Singer Moby explains why veganism isn’t a belief

Author: Holly Johnson

Read Time:   |  8th February 2023

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Best known for his 1999 album Play, which included the hit Porcelain, Moby is a musician, DJ, producer and now, with the release of his new film Punk Rock Vegan Movie, a director too.

A huge animal rights advocate, Moby is often cited as one of the world’s best-known vegan celebrities.

Here, he chats to Vegan Food & Living about why he loves animals more than humans, why punk rock is a vegan movement, junk food versus whole food and why veganism is not just a belief.

Why is Moby vegan?

Whether it’s watching Cowspiracy or wanting to eat more healthily, we all have that moment when the seed of veganism is planted.

So what were Moby’s reasons for ditching animal products?

“I became a vegan in 1987,” he tells us. “I was first exposed to veganism in 1982, I was playing in a hardcore punk rock band called The Vatican Commandos.

“We drove to Akron, Ohio, to play a show in a pizza parlour and we ended up staying at a vegan squat – basically an abandoned house that a bunch of vegan punk rockers were living in.”

The singer goes on to tell us he didn’t even know what a vegetarian was back then, let alone vegan.

“No one really knew how to pronounce the word vegan, like even in 1987 you would go to a restaurant and say, ‘do you have veg-an food’ and they’d be like ‘what?’.

“It was only in the early 90s that everyone sort of agreed, like, ‘OK, even though it’s a weird-sounding word, let’s just call it vegan.’”

When did Moby go vegan?

Whilst some of us go vegan overnight, for others it’s a slower transition. For Moby it was a bit of both…

“I had this epiphany in 1984. I had grown up the way the vast majority of people grow up, which was with a central paradox of loving animals but also loving Burger King.

“We had a house filled with rescue animals – lab rats, iguanas, dogs, cats, mice… and I loved them more than any human being I knew.

“And then in 1984, I was playing with one of our rescue cats and all of a sudden, I realised if you recognise that one animal is sentient, has a rich emotional life and wants to do everything in their power to avoid pain and suffering, by extension, you have to realise that’s true for every animal on the planet.”

Moby went vegetarian and then slowly, over time, became vegan, which he largely attributes to the book Diet for a New America by John Robbins.

Moby went vegan for the animals in the 1980s and is now an animal rights advocate. Image: Instagram/Moby

Moby went vegan for the animals in the 1980s and is now an animal rights advocate. Image: Instagram/Moby

Moby the vegan activist

Fast forward 35 years and Moby is a vegan icon, activist and producer of new film, Punk Rock Vegan Movie.

The documentary-style film examines the surprising relationship between punk rock and veganism, and features interviews with well-known punk and rock musicans such as Dave Navarro, Ray Cappo, Andrew Hurley, Tony Kanal, Tim McIlrath, Dave Dictor, Steve Ignorant, Theo Kogan, Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, Amy Lee and Captain Sensible.

We asked why Moby decided to produce a film of this nature.

“One of my goals is to use the limited resources that I have, whether it’s financial, creative or media, to try and draw attention to animal activism… to try and you know, help move the needle away from a world where animals are used by and for humans.

“I became aware of the fact that very few people knew about the history of punk rock and animal rights. And so I started making this movie simply as a way of documenting that history, but also as a way of reminding people of the ethos that led the original punk rockers to largely become vegans and animal rights activists.”

It’s hard to imagine some of the heavier punk rock bands singing about such compassionate issues, but they clearly had strong views and a sense of not just accepting the norm, but questioning it instead.

Along with making music about human rights and politics, they were asking whether it was right that we treated animals in the way that we did – and still are today.

“People never looked closely at early punk rock, because they just assumed it was scary people yelling at the top of their lungs,” Moby tells us.

“Punk rock had this remarkable streak of activism. And a lot of the modern animal rights movement comes from the world of punk rock – the ethos, the questioning everything, but also the sort of the aggressive, but not violent, confrontation.”

Early punk rockers sang about animal rights and adopted vegan diets. Image: Punk Rock Vegan Movie

Early punk rockers sang about animal rights and adopted vegan diets. Image: Punk Rock Vegan Movie

What is Straight Edge?

Another concept that’s explored in Punk Rock Vegan Movie is that of ‘Straight Edge’. Moby explains: “It was very much an American movement. I mean, it’s since spread all over the world. But it started out largely in Washington, DC.

“There was a band called Minor Threat and they had a song called Straight Edge, which was basically about clean living.”

Straight Edge involved not drinking, not doing drugs… and also being vegan.

“A lot of the early Straight Edge musicians like Minor Threat were very principled people – they were sober and vegan.”

Punk rock and compassion

Far from going vegan just to rebel against the norm, these early punk rockers were truly passionate about animal welfare and the vegan cause. “It was commitment to principle,” says Moby.

