133. Lisa the Vegetarian

(originally aired October 15, 1995)
Wise beyond her years, Lisa has an incredibly ethically and socially conscious mind; it’s easy to turn her into a mouthpiece for adult issues, but one must always remember she’s still a young child. Here, we see her adopt a new cause, but ends up composing herself in a slightly immature way, only to butt heads with an equally immature father. The cause, if you couldn’t decipher from the title, is vegetarianism. Following a trip to a petting zoo, Lisa finds she can’t bring herself to eat a lamb chop after having bonded with an adorable little sheep earlier. Homer is absolute aghast, not so much incensed, but just completely befuddled at the concept that someone can not eat meat. He meanwhile in a misguided attempt to one-up Flanders’ family reunion barbeque decides to old one of his own, so the stage is set for Lisa to be alienated for her beliefs in her own home.

It really does suck to be Lisa sometimes, stuck in a town full of small-minded, easily manipulated citizens. Her protests against dissecting worms and for vegetarian options at the cafeteria are met with hostility, and eventually an attempted ceasing through an educational film, the classic Troy McClure reel “The Meat Council Presents: Meat and You: Partners in Freedom.” It, of course, is staunchly pro-meat. Soon the day of the big barbeque arrives, and Lisa’s attempts to introduce an option of gazpacho are met with derisive laughter (yet another instance where grown adults laugh mockingly or boo young children. What’s with this town?) Eventually, Lisa snaps and carts out Homer’s piece de resistance, a whole suckling pig, sending it down a steep hill, which through a series of events ends up launched far across town. It’s here that Homer and Lisa’s childish feud begins; while Homer being infantile is nothing new, Lisa’s actions are just as low, acting incredibly abrasive toward her father just because he eats meat. She ends up leaving the house in a huff.

