In childhood, I played the odd game of touch football without an audience, held together by the numbers–points, winning streaks and personal bests. A captive audience buzzing with capital make for interesting stakes, but few if any athlete will be invited into his respective hall of fame on the grounds that, though he never won any championships, he had a really good grasp of the “psychology of the fans”.
Being a wrestling fan is not a passive state. When you look into a painting, your gaze gives that work of art meaning. In art, we call this “funding and fusion”. The ball can float through the basket whether its watched by one or one thousand people. But the botched grace of a Pollock is not empirical. Likewise: the things we love about wrestling–the sell, the hope spot, the “let me tell you something, Mean Gene”–require not only our witnessing, but our reciprocation. Hulk Hogan did not attain immortality; it was thrust upon him by throngs of fans who saw him deplete the nemeses of America with the white hot fire of a Rock N’ Roll Jesus.
The fan-created art, blogs, zines, and non-name brand merch that sprout from wrestling fandom are not just the pop culture carbon footprint of wrestling, but necessary infrastructure; we are building gods and warriors and whatever they’re doing with Sandow out of otherwise “common people”.
In curating a culture for wrestling to thrive in, wrestling fans have a lot on their plate.
And Bake And Destroy’s Natalie Slater wants to fill that plate with delicious vegan food that will kick the shit out of you if you think for a second about making a “well I’ll just eat double the cows hurr hurr hurr”.
Her book has been given high marks by Colt Cabana and Lita. Like, I mean scores. Not John Cena tripping on LSD wrapped in bows.
How much of the aggression in your aesthetic is a counterpoint to the notion of veganism as passive or detrimentally pacifist? “Vegans are so angry because they’re always starving”.
Well, I’m an aggressive person to start with, so regardless of what I was or wasn’t eating, I have always been aggressive, and confrontational. Having something that I feel really passionate about, like veganism, like ethical veganism, just gives me more ammo. I just sort of enjoy arguing no matter what it’s about.
So your wrestler archetype would be Roddy Piper circa ‘84-’85.
Oh, you nailed it! If I could be anyone I would be for sure Roddy Piper.
What would go into a Rock N’ Wrestling era Roddy Piper themed cupcake?
Whatever it is, it’s gotta be something that can be used as a weapon. I feel like a good cream filled pie would be excellent. It would only make sense if it were coconut–a coconut cream pie that he could smash in anyone’s face would probably be perfect.
That is the moment I became attracted to men When I saw that happen and I was like “Whoa, that was cool, that guy’s kinda hot. Wait a minute, I think I like dudes.”
Roddy Piper was absolutely my first crush, and still remains… he still looks good.
Seeing that happen was a big part of my childhood.
You know, it could’ve gone either way for me. It’s not too late still.
Wrestling is pretty much the one constant of my life. I get older, I change—no matter who I grow into, wrestling is a core part of that person’s identity. I’d definitely change my sexual orientation before I quit wrestling.
When I was a child, I was afraid I’d be stuck living in Europe forever and never get to watch wrestling because I bought into this idea that everyone hated America’s freedoms and so Germany wouldn’t let the WWF in their country because Hacksaw Jim Duggan would try to get the crowds to chant “USA” and start an international incident. Before I ever kissed a girl, I was tits deep in the realpolitik of the ring.
Pro wrestling really, at it’s best, holds up a comical mirror to society. There’s always the guy going “USA USA”–there’s always the character, his opponent, who stands for whoever in the current news is viewed as trying to take away our freedom in some way, or challenging the American dream in some way. If you’re in on the joke, as a fan, you know you’re kind of making fun of yourself, and America is making fun of itself. You appreciate it, because you’re in on it, and it’s funny.
But I know that for a lot of people who maybe didn’t necessarily get into it when they were young–it can be a lot harder as an adult to appreciate the complexity of it and not just see it as buffoonery.
My husband did not grow up a wrestling fan, at all. He was a skateboarder, is a skateboarder, was always outside, never watched TV, wasn’t interested. He grew up a defiant little kid; everybody watched wrestling, all the people that he wasn’t interested in being friends with.
