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Animal Protection > AR Interviews

Leading by Example: The Mickey Z. Interview
Claudette Vaughan speaks to Mickey Z -- a man of many talents.
First published in Vegan Voice.

Mickey Z. has been a vegan for nine years. He resides in New York City with his wife Michele. He's the author of two published books with two more due out. His writing has appeared in three anthologies and he's been the editor-in-chief of Curio magazine, senior editor of Wide Angle, and a regular columnist for many publications, including Street News.

He's optioned three film screenplays, edited five of his own zines and co-edited one other. He's written two poetry books and three DIY political pamphlets. He's known as "the underground poet" and he's written for a wide range of anarchist publications on topics ranging from police brutality, veganism, kung fu, chess, film, garlic, Fabio, and the Society to Eradicate Television.

He was awarded a fellowship in non-fiction literature from the NY Foundation for the Arts and a writing grant from the Puffin Foundation. He's appeared in martial arts movies, was quoted in The New York Times, sang in a rock band, managed a heavy metal band, and armed only with a high school diploma has given talks at MIT and Yale. Meet Mickey Z.

Q. Why did you become a vegan?

A. My wife Michele and I evolved toward veganism together. We've always been animal lovers and decidedly non-mainstream but our eating habits didn't reflect it. As we learned more, we made more changes, until we were vegans. It made far too much sense to ignore.

Q. You have spoken about veganism as direct action in its truest form. Can you elaborate on this?

A. You don't have to wait for a rigged vote or a co-opted protest or till you've read one kind of manifesto or another. Every meal, every purchase, every time you get dressed, you're making a statement and, more importantly, making a difference. Picture this: you're attending a protest or working at a non-profit; you got there on foot, by bicycle, or by public transportation; you've packed your vegan lunch; and you're wearing animal-free clothing. You're a walking advertisement for compassionate, aware living and you've got the facts to back up your decisions. In other words, the motivating power example is in full effect and ready to challenge the corporate-dominated norms.

Q. What advice would you give to meat-eaters who want to kick the habit?

A. Although I consider myself a vegan primarily for ethical and environmental reasons, I'd probably appeal to them on the health aspects. Once they've already expressed interest in becoming a vegan, I'd broaden my approach but I guess the best first step is to explain how it'll impact on them individually. Stuff like: o Risk of death by heart attack for average American male: 50%. o Risk of death by heart attack for average vegan: 4%. o Rise in blood cholesterol level from consuming one egg per day: 12%. o Associated rise in heart attack risk from consuming one egg per day: 24%. Lots of documentation helps, too. It's funny, you can go on TV and spout off about the benefits of the Atkins diet and rarely be asked for evidence. If you suggest veganism, you better have voluminous footnotes.

Q. Why is there no such thing as a vegetarian refrigerator?

A. Try opening the nearest fridge and you'll find an egg rack along with a clearly marked butter tray and meat drawer. Eating animals and animal by-products is not just accepted, it's expected. Yet, contrary to popular opinion (and refrigerator manufacturers), human beings were not designed to consume animals.

Q. In your brilliant article Finger-Lickin' Fitness, you have written about the audacity of Pepsi co-owned Kentucky Fried Chicken now being touted as a bastion of health. Please comment.

A. The Australian scholar Alex Carey said the three most important developments of the 20th century were: 1. the growth and spread of democracy. 2. the growth and spread of corporate power. 3. the development of corporate propaganda to protect corporate power from democracy. The PR flacks hired by Corporate America are often able to sell anything to Americans (and, by proxy, the world).

KFC is just one example of how a death industry can market itself with lies. Do you have Popeye's Chicken in NZ or Australia? We do here. Only in a heavily conditioned nation can you have an establishment named Popeye's Fried Chicken, where the world's most celebrated spinach eater, a chivalrous and muscular vegetarian, is associated with the charred flesh of tortured and cancerous birds pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and mass-marketed to the underprivileged.

Q. Tell us why the globalisation of agriculture has failed, even though many people bought the original rhetoric based upon solving the world's hunger crisis.

A. I guess the first thing we have to remember is that industry is never seeking to end any crisis except its own profit crisis, i.e., they never have enough. This goes back to the propaganda I mentioned above. We're sold images of corporations feeding the poor and helping the sick, blah, blah, blah. We're programmed to trust these familiar names while our tax dollars subsidise their rape of the planet.

Q. Global biotechnology corporations claim they have the answer to world hunger. Yet, is it not a problem of distribution, not food?

A. Sure, hunger isn't a result of insufficient resources � it's more about the inequitable distribution of abundant resources. On a planet of abundant resources, those resources are controlled by a select few. In a recent study of food production and hunger, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization concluded, "Globally, there is enough land, soil and water, and enough potential for future growth in yields, to make the necessary production feasible."

