Rock's vegan fundamentalist: why Morrissey was ahead of his time.
The Telegraph - by Adam White, 10th Jan., 2019.
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"In 1985, a year after releasing the album Meat Is Murder as part of The Smiths, Morrissey was performing at a gig in Stoke on Trent when he was pelted with objects from the audience: it was a string of sausages, each one carefully inscribed with the title of his album.
“They hit me in the face and part of them got in my mouth,” he later recalled. “I had to just run off the stage and heave! I really vomited. Eating meat is the most disgusting thing I can think of. It’s like biting into your grandmother.” This was the last time animal flesh has even come close to Morrissey's mouth.
Back then, Morrissey was fighting on behalf of a mainstream vegetarian ideology very much in its infancy, and inciting much controversy in the process. With veggie food almost exclusively found in hippie cafes and the idea of vegetarian sausages in your local Tesco barely a glimmer of an idea on Linda McCartney’s vision board, Morrissey and The Smiths were notable for being very public early proponents of a meat-free diet.
Fast forward 30 years, and Morrissey has become a maddening pop culture troll, lecturing the world on the evils of eating meat while expressing a number of inflammatory socio-political stances that have inadvertently encouraged most of us, whatever our political beliefs, to swear we'll never listen to his music again. But even as his politics have changed, his commit to the vegetarian - now vegan - cause has never wavered.
With veganism already declared to be the hottest cultural trend of 2019, assisted by the social media fervor surrounding the Gregg’s Vegan Sausage Roll and news that Beyoncé and Jay-Z have authored the forward to a vegan guide that essentially reads like a cult manifesto, perhaps it's time to give Morrisey some credit: he was ahead of the curve all along.
And that’s despite there having always been a thread of unhelpful lunacy to Morrissey’s animals-first mantra, with nary a Morrissey profile going by without a brief dip into all kinds of manic hysteria. From admonishing anyone who doesn’t feel the same level of horror over the terrorism of Anders Breivik as they do at the burger dispensaries at your average branch of KFC, to his declaration that there is “no difference” between the eating of animals and literal paedophilia (“They are both rape, violence, murder,” he said in 2014), Morrissey has often come to resemble a cartoon pastiche of a militant vegan.
Such hyperbolic, giggle-inducing metaphors for meat-eating have been a permanent fixture in Morrissey's press since the beginning of his career, while his public support for the kind of vegan activist most often seen dunking cans of paint over supermodels has spawned a legion of unflattering stereotypes. But buried beneath the histrionics have often been slivers of truth, now served up in more palatable and less casually racist forms by today’s A-list.
Morrissey’s sheer conviction in his beliefs, coupled with his unmistakable power within industry circles, has had an enormous effect. Although he failed in his campaign to get General Motors to switch all their car seats to vegan leather, he has repeatedly threatened to pull out of festivals and concerts if meat is sold on the premises (shows in Iceland were cancelled when the venues wouldn't bend to his will). He successfully convinced LA’s Staples Center to shut down its McDonalds ahead of one of his concerts in 2013, along with any food outlet selling meat on the floor level of the venue - Paul McCartney was flatly refused when he made the same request.
He has even claimed that the organisers of Coachella offered to become an entirely meat-free event for a year if he was able to get The Smiths back together.
His riders are known to state that his hotel rooms on tour cannot be situated downwind of any nearby barbecues, while he insists all of his bandmates and roadies must follow a vegan or vegetarian diet while touring. (Though fans have debated how successful he has been in that regard, gossiping about band members pining for roast dinners and devouring Haribos backstage.)
Attendees aren’t so lucky either. In 2011 it was reported that Morrissey fans were being frisked for meat products at his gigs, their bags searched for anything resembling parts of an animal, potentially to curb any incidents like the infamous 1985 sausage attack. And although the rumour th
(This incomplete sentence is actually in the article - FWD).
A vegetarian since the age of 11 and a vegan since the turn of the decade, Morrissey first began speaking openly about his beliefs via Meat Is Murder, a track he and The Smiths would play against a projected slideshow of slaughterhouses, animal testing labs and factory farming. In the process, he exposed a generation of music fans to the ghoulish realities of animal products. Such provocative staging remains intact during Morrissey gigs today, a reminder that while much of his overall worldview has changed in the years since, his deliberately antagonistic approach to animal rights hasn’t.
