TED LEO, VEGAN INDIE ROCKER EXTRAORDINAIRE, is a veteran in the underground music scene. He's been an active musician for more than 18 years, playing in bands such as Citizens Arrest, Chisel, the Sin-Eaters, and currently Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. His eclectic punk-infused melodic sound has been compared to Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, and The Clash. Leo has been a vegetarian for 17 years and a vegan the past 10. These days, Leo's veganism has become a greater part of his identity, being an inherent part of his personality instead of something he has to consciously think about.
"Veganism has become less a daily choice that I make than just me," he said. "It's a fundamental part of who I am."
Leo's decision to become vegetarian and then vegan was not because of an isolated issue. But underlying all the compelling environmental, nutritional, economic, and social reasons is his loving compassion for animals.
"The main thing that keeps me vegan is the question of animal rights," he said. "It's the one constant that is always at the core of it all for me. I love animals—what can I say?"
Although Leo says he's "no stranger to getting out in the streets and making some noise," he is primarily a touring musician. Calling Leo a workaholic would be a bold understatement. He spends six to eight months a year touring and takes the remainder of the year to recover for the next year's tour. He has faith in music's ability to mobilize, but despite claiming that he has seen the inspirational and thought-provoking power of his oft-times politically charged music, Leo questions whether he should be doing more.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough," he stated. "Then, I feel like, even if all that my music becomes is a soundtrack to a movement, then that's actually plenty."
Leo has seen the evolution of the animal rights and vegetarian movements in the underground music scene over the past 18 years. He claims there has been a decline in activism and bands identifying with animal rights and vegetarianism lately. Conversely, he has seen the opposite within vegetarian support groups, saying the movement is becoming more mainstream, and not just in major cities.
"I've been pretty disappointed with how what used to seem like a more universal concern [for animal rights and vegetarianism] in the 'underground' has taken a serious backseat as an issue," he said. "At the same time, among the veg community, the quality of restaurants and food shops is constantly getting better and better, and I have my favorite places all over the country now."
Currently embarking on an ambitious European tour that ends with 11 dates in the United States—including Lollapalooza in Chicago—Leo has accustomed himself to being a traveling vegan. He says that, with a little energy and nutritional knowledge, you can find vegan choices anywhere around the world. He cites Spain as being one of the most challenging.
"If you put a little bit of effort into learning how to eat correctly, you can make it through even the toughest times," he said. "Like touring in Spain—love it to death but it ain't exactly what you'd call 'veganfriendly.' But again, you can always figure it out."
Bobby Allyn wrote this article during the Eleanor Wolff Internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group. He also wrote this issue's "Vegetarian Action" article on page 35.
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