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Monday, October 17, 2011

Vegans on TV

One of my pet peeves is how TV shows usually portray veg*an (vegan and vegetarian) characters in a negative light. We are often shown to be pushy, unhealthy freaks. Fortunately, there have been a couple of shows which take a pro-veg*an stance. Let’s look at a five popular TV shows and how they treat(ed) veg*ans.
The anti-veg shows:

"Are We There Yet?" (TBS).  This is actually one of my favorite shows. It is based on the movie of the same name that starred Ice Cube and follows Nick and Suzanne as they try to bring their newly blended family together. My favorite actress of all time, Telma Hopkins plays the character Marilyn (Nick's mom). While she's not a regular, she appears fairly frequently (about every other episode). It's a funny show that's great for all ages. The one episode that I don't like is called "Lindsey Goes Vegan". In this episode, the oldest child Lindsey announces that she has decided to become a vegan. Unfortunately, she goes about it all wrong. She constantly lectures her family about their meat eating and tries to force them to go vegan with her (not a good way to win people over). In one scene she tries to throw away everything in the house that contains leather and fur, even things that don't belong to her like her father's football. When her mother asks her what scent she is wearing, Lindsey tells her that she has stopped using soap and is only showering with tea tree oil because soap contains animal fat. It is true that many commercially made soaps have animal fats, but the writers completely ignored the fact that many types of vegan soaps ARE available. The worst thing about the episode was when her family found out that the only reason Lindsey had decided to become vegan was to impress a vegan boy that she had a crush on. She had never actually been committed to animal rights like she claimed. By the end of the episode she has broken up with the boy and is back to eating meat. The one saving grace about this episode was that at at the end, her step father Nick makes a vegan chili that the family loves. At least they were willing to show viewers that vegan food is tasty. But the episode still gave people the impression that vegans are pushy and that we will eventually get over our "phase" and go back to eating meat.

"Boy Meets World" I used to watch this show every day as a teenager when it was on the Disney Channel. This show follows a boy named Cory Matthews and his friends as they go through middle school, high school, and eventually college. It's a great coming of age show. In the early episodes one of the main characters, Topanga Lawrence is a vegetarian. However, she is also a very weird character whom the other kids make fun of. She is seen as a new ager whose ideas are unrealistic. As the seasons went on, Topanga gradually becomes a regular teenager and marries the main character Cory. However, she also gives up on her vegetarianism. Once again, we veg*ans are made to look like freaks who are not really committed to our beliefs.

The pro-veg shows:

"Braceface" This was a show that aired in re-runs on the Disney Channel years ago. This show introduced me to vegetarianism as a child years before I would actually become one myself. The show is about a teenager named Sharon who has to get braces that she hates. They do all sorts of crazy things like pick up on radio and walkie talkie signals, enabling Sharon and everyone near her to hear music and conversations from quite a distance. In one of the first season episodes called "The Meat of the Matter", Sharon gets a part time job at a meat packing plant. While she is at work, her braces pick up a signal from the walkie-talkies the employees of the slaughterhouse next door are using. She hears the cows wailing in the background and decides to go over to the slaughterhouse and see what's going on first hand. When she gets there, she sees the horrible conditions the cows must endure. She also meets with a vegetarian film maker who is doing an expose on the meat industry. She speaks with him and then goes home where her mother has made a meat dish for dinner. When she looks at it, she remembers the slaughterhouse and announces that she is now a vegetarian. Her family is skeptical at first, but learns to accept her decision. She joins a vegetarian group and starts to advocate for animal rights. Later when she and her friends are at a party where the only foods being served are beef burgers and hot dogs, she leaves discouraged. She decides to go meet up with her vegetarian friends who are at a booth at a supermarket giving away samples of veggie burgers. They convince her to go back to the party with some veggie burgers and show the other kids that vegetarian food can be tasty. She decides to do that and her friends at the party end up devouring the veggie burgers. This show is good because unlike most shows where a character decides to become a veg*an only to go back to eating meat, Sharon remains a vegetarian throughout the series. Her vegetarianism is central to the plot of several episodes and it's always portrayed as a good, compassionate decision. It would have been even better if Sharon had been a full vegan, but I'll take what I can get.

"Degrassi: The Next Generation": This is a Canadian teen drama that is a continuation of the 1980s/1990s series "Degrassi Junior High" and "Degrassi High". This show deals with the realities of being a teenager in the 2000s. It's episodes deal with topics like teen pregnancy and parenthood, abortion, adoption, gangs, drugs, racism, school violence and prejudice against homosexuals (the show has won awards from GLAAD). For eight years one of the main characters (the show has a large ensemble cast) was Emma Nelson. Emma is shown to be a devoted activist and vegetarian. While she can be a bit over the top at times, Emma is sincere about her beliefs and her vegetarianism is shown in a positive light.

"The Simpsons" I don't watch this show that often, but I do know that the character of Lisa has been a vegetarian for several seasons and from what I have seen her vegetarianism is treated as a good thing.

What do you think about the way that veg*ans are protrayed on TV? Can you give me more examples of shows that have positive veg*an characters?

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