Part II – Vance Lehmkuhl
Vance Lehmkuhl writes “V for Veg,” the vegan food column in the Philadelphia Daily News, and is the founder and producer of Vegcast, a popular podcast on vegan and vegetarian issues. A cartoonist, he is the author of a collection of vegetarian cartoons, “The Joy of Soy” (Laugh Lines Press, 1997) and is also a founding member of the eco-conscious pop band “Green Beings.” The band’s Lehmkuhl-penned patter song “Leftovers,” listing all the foods available after eliminating meat and dairy, is a favorite at venues such as Vegetarian Summerfest, and has been played multiple times on Dr. Demento’s radio show. Vance went vegetarian in 1985 and has been vegan since 2000.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, everybody, I’m back. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You are listening to It’s All About Food. Now, we’re just going to relax and have a good time and talk more about my favorite, food, because it really can be fun.
And I’m going to bring on my next guest, Vance Lehmkuhl, who writes V for Veg vegan food column in the Philadelphia Daily News. He’s the founder and producer of VegCast, a popular podcast on vegan and vegetarian issues. A cartoonist, he’s the author of a collection of vegetarian cartoons, The Joy of Soy, and is also a founding member of the eco-conscious top band, Green Beings. The band’s Lehmkuhl- pend patter song, Leftovers, listing all the foods available after eliminating meat and dairy is a favorite avenue such as vegetarian summer fests and has been played multiple times on Dr. Demento’s radio show. Vance went vegetarian in 1985 and has been vegan since 2000.
Welcome, Mr. Vance Lehmkuhl, to It’s All About Food!
Vance Lehmkuhl: Hello, Caryn!
Caryn Hartglass: Hey! How are you?
Vance Lehmkuhl: I’m pretty good today. How are you?
Caryn Hartglass: I’m very good. I can’t remember when I met you, it was at some Summerfest long ago and I haven’t seen you for quite some while but …
Vance Lehmkuhl: We got to get you back to support that.
Caryn Hartglass: I know. There’s just too many things to do.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. I know how it is.
Caryn Hartglass: Too many things. You probably experience this too and I say this from time to time but I used to think I knew all the vegans and I don’t anymore. There’s so many of them.
Vance Lehmkuhl: There’s too many of them. They’re proliferating like mad.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s so many of them and some of them are making them, making more of them. There’s certainly not enough but we’re increasing and that’s a good thing.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. I used to say this about vegan restaurants in Philadelphia or vegan-oriented restaurants in Philadelphia, that I would know about them 6 months before they came out and lately I’m hearing, “Hey, did you hear about this new one?” I’m a vegan food columnist. I’m finding out from other vegans because they’re just so many of them cropping up and it’s great there’s too many of those to keep track of.
Caryn Hartglass: I know. I certainly feel the same way here in New York City. There are many that I have not been to, which I cannot believe because 20 years ago if there was a vegetarian restaurant that popped up I had to be there. It was such an amazing thing. It’s still an amazing but they’re everywhere and they’re good.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. Well, whenever I think of you or see your name pop up on the Internet when your column comes up in philly.com, I always have a smile on my face because you always bring out the best or the fun things in the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Well, thank you. That’s, I guess … it’s kind of my role. I try to bring the fun.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, it’s important because if we really focus on why we do what we do, it’s not fun.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Well, no.
Caryn Hartglass: And the world has a lot of ugliness to it: a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, a lot of exploitation. And it can be hard to just be done with life, get up every morning out of bed but we wouldn’t be experiencing life the way we should if stayed on the dark side and it’s really important to see the humor, humorous healing. Humor can energize and I thank you for doing that.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Well, sure. I should give a shout out to Dan Piraro, who I had a talk about this with on VegCast, this very topic of how you take something that is just intrinsically not funny and find humor in it. I did my book in 1997, The Joy of Soy, which I was just vegetarian at the time so some of the cartoons are flawed, from my perspective now. But Dan’s continued to crank out Bizarro, and he very often do another vegan-oriented cartoon and he keeps on coming up with new angles to both amuse people and yet make them think for a second what they’re reading on their daily newspapers. He’s a great master of that.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s the idea: to get people to think. And as we know, most people are sleepwalking through life, for the most part. And many of us are marketed through life to live and react and shop and consume the way corporations would like us to. And wow, what kind of power would we get if we start to think?
