Oh man — you guys are in for a treat, today! Last week we kicked off our Vegetarian Awareness Month interview series with some inspirational words by groundbreaking author, Peter Singer. This week, Ecorazzi got the chance to chat it up with singer/actress extraordinaire, Nellie McKay.
I won’t lie to you readers, I am totally smitten with Miss McKay and make no attempt to hide it for even a second. With a voice like buttah and a heart of gold, Nellie is genuine in her music and generous in her activism. As a fellow twenty-something (just 364 days older than me), Nellie has managed to avoid the rather dismal template of young stardom with grace and integrity, radiating the kind of artisic honesty that’s rare in even the most seasoned of veterans. Earlier this year I attended one of McKay’s concerts, and this weekend I’ll once again get the honor of watching her perform at Farm Sanctuary’s Party for the Pigs in Washington D.C. In preparation for the event, Nellie sat down with Ecorazzi to discuss music, politics and, of course, that vegetarian pride we love so much. Enjoy!
At the age of 26 you’ve already recorded three albums, starred on Broadway and been featured in major motion pictures. How, through it all, have you managed to stay so committed to fighting for the issues that you think are important?
Oh, well I’d certainly like to stand for a lot more. Yeah I think it’s hard on everybody because every place you turn there’s something being offered to you that comes from another kind of suffering. Whether it’s an animal product which comes from a factory farm, or a product that comes from a sweatshop, or a product based on the raping of the earth, there’s basically no way to avoid hurting others and that’s kind of a devastating thing. So you just try to hurt as little as possible, but I’m not sure that it’s possible for a person to get out of it altogether.
Speaking of suffering, let’s talk about the presidential race for a second. What are your thoughts on where the candidates stand on both environmental and animal rights issues?
Well I mean you don’t see Obama advocating the closure of the Chicago stockyards. But then there’s someone like the republican vice presidential candidate, Governor Palin, who takes it to an extreme degree, and some might say a more honest degree, in that she goes out and kills them herself. And you know, she’s very forthright in her suing the Bush administration for giving too many rights and trying to protect the polar bears—that’s pretty out there. And certainly Obama’s better than McCain on wind and solar because McCain has spoken against wind and solar in the past and only now, because it’s trendy and election time, is he supporting that. The good thing about this election is Proposition 2 in California because it really gives hope and some measure of relief to animals — knock on wood that it’s really gonna pass.
Well everyone at Ecorazzi is certainly supporting the proposition and I’m quite optimistic about it.
Oh yes and it’s about time. Europe has given this small measure of relief to farm animals for years now and I’m glad we’re finally catching up to them.
I heard you became a vegetarian when you were quite young – eight-years-old, I believe. Talk to me about your experience growing up as a vegetarian.
Well it was hard – a couple of times I cheated in the school cafeteria. I still think I would love the taste of meat. I’m not one of those vegans who think that animal products taste bad. I’m thoroughly capable, or I would be, of enjoying a product of torture — like most people. But because I was raised in a vegetarian home it was very easy. Eating out pretty much anywhere back then was hard, but now you can find vegetarian and vegan alternatives in almost all large cosmopolitan cities.
Right! And you and I are particularly lucky because we live in New York City. What would you say are your top 3 favorite NYC vegetarian restaurants?
Oh, that’s hard. Vegetarian Paradise 2, F&B– it has meat stuff too, but they make vegetarian food a little more affordable. Can I say four?
You can say as many as you’d like.
OK, good — then Better Burger and Chipotle.
Oh my God, Chipotle’s guacamole is IN-FRIGIN-CREDIBLE! I’m pretty sure they put heroin in it or some other powerful narcotic! I’m always very impressed by your passion and participation in animal issues. I know a couple years back you wrote Columbia is Bleeding to protest Columbia’s vivisection practices. How did you get involved with that?
Well, PETA launched a massive campaign when the whistleblowers came forth with information on the lab, and veterinary reports agreed that the animals were kept in inhumane conditions. And of course once the nature of the tests themselves were made public, it was obviously so unnecessary. I don’t think vivisection is ever necessary, but sometimes you have things that are just so flagrant. Anyway, I lived near Columbia University so it was right in my own backyard and that’s where the song came from. But people have to realize that we can get progress in certain ways from all kinds of things that we wouldn’t necessary support. Unwilling experiments on human beings have yielded certain kinds of “progress,” but most people would say that it’s unconscionable to test on prisoners or disabled people or minorities or women — which would probably be the first types of people they would try that on. Most people wouldn’t accept that, and the same thing should be said with animals. No matter what the benefit! And the benefit is really small to nil that comes out of animal experimentation; it’s not worth what we have to do.
You’re obviously very passionate about the topic, and I know you’re excited to perform at Farm Sanctuary’s Party for the Pigs this Saturday in Washington D.C. How did you get involved with the organization?
Oh, well I’ve known about Farm Sanctuary for years. It’s a wonderful organization because the group of animals that suffers the most is farm animals. As appalling as vivisection is and fur farming and all the other areas, the amount of suffering that farm animals endure is so huge.
Now obviously I expect all the D.C veggies to come out for Party for the Pigs, but what other projects are you working on?
I’m working on the musical of the movie Election which is based on the book, Election. And I’m also working on the The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom which we just finished writing and are working on getting made. Of course with the economy like it is people are rather gun-shy about producing, but that’s a fantastic book and I would urge people to check it out.
My last “formal” question is one that I always ask to impassioned vegetarians. If you could go back and meet one person particularly influential in the animal rights movement, who would it be?
Maybe Zora Neil Hurston, she put a lot of pro-animal stuff into her work. She’s been so recently rediscovered and celebrated and they tend to pass up the pro-animal stuff she put in her work. Either her or maybe Isaac Bashevis Singer because he really demonstrated the links between our subjugation of animals and the subjugation of people. Or maybe Caroline White, the founder of the National Anti-Vivisection Society which I believe was started in the late 1800’s.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers before you go?
Well…I guess….umm… just please vote and don’t listen to celebrities because my toaster was just on fire about a half hour ago and my whole building didn’t know what was going on. I had to put signs out in the hallways that it was okay now. It’s just so pathetic. Nobody’s got all the answers, even Caroline White. And I guess if we could all fight for the animals we might know we’re on the right track.
For all the latest and greatest Nellie McKay info, make sure to visit NellieMcKay.com!