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!
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.
Loud music has been a part of my life for over twenty years. I have been (metaphorically) praising Satan much, much longer than I have been praising seitan as a vegan. Over the years, since going vegan in 1999, death and black metal and veganism have been huge parts of my life, and integral components of my philosophy and activism in the world.<
All the while, I have noticed the dearth of people with similar interests, finding few metalheads who give the middle finger to animal exploitation…as well as few vegans who want to bang their heads. For example, I did a death/black metal radio show, “Voice of the Grave,” for four years in college, during which time I went vegan. Not only did I never meet another vegan while on the air or at shows, but I never even thought it relevant to discuss on the air.
So I always do a (grim and grumpy) happy dance whenever I discover a fellow vegan who loves it loud. Really, really loud. And dark, preferably black.
One remarkable vegan metalhead is Samuel Hartman, the keyboardist for the black metal band Anagnorisis in Louisville, Kentucky. Besides producing some intensely dark, anti-religious American black metal, Anagnorisis boasts TWO vegans (the other is singer Zachary Kerr). I discovered them through the omnipotent polypus that is Facebook, and their latest album, Beyond All Light, has quickly become one of my favorites.
Learning about Samuel’s veganism and his efforts as a vegan advocate (thanks to a little Facebook stalking) made me curious to find out a little bit more about his world and his experiences as a passionate vegan…who also listens to and makes some serious black metal. Samuel was kind enough to answer some questions on veganism, black metal, touring, doing advocacy, and much more…
How long have you been vegan, and what motivated you to cut animal products out of your life?
I’ve been vegan since 2006–it was actually my new year’s resolution that year – and it was originally motivated by health concerns. I had been hearing about the deleterious effects of red meat consumption, and I had several friends who were vegetarian/vegan that I quietly observed and who definitely had an influence. I went vegetarian for a few months and found it easier than I expected, following it up with full-on veganism soon after.
When did you get into black metal and other extreme metal genres? And how long have you been playing it as a musician?
Many can relate to the trying times of high school: trying to fit in, worrying about self-image, all the cliques, dealing with serious relationships for the first time, etc. I was also sort of an outsider, and to “fit in” I made a conscious effort to get into metal, even though it’s the most “outsider” genre of them all! In reality, it was partly to impress some of the kids I thought were cool, to get in with them and show some edginess. A couple of those kids are still my friends to this day, and while the origin of our friendship was as cliquish as it comes, my love for metal was born and remained strong.
I found my way, like many kids in the early 2000s, through nu-metal, but because of clothing companies like Blue Grape who deftly included a Relapse Records sticker in their packages, I was able to seek out more “extreme” forms of music. I spent a significant period deeply obsessed with metalcore and stuff like Hatebreed/Throwdown, and then shifted towards black/death metal, which is where my interest really took root.
My interest in black metal started in college when I had a roommate who was able to get me past Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir and expose me to Tsjuder, Profanatica, Horna, and some of the more esoteric names in black metal. With the Internet, Lords of Chaos, and a desire to find “the most extreme” it was a clear path to Norwegian black metal and all its facets. As time went on and I learned more about its anti-Christian ideology, it seemed like a natural fit.
I’ve been playing black metal since 2007, when I joined Anagnorisis. A lot of people don’t know this, but I learned how to the play the piano exclusively to be in Anagnorisis. I had some computer background, which translated into synth programming, but as far as technical ability on the keyboard, that was largely self-taught. My musical background from high school was on the saxophone (alto) which I was very happy to bust out to use on Beyond All Light. Lots of weird notes and John Cage-esque parts!
I have always felt that my veganism ties in well with my interest in black metal–for instance, seeing the problem of humanity and in particular critiquing the human tendency to just follow traditions, social norms, and authority figures blindly. What interconnections do you see between your veganism and your interest in black metal? What about contrasts or conflicts? Do you feel the two interests and lifestyles coexist easily, or is there a war of inner angels and demons going on in your head?
I think it’s interesting to discuss veganism and black metal this day in age because of the popularity of the Vegan Black Metal Chef; do people really get what’s going on there? Do they realize he’s promoting a diet that’s in vast opposition (ideologically and practically) to most Western thinking, while using a style of music that has its history in murder, Satanism, and is largely anti-Christian? I suppose that’s rhetorical, because, no, they don’t. It’s mostly a “gimmick” and fun to watch–I don’t want to demean what he’s doing–but I don’t think people truly understand the value of something like that. It helped put those terms, veganism and black metal, in some mainstream press, and we continue to see veganism grow larger and larger with celebrity influence and health-conscious eaters. Still, I would agree that veganism largely stays as an outlier (a defiance of “social norms and traditions” as you say) in the world of health and food, much less philosophical thought.
As for a more direct relationship between veganism and black metal, I’m not sure that there is one, other than both have vast subcultures that often take pride in being “different.” Black metal has very little of a philanthropic element to it; in fact even writing that makes me chuckle as “misanthropic” is often the word used by every lyricist, band, or copywriter in relation to the genre itself! Veganism is wholly about philanthropy; helping humans be healthier, saving animals, assisting the world and its inhabitants.
Then, of course, there is the issue of pigs’ blood, animal parts, and other such non-vegan entities used by Gorgoroth, Watain, etc. We played with a band in Chicago on our last tour–Luciferum–who used pigs’ heads on stage. Was I offended? Not really–Chicago’s butcher shops are aplenty (The Jungle, anyone?) and the cruelty is not done by simply purchasing these items from them. Of course, the propagation of using animals – any part of them, for any means–as a means and not as in end in and of themselves is inherently speciesist, but that’s not an argument I’m going to get into with a band like that while on tour. There’s been a fair amount of press about Mayhem front-man Attila Cshiar’s thoughts regarding animal usage while he himself is vegetarian, if anyone is interested in researching that further.
