Punk Veganism

Why punks are the best vegans

an assortment of vegetables

The punks gather round the potluck table. On the other side of the venue there is a display of DIY merchandise and self-published magazines. The band is already there, mingling and dining with the crowd.

The potluck is plant-based. The zines are on animal rights. A guy named Ralph asks the band about their song “Eat a Lot of Tofu.” He is pleased to learn that the band members do not eat animal-derived products. They chat for a while until the band goes on stage.

The concert starts.

Punk is not dead.

It is vegan. 


Veganism has one, seemingly simple rule: If it comes from an animal, you cannot have it. But making a resolution is one thing and sticking to it day by day is a whole other story.

Some self-declared vegans slide into vegetarianism and reach for dairy, eggs, or honey. Some have cheat days on which they eat meat or seafood. Other vegans lack the patience to read the fine print on food packaging to check for traces of milk and eggs, or other non-vegan ingredients, like cochineal, a red pigment that is extracted from bugs. And, of course, there is also the temptation of owning non-vegan goods, like leather shoes or cashmere sweaters.

As a lifestyle based on ethical principles, veganism is like spirituality. Yes, there is organized veganism, but for many, veganism lives outside any hand-me-down doctrine. People believe in the veganism they want and practice it as they wish.

But not the punks. The punks are die-hard vegans.



What makes punks so good at veganism? Belonging to an anti-consumerist subculture surely helps, but is it the only reason?

In the early 2000s, Elizabeth Cherry interviewed vegans from two college towns in the southeastern US. She looked for participants by distributing flyers in health food stores. She interviewed nine vegans she knew. She asked both groups to recommend vegan acquaintances. That way, she found ten women and fourteen men. Most were in their twenties. Half of them identified as punks.

There was a significant difference between those vegans who lived the punk life and those who did not. Only the punks were strict vegans.

The non-punks were lenient. They created subjective definitions of veganism and incorporated animal products into their diets based on individual preference and situational context. They allowed backsliding for social purposes – like Steph and Amy who once bought $40 worth of cheese and went on a dairy binge that resulted in allergies and digestive problems but not much remorse.

The punks did not backslide, and they did not binge. They maintained a vegan lifestyle and motivated their friends to do the same. They talked about veganism – a lot.

Cherry’s punks had been living the punk lifestyle before they went vegan, and it was the punk in them that nourished their uncompromising approach.



As a non-hierarchical movement, punk invites dialogue. Songs, album liners, and zines spark conversations on veganism. Concerts and potlucks make it easier to meet other punk vegans. Fans like Ralph can approach a band and discuss vegan ethics with them. As Jason said:

“You just meet people like, ‘You know this record?’ ‘Yeah, I know that record.’ ‘Have you read this?’ ‘No, have you read this?’ And you can talk about different books that you’ve read about veganism and share different ideas about the recycling of information and just getting ideas back and forth.”

The exchange of ideas helped punks to muffle the dominant voices on veganism. Some punks were so immersed in their subculture that they elided the mainstream altogether.

“For a long time, all my friends were vegan. It got to the point where it was shocking to see someone eating meat,” said Josh, a member of a local punk band. “We were totally taken aback, like ‘That kid’s drinking milk! What is he thinking?’ Like what people say when you say you’re vegan, but in reverse. ‘Wow, you drink milk and stuff. Wow, that’s odd. Why on earth would you do that? Don’t you know?’”

The rejection of animal-derived food – including milk, the production of which exploits an animal’s body through artificial insemination since all mammals lactate only after giving birth – becomes both a dietary and an ethical norm in the punk world.

In the non-punk world, vegans often did not know other vegans or did not talk to them. Steph noticed that another girl from her Hebrew class was vegan because she brought vegan food to their cookouts, but the two never talked about it.

Some non-punks tried to reach out to like-minded people. They participated in food cooperatives and in Food Not Bombs, an international movement that distributes free vegetarian and vegan food. But only two of Cherry’s non-punks showed an almost-punk level of dedication, and only because they belonged to formal vegan organizations. The unaffiliated non-punks kept falling off the vegan wagon because they did not hang out with hardcore vegans on regular basis.



Contemporary punk is often intersectional and left-wing. It fights racism, fascism, homophobia, and the patriarchy. It supports human and animal rights. Veganism is a logical step in that journey.

In a 2014 zine on veganism and punk culture in the UK, Len Tilbürger and Chris P. Kale (pronounced “lentil burger” and “crispy kale”) describe this step with a line from a song by the Canadian band Propaghandi:

“I have recognized one form of oppression; now I recognize the rest.”

The experience of punk and non-punk vegans might suggest that, by itself, recognition of oppressions is not enough for progressive social movements to change anybody’s behavior.

If we look at social movements as choices that have to be made over and over again, movement success lays in people holding each other accountable, and in inspiring each other to do better. The fight for social change needs to be chosen every day and nurtured by others.

As Cherry’s Jason the punk explained:

“When you’re interacting with other people, and even when you talk about it, like when you become verbal and vocal about it, it makes you think about why you’re doing it. And then you hear why someone else is doing it, and it just concretes your ideas and makes you have more faith in what you’re doing instead of just being alone and thinking about it in the quiet.”

And the punks are not quiet.



This was written by Adrianna Zabrzewska and is based on the article by Elizabeth CherryVeganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach.” Social Movement Studies 5.2, 2006, pp. 155–170.

Ralph, the band, and “Eat a Lot of Tofu,” p. 163.

Steph and Amy’s cheese binge, p. 165.

Jason: “You just meet people…” p. 162.

Josh: “For a long time…” pp. 165–166.

Steph and the girl from Hebrew class, pp. 163–164.

Jason: “When you’re interacting with people…” p. 162.

To better understand the intersection of punk and veganism, I consulted Len Tilbürger and Chris P. Kale’s “Nailing Descartes to the Wall’: animal rights, veganism and punk culture,” published in 2014 by Active Distribution and available online at The Anarchist Library.

The zine – and this essay – feature a line from “Nailing Descartes to the Wall/(Liquid) Meat is Still Murder,” a song from the album Less Talk, More Rock by Propaghandi (Fat Wreck Chords, 1996).

Copyright Adrianna Zabrzewska 2021: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND






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