A Q&A with vegan superhero ZmantheVegan

ZmantheVegan, a local veganism activist, recently began outreach near Plaza 900, using conversation and song to advocate for the environment.

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“Let’s save the freaking planet, people”: the catchphrase of local musician and cook ZmantheVegan. The self-proclaimed “vegan superhero,” 25, concentrates his efforts on outreach to the Columbia community through conversation and song. MOVE Culture Editor Janae McKenzie sat down recently for a Q&A with Zman.

So, where did ZmantheVegan come from?

I was a songwriter for about 15 years. Then about three years ago, I started learning more about the [agriculture] industry and the way the animals are treated. [I started] about three months ago. It was a process. It was kind of evolving out of like, “what could I do about it?” I have some skills, I had a passion, and I decided to do something about it, using my skills and passion as a tool.

When you started writing these vegan-focused songs, where did the inspiration come from?

I’m definitely inspired by other YouTubers that maybe aren’t musical like me but they’re doing the activism. Like Joey Carbstrong, Earthling Ed, people that are out there talking to people about what’s going on.

Are you from around here? Are you an MU student?

I work full-time. I’m not a student yet, but I plan on being a student. Although, I would like to be a full-time vegan superhero. As a career, long-term, I would like to also have a food stand and I would like to have a nonprofit organization. The long-term goal is just touring around the U.S. and globally, eventually. Increasing local food, entertaining people, but also educating.

So tell me about the food stand. What kind of food would you serve?

I have this event coming up. It’s called “So You Want to Be A Vegan?” and basically people just show up and they just say the tastes and textures of their favorite meals that aren’t vegan, and then we try to veganize it. But one thing I’m gonna start out with, just to keep it simple, is a Beyond Burger. It’s incredible how much it tastes like an actual burger, and I just want to show people that. I’m actually trying to get [it at Plaza 900] in the next month, just to cook them and show people. And also get a petition, [with] as many students to sign that they would be willing to eat it on the grill in [Plaza]. I work on that grill so I can have [the] leverage to get more vegan options.

When you say in the future you’re looking to be a full-time vegan superhero, what does that look like to you?

It definitely involves traveling, and going to specific events. It has a lot to do with being at the right place at the right time. But there’s also going to be stationary events like the one I talked about before, “So You Want to Be A Vegan?” where it’s just creating this culture, creating these communities, having monthly potlucks and creating that movement in places where it’s not. And also, making it easier for people to be vegan, and making it more affordable. There’s gonna be a lot of talks, a lot of cooking at events, a lot of playing music wherever I can. It’s all gonna come down to just where and when.

So when you’re having conversations with people in Plaza or downtown, how constructive would you say they typically are?

See, I’m still learning. For example, yesterday I had a sign and I feel like it was a little too assertive. I don’t want to make people feel guilty. I want to empower them. The sign said ‘If you’re not vegan, you support animal abuse.” I was just using that as a conversation starter, but I learned that type of wording really just turns people off. So I’m probably just going to go for something more like, “You probably already want to be a vegan, ask me why.” I’ve definitely had some constructive conversations. I mean, I’ve talked with a hunter, I’ve talked with farmers, I’ve talked with people that are just kind of in between. I try to have conversations with a whole spectrum of people. I think just being open and just having conversations with everybody, especially people who have the opposite view...gets somewhere. I mean, I can’t speak for anybody that I’ve spoken to but I feel like I’m getting people thinking about it. I hope I am.

Have you encountered anything that you felt was more destructive in its opposition, anything negative?

Well, there’s definitely been people that walked by and been like, “I hurt little animals!” or “I love red meat!” There’s always those people, and I just play around with them. Any attention is good for the message. I know that they probably either feel attacked or it’s a social thing. So I don’t take any of that personally, and honestly I just have fun with it.

What has been the sort of audience reception to the music you play so far?

It’s been incredible, especially this past week. I got a standing ovation right there and somebody gave me a banana for a tip, which was awesome. So many people just walk by and give me compliments or dance as I’m playing the music. I love that human interaction. It’s indescribable. I think that’s very powerful too, whenever there’s a message that I’m very passionate about, the fact that we could have that connection through music, that brings people together and creates a community in that sense.

Edited by Leah Glasser | lglasser@themaneater.com

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