Think Vegetarianism is just a passing fad? Think again! There are hundreds of famous vegetarians of the present and the past. Here's some very interesting insights into the world of vegetarian celebrities.
Virtuoso guitar shredder, former Frank Zappa sideman, beekeeper and vegetarian, STEVE VAI tells Napa-based musician and beekeeper Ross Rubin why Amy’s Kitchen’s Salisbury Steak really takes him home.
Where does the honeybee fit into Steve Vai’s personal mythos?
Well, you know, this is something that I do to be closer to nature. When I’m in my bee colonies, I’m by myself—you know, no one else can really be near you. It’s the one thing that I do that’s completely outside of demands and the music industry and any other relationships I have in my life—it’s just me and the bees.
I feel a sense of accomplishment; I’m helping nature.
Beekeeping feels pretty feral, huh? And it’s also kinda like being in another dimension.
Beekeeping is very special. You can’t understand it unless you do it.
Despite all the reading and classes one can learn about beekeeping from—and I encourage anyone interested to read and take a class—beekeeping is a skill that takes actual practice before you can really start to understand it—and then its only a start because honeybees are wild animals who frequently surprise and confound. All that reading can’t prepare you for the experience of being at the center of that electron cloud, sometimes surrounded by thousands of buzzing insects.
Have you gotten anyone started in beekeeping?
Actually, yeah, I have, but I tend to keep these things sort of private.
My beekeeping, my vegetarianism, my spirituality. I don’t really like to open these things up for debate. I’ve had people attack me for being a beekeeper—
Some vegans do not eat honey and I appreciate their perspective. They don’t want to exploit the bees or disrupt their lives. But I’ve discovered that bee keeping actually helps the bees. We’re keeping them healthy and propagating new colonies. We’re helping the environment and we’re only taking the surplus honey from the bees that they’re not going to use. But I respect anyone else’s point of view on the issue.
Any musical colleagues who’ve gotten interested in beekeeping, anyone you’ve mentored?
Oh yeah, 3 or 4 have asked me about it and I helped set them up with equipment and stuff.
None famous but, I did get Mike Green, previous President of the Recording Academy, interested in it and now he has some flourishing colonies.
I have an observation hive that I take around to the local schools--
I saw those pictures of you with the school kids on your website—fantastic!
Yeah, the kids are so fascinated it’s really a wonderful, fun thing to do.
How old are yours?
My boys are 16 and 19.
Do they help you in the colonies?
When they were children, yeah.
Now one’s in college and the other [some laughter] well….
He’s got his own things going on.
You know, the weekend comes and he just hits the ground running.
Ours are 4 and 5 and both really fascinated by the bees. I’m about ready to get them some little suits of their own.
And you auction off your honey to benefit your foundation—The Make a Noise Foundation.
Yes, if the fans want a jar of honey, the money goes into this charity.
As a composer and poet, what sorts of analogies have you drawn from the world of the bees into the musical world?
The thing about the bees is that, in order to accomplish anything of any real value, you have to focus intensely on that thing and that’s what the bees do.
Bees are instinctual and very organized. The colony has a fascinating social infrastructure. Everyone’s got a job and they literally work themselves to death in the service of the colony.
Yeah, as they cycle through their lives’ jobs-- from house-bee, to nurse bee, to guard and forager-- they stay completely focused on their tasks and on the well being of what biodynamic beekeepers call the “bien”—the unified “organism” that is the colony.
It’s always great to be reminded of the microcosm and macrocosm in everything.
When you’re working with the bees, you’re in a particular headspace that’s unlike any other place you can go. I find it very revitalizing.
I always feel like I’m in the nucleus of an atom—
When did you choose vegetarianism?
On my 22nd birthday.
Was there a particular catalyst that turned you around and made you reassess?
Yes, eating meat just never felt quite right to me. And I was always sick, I always had digestive issues and as a kid I suffered from, what they said were “hereditary migraines.”
Who else had them? Your mom? Your dad?
Well, that was the thing, no one else in my family had them but they were so bad, I couldn’t do anything, I was basically paralyzed. I was generally in poor health and all I did was play the guitar all the time, I didn’t do any real exercising. Then I went into a very dark period between the ages of 20 and 22, sort of a “dark night of the soul” you might say--
You were working with Frank Zappa?
