The first passion I ever had in my life was Star Trek. That show with the silly costumes and the weird aliens contained so much intelligence that people were able to go beyond the 60’s hairstyles and the flashy uniforms to get to the message. It helped me when my parents were fighting, gave me an escape from being an isolated teen, you name it. Star Trek taught me about ethics, tolerance, etc… Many fans can relate. Star Trek fans, in fact, were my first “family”. They took me in and accepted me, therefore reducing my own social alienation and I met my first Vegetarian and Vegan friends. That was the early 90s.
Thirty years later, I am a passionate and relentless Vegan. It is my lifestyle, my raison d’etre. I consider Veganism the path humans have to take to evolve spiritually, physically, mentally. It is the only sustainable way we will be continuing on this planet. So how does Star Trek fit into this?
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, i felt compelled to revisit my old favorites and see how my perception has changed (or not and realize, geez i am older!). It is fair to say that a Vegan’s vision of the world is not as clouded by the persistent lies of the food industry, pharmaceutical industry, corporate bought politicians and their cohorts and the general conditioning in all of society as most non-Vegans’ is. Even liberals, with their progressive ideas about the environment, health care, women’s rights, etc.., fail, for the most part, to see the connection between what is on their plates and the movements they fight for.
I felt compelled to revisit Star Trek after many years and was stunned to discover that the very first season of ST:TNG contains this line from First Officer William Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes): “We no longer enslave animals for food purposes“. How did I ever miss this line? Last time I saw that episode (“Lonely Among Us” Season 1), I was still a well conditioned meat eater and had no clue about animal cruelty, the environment or the cost of junk food. The original title of this blog was in fact “Why we don’t connect the dots when we have the facts” which I may still write. But I felt more inclined to go over the mythology of Star Trek and how his creator Gene Roddenberry influenced his two creations (Original Trek and Next Gen). What I realized is how much of his philosophy got washed down by his successors. I am not attacking Rick Berman who co-produced the Next Generation and co-created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise, but something along the way got lost or put to the side.
Gene Roddenberry created Mr. Spock and allowed actor Leonard Nimoy to help him develop the personality and culture of his creation. The Vulcans went on to evolve into this elegant, sober and logical civilization which is still the most beloved one by the fans. However, on Star Trek: Enterprise, a clear effort was made to tarnish their ethics which really bothered a lot of fans including myself and served no purpose (but that is a long story). According to the original show, Vulcans are Vegans (or at least Vegetarians, it is never stated clearly in the original show although T’Pol (Enterprise) is known as a Vegetarian) and they are also not driven by their emotions. It is interesting to note that the eating of meat is associated with aggression and violence. Therefore it makes perfect sense that Vulcans, who are peace lovers and diplomats, would be Vegans or Vegetarians. Gene Roddenberry was a Buddhist AND a Vegetarian and that is definitely reflected in how the Vulcans were created. They follow a code of logic which seeks to embrace all life forms but they look at everything with detachment and peace. This is not dissimilar to Buddhism’s ideals of peace and commitment to include animals as well. It falls then that Gene was a visionary. Fans called Gene Roddenberry “The Great Bird of The Galaxy” (Bird is fitting).
He embraced women’s rights as well. In the very first pilot of Star Trek, “The Cage”, (with Jeffrey Hunter, pilot rejected by the network as being too “cerebral”), women were wearing pants, not mini-skirts. Captain Pike’s (Jeffrey Hunter) first officer was a woman (Majel Barrett). The original pilot was more visionary than its second pilot with Kirk. The mini-skirts and silly hairstyles showed up on Pilot #2 (with Shatner) but Gene managed to keep a woman on the bridge (and an African one!) however restricted he was by 60’s conventions and the television network. He had liberal ideas and included also a (then Communist) Russian on his bridge in season two (Chekov played by Walter Koenig). This was also the first TV show to be clearly multiracial and inclusive, although still sexist. The only two times animals are mentioned as (potential) food in the show are when a supernatural teenager transforms fake turkeys into real ones (according to the cook) to piss off Captain Kirk and the Tribbles (remember the cute furry breading nightmare?) invade Kirk’s chicken sandwich which had just been created by the replicator machine (and therefore no animal was ever killed for his meal). On the show, the food looks more like small pieces of starches or plastic than anything else. It doesn’t look very appetizing but it is clearly cruelty free!
