having rescued her from sad conditions and having cared for her for two weeks prior …
Three years ago, this scenario would have seemed entirely foreign and utterly intimidating to me. I have been an ethical vegan since March 1999, but most of that time was spent in isolation—as the only vegan I knew wherever I lived, and as the only member of a one-person household. My dedication to avoiding a part in the exploitation of non-human animals was (and always has been) central to who I am … but the notion of bringing others into my life was another story.
I mention all of this in a past-is-prologue sort of way simply to throw into relief that image of me with a screaming pig in the wan, pre-dawn light. Thankfully, Lola was not screaming because my novice hands had an improper hold (I managed to master pretty quickly the art of picking up an unwilling pig), but because pigs simply do not like to be picked up.
I know this now, both from research and from experience, much as I know that roosters make a particular sound when they find food for their hens, baby goats suck down a bottle at light speed, and rescuing animals in need is perhaps the most satisfying activity one can do as a vegan.
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My wife, Rosemary, and I each had dreams of starting an animal sanctuary before we met in cyberspace, and eventually in person. She was the one who actually set my feet walking on the path of rescue, though: a little over a month after we started dating I rescued a deaf former bait dog whom I named Iris, and it was all a fairly quick transition from isolated hermit to animal caregiver.
Once we moved to Chapel Hill (a return for both of us, but in different ways), we quickly realized that there was an urgent need for rescuing farmed animals in the Triangle. After helping secure a good future for a white goat named Lily and then for Bubba the famous ram in Durham, we started thinking seriously about putting more—and better organized—energy into getting farmed animals off the agricultural assembly line.
Thus was born Triangle Chance for All. There was and has been an astounding response to our efforts to rescue and provide or secure permanent sanctuary to farmed animals, and to couple that with outreach and education to promote a vegan lifestyle. For us, the two are intimately connected: rescuing farmed animals helps individuals but does nothing to stop a system of exploitation, and focusing only on advocacy leaves many individual animals with no chance for a better life.
For me, vegan advocacy is filled out, completed, and made fully consistent by this life of animal rescue and care. Although it is a very new way of living, I find it very natural to live in a home that is also our microsanctuary for rescued farmed animals (along with our own rescued cats, dogs, and rabbits). It also makes sense to be building a community around this twofold idea that veganism is the only satisfactory response to the suffering of non-human animals and rescuing individual victims of that system is a worthy endeavor to pursue as a vegan.
I could not have imagined myself saying any of that three years ago. And I am sure that many people reading this feel the same as I once did. After all, many of us might see cats or dogs as a little intimidating but still a normal part of your average household. Farmed animals, however, are often viewed as “other,” even by vegans: they live on farms somewhere out in the country and are owned by farmers … unless they are lucky and go to a big farm sanctuary that is also out in the country and run by a different sort of farmers.
But what if every vegan extended their circles of compassion and companionship to include, actively and directly, the millions of farmed animals who somehow get a chance to get out of the exploitative farming system? What if more vegans considered a flock of chickens in the backyard or a couple of sheep out by the garden normal … not “other”? What if more vegans began to see themselves as caretakers of their own microsanctuary, be it on half an acre or a dozen acres?
How much good could we, the ones who already care about the well-being of farmed animals, do for individuals who have been bred only to suffer and die for human ends?
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The day after my trip with Lola to West Virginia, I spent another twelve hours in the car transporting an injured rooster from Georgia to Carolina Waterfowl Rescue. While I was driving on Monday, TCA rescued two more (very young) chickens from a local shelter, and we were all preparing for a bake sale through which we could spread the word of veganism over a vegan cupcake or cookie … And while all of this seems normal now that I have committed myself to the life of an animal rescuer and advocate, I still occasionally reflect back on where my life was just a short time ago and remark on how quickly things have changed.
The deep contentment and peace I feel now, beneath the frenzy of rescuing animals and helping to run an organization, to me reflects the fruition of my principles put into practice. It makes me feel, finally, that I have an answer to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “most persistent and urgent question”: “What are you doing for others?”
It is fairly easy for veganism to be seen as a monolithic thing. Non-vegans especially seem to have a hard time recognizing that vegans eat different types of foods, live different types of vegan lives, and see (and react to) the world in very different ways.
Given the fact that my glass is virtually always half-empty, I notice a lot of times that the idea of the “joyful vegan” clashes with the reality of my experience as an ethical vegan of over 15 years. It can be jarring (to say the least) to watch as other vegans have babies, obsess over the latest vegan products on the market, and trumpet the apparent signals that the world is “almost there” to becoming a more compassionate place.
For many of us, none of that makes sense. Indeed, to look at the world in a different way means seeing how much pain exists and how little is actually being done to stop it. Since getting into animal rescue and sanctuary-building in recent times, all of this suffering and inertia are growing more and more apparent.
That is why I feel a great kinship with people like Jewel Johnson and Jason Kero, the unstoppable forces behind the Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost. I appreciate brutal honesty, a sharp edge, and an uncompromising dedication to giving animals better lives. Jewel and Jason have provided us with countless instances of inspiration, insight, and support as we create a microsanctuary of our own for rescued farmed animals …
Can each of you share your story of going vegan? How long ago was it, and what made you realize that you could no longer exploit animals?
Jewel: November 11, 2003 I went vegan. I ordered Meet Your Meat from PeTA. I sat down and watched that VHS tape. I’ve been hearing the machines and the blood curdling screams since. I’ve wanted to fight to put an end to such needless horrors from that point on. My experiences on our family cattle ranch, combined with my experiences helping raise chickens as a kid, and my relationship with my rescued parrot, all led up to me being willing to watch that video, which changed my life and the lives of many non-human animals since. The footage of slaughter, the act of slaughter, is brutal and unnecessary. Why should another life die because someone wants to taste salt, fat, and boiled blood? It’s disgusting and the heights of selfishness to demand these atrocities be committed on behalf of selfish people. I want absolutely no part in such outrageously unnecessary cruelty, suffering, and death. I’m not selfish enough to fool myself into believing that it’s not that bad. It is that bad. They scream that loud. They bleed that much, they kick that much, feel as much fear as anyone would at their own slaughter.
