“Animals Are For Loving, Not Chewing”

The return of Fred Rogers from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” could not have come at a better time. The world needs Fred Rogers now more than ever. – Robin Berman, M.D., US News, August 27, 2018

Fred Rogers was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was the creator, composer, producer, head writer, showrunner and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Unfortunately the acclaimed documentary about him, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” fails to mention his compassionate commitment to animals.

Mister Rogers

What Would Mister Rogers Eat? Thanksgiving in the Neighborhood

By Michael G. Long
Mister Rogers

What would Fred Rogers eat for Thanksgiving? There’s one thing we know for certain: He was not inclined to bow his head and offer thanks for a roasted turkey, let alone to carve and consume it. “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother,” he often said.

Rogers stopped eating meat, fish, and fowl, including turkey, in the early 1970s, not long after Frances Moore Lappe published Diet for a Small Planet, a major critique of meat production and a compelling argument for a plant-based diet that can help alleviate world hunger.

“I want to be a vehicle for God, to spread his message of love and peace,” Rogers stated when explaining his vegetarianism in 1983.

Rogers was one of the rare Christian ministers who believed that treating animals nonviolently and embracing a vegetarian lifestyle are deeply spiritual practices that bear witness to God’s love for animals.

While Rogers wanted us to understand that loving animals means, at a bare minimum, not eating them, he also wanted us to develop everyday empathy for these so-called “lesser creatures.” In the 1960s he even took up the cause of dyed Easter chicks, penning a song titled “Don’t Pick on the Peeps.” One of the lyrics is quintessential Rogers: “Well, how do you think the chickens feel?”

And he said this about his commitment to vegetarianism: “. . . it’s hard to eat something you’ve seen walking around.”

The empathetic Rogers simply could not stomach the thought of eating lambs strolling through green pastures beside the still waters.

Well, how would you feel if someone wanted to eat you?

It’s no surprise that his vegetarianism had to do with his love for children too. In the 1983 interview, he stated that when children “discover the connection between meat and animals, many children get very concerned about it.”

With this concern in mind, Rogers steadfastly refused to show images of people eating animals on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Although a 1982 episode includes footage from a full-service restaurant, there’s not one image of meat, fowl, or fish. And an entire 1984 series on food avoids any mention of eating animals.

In the Neighborhood, animals are for enjoying, nurturing, and loving—not for chewing, swallowing, and digesting.

Fred Rogers had at least one more reason for refusing to eat animals: his health. “I also enjoy the health benefits of vegetarianism,” he stated in 1983.

So what would Fred Rogers eat for Thanksgiving?

Tofu turkey?

Roasted beets with pistachios, herbs, and oranges?

Pumpkin spice granola bars?

Whatever the case, for Rogers, Thanksgiving was less about eating a delicious vegetarian meal than it was about offering thanks to God.

Fred Rogers practiced a spiritual vegetarianism grounded in gratitude to God, and in his own subtle and quiet way, he modeled this radical spirituality for his millions of viewers—especially for those of us who still refuse to see that stuffing a beheaded turkey, breaking its wishbone, and picking its carcass dry are not the most appropriate ways to show love to God, let alone to our fine-feathered neighbors.

Michael G. Long is an associate professor of religious studies and peace and conflict studies at Elizabethtown College. His article about Mr. Rogers’ spiritual vegetarianism, condensed and slightly edited for Poultry Press, appeared in the Huffington Post in 2015.