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Morrissey hooked up with PETA’s Dan Mathews to reflect on his feelings about animal rights.
What turned you vegetarian?
Well, it was a long time ago, actually just over 30 years—simply the love of animals.
If you love animals, obviously it doesn’t make sense to hurt them. There was a very famous television documentary on British Television. It was about the usual abattoir/slaughter situation, and it horrified me. Because obviously it was very, very rare to see any abattoir footage. They still rarely show things like that on British Television for some reason. So that was the turning point for me. And I always looked at animals and thought they were very much like children and they looked to us always to help them and save them and protect them. Then I could see all these animals being led and assuming they were being led to safety and being organized by human beings—and then, of course, being butchered—very simple.
The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder album inspired legions of people, and even nowadays, young people are hearing it for the first time and it’s making them think. What made you decide to do something so focused and pointed?
Well, it seemed to me to be a very simple statement, but often, as you know, very simple statements can become incredibly effective. There were a few people who said, “Meat Is Murder—do you really want to call the album that?” It’s a bit studenty and a bit typically radical, but it did not have that affect at all, and for it to sell so well and to have such visibility was fantastic—especially at a terribly frothy and fluffy time in pop music, when nobody was saying anything at all. There was no sort of harsh romanticism to pop language; it was very, very dull and soppy, so Meat Is Murder really stood out.
What are your favorite stories of people who changed as a result?
There are so many, but really the ones that strike a chord with me the most are the people who live in very simple situations and the typical family situation. I mean, young people, it seems—certainly in the ’80s—had to battle with their parents because their parents were sure [that] by becoming vegetarian, you were missing out on a multitude of proteins and so forth. But often people realize if you are vegetarian, you can look incredibly healthy, and if you eat animals, you can look as if you are dying. So it was nice to see that old argument quashed that you must eat animals to be a healthy person.
How do you think that the world has changed since ’85, when Meat Is Murder came out, and how has the way that people respond to vegetarianism and animal rights in general changed?
Well, I look at the world in several ways, and sometimes I examine it and I think it’s really not changed. When I see or hear of absolutely grotesque things happening to animals, things that are protected by the government and the police and so forth, I just find this really unacceptable. But then I look and I see a multitude of ways it has changed, and it’s really moving to me when you see in small ways how the world has changed—in massive supermarket chains, in small supermarket chains where you see the vegetarian corner … it’s better in England but getting stronger in America.
How do you incorporate animal rights into your everyday life?
I think everything helps. You don’t have to be outside burning down buildings—you can do small things all the time. And I really believe that every small gesture can be seen and can be just as effective as any other gesture—as long as you keep it foremost in your mind and it’s therefore in everything that you do that you are protecting animals, who need us to protect them. I think it’s just so possible to be influential—also, when you’re a touring unit, and you tour as much as I do, and you tour as a vegetarian unit, and you make it known. You hear so many stories now of groups who tour as vegetarian units, and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s great to be saying “no, no, no” to all these old stale industries. And you arrive at hotels like this, and you book 20 rooms, and all these rooms are vegetarian rooms, and you’re making it known all the time that [in] this large touring party, … nobody is interested in your stale, old silly menus. So it is effective. It really is effective.
What are some of the stickers you use on your envelopes?
They’re all PETA stickers, and some of them go back a long way. I did collect a massive amount of PETA stickers in the late ’80s. They’re anti-fur—they cross the whole spectrum, really. I never post a letter without putting something on it. The Rosie the Riveter/”Go Veg” sticker is the newest one I have. Once again, it’s just a small gesture that I think is really effective.
What are some of your favorite foods?
I have very simple tastes, like breads and fruits. I’m very lucky because I actually love fruit. If I can have fruit several times a day I feel absolutely fine. And I love very basic vegetables like potatoes and broccoli and asparagus and sprouts. It’s very, very easy for me to eat when I’m at home because I like very, very basic stuff. So I’m never struggling at all, I’m never confused about food—how could I be after all this time?
Some say that PETA’s campaigns can be too edgy, too confrontational, too provocative, or too sexy and stray away from the seriousness of the issue—what is your take on that?
