I first heard about Honey LaBronx when I started seeing press releases and announcements everywhere about the first vegan drag queen cooking show (known, straightforwardly, as The Vegan Drag Queen Cooking Show) and I have been a fan-girl ever since. Honey — and her alter-ego Ben Strothmann — have been raising money and awareness about building a more just and compassionate world through the super fun drag shows Honey performs around the world. With dedication, hustle and more than a little cheeky good humor, Honey has raised many thousands for non-profit organizations and she aims to keep raising more. (Check out our extra credit #11 on this interview to read all about it and how you can find and support Honey’s excellent work.) And now I will just get to it because this interview is chock full’o goodness and you’ll want to get to it. I am so honored to feature the fabulous Honey LaBronx as this week’s Vegan Rockstar!
1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
When I first started visiting New York City, I met a man named John Oliver. No, not the late night talk show host. My friend John used to be known as “The Teenage Psychic” back in his day, and in the early 2000s he had a show on Court TV (before it was TRU TV) called “Haunting Evidence.”
I have long called John my “spiritual mentor” because as they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. John came into my life at a time when I was first seeking enlightenment. Every time we’d meet up, there would be a little lesson. First it was how to be in the moment. Later it was how to fast. Many lessons later, and only when I was in a place to hear it, he had mentioned veganism to me. I remember that was the moment where I thought “Annnnnnnnd here is where we part ways…”
But the funny thing is, when that little voice in my head said “I could NEVER go vegan…” I remembered thinking “Wait a second — what is it that I can ‘never’ do? — says WHO? — don’t tell ME I can’t go vegan!”
John gave me a copy of the book The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Inside the book jacket, he had taped a little piece of paper on behalf of his “Mystery School” asking the reader to please give the book to someone else after they’ve read it, so that the book continues its journey.
I don’t know at what point in the book I became (in my heart) vegan, but I have the feeling that the moment I sat down to open the book, that’s when I knew I was all in.
I went vegetarian first, because I was already in the middle of doing a cleanse, so it was easy enough just to NOT re-introduce animal flesh. But I clung to dairy and eggs for another 6 months, thinking it would be a huge leap to let them go.
During that time, I was working on a show and met my friend Michael Harren, vegan activist, musician, storyteller, and all around must-know kinda guy. He was the musical director and aside from thinking he was awesome, he would always bring in cookies and things for the cast. They were always (secretly) vegan. One day he noticed a quote I had shared on Facebook that said “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.” I attributed the quote to Colleen Patrick Goudreau. I wasn’t yet familiar with Colleen’s work, but as I was exploring veganism, I found the blog Kiss Me I’m Vegan by Lindsay Wolf. She kept a blog as she dared to go vegan for a year. An entire year!!! I couldn’t imagine such a thing. And she shared Colleen’s quote. I loved it enough to share it, but I’m really stubborn when it comes to opening up to a new influence. I remember on my 18th birthday, someone gave me the ABBA Gold CD and, while I knew I was going to like it, I remember thinking “Sighhhhhhh…… first I’m gonna have to OPEN it…… then I’m gonna have to put it in my CD player….. then LISTEN to the WHOLE THING…… and I’m probably gonna LOVE it so then I’m gonna have to keep listening to it and THAT’S gonna take up enough time already…..”
It’s a major pain, but that’s how my mind works. I have to fight against it.
Anyway, Michael Harren was thrilled when he saw I had shared a Colleen Patrick Goudreau quote on Facebook. “Are you VEGAN???” he asked me. “No… Well… I’m vegetarian, but….” and I started the back peddle.
He asked if I listened to Colleen’s podcast “Food for Thought.”
“She has a podcast?” I asked. Over the coming months, Michael would keep gently nudging me to start listening, and I would keep gently swatting away his suggestions as he continued to “PUSH HIS BELIEFS DOWN MY THROAT!” ;)
Believe it or not, I let MONTHS go by before I started listening to her podcast. But of course once I started, I couldn’t stop. I think I caught up on her entire back catalog within 2 months or so (this was back in mid-to-late 2009).
One day in November, some woman sneezed on me. Like directly on me (which is strange because we were in a nearly empty church and you could see she was about to sneeze as she was walking towards me… she had EVERY opportunity to stop walking towards me. She could even have sneezed in ANY other direction… but I digress) and I got the first cold I’d had in like two years!
I remember thinking “I hate this feeling. I want to get well as soon as possible…………. I don’t want to put any dairy in my system.”
Michael had been vegan a year at that point. A WHOLE YEAR!!! And he didn’t die, which I thought was incredible! So I remembered thinking “Just for one day, I’m going to be vegan tomorrow to see how hard it is.”