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. Well, that’s true. It’s a double-edged sword because people shield themselves from the kind of stuff that is troubling to think about. And when you do think about it, at first if you just let that be something that remains troubling, you can be either troubled by it by shutting it out but if you start doing something about it, it becomes more of an impetus to do more and to get out there and make an impact.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, of course cartoons are visual. But could you describe some of yours, maybe some that have really gotten … that you’ve heard a lot about or gotten a lot of great responses to?
Vance Lehmkuhl: I’ll just tell you about two cartoons. One was in The Joy of Soy. It’s my favorite cartoon, The Joy of Soy. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the musical Sweeney Todd or the story of Sweeney Todd …
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah. I performed in Sweeney Todd several times. I’m just going to plug myself here but I was in it with Jean Stapleton in one production.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Wow, now that’s … I can’t really… All I did was try to … I re-drew the iconic poster image that has this kind of 19th century cartoon of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett, with him with his hands in the air and looking like he’s shouting and I have Mrs. Lovett coming to him saying, “ A guy out there wants to know if we have any vegetarian pies?” and Sweeney Todd saying, “He’s in luck; a vegetarian just came in this morning.” So I always thought that was a pretty funny cartoon, although it’s not one of those that really, I think, isn’t going to convert anybody.
And the other cartoon that I have to mention, just because I keep on seeing it all over the place, is one that I just drew basically as an exercise using Flash, the application, using the drawing portion of it when I was learning how to use that software. And I drew a bunch of overweight and unhealthy-looking people asking a bunch of thin people, who were obviously vegans because they had T-shirts on that said, “Meat is murder” or whatever. And the unhealthy people are eating drumsticks and ice cream and saying, asking the vegans, “Where do you get your protein?” And this has now been picked up and had a caption added to it about obesity in America, which I did not have actually on the original cartoon but I’ve seen this now dozens of times around the Internet and some people get upset saying, “It’s possible to be vegan and be obese and blah, blah, blah. You can’t be tarring people with this brush.” So I’m actually just mentioning that to … trying to explain I did not put that caption on the cartoon and is now seems out of my control. It’s one of the Internet means that goes around and flares up every now and then so maybe … I don’t know. That was not meant to be the professionally released cartoon. I just put it up on my webpage as a type of exercise. It does resonate with some people.
Caryn Hartglass: And where can we see that?
Vance Lehmkuhl: I don’t actually have that.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, you don’t have that. Okay, great.
Vance Lehmkuhl: You can Google the images “where do you get your protein?” and it will probably come up somewhere there. It was on my, back when I was a cartoonist for the Philadelphia City Paper, they gave me a webpage where I promoted some of the Joy of Soy stuff but that is not there anymore because I haven’t done any cartooning for them about 10 years now. So that was back in the day.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Back in the day. It’s funny you brought up Sweeney Todd; it’s, I think, one of my favorites. There were a number of things … I always wonder sometimes when people see things, if they get some of the messages and I don’t even know if some of the messages were intended the way I interpret them. But the funny thing, the creepy thing about that particular show, if people aren’t familiar with it, is this man who was a barber comes back to his town in London to seek vengeance for sometime he was very wronged for. And he is working above a pie shop and it’s during the Industrial Revolution. And he’s poor and the woman and the pie shop can’t afford to buy meat and they end up putting dead bodies into meat pies. It’s really economical and they’re recycling and most of the bodies that the barber kills are people that are lonely and alone. Okay. But people get this reaction like, “Oh, my God, people in pies!” And certainly, we shouldn’t be cannibals but it’s not that far a stretch from all the somebodies that we’re putting in all our food products: the cows, the pigs. They’re not its; they’re someones.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Right. The thing about it is it’s very much like the whole horsemeat scandal.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, gosh! Can we talk about that crazy thing for a minute?