For him, as an adult, trying to appreciate something that means so much to me, it is a struggle for him, as a 43-year-old man trying to understand wrestling for the first time in his life.
So it is something very uniquely tied to your upbringing Some people do get into it as adults, and more power to them. For most people I know, it is tied to whatever it gave you as a kid, whatever feeling of unity or release or escape or whatever.
When people ask me “Why do you think we can achieve [insert goal of the “social justice agenda” here] in our lifetime” I go “look: when I was a kid, I believed John Nord was a Viking somehow resuscitated to fight the undead.”
Those were magical days.
When I was a child, my parents told me that chicken wasn’t made of chicken, that it was just a vegetable that we called chicken. Until I was about 9 or 10 and had seen a farm slaughter firsthand, I had believed I was a vegetarian. It was like learning wrestling was fake—not wanting to turn around and see the steps you’d taken, able only to keep walking like nothing had ever happened. Can you remember, and do you want to share, when the pieces began to click and you realized wrestling was a work?
It wasn’t so much something that I did, or realized; it was a tide shift in wrestling itself that sort of made me willing to suspend my disbelief. In the mid to late 90s, I would say probably 1994/95, is really when Steve Austin really started booming. And by 1997, he was the biggest name in professional wrestling. And his entire gimmick was sort of gimmickless in a way.
It was certainly and exaggeration of his personality, but instead of saying “Oh, I’m a professional model and I’m gonna spray you with my essence”, instead of these cartoonish characters, he was like just a bad ass dude–you could kind of picture him being your friends’ dad or a cool uncle or whatever.
Well, I don’t know how cool he was with his jean shorts, but you know what I mean.
When wrestling started taking that shift, from that caricature to Degeneration X, where it was more just cool and every day guys, it made me, as a teenager at that point, go “oh, all that stuff before like Doink the Clown were these silly things, I accept that”.
Now everybody is just sort of like a realistic badass. There aren’t as many fanciful characters anymore.
Honestly, that’s kind of when I quit paying attention for a long time. I didn’t want that, I wasn’t interested in that as much as I was interested in all the weirdos–demented clowns and repo men. For a while they were all just kind of this dad guy.
I wonder if that magic can co-exist with social media. Every WWE show, it’s “livetweet this match! The Bellas have been busy on Instagram! Look, we made Kane and Sheamus read your insulting tweets! “
That’s a good point. There’s not that barrier between us, as fans, and the stars anymore. It’s sort of removed some of that magic and mystery.
When you think of baseball, there are foods you associate with that. Hot dog, cracker jacks, a warm beer. Though other sports don’t have quite that culinary identity, there is a food/party culture to sports: tailgate parties, popcorn, $8 beer, etc. Would you break vegan for a Superstars Ice Cream Bar, and if given necessary leverage, what would you make the “official food” of wrestling?
Would I trade in my vegan card for the day for an ice cream bar? I have to say no. As excited as I would be to see that, it would really need to be something truly delicious that would ever tempt me away from this path that I am passionate about.
I have very clear memories of that ice cream being super icy and artificially vanilla.
I would for sure instagram it and be super excited that it existed—but I don’t think it would be worth it for me to actually eat it.
If it were up to me, I would say since no other sporting event has ever truly claimed nachos as their own, I would like to claim that, on behalf of wrestling. And really make something of it! I love nachos–that’s probably my favourite food.
But that is really interesting that there has never been food associated with other sports—you can get a soft pretzel and peanuts at any sporting event. I wonder if it’s because wrestling events are always indoors and there’s not that picnicking aspect to it that you kind of get at a baseball game.
I was also gonna say whatever the food was, it would have to be cheap enough that you didn’t feel upset when a wrestler knocked it out of your hand and called you a piece of shit because you got too close to the guard rail.
That’s a good point!
As a non-vegan, I really love vegan baking. The ethical and moral shit aside—we’ll save that for the PPV blowoff–there are genuine objective advantages to vegan baking.
For one thing, just right off the bat, if you’re the kind of person who likes to eat cookie dough or taste cake batter if you cook, vegan baking is the way to go. You’re not at risk for all of the food borne illnesses that you’re at risk for if you’re consuming things like raw eggs in your batter. From a purely snacking while you cook perspective, it’s awesome.
