Twenty years ago this week, the world’s view on vegetarianism + veganism was changed with a single, hilarious, 30-minute-long episode of The Simpsons.
When it first aired, I myself had transitioned from vegetarian to vegan mere weeks before, so it definitely struck a chord with me on a personal level. More than that, it humanized and—oddly enough for a comedic cartoon—grounded the issue in a pretty honest reality, with both Lisa as she begins to identify with animals and with those around her, as they deal with the changes that come about in her personality.
All of this was beautifully rendered yesterday in a Slate article by Washington DC-based writer, Alan Siegel, commemorating the twentieth anniversary The Simpsons episode that Siegel writes “marked one of the first times on television that vegetarians saw an honest depiction of themselves—and of the viscerally defensive reaction that meat-eaters often have to vegetarianism.”
He explains further:
“Vegetarians previously had been portrayed in pop culture, but rarely as anything but one-dimensional hippies. ‘Lisa the Vegetarian,’ which aired on Oct. 15, 1995, was something different: a conversion story, told from the point of view of the person becoming a vegetarian. Lisa, the moral center of The Simpsons, spends the episode wrestling with what it means to eat meat. Her agonizing journey mirrors the one experienced by many in real life.”
We highly recommend reading Siegel’s full article, which details how The Simpsons show runner at the time gave up meat and came up with the idea for the episode and how Paul and Linda McCartney got involved, which resulted in their one and only stipulation—that Lisa remain a vegetarian through the rest of the series. Twenty years later, that never-aging little girl stays as committed to animals as ever.
We re-watched the episode last night so many years later and it really does hold up, both in terms of hilarity and earnestness. If you have cable, you can watch every episode of every season (all 27) of the venerable show via SimpsonsWorld.com or through FXNow via Apple TV or the like. There’s even a random episode button that will doubtless result in many glorious lost hours at our home.
Below, a clip from the show when Lisa’s school becomes concerned with her turn and shows the class an education film titled “Meat and You: Partners in Freedom—Number 3F03 in the ‘Resistance is Useless’ Series”