Ask Umbra chews the fat with Moby
Whatever you do when you meet Moby (eventually, we all will), don’t tell him you enjoy his book.
“That’s a strange word to use,” he said when I did the very thing I’m telling you not to do.
My face briefly turned the same shade as my hair as I attempted to explain how exactly it is I enjoyed reading about the grisly perils of factory farming in the newly released collection of essays, Gristle, which the musician and long-time vegan edited along with Miyun Park, the executive director for Global Animal Partnership.
Once I regained my composure, Moby and I chatted about animal welfare, veganism, and why a meal at McDonald’s should cost $75. Seattleites can listen to him further elaborate tonight at Town Hall.
Q. Did you draw the cow on the front of the book?
A. No, I didn’t. I wish I did. My drawing ability is mostly limited to little bald-headed aliens looking to one side. I wanted the cow to look more worried, though. I think originally it didn’t have an eye. So I told the graphic designer I wanted it to have an eye, and I wanted it to look worried.
Q. What do you feel like this book contributes to the factory farmed meat discussion that others in the genre do not?
A. It’s for people who might be interested in the consequences of agribusiness and factory farming. And also, kind of like a companion to some of these other books and movies. I really like the Michael Pollan book and Jonathan Safran Foer’s book. And I have a lot of admiration and respect for the authors, but their books are a bit more subjective and personal. And so I think we wanted to make this as sort of a bit more factual, less opinionated, less emotional, and just a factual companion to books like that.
Q. Why do you think you were a good fit for editing the compilation?
A. I think Miyun and I working together made a lot of sense because we both have been in the world of animal welfare for a long time. It’s her day job, and I’m more of a dilettante. I guess I was a good fit in that, with information like this, which is not the happiest, funnest information in the world, the choice was to make a very dry, factual book that wouldn’t get much attention, but if you attach a well-intentioned, quasi public figure to it and give it a cute cow on the cover and a nice yellow background, it increases the chances that more and more people might actually look at it. If it just had a brown cover with some bad printing, I think there would be 10 people on the planet who would look at it—so just a sort of acknowledgment of the ways in which media are disseminated.
Q. Factory farming affects a lot of areas like our health, animal welfare, and climate change, but where do you think it has the biggest impact?
A. It’s hard to say because it depends upon who is being impacted and also depends on the long-term impact. I think the biggest and most impactful aspect of agribusiness is really going to be on climate change. The U.N. released a report basically stating that 25 percent of all climate change is a result of animal production, and they also released a statement saying probably the easiest way to arrest climate change would be to change the practices of agribusiness, of factory farming. But the effects of climate change are slow; they’ll be drastic, but they are slow. So in the short term it seems like the biggest impact, apart from the impact on the welfare of animals that are being tortured and slaughtered, the biggest impact is on the communities where the factory farms actually are. It’s estimated that when a factory farm is introduced to a community, the price of residential real estate goes down 80 percent. I mean, it’s impacting consumers and it’s impacting the animals and impacting the environment, but it really is decimating the communities where the factory farms actually exist.
Q. What do you think the solution is for getting people to cut back on animal consumption? Is it education?
A. For me, there’s one simple solution, which the likelihood of it happening is pretty slim, but still, my pie in the sky dream is to end subsidies for agribusiness and end subsidies for animal production and basically let the free market decide the cost of a pound of beef and a pound of chicken. If there were no subsidies for beef, a pound of beef would cost around $25, and if every aspect of animal production wasn’t subsidized, a family of four going to McDonald’s for a quick meal would spend $75. So really it’s like the silver bullet that fixes the problem. And I would almost think it would make for interesting bedfellows, where you might even get some libertarian Tea Party people to talk about ending giving subsidies to animal production. But then again, not to be too inflammatory, but thus far every single person in the Tea Party is a raving lunatic, so I don’t expect them to join our cause any time soon.
Q. What sort of group activism would you suggest people get involved with that would really have an impact on this?
A. Not to be overly simplistic, but the first thing that springs to mind is people talking to each other—just communicating. Because I spent a long period of time being a really annoying, militant, didactic vegan. And over time I realized my militancy and didacticism was just irritating people, so now I try to communicate a lot more honestly and respectfully and without judgment. So my first thought is just talking to people. I mean a lot of it is more individual action in terms of how people shop, because every time you spend money, you’re voting for the practices of whoever’s produced what you’re paying for. Also, lobbying local legislators. On a group level, nice things like invite people over for dinner and surprise them with the fact that vegetarian, vegan food isn’t as strange as they would think and is actually really tasty. And one of the greatest things, and this plays perfectly into this, is the idea of building community gardens. Just as agribusiness decimates everything with which it comes into contact, community gardens benefit everything with which they come into contact. They raise property values, they benefit the people working on them, and they can actually produce healthy, locally grown food.
Q. Have you ever cheated on your vegan diet?
A. See, I also don’t want to be a judgmental like holier-than-thou vegan. Like if someone is a meat eater but they maybe reduce their meat consumption for environmental reasons, more power to them. And far be it for me to judge. But in the last 22 years, I cheated twice. I had, and this is going to sound so crazy, I had yogurt in 1992, and I have to say it was really good. And about five years ago, I was talking to a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, and he said I should start eating eggs. So I went to the store and I bought organic, free range, locally grown eggs and I tried to eat an egg, but I just didn’t like it.
Q. Were you emotionally scarred afterward?
A. No, I was just reminded of why I’m a vegan, but really I don’t judge people’s lifestyles. If someone chooses to eat meat or dairy, that’s their choice. I just think that meat and dairy can be produced a lot more ethically than they currently are being produced and with much less impact on communities, on the environment, and on people’s health.