Another thing that drove me nuts, as a conventional baker, was the constant need for ingredients that I wasn’t necessarily using for anything else. Nobody in my family eats eggs. My kid doesn’t like them, nobody likes them–if I had a recipe and I needed two eggs, I’d have to get an entire dozen to make this one stupid recipe.
The same with milk! We’re not big milk drinkers, I mean being vegan, obviously now we’re not, but we never were. There were just a lot of things that I had to keep around in order to bake, that now that I don’t have to; the substitutions are simple and cheap, and they’re real food substitutions.
I can use bananas instead of eggs. I can use baking soda and vinegar as an awesome leavener. I can use flax seeds ground up and mixed with a little bit of water as a binder. There’s all these things that I can use, that are super simple, that are already in my house, really inexpensive and are actual, nutritious, food.
Once you know the tricks, it’s really not that complicated anymore. And I think it does trip people up—they’re so used to butter, milk, eggs as being the baking staples. But honestly, there’s a handful of tricks and they’re easy.
A vegan diet is a cholesterol free diet. If you stick to real foods, it improves your digestion.
There are a million health reasons associated with it too– it’s also just a purely simple and inexpensive way of cooking and baking.
What was the litmus of your suspense of disbelief? For me, I knew wrestling was real when Jake “The Snake” Roberts tied Macho Man into the ropes and had Damien bite him. Looking back, I realize that doesn’t speak well for the “magic” of wrestling. It’s athletic improvisational theatre with complicated but engaging rituals—and when that doesn’t work we have this live animal in a sack!
I remember my little sister and I being genuinely terrified of the Undertaker.
I remember him putting Ultimate Warrior in a coffin and slamming it shut. We literally cried, the two of us cried, because we thought he was dead. That was shocking, and terrifying, and we really thought we saw someone die. It couldn’t have been more real than that very moment.
A runner up for me, of moments that “wrestling is so terrifying it transcends the question of ‘real’” would be Royal Rumble ’94 where you see the Undertaker inside of the casket and then he becomes smoke and ascends to the TitanTron. That is probably why I am legitimately afraid of being buried alive, as an adult.
Those matches were really scary. It’s funny; I’ve brought my iece to quite a few wrestling events, and she cries every time Kane comes to the ring, because the fire and everything else. It’s scary, and he’s scary. I guess in a way it’s nice that some of those really supernatural and weird characters did manage to live on to keep scaring little kids the way they should.
I have always loved a good heel. But I didn’t hate Undertaker; he just scared me. It wasn’t until I was older when I appreciated that, really.
Even as a kid I, always liked Jake the Snake, I always liked the Million Dollar Man. I liked those guys because they were funnier and more fun to match. There was something about the Undertaker, though; he wasn’t a straight heel. He was something else. He wasn’t good, he wasn’t bad, he was just kind of evil and that was frightening.
He’s kind of like the Borg in Star Trek. He’s this inhuman force that can’t be reasoned with.
Right, yeah. That’s totally it. You picture yourself somehow encountering these people. If you met Hulk Hogan, he would ruffle your hair and tell you to say your prayers and take your vitamins. If you met the Million Dollar Man, he would call you a peasant, and you might be able to kiss his ass and carry his briefcase for him and maybe he would let you hang out with him. You kind of know how to handle them as a human.
The Undertaker, there was no interaction that you could picture with him because he was so cold and dead. And really, maybe the most interesting character.
Would you have taken your niece to an Attitude era show?
Well. it’s interesting because the biggest reason why my niece is interested is because my family is very close with Phil Brooks, formerly known as CM Punk–he and I have known each other for 20 years. He definitely crashed our house quite a bit as a teenager.
At the height of his popularity in the WWE was like right when my niece kind of hit the age where kids in her class were really into wrestling–she was second or third, he was all over the place, everybody was talking about the “Pipe Bomb” and she was really interested. My sister was like “you know, he’s a friend of ours. And auntie can take us to matches.” We would always sit ringside and it was exciting for her. A big part of why she was even interested was kind of the access that she was able to have because just of his friendship with my family.