Jason: Back in 1998 I found a flyer talking about the cruelty of the circus, and it had me remember the one and only time I went to one as a child. My brother and I were in tears because we couldn’t understand why the elephants looked so sad and why they were being whipped. Our parents took us home ten minutes into the show, and we were both scarred for life. Finding that flyer almost two decades later made me rethink how people treated all animals, and I began to search out more information. I discovered the truth behind so many things, and being so disgusted I promptly stopped eating and wearing animals altogether, but I was a vegetarian fooling myself. No matter how long it was between shameful indulgences, it didn’t truly click in my heart until 2008. That is an important thing to consider: the guilt one feels, or doesn’t feel, when they say, “Fuck it.” I’m not talking about “what your friends might think” because I never had any vegan friends; I’m talking about looking at oneself in the mirror and justifying the selfishness, the greed, the entitlement… I never felt relief, just pure disgust at myself for bearing witness and then turning my back. I know in my heart that I would now resign myself to death rather than eat the flesh or discharge of an innocent ever again. To the death.
I know that you each have varying musical tastes with more (Jason) or less (Jewel) interest in heavy metal and similar forms of music. When did you get into heavier music? How far over to the dark side have you gone?
Jewel: I really started liking heavier music after I went vegan. What I want is action, not a hippie drum circle filled with losers, listening to jam bands and eating free-range jerky.
Jason: I’ve been into metal and punk since 9th grade. Before that I was listening to whatever was on the radio—oldies, mostly Motown, which I still like.
I got very excited when I discovered Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost, as I had a hunch that the name “Danzig” was a metal reference. Can you tell us about Danzig the rooster, including how he became a member of your family and the origin of his name?
Jewel: Danzig and Moe came to me as chicks back in 2005, I believe. The details of how they arrived are hazy. I had no idea what I was doing at first. I thought maybe they could live in the house, whatever. At the time I had a boyfriend who said he would shoot them if they grew up to be roosters. That story didn’t have a good ending for that man, but it did have a good ending for Danzig and Moe, the hen. Danzig the rooster looked and strutted like Danzig the singer. Basically, you knew that was his name by looking at him. It’s like Danzig the rooster told me his name. He was hatched with that name. Moe also looked like a Moe. The name suited her partly because she resembled one of my best friends in high school, Moe … the prettiest little metalhead girl ever.
Jason: I first met Danzig the rooster when I was looking for bands on Myspace a long time ago. A suggestion came up and I clicked on the page and there was this little fuzzy black rooster named Danzig with his own profile. I thought that was the coolest thing, how appropriate! I looked around on the page for a little bit and a song from Primus started playing (I think it was “Tommy the Cat”) and I was just cracking up. I got distracted and a few days later I told a couple buddies about it but then basically left Myspace. After Jewel and I had been together for about a year we got to talking and she had mentioned Danziggy’s Myspace. We jumped online to look and see if it was still there and I couldn’t believe the way it felt when Primus started playing and I remembered finding that page so long ago!
Was the resemblance to the punk/metal star purely physical, or did they share any personality traits?
Jewel: Oh yeah, the stout, proud little strut, black Mohawk, and black attire made Danzig the rooster the perfect little version of the human Danzig. I don’t know if the human Danzig is such a gentle and caring soul like Danzig the rooster was, but appearance wise, they matched as much as a human and a rooster can match.
Jason: I think most male rock stars are comparable to roosters … look at Mick Jagger or Bon Scott.
I have so much respect for vegans who do more than just stop consuming animal products, or even who do advocacy, but who also offer sanctuary to farmed and companion animals. How did the Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost get started? How did your veganism lead you to open a sanctuary for roosters, hens, and other farmed animals?
Jewel: Obviously Danzig the rooster was the inspiration to save more roosters. I didn’t have the opportunity to build a sanctuary in the mountains where I had been living since I was a kid. I lived in a small house in an old mining town in the Rocky Mountains, and I had Danzig the rooster living with me. I also had Lerr the rooster living there briefly. Lerr was jumping the fence and attacking people who walked by. I thought that was hilarious. My neighbors did not. Although I was zoned to have 12 roosters if I wanted, the neighbors threw a fit. This ugly little man started a petition to kick my roosters out of town. This guy made fiddles for a living … evil little, bad vibe fiddles. That guy would vibrate with anger any time he saw me. When he started calling the cops about the roosters and complaining about the crowing, I broke out Slayer and my Stihl chainsaw. How’s a chirping bird compared to that? Don’t ever buy a fiddle from an ugly little guy named Dennis.
Before anything could come out of the petition and the constant complaints, I started a search for another house to live where my birds were safe with me. My commitment is to these beings in my care above all else. I’d do anything for them, including rearranging my entire life and plans for the future. The safest place I could find that would keep me at a good distance from potential complaining neighbors was way out on the plains, east of Denver. That was the crossroads for me. Continue my desirable life in the mountains, or commit to the back-breaking work of building a sanctuary on the plains. Before we had a closing date on the property that is now Danzig’s Roost, Danzig the rooster passed away in my mountain home. It’s because of him that so many lives have been saved. While he was sick, I slept on the floor with him snuggled in blankets. He would scoot closer in the night and snuggle right up to my neck. It’s painful to think of that moment in time when I was losing him.
Jason: I was at a point in my life where I needed to make a decision. I remember talking with a friend, and he mentioned the vivisection dungeon at Wayne State (I’m from outside Detroit, Michigan) and that something needed to happen. I said that they would just move the lab. He said he would like get the animals out. But there would be no way to get in without a key, and I remembered Britches’ rescue. On that rescue video you see someone unlock the door for them. He was not afraid to be on camera and was risking his entire reality by letting them in, but you could tell that he had had enough of the abuse. This rattled me for a while and I considered going and getting another loan to go back to school there just to get into the program and get a key. Realizing that this was an unattainable scenario, I, having met Jewel online about a year earlier, asked her if she needed any help at her brand new sanctuary and that I felt like moving across the country.
How many residents do you have at the sanctuary now, and what species? Do you have any others named after musicians? Have you ever considered creating an avian version of a Misfits reunion at the sanctuary?
