How Tomas Squip vegetarianized the 1980s DC punk scene

In the early 1980s, in Washington, DC (USA), there was Minor Threat. That much everyone knows. Minor Threat was not a vegetarian band. None of the members was a vegetarian at the time (to my knowlegde). The only well-known vegetarians around the DC scene at the time might have been the Bad Brains and (rumours have it) Henry Garfield, who soon quit vegetarianism, joined Black Flag, shed his father's last name, and turned into the Henry Rollins machine - but that is another story entirely.

It is not clear (to me) when the iconic - arguably the most iconic DC punk, and somewhat iconoclastic too - Ian MacKaye became a vegetarian. Mid-1980s it must have been. And then vegan (around the mid to late 1980s). But how did this happen?

I don't know exactly, and that is also another topic entirely, one that someone else will hopefull write about one day.

But the most important chessman in the game of introducing vegetarianism (and maybe veganism) to the DC punk scene, apart from the Bad Brains, might have been Tomas Squip, the singer of Beefeater. And (as told by Joe Lally in 2020, here at ~20:01 min) Tomas Squip, when he was the singer iof Beefeater, lived with Ian MacKaye (and Joe Lally was a roadie for Beefeater, and that's how he met Ian MacKaye.) 

Tomas Squip, later also know as Tomas Squip Jones, later known as Onam Ben-Israel, and then shortly after that (and currently) known as Onam Emmet, the vocalist and guitarist of the Washington, DC, "post punk" band Beefeater (autumn 1984 to autumn 1986) ... and later the singer of Fidelity Jones (spring 1988 to spring 1990; hence the name "Jones", I would guess) ... and earlier the drummer of Red C (1981).


Tomas Squip moves from Switzerland to Washington, DC. I don't know when he was born exactly but assuming he's about the same age as Ian MacKaye (born 1962), Tomas Squip was around 19 then. 

Tomas Squip became vegetarian when he was 20. So, this must have been around this time.

As he has an English first name (Tomas - in German, Thomas with an "h" seems more typical, and Tomas isn't very French or Italian either - although Ian MacKaye pronounces his name "To-más", like an English pronounciation of the Spanish name Tomás ... maybe it's Irish) ... and an English last name (Squip) and he doesn't have a non-native speaker accent, I would assume his parents (or one of them) were from the United States (or let's say from the US or Canada).


On Beefeater's first record, called "Plays for lovers", there is a song titled "A dog day" which describes a dog being slaughtered after accidentally walking into a cattle slaughterhouse. Ian MacKaye commented on this song's greatness in 2023, see below.


A brilliant man with a YouTube channel called @dsirecords conducted a video interview with Onam Emmet, which was posted to YouTube in four parts (from 4 October 2010 to 30 November 2010).

Below are the vegetarian-related quotes from the interview ...

Onam Emmet (formerly known as Tomas Squip) ~2010

From part 2 of the interview:

Note that the "..." in the text does not refer to missing text but to the speaker pausing.

Interviewer: "At the time also, and from my reading I know that you sort of brought the vegetarian outlook into the DC scene, which was, by the time Beefeater started, really movin' ... [and] was also, in a lot of ways, movin' away from that first generation of hardcore [Minor Threat etc., the early 1980s], was movin' away from a lot of different things, from the sound, to the outlook, to the lifestyle. And I was curious how you sort of got into the vegetarian ... habits ... how that habit came about."

Onam: "Oh, I was into vegetarianism when I was a little tot. I wasn't living it, but I was real fascinated with it the whole time when I was a little kid. And I hear about Gandhi and ... not Nehru, what was his name? ... Desai, these Indian leaders and the way they were livin'. It always fascinated me. ... And I always knew there was something to that. ... But unfortunately I was stupid, I was actually 20 years old before I actually did it [became vegetarian]. ... But when I took that leap, I realized, this is the truth, the truth, you know. Because I'm about truth, you know, and that's the true way to eat. ... So, I knew there was a lot of power in that approach, you know. So, I was living it, and even though Beefeater wasn't a vegetarian band like that. We didn't impose our diet on the other musicians, but Dug [Dug E. Bird, Beefeater's bassist] and I were vegetarians, and ... that was always a key part of our message ... not just because of what you eat but the whole thing of consciousness, about what your daily choices make towards the world, you know. Because that was ... you know, we weren't about rock 'n' roll. We weren't about just havin' a good time. We were about tryin' to change the world, you know." [disrecords 2010 a]

