Where I eat Moby’s lunch

I wrote this piece for Munchies. It took about three months and literally 100 emails with Moby’s publicist to get the interview. By the time I finally got to meet him, in the weird wasteland between Christmas and New Year, the commissioning editor at Vice had moved jobs (not his fault obviously, but he might have told me) and was no longer in a position to publish it. I offered it to Eater but they declined, I suspect because it was too snarky and probably a sizeable section of their LA constituency is vegan. I even considered pitching it to a vegan magazine, but by that stage the ordeal had been so long-running and so boring that I thought I could at least give myself the gift of publishing it, unedited, un-fucked-about-with, exactly as I wrote it here on Medium.

Pictures by my future wife, the Mystical Sea Wonder.

“I’m 50 years old. I hate touring. The music business barely exists. It would be the height of absurdity, if I put out music, for me to expect anyone to listen to it.”

Sitting in a booth at his new restaurant, Little Pine, Moby is surprisingly upbeat about the prospect of his waning relevance. As one of the last generation of stars to make serious cash from CD sales, he was perfectly placed to witness the music industry evaporate. He describes watching the launch of Jay-Z’s music platform, Tidal, on TV last year. “They’re all very talented musicians,” he says, ”and a lot of them are very nice people. But when they all stood on stage basically asking people to give them more money, it made me profoundly uncomfortable. Like ‘why don’t you guys go have hobbies? Learn to SCUBA dive or whatever?”

Hence, perhaps, this restaurant. Housed in a cute mid-century diner building it aims to present, in his words, a “really nice face for veganism”. During the day it functions as the kind of Silver Lake cafe where people will work on their screenplays while nursing almond-milk lattes. At night the lights are dimmed for a more elegant, bring-your-friends atmosphere. The wine list is extensive and the menu is comfort food-heavy; dishes like macaroni cheese, and cassuolet with a vegan sausage abound.

But is Little Pine more than a pet-project for a rich musician without an industry to call his own?

“Probably entrepreneurially, the dumbest thing anyone can ever do is open a restaurant,” he says, “I give up tonnes of time, it’s very expensive, it occupies so many of my resources and I can never make a penny from it. All the profits generate here go right to animal welfare organizations.” He breaks off to pose for a photo with a fan.

It’s not exactly a departure for Moby. In a way, the promotion of veganism has always been his second career. There may be more famous vegans in America — Woody Harrelson or Demi Moore, for instance — but no-one is more famous for being a vegan. Maybe it’s that he embodies many of the stereotypes that people associate with vegans: skinny, passionate and just dying to convert you to a plant-based diet.

“If tomorrow everyone stopped eating animals, and magically all the animals involved in animal agriculture disappeared, climate change would be reduced between 30 and 60%, rainforest deforestation essentially ends, obesity is reduced by 60–70%, gastrointestinal and other types of cancer are reduced by 50–75%, diabetes is reduced 50%, erectile dysfunction is reduced by 50%, heart disease goes down by about 70%. California no longer has a water problem. And every single person on the planet has more than enough to eat.”

Ok, ok, I get it. But if his main interest is in promoting the cause, surely opening a vegan restaurant in LA, already the most vegan-friendly city in the universe, is kind of a self-indulgent way to go about it?

“Having been a vegan for 28 years,” he says, “I’ve watched myriad ways in which animal rights people and vegans have tried to advance their agenda … What doesn’t seem to work is judging and yelling.” He readily admits to his own history of yelling, and he understands its satisfactions. But what we have here is an older, wiser Moby, “If you go to a party and tell them they’re wrong for eating meat, you just simply don’t get invited back. There’s no net benefit.”

For Little Pine then, he’s changed things up, pursuing a policy of carnivore-appeasement. Many of the staff, including some of the chefs, are non-vegan, which gives them the advantage of knowing what food is meant to taste like.

We try a range of dishes. A butter lettuce salad with a mustard vinagrette is simple, delicious and entirely green. So-far, so vegan. The Italian sausage baguette is more surprising. It really tastes like meat.

‘What is this made of?’

‘Stuff,’ says Moby, waving his hands vaguely. ‘It took them about three months to get it right.’

The sweet is a berry crumble with dollop of cashew ice cream. If it weren’t for the world’s most notorious vegan sitting nearby, I wouldn’t want to swear that no cows were involved in the manufacture of this dessert. As I eat, Moby elaborates on his strategy.

“LA has rigorous vegan restaurants, for rigorous vegans, what it doesn’t have too much of are vegan restaurants, for people who, up-until now have had no interest in vegan food. That interests me much more, because sometimes it’s nice to preach to the converted and sometimes it’s nice, if you really care about what you’re doing, to reach new people.”

Before our meeting I happened to watch a YouTube video of Moby in discussion with David Lynch. They’re talking about the failure of art that panders to the marketplace. Isn’t this pretend meat doing just that? Will people ever stop wanting meat, while vegan food continues to impersonate it? Moby has a different take on the compromise.

“If I compare it to music, if you are an uncompromising experimental musician and you’re doing 18-minute-long minimal German techno, that’s great, but at some point you kind of want your friends to like it too. Imagine Radiohead, Kid A without vocals. It would be great … for about 50 people. By adding Thom Yorke’s vocals and emotional relateabilty suddenly it actually gets heard by more people.”

This area of LA, he says, has the highest concentration of influencers of anywhere in the world. If he can ambush them with vegan food that is so delicious, healthy and filling, that they won’t even need to visit In-n-Out on the way home, maybe there’ll be a kind cultural trickle-down. If it happens to be near his house, well, it’s not such a bad way for a former pop-star to keep busy.

“I think that a lot of entrepreneurs now realize that you can, through the entepreneurial process, create a good quality of life,” he says.

It sounds coherent, but then, Moby is articulate enough to justify nearly anything. And maybe he understands the advantages of being outspoken (you get noticed), while also giving people what they want (you get popular).

I ask him if he’ll DJ at my wedding.

‘Funnily enough, the last wedding I DJ’d at was David Lynch’s,’ he says.

‘What did you play?’

‘People always ask me that. What you play is Beyonce and Van Morrison. That’s his family, it’s a wedding, people want to dance.’

If anyone can land a vegan crossover album, perhaps Moby can.

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