Yeah I was playing with Frank at the time.
He was a pretty cynical character?
Oh, yeah, pretty cynical, but I don’t believe that had anything to do with it. I loved Frank.
He was unbelievably warm, funny and witty and his cynicism was grounded in his humor-- in his comic nature-- and he would say just the funniest, and most right-on things. Frank was an unbelievable, extraordinary person.
I was 22 and becoming a vegetarian was one of those things that seemed to be a common sense and natural thing to do.
True. Vegetarianism seems, for so many reasons, to be “right action”-- a good thing to do.
It became very obvious to me and even practical after I started reading a bit more deeply and finding all the evidence for our not really being carnivores and all the health benefits of being vegetarian combined with my growing awareness of karmic consequences. But even throwing all that away, meat-eating just didn’t seem right to me.
But that said-- I never get into debates about vegetarianism with anybody. Each of us is on our own path. For me, it was a huge turning point. My diet had a dramatic effect on my mental health and I can count on one crippled hand how many migraines or stomach ailments I’ve had over the last 26 years. It also has a dramatic effect on my mood and outlook on life. It gave me a new lease on life.
When you made this lifestyle adjustment, how did this change your rock and roll lifestyle? You were touring the world with Zappa and David Lee Roth of Van Halen and—are there any stories you can share about how your vegetarianism intersected your life as a famous, touring rock musician-- how you affected your tourmates?
Well, I can tell you, I was in one band-- a big, rock band and by the end of the tour, 4 out of the 5 people in the band turned vegetarian.
In my last band, two or three people became vegetarian.
I don’t beat anyone over the head with it. They have to ask me about it. Then they will have to push quite a bit before I open up. I’ll talk to them about the health benefits, but the spiritual aspects I keep to myself unless someone sincerely wants to understand. I’ll know if they are seekers and are truly interested but I don’t engage in debates.
It’s a personal choice.
Most of the time, after a discussion on it, they say, “I’m gonna be a vegetarian.” I hear it all the time.
I have seen people become vegetarians just by seeing someone else set an example. It resonates a chord in them that just needed to be strummed.
But what I’ve found is that the people who stick to vegetarianism are those who do it for humane reasons. If they’re doing it just for their health, It’s not uncommon for them to start eating meat again.
Well, these sorts of lifestyle choices require some introspection and our culture and civilization are about due for some introspection.
Don’t ya think? I also get that feeling.
I have teenagers who are much more spiritually and environmentally aware than I was at their age and I get very hopeful.
Last couple of questions:
When did you start eating Amy’s Kitchen’s Organic Vegetarian food?
Many years ago. Probably when it first became available. My kids grew up eating Amy’s food.
Back when the whole product line was a pot pie?
Yeah, like 20 years ago! I just remember that it was completely vegetarian food and it tasted good and it was quick food.
My family has probably purchased about a million dollars worth of Amy’s Pizza Snacks alone! Hey, I had an Amy’s Burrito last night!
I’m a big fan of the Indian food.
Yeah, the Indian food is great, but I think my favorite is the Salisbury steak—reminiscent of my childhood.
You know, Amy’s success, in part, relates to most people’s desire to eat healthfully. Most people want to do the right thing for themselves and their families but it has to be fast and convenient.
And the way society is structured now, most people don’t have the time to care about their food and really take care of themselves, so the last resort is having someone help take care of them. I’m hopeful that more people are thinking more deeply about these issues. I want to see the “victory gardens” come back. Even if folks just grow a pot of tomatoes on their balconies—
Amen to that!
--people need to start taking some responsibility for their own food. Amy’s Kitchen takes that kind of responsibility on a larger scale—sourcing as much of their organic ingredients from local, family farmers as is reasonably and, sometimes, not so reasonably, possible. Amy’s really considers the environmental ramifications of this business of feeding people.
Definitely, and it’s a very natural instinct to grow your own food.
Sure, biodynamics in action—we’re animals grazing on this land and contributing even our bodies back into the environment. We’re on the wheel, part of the cycle. People are beginning to remember this inescapable fact.
I hope so.
It has always been my feeling—and I’m by no means an expert on these things—but it makes sense to me, we’re all here on the planet and we’re evolving—moving in a positive direction. Sometimes it may not seem that way, but that’s what makes sense to me.
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