Onam: "[...] Just like we were kind of the band that made it all right to talk about vegetarianism, I think we were also one of the earlier bands that made it all right to talk about spiritual life in punk rock context, you know. So, in that sense, these are maybe a couple of the things that I did contribute to the ... the world of hardcore bascially. ... And spiritually, at that time, I was just open to any path. At some point I made a transition to actually become a member of the African Hebrew Israelite community [the vegan group, not the other similarly named groups], which ..."

Interviewer: "And how did that sort of come about?"

Onam: "Oh, you know, I was always into liberation theology and cultural consciousness and, ironically, growin' up in the straight edge scene prepared me for it, because the African Hebrew Israelites, even though it's a militant kind of ... back to Israel, back to Africa, restore the presence in the holy land kind of a movement, they're straight edge. They don't drink, they don't eat meat - they're vegans, you know. Whatever straight edge [don't] do, they don't do. They don't smoke. You know, so for me it was a very natural transition because that's where my heart and my mind was already at anyway. I just took it out of the punk rock context and put it more towards a specific spiritual walk."

Interviewer: "Had you encountered that community in Washington, DC, before joining them? ... And was it pretty open-armed? Obviously you got a sincere interest in it, so..."

Onam: "It was open-armed for me ... I was one of only two light-skins, at that time, that I was familiar with. So, obviously [there was] some feeling out. But I was with them for 16 years. So, it was a real good arrangement. They're some wonderful people. They're doing some wonderful works. But, yeah, my actual spiritual practice was always a little bit broader and always a little more plugged in to eastern paths. So, most of the time during that period I was still listening to Sikh music. I was still reading Sikh scriptures. And eventually I just had to drift towards where my heart was leading me. So, eventually I just kind of embraced the Sikh path altogether." [dsirecords 2010 b


There's a book from 2014 (republished in 2017) called "Spoke" by Scott Crawford, subtitled "Images and stories from the 1980s Washington, DC punk scene". The book contains several photos by and several of Tomas Squip as well as some more info about him.

The most interesting detail, regarding vegetarianism/veganism, comes from Bobby Sullivan, the singer of Soulside (also the singer of the bands Lünchmeat, Seven League Boots, and Sevens apparently).

In the book it says: 

"BOBBY SULLIVAN: While others in the scene were focused on social issues, Onam was focusing on devotion, only with a larger scope. The House Burning Down LP Beefeater put out, which features many other musicians from the scene, is a perfect example. For me and many others, Onam was a
pivotal force in getting us to look at the bigger picture, whether it was what was going on in South Africa, with homelessness in DC, or considering a vegan diet
. “Satyagraha,” a principle embodied by both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and a song on the Plays for Lovers LP, is in my mind his perfect anthem."

This is the only mention of "vegan" in the book. There is no mention of vegetarianism, meat, animals, or slaughter in the book.

In the same book ...

... Tim Stegall (who is quoted throughout the book but I'm not sure who he is ... a journalist, I think ... please forgive my ignorance) wrote: "Ex-Red C drummer Tomas Squip (now Onam Ben-Israel) formed Beefeater in 1984 [...]. [...] Their musicianship came close to, if not equalled, the Bad Brains, and the eccentric Squip was one of the more intriguing and charismatic front men around, as instrumental in Revolution Summer as anyone. He and Birdzell [Dug E. Bird] would later move on to Fidelity Jones, [...]. [...] Squip is politically and musically active to this day [book first published in 2014], as engaging and eccentric a presence as ever, seemingly in constant evolution."

You can see some flyers for Revolution Summer gigs with Beefeater, Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty, Embrace, and Gray Matter here.

... Alec MacKaye (Ian MacKaye's younger brother) stated: "Beefeater was a strange brew. Tomas was a smart, complicated guy who challenged people on their own turf. They were really making people that might’ve otherwise felt self-assured about what they were doing politically reexamine themselves. I think that was a big part of what Revolution Summer was all about. They were really a major part of the soundtrack for all of that."

