November 19, 2010

Cookbooks That Changed My Life: Soy Not Oi!

by IsaChandra

It was May Day in the early nineties, and I was baking cookies to bring to a riot in Tompkins Square Park. I mean, I didn’t know for a fact it would be a riot, but for the past few years, every time there was a concert there it would turn into a riot. It was a little like a high school dance. All the punks stood on one side of the bandshell, and the cops on the other. We’d look at each other from across the dance floor, through their riot gear, afraid to make the first move. Until someone, probably drunk, would build up the cajones. Maybe a bottle is thrown or a billy club is extended. The ice is broken, we join together, aaaaand, well, in this case it doesn’t end up with the happy couple going steady.

But I hated that part. I loved gathering in the park with my friends. I loved fighting for what we believed in, which at the time included squatter’s rights (which many people eventually actually won) and public space. And the whole deal was pretty exciting, especially considering that most of my peers were busy studying for the SATs or hanging out at the mall. But to be honest, the moment the shit hit the fan I was pretty much out of there. I had no desire for any physical altercation. Which is why I was baking cookies! Of course when your pals are released from the emergency room or police station at 5 am they were going to want some.

Soy Not Oi! was written during what I think of as the heyday of the peace-punk movement of the USA. And it probably set the tone not just for that moment in time but for an entire generation of DIY culture that was to come afterwards. It’s almost impossible to understand the importance of the zine without the context. There was effectively no internet, which meant that there was a vibrant underground press. If you wanted a copy you’d have to be clued in to the subculture in some way; either picking one up at a punk show, an info-shop or anarchist bookstore, or ordering it from another zine, like MRR or Profane Existence. NYC was blessed with an actual zine shop, DIY distro and anarchist bookstore but most places weren’t. Thinking about how important it was to me, I can only imagine how important it was to someone in the middle of the country, with no subculture to speak of. Bush was their president and New Kids On The Block was on the radio. This was before irony so neither of those things was so great.

Back then, the vegan movement was part of a larger social justice movement. Our anarchist youth group would meet in a tiny cramped bookstore, and, depending on who was holding the duck*, we’d discuss how to keep nazis out of the community in the same breath as how to shut down the circus. Veganism was a natural part of politics because why were we fighting for rights while simultaneously oppressing others? Others being the animals. It was sort of a given that if you wanted to change the world you had to change yourself first. Soy Not Oi covered many of those issues, and beyond.

Way before Fast Food Nation, Food Inc. and so on, this zine was connecting food politics to the larger world as well as our smaller, social worlds. Besides discussing the ethics of not eating animals, the intro stated: “Veganism…is a great way to say ‘Fuck You!’ to the powers that be and their advertisers as well as being an important element to an alternative, even oppositional, lifestyle. Our 9 to 5 rush-rush lives have squeezed out the joy of cooking and turned it into a chore, leading people to prefer microwaving a box of mashed potato flakes instead of preparing a full, well-rounded meal (for about the same cost!). By cooking a good meal, especially among friends and family…we not only feed ourselves well, we reclaim a part of our lives that is quickly dwindling, replaced by TV and 60-hour work weeks. Save the earth, help yourselves and give those capitalist bastards a good kick in the Liberal Humanist** ass at the same time. Cook Vegan!” Another thing I like about this is that it was men saying it. Even these days, home cooks are thought of as women, while men are chefs.

Sure, looking back, not all of the info is entirely perfect. For instance, there was no non-hydrogenated margarine back then, so we were still shoveling pretty crappy chemicals into our bodies. But, hey it was an amazing start.

As far as actual cooking and baking, I learned a lot from Soy Not Oi. Freezing tofu and thawing it makes for a really meaty chili! And hey, I also learned how to make chili. Most of my early baking came from Soy Not Oi! recipes. Peanut butter cookies, banana bread, chocolate cake. There was hardly any vegan chocolate back then, so chocolate was important. Especially when you were being released from a police station with a black eye and sprained ankle, onto the rough NYC streets and the craziness of the early 90s at sunrise. Have a cookie.

Soy Not Oi! was republished by Microcosm in a few years ago.

*”The Duck” was a little rubber ducky, and if you were holding it, it meant it was your turn to speak. Which led to some pretty funny declarations, like “I HAVE THE DUCK!” when someone was speaking over you or “WHERE’S THE DUCK!!!” when all hell broke loose.

