Moby on Why He Went Vegan and What He Thinks of 'Conscientious Carnivores'

The author of 'Gristle' discusses his biggest food influences, why we should stop subsidizing support factory farms and agribusiness, and why he's optimistic about the future.

Moby's new book Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat) is a medley of anti-industrial meat memes written by an eclectic mix of advocates, experts and others who offer 10 compelling reasons for eliminating factory-farmed animal products from our diet.

A passionate advocate for animals, Moby has been quietly donating profits from his film music to the Humane Society for years. In Gristle, which he edited with food policy activist Miyun Park, Moby is stepping up his campaign to end cruelty to animals. He took the time to answer my questions via email recently, as he geared up for the release of Gristle, due out at the end of March:

Kerry Trueman: When it comes to going vegan, you're the quintessential early adopter; you switched to a plant-based diet more than two decades ago. Now, veganism's practically a badge of honor with grassroots activists and the green glitterati. Are you surprised that this once-ridiculed way of life is finally gaining acceptance?:

Moby: I guess I'm more surprised that so many environmentalists and lefties still eat meat. I don't judge, I really don't, but it seems so odd that people who are progressive and conscious in so many other areas of their life still support factory farming.

KT: There's been a spate of books recently extolling the virtues of a vegan or vegetarian diet, from the Skinny Bitches' snarky schtick to more nuanced nudging from Alicia Silverstone, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Pollan. Where does Gristle fit into this spectrum?

M: Gristle is the nerdy cousin to these much cooler books. Gristle looks pretty, but it's more factual and informative than most other animal-oriented books.

KT: Are there any particular thinkers, or writers, or cultural forces that have informed your veganism?

M: John Robbins with the original Diet for a New America. Jane Goodall and Peter Singer, of course.

KT: Your stated agenda in your intro to Gristle is to simply end animal suffering. One way to achieve this worthy goal is to convince folks to stop consuming meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products from factory farms. Alternatively, as arecent New York Times op-edby a doctoral student in the philosophy-neuroscience-psychology program at Washington University proposed, we could "genetically engineer livestock so that they suffer much less," i.e. block their perception of pain. American ingenuity at its finest, or definitive proof that we are a truly depraved culture?

M: It's hard to say what is/isn't depraved about our culture while we're in the middle of things. In a few hundred years I think that historians will have a much better perspective from which to judge our depravity. But please keep in mind that in the 14th century it was "sport" to kill cats by nailing them to walls and head-butting them. So what seems normal to us in the short-term might seem less so as time passes.

KT: The Center For Consumer Freedom, an agribiz-funded astroturf operation, recently published an op-ed stating that "It's easy for celebrities to passionately condemn farming by large agricultural firms. They don't have to worry about a grocery bill." Your reaction?

M: It's almost comical, actually, as factory farming and meat production are so heavily subsidized. If you removed all subsidies from animal production the cost of a pound of beef would be around $25. A vegan diet is inherently less expensive than a diet based on animal protein. Let's remove the subsidies that go to factory farms and big agribusiness and let their products be sold at true market cost. How many people would be rushing to McDonald’s if a hamburger cost $18? And that's roughly what a McDonald’s hamburger would cost if all federal and state subsidies were removed from animal production.

KT: The op-ed goes on to claim that your book "attempts to eviscerate livestock farming and traditional models of food safety" and dismisses Gristle as part of a spate of "glitzy celebrity propaganda campaigns." How do you respond to the accusation that Gristle is "glitzy"?

M: Well, we did hire a graphic designer... so we have a good-looking book, but at least we're honest. Which cannot be said about any aspect of agribusiness and factory farming, which maintain a PR ethos of egregious obfuscation. The reason they keep the feedlots and slaughterhouses so far from towns and cities is to make sure no one knows what's actually involved in raising and slaughtering animals en masse.

Part of my criteria for deciding what to eat is asking myself, "Could I take part in the process that led to this food being on my plate?" I could pick a carrot. I could not shoot a bolt into the head of a baby cow, watch it spasm and die, and then eviscerate it. Also there is no correlation between educating people about the consequences and ramifications of animal production and food safety. These paid agribusiness lackeys are just looking after their heavily subsidized paychecks and trying to confuse a painfully simple issue by spouting blatant untruths.

KT: The optimism that so many people felt in November 2008 has given way, for some, to disappointment and discouragement at the apparent lack of genuine change. How do you remain hopeful in these troubled times?

M: By reminding myself that the world is a complicated place and that real, meaningful and lasting change is the result of long-term, and effective, advocacy and effort. My optimism hasn't diminished at all. Perhaps people need to remember that politicians aren't magicians or saints, they're civil servants who sometimes apply their intelligence and experience to a whole host of problems. And sometimes they pass meaningful legislation, and sometimes they don't. That's the political process, and I have yet to see any politician or party get around it in a constitutional way.

KT:Is the term "conscientious carnivore" an oxymoron?

M: I think that "conscientious carnivore" is a valid term. I don't think that I occupy any ethical or conscious high ground by being a vegan, it's just my choice. A carnivore who eats local chickens and is loving and nice to everyone around him is probably a bit higher up the ethical scale than a vegan who is a sociopath.

KT: Fans of Teany, the NYC tea shop and vegetarian café you co-founded, have been eagerly anticipating its reopening in the wake of a fire last June. And Teany cafés may soon be coming to Vermont, Chicago and Los Angeles. But until there's a Teany in every town, how do you manage to find ethical eateries when you're on the road?

M: Luckily almost every town in the Western world has a health food store and a vegetarian restaurant. That's why I’m fat. Oh, and I haven't owned Teany for about four years. I'm just a patron these days.

KT: In a conversation you had with Mark Bittman he noted that it's better to have "tens of millions of people significantly reduce their consumption of animal products than see tens of thousands eliminate them." This pragmatic approach typifies the Meatless Monday campaign.You attended the launch of Sir Paul McCartney's Meat Free Monday campaign in London last June and wholeheartedly endorsed it. Would you be willing to shine your star wattage on our own stateside Meatless Mondays?

M: I show up wherever/whenever people ask me to show up. The only reason I don't go somewhere is because I haven't been invited. I need to learn how to stay home, I think.

Kerry Trueman is the co-founder of You can follow her on Twitter.