“In the early days of touring, it would have been much more expedient to occasionally not be vegan. But I couldn’t do it. Like, I would rather go hungry, I would rather eat food out of a dumpster, I would rather eat thrown away bread than eat an animal product.

“And I think, you know, a lot of people in the animal rights movement, once you make that decision, to be vegan to no longer support that industry, it’s not only the thought of eating meat, or eggs, or dairy being disgusting. It’s also just so contrary to your core principles.”

Is punk rock still vegan today?

As veganism becomes more mainstream, surely ‘punk rock’ and other more alternative music genres will cease to see veganism as part of their rebellious cause?

“It’s not rejection for the sake of rejection,” says Moby. “It’s not questioning for the sake of questioning, you know? And if all of a sudden overnight the world became a vegan world I don’t think the punk rockers would all of a sudden start going to McDonald’s.”

American musician John Porcelly stars in the film, discussing the concept of Straight Edge. Image: Punk Rock Vegan Movie

American musician John Porcelly stars in the film, discussing the concept of Straight Edge. Image: Punk Rock Vegan Movie

Junk food versus whole food

With so many delicious vegan options at places like McDonalds and Burger King now, we asked Moby whether he enjoys plant-based meat alternatives…

“Ah, I mean, I am glad that the world is becoming more mainstream vegan. I personally would never go to McDonald’s and have a vegan burger.

“The same way like with lab grown meat – I have a few friends who have clean meat companies. And I’m all in favour of them. I won’t eat it. But I’m glad that it exists.”

Moby goes on to explain how, as time has passed, he’s become more whole food plant-based with his eating.

“I have definitely become more and more of a very a clean eating vegan. I mean, like, I love vegan junk food. But I simply am quite happy eating whole foods; eating food that’s good for me.

“I spent decades being a junk food vegan for the most part. I love deep fried vegan food – greasy vegan Chinese food that I could get in Chinatown in New York. But time has passed. I’m just less interested.”

Veganism and mental health

Kat Von D is another well-known artist who appears in Punk Rock Vegan Movie. She talks about being in a constant state of mourning for the animals stuck in factory farms.

Does Moby feel that way too?

“Yeah, I mean, I relate to the idea of grief and mourning.

“But there’s another aspect to it, which is just bewilderment. When we learn that 1 trillion animals are killed by and for humans every year, that 90% of rainforest deforestation is done to support animal agriculture… You learn about the consequences of animal eating animals, for your health, for communities, for antibiotic resistance.

“And once you learn this, you then tell people about it, and you assume, at least I did for years, that once people heard the truth of animal agriculture, they would stop supporting it.”

Moby goes onto express how frustrating it can be as a vegan to see people absorb these facts and also say that they love animals, but then continue to eat meat.

“It’s so mind boggling, dealing with a species who just are behaving so completely irrationally.”

Moby plays chess with Bagel the talking dog in his new film. Image: Punk Rock Vegan Movie

Moby plays chess with Bagel the talking dog in his new film. Image: Punk Rock Vegan Movie

Is veganism a belief?

Another issue raised by Kat Von D in the movie is that of veganism not being a belief, but something based on scientific fact.

“We live in this era, especially in the United States, where people take their opinions very seriously,” says Moby. “And if you dare to challenge their opinion, with fact or science, they get very upset.

“In the United States, if you go to Trump supporters and say climate change is real and guns kill people, they will be furious with you. I’m like, ‘yeah, but these are facts’ and they’re like ‘they are opinions’.

“You could be a jazz fan, or not be a jazz fan. You know, you can enjoy The Simpsons or not enjoy The Simpsons – those are opinions. Gravity is a fact, you know. Climate change is a fact. And 1 trillion animals being killed by and for humans every year, to the detriment of humans and the climate and the environment – this is just a simple fact.

“And if people choose to ignore it, or reject it, that’s their choice. But they can’t claim that believing in science and facts is an opinion.”

Does activism work?

Many vegan animal lovers wonder whether they should get involved with activism or not, and what activism should actually involve.

“I honestly think it’s different for each person,” says Moby. “You know, some people might be concerned with their health, but not concerned about the climate. Some people might be concerned with the climate and not concerned about their health. Some people might love animals, but not care about the environment.

“I feel like it’s different for everyone. And that’s one of the big challenges of being an activist is going out into the world and trying to bring a unique message to each person. It’s that challenging strategy of being different in your approach with every person.”

Enjoyed this chat with Moby? Read more vegan celebrity interviews

Written by

Holly Johnson

Holly is editor of Vegan Food & Living magazine and host of the Simply Vegan podcast, where she chats to some of the leading names in the vegan movement.

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