by Jeff Gordiner
“I’ve been a vegan for 24 years,” Moby, the musician, told me on the phone the other day. “With two lapses. I had yogurt in 1992, and I have to say, it was really good. And then I was at a friend’s restaurant in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago, and they made me some vegan sushi, but they accidentally brought me crab sushi. So I had a bite of crab sushi, and then my friend who ran the restaurant came running out yelling, like, ‘No! It’s got crab!’”
You might think of vegans, like Moby, as strict, hyper-orthodox vegetarians. Most of them try to ingest nothing that originates with the death or servitude of an animal. No meat, no eggs, no dairy, sometimes not even any honey. You might also carry around the assumption that vegans have a tendency to be pious, prim, humorless and slightly chartreuse around the gills. Such was the stereotype, for a decade or two, and Moby himself doesn’t dispute the notion that vegans and carnivores used to coexist in something of a culinary cold war.
But lately, as we explore in this week’s Dining section, the ice seems to have thawed, at least in Southern California.
“If we go back 25 years, there was a lot more intolerance in the vegan world,” Moby said. “There was a lot more militant us-and-them approach. And that, to a large extent, seems to have fallen by the wayside, both from a vegan perspective and from the non-vegan perspective. Vegans are perfectly happy now, for the most part, to hang out with people who don’t agree with them 100 percent And maybe one or two nights a week, carnivores seem pretty happy to go to a vegetarian restaurant.”
You can’t help but see that happening in the Los Angeles area, where Moby has lived for the last couple of years. The West Coast has grown into a vegan utopia, and it is no longer remotely unusual for a meat freak to spend a lunch hour with a meadow of raw kale.
“I have a friend who lives just down the street from me, and he is, like, a true omnivore — he’ll even eat disgusting things like foie gras — but he loves Café Gratitude,” Moby said, making reference to the Larchmont Boulevard spot where he is a regular, and which qualifies as the Brown Derby of celebrity plant-based dining.
Moby sees it as an evolution — a mellowing — of the fervent activist impulse that fueled some of the vegan movement in its early days.
“When you’re 18, that means throwing fake blood on people wearing fur,” he said. “And when you’re 40, it means opening a really nice vegan restaurant with great food, and being tolerant and welcoming, and not judging people even if they disagree with you.”
Good food was not always a given in vegan circles. “For a while it seemed as if vegan restaurants didn’t have to try that hard, because they had such a locked-in audience. Their patrons couldn’t go anywhere else,” Moby said. “I had a lot of experiences in the early ‘90s of trying to drag my friends to macrobiotic restaurants and having them just be miserable.”
If anything is apt to stoke their misery now, though, it’s that bright, strange, yoga-endorphin glow coming off all the vegan and vegetarian people at the surrounding tables. It’s enough to make an otherwise normal, healthy person feel like Charles Bukowski.
“I was out to dinner last night at a Japanese vegan restaurant downtown, and I’m 47, and most of my friends were in their 30s and 40s, and I was looking around and to some extent I felt they had all discovered this fountain of youth,” Moby said. “I’m not even going to include myself in this, because I think I look kind of old and homeless. But the people I was eating with, they all looked at least 10 years younger than they actually were. And all of them had been vegetarian or vegan for at least 20 years.”