Jewel: Right now we have 54 roosters and about 120 hens. We have eight ducks and a pig, three goats and two horses. No, we do not ride these horses or any other horses. We are ethically opposed to horseback riding. The horses are named from some characters in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, King Arthur and Patsy. We have had some birds named after other musicians. We had a rooster named after Frank Zappa. There is Ziggy Startdust, a super cool looking Polish rooster who is mean as hell. Lerr, the white leghorn rooster was named after Larry from Primus. Lerr is hick pronunciation for Larry. There can’t be a true Misfits reunion without Danzig. It’d have to be a cover band with a new name.
Jason: Hey, don’t forget about Elvis! I agree, an avian reunion of the Misfits would be most excellent, but we must remember that no matter how good looking Doyle was, Bobby Steele was the superior guitarist. I also have to mention that Lerr’s namesake is Larry Lalonde who not only started Primus but was also the guitarist of one of the first death metal bands, Possessed. How coincidental!
What does a typical day at the sanctuary look like for you? Is music a big component of that day, and if so … what is a typical day’s soundtrack look like for you?
Jewel: Work. Running a sanctuary is work. Thankfully Jason has more focus than I do, because I get sidetracked with all the awesome critters to say hi to. Every morning we haul water to 18 coops, distribute feed, hand transfer non-integrated birds, and medicate any birds currently needing medical attention. After all are fed and watered, it’s always tea time with Pete the Duck. During daily chores like mucking and food mixing I put my headphones on and listen to what I call “chick rock,” which is mostly women-fronted bands like She Keeps Bees and Cat Power. I still like to muck the horse stall while listening to the Misfits and Minor Threat. I’ll throw in a little Led Zeppelin and who knows what else. I just like to stay energized, and a variety of music will do that for me. Too much of one type gets boring.
Jason: Sleeping in for me is 7:15 a.m. (if Jewel is home; if she’s not I get up at 6 a.m. at the latest). From there it’s nonstop chores until I go to work and then another three hours or so of chores after I get home. I like having a reason to be up to watch the sunrise. If I’m up that early I like to listen to somber doom metal. Out here on the plains the vast landscape can remind me of the ocean as the sun rises and Morgion or Pallbearer, or Russian Circles are great for that intensity, as well as Solstafir. Once the sun is up though, early morning thrash quickens the pace, and nothing’s better than Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains/Schizophrenia or King’s-Evil from Japan. Kreator also has a special place, as well as Slayer up until Live Decade. It depends on the time of year and the weather for me. During the winter, if there is fog and it’s very cloudy during the day Blut Aus Nord; if it begins to lightly rain Deathspell Omega … if it’s a brutally hot summer day Monstrosity, Vader, Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, old Carcass. Cold winter as the sun sets, Immortal, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Samael, early Naglfar, and Dissection. Clear night sky and intense stars, Blacklodge, Aborym, Void, Red Harvest, Lorn. I mix it up with classic Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath (Dio), AC/DC, The Doors, Alice in Chains, Pink Floyd, and neoclassical electronic music like Autechre and Aphex Twin.
I have a deaf dog who does not mind my listening to death and black metal, but no one else seems to appreciate it. Do any of the residents like to listen to heavy metal?
Jewel: Either way, music doesn’t seem to do much for the sanctuary residents. The chickens don’t seem to mind power tools or my trusty chainsaw. They’re pretty easy going no matter what after they realize how safe they are here.
Jason: I have a cat who likes Anaal Nathrakh.
A lot of heavy metal and other extreme music (at least the kind I listen to!) can foster a darker perspective on things, such as a misanthropic attitude or even the harsh criticism of popular culture that punk is notorious for. Do either of you see any ways in which your musical interests and your work as a vegan advocate are related? Does one reflect on and/or influence the other at all? How about your overall worldview?
Jewel: The energizing music I listen to absolutely reflects how I feel about activism and how I respond to the world. I want a change. I want a revolution. I’m angry and active. Listening to music that reflects that, like the Dead Kennedy’s, makes me feel empowered.
Jason: I think it’s important to consider that metal in itself is more of an outsider form of music than others and that this lends itself to a crowd that may actually be more open to a perspective not driven by populist attitude. Though you have ego-driven perspectives, just like with any sub-sect or culture, you would be surprised at how many metal people are willing to listen and learn more about animal rights than your average material-driven narcissist listening to the latest hit on the radio over and over. Look at a veganarchist band like Fall of Efrafa or even Wolves in the Throne Room and you can see that the attitude is having an effect. I used to listen to music with a message in my punk days with Rudimentary Peni, Crass, Conflict, and The Mob, among others, but I found that to me, once the door is open you can throw away the key. Sure I’ll still listen to them when the mood strikes, but I listen to things from other countries and with voices I cannot understand and the vocals become an instrument of their own, almost as if it’s instrumental music. I’m not all that interested in a “message” anymore when it comes to music. I’m more interested in what a person is doing in the world to actually help end the slaughter and get out there to help animals in need. Making records is not enough, and collecting them while eating veggieburgers talking shit is even worse. Make a sacrifice and help.
Jewel, you mentioned that you do not feel like you and Jason are a “typical” vegan couple. What makes you feel that way?
Jewel: Some vegans say “humans are animals; you have to love humans too.” No I don’t. I don’t have to love humans as a whole any more than someone has to love murderers and serial killers as a whole. They’re animals too, aren’t they? I also feel that I’m not the typical vegan because I don’t make this about me or food. I certainly don’t feel like I fit in very well with the cupcake crew. I have a bitter yet active response rather than being paralyzed by how I feel about the situation.
Jason: I think most people should be tied to trees outside the village gates and left for the wolves. Whatever annihilation that is inevitably coming to humanity is a fitting reward for the willful ignorance and pure stupidity that our species displays.
Do you see the diversity within veganism that you contribute to (from love & light optimists to morbidly misanthropic pessimists, from those focused on personal health to those concerned about animal welfare, and everything in between) as a sign of its health or the seed of its own destruction?