**Not exactly sure the particular gripe with liberal humanists.

  • November 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm: sophia

    i love this series! reading a post like this reminds me (as if i needed to be reminded) why your cookbooks are the best: not only do you really know how to cook and bake, you also really know how to write. which is something i also love about soy not oi (one of my first vegan cookbooks as well!): it may not be polished but it’s fun to read. it’s got a personality.

  • November 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm: Rita

    Thanks Isa. This is great.I wish I could find a copy of it here in Texas.

  • November 19, 2010 at 8:16 pm: Hans

    Thanks for capturing a bit of the history of the 80s that didn’t involve Reagan, Wall Street and BMWs. I have fond memories of DIY, punk, and new wave culture from my HS years. Growing up a liberal in a redneck community I thought what was wrong was me. Little did I know that other people were normal just like me, they just lived somewhere else. I was so surprised to find out that vegetarianism wasn’t the mark of the devil, rather a step towards a more compassionate world. Veganism has opened my eyes that there is still more work to do. Thanks Isa.

  • November 19, 2010 at 8:19 pm: Christine

    Soy not Oi was my first vegan cookbook! One of my assorted roommates stole it a few years ago and I was really excited to find a new copy last year at the anarchist bookstore in Philly! My favorite part of it was the music suggestions :)

  • November 19, 2010 at 8:34 pm: Jennifer (It Ain't Meat, Babe)

    Soy not Oi was given to me in the early nineties when I was in university. I love, love, loved it so much. Have no idea where my copy is now, though. :(

  • November 19, 2010 at 9:19 pm: nebraskalaska

    Rita, if you’re in or visit Austin sometimes I bet Monkey Wrench Books would have a copy. You could also order online from Micrcosom publishing

  • November 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm: UltraMantis

    Still have my copy. Sits unused these days in my bookshelf next to all of the newer and fancier cookbooks, but will probably never give it up. Definitely got a lot of use in high school/college.

  • November 19, 2010 at 10:25 pm: Gregory Carter

    I still use my copy of Soy Not Oi! I have had it since the mid 90’s I think it still works well. Some crust punk friends in St. Louis told me about it they also gave me convincing info to go vegan.

  • November 20, 2010 at 1:44 am: JohnP

    I bet you and I crossed paths at the zine rack of the anarchist bookstore, back in the day. I join the chorus of those who still have a copy of Soy Not Oi!

  • November 20, 2010 at 2:19 am: Christopher

    I almost can’t believe I have this. I was never very punk (did like shows and zines though), and wasn’t vegan at the time I bought it, and wouldn’t be vegan until about 10 years later.

  • November 20, 2010 at 2:22 am: Laura in Taos

    “Listening” to you write makes me nostalgic for the “good ‘ol days” at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City and the like. Thanks for bringing some of the hometown to the wilds of N.M.

  • November 20, 2010 at 3:01 am: Melissa

    Love these entries, thank, Isa!

  • November 20, 2010 at 4:04 am: eDDie Badilla

    Great post, it is really reconfortable to know that you, a renowned chef, well-known worldwide not only by the vegan/vegetarian communities and activist had a start in cooking as humble as and noble as you have. Greetings from Costa Rica.

  • November 20, 2010 at 5:12 am: IsaChandra

    Heehee, humble and noble! My friends would disagree, but thanks. Your food pics are beautiful! I plan on visiting Costa Rica in 2011.

  • November 20, 2010 at 9:33 pm: Chris

    “Soy Not Oi!” and “Don’t Feed the Bears” are two of my faves! Great post!

  • November 21, 2010 at 2:21 pm: Heather Eaton

    Check out the food blog essay contest at

  • November 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm: Em

    Soy not Oi! was one of the first vegan zines I bought from a DIY- run cafe and zine library. I love the way the recipes are interspersed with personal accounts. A similar cooking zine from the UK is ‘Grime and Nourishment’ compiled by a group based at 56a info shop in London. It is similarly steeped in social history, amusing stories and great recipes, and sits on my bookshelf next to Soy not Oi! with it’s cover hanging off and food-splattered. Thanks for the great article.

  • November 22, 2010 at 4:18 am: Alissa

    I think I picked this up in 1995 when I decided to be a vegetarian while attending a social justice conference in Providence. I still have it to this day, though it never really got as much use as some of the later cookzines I picked up along the way. Somehow, I haven’t been able to pinpoint the beginnings of my connection between food and social justice and punk, but you just managed to do it! Tada!

