In his New Year’s–themed Huffington Post United Kingdom piece “Abolish Your Meat Habit in 2014,” British poet, playwright, novelist, and musician Benjamin Zephaniah states, “We may not be able to right all the world’s wrongs, but when it comes to what we put on our plates, we all have the opportunity to get it right three times a day, simply by eating vegan.” Here, Zephaniah, holder of multiple honorary doctorates, answers questions about living animal-product-free.
How vegan-friendly is Great Britain?
There are not many strictly vegan restaurants, but every city has vegetarian eating houses. When I travel in Britain or internationally I use happycow.net, and I find that there is always somewhere to eat. The great thing about Britain is there are so many ethnic, religious, and cultural communities who are vegan or vegetarian that I am never really hungry. Personally I don’t eat where meat is cooked, so if I can’t find somewhere I just do without a big meal, have some fruit, and tell myself that I will not starve.
Your writing for children on the subject of animals does not gloss over harsh realities. Why that approach?
I simply want children to know about the realities of the lives of animals. I never use the word cute when describing animals. I want children to be animal lovers and not simply pet lovers. I have always found that once they understand that difference, they connect with the feelings of the animals and understand that really loving animals is different from seeing animals as entertainment or as commodities to be bought and sold.
You’ve been involved with humanitarian groups like Amnesty International as well as animal rights groups. What’s the connection for you?
I care about human rights just as much as I care about animal rights, and vice versa. It has always saddened me how many people in the animal rights community are not active in the area of human rights. We should care about life.
Are you as creative in the kitchen as you are with words and music?
I do a lot of experimenting, and sometimes it works well and I’m so proud, but there are other times when I create something unspeakable.
You’ve called your hometown of Handsworth the Jamaican capital of Europe. Any favorite Jamaican foods or dishes?
I love ackee [a tropical fruit] and callaloo [the green leaves of taro root and also a soup made with the greens], but most of all I love butter bean stew. I’m not sure if that’s officially Jamaican, but it is when my mother does it.