I don’t see a conflict between the two ideologies–at least the ideology of black metal that Anagnorisis follows which is to be anti-religious and play aggressive music – and the ideology that animals are not ours to use for entertainment, food, or experimentation. Both are countercultures (in Midwestern America, anyway), both require a certain discipline to believe or follow, and both have deep cultural and historical roots. I’m loyal to both, and enjoy the intersections they have, while casting out any hypocrisy that may arise by choosing my own versions of each philosophy.
Have you experienced many difficulties as a vegan metal musician? For example, flack from other musicians or fans, problems finding grub while on tour, a sense of isolation as a minority within a minority?
Not really–in fact on the last two tour we had two different venues who provided us food, and both had excellent vegan options. For one of the shows pasta and breadsticks were provided with admission, and I had asked the promoter for a vegan option, so I’m pretty sure he just made everything vegan. That means about 150 metalheads ate vegan that night! Amazing stuff.
With Zachary (vocalist) being vegan I definitely don’t feel isolated, but even if I was the only vegan in the band, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve done this long enough and found enough food choices all over the place, from gas stations to Denny’s to small towns, that I can eat and subsist almost anywhere. We usually hit up the good vegan restaurants on tour, and the other guys are pretty open to that sort of thing as long as the food is good. They’ve all become accustomed to our diets and are pretty accommodating, which shows how awesome they are as bandmates and friends.
As a side note, when Austin Lunn (ex-vocalist/guitarist, now does Panopticon) formed the band he was vegan, and over the years we’ve had several vegan members, so that part of Anagnorisis has always been there. Zachary and I are also both straight-edge, along with our guitarist Zak, which honestly presents weirder moments on tour than being vegan. Imagine a metal band showing up to a venue, and three of the dudes don’t drink–at all!–that can be pretty shocking for a lot of people.
You do a lot of vegan advocacy work around Louisville, and you are a vocal vegan advocate on social media as well. What inspires you to speak out as a vegan and to try to make a better world for animals?
The reasons why I’m vegan are three-fold and in my mind, pretty simple: it’s better for one’s health to eat primarily plants, ideally whole food, non-processed plants; it’s better for the animals, and 99% of the slaughter that occurs is cruel, tortuous and unnecessary; it’s better for the planet, and I want to sustain an earth for future generations (also, I plan to live to 150 via Transhumanism).
I became vegan through my own choices about diet, but also because of the subtle, non-judgmental influence of my vegan friends at the time, including Zachary whom I was hanging out with before I moved to Louisville. It’s my aim to inspire others in much the same way, but I don’t believe that living by example is the only way to do vegan outreach. Handing out pamphlets, doing demonstrations, protesting injustice, organizing vegan cook-outs and potlucks, writing letters and sharing on social media, petitions, and even direct action: it allmakes a difference.
Different people are moved by different means, and corporations are moved by profit. Looking at groups like the SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) and Igualidad Animal (in Spain) are prime examples that sometimes, to stop animal cruelty, more “extreme” measures have to be taken. The idea that direct action is so extreme is a farce, because we take direct action every day to stop the suffering of human life. Direct action regarding animals is simply labeled as terroristic because it breaks an arbitrary law created to protect economic profit.
I say all this not to encourage illegal action or to tell people to quietly eat their tofu scramble in the break room, but to emphasize that almost all advocacy is effective to someone, somewhere. The Blackfish documentary has done an amazing job as getting people fired up about the cruelty at SeaWorld. Mercy for Animals’ Tyson investigation gave huge exposure to that issue and factory farms in general. Many cities promote dog and cat rescue which (hopefully) discourage breeding and purchasing. These are all issues under the umbrella of veganism, and it’s important, at the right time, to link them all together. I believe, as the “abolitionist” crowd is fond of yelling, that it’s important to stay “on point” and promote veganism as the end, not “vegetarianism” or “veg-friendly” or whatever. That being said, we all move at different speeds and can work to reduce suffering in our own way. I’ll even quote an Anagnorisis lyric to wrap this up: “On my terms / In my own light.”
What about Anagnorisis? Do you see any influences of veganism on the music, lyrics, images and merchandise, etc.? The music is very dark and atmospheric, with symphonic elements and yet a seriously hard and heavy edge. I am interested to know what your feelings are about this (and the anti-religious message of the band) juxtaposed with one predominant image of veganism as being all warm and fuzzy and involving lots of hugging of animals…
There’s certainly a lot of animal hugging on tour; we all love dogs and were fortunate enough to stay with quite a few on the last round. As far as veganism influencing the merchandise or lyrics, there isn’t much of a connection. It’s not something we talk about on stage or give out in leaflets at the merch table (although we used to pass out Center for Inquiry and Freedom From Religion Foundation brochures, two groups that I wholeheartedly support). Anagnorisis has never been overly political, and message-wise we typically stick to the banner of godlessness.
That being said, we certainly promote freethought and rejection of dogma, which is often the basis for carnism and the tenets of animal consumption that pervade most omnivores. The idea of an “anagnorisis,” or a moment of discovery, can certainly apply to someone who begins to peer under the veil of animal exploitation in this country. A good documentary that exposes this imbalance is The Ghosts In Our Machine, which I highly recommend.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about your perspective as a vegan in (and making) black metal. Stay brutal, and compassionate!
Thank you, Justin, for all you do for the animals, and for reaching out to me!
I welcome any fans who want to know more about veganism to reach out to me, or check out my blog at www.thenailthatsticksup.com Hail Seitan!