The enduring effect of the original show is linked to its progressive, visionaries and inclusive ideas which in fact didn’t make the show a success on its first run as it was probably too ahead of its time (still is in some ways if you ignore the look of the show and its pre-women’s lib inherent sexism). It is like being given a secret message, fall asleep with it, only to wake up a few years later and realize what it meant.
Let’s fast forward a century later. On Star Trek:The Next Generation, Gene got to create more of his vision. Women finally become active participants, not just second to the men, more species are represented. We still see mini-skirts on crew members but some men also wear them (that, I thought, was a cool reversal slap). However, exit the Vulcans who become secondary characters or cameos and enter a more serene and enlightened human race.. or is it? Yes, we know and it is established from the start that 24th century humans don’t enslave animals for food anymore. But have they resolved their superiority complex over the animal kingdom? the answer is no. Gene Roddenberry became sick in the early 90s (around the 2nd or 3rd season of the show – he died in 1991) and this is apparent that, even though he retained his status as creator and executive producer, he was too sick already to keep it going with season one’s ideology and co-producer Rick Berman was clearly more in charge as heir apparent. As soon as the show enters season two, we see Riker cook eggs (alien eggs but still eggs) which are not computer generated (he says so) but from real animals. Surely, I thought, these were computer created eggs not real, but no, alas, they were real. Worse, in yet another episode, the Enterprise rescues colonists who returned to a “simpler” time and are raising farm animals (reminiscent of the so-called humane farmers of today). The poor frightened pigs (attached to cords), chickens and geeze (who are in cages) arrive on board the ship (questions of animal cruelty on the set were apparently not the producers’ problem) and once again we see that humans have not learned to live without animal exploitation. I am not suggesting, by the way, that Rick Berman allowed these changes to happen as there are so many people involved on these shows but he was one of the main producers and obviously not concerned about ethical animal issues.
What happened to not exploiting animals for food? Oh, sorry, it was only confinement which would mean they got rid of the CAFOs but not of the idea of exploiting animals to a certain degree (humane or not). In another episode of season two, we see Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) riding a horse (reminiscent of his horse ride with Captain Kirk in Generations) and both he and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) refer to the (holographic) horse as just a thing (not once do they address the animal as a sentient being, even if he is holographic) pretty much during the entire conversation. Picard admits he needs companionship and that the horse he is about to ride is it. Troi even says: “I never thought of you as an animal person”. Is the 24th century still not clear on whether animals are more than just pets or food? If the show didn’t have so many great stories, I don’t think I could pass on that and keep watching as I did in my disconnected days. The beauty of Star Trek: The next Generation is the character’s drive to evolve, grow and learn. And they do rather well (by 21st century standard) but could have done so much more. Did the ship’s doctor forget to mention to Riker how bad Eggs are for his cholesterol? How about the white bread sandwiches that Picard feeds to Wesley Crusher (Will Weaton)? Haven’t they learned about diet? (ok, it’s a TV show, I keep forgetting, 24th century with a 20th century mindset, bla bla bla).
In this technology advanced 24th century society, i guess they found a pill to cure a cholesterol that is too high which, just like now, doesn’t entice people to improve their diets. But it must be better though. If, as they say on the show, humans are no longer starving, meat consumption HAD to be reduced and Confined Animal Factories eliminated. There is no way around it. But it is never mentioned, so I am just speculating based on the facts that we know today. Case in point is that I have never seen a fat human or alien (unless it was a villain, which brings up the idea of stereotypes in a bad way). One tendency of Star Trek is to be secular (and I’m not against it). Not one God is revered except the God of science. As Dr. Will Tuttle pointed out in the World Peace Diet, science and religion are the two bickering brothers who at their core are also behind animal exploitation. Fortunately, the writers of the show often put into questions the dehumanizing of a tech obsessed society. They do however put emphasis on the respect of sentient life forms and forget the life forms from our own planet. Speciesims in our own backyard: planet Earth, but tolerance for others: aliens. By the way, I am not attacking ST:TNG particularly, I just happen to watch the show again at the moment, so these scenes are fresh on my mind. I actually think that Deep Space Nine goes more in the bad direction with their Ferengi capitalism, Klingon violence and, even worse, the fact that the Federation gets corrupted! But it’s a long story.