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. I’m kind of intrigued by this whole … the horror that people have, realizing… the same way that a lot of people in Sweeney Todd realized those meat pies have people in it, and saying, “By the way, you’ve been eating horse.” And they were perfectly happy when they thought they were just eating cows but horse, that’s a whole other thing because there’s this whole cultural division. It doesn’t even extend across the Channel, in France but in England and America, generally we just think of that as equivalent to eating the family dog or the family cat. It’s all a question of how you’re seeing it. You’re doing the same wrong and it’s the same kind of abomination. The point I would just like be sure to remind people is that’s the price we pay, for those of us who are eating meat, for trying to shut it out, try to shut out the facts of what’s going on and try to not look at what’s going on. The meat industries around the world flourishes with all kinds of deceptive and corrupt practices because consumers, generally, just want to get the meat and not know anything about where it came from or how because that kind of thought is just troubling. So we have that kind of vacuum of knowledge and it’s almost inevitable that things like these are going to kind of go on because there’s no light being shined on them. So I think it’s a phenomenon that people should, as consumers, be aware of, that when you support the meat industry with your dollars, you’re basically paying it to mistreat with you and it might be … rather than advocating for better labeling or anything like that, it might be better if you just opted out of that hole.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, why is it okay to eat a cow or a pig but not eat a horse. I mean, just really simply? Or why is it okay to eat a cow’s side but cringe at eating their brains. It’s doesn’t make any sense at all because it doesn’t make sense.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Well, I can’t argue with that.
Caryn Hartglass: And yeah, you made such a good point, where people, so many people don’t know what’s in their food. They don’t care what’s in their food until the media tells them something to care about and then everybody gets all hysterical. One of the best examples, recently, is the whole pink slime thing, which just made me laugh because yeah, it sounds pretty gross, pink slime, but the meta industry is just trying to get as much protein out of their raw materials as they can and you have no idea what else they’re doing.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the tip of the iceberg, okay? A little ammonia to make this slop usable in hamburger.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Right. Yeah. Everybody got outraged about pink slime but what might be called brown slime or brown …
Caryn Hartglass: How about the excrement that’s allowed in food? How about that?
Vance Lehmkuhl: I mean, there’s all kinds of … We can name any number of things that are unsavory to talk about …
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Or the pus in milk?
Vance Lehmkuhl: … that are standard in these products but I guess maybe that’s in the calendar for later this year or next year, to have a little blowup about some other component but people seem to think if we can just eliminate this or make this tweak to the system, then we can continue to do this thing we know is not right but which we happen to enjoy the flavor of. Really is, the only real solution is to eliminate it, in my opinion.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, just get rid of it. My dad always said, “If you can’t solve the problem, just eliminate the problem” and that’s how you do it. Eat plants. Everybody eat plants.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yup.
Caryn Hartglass: I like putting messages out through art. And I think that you do that to a large degree. You are also a musician.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: You still doing your Green Beings?
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. Our most recent album was Electric Green that had a bunch of songs. I have a new … I don’t want to necessarily talk about what’s happening this year until I have it nailed down but there’s a song that I really enjoy, that I’m trying to get a good studio recording of. Sarah Schleuter Eisman, George Eisman’s daughter, sang at the summer fest a couple of years ago, which is set to a lyric by a blind Arab poet from the 11th century named Al Mari, which got some of the most entrenchment observations on how humans feel from the animal world for no good reason. It’s eye-opening that somebody was writing this stuff a millennium ago. I set that to music and I think that came out pretty well so that’s going to be on the next thing we put out.
But yeah, trying to get things across in whatever way, either music or humor-induced share the aspect. If you can kind of get into somebody’s brain in a way that they’re already predisposed to enjoy something aesthetically, then you bring the message along with that and usually, I think, they’re in a little better frame of mind to evaluate the message, where when you’re just talking to them and presenting things that are logical and factual they’re used to seeing that coming, and trying to put up defenses against it.
Caryn Hartglass: We were talking about energy in the first part of this program and there’s a whole mystery behind energy. But I think people are a lot more receptive to understanding certain concepts at a different level and we’re communicating in a different level through music. And I love connecting with people and knowing that I touched them somehow in some moment. It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had and I know that we don’t really understand what’s going on but something is going on.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. And I hope you’re still … I remember you have a great singing voice and I hope you’re bringing that to people around wherever you go.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. We actually have some big plans. I’m not going to be specific about that right now but it involves vegetables and music.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Cool. That’s great. I look forward to that.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. You have a podcast, VegCast. And part of it you feature music. And one of the musicians at least has to be a vegetarian. Is that the rule?
