If you first heard the word vegan through the liner notes of Moby's breakthrough 1999 album Play, you're not alone. The singer-songwriter has been evangelizing on behalf of vegans everywhere for decades: first with his music and later via a handful of restaurants. In 2002, he opened the Lower East Side's Teany, a small café with a large tea selection; after selling it in 2012 and moving across the country, he opened L.A.'s Little Pine in 2015, a refined comfort food spot in Silver Lake, where all of the profits go to animal welfare organizations.
In his new memoir, Porcelain: A Memoir (out this May via Penguin Press), Moby writes of his youth in Connecticut, going vegan in 1987 while only able to afford soy milk and sprouted bread, and becoming an electronic music star as a small, balding animal-rights activist. We talked to him about how much better vegan food has gotten over the years, his new restaurant, and the vegan mafia.
F&W: What was the biggest motivation for you to go vegan in 1987, which was a much different, sadder era for vegan cuisine?
It was almost like a synaptic realignment. It felt like going to the chiropractor, but for my brain. You know when you go to the chiropractor and they adjust your back, and suddenly, "Oh!" Things are aligned when you hadn't even known they'd been out of alignment.
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Growing up, like most people, I loved animals, but I also very happily ate animals, and that never seemed paradoxical to me. Then I had this moment in 1984, when I became a vegetarian, when I was petting a cat that I had rescued—his name was Tucker— and suddenly I realized that if Tucker the cat, with his two eyes and central nervous system, had a rich emotional life, every creature with two eyes and a central nervous system has a rich emotional life. My brain realigned itself, and I realized that I couldn't be culpable for the suffering of any creature that was capable of suffering.
F&W: Since then, what have been the biggest shifts in veganism that you've noticed—food-wise and culturally?
In 1987, when I became a vegan, I believe there were maybe three vegan restaurants in the whole planet. There was Angelica Kitchen in New York, there might have been one in England, there might have been one in Los Angeles or San Francisco. But for the most part, vegan food in 1987 meant the clichéd vegan food that Woody Allen would make fun of. Vegan food was mashed yeast and sprouted oats and runny tofu, for the most part. You could eat as a vegan in 1987, but it was challenging.
The thing for me that is the most surprising is the advances in veganism that have come from non-vegans. For example, Mark Bittman is one of my favorite vegan evangelists and he's not vegan. He wouldn't pass muster with the hardcore, 100 percent vegans with their ethical purity tests, but people like Ellen Degeneres, who's not a vegan, have done more to advance the cause of animal rights than most vegans I know.