I walked out of Plaza 900 one evening, enveloped by crisp air that signaled the approach of fall, and the soft sounds of an acoustic guitar greeted me. Near the dining hall entrance, a green-clad superhero-esque figure strummed away, crooning the lyrics to a song I didn’t recognize. The students dining outside of Plaza 900 had been graced by the presence of ZmantheVegan.
Zach “ZmantheVegan” Cook, better known on campus by his alter ego, is an employee on the grill station at Plaza 900. Perhaps more notably, he’s a singer, songwriter and vegan activist. He often performs his original songs in impromptu concerts outside the dining hall.
Zman is a rather prolific songwriter, with at least 14 songs in his arsenal. Notable titles include “I’m not your enemy (no beef),” “Angry Freakin Vegan” and “Oh! The humanity!” He often plays with friends or even random students who want to join in.
The crowd that night was sleepy, eating their dinners in small, socially-distanced groups around the concrete courtyard, paying no mind to the hero in green wailing about the dire state of the omnivorous world. Zman sometimes receives applause, mostly from freshmen, but upperclassmen think of him as a mainstay of campus and are used to his frequent performances.
As the sky slowly settled into a dusky pink, Zman played on, despite the lack of crowd participation. His vocal style was uncontrolled; he let his voice warble high and low through each song. It was shocking that he didn’t lose his voice as the scream-singing echoed around the courtyard. The acoustic guitar functioned as both a melodic instrument and percussion as Zman slapped it rhythmically.
His neon green cape, eye mask and shirt emblazoned with a stark “Z” drew snickers from passersby as he continued to jam, seemingly oblivious to the students. There’s a certain charm to the way Zman performs: The growly vocals, eye-catching outfit and stamina to continue playing, even without a response from the crowd, are rather impressive. The listener gets the sense that if he even spreads his vegan gospel to one other person, that will be enough for him.
ZmantheVegan’s website claims his stage persona is a “tool for the fight against the destruction that our current food system has on this planet,” and his music certainly reflects that passion. To close his performance, he launched into a fiery rendition of my personal favorite, “The Amazon is on fire.” As he jumped around the Plaza courtyard belting the refrain, it was hard not to feel a little guilty about the pork tenderloin in my takeout box.
Still, the raucous concert seemed to have no effect on the students nearby as Zman packed up his guitar, slung it over his shoulder and trudged away. Then, to my surprise, a passing student darted toward our green-clad hero and handed him a tip of a few dollar bills as her friends giggled behind her. He accepted them reluctantly and continued to wander off.
Maybe Zman hasn’t yet singlehandedly “fix[ed] our broken food system,” as he aims to do by 2025, according to his website. But his impassioned solo performances might at least inspire a few MU students to switch up their diets.
Several song recordings, a petition to get Beyond Burgers into MU’s dining halls and a list of Zman’s future projects (among other content) can be found on his website, zmanthevegan.com.
Edited by George Frey | firstname.lastname@example.org