In an entirely carnivore-centered world, Lisa seems to not have a chance. But at her wit’s end, she discovers that Apu is a vegetarian too, who takes her to his peaceful meditation garden on the roof of the Kwik-E-Mart. There, along with special guests Paul and Linda McCartney, Lisa learns that she needs to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, and that there are better ways to influence people than to just be belligerent. Now, two things about the McCartneys. One, their colored irises creep me out. The show should never do that. Two, they are pretty unnecessary guest stars. It makes more sense that Lisa confide in some she know, and Apu’s the one who gives the message; the McCartneys are just kind of there, though I like the fake-out where Paul asks Lisa if she wants to hear a song, then Apu starts playing “Sgt. Pepper’s.” We end with a reconciliation between Homer and Lisa, ending with a piggyback… err, veggie-back ride. Kinda reminiscent of “Lisa’s Pony;” that episode was awesome, and so was this one.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Storytown Village (Fun for Ages 1 to 7 1/2) is a great set piece, with traditionally crappy animatronics (like “Radio Bart”), Grampa sleeping in Baby Bear’s bed (“Well, I’m sorry but it was 150 degrees in the car!”) and the three increasingly more adorable sheep (the second sheep attempts to get some more love, but Homer shoves him out of the way). Also, Lisa fawning over the little baby lamb is adorable, great performance by Yeardley Smith.
– Here’s a perfect Simpsons joke: Seeing Lisa with the lamb, Marge asserts that it was a good idea to come to the petting zoo after all. Then the gruff voice comes over the loudspeaker (“Attention familes. This is Mother Goose. The following cars have been broken into…”) Now, you know the Simpson car was one of them, so there’s no need to even dwell on it. We immediately cut to them pulling into their driveway, the back window completely smashed. You get your laughs as the episode continues forward.
– The Flanders family reunion, with all of Ned’s relatives looking and acting like him, is a tad disturbing, but funny of course, especially his English relation Lord Thistlewick Flanders, who adapts Flanders-isms begrudgingly (“Charmed… eh, a googily doogily.”)
– Homer is aghast that Lisa won’t eat any more animals? No bacon? Ham? Pork chops? Lisa informs him that’s all the same animal. Homer is incredulous (“Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, maaaaagical animal.”) I also like Bart’s teasing (“I think Lisa’s right, Dad. Eating meat is baaaaaad.”)
– Oh God… I love the independent thought alarms, triggered by Miss Hoover and Lunchlady Doris. Skinner is perturbed at two outbursts in one day, and instructs Willie to remove the colored chalk from every classroom. Willie says he had it coming (“I warned ya! Didn’t I warn ya?! That colored chalk was forged by Lucifer himself!”)
– Great Itchy & Scratchy cartoon: at a fancy restaurant, Itchy serves Scratchy his own bloated stomach. He cuts off a piece and eats, only for it to come out his stomach. He repeatedly eats the same piece, then Itchy comes over with the bill, which causes Scratchy’s head to explode. I love the small detail that Itchy boxes up the one repeatedly eaten piece for Scratchy before giving him the bill. Bart’s laughing, but Lisa isn’t; she’s come to a shocking discovery: “I never realized before, but some Itchy & Scratchy cartoons send the message that violence against animals is funny.”
– Homer’s barbeque invitation, shaped like a pig, is great: “Come to Homer’s BBBQ. The extra B is for BYOBB.” (“What’s the extra ‘B’ for?” “That’s a typo.”)
– Skinner introduces the pro-meat film (“So, in the interest in creating an open dialogue, sit silently and watch this film.”) This has got to be one of the best Troy McClure films: the number of classic bits and lines in it are so high. Troy sliping his finger over the cow’s back and licking it, explaining the killing floor not actually being a floor, the traumatized little Jimmy, the cut-off scientist consultation, the food chain (with all animals leading to be eaten by humans) and the stock footage of animals eating other animals (culminating in a shark pulling down a gorilla into the water), and the dramatic look into a cow’s dead eyes (“If a cow ever got the chance, he’d eat you and everyone you care about!”) Lisa is utterly offended by the film (“They can’t seriously expect us to swallow that tripe!”) Immediately followed by Skinner following up: “Now as a special treat courtesy of our friends at the Meat Council, please help yourself to this tripe.” The kids of course all chow down.
– Good callback joke to “Treehouse of Horror” where Homer uses an entire can of lighter fluid and then some on his grill, then hits the gas… and a normal flame comes up.
– I like how, really, Lisa was ultimately in the wrong for what she did; Homer’s barbeque was going great and he was proud, and then she disposed of the pig. But of course Homer’s immature nature takes over and both are equally reprehensible, with the great breakfast back-and-forth where they avoid having to talk to each other directly.
– The ending really is sweet. I especially like Lisa’s low-key “Hi dad. Looking for me?” Followed by Homer’s quick nonchalant turn “I dunno. You looking for me?” Homer apologizes, not even knowing why, and is shocked to hear Lisa was wrong… too. Lisa still stands by her beliefs, but apologizes to her father for what she did. Homer of course accepts (“I understand honey. I used to believe in things when I was a kid.”)
– The one great thing about the McCartneys being on the show is having “Maybe I’m Amazed” over the credits, with a subliminal message played backwards: a recipe for a “really ripping” lentil soup.

17 thoughts on “133. Lisa the Vegetarian

  1. The shark pulling the gorilla into the water was one of the funniest bits in the entire history of the show.

    “Bovine University” has been the name of my fantasy baseball team for the past 12 years, too. Great episode.

  2. It works in the context of THIS episode, but I have the unfortunate feeling that all of the future (very bad) lisa episodes took their cues from this one, which is to say, Lisa champions some belief and tries jamming it down everyone’s throats.

    Paul and Linda McCartney are, for whatever reason, is really an example of a ‘why in the hell are they here?’ guest stars. it echos the very bad celebrities voicing themselves problems later simpsons has. It’s a shame too, cuz George Harrison (the forgotten beatle) was used so well in the BeSharps episode.

    1. Old comment is old but yeah, the McCartney’s are so out of place.
      There’s nothing witty or clever about their appearance either, a real sign of things to come. It’s them playing themselves completely straight.
      Heck IIRC they even manage to plug Linda’s food line.

  3. I’ll just say this:
    I understand that Lisa was too guilt ridden over the cute lamb (that we’ll never see again, since the Storytime Village was shut down for Praiseland, and Springfieldians are what they are: carnivores (Rich Texan probably ate that lamb himself)), but swearing of meat was just too much (she should have just swore off lamb chops (and other foods from baby animals, such as veal). I know they made her permanently vegetarian, just so they could get their grubby hands on the McCartney (who we’ll never hear from again, due to one of them being dead).

