Vegetarians Rising
A CultureMap®
by Christine Sismondo
Published on 7/10/13

Almost everyone aspires to cruelty-free eating at some point in their life. But while many make the omnivore’s compromise and seek out humane and cage-free alternatives to feedlots and factory farming, an increasing number have gone whole hog and adopted a lifelong commitment to vegetarianism—or even veganism. As bacon finally jumps the shark and the cost of meat, well, mushrooms, this is the dawning of a new age of vegetarianism.

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Gandhi  (1869–1948 | Indian civil rights leader)
to  Hinduism

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s Hinduism may at first seem a little unorthodox, since, among other things, he read the Koran and considered Muhammad a “prophet.” But the mahatma (“great soul” in Sanskrit) claimed to be “a Christian, a Buddhist and a Muslim” in accordance with his Hindu faith, since orthodox sanatani Hinduism dictates nonsectarianism. Gandhi’s Hinduism not only tolerated but necessitated a pan-religious outlook that incorporated the best elements of other creeds.

One of the more profound extra-Hindu religious influences on Gandhi was Jainism, the faith of his mother. Jainism was a major factor in his promotion of ahimsa (“nonviolence”) as an important component of his religious and political philosophy. While ahimsa is mentioned in ancient Vedic texts, it was adopted as a defining principle of Hinduism only when Gandhi began touting the ideal. Ahimsa inspired Gandhi’s nonviolent protests that culminated with India’s peacefully won independence from Britain. It also led to the high prevalence of vegetarian diets among Hindus and Jains, since nonharm applies to all living creatures, not just humans.

Incidentally, despite being raised in a strictly vegetarian household, Gandhi experimented briefly with carnivorism in his youth, having heard it was connected with British dominance in his homeland.

to  PETA  (American animal rights organization | 1980–present)

Although many Hindus are vegetarians, India doesn’t get a pass on animal rights, at least according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Despite the general principle of ahimsa (nonharm to all living creatures) practiced by Hindus, there has been ample criticism of animal treatment in India in the name of religion.

Consider the controversial yet traditional snake charmers whom some PETA critics charge torture snakes during the annual festival Nag Panchami. PETA claims that ceremonial snakes are starved or fed unnatural foods, defanged and kept in small, suffocating bags and boxes prior to the festival. In extreme cases, snakes’ mouths are allegedly sewn shut.

More recently, PETA’s attention has shifted to elephants, which, in India, are sometimes put on display in temples to represent Ganesh, an elephant-headed Hindu god. Not only are their quarters often cramped and filthy, but the elephants are also reportedly occasionally beaten. This year Pamela Anderson and Paul McCartney—both high-profile animal rights activists—intervened on behalf of Sunder, a 13-year-old elephant confined to the Jyotiba Temple in Kolhapur. Similar PETA efforts have been successful in the past, resulting in captive elephants’ being freed and sent to sanctuaries.

to  The Beatles  (English musical group | 1960–1970)

The 1965 filming of Help!, conducted in a “haze of marijuana” in the Bahamas, turned out to be life changing for Beatle George Harrison and, by extension, John, Paul and Ringo. There, they met Swami Vishnu Devananda, who introduced Harrison to yoga and meditation. Soon after, the quiet Beatle became enthralled with sitar master Ravi Shankar, who would influence not only Harrison’s musical education but also lead him further into Eastern religion. By 1968 the Beatles were installed at Transcendental Meditation innovator Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India.

The maharishi and the Fab Four, however, wound up with an uneasy relationship. McCartney and Starr eventually left, and Lennon and Harrison broke with him for a variety of reasons, including Mia Farrow’s claim that the maharishi had hit on her. The song “Sexy Sadie” (from The White Album), with lyrics “You made a fool of everyone,” was originally titled “Maharishi.” “Dear Prudence” (from the same album) was inspired by Farrow’s sister Prudence, who took her meditation extremely seriously and rarely “came out to play.” Hindu leaders were also occasionally critical of the maharishi’s interpretation of the Ancient Vedic texts, which they considered crassly commercial.

PETA  (American animal rights organization | 1980–present)
to  Pamela Anderson  (b. 1967 | Canadian American actor)

Alex Pacheco cofounded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after he witnessed crab-eating macaques being tortured at a behavioral sciences lab in Silver Springs, Maryland. Pamela Anderson had a similar ontological shock while watching her father clean the carcass of a deer he had just killed. That was when Anderson was in her teens, and the model-turned-actor has been a vegetarian ever since.