I took a look at PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan” list and I figured I would just make a note of all the things on that list I already knew and loved.
“Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch is vegan??? And NUTTER BUTTERS? And OREOS???”
Can you tell I have a very Midwestern palate?
The next day I think I ate nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Cap’n Crunch, Oreos, vegan ice cream… It was total junk food. But I remembered thinking “Oh my God, I’m VEGAN!!!”
And even though I was going to do it “just for today”, I knew at that moment, I was vegan now. Just vegan. No wiggle room. No escape clause. I was from that moment what I call an “In-It-To-Win-It Vegan”. It’s been over 9 years now and I haven’t looked back.
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
You know, I don’t think I can answer this. Because nobody really SAID or DID anything to MAKE me move in this direction. People just left things in my path, and they gave me the time and space to investigate for myself.
Here’s a STUPID comparison…
When I was a kid, I was luxuriating in my parents’ room laying in their huge bed and watching tv. My brother came in and told me I had to… I dunno… bring down the laundry or something.
I remembered thinking “I will, but I’m not going to let him think I’m doing it because he TOLD me to. I’m going to wait until a long enough interval has passed, that it’s obvious I’m doing it WHEN I WANT to do it…”
He kept coming back every 15 minutes or so to nag me, and I kept thinking “Dammit, the SOONER you stop nagging me, the SOONER I’ll actually do it.”
That’s how my mind works anyway. But I’m utterly childish in that sense.
In the end, all I can say is what worked for me was this:
- There were several people I really looked up to because they “had what I wanted” in terms of joy, serenity, compassion… that was really appealing to me. And I figured out for myself that compassion for animals was the common denominator.
- These people allowed me to bring it up and when I asked about it, they suggested the resources they found most helpful.
- These people backed away just enough to give me the space to check it out for myself, but they didn’t back off completely — they still gave gentle, loving nudges every now and then. And until then, they just continued setting a good example for me, and continued making veganism look exciting and rewarding.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I keep coming back to this lately in my own activism: EVERYONE IS ON THEIR DAMN JOURNEY! If I can’t respect that, I am going to be ineffective.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
Drag. Enough said. Here’s what drag does for me and my vegan message:
- Drag DEMANDS attention. TRY not paying attention to a drag queen. It’s like trying to eat just one potato chip, or trying to go to Berlin and only have sex with ONE person… You just can’t do it.
- Drag gives me PERMISSION to say and do things I normally couldn’t get away with. If the drag queen comes over to you, takes your hand, opens it up, takes her gum out, puts it in your hand, and closes your hand……. you are GOING to LET her… and you will find it funny! I used to work in Times Square as a drag waitress as a place called Lucky Cheng’s. No, it was far from vegan, but hey, a job is a job. Our menu was needlessly complicated, so customers would ask me what was good here. Authentically uninterested in what they chose to eat, I would just say “Well, what we do here is we serve dead animals. And then w……. OH!! I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have said that. Okay…. so we serve MURDERED animals here. (Dead just makes it sound incidental, like ‘Whoops!’ No, they were deliberately murdered.) And then we heat them up and put different kinda sauces on them. So what kind of animal do you want to eat, and then what kind of sauce should we put on it?”
Customers would laugh like I was making a joke and I would just look at them completely stone-faced and say “That isn’t funny.” Which of course they found even funnier.
Now can you imagine if some cisgender white man tried to get away with it? I like to think I am charming enough to pull it off, but Christ! I wouldn’t be comfortable doing that MYSELF! But in drag? My God, you couldn’t STOP me!
So in short, drag is the vehicle that helps me deliver my message to places where it wouldn’t normally go (especially considering drag has its own far- reaching, built-in audience!) But humor and a sense of playfulness are what allow me to deliver that message successfully.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Me. I think I am the biggest strength of th…. no, I’m kidding!
Seriously… we have RIGHT on our side. No ifs, ands, or butts about it. TRY arguing with a vegan. YOU CAN’T DO IT! Even the opposition KNOWS we’re right. And it’s easy enough to teach people how to defend and advocate for animal rights, so it’s been a pretty easy movement to grow, especially in the age of social media.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
We think we know it all. Hey, you… the person reading this. Let me ask you a question. Do YOU think “EVERYONE should go vegan?”
I’ll wait while you answer that for yourself.
Let me guess. You answered “yes,” right? And you’re already READY to defend your answer. You’re already CERTAIN that you’re right about this right?
Here’s what’s up.