    This just proves that celebrities have too much influence in the series. In fact, its celebrities like “The Who” who have to convince Springfield not to kill each other (The Tale of Two Springfields), but if a celebrity gets hurt (James Brown), the town will make one or all the Simpsons the scapegoat (Bart gets blamed for the “Do What You Feel” festival). They’ll stomp all over the Simpson family so they can roll out a red carpet for every celebrity of the week. It’s like The Muppet Show at the expense of Stressed Eric or Chicken Boo. If they had to choose between the cast of High School Musical (along with Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and the Jonas Bros.) and the Simpson family as the one family to live on 742 Evergreen Terrace, they would expel the Simpsons quicker than the 500th episode and burn all their possessions.

    Similar to the Phil Hartman situation, Fox has too much respect for celebrities and their own people, than they do for the Simpson characters (especially the five), yet they don’t want anyone else to handle the Simpsons. However, they do not give much respect to Maggie Roswell, which is why she left and Maude died.

    Besides, any constant lampshading that she is a vegetarian or a Buddhist gets old and repetitive QUICKLY. Lisa was just fine the way she was before the writers flanderized her into a overly preachy liberal environmentalist who leans towards the side of feminist, in lieu of males (even her own family), and feasts on veggies and bugs (to make up for lack of meat), while slowing growing into a cynical deadpan snarker who hardly lifts a finger for Homer or Bart (who have made a number of sacrifices and went out of their way for her numerous times). Anyone else remember the girl who cleared Bart’s name when accused of collection plate theft or the girl who exposed Bob Arnold for accepting bribes. Aside from that, I wonder if Richard Gere is the reason why Lisa stays Buddhist throughout the series.

    Now as for the rest of this episode.
    -The school makes it a point not to nurture any free/insightful thinking of students (through “The Independent Thought Alarm) and constantly reduce them to that of the many background children that don’t even have names.
    -Leave to Janey, and Sherri & Terri to put Lisa down and be as bratty as possible. Even when Janey is being a brat, her character is poorly done. Her intelligence is questionable and she even sounds like Milhouse. Out of any of Lisa’s classmates to be easily manipulated by a Troy McLure documentary, she proves to be the finest in naivate. And because she isn’t even a good friend to Lisa, her role is mooch. As for Sherri and Terri, I’m surprised that they are the only other girls aside from Lisa, and the fact they get activity at all, or if anyone sees two snout-nosed bratty devious twins as dating candidates. They can’t tell even tell even each other apart and have no distinguishing characteristics, let alone a last name.
    -Meanwhile, Ralph is in NO position (or ever in any position) to judge anyone. Take your “absent-minded-dropped-on-your-head-as-a-baby” comments elsewhere, boy-o!
    -I’m sure everyone will miss the point of episode or the major issues, all in favor of the catchy jingle “You don’t win friends with salad”.

    1. I don’t think it’s fair for you to apply your own logic to Lisa’s scenario just because you personally hate the idea of vegetarianism. No one is saying you have to agree with Lisa’s thinking, but it is a decision many can relate to. My own father decided when he was around Lisa’s same age to stop eating meat impromptu because he just stopped to question why he was doing so.

      Regardless of why the episode was made, it has inspired many fellow vegans/vegetarians who can relate to Lisa’s moral position, especially those who may have been taunted and made to feel ashamed themselves. The episode ultimately suggests that we should all make our own decisions and avoid judging other people for the way they live their lives. I merely suggest that you do the same.

  4. And even though she was wrong to be narrow-minded towards Homer, that still didn’t give the children the right to treat here like they did or the school the right to dismiss her for having an independent thought.

  5. Safe to say that this episode is not your favorite, then, AManFromDeclan. 😉

    The image that Mike chose – of Lisa imagining the ingredients of a hot dog to be a pigeon’s head, a rat’s tail, a raccoon’s feet and a boot’s tongue – is pretty disgusting, but genuinely hilarious.

