7 Questions: Allison & David Hazel of Beta Male

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For this week's 7 questions, VTB interviewed David & Allison Hazel of Indianapolis' Beta Male.  Voted Indy's Sexiest Band last year, they're hardcore proof that a vegan diet does a body real good.

VTB: What made you decide to go vegan? David: I learned about factory farming. Not the random act of violence, but the systemic violence and reprehensible treatment of all the animals in the industrial farming machine. Allison: That’s what it was about for me. I was exposed to factory farming in college through videos from uncover investigations—mostly conducted by PETA. Many people, including me, tend to write off those videos as anomalous and only representative of the worst of the worst. As I read and studied, I learned that intensive farming and its inherent cruelty is the rule, not the exception. When kids go to college to study “animal husbandry” at Purdue they are studying business. It’s about keeping your eye on that bottom line: smaller cages, more antibiotics, bigger animals (through growth hormones). Add to that the fact that the meat, egg, and dairy industries are almost entirely self-regulated and you have a recipe for gross abuse. Animals raised for food are bred to grow too big, too fast and live their short lives in filthy, cramped conditions. Egg-laying hens, for example, are kept 5 to a cage the size of a file drawer and are never even able to spread on wing until they are transported to slaughter. The animals are denied veterinary care, handled abusively, and made to undergo mutilations such as cutting off their testicles, tails, ears, and beaks with no painkiller. On the road to slaughter they are transported through all weather extremes. Then, at the end, whether they are young animals bred for meat or have just outlived their usefulness (“spent” hens and cows raised for milk), they are sent down the same slaughterhouse assembly line. People imagine little cows running around pastures, chickens in the barnyard, and all of this bucolic imagery, but they don’t stop to consider the sheer amount of meat, eggs, and dairy produced. It’s not possible to satisfy our desire for these products in a way that is healthy and sustainable for everyone.

VTB: Was it a gradual process for you or an immediate lifestyle change? David: I went vegetarian immediately, and gave up cheese after a few months. My knowledge and appreciation of veganism has definitely grown gradually. Allison: When I had my “a-ha” moment about factory farming – realizing that these practices are the standard – I just went vegetarian that day. About a year later I came to realize that animals bred for their products – egg hens and dairy cows – suffer a fate worse than death before being killed like all the rest. I could no longer justify being party to that. That said, David is right: my appreciation for veganism developed gradually. I was a bit of a junk food vegan. Now I’ve evolved into something of a chef. David once told me that limitations are what inspire great art. Somehow eliminating animal products from my diet expanded my culinary repertoire exponentially.

VTB: What sort of changes did you notice in your body and in your life from going vegan? David: I lost 20 pudgy pounds when I went vegan. I have had stellar cholesterol and whatnot since then. as well. I recently noticed (as I've been trying to gain weight) that I can add lean weight and very little fat while eating like a fucking pig. Like crazy amounts of food. Allison: Oh, same here. I went from a little pleasantly plump to the kind of girl you hate ‘cause she seems to eat everything in sight and never gain a pound. Ha! It changed my metabolism gradually.

VTB: What was the hardest animal product for you to give up eating? And have you found a viable replacement for that food? David: Depends...sometimes I have different cravings. It's usually when there is something like donuts in the break room or people eating something else that I used to love. There are pretty good replacements for a lot of stuff. I will never eat mayo or cream cheese (Vegenaise and Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese are better than the real thing). Allison: It’s true—the Tofutti products (sour cream, cream cheese) and Vegenaise are actually better than the “real” thing. A lot of the fakes products aren’t. Sometimes your tastes change to appreciate the fake stuff and sometimes you just eliminate foods altogether and find that you don’t even miss them. Cheese is the catch for a lot of people. People often say, “You know, I could be vegan, but I could never give up cheese!” They are usually surprised when I say, “Then don’t give up cheese.” It’s not about personal purity or being the vegan-est person in the room. It’s about making the best choices you can for yourself, the planet, and everyone on it.

VTB: What's your favorite vegan product or recipe? David: mm...can't answer this one. Too many good foods, and Allison makes something new and crazy like all the time. Allison: Oh man…well, I loved meat, so for many years I had a weakness for fake meats. Gimmee Lean sausage tastes like the real thing. I fool meat eaters with my biscuits and gravy! Gardenburger Riblets [Editor's Note: We think she meant Morningstar Riblets] are pretty amazing rib analogues. A lot of people have the hardest time with cheese, but there are some really great cheese alternatives that have come out just in the last couple of years. Daiya (available at Whole Foods) makes a great, melty, stringy cheddar and mozzarella. Follow Your Heart does cheese well, too. Nowadays my tastes have evolved quite a bit so that I just enjoy more whole, simple, natural foods. My cooking style is somewhat akin to 101cookbooks.com, a blog I enjoy.

VTB: How do family and friends feel about your choice? David: They didn't understand and felt attacked or defensive for a long time. They are polite to my face about it. That's how I should say it. Allison: My family doesn’t take it quite so personally. They even think it’s kind of cool – especially now that it’s been almost 10 years and has outlived anything that could be considered a phase or a fad. They’re proud of me for being committed to something I believe in. I’ve overheard my dad bragging.

VTB: What's the craziest vegan recipe or product you've ever tried? David: Allison has made a few variations of tempeh "crab" cakes that are wild and awesome Allison: Oh, truly. I started out with this recipe and it just sort of evolved. My favorite variation is an adaptation of this Martha Stewart recipe. This is a great example of learning to use a new product (for example, tempeh) and substituting it in conventional recipes. (Tempeh is amazing, by the way. Simply amazing.) MacNiven’s in Indianapolis has vegan haggis. Oh, and there’s this great company called May Wah out of New York that ships every kind of crazy vegan meat you can think of including seafood.