I don’t know if there was anything going on during the Attitude Era that would have caused as much of a buzz in third grade as Punk kind of breaking that wall and really airing his grievances.
I feel like older kids were more interested in the Attitude Era—even adult men were really into Steve Austin and the whole whoop-ass and all that. DX and all their groin grabbing–that was kind of for older kids and grown ups. So, I don’t know. I really don’t know.
I feel like I should mention this now, in case you ever Google me, but I used to be a super, super, super intense critic of CM Punk
That’s fine. Let me tell you: being friends with him for 20 years, you definitely have to have a thick skin about people’s criticisms of him. People were critical of him before he was anything, when he was working in a comic book store. It’s nothing new.
I’ve warmed up to him in the past few years, because I’m an adult now. The Attitude Era was fun for what it was. And ECW was fun for what it was. But wrestling cannot be that anymore. Wrestling needs to be accessible to children. I came to really appreciate the work he’s was doing to make wrestling accessible to kids. So if you’re ever wanna tell him “I talked to this girl who used to hate you, but now she doesn’t”—well, I’m sure he hears that a hundred times a day.
Do you prefer the blue waffle-style cage or the chain link fence?
I think maybe the chain link just for no reason, I just picked one that I’m like “I like that better.”
When people talk about wrestling, they frame it as a sport/jock culture. But wrestling is not a jock culture; it is very firmly a nerd culture. I hear people argue with such lengths about which cage is better. And in fact, I know some wrestling writers who hate steel cage matches, and it’s not because they don’t like the gimmick of it, but because they find a face having to escape a situation to win thematically inappropriate.
I’m with you. For me, wrestling was definitely a nerd thing. A nerdy thing to like, and all the jocks and the people who liked quote unquote real sports were not interested in it because it was fake.
But my husband grew up in Flint, Michigan and all his cousins were from South Carolina. Flint is very urban, but most of the people he was with on a regular basis were a little bit more rural and they all loved Ric Flair. He was their hero, and to him, wrestling was more of a jock thing to be into, because he was a skateboarder and a punk rocker in Flint, Michigan in the eighties, and very much an outcast. The kids who were more socially acceptable and popular all loved wrestling, and loved Ric Flair. It’s really interesting how your surroundings can completely make wrestling culturally acceptable or unacceptable.
I live in Chicago, Punk lives in Chicago too, and it’s been pretty easy for him to have some degree of privacy here. In the city of Chicago, people are very image concerned, it’s very “hip”, and wrestling is not really considered hip. And so he, for the most part, can kind of do this thing and not get a lot of hassle. But when he leaves and goes to the suburbs, or to another city, he gets hassled a lot more by wrestling fans. It’s weird– a lot of it is to do with your surroundings.
If you were gonna make cupcakes of 90s Sting and The Crow era Sting—
Oh my gosh!
What would be in them?
90s Sting was so excellent. I loved him, and had a giant crush on him, even though my cousins referred to him as generic Ultimate Warrior.
They were tag team partners. So, not far off?
It would definitely have to be neon in every way, like maybe a version of a funfetti cake. Lots of colours in there. And it would need to be filled with something fluorescent and custardy. Lots of really artificial food dyes would be in play. Maybe one of those tiedye cakes that are all over pinterest.
For the Crow era: I think you’d have to go really dark–like a dutch chocolate, and then fill it with some kind of red berry jam and ganache. And then you could use white chocolate to do a reverse corpse paint thing on top of it.
They would be two completely different taste buds. One would be a much more kid friendly overly sugary sweet and the other one would definitely be a more bitter and dark chocolate.
And what would your finisher be?
This is not based in fantasy. It might not be as fanciful as an answer as you would hope for. I’m actually pretty great at sleeper holds. I sometimes just throw them on my husband for fun—he’s tapped out on a few occasions.
Considering my love of sweatpants, maybe I would just call it the Comfy Sweatpants. And when I put it on my opponent, they would instantly feel like they were in a comfy pair of sweatpants and they would be unable to resist.
That’s great, that’s better than anything I could’ve hoped for in terms of an answer.