Vegan Life chats to multi-million record-selling musician Moby about his investment in animal rights, welfare and activism.
Moby is the perfect interviewee. He considers every question carefully then answers in perfect prose. Famous for selling more than 20 million records globally, the multi-talented star has been praised for his writing as well as his musical achievements. Despite this, Moby describes animal rights as his ‘day job’.
Although his first top 10 UK hit was Go in October 1991 (earning him his first Top of the Pops appearance) it was his fifth album Play, released in 1999 that sent his career stratospheric, with every track from the record being licensed for use in adverts and films. This meant everyone heard the music — and most people loved it.
He continues to make music, releasing a new album called These Systems Are Failing in October last year. His only live performance of 2016 was at the vegan Circle V Festival — a festival he created.
Can you tell me about why you went vegan?
I grew up with what I think of as this odd human paradox, of loving animals, and eating animals. When I was growing up I loved dogs and cats, every animal I encountered as a child, I loved. But I also loved going to McDonalds, and I loved ice-cream, and it never dawned on me that it was inconsistent or hypocritical to love animals and eat them. And then, back in 1985 when I was 19 years old, I was playing with a cat that I had rescued named Tucker, and all of a sudden I realised that I loved this cat Tucker, and that he had such a rich emotional life, and he had this deep desire to avoid pain and suffering and I suddenly realised any creature with a central nervous system a rich emotional life, and a deep desire to avoid pain and suffering, and in that moment I became a vegetarian and like many people I spent a couple of years thinking that dairy was harmless and the more research I did the more I realised that the same level of animals that led me to be a vegetarian also led me to be a vegan. So I guess my vegan birthday was Thanksgiving 1987, so that was 29 years ago.
It must have been very different being vegan nearly 30 years ago…
It was very, very different, even to the extent that no-one knew how to pronounce the word vegan. You know, some people thought it was veejun, or veggan, and it was only around 91 or 92 that everyone decided it was going to be vegan.
You previously described yourself as a ‘terrible vegan’
Animal rights and animal welfare are such important issues for me, and the thought of animals suffering – even the thought of one animal suffering – is abominable, but the thought of tens if not billions of animals suffering because of humans is really hard information to live with. So as a result, in my early days of veganism and animal activism, I found myself being incredibly militant and judgemental and just furious.
And the problem with being militant and judgemental and furious is it wasn’t making me a better activist. I realise the goal of my activism isn’t to make me feel better, and it isn’t to express my emotions, it’s to effectively end animal agriculture on this planet. To that end I can’t throw fake blood at people, and I can’t yell at people, because when I do, I alienate them.
I want to, of course. I want to scream at people when I see them wearing fur, or treating animals badly, or eating meat, but when I scream at them, I alienate them. And so if I want to be an effective advocate for animals I have to learn how to talk to people in a way that helps to convince them.
The perception of veganism seems to be going through a change – is effective and thoughtful activism the driver of this?
I was actually having a conversation about this with a friend the other day. He’s been vegan for about 20-odd years. We were saying we know so many people in the animal rights movement who 10 years ago, 20, were chaining themselves to the front of fur shops and throwing fake blood at people, and now are starting businesses, and starting food companies, and running animal rights organisations and really learning how to take activism into the world.
It’s fun and satisfying to get together with a few other vegans and scream at people wearing fur, but the questions is, is that what’s best for the animals? And my happiness, my wellbeing really doesn’t matter compared to my beliefs and activism.
Activism can cover a wide spectrum, from marches to cooking. Is this how you see (your restaurant) Little Pine?
The only reason the restaurant exists is to represent veganism. I noticed something — and I especially noticed it with a restaurant in Los Angeles called Crossroads run by Paul Ronan. He used to work at Peta, and I think he worked at Compassion over Killing, and he opened a very fancy vegan restaurant right next to Beverly Hills.