Jewel: Honestly, I don’t believe any of us really know what we’re doing. Some people in the “movement” have big enough egos to believe they have all the answers. Who knows what is going to work? I know what I do well, so that’s what I do. We have apologists who congratulate others for choosing “humane” meat and spew the most repulsive phrase, “Well, it’s a step in the right direction.” No it isn’t a step in the right direction. It’s a different way to exploit non-humans! We have sanctuaries adopting out hens to people who will eat eggs from those hens, further perpetuating the humane myth, and essentially transferring those hens from one egg operation to another. A lot of people also say that “we all want the same thing in the end.” That’s not true either. When it comes down to it, some of these people are okay with killing in the most ideal setting, whatever that may be. The end goal is total liberation of non-humans. No compromise. If that’s not the agreed upon goal, they’re not in the same movement I am a part of.
Jason: I like to see different people’s approaches. Some approaches work better than others. Some people don’t like my approach and say I shouldn’t have such contempt for humanity, but you know what…these are the people who look for excuses and will use anything to not look themselves in the mirror. It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says simply because they, like the old adage states, are debunkers disguised as skeptics. Skeptics have an open mind, will listen even (especially) when you’re angry, and they will never come out with some shit about plants having feelings. I’m more concerned with the victims than making it easier for the exploiters to wake up in the morning. Personally I’d rather not ever have to deal with humanity in all its egotistic superiority complexes, but since I’m here I’m going to do more than pretend eating out and shopping are going to change anything. No vegan dessert ever made, or kept, anyone vegan. Only the truth about humanity and the acceptance of its horrid selfishness will.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and for the wonderful work you are doing at the sanctuary!
Since getting into animal rescue, and in particular starting an organization that rescues farmed animals, I have become fascinated and inspired by the many vegans who see the plight of farmed animals and open their homes to–or create homes for–the cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, and other animals dumped into the “food animal” and “livestock” bucket. Even by vegans, these animals are often seen as “other” when it comes to consideration as companions.
Amy Dye is someone who has seen the realities of animal agriculture and has changed her life accordingly–by becoming vegan and by rescuing farmed animals. Not only does she and her family have some awe-inspiring garden spaces thriving on their one-acre property in Maine; she also went beyond the fairly entrenched ideas (even amongst vegans) that “companion animals” are exclusively dogs, cats, and occasionally other small furry creatures, and that veganism is a diet.
When I was a child, my family raised chickens and turkeys for food. I vividly remember anticipating their arrival each spring. The mailman would pull into the driveway and beep the horn, presenting a small, brown box with 50 peeping chicks. Out came the camera, documenting their first steps in the outside world on our basement carpet. All summer long we would feed them our leftover sandwich crusts through the fence of their outside coop. They hung out with us in the yard, keeping our dogs and me company on warm summer days. Inevitably, the dreaded day would come that my stepfather would slaughter each one in the side yard, leaving a circular, fly-covered bloodstain for the remainder of the fall. Their heads were left in the compost, tiny eyes closed. I would shut my shades and hide in my room on these horrible days, feeling very different from the rest of my family, who happily dunked the dead chicken or turkey bodies in boiling water and then hung them upside down to pluck.
Even though I was extremely upset that the birds were killed each year, I did not realize that I did not have to eat them. I ate all animal products, just like everyone else, without giving it a second thought. I had never heard of vegetarianism, much less veganism, until much later.
As I grew up, I became a dog rescuer, focusing on dachshunds, only because Ziggy the dachshund was the first one I rescued from our local shelter. Pippin and Winston came next. Pip was a breeding dog from a puppy-mill raid in Tennessee, and Winston was left behind when his owners were evicted from their home, also in Tennessee. With age came a husband and human babies and declining health for the “furkids.” I lost the last of the dachshunds, Ziggy, who was fittingly also the first, two years ago.
My husband and I became very interested in gardening and being more self-sustainable around this time. We had always enjoyed having a garden, but when we moved to a new house with more land and sun, he especially embraced vegetable gardening. We had discussed getting some goats for milking, and even visited a few farms. The woman at the first farm pointed out a skinny Nubian cross goat and informed me that she was going into the freezer soon if she couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. I asked her how they killed the goats, and she told me that they take them behind the barn and shoot them in the head. She laughed when I suggested putting them to sleep, as the vet bills were more than they could afford. The barn was lined with angora rabbits in cages. In the distance, over a small hill, were white turkeys, undoubtedly the same breed as the ones from my childhood, waiting for the weekend to be slaughtered for the Thanksgiving holiday. The woman at the next farm told the same story (shooting in the head, which ones would be in the freezer, etc.). While we were there, one of the females went into heat and she let a male go in to mate with her. “She’s a virgin, so she doesn’t know what to do,” she said, as the male chased her around the enclosure.
In doing my research about the goats, I read a story about a woman who was doing what we had intended to do, raise them for milk. I had never thought about the fact that they had to stay pregnant most of the time in order to produce. The baby goats were not allowed to nurse and then were sold to whoever wanted them. The woman in the story recounted a time when one of the kid goats was sold to a family and put into the trunk of their car to be slaughtered for Easter dinner. That was her aha moment and mine as well.
After these experiences I decided to not pursue the goat idea. Still not “getting it,” I decided that I would like to get some ducks instead, since we have a brook that runs behind our house, and we could use their eggs. I ordered four ducks–two Khaki Campbells and two Cayugas–from an online poultry clearinghouse. Just like the chickens and turkeys, the ducklings came in a tiny box. I found out a few days beforehand that they were coming from California . . . I live in Maine. Even though I was worried about the ducklings when I knew they were in the mail, I still didn’t make the connection that what I was supporting was wrong. I figured that since this is the way it is done, it must be OK. I later found out about how inhumane the practices at hatcheries are–that they kill most of the male birds, because they are not considered valuable because they don’t lay eggs.
I began having conversations with friends that I could easily be vegan, but I was afraid of how it would affect my family. My husband and I had several favorite dishes that we liked to make together, and honestly, I was scared that I would cause disruption in the family. In the fall of 2012, I saw the movie Forks Over Knives sitting on the shelf at the video store. Although my reasons for being vegan weren’t health-related, as a Registered Dietitian, the topic interested me, and I thought my husband would enjoy it as well. After it was over, he said, “I’m in! I will do a plant-based diet for a month.” That was all I needed to hear. I’ve been vegan ever since.