I’m a person in recovery. 10 years sober from drugs and alcohol.
Alcoholism and addiction is a legit disease. It is an ACTUAL illness, and a poorly understood one at that.
But what we do know is that there is a huge correlation between blood sugar and alcohol. Alcoholics who suddenly stop drinking then have to deal with the fact that their homeostasis will fight to get their blood sugar back up to where it’s used to being. There are a ton of empty calories from sugar in alcohol. When you stop drinking, you can expect DAILY drops in your blood sugar.
When this happens to an alcoholic in recovery, their body is going to FIGHT for that sugar. Only the body isn’t going to tell you “Hey! Go eat some ice cream right now! You need sugar!”
What’s going to happen is that recovering alcoholic is going to experience SUCH an overwhelming and all-consuming urge for alcohol. One you cannot understand unless you are a fellow alcoholic. Even the alcoholic will have trouble understanding WHY they need to drink, and if you ask them, they’ll make all manner of excuses to try and justify it. But the truth is, they don’t know!
Well in recovery, alcoholics are told to keep sweets on hand at all times! The moment they experience an urge to drink — go and grab some ice cream! A candy bar! A slice of cake! Anything! Just smash in the sweet stuff!
Now here’s my question for you. Do you think most non-vegans know where to go in their immediate neighborhoods at 3 in the morning to get a pint of vegan ice cream?
You KNOW the answer to that is “NO!!!” And so what is the newly recovering alcoholic to do if, while only 12 days sober, they are taken over by a strong urge to drink, and there they are in the 24 hour grocery store looking for vegan ice cream, but unable to find it as they keep walking back and forth past the beer?
They are GOING to get drunk.
So there. There is one CONCRETE example of someone who I would NOT recommend goes vegan just yet. In fact, it is strongly suggested people in recovery avoid ANY “major life changes” in the first year of recovery. Until they get a year sober, things like changing their diet, getting in or out of a relationship, switching jobs, moving apartments — are TERRIBLE ideas as our common experience has shown this most often leads back to a drink.
I could go on to talk about a friend of mine who suffers from eating disorders. Or another friend who, after 15 years of marriage to one of my closest friends, that close friend took his life as the result of debilitating anxiety and depression. So here my friend is, single for the first time in 20 years, living in the same house, and having to figure out who he is as a single gay man in a radically different time.
This friend actually APOLOGIZED to me in his kitchen as he was unboxing his order from Blue Apron. As he was putting away the frozen shrimp he said “Oh! I’m sorry……. I….” and I told him “Jason, so help me GOD if you dare apologize for that right now!”
I told Jason that if ALL he does with the rest of his life is manage to put the pieces of his life back together and find SOME small shred of joy — THAT would be enough for me. You think I’m about to stand there and make an argument for animal rights? If you’re answering “yes” to that, then I’m gonna say you aren’t “vegan”. You’re a zealot. And zealots ONLY hurt our cause, they never help.
Why would I waste my breath on Jason when there are literally BILLIONS of people in what you might call “the moveable middle?” Go and preach to someone who is actually SEEKING the answers we have. You know where you’ll find them? Lingering a little while longer near a cube of truth. Or taking the time to read your poster at a protest.
I get that this is a long and perhaps unexpected answer from me. But so help me God, it is so important to me to give this answer because a) we need to know where NOT to waste our own energy and resources… and b) we NEED to know what we are doing that could actually turn someone AGAINST the idea of ever going vegan.
That person who comes up to you at a protest wanting more information? They are ready to hear it, and highly likely to act on the information you provide. But the person who feels they were talked down to by a vegan and they have closed off to the idea of animal rights? Good luck EVER trying to get them to listen again. All it takes is ONE stereotypical angry vegan to turn that person off when they are already looking for ANY reason to discount us. Don’t be that vegan.
Be the vegan YOU would have wanted to engage with in a conversation back when you were still eating animals.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
First of all, I pull the emergency stop button on that elevator. Sit down, Bub… this is gonna take a while!
No, seriously… It really depends on who I’m talking to. Am I talking to a woman? I can work in the feminism angle. Am I talking to a fellow homosexical? Well then I can work in the angle about condoned, state- sanctioned bullying and how we know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that.
But one thing that I always like to include lately is to make sure I’m talking about ME and MY EXPERIENCE — and I usually end my elevator pitch by telling them that in the end, I no longer felt that eating and exploiting animals truly expressed who I know myself to be as a person. That if I want there to be peace and equality on earth in my lifetime, then I have to start by granting it to those who crave it most.
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
See above! ;)
Seriously, if you’re a reader, I’d recommend The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.