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yeah. If it’s a solo artist, either the solo artist himself or if it’s a band, at least one member of the band has to be at least vegetarian. That’s the rule I’ve had from the beginning. The only other rule is I have to have the permission from the artist, to actually have the right to give me permission to play the song permanently online on vegcast.com so I’ve been able to get from some people, some high profile people like Moby, and Nelly McKay, Jim James. There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan musicians out there that kind of don’t have a lot of showcase so I’m able to showcase some of them. So if people are listening to this and you are a musician, you can contact me at email@example.com and we can see about finding a slot there.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I’m going to send my brother to you.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Okay. Beautiful! That’s great.
Caryn Hartglass: My brother is a vegan and he has a jazz band called Batik. You can go to batikjazz.com to get a taste of some of his music.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Great! We like to try to let people find out about the bands and other ones we’ve had one VegCast. I’m hearing about them from other places and they’re starting to get reputations. I don’t want to say, “Go on VegCast” and that’s your ticket to stardom; there are other people that hasn’t happened to.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah, just a few.
Vance Lehmkuhl: It is part of the mission of VegCast to kind of try to disperse and spread information that is out there that people might not encounter otherwise. And I should also allow that we do also tend to play a lot of Green Beings on VegCast because I can.
Caryn Hartglass: Obviously. Of course. And what is a green being, anyway?
Vance Lehmkuhl: Well, the concept of the band really is just encompassing the whole green aspect with… Another songwriter in the band, Paul Norquist, who has flirted with vegetarianism but is more emphasizing the environmental aspect. He’s a great pop song writer. He’s written a bunch of songs. I tend to write songs more about the food aspect or about the animal justice aspect. But the overall concept of the band is to take kind of these concepts that have to do with social responsibility or ethics or these kinds of serious topics and treat them in a lighthearted way that hopefully still carry a little bit of message in them but also allows people to tap their toes and hum along. So that’s the basic concept.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a good one. So we just have a few more minutes left and I want to wrap it up talking about food, the good part of food. So earlier, you were talking about the restaurants in Philadelphia and when new ones pop up, you’re not the first one to know about it. I haven’t been to Philly in a while. What are some of the good restaurants, vegan restaurants that are there?
Vance Lehmkuhl: Oh, we have a good many now. The most important one, historically, has been Horizons, which has been in Philadelphia from 2006-2011 and then they closed and re-opened. The owners of Horizons re-opened as a new restaurant with a similar emphasis called Vedge, where they actually have been doing more with just vegetables and moving away from trying to imitate the kind of meat dish, where you have a big hunk of protein in the middle and then garnish it with sides. They are actually doing creative and exciting things with vegetables in a fine-dining environment. It’s a hugely popular restaurant in town. And at the other end, in terms of just upscale or downscale, Blackbird Pizza, which is just a basic kind of pizza joint that has great … The pizzas are all vegan. They have daiya cheese and they also have some cheese-less pizzas. They have cheesesteaks and things that are all vegan. I’ve mentioned Horizons because this restaurant as well as another one called Hip City Veg, which is kind of fast food vegan and two other places recently opened, all come from people who trained at Horizons. They all started out as line cooks or other things at Horizons and they’ve gone off and started their own places. One thing that they all share is the ethic of veganism. It’s not just people who decided they wanted to cash in on a trend or doing something and offering a couple of vegan dishes. These are people who are vegans and who basically want to share this food with as many people as possible.
Caryn Hartglass: I have to say that I love that and I don’t think it’s completely true in the restaurant industry. I know that a lot of people get into it because they have a passion for food and it’s a great feeling to feed people but I really think, with vegan restaurants, it’s more true: we’re the owners, we’re the chefs. It’s more than food. It’s a complete message: health, environment, animals. It’s a beautiful thing.
Well, Vance, thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Vance Lehmkuhl: Yes. Okay, thank you!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. And check out V for Veg and VegCast and look for those great cartoons from The Joy of Soy.
Al right, I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Please visit my website, responsibleeatingandliving.com, and we’ll be back for more next week. Have a delicious one.
Transcribed by Diane O’Reilly, 4/21/2013