I became involved very quickly in animal rights activities and began looking for more “farm” animals to rescue. We only have about an acre of land, so it couldn’t be cows, and our town doesn’t allow pigs, so they were out. I had goats in the back of my mind and began looking through Farm Sanctuary’s animal adoption network. I saw an ad from Christine Egidio, mentioning that she was an ex-sheep farmer, newly vegan, looking to re-home some of her girls. I immediately e-mailed her to inquire. Two months later, I drove to Danbury, Connecticut, to meet Christine halfway to collect my two new friends, Violet and Clover.
The first question people ask when they hear I have sheep is, “Are you going to shear them and use the wool?” I tell them that yes, you have to shear them because we have domesticated them so that their wool would continue to grow and get matted and attract disease and cause extreme discomfort. They also want to know what I will do with the wool. It’s hard for them to accept that I am going to leave it outside for the squirrels and birds to make nests out of. Here in Maine, as I’m sure is true in other parts of the world, it is very “cool” to spin yarn and knit your own hats, sweaters, etc. What people don’t realize is that by and large, “wool sheep” are not allowed to live long lives. Once they are done producing nice wool, they are sent to slaughter, just like any other “farm” animal. They are commodities.
The girls themselves are similar to dogs in temperament, I would say. However, they don’t get as depressed as dogs, I have found, being left alone. When I scratch their necks they shake their legs just as dogs do and they are always thrilled to be in your presence when you are around. They have distinct personalities, even though they are twins (fraternal)–Clover is more of the bossy diva, and sweet Violet is a laid-back love bug.
I would say to any vegan considering rescuing a farm animal to go for it. I built the sheep enclosure myself with a post hole digger. On days when I don’t spend much time with them, they are content to be by themselves. It doesn’t take much time at all to make a world of difference for these special souls. I work and have two small children, and I have done it. You can too! We also only have an acre of land with a LOT of gardens and play equipment for the kids–you just need to be efficient with your space.
I think of the millions of sheep and lambs slaughtered and/or mistreated every day as I look in their eyes. Each and every animal is special and unique and deserves to live their lives. Until the world is vegan, we need to give refuge to the ones who make it out alive.
It is funny how you meet certain people. We all have those stories of randomly connecting with someone who, in short order, feels like an old friend.
This is certainly true for me when it comes to Matt Gauck, an impressively interesting and creative nomadic vegan illustrator (or “drawist,” as he puts it) wandering the world (mostly on two wheels) with a home base in Portland, Oregon. Since getting in touch with Matt for some logo work for an event (Vegan Night Out) and a non-profit organization (Triangle Chance for All), I have had the good fortune to trade many an e-mail with Matt that left me laughing and feeling good to know that someone out there was doing something interesting.
Matt’s artwork is often humorous and always thought-provoking, with a deep core of environmental awareness coupled with a keen attention to the most pressing social issues of our time. While much of it is dark, with a rather morbid sense of humor (which I love) and a healthy dose of metal, Matt’s art is as varied as the situations our planet and its passengers face today.
You can check out Matt’s artwork at Cargo Collective, and you can learn about and support his upcoming bike tour/book tour/story-gathering tour by donating to his Indiegogo campaign.
How long have you been vegan, and what motivated you to cut animal products out of your life?
Well, my official jump to veganism happened about six years ago, right when I moved to Portland. I had been vegetarian for a long time before that, like seven or eight years, and I was super into dumpster diving from 2002 through about 2007. When I say “really into” I mean I literally didn’t buy almost any food at all; and I would only buy vegan food, even though I didn’t consider myself vegan at the time. Even from the beginning I had more of a problem with the money side of the industries of exploitation, and wanted to avoid putting any money into that market. Anyway, when I moved out here (to Portland) I found that dumpster diving is way less of a possibility for a variety of reasons, and I finally started putting my money into the vegan industry, and went vegan. I also read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, closely followed by that collection of essays about the Animal Liberation Front, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?, that Sue Coe did the cover art for…those helped round out my politics regarding animals.
You have said that you are doing your best to live by the phrase: “How will you live your life so that it doesn’t make a mockery of your values?” How does veganism tie into your overall value system—and putting your values in practice? How about music—has the soundtrack of your life influenced those values and actions as well?
I love that quote. Everybody can learn something from that, no matter what you’re into. Veganism is a huge part of my value system, but that’s still just a stepping stone to me—my main interest is honestly just eating vegetables and simple, whole foods, and supporting small farms, farmer’s markets, and co-ops. I think the logical transition is vegetarian to vegan to farmer to Walden pond or something like that. Self-support, or supporting a small group on a small scale: that’s a great idea and ideal to me. I think the backbone of this quote is responsibility, and then also being fully intentional about all the decisions you make.
As for the music thing, it helps me remember things outside my everyday life—people writing lyrics about issues overseas that are less visible to me, things like that—that keeps me feeling like I can be involved in things beyond my immediate life, which is super important too. I still love the “personal liberation” type of lyric writing the most—the reminder that you can live any kind of life you want to, despite what contemporary culture says about it. Live in the woods, do art for a living, write and travel full time, the idea that desk jobs and careers aren’t mandatory for growing older.
Your illustrations are fantastic in that, besides the artistic skill and aesthetic appeal, they largely pack a powerful punch of social justice and cultural critique—on topics as wide-ranging as overpopulation (the “Vasecretary” poster) and flaccid environmentalism (Contemporary Environmentalism at Work) to the nonsense that is the Paleo diet, along with more personal works. What inspires you to make art, and what idea(l)s and philosophies and issues fuel that work?
Oh man, art… I love making art, and I will always want to draw and paint stuff, but sometimes I honestly have no idea where this stuff comes from. It’s like, well, there are these issues in the world, and some of them are so ridiculous that I have to come up with some way to laugh a little about it. Not that I don’t take it seriously; but I really think that humor, and this “over the top” type of thing really helps people to think about things differently. The same way that satire is an effective way to get an idea across to a differing viewpoint…this is my sort of “visual satire,” as it were. A lot of friends of mine tell me they can see humor in even the most straightforwardly graphic stuff, like a bull goring someone; it’s SO over the top, you have to laugh. I like that reaction.
