How a Punk Rap Turned Me Veg

Everything I needed to know about the politics of vegetarianism, I learned from a punk rock rap song.

A 4-member punk band wearing dark clothes perform on a stage lit by three orange spotlights. A big speaker hangs from above.
Photo by Grueslayer on Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The punk band MDC, two decades after converting the author to vegetarianism via mixtape.

In 2010, the United Nations issued a report advocating worldwide veganism as a solution to climate change. A succinct way of putting it might go something like: “Everyone should go vegan because consuming animals is KILLING OUR PLANET.” Instead, they put out this wordy statement:

Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.

When I first read this in the news, I was like, “DUH! I’ve known this forever.” I’d learned the environmental impacts of meat-eating from a mixtape my best friend made me in 1995, of songs she recorded off the University of Calgary radio station. My vegetarian awakening came in the form of a punk rock rap song by a band called MDC, alias “Millions of Dead Cops.”

On weekends in the mid-90s, I’d take the C-train downtown to the Carpenters Union Hall and listen to local punk, indie, and screamo bands taking on “the man” in song. It’s where I saw a band who played a video of a cow being slaughtered, which got me thinking more seriously about vegetarianism.

Photo courtesy Sara Bynoe
The author at a 1996 punk show, rave, and fundraiser for Food Not Bombs Calgary, wearing her cherished McMurder t-shirt.

I was already an animal rights activist. I bought all my clear mascara, fuzzy peach perfume, and silver eyeliner from The Body Shop. I was so obsessed with recycling that my classmates nicknamed me “The Environmentalist from Hell.” My best friend and boyfriend were dabbling with veganism, so it felt like time for me to get on board the vegetarian train.

Then I heard MDC’s “Real Food, Real People, Real Bullets,” and the truth about meat got real for me. Finally the arguments were delivered in a way my teenage mind could consume: in catchy rhymes with a heavy bassline.

While walking the halls of my suburban high school, walkman clipped on my thrifted camouflage cargo pants, I heard:

You’re ruining the world with your addiction
To dead animals,
I will bust non-fiction:
For example, 25 gallons of H20
Makes a pound of wheat. But did you know,
It takes a hundred times that much to make a pound of beef?
So from our water shortage, we get no relief.
When over half of our water goes to produce meat…

A light bulb appeared above my head — DING! Meat production is hella wasteful. If I cared about the environment enough to hoard paper in my desk for a week because my classroom didn’t have a recycling bin, then I should step up and live a lifestyle aligned with my ethics.

The simple language of MDC’s rap perfectly summarizes the water conservation argument for eating veg. I’ve read countless articles since then explaining ecosystems and meat production, and when I do, MDC’s line “over half of our water goes to produce meat,” always rings in my head. The stats might have shifted over time, but the message is the same: factory farming meat is a waste of one of our most precious resources. Want to skool yourself with science? This New Republic article is a good place to start.

If I cared about the environment enough to hoard paper in my desk because my classroom didn’t have a recycling bin, I should step up and live a lifestyle aligned with my ethics.

Back in my teenage bedroom — which I wanted to paint black but couldn’t because my parents cared about the house’s resale value — I put the mixtape on and heard:

And cattle eat up all the grain that we could eat.
But we don’t, cuz we won’t understand the demand
To make better use of our food and our land.
90% of our corn and oats feed livestock…

My Manic-Panic-orange hair nearly stood on end from shock — 90%?!!!! Aren’t people starving on this planet? If human beings could get over their selfishness and learn how to share, everyone could eat. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I was and am a socialist.

Politics aside, I understand that people still want to eat meat. Being a vegan is hard. I know, I could only do it for a year. And that was a year in the 90s, in redneck-ish, rodeo-lovin’, beef-eatin’ Calgary. (That’s as hard as five years in this vegan-friendly decade.) Since then, I’ve cut back on my dairy consumption and you can too. Another step in the right direction is to give up eating cow flesh. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water compared to those other food sources. That adds up to about five times more greenhouse gas emissions.”

When I was listening to that mixtape, I was a teenager. I was personally young and healthy. But my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer around that time, and my grandfather had a heart attack before I was born. Cases of cancer and heart disease were rising in North America. To a teenager concerned about her future health, MDC — whose aliases also included Millions of Dead Children and Mega Death Corporation — threw down some ill communication about meat consumption:

Cancer’s not the only choice if you please,
You can have liver, kidney, and heart disease.
Ulcers, constipation, salmonellosis,
Hypoglycemia, multiple sclerosis.
Yes, these diseases are funky and fresh,
And all can be yours when you eat dead flesh.
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’,
Tumours in your colon.
Blood pressure is growin’, RAW HIDE!
And just think of all the homies who’ve died.

WORD! All these diseases can be painful AF, but you can reduce your risk of them by eating more plant proteins. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey concluded that:

People under 65 who eat a lot of meat, eggs and dairy are four times as likely to die from cancer or diabetes… The overall harmful effects seen in the study were almost completely wiped out when the protein came from plant sources, such as beans and legumes.

One of the easiest arguments for teenage me to get behind was around animal rights. Of course, MDC, covered that angle too.

And I didn’t even mention yet about the pain
That the animals live in,
Before they are given
The bullet or the mallet
To satisfy your palate.

They didn’t have to get into the nitty gritty details of animal cruelty. The facts have been known for a while. Part of the problem of factory farming is that our connection to the slaughter of animals for meat is so far removed. It’s gory, and people don’t like talking about debeaking chickens so they won’t peck each other to death in their tiny cages, but it’s all I can think of when I see someone by cramming chicken nuggets into their mouth.

There’s one argument I think MDC left out of their rap: the horrible conditions for human beings working in slaughterhouses. If you’ll indulge me, here’s my attempt to update “Real Food, Real People…”:

Inside the slaughterhouses where they prep your meat
It ain’t no treat.
Workers stand on their feet
For 12 hours a day, making minimum pay,
Breathing harmful gases, risking their asses,
Slicing the meat, for you to eat.
Migrant workers in dangerous conditions,
And F-no they can’t afford to go and see physicians.

After listening to this song ad nauseam, I jumped on the vegetarian chuckwagon and have never looked back. MDC’s message was simple, clear, political and comedic, with a catchy tune that has been stuck in my head forever.

It’s been more than 30 years since “Real Food, Real People, Real Bullets” was released. The message got to me 20 years ago. What took the UN so long to catch up?

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