Hunger is a political problem that GM food will not and cannot solve. Roughly 150 million acres of farmland around the world are planted with GM crops, primarily soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. These four big money-makers do little if anything to nourish hungry people in developing countries.

Q. Who is watching corporate America? Surely the truth is no one is harnessing in the multinationals, as there are no enforceable international regulations about how to do business?

A. There are people doing great work but the odds against them are monumental. As long as the corporate media can maintain its status as our primary information provider, the image of corporate America will remain skewed. The primary engine of propaganda is the corporate-owned media. Whether you label them liberal or conservative, most major media outlets are large corporations owned by or aligned with even larger corporations, and they share a common goal: to make a profit (of course) by selling a product (an affluent audience) to a given market (advertisers). Therefore, we shouldn't find it too shocking that the image of the world being presented by a corporate-owned press very much reflects the biased interests of the elite players involved in this sordid little love triangle.

Q. What about how corporate America has prospered dramatically over the past decade whilst sweatshops from developing countries continue to be exploited?

A. It's far more than the last decade. Go back to the Robber Barons of the 19th century � but again, in many ways, it comes back to perception. We Americans are taught lessons about the rest of the world that lead us to say things like: "Sure sweatshops suck but if it weren't for Nike, those people wouldn't have any job at all." The idea that other countries or cultures have something to offer, to teach us, is absent. Sadly, the propaganda aimed at the sweatshop workers is designed to convince them of the same thing.

Q. Out of the mists of Seattle rose a movement that threatened the New World Order. How do you challenge the New World Order's agenda?

A. I can speak about my personal choices. I don't smoke, drink or do drugs � nor do I sleep till noon (or even stay up past 10 at night very often). My organically fuelled body is free of tattoos and piercings, I do not own a weapon or belong to a sect, and I am happily and faithfully married. However, while my "vices" aren't drugs or guns or mysticism or sexual deviance (well, maybe sexual deviance), my lifestyle is far more controversial to the establishment.

I don't eat their food or worship their god or accept their government. I also don't visit their doctors or take their medicines or use their deodorants, colognes, toothpastes, etc. I don't have their accepted academic credentials and I don't drive their cars, engage in conspicuous consumption or create unnecessary waste. In addition, I try not to purchase items I know to be made by slave or sweatshop labour. In other words, if everyone were like me, the corporate commodity culture would vanish overnight. This simple reality makes me far more menacing and radical than I first appear.

Q. Every day 2000 children around the world are killed or disabled by arms-related injuries. What do you gauge as the average Jane or John America's attitude towards that illegal war in Iraq? Do they give a shit?

A. I hate to sound like a broken record, but if Jane and John believe that all these other countries are inhabited by lunatics who hate America because it's "free", they'll look the other way. It's an immense social conditioning experiment.

Q. America doesn't appear to have any radical left-wing political party. Would you say this is true?

A. There are small groups here and there but in a society where John Kerry and Hillary Clinton are sold to us as "liberals", the parameters of debate are set rather narrowly. The New York Times is the left. The Wall Street Journal is the right. Anything beyond that (on either side) is ignored or labelled as a dangerous loony.

Q. Senator Dennis Kucinich is a vegan. Why do you think his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination never really got off the ground?

A. He was never taken seriously by the media. The New York Times called for him to drop out almost after the first primary and the late night talk show hosts had a field day with him. Interestingly, he's said some things you rarely hear a Democrat say, but I'm concerned that he's brought some of those outside the Democrats (i.e., Greens) into the two-party (sic) fold. We don't need any more lefties joining forces with the Democrats.

Q. The gaping divide between the stretch limo types in the US and the homeless is glaringly obvious to tourists visiting your country. You recently attended a press conference against a sleeping ban proposal where people who are not in legal shelters have to stay awake all night or refrain from using a blanket. God bless America. What's going on, Mickey?

A. I was in Santa Cruz, California for the One Dance Summit and was asked to speak at the press conference. Having written for Street News here in NYC for ten years, it was a natural move for me. (Street News is the oldest and largest homeless publication on the planet.) Homeless people are demonised, just like so many others. Once a group of people is assigned sub-human status, the powers-that-be can get away with murder, literally.

Q. Tell us about your books.

A. My first book is Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of "the Good War". It's a radical history of WWII. The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet is a collection of stories (including mine) of life on the fringes in a corporate capitalist society. A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defence is just out. It's a collection of my recent articles on a broad range of topics. The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind US War Propaganda is also just out (www.amazon.com). It's an investigation of the techniques used over the centuries to convince us war is necessary. You can email Mickey Z. at: mzx2@earthlink.net

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