I do find that my best, and most pointed, work comes from when I have conversations with people I disagree with, and see things I get irritated by. I swear, all I have to do is search “hunting” online, and once I see all those pictures of hunters who have killed huge animals, I have to get that anger out somehow. So, typically, I draw.
What, for you, are the most pressing social issues of our day? How do you approach taking them on—in your artistic creative process and in your daily life?
It’s hard, as I think there are so many that are all intertwined, but overall, I find that the environment, like, the physical Earth itself, and everything human beings have done to it—that seems to be the most important to me. Social justice, class lines, and trying to eliminate capitalism in general—it all means a lot, but somehow I always end up back at the Earth. I can see that awful plastic garbage patch in the ocean in the back of my head. I honestly don’t “think” too much about how I can make art about any particular concept; most of them are just so obvious already in the world, that my brain is already responding to them just by being alive, hearing people talk about these things, seeing ignorance and misinformation spread… Making art is a way of dealing with social problems; they make for the best concepts, since everyone can relate on some level, since all these problems have some overlap. The best art, to me, has a purpose and a clear concept to it. You need something to say before you say it, you know?
Besides your artwork, you do a lot of bike-touring and have been known to go on the road with bands. Would you consider yourself a fairly nomadic person? What about this sort of lifestyle do you find fulfilling and enlightening?
I’ve been super lucky to befriend the right people (which happens when you’re as polite and talkative as I am) and have gotten to tour fairly frequently with some friends in bands, which has been a great way to reinforce the DIY network of people I am friends with all over the planet. My partner, Sara, gave the best description of me, when she called me a “charismatic introvert,” which seems pretty apt. That works into my nomadic disposition—I love getting to see different things, go on hikes in strange places, camp in insane spots; but I really love getting to return home someplace to avoid people for a little while, too. I joke I have a split personality thing happening, which isn’t true, but it’s an accurate way of looking at how I approach life. Travel, meet people, do exciting things, then, hole up, draw stuff, listen to audio books. I make the best of each of the seasons, really. Spring, summer, fall—outside. Winter, early spring—inside. I find the whole of this process very fulfilling, and inspiring.
The bike touring is just a more concentrated approach to getting crazy stories, and having fun out in the world. My bike is like a story generating machine, seriously.
Have you encountered any difficulties as a vegan on the road—such as trouble finding places to eat, run-ins with hostile people, etc.?
So far, nothing too bad—mostly someone offering me food, and then glaring in confusion when I’m like, “Oh, that’s really nice, but I actually don’t eat…” Yeah, that thing. Some guy in Alaska offered me moose burgers, to be cooked IN the parking lot of a Safeway, and I told him I just ate vegetables, and he said, “Oh, man, you one of them “healthies’, then huh?” I love that. There’s always the moment of getting to the only restaurant in some town, only to find that they use chicken stock in everything from the salad to the French fries, at which point, you just deal with it. I’ve eaten A LOT of bagels with peanut butter for dinner on bike tours.
Where are you going next, artistically and personally? And where do you feel the vegan movement NEEDS to be going next to sustain itself and make a real difference in the world?
Next, I’m physically going to ride across the country with my partner, Sara, and writing a giant zine about it. My previous zine efforts are being released as a book this coming June, so it’ll double as a book tour as well. The goal both during and after that is to get a bunch (about 15) paintings together for a show I’m having in November of this year, which means September and October, I’ll just be painting pretty much full time. Keeping in motion helps the ideas coming, so I’m not sure where my life is headed after that, though I’m sure I’ll have ideas in the next couple months.
As for the vegan movement, I’d love to see people becoming more interested in shopping at farmer’s markets, growing their own vegetables, and just using the resources we have available to use wisely. Even just growing herbs in your window sill, or setting up something to catch rainwater, is a move in the right direction. I want the vegan movement to CLEARLY be the movement that is actively interested in saving the world, rather than abstaining from something specific. My goal when I’m older is to live in a self-built (or with friends, realistically) structure, in the woods, with small, sustainable farms on all sides. I’d love to see more vegans getting excited about that idea.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!
Totally my pleasure—thanks for asking such good questions, and being part of so many rad organizations.
It is often a difficult task to recall the exact details of a moment or period from our past. No matter how desperately we go in search of lost time, we seem to seek for shadows that disappear when we attempt to shine light on them.
What I can remember of my process of going vegan is that it was an intense, but short, period of reflection on the ethics of what I was eating. As someone who had cared about animals since my youngest days, it had always made sense to me that harming animals was wrong…though I still ate them. I finally realized that the consumption of any animal products, not just meat (I was vegetarian at the time), would or could produce unnecessary suffering. No living being wants to suffer; therefore, causing unnecessary suffering was indefensible.
I made the decision to go vegan on March 6th, 1999, shortly before my spring break as a college sophomore and a week before my twentieth birthday. Afterward, I missed yogurt for a few days, but otherwise there was no anguish or regret for me, nor has there ever been in the ensuing years.
My thirty-fifth birthday is a week away. While the fact that I am in my mid-thirties is still a strange thing to process, that “birthday” seems fairly trivial in comparison to my fifteenth veganniversary. So forget about the birthday celebrations, please…I have never liked them anyway. It feels much more significant for me to commemorate the day I made a conscious choice to live my life, and to relate to the world, based on an ethical principle of ahimsa, or “non-harm.”
Please help me celebrate my fifteenth veganniversary! It is easy to do: just go vegan. Today.
If you need motivation and support, it can be helpful to watch something informative about veganism, such as Vegucated (available on Netflix), and find a good vegan food blog, such as Oh She Glows, and maybe pick up a cool vegan cookbook or two (from the plethora that have been published). You can even join a vegan community online or a vegan Meetup group in your area, or you can take a vegan challenge. You are also welcome to get in touch with me if you have questions or need some direct guidance. I am happy to do it. Whatever it takes for you, please help me celebrate a life that is not fueled by torture, suffering, and death.
It really is not as challenging as it might seem before you do it. One day very soon you will understand this, too. And just imagine what it will feel like, fifteen years from now, when you reflect back on the choice you made long ago to end your role in the system of suffering…
As a vegan advocate, it is always a question for me of what will finally get someone to wake up and realize that he or she can no longer exploit animals. For most people, their only interaction with farmed animals is at the end of the production process–as a hamburger, as ice cream, as leather boots…
Yet many people spend much or all of their lives in direct contact with farmed animals and somehow persist in the exploitation. We call some of them farmers.
