Veganism and vegetarianism in heavy metal has become a significant trend. This always interested me, partially because I credit my own interest in punk and heavy metal with my gradual conversion to vegetarianism (and hopefully one day soon, veganism) Of course – this made me wonder, why? Why is it that heavy metal seems to be so strongly affiliated, statistically speaking, with what is, objectively speaking, a fairly minor, and, in today's society, kind of weird lifestyle choice? That is not to say that metal is dominated by vegetarianism, but rather that bands like GWAR who released a memorable video for PETA have helped to codify its role in the scene. As with anything else tied into old school underground metal, it can be hard to find any sort of accurate documentation, especially since most of this stuff got started before the days of online webzines codifying everything and making it painfully clear who did what first. So I put on my investigators cap to try and figure out why this lifestyle is so important to me, and so many of our favorite extreme music musicians.
Of course, metal icons who identify with vegetarianism were present even in the earliest days of the genre. One need look no further than the gods themselves, Black Sabbath to find out that Geezer Butler is a longtime committed veggie. Butler though never made a big deal about his eating habits and shouldn't be credited with too much of an influence on the eating choices of future metalheads. Perhaps the true root of the growth of vegetarian comes from groups like Napalm Death and Carcass who took the whole thing to a very political place – and that's where it started to matter, in metal at least. Meanwhile in hardcore we certainly can find political vegetarians making moves early on. Minor Threat's Ian MacKaye is perhaps the most famous example in that particular scene, and he definitely had some influence on the guys in both Napalm Death and Carcass. Considering the early material from both of those bands was considered to be a crossover between punk and metal it makes sense that they would be the ones to bring it to the metal world. In a more modern context we see bands like Between The Buried And Me coming out in strong support for PETA, and Cattle Decapitation using their lyrics as a way to communicate a pro-veg message.
I don't want to write an entire article about Carcass's influence on the food politics of metal though, even if the cover of Reek Of Putrefaction did change everything for me, and countless others. Looking at that album art when I was 12 was the first time that I realized that humans are meat, just as much as pigs or cows. What's interesting to consider is that there's been a handful of other influential bands who had ideologies to match that never got nearly as far, and I'm not just talking about the radical right wing groups who dominate the European scene.
What drove me forward was the question, 'Why is it that vegetarianism should reign as an ideology in metal over say, Buddhism?' With that example there certainly have been a wide range of influential bands who supported Buddhist ideologies, like Cynic, and yet they never seemed to end up deeply embedded into the world of heavy metal the way that vegetarianism is.
I feel part of why vegetarianism has really taken off in the metal community is that vegetarianism is a rather extreme ideology. It's one that, like metal, admits that the world is an inherently fucked up place and that we need to work together to carry forward. Furthermore, just like metal's general ideology, vegetarianism is something that requires a fair bit of dedication to really pull off. The one prepares you for the other. If you're already used to having to dig to find the sickest black metal bands, (Or perhaps just the quasi-legendary Vegan Black Metal Chef) the weird inconveniences that sustainable eating choices can force upon you are not going to seem to be as much of a struggle. It is a lot easier to qualify it as just another part of a metalheads life, and an individuals responsibility to mankind.
Don't get me wrong though, I'm not trying to come off as preachy, even if I do genuinely believe that a balanced vegetarian lifestyle is a better option for nearly everyone. Despite how I may make it sound, vegetarianism still isn't especially dominant in the metal scene. It just so happens to be more prevalent than in most other music communities I have observed. If you want to eat meat that's totally your own choice, and vegetarianism is not something that should be undertaken lightly, I fucked it up my first few months as a vegetarian and that almost caused some serious damage. That might be part of why veg lifestyles are still in the minority, Converge only have so much power after all. While it is a good and important life choice to make, I don't want people to dive in unready. Of course, the sooner you dive in, the sooner you will get to realize that a ton of your metal friends have probably already made similar choices and are going to be willing to help you move forward with the lifestyle, creating a better more sustainable future for all of us.
As Morbid Angel famously put it, this is extreme music for extreme people. Metal as a whole implies a level of extremity and dedication that has been wrought by a long history of dedicated and passionate individuals who are working on a largely volunteer basis to create what they genuinely believe will be a better tomorrow. Veganism has its long history in heavy metal because it is coming into a world that embraces that exact kind of thing. Metal, like vegetarianism is about ultimately about a minority fighting against the world. If it's not your cup of tea so be it, but for those of us who seek to make a difference then let your freak flag fly, and let your eating habits reflect that. Metal needs veganism because it gives us another great thing to rally around and prove that we are here to help change the world, and beyond that, it makes you a better Devin Townsend fan, and who doesn't want that? So even if you are an avowed meat eater, I encourage you to consider these ties and see if maybe metal has been priming you for veganism all along.