The album said track stems from, also titled Meat Is Murder, is still the toughest of the four Smiths records to revisit, full of evocative anger and political imagery, but lacking in hooks or many true, four-carat Smiths classics (How Soon Is Now? was only added to the US release of the album). And its failings are neatly encapsulated in the title track itself – a droning bit of melodrama that sounds particularly off-key in the wake of songs revolving around child abuse, poverty and class warfare. When Morrissey sings that eating meat is “death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder,” it’s difficult not to pick holes in his logic.
But while the track is no typical fan favourite, it did have an effect on a significant proportion of Smiths fans at the time. Speaking to journalist Neil Taylor in 2010 (via NME), guitarist Johnny Marr, today a vegan himself, called the song one of the things he is most proud of. “20 years on people tell me they became a vegetarian as a result of Meat Is Murder, and I think that is quite literally rock music changing someone’s life,” he said. “It’s certainly changing the life of animals.”
Like much of the rest of Morrissey’s public image throughout the Eighties and Nineties, his vegetarianism would become material for jokes made at his expense, presented as just another mockable characteristic of a man who was proudly soft, emotionally vulnerable and ambiguous in his sexuality – all qualities that made him a beloved figure for a generation of sad Eighties teens, as well as an easy target for the baffled old guard. It's easy to roll your eyes at his endless pontificating, but this was a man waving the flag for animal rights at a time when it decidedly wasn’t cool to do so.,
“Morrissey helped put PETA on the map,” PETA’s vice president of campaigns Dan Mathews told Spin Magazine in 2004. “Meat Is Murder was a benchmark in defining animal rights as an edgy youth movement and has created legions of vegetarians.”
An interesting aspect to Morrissey’s vegetarianism, however, has been how often it has shifted in its specifics. His unusual equating of various forms of human tragedy with the slaughter of animals has resulted in an alienating coldness at times, be it his shrug of a response to Band Aid, or his empathy with the violent tactics of the Animal Rights Militia.
And considering his devotion to the vegan cause, Morrissey’s revelatory interview earlier this year with author Fiona Dodwell came as a surprise. “I’ve always found food to be very difficult because I only eat bread, potatoes, pasta and nuts… all stodge,” he said. “I can’t eat anything that has any flavour. I’ve never had a curry, or coffee, or garlic.” In contrast with Marr, who discussed with Vegan Magazine in 2011 a diet rich in tofu, pastas, stuffed vine leaves and vegan cookies, it was curiously uninformed for such a public proponent of non-meat diets.
But Morrissey's awareness of the way wealth and class intersect with the availability and affordability of good quality vegan produce, as indicated during a rare TV sit-down with Larry King in 2015, showcased a more knowledgeable appreciation of veganism’s failings – even if it did make him an enemy in the eyes of some of the more hardcore figures of the vegan blogosphere.
In 2015, abolitionist vegan Gary L Francione slammed Morrissey’s comments on the difficulties of transitioning from vegetarianism to veganism. “There is no morally coherent distinction between meat and any other animal product,” Francione wrote. “It’s bad enough that high-visibility people like Morrissey and Paul McCartney pose as ‘animal people’ when they are not vegan.”
It has become as tricky to get a handle on Morrissey’s veganism as it is his politics, both dominated as they are with extremist, almost deliberately outrage-producing stances – something he has done in the press, to varying levels of legacy-ruining, since the peak of his Eighties fame. But despite how easy it has been to roll our collective eyes at his endless pontificating, this was a man waving the flag for animal rights at a time when it decidedly wasn’t cool to do so.
Animal rights awareness in the 1990s largely consisted of supermodels stripping down in adverts for PETA; more often than not, they were wearing fur on the runway a second later). At least Morrissey's hardcore veggie activism was genuinely productive.
It is a shame, then, that he has become such a droning oddball of late. On the list of outrageous comments Morrissey has made in the past decade, from slamming many of the men and women who have come forward with #MeToo stories to publicly supporting a political figure deemed part of a contingent of “Nazis and racists” within UKIP by none other than Nigel Farage, his hyperbolic statements on meat and paedophilia hardly register in the truly dangerous stakes. But it does do an unfortunate disservice to the good he has done in the past."
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