It is almost an Earth-shattering moment when we see someone who raised animals for food transition to veganism. These rare few, farmers like Harold Brown or Howard Lyman who are also two vocal vegan advocates, made the connection, saw the animals in a new way, and stopped. They went vegan.
Christine Mariani Egidio is one such person. She lives in New Jersey and was well on her way (with her husband and sons) to making a life as an animal farmer. Her story of becoming vegan is a powerful and inspiring example of one person’s ability to put honesty and compassion over habit and personal tastes. She was kind enough to share that story with us…
In April of 2009, we purchased 32 acres and decided to get into breeding and selling meat sheep to help pay the mortgage and to provide income after we retire. We decided on Tunis sheep because they are very docile and easy keepers. I purchased three breeding ewes and a ram (Lasa Sanctuary now has two of my original breeding ewes, Lily and Roslyn. The third–Sofia–died along with her lambs during her second year with us.)
I am horrified to tell you my motto about our sheep breeding business. I would tell everyone, “They have a really great life, up until they no longer have one.” It makes me cringe now to type that. I wholeheartedly believed in the “humane slaughter” myth. And even worse, even though I soon learned that sheep all have individual personalities, are SMART, and definitely form bonds with one another, show joy, fear, friendship–every human emotion–I still did not make the connection. I have always been an animal lover, rescuing dogs, cats, horses–but I still did not make the connection that farm animals are no different in their desire and right to live.
We intentionally bred sheep for three years (the fourth year I was vegan and had separated my ram from the ewes, but he bred quite a few of them through the fence!). I lost Sofia during delivery and Roslyn’s daughter Cinnamon (Daisy Lu’s full sister) during labor. I also lost three lambs. All heartbreaking, many tears cried, but still I didn’t get it.
I’m married and have two sons in their twenties, both living at home. My husband, my younger son Derek, and I were all on the Primal Diet (similar to Paleo), so we were eating more meat than anything else. I always tried to buy organic, grass fed, and it was hard to find in our area and very expensive. So Derek got the idea that we should raise pigs, turkeys and chickens for meat (we already had hens for eggs). He was also an animal lover, so he said that in order to make sure that the animals were not mistreated during slaughter, and in order not to cause them stress hauling them from our place to the butcher, he would learn how to slaughter them himself. He felt that if he could do it very calmly and not be rough with the animals, they would not be afraid because they would know him–and that would make it okay. He told me he was going to watch YouTube videos on slaughter and then would find a local butcher to show him first-hand what to do.
I remember so clearly the day I came home from work and Derek said to me, “Mom, I’ve decided to become a vegan.” He is very athletic, and the only reason I could think of to become vegan was he thought it was healthier. So I asked him, “For your health?” And he told me, no, but that he had watched a video of pigs being “humanely” slaughtered by a person they knew, who was handling them gently and calmly, and the pigs were still panicking, trying to get away, and the other pigs in the pen knew what was going on and were screaming and trying to escape. And then he very simply said, “Mom, they don’t want to die.” Such a simple sentence, but so profound. Because that’s it in a nutshell. All of the arguments people have against veganism come down to that one fact…the animals don’t want to die.
I had never known anyone who was vegan–except one friend who had a son who became vegan and lost so much weight and looked terrible. Knowing what I know now, he probably was not eating properly, too lazy to make himself proper meals. I truly believed that humans NEED to consume meat/milk.
I watched Derek for the next couple of weeks and asked him questions. I was haunted by what he said–that the animals don’t want to die. So I decided to give up meat. For about 3 months, I still drank cream in my morning coffee, ate cheese pizza, and didn’t read labels to see if they contained eggs or dairy. But then one day, I saw a post on Facebook about the dairy calves being dragged away from their mothers, and it suddenly CLICKED and I became fully vegan. It will be two years this February 24th.
We had 23 sheep at the time we stopped breeding, and most were re-homed to sanctuaries like Lasa Sanctuary and to vegan families. I still have seven now as my pets.
If you had asked me last week if I ever thought Donn (my husband) would become a vegan, or even a vegetarian, I would have adamantly said NO! He is a typical meat and potatoes guy, very picky, and limited in what he will eat. I would make delicious smelling vegan food, and he would comment on how good it looked and smelled, but would turn his nose up at it when I offered him some. He has been vegetarian for four days now, has stopped using cow’s milk in his many daily cups of coffee, and I truly believe that he will eventually go vegan.
Thanks to Christine for sharing this story. It is heartening to know that change is possible, no matter what path a person may be on. Animals surely do not want to die, and we have no right to mete out death to them…just as we have no right to use them as means for our own ends.
Faced with these truths, the only defensible course is to go vegan.
My wife and I picked up a copy of the cookbook Bake and Destroy one dreadfully sunny day, and it caught my attention right away. Yes, the recipes were quirky and creative (and vegan obviously); and yes, the author had lots of tattoos. But thumbing through it, I found myself laughing–frequently–at the oddity of it all. And at the rightness of it all (for someone a little off and a little dark, such as myself).
Natalie Slater, who created the Bake and Destroy website back in 2006, pulls out all the stops in her vegan cooking, drawing on her main obsessions of heavy metal and punk/hardcore, professional wrestling, and B-movies. To browse her various manifestations via Bake and Destroy is to appreciate the funny side of darkness, be it the off-color, the odd, or the inappropriate.
After my interview with Samuel Hartman of Anagnorisis, I was eager to explore the idea of “vegans with an edge” more and to speak with Natalie about her metal-fueled path to veganism, her creative process, and her weaving together of all her favorite things in Bake and Destroy. And she was kind enough to oblige…
I understand that your path to veganism meandered first through the lands of metal and hardcore. Can you discuss how you became vegan, and when? How did music play a role in the transition?