Famous for her breasts, her bawdy sex tapes, Baywatch and Borat, Anderson also critiques fast-food chains like KFC and promotes vegetarianism. In 2010 she introduced a signature soy-based vegan shake at the make-your-own milkshake chain Millions of Milkshakes and has long railed against Canada’s sanctioned annual seal hunt.

Anderson joined forces with PETA to appear in several anti–animal cruelty campaigns, including the antifur video “Cruelty Doesn’t Fly” and a sexy pinup poster with her bikini-clad body marked up like a butcher’s chart—leg, round, rump, ribs and breast. The caption: “All animals have the same parts.” Montreal city officials refused to permit the ad’s unveiling in Place Jacques-Cartier, claiming there were concerns it was sexist. Conspiracy theorists may consider it payback for her stance on the seal hunt.

The Beatles  (English musical group | 1960–1970)
to  The Simpsons  (Animated TV show | 1989–present)

The Simpsons makes numerous references to the Beatles: Homer spends one episode reminiscing about his Beatles-esque band, the Be Sharps; in another, Monty Burns recalls the Fab Four’s “off-key caterwauling on the old Sullivan show”; and in yet another, Marge remembers her teenage crush on Ringo Starr, who makes an “appearance” in The Simpsons’ second season. But one of the most memorable moments is Paul and Linda McCartney’s rooftop ashram in the episode “Lisa the Vegetarian.”

At home Lisa Simpson learns that “you don’t win friends with salad.” At school her stance on meat is interpreted as evidence of subversive tendencies, and the entire class is forced to watch Meat and You: Partners in Freedom, from the Resistance Is Useless series of educational films.

A dejected Lisa decides to give up her idealistic stance, seeking solace in a hot dog at the Kwik-E-Mart. But she discovers that store owner Apu surreptitiously serves tofu dogs in accordance with his lifelong vegetarianism. The self-declared “fifth Beatle” then whisks Lisa upstairs to his rooftop garden, where the McCartneys, real-life animal rights activists and vegetarians, offer her a counter-narrative to the Meat Council propaganda and help her resolve her inner conflict.

The Beatles  (English musical group | 1960–1970)
to  Morrissey  (b. 1959 | British pop star)

Given Morrissey’s penchant for public beefs with major pop stars, including Elton John, George Michael and Madonna (whom he calls McDonna), we’d expect a few juicy quotes from him about the Beatles, who were likely too milquetoast and too commercial for the crooning emo precursor. But save for a quibble with Paul McCartney over accepting a knighthood, Morrissey has been surprisingly silent about those mop-tops.

That’s because the former Smiths frontman shares more with the Beatles than we might guess. Morrissey and McCartney, for example, are both vegetarians. Both also revered Paul’s wife, Linda, who was Morrissey’s pen pal. And both the Beatles and Moz cite British playwright Shelagh Delaney as a major influence. The Beatles’ recording of “A Taste of Honey” was inspired by Delaney’s groundbreaking 1958 play of the same name, while a picture of Delaney graces the cover of the Smiths’ 1987 album Louder Than Bombs and inspired the early Smiths song “This Night Has Opened My Eyes.”

Morrissey has even said that 50 percent of his writing could be “blamed” on Delaney. That makes it even odds she’s responsible for his disputatious stance on long hair, which, according to Morrissey, ought to be punishable by death.

Morrissey  (b. 1959 | British pop star)
to  PETA  (American animal rights organization | 1980–present)

Morrissey and PETA are a natural fit. After all, the former frontman of the Smiths adopted a vegetarian diet some 10 years before PETA even existed and, by 1985, had established himself as one of the most famous animal rights advocates in the world with the release of Meat Is Murder. The album has inspired millions of teenage girls to eschew meat and live almost entirely off nachos and pictures of Moz’s pompadour.

In 2005 Morrissey was given PETA’s Linda McCartney Memorial Award for his work—not just for Meat Is Murder but also for his public stance on the Canadian seal hunt and fervent critique of meat-loving chefs like Jamie Oliver and Clarissa Dickson Wright. The latter is a particularly large Moz target, since Wright, one half of TV’s Two Fat Ladies, not only promotes meaty delights like mitton of pork—bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin—but was also caught attending an illegal hare coursing. For his outspoken activism, Morrissey was named PETA’s 2011 Person of the Year, and recently PETA and Morrissey teamed on a “Homeless Animals on Your Mind?” poster, meant to encourage people to spay and neuter their pets.