Monday 07 May, 2012

Moby Chews the Fat


Moby and Miyun Park at the Skirball Center

Moby and Miyun Park at the Skirball Center

I’m not normally a fan of being preached to, but last week (3/23/10) a mutual friend invited me to go see Moby (Electronica “legend” & DJ) talk about the new book GRISTLE: from Factory Farms to Food Safety (thinking twice about the meat we eat) he’d co-edited with Miyun Park, at the Skirball Cultural Center, West LA’s gorgeous Jewish institution.

I admit I walked into the auditorium feeling guilty already, after putting the cream of tortured cows into my coffee. I half expected Moby to appear like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Childcatcher (you know, the Jack White lookalike?) twitching his nose and saying “I smell meat eaters.” Doubtful there were many of “us:” the hundreds-strong crowd skewed young and thin, even if not everyone was a pomo hippy type.

There were a few interesting characters though. A couple of guys in the crowd (largely belonging to the “converted” to whom Moby was preaching) wore Vegan Bodybuilding shirts—not a great advertisement, considering both were scarcely more muscular than I am. One creepy guy had his 8 year-old daughter (I’m assuming) on his lap and was massaging her back the whole time. Dude, seriously? Then there was the bearded man with the Moses staff who felt like telling the world every time he agreed with a point, or not.

With a book title like GRISTLE, I expected the long-time vocal vegan activist to speechify to his minions, with one fact and figure after another, about how the entire planet’s doom was tied to the fact that people eat meat.

To my delight, there was no real speechifying—even if Moby tacitly made that assertion nonetheless. “You look at the health plagues of the 20th century,’ he said “and they’re all related to diet.” I wasn’t ready to entirely buy that. But with E. Coli outbreaks becoming almost commonplace, it wasn’t entirely dismissible, either.

“The issue is about reducing animal suffering,” said Miyun, who was perhaps a bit less adept at seducing a crowd. “In the two hours we’re going to be here, 2.5 million animals will be killed in the US.”

Okay, that is a number that should give anyone pause.

Moby won a lot of points by relating his personal journey (for lack of a less new-agey word). “When I was in high school, I had nothing but disdain for vegetarians,” he said, recalling days in a Connecticut hardcore punk band. “I’ve had so many militancies in my life. Where does it come from? My insecurity.” Moby admitted he’d personally gone to extremes in his political correctness--even “not wanting to take hot showers because I didn’t want to support the oil companies…it got so bad that I threatened to only talk to other vegans.”

Eventually, he says, he realized “Not everybody is born vegan [just as] not everybody is born with a cool record collection” (apparently he’s learned to accept his aunts and uncles who raise chickens—hey, at least it’s local).

“We have to resist the temptation to judge other people because they don’t meet our standard of purity.”

He also made the valid point that even vegans can still contribute to environmental degradation (especially if they’re eating foods from far away).

Moby’s thrust seemed to be that government be persuaded to remove subsidies to animal production for food, and that that would make the vegetarian option much more affordable by comparison (though he also admitted many “vegetarian” packaged foods are overpriced). He claims that he even asked Al Gore why the environmental impact of animal production wasn’t included in “An Inconvenient Truth,” and Gore responded that it was “too inconvenient of a truth.”

Fighting climate change and eating meat, Moby posited, was the same kind of contradiction as trying to cure cancer or heart disease while being a cigarette smoker.

The book’s collection of essays were only lightly touched upon. “Even if you don’t want to read it,” Moby quipped, “there’s fun little graphs.”

Moby made a point of going overtime to answer all of the people who lined up to ask questions; an impressive number of them stayed to wait in line and have the book signed, evidence that a “free” event is good business (FYI, Moby also pointed out all the book profits go to animal rights organizations).

“I’m just as passionate” as ever, Moby said “but I want to figure out a way to do it and not irritate my friends and family in the process.”