Sometimes, though, a great line slips in and reminds us that Gene Roddenberry’s ghost still wanders over the show. On Star Trek: Enterprise’s pilot, T’Pol (finally a female Vulcan and played remarquably well by Jolene Blalock) says to Captain Archer (Scott Bakula): “Humans claim to be an enlightened species, yet they still consume the flesh of animals”. I went “hurray!” until she got verbally slapped on her Vegan face by the stupid human response from Trip Tucker (Connor Trineer):” Never judge a species by what it eats”. (facepalms). It is like the creators of the show wanted to make sure to acknowledge that Vulcans are Vegetarians but that it didn’t matter in the end. However, in a later episode, a new effort is clearly made in that direction. The Enterprise encounters a ship of renegate Vulcans who embrace emotions and eat meat in front of a clearly upset T’Pol. The writers of that episode, however, have understood the Vulcan ethic and by the end of the episode it is revealed that these emotional Vulcans (however liked they are by the humans on Enterprise) are also emotionally violent. Captain Archer is forced to admit that T’Pol and other logical Vulcans “have a point” and confess to her that he never understood her before, but that he now finally does. We clearly see that strong emotions can lead to violence and that aggressive people love animal flesh. There is a glimpse of understanding that is a precursor to what was done by Gene Roddenberry in the 60’s. Too bad they didn’t pursue it. I guess this crew is less evolved as the show is supposed to be in the 22nd century and therefore before Kirk and Spock. But come on! We could hope to have evolved then unless, like a lot of the show history reveals, we have a third World War and a post apocalyptic Earth.
Sometimes, I wonder if violence is the only thing that the human race actually understands. The latest massacre (Aurora) is a reminder that cultivating hate, drugging kids, promoting violence with weapons (constitutional or not – America needs to evolve beyond that), force feeding kids animal carcasses and therefore teaching them that life is cheap (children are not born with the desire to kill and eat other animals or they would kill house cats and dogs, they are born Vegan but taught to become addicted to flesh and dairy) with the help of a violent media and competition will get us nowhere as a civilization. However, cultivating in them compassion, care, respect, inclusion (including and foremost the inclusion of other sentient beings), life education (which includes diet, proper sexual education as opposed to the idiotic abstinence education and life skills) and cooperation to turn them into intelligent adults is what makes Gene Roddenberry’s vision just a dream and not a possible reality for our future. Then I am reminded that there is a potential in all of us to grow and learn to be better people just like Picard and Co. That is the legacy of Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek: the potential for growth and learning. Now I wonder if a Vegan will one day come up with a great science-fiction show with a real Vegan perspective. Imagine what it could be: Vibrant Earth, no more animal exploitation and animals living theirs lives as nature intended, humans not dying of preventable diseases or preventable starvation, cities filled with trees, plants, gardens, farmers’ markets as the norm, pollution free cars and other methods of transportation, people walking, taking the time to live, looking healthy and content, REAL art everywhere, no advertising… Oh, I’m sorry, that is called Utopia.
If that world is to be created, we, as Vegans, need to be the example for others. We can’t preach to others, we can only educate them. A study recently revealed that when an opinion reaches a 10% approval in the population, a shift happens which makes it a lot more acceptable to the entire population. We have 7.5 million Vegans in the US alone. It is about 2% of the population I believe. Let’s keep growing this number until that shift happens. If that number can double in only 3 years, there is not reason it can’t quadruple, etc… By the way, we don’t need replicators to replace animal flesh, we have Torfurkey! To a Vegan future!