  • November 23, 2010 at 6:52 am: Joel Olson

    I’m one of the former editors of Soy Not Oi! and I wanted to say thanks for this blog post. You have captured the political and social context behind Soy better than any account I’ve read. (And I remember reading avidly about those Tompkins Square Park riots in World War III, Love and Rage, Squat or Rot, and other zines back then. Glad we could indirectly support the forces fighting for freedom.) –Joel

  • November 23, 2010 at 11:12 am: Jack Kahn

    Hey hey thanks so much for this- I am also one of the two main editors of soy not oi- so glad you all liked it! You can still get a copy from AK press: and glad to see the spirit is still alive!!


  • November 23, 2010 at 11:58 am: Jack

    and p.s. I wont speak for Joel, but I believe the concern with liberal humanists (at least mine) has been in their lack of acknowledgement for addressing power in human relations– sometimes humanists will ignore the effects of history and power on social organization and therefore miss the point when it comes to social change– “I’m a humanist not a feminist because I think all people are equal” that kind of nonsense. This is of course is not to say all humanists fit in this camp- but I believe the statement was to suggest the humanistic analysis won’t allow for social change because it won’t examine power relations to recognize the effects of social privilege (racial, class, gender, species) on how we have come to understand oursleves and live in the world. Oh yah- peanutbutterchocalatechipcookies. And for more fun check out my website: :)

  • November 24, 2010 at 5:03 pm: Cherrie

    I’m new to your site and perhaps you’ve covered this, but after watching Food Inc, I’ve got questions about soy production/growing/processing. I would like to avoid supporting Monsanto and the like if possible, but I just can’t tell when I’m shopping, what soy based products/milks/tofu etc are the best choices? Are ANY of the Morning Star or Bocca options acceptable or are they both too heavily processed AND from non ethical soy producers.

    Sometimes once I make one healthy choice I get overwhelmed at the choices within those choices to consider. I’m not a vegan, not even a full-fledged vegetarian…yet…there is always hope. I’ve been dubbed T-Rex in my past for my love of meat…red meat, but have had red meat once in the last 9 months and chicken a couple of times and I don’t get bent out of shape if there are meat specks or animal products in my foods just yet. But it’s progress. One step at a time.

    • November 26, 2010 at 12:02 am: IsaChandra

      HI Cherrie,
      Always choose the organic soy. You can also do organic almond milk so it’s not soy overload. I do stay away from Morningstar & Boca but there are Organic brands, like Moophrey burgers and Amy’s. I love Field Roast products and they are non-GMO. Of course you can also make lots of amazing things with whole foods (grains, veggies, beans, etc). Have fun on your journey!

  • December 2, 2010 at 9:12 am: mattijs

    Hi Isa! Nice one, this article about the beloved soy not oi! Funny how your story is similar to ours back in the early nineties, thousands of miles away in a small city in the Netherlands. I don’t cook from it anymore, but still cherish it together with other classics like bark and grass, farmpunks, well fed, not an animal dead. It’s the zines that helped us to learn to cook in the early days of being vegan, and fed bands at gigs, the people at squatcafe’s etc.

  • February 22, 2011 at 4:10 pm: Rachel

    Oh memories, I used to date a guy who spoke fondly of his days fighting cops in Tompkins Square in the early nineties. He was the one who introduced me to Soy No Oi, the only cookbook in my first vegan household. Haven’t seen it in many years, though; he kept it when we parted.

  • March 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm: Caitlin

    F.Y.I. – One of the contributors to Soy, not Oi! Joel Olson, passed away on Thursday. Joel meant so much to anyone who ever had contact with him, whether through punk rock, activism, veganism, or academia. He will be so sorely missed. Keep his family in your thoughts! A fund has been set up to help them out in this unimaginably difficult time.

  • February 5, 2013 at 6:23 am: ivan

    I’ve had this book for years (I also got it at the anarchist bookstore in Philly!) and until running across this post and reading the comment thread I had no idea Joel Olson was involved! (I guess I never read the names very closely.) I devoured Joel Olson’s books in the 2000s, and was beside myself knowing that he taught at Northern Arizona University, near where I grew up and, of course, in the very troubled state of AZ.

    That he contributed not only to my political development but also my culinary development is pretty astounding. You’ll be missed, Joel.

    (And Isa, thanks so much for posting this!)

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