Well my take on it is that maybe PETA’s campaigns are all of those things occasionally, but when you consider how many different people are out there in the world watching, I mean, not everyone is of one frame of mind, not everyone is amusing or trivial or hard-faced about politics. So if you are trying to appeal to practically everybody in the world, then you have to occasionally take different approaches. So sometimes there is a need, I think, for things to be very edgy, and there is a need for absolute subtleties. The combination of all these things, I think, makes PETA so great because it’s for everybody, absolutely everybody. It’s not a secluded movement. It’s not a private club—it’s for the world, so therefore, in my view, it strikes to appeal, and does appeal, to every shade and persuasion.
You mentioned earlier that for years, you’ve given your nephew every reasonable argument about vegetarianism but the first thing that seemed to reach him was the PETA/Playboy poster with Kimberley Hefner?
The interesting thing about that campaign is that there are people like my nephew, boys like my nephew. The thing that struck him about the campaign, for better or worse, was she is a beautiful woman and she was showing a great deal of her body, and that catches his eye and that makes him think about vegetarianism. And that poster goes directly on his wall. It just proves … it goes back to the point about people being different and every shade and persuasion. It means that they are there to be appealed to, and it just takes different approaches, and we should use all approaches—absolutely everything.
Even the sometimes controversial strategy of using sex?
Well, I think it’s fine because, you know, that’s the world, and the women or men who want to use their bodies to make a point—it’s absolutely up to them. They don’t belong to a circus, they are not being beaten into doing this, they want to do it, and they want to use what they have to help. At this stage, you know, with this subject of animal protection and animal rights, everything must be utilized. Many of PETA’s campaigns are amusing, which I think is very helpful, because, of course, the traditional image of anybody who fights for animal rights is of very doleful and forlorn people basically asking people to stop doing something they enjoy. So PETA has a way of appealing to people’s humorous side and making people think in different ways about issues which are terribly grave. Because human beings don’t like too much reality—they can’t take it. So if you can pepper it with a bit of humor and softness, then you can approach people by a different angle, a more gentle angle. But nonetheless, your quest is to fire a solid bullet, and I think PETA does that really well.
What are your favorite campaigns?
There have been just so many campaigns and so many victories, and every single victory is just fantastic to me. It’s really [heart-rending], and it’s difficult to pull something out. But, obviously PETA has made great impressions on people like McDonald’s and Burger King, which I think is incredible, because they were certainly such dreadful institutions and they were completely closed off to any kind of communication—they were closed off to even thinking about their own error. It was unthinkable that they were doing anything wrong. So PETA, I think, has very intelligently persuaded them to make concessions in many areas. That’s really remarkable.
We have a new Spanish language magazine and Web site, and we’ve had a lot of support from the Hispanic community. You also have quite a large number of Hispanic fans. What do you think it is that makes Hispanics more sensitive to animals as well as to your point of view?
Well, I think they are very open people, and I think they are very gentle and emotional people. They are struck by any strong emotional gesture, that’s simply how they are. They are very open to the basic humanities of life and caring and loving; therefore, I think it’s easier to appeal to them in a very humane, gentle way.
When you introduced Meat Is Murder last night, you opened it by declaring, “Sea life, not sea food.” What do you say is your overall message to your admirers?
Please don’t kill anything. These are pathetically basic words but get through your life without killing things and killing animals and dragging animals down, making them pay for your pleasures—they’re mostly trivial pleasures as well—it’s not anything that anybody really needs. We were all raised with that concept that animals are there to be used, but they’re not. It’s just the dreadful industries that do it.
What do you say to fans who listen to your music but haven’t gone veg?
It’s usually the influence of the people who are around them, and a lot of people are stuck with carnivores, you know—it’s a tough habit to break. Also, people feel threatened because they think you are asking them to absolutely change their entire lifestyle and change everything about their entire life. But I say to people, they should try and do things gradually, and the first step and the most important step is to stop eating animals.
And then once you do that, you begin to see in other ways and it’s not quite a shock to you, not sort of jumping off a cliff and absolutely changing your identity. So, I just say to people to take it slowly and they do. It will just take time. I have arguments with people who are the most diehard carnivores, but once you have an intelligent debate with somebody, you can see how they begin to break down a little and their edges become softer, and you can see that this is not a difficult topic—the whole idea of vegetarianism is so simple. And it’s really what everyone needs and wants and is best for most people, and I think everybody knows that. Nobody can come up with a good argument for eating animals—nobody can. People as some kind of a joke say, well, “It’s tasty,” but it’s only tasty once you garnish it and you put salt and pepper and you cook it and you have to do 300 things to it to disguise its true taste. If you put garnishes on a chair or fabric it would probably taste quite nice.