... The author himself, Scott Crawford, wrote: "When the skinheads were at their worst around 1985, Tomas figured out how to diffuse them quickly. One night in Baltimore was particularly tense, and during their set Tomas stripped down to nothing and jumped out in the audience and starts hugging the most macho skinheads he could find. It completely dumbfounded them and stopped them in their tracks."

... Fred Smith (Beefeater's guitarist - who was murdered in California in 2017) is quoted as saying: "We were a political band for sure. We were doing what the hippies did before us."

... And again Fred Smith: "There was a point while we were on tour where every PA guy would ask me where my bass was because I was the black guy in the band [Beefeater]. When I was done with them they weren’t asking anymore!" 

... Onam himself (as Onam Ben-Israel) commented: "On a primal level I’ve always been against the mainstream. I’m against mass behavior, so when I see a bunch of people just toeing the line, it irks me on a fundamental level. So it was always my nature to provoke. So if I see a bunch of people in combat boots and jeans just going through the motions, I’m going to do what I can to stimulate a little bit of aggravation - and sometimes it was heavy-handed."

... And again Onam: "Most people at that time were focused more on interpersonal relationships and the songs dealt with that issue in the here and now. Whereas for me, I always had more of a flavor for the bigger picture with things like human rights. Injustice and human rights is what punk rock was always about from the very beginning." 

... And again Onam: "When you listen to the early Beefeater stuff, we’re singing about Ronald Reagan. At the time, I was trying to figure out ways to deal with human rights, spiritual realizations, political awareness, and all of that." 

... And again Onam: "We were an odd group of players from different backgrounds. That led to some serious intensity on tour when you’re stuck in a van together."

... Bruce Taylor (Beefeater's drummer on the "Plays for Lovers" album) commented: "Beefeater was always a high-level creative place with over-the-top personalities. Dug and Tomas were serious about the message in the music, yet they both had a wry sense of humor that would appear unexpectedly. Fred was . . . Fred - larger than life and going 100 mph at all times. The banter between the three of them at practices was priceless. It just clicked. We recorded Plays for Lovers in one day of live takes - all songs on the first take. I’ve never been in a band that was so in sync ever again. It was magical." 


Bobby Sullivan has also written a book, called "Revolutionary Threads: Rastafari, Social Justice, and Cooperative Economics". In the book, there is one mention of "vegan":

"During my post-high school forays into Washington, DC's vibrant African American cultural centers, I frequently visited Georgia Avenue, near Howard University. Georgia Avenue housed Soul Vegetarian, a vegan eatery run by African Hebrew Israelites [...]."


In Moby's documentary film "Punk Rock Vegan Movie" (from February 2023), at around 25:08 min, Ian McKaye describes Beefeater's song "A dog day": 
"Tomás from Beefeater, he had become a vegetarian. And if you ... there's a song there actually, called '[a] dog day'. It's about a dog walking down the street, [the dog] then walks by a slaughterhouse and then looks into a door, and he sees all these cows. [And he's] like 'What's going on?' And these cows are being hooked up and like dragged around, and they have their throats slit. And he's like 'nooo'. And he's wandering in and he accidentally slips and gets pulled up into the hook, and the machine cuts its throat. And then all the people gather, like 'oh, poor dog, poor dog', you know. That song, that's a great song. It's on the first Beefeater record."


  • disrecords 2010 a: DSI Records: 2010 interview with Singer for Beefeater - Part 2 of 4, 26 October 2010,, checked 25 April 2023
  • dsirecords 2010 b: DSI Records: 2010 interview with Singer for Beefeater - Part 4 of 4, 30 November 2010,, checked 25 April 2023
  • Scott Crawford: Spoke, Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene; New York City: Akashic Books, ISBN-13: 978-1-61775-500-2 (2017)
  • Bobby Sullivan: Revolutionary Threads: Rastafari, Social Justice, and Cooperative Economics; New York City: Akashic Books, ISBN-13: 978-1617757563 (2018)