Morrissey, a devout vegetarian, used music to crusade against the traditional English thinking of meat and two veg meal forcing a generation of young people to question what they ate. But was Steven Patrick Morrissey extending this righteous attitude into a popular trend which dissolved when the Smiths did, or was he a modern day saint-prophesising the treacheries associated with carnivorous values?
Vegetarianism was closer to Morrissey’s heart than the ‘MARRY ME’ scribbled across his chest. As passionate advocate of animal rights, The Smiths swayed teenagers towards vegetarianism through the message ‘MEAT IS MURDER’. Most didn’t succumb to Mummy’s Shepherds Pie and instead happily digested their iceberg lettuce feeling bloated by their sudden ingestion of ethical attitudes and values – well at least until 1987 when their conscious fizzled away, just like The Smiths.
Throughout the Sixties and Seventies vegetarians mainly lived in communes together and the majority chose not to eat meat due to spiritualist reasons. Led by the face of vegetarianism herself – Linda McCartney, whose motto ‘Live and Let Live’ gave this cause, the much needed wings for it to soar.
The Eighties saw vegetarianism surge throughout the western world. The ideological spirit of the Sixties gave way to the individual’s concern for ethics, body image and health anxieties. But, like most things in the Eighties, the commercial opportunity of this cause was soon the latest marketing opportunity with over 90% of British restaurants eager to accommodate the ever-growing vegetarian pound.
John Grummer, the UK’s Minister of Agriculture during the early 1990s believed that vegetarianism was becoming a ‘religious substitute’ with the individual seeking enlightenment through their dietary choices. And like every religion, members needed icons to worship. Who better for vegetarians than Linda as their God and Morrissey as their eternal virgin?
Akin to religion, few people have experience of the slaughter of animals themselves, instead relying on the sermons provided by their leaders to instruct them. Throughout the Eighties, vegetarianism had become the scenesters’ latest fashion accessory spurred on by the recitals given by ‘Saint’ Morrissey whilst looking down at crowds from his lectern – the stage. The vegetarian war he was declaring was more important than any war that was being fought especially the Falklands happening at the time.
Morrissey a vegetarian since eleven, wanted to command an army; a legion of troops who believed in animal rights and would act as agents of his message through the boycott of butchers. Did he achieve this? In short – No. Whilst Morrissey was reeling out his ten commandments from ‘Meat is Murder’ the masses were merely worshipping their ‘false idol’, obeying his orders so that he would not turn into their angry God.
But like every little message and image conjured up through the music created by the Smiths, vegetarianism was not supposed to be a fashion accessory but a prophecy warning society of the future perils it faced. Flash forward twenty years and the prophet whose messages were shunned by the working class slaves he was trying to free seem to be haunting our society.
Throughout the period AS (after [The] Smiths), meat related issues have been plaguing newspapers in a number of different guises, these have forced non-believer faddy vegetarians into questioning their routines and rituals. Morrissey’s apocalyptic prophecy was coming true.
The outbreak of BSE in the 1990s was the first major impacting event that made people cautious about eating meat. Better known as Mad Cows Disease, BSE was the cause of fatalities in cattle all over the country. The disease spread through infected food given to the cows which was subsequently banned in 1997. However once the disease was passed on to humans through infected carcasses it proved fatal, it’s killed 164 people so far within the UK. “The outbreak of BSE changed farming all together.” George Gurney, a farmer in Buckinghamshire recalls, “it changed livelihoods and the way people ate and view meat.”
With the reputation of meat as battered and bruised as a dead carcass, people were beginning to question what they were eating and how this was impacting on their bodies.
This doubt was stretched even more when fast food corporations like McDonalds (who grew faster than you could say ‘Quarter Pounder with Cheese’) were accused of making the nation obese. Over the past decade McDonalds has faced great criticism for grooming children into munching on processed chicken and beef through the offer of free toys. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels with children weighing an average of 30% more than in the previous decade. National Geographic magazine (2007) states vegetarians are leaner and healthier than those who consumed a meat based diet where 30% of the daily calorie intake is meat. This also leads to further issues in later life caused by (blood) red meat such as cardiovascular problems and even cancer. If Morrissey is society’s savior then Ronald McDonald is Satan trying to tempt us.
The advent of the new millennium has seen The Smiths psalms come back to haunt us in a way that could spell doomsday if not adhered to. The future of the planet relies in the hands of the vegetarians, not least because the global climate problems are attributed to meat eating. A kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than driving for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home. A Government press release was sent out in February 2009 from the government trying to convert society to go vegetarian in order to save the planet by saying ‘eat less meat to tackle climate change-warming’ with the vegetarian society backing them up by offering cookery classes and clubs, ‘if it can make people start thinking about what goes in to their bodies, we’ll do it,” Su Taylor from the society says, “switching to vegetarianism is one of the single most effective lifestyle changes an individual can make in improving their lives and mitigating global warming”.
However, all is not lost and the meat filled revelations publicized since the demise of the Smiths has seen people’s attitudes towards vegetarianism evolve. Gone are the faddy-meat based vegetarianism ideologies of pescitarians (only eat fish), weekend-a-tarians (only eat it at the weekend) and veggie-everything-except-for-bacon-roll-a-tarians. The modern day vegetarian seeks a sustainable palette analysing every ingredient to ensure there are no animal traces. Society is more focused than ever with people going beyond the means preached by Morrissey to embrace more radical regimes like veganism and fruitarianism. Today’s consumer is more focused than ever on sustainability, cause-related purchases and well being to all of mother nature with the end result being shoppers throughout the world uniting to complete the crusade begun by their idol twenty years earlier.