But if I had to recommend one resource, and ONLY one, I would tell everyone to subscribe to the podcast “Food for Thought” by Colleen Patrick Goudreau. Start with the OLDEST episode FIRST, and then work your way through the first few years of the podcast chronologically. You will find that you suddenly just know everything you need to, and you know how to put that knowledge into practice in your everyday life.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Lately, I watch the following webseries(es) on YouTube:
- “The Beatdown” with Willam
- “Hairdresser Reacts” with Brad Mondo (who happens to be vegan!)
- “UNHhhh” with Trixie & Katya (you’re welcome!)
When the world is too much for me, these are the channels I turn to when I just need to laugh and let go.
But I would also recommend, wherever you live, ask around and find out where your nearest drag show is. GO SEE A DRAG SHOW, and so help me God, I don’t care if all that drag queen does is stand still and make fun of you specifically and your dead relatives — you tip that queen at LEAST $5 in singles throughout the show. There is something magical that happens when you give a drag queen a dollar, and I can’t explain how it feels. You just have to experience it for yourself.
DRAG! SAVES! LIVES! ……period! Go support your local drag scene and you will find that you get back 10x more than you give.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
I really don’t care how unpopular this makes me. And I am thrilled to be asked this question.
When I was in middle school and I learned about the Holocaust, and I heard of the atrocities one group of people could inflict on another group of people… I still have never recovered from that shock. Especially when I consider the grim reality that not only were homosexuals persecuted and killed in the Holocaust — and when the death camps were liberated and everyone ELSE was set free, the homosexuals were transported directly to prisons — and to think that gay and bisexual men are STILL executed around the world today like in Chechnya, Malaysia, Iran……. It turns my stomach.
So naturally, being sympathetic to this for my entire life, and then learning the truth about the illegal occupation of Palestine. The state sanctioned apartheid that is taking place in Israel. To think that my tax dollars are paying for that. To see Palestinian families having their homes bulldozed, having their olive and date trees either burned to the ground, or dug up and re-planted on the Israeli side of the apartheid wall… To see illegal Palestinian children being shot in the head by Israeli soldiers. To see volunteer medics killed by snipers hundreds of meters away as those medics are attending to the wounded. To see children and fathers taken away from their families and detained with no due process, without any contact with their families… And worse to see the entire world shrug their shoulders and actively ignore the issue…
It makes me feel like we have completely failed humankind. I am a proud stand for Palestinian human rights and dignity.
And I am always surprised when I tell people that, and they take issue with it. If YOUR vision for the world does not INCLUDE the people of Palestine AND the people of Israel…. if you aren’t going back to the drawing board in your mind and thinking “How can we ensure that EVERYONE wins???” then you are suffering from a severe lack of creativity.
Throw away what you think you know.
Come from a place of NOTHING. You can’t draw whatever you want on a piece of paper that already has a hundred years of scribbling on it. From NOTHING… from a blank slate… from RIGHT here, and RIGHT now… ask yourself “What COULD be possible?”
Not “Well, whose fault is it”… and not “Well, what about……”
I’m not interested in blame. I’m not interested in what happened 70+ years ago. I’m not interested in what happened YESTERDAY.
I am talking right here — right now — what COULD be possible? If ANYTHING were possible?
Because ANYTHING is possible. And I am an unapologetic stand for peace on this planet in my life time. YES, even for non-human animals. And YES, even for Palestine!
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
“…only a means to an end. Remember to ask yourself — what is the end game here?”
11. Isn’t it true that last year, you toured with your Vegan Drag Show as a fundraiser for local Animal Rights groups and LGBTQ organizations, and you raised $27,428 for charity by doing 55 shows in 46 cities (in 4 countries?) And isn’t it true that this year you aim to raise $75,000 for charity and you could use people’s help raising funds to buy the equipment you’re going to need to continue to create cooking show videos and podcast episodes while you’re on the road for roughly half the year?
Why… Funny you should ask!!! Yes, I AM going back on the road very soon! I just did a tour of the Midwest, and after doing a few shows in the Tri-State (New York) area, I’ll be flying to Florida to do a month-long tour from March 10th to 30th. But I can’t do this alone! In order to keep making videos, parody songs, my podcast, etc… I need your help buying some equipment!
You can check out my fundraiser at www.VeganDragQueen.com/Donate
And while you’re at it, remember to:
- check out my podcast at www.BigFatVeganRadio.com and remember to subscribe!
- subscribe to my YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/HoneyLaBronx and hit that “Bell” icon so you get notified when I upload new videos!