I was in 4th or 5th grade when Headbanger’s Ball started airing on MTV. One night my uncle was babysitting us and he let me stay up and watch and I just became totally obsessed with thrash metal after that. All the New Kids on the Block posters in my room got replaced with pages from Metal Hammer. There was a little crew of “metal kids” that hung out at school, and once we hit high school we started going to see any live music we could–there wasn’t a big metal scene in the mid-90’s in Chicago, industrial had kind of taken over at that point, so we ended up at hardcore shows. Veganism was a big part of the hardcore scene then, and it was actually a guy named Tim Remis who plays in a band called Sweet Cobra who first got me to go vegan.
What does your music playlist look like today? I see homages to Cannibal Corpse (the Cannibal Corpse Crock Pot recipe for Shredded Humans is perfection) and invocations of Immortal, so you seem to stay up to date on death and black metal, among many other things. What do you listen to when baking and destroying in the kitchen? Do you have particular musical genres for particular cuisines, occasions, etc.?
I don’t think there are many surprises on my iPod. It’s all over the place but the one consistency is that I can’t stand pop music. You’ll find lots of Youth of Today, Mouthpiece, Chain of Strength, Darkthrone, Marduk, Immortal, Cannibal Corpse, The Cramps, Agnostic Front…
Your website, book, and social media channels have a distinctive punk/metal vibe—not in a “Today I’m wearing my Sex Pistols t-shirt” sort of way, where the punk is sprinkled on like funky sugar crystals, but suffused through everything as a mighty mouth-puckering flavor. How does this aspect of your personality and personal life influence your creativity when making new vegan recipes?
Ha! That’s a funny description, thank you. I rarely approach a new recipe from a traditional standpoint. That’s to say–I almost never start out with, “I’d like to make a recipe for peanut butter banana French toast.” I usually start out by daydreaming a goofy scenario–like, what would happen if the Honky Tonk Man had to crash at my house? What would I make for breakfast? Well, he’s an Elvis-impersonating pro-wrestler so I could probably do something with peanut butter and bananas. Maybe start with banana bread and dip it into peanut butter custard…
Along with that, how do you see the relationship between the hard-edged bad attitude of punk and metal and the “cruelty-free,” “compassionate” message of mainstream veganism? Do the two play well together in your head? Do you find any instances in which your musical tastes clash with the principles of veganism?
I’ve jokingly remarked in the past that veganism is very metal because it’s just another way to be disgusted with the human race. But I do think those of us who listen to punk and metal tend to question the world around us more than people who listen to more mainstream music. And when you listen to a song like “Shredded Humans,” to use an example from my cookbook, if you really think about why those lyrics are disturbing you can’t help but realize that’s what we do to animals every day. Butchered at Birth isn’t just a sick name for an album; it’s also what happens to male chicks every day thanks to the egg industry. They can’t lay eggs, so thousands of male baby chicks get shoved through a grinder while they’re still alive. Cows are impregnated by rape racks, their calves ripped from them and sent off to be slaughtered for veal, all so humans can drink the milk that was meant to feed those babies. Most people’s breakfast plate is the result of acts more brutal and horrific than any grindcore song ever written.
One thing that struck me when I picked up your book was how much fun it is to read, and your website is also hilarious. I have never seen such a deft handling of professional wrestling, loud music, B-movies, and vegan food, and with such positive and popular results. What does the response to you and your creation(s) say to you about veganism in popular culture? Would you say that your mélange of sub-cultures in Bake and Destroy reflect veganism’s place as a sub-culture, or do you see the vast variety of people and styles promoting veganism today as a sign of its growth and vitality?
Well jeeze, after I just got all dark and heavy with that last question I don’t sound like much fun but I’m glad that came across in the book! Vegan athletes and celebrities have definitely helped to make it more of a household word, and of course it didn’t hurt me that CM Punk wrote the forward of my book. What’s great, though, is that a lot of people who bought it just for that reason have reached out to me and told me that they’re making my recipes and really enjoying vegan food. It’s not just punks and weirdos anymore, I mean, I went to Veganmania in Chicago last year and there were whole families of totally “normal” people there–people are just figuring out that it’s fun and easy to eat plants.
You do impressive work to make vegan foods that could appear at grandma’s birthday party, a Sunday brunch with yuppie friends, or a greasy diner in a back alley. (I mean all this as a compliment.) For example, the first recipe in your book is for Banana Bread French Toast Cupcakes; flipping through the pages lands me on your Chicago-Style Sammich; and then I have to pause and chuckle at Spaghetti Cake with Grandma Sharon’s Hater-Proof Sauce. Whom did you envision as your primary audience or audiences when writing your book and developing your website (i.e., the “bad vegans” of your book’s subtitle)? And how does your current fan base reflect that early vision?
When I started my website I honestly only meant for my close friends and family to read it. I was a new mom, bored at home, watching tons of cooking shows on TV and spending my son’s nap time in the kitchen playing around. Once I realized people other than my friends were reading, I didn’t make any effort to change my tone or subject matter. It was a little more difficult convincing a publisher that there is an audience for a vegan cookbook with nods to wrestling, B-movies, heavy metal, etc., but thankfully they trusted me and my book has found its way into a lot of homes–including Elvira’s house! The Mistress of the Dark herself owns my book!
Your book has a lot of helpful info and resources for vegan baking (and destroying), and your website also has a plant strong crash course and tons of other guidance for vegans cooking and for people cooking vegan (as well as the Joy of Cooking Humans!). How do you see yourself as an advocate for vegan living? Are you mostly interested in the food–creating it and helping people make it? Or are there other components of veganism as a lifestyle and ethical stance that you include as well? And is the food then a portal to that dark and compassionate realm?
I’m sure I’ve been accused of being a “vegan apologist” because of my laid-back approach, but I really think that by being patient and understanding I have reached more people and changed more diets than I would have had I taken a militant stance. It’s not as simple as “go vegan” for a lot of people. I try to give people options and resources that are simple and accessible. When I got interested in veganism there weren’t a ton of resources, I had to rely on other people to teach me and they weren’t always nice about it. The “vegan police” turned me off of the lifestyle much more than they encouraged me to learn more. So I make a conscious effort to not be a jerk about it. I do think vegan food is a “gateway” to making other compassionate choices–from opting for cruelty-free cosmetics to not wearing clothes and shoes made from animals.