My Week With ‘Bubba the Love Sponge’
May 3 2013
After about eight years working in PETA’s Campaigns Department, you start to feel like maybe you’ve done it all. Taken over a runway during fashion week? Check. Worn a lettuce bikini? Check. Was jailed after a fur protest? Check. Addressed KFC shareholders to shame the CEO over the restaurant chain’s lack of meaningful animal welfare practices? Check.
But on a recent Saturday morning, I got a text message because all-star PETA supporter Sam Simon (who is also the namesake of PETA’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, the Sam Simon Center) was on air with radio host “Bubba the Love Sponge.” When Bubba found out that Sam was having health issues, he asked Sam if there was anything that he could do. Sam, forever quick on his feet, suggested that if Bubba wanted to do something for him, he could watch “Glass Walls“ and eat vegan for a week! Surprisingly, Bubba agreed. So someone needed to go and be Bubba’s cheerleader immediately. The next morning, I was on a plane to Tampa, Florida.
I didn’t know what to expect when I got there—Bubba has a reputation as one of the most outspoken radio personalities in the country and lovingly refers to himself as “King of the Common Man.” And of course, once upon a time PETA was furious with Bubba because of an incident involving the slaughter of a wild-caught hog at a station where he was working. (It later turned out that he’d had no part in it, but some audio that he had played of pigs screaming had created the confusion.)
The next morning, I listened to the show and then headed over to the studio. As I approached, I was blown away—this was the most elaborate radio station I’d ever seen. Most of the stations that I’d been to were pretty low-frills—after all, people are listening, not looking. Next, I met Bubba’s crew, including his lovely sister Tara, who looks as if she should be on TV, not radio, and who’d volunteered to cook for Bubba to help him navigate his vegan week. I spread out the vegan goodies that I’d brought with me on a big table in the kitchen, including Vegan Cooking for Carnivores by Ellen DeGeneres’ personal chef and PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook.
The studio itself was impressive, too—another glowing Bubba logo, a full bar, a stage for bands, and a shower with glass walls, which the crew was careful to point out had nozzles at varying levels—not just for washing your hair (!). I was able to talk a bit about the benefits of eating vegan, including being less likely to die of our nation’s top killers—heart disease, cancer, and stroke—and answer some good questions from the crew.
Finally, Bubba decided to dive in and do some sampling. Tara poured out cups of different types of nondairy milks for him to sample. He stopped with a cup in hand, looked me sternly in the eye, and said, “I hope you know—I’m going to be totally honest here. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything.” And I replied, “I would expect nothing less!” He found the almond milk (unsweetened) to be “tolerable” for cereal but not for drinking. Onto the sweetened—thank goodness the vanilla almond milk was a hit! But still curious, he moved onto rice milk, and this one turned out to be the real winner. Bubba really liked it and found it sweeter, even though it contained less sugar, and Tara liked it, too.
Once off the air, everyone gathered around the table to have a closer look, and Tara and Bubba were really excited by the Gimme Lean vegan sausage. Tara mentioned that one of Bubba’s favorite foods is biscuits and sausage gravy and that she’d love to use that to make him some. (Biscuits and sausage gravy had been one of my favorites, too, before I went vegan—and it still is, ever since I discovered the delicious vegan recipe from Hot Damn and Hell Yeah: Recipes for Hungry Banditos.) The best moment was probably when Bubba said (I’m paraphrasing), “Hell, if you can get a redneck hick like me to buy into this, then there’s no one you can’t convert!”
Hell, if you can get a redneck hick like me to buy into this, then there’s no one you can’t convert!
The next day, it was time to make some biscuits and gravy. I baked the biscuits from scratch in the hotel kitchen early in the morning and then headed over to whip up the sausage gravy in studio. Since this was one of Bubba’s favorite foods, the pressure was on! Tara tore the fresh biscuits in half, piled them high with gravy, and volunteered to ferry them in to the guys on the show. I waited nervously for the verdict in the kitchen. I wrung my hands and tried not to eat the gravy while I waited—it smelled so good. After what felt like forever, Tara came back in and was beaming! She said Bubba was blown away and wanted to bring me on air right away. I went in, and Bubba congratulated me. He couldn’t believe that the dish was edible, much less delicious! I was able to mention PETA’s new feature on the three easy steps that it takes to go vegan, the link between eating animal products and impotence (yes, really!), and information about factory farming—about 99 percent of animal products come from animals who have been factory-farmed.
Thank you, Bubba, Tara, Brent, and all of Bubba’s listeners. It was great to hear the thoughtful questions from people on the show and from callers. At the end of the day, most people are compassionate and want to do the right thing. If we can remember to be polite and patient with folks who are just starting to explore these issues (a point where we all were at one time), we’ll continue to make progress in behalf of animals.
Inspired to help animals yourself?