When the singer-songwriter Moby was 19, he had an epiphany. As he described it last year in Rolling Stone, he was sitting on the steps of his home with his cat Tucker, whom he’d rescued from a dump as a kitten, when he realized that he did not want to eat animals.
“I thought, ‘I love this cat,’” he wrote. “‘I would do anything to protect him and make him happy and keep him from harm. He has four legs and two eyes and an amazing brain and an incredibly rich emotional life. I would never in a trillion years think of hurting this cat. So why am I eating other animals who have four (or two) legs, two eyes, amazing brains, and rich emotional lives?’ And sitting on the stairs in suburban Connecticut with Tucker the cat, I became a vegetarian.”
Today, Moby is an animal-rights activist and has just opened a vegan restaurant/shop in Los Angeles called Little Pine. We asked him about his vegan lifestyle and philosophy.
VT How do you get the message across to people that not eating meat is important?
MOBY One of the really exciting things about animal-rights activism is that there are so many ways of reaching people to advance our cause. You can talk about climate change, health, animal welfare, rain-forest deforestation. But a powerful, nice, real-world example of what we’re really trying to do is a beautiful neighborhood restaurant—this makes it all tenable.
VT Do you currently have any pets?
MOBY I live close to Griffith Park in L.A., so my life is filled with animals. I see coyotes daily, as well as rattlesnakes, spiders, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat. Because of my schedule, I don’t have any companion animals in my house right now. But I do feel connected to animals by virtue of living next to one of the biggest urban parks [in America].
VT It seems that the idea of your new restaurant is to encourage community—true?
MOBY Yes. It’s located across the street from two schools, in a very community-centric spot. The hours are from 7:30 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. I got the idea from when I lived in France, and around the corner was a humble bistro that served breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner—it was an extension of the neighborhood, a community kitchen.
VT Do you have a favorite dish from the Little Pine menu?
MOBY The one that I pushed my chef to do is a vegan cassoulet. When I lived in France in 1987, there was an old vegetarian restaurant in Paris, Le Grenier de Notre Dame, and they made a vegan cassoulet that was so interesting. In French cooking, cassoulet is the heaviest, meatiest thing. [Chef] Anthony Bourdain said once that most cassoulets are too much for him. Ours is more tomato based: It has several different types of heirloom tomatoes, white beans, homemade [vegan] sausage, garlic, onions, and breadcrumbs.
VT What keeps more people from becoming vegan?
MOBY There are two impediments: The biggest is that our and the European agriculture system both support subsidies for animal production. If animal products weren’t subsidized, no one could afford them—a glass of milk would cost $5 and a hamburger would be $20. If the vegan movement could do one thing, it could get the government to stop subsidizing products that kill animals.
Second, people are so familiar with the food they grew up with—bacon, sausage, ham—the cheap, easy food we grew up with. Transitioning away from that can be scary for a lot of people, especially men. Even if you tell them that they’ll live longer, be thinner, not have erectile dysfunction, not get heart disease, they’re scared and will often respond with anger and belligerence.
VT Since you travel so much, do you have favorite vegan restaurants around the country?
MOBY The biggest resource for traveling vegans is Happy Cow [happycow.net]. That Web site has saved me so many times. One of my favorite restaurants is Mother’s Café in Austin, Texas—I love Tex-Mex food. In New York, there’s Candle Cafe, Blossom, and Angelica Kitchen.
VT Have you ever been stuck somewhere with no food you could eat?
MOBY My advice to travelling vegans: Get some oats, raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon in a big plastic bag and take it with you—you can always get boiling water.
I was once in a regional airport in Canada near Calgary. The flight was delayed 10 hours—I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had this bag of oats, raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon.
VT Are you working on any other animal-rights projects?
MOBY I have a few ideas. I was very impressed by something Karl Rove started calling the “echo chamber” during the Bush years: A message would come from the White House, and all sorts of people repeated that message. I really want something like that in the world of animal activism, so that when a statement comes from, say, Farm Sanctuary or Mercy for Animals, a network of 10,000 other animal activists will repeat that message. Also, I’d like to start a production company for vegan-based documentaries like Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, Earthlings—films that advance the vegan agenda. Animal rights—it’s my life work.