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.