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Plant-Based Punk: Why Rise Against, Propagandhi, and More Bands Have Embraced Veganism

An exploration of the intersection between veganism and punk rock

Veganism Punk Music
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    Punk Week continues with an essay on veganism in the genre, led by Rise Against, Propagandhi and others. For more on Rise Against, check out our exclusive video interview with them here. And for more punk in your life, snag the new “Punk Is Dead, Long Live Punk!” T-shirt at the Consequence Shop.

    A few weeks ago, I texted my older sister to ask if she had been into Rise Against when she was younger. Eight years older than me and having graduated high school in 2001, she had been the perfect age for the ascent of the Chicago punk act, who unleashed their The Unraveling debut in April of that year.

    While we were texting, I was at one of their shows; they were playing a pristine rooftop in lower Manhattan — a beautiful, albeit slightly odd, place to see a long-running punk rock band. Still, they played a high energy set with the Descendents as support, and the crowd couldn’t have been more delighted. Neither could my sister. “Rise Against [is] so good,” she hastily responded. “They are all vegan,” she added. “I watched some of their music videos and couldn’t eat meat for like three months…”

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    While she didn’t specify which videos she was referring to, it’s not hard to guess it probably included the Kevin Kerslake-directed visuals for 2006’s “Ready to Fall.” In the clip, frontman Tim McIlrath sings interspersed between dramatic yet unfortunately realistic imagery of the destruction of planet Earth. Forests are demolished, birds are covered in oil, polar bears look devastated, and it’s all at the hands of us, the human race. At the end of the video, McIlrath stares right into your soul and says, “Every action has a reaction. We’ve got one planet. One chance.”

    As my sister said, Rise Against are notoriously plant-based, with McIlrath leading the way — he’s outspoken about his mission, and has partnered with PETA in the past. (Bassist Joe Principe also went vegan in 2017.)

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    While veganism today is generally thought to be all peace and love and plants, it’s important to remember that beyond health reasons, individuals often choose to become vegan as a form of activism. Ethical veganism is easier to understand than one might think: It’s the ideology that it is 100% wrong to eat animals and their by-products.

    Animals are incapable of giving consent for us to take from them, whether it’s their fur, their milk, or their bodies. In protection of those creatures’ rights, ethical vegans’ choice to eat only plants is activism in practice. So when a teenager sees people selling vegan backed goods outside a DIY hardcore venue, it might seem strange at first, until they realize the natural intersection between punk and advocacy.

    Because punk music and activism are inherently tied together, it’s no surprise that the vegan subculture is a welcome part of punk culture. As punk is built in anarchy and anti-establishment thinking, so is veganism. Saying no to eating meat, refusing to wear leather, and fighting animal testing is just as much going against the system as is the ideology behind straight edge culture — exemplified in Rise Against, as well as a number of bands that came before them.

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    In the ‘80s, groups like the hardcore outfit Youth of Today led the charge, spreading the anti-meat gospel. On the 1988 song “No More,” Ray Cappo’s vocals slam into one another as he angrily shouts, “When the price paid is the life of something else/ No more/ I won’t participate.”

    Of course, this sentiment wasn’t exclusive to just punk music. Morrissey — perhaps the most outspoken vegan musician of all time — was deftly proclaiming that “meat is murder” just a couple years prior on The Smiths’ 1985 album. Despite the similar messaging, Youth of Today’s words packed a more powerful punch. It seemed like they were shaming those who chose to eat meat while issuing a rallying cry for those who abstained.

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    In the ‘90s, Canadian band Propagandhi carried on with the message, echoing Morrissey by calling meat “still murder,” and equating the dairy industry with rape. On “Nailing Descartes to the Wall/ (Liquid) Meat Is Still Murder,” they say it point-blank: “Stop consuming animals.” Around the same time, Earth Crisis was expressing their passion through songs like “New Ethic,” suggesting, “Veganism is the essence of compassion and peaceful living/ The animals are not ours to abuse or dominate/ I abjure their use/ Out of reverence…”

    In recent years, the message has remained the same, though it’s been delivered a little more kindly; artists have spoken openly about their decisions, without shaming those who aren’t completely on board yet. “I’ve been wanting to make the change for years but wasn’t quite ready to commit,” Principe admitted in 2018 after making the switch from vegetarianism to veganism. “I feel like you have to be ready mentally to take on such a commitment.”

    At the end of the day, as long as there is injustice in the world, there will be punk music, and as long as there is injustice towards animals, there will be ethical veganism. Rise Against, Youth of Today, Propagandhi, and others who rage against the mistreatment of animals and the environment prove that punk music can go hand in hand with bettering our planet.

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