The restaurant has done more to change people’s perception of veganism than a lot of the activism I’ve been involved in, because everybody goes there from Al Gore to Jane Fonda. All the movie stars go there, rock stars go there. It makes veganism seem attractive and I think that has to be an important part of what we’re doing.
On one hand the hand, we need to change legislation, and on the other hand we need to change corporate policy. We need to appeal to people’s love of animals, and love of the climate and health, but also we need to make veganism both cool and appealing so it doesn’t seem like a difficult thing, it feels both ethical and enjoyable. I think that’s an important part of advancing an animal rights agenda.
You have federal taxes propping up animal agriculture in the States. Does this make veganism political?
It should be, and I really applaud the people who understand advancing legislation. One of the groups I work very closely with is the Humane Society of the United States [HSUS] and some parts of the animal rights community criticise HSUS, but when I look at what they do on a legislative level, and their ability to understand how legislation is crafted and how slow a process it is…
Everyone who works for HSUS is militant, but they understand if you walk through congress as a militant, no-one will pay attention to you. Basically they are militant at home but when they go to work they have to be lobbyists for animal rights and that involves a degree of compromise that some people in the animal rights community aren’t comfortable with, but if the result is legislation that helps animals I find it hard to criticise whatever approach gets that.
We now have an All Party Parliamentary Group for Vegetarians and Vegans in the UK. It feels like the vegan community is making its voice heard in UK politics. Is the same thing happening in the States?
It’s hard to say. It’s really hard to say. Certainly the Trump administration is un-vegan, and anti-vegan, and anti-animal rights, but at the same time, as much as I loved president Obama, he wasn’t so great on animal rights either. And I love the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, but he’s not so great on animal rights, so a missing part of progressive politics is the animal issue.
What I find is, if I walk into a congressman’s office and say you should care about animals, they will ignore me. But if I walk in and say, ‘oh, did you know animal agriculture contributes to 75 per cent of antibiotic resistance’, that gets their attentions, so it’s up to us as activists to figure out which part of the animal rights agenda is going to reach people.
Sometimes that means I talk to environmentalists who don’t care about animals, but care about climate change, so I only talk about climate change. For some people who are only concerned with health and wellbeing, I only talk to them about health and wellbeing, as long as it moves the needle towards a world where animals are not used for human purposes, I don’t care how we get there.
A lot of what is being reported in the UK media shows the political situation as being very tumultuous. Is that how it feels to you?
It’s incredibly tumultuous, and on one hand it’s a terrible time in the US, on another hand it’s a really exciting time because the extremism of Trump and his administration is motivating progressives in a way that’s never happened before. Maybe the last time anything similar happened was civil rights or the Vietnam War, so it’s been generations since we had such a motivated democratic progressive base so that’s the exciting part.
The terrifying part is that Trump and the Republicans are trying to deconstruct everything good about the US, and that’s really upsetting, but hopefully it will only last for two years and then Trump will be impeached and Democrats will take power again.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to Vegan Life readers?
Sometimes in the vegan and animal rights communities we can get overwhelmed by how terrible things are. When you think of the hundreds of billions of animals being used and killed for human purposes, it’s overwhelming.
But we’re making so much progress. There are so many reasons for the world to become vegan. The majority of the people on the planet love animals, and the majority of people are very concerned about climate change and rainforest deforestation, and heart disease, antibiotic resistance and cancer, so I fully believe that the world, assuming it survives, will become a primarily vegan world for all those reasons.
And what we’ve seen – especially with new media – is that change can happen very quickly. Think of gay marriage, 10 years ago it was an absurdly fringe issue, and now in every western country, gay marriage is legal. Or even smoking, for the longest time it was normal, everyone did it, now rates have been cut in more than half. I think for so many good, rational, and ethical reasons, the world will become vegan and it just takes vegan activists and animal rights activists to keep working.
Even if we’re discouraged, and even if we’re depressed, we just have to keep working.
Find out more at moby.com