Matt Bruce (above, far right, holding banner), whose uncle was a bullfighter in Mexico, became a vegan when he was a teenager. Bruce later was an active member in Salt Lake City’s underground scene, playing in a hard-core band, directing the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement and performing as a magician to pay the bills. Bruce moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to work as an assistant campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
How did your uncle’s bullfighting influence you?
My uncle died when I was about 5 months old, so I never got to see him perform as a bullfighter, but I grew up learning about him, reading his books, learning about his training, and the brutal ways they treat these bulls. Before they fight, they cut the muscles in the bull’s neck so he can’t pick up his head. They shave down their horns, they drive barbed sticks into their shoulders. They weaken the bulls by feeding them laxatives so they feel sick the whole time, and by beating them repeatedly days before the event. They rub petroleum jelly into the bull’s eyes so he has a hard time judging distance. It’s not an even fight. And when the bull is brutally killed in front of everybody, the ears are cut off and the tail is cut off as a trophy. I remember learning about this as a kid and just being totally disgusted.
What was the reaction to your veganism and activism—are you the black sheep of a bullfighting family?
At first it was an uphill battle. The first couple of years, it was hard for my parents to understand. I come from a very religious household. My whole family is very Lutheran. There’s a quote in the Bible from the apostle Paul where he says: “It does not matter what goes into a man’s mouth, but what comes out.” My father took that to heart. He’s been suffering from health problems for many years. He’s in his mid-70s and he had a series of strokes, he has diabetes, high blood pressure. My mom replaced a lot of the meat in his diet with the “mock meat” that they would feed me when I came over, without my dad even knowing it. He lost a lot of weight and became a lot healthier because of it. When my mom let him know she’d been doing it, he was very thankful.
Why does conservative Utah have such a strong vegan community?
Look at the number of places that are open to feed the vegan community—Sage’s, Cali’s, Vertical Diner, City Cakes, we’ve got two vegan food carts in downtown Salt Lake City. It’s wonderful. I couldn’t guess what the number [of vegans] are, but I know the community’s very strong, and everybody really likes to support one another. As part of my job, I travel around the country two to three weeks a month, organizing and leading demonstrations, and it’s rare that I come across a city where the vegan community sticks together as much as it does in Salt Lake City. And that’s one of the things that I miss the most.
What’s the most memorable protest you’ve taken part in?
Recently, I went to Mexico City, and they had la Piel de Toro, which means by the skin of the bull. It was an anti-bullfighting demonstration. The demonstration was on Sunday, Feb. 5. We got to the demonstration when they were setting up, and there were over 1,200 people there—three lines of people that extended for blocks. Everyone had black bottoms on, and the girls had flesh-colored bras, and everyone was covered in blood, and they all had sharp sticks attached to their backs. Everybody gathered to hold banners and signs, and right in front of us were over 1,000 people, naked and covered in blood, to stand up against the bullfights. It was one of the most amazing demonstrations I’ve ever been a part of.