    And another great bit is Burns saying that he’ll donate a million dollars to the local orphanage “when pigs fly”, and still preferring not to after he sees Homer’s pig flying before him.

  6. As always, the DVD commentary reveals the truth. The celebrity guest appearances in this one feel shoehorned in because, by David Mirkin’s own admission, the only reason he had this episode made was so he could meet Paul McCartney. The whole concept of making Lisa a vegetarian came about just because Mirkin knew it was an idea that McCartney couldn’t possibly say no to. But what the hell, putting the writers’ extreme Beatles fanboyism aside, it’s still a fantastic episode.

  7. This one is a real classic and I love the way that nobody in it is entirely right or wrong. Paul and Linda never really made that much impression on me, despite the fact I’m no stranger to the beatles not with my mum being a quite major fan, however it’s really about Lisa and the problems someone has when their beliefs clash.
    Even if it did form the template for kid rabble rouser lisa of later Zs, I just can’t dislike this one, particularly with how once again Homer actually proves to be a real, if stupid human being rather than a loud obnoxious overthetop vehicle for as many cheap jokes as possible.

  8. Holy walls to the north Jon, what the hell crawled up AManFromDeclan’s ass? No offense dude, but you need to chill out. In fact, I’m about to burn you wall down with my ice dragon.

    You seriously need to learn how comedy works. I would say you are trolling, but trolls would never put that much effort into a post.

    Anyway, ignoring the retarded peanut gallery above, Mike, you missed the greatest joke of all. “I think I will donate a million dollars to the orphanage… WHEN PIGS FLY! Hahahahahahahaha…” “Will you be donating that million now?” “No, I’d still rather not.”

    I love the Bouvine University video and the indepenent thought button. So friggin hilarious!

    Now I will say that having the McCartney’s did seem rather pointless, but whatever, it works. They’re allowed to have a celebrity on there every now and then that doesn’t get made fun of (something that starts to diminish from Season 11 on). You also have to remember, Lisa is a kid and kids tend to care more about what celebrities have to say than other people just because they are celebrities. As such, having Paul and Linda tell her it is okay for other people to like what she doesn’t made it easier for her to realize she was in the wrong.

  9. It’s a small moment, but I love in Lisa’s flashback to everyone eating meat, there’s a clip of Kent Brockman delivering the news, and in-between stories he quickly pulls up a giant chunk of meat and bites into it. Who does that?!

    “…Your windows. [HAUMPH!] The next-“

  10. I disagree with everything else AManFromDeclan said, but I must agree with this:

    “Lisa was just fine the way she was before the writers flanderized her into a overly preachy liberal environmentalist who leans towards the side of feminist, in lieu of males (even her own family), and feasts on veggies and bugs (to make up for lack of meat), while slowing growing into a cynical deadpan snarker who hardly lifts a finger for Homer or Bart (who have made a number of sacrifices and went out of their way for her numerous times)”.

    So, this episode works fine, but it is like the Lisa’s own “Homer’s Enemy”: it was the ending of her character as a precocious little kid, giving officially birth (in retrospect) to the preachy brainiac 30something.
    I’m gonna say it again, Lisa from seasons 1-3 is surely, in terms of pure writing, one of the greatest tv characters of all time: a sensitive kid, so smart for his age, but always remaining an adorable little girl who acted like a real little girl, either towards her older brother and parents, or her peers. (see: Moaning Lisa, Bart vs Thanksgiving, Flaming Moe’s).
    Even when she fought for her ideas (Mr Lisa goes to Washington, Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment) she did it like a little precocious girl would do. You never feel “adult malice” from her; it’s actually the ingenuity and innocence of a little girl who understands the blue side of life.
    In “Lisa vs Malibu Stacy”, her character had not the same innocence, and Lisa was actually similar to this Vegetarian one, but the over-the-top context of that episode makes everything work perfectly. But here? Not as much. It would have been better with the less aggressive and more melancholic Lisa of the first seasons.
    Still, this is a truly Classic episode, and one of the most iconic for sure.

  11. I like this episode well enough. It’s unfortunately a victim of the later seasons, as this was the first big “Lisa takes up a cause/acts as an activist” type episode. What this episode does that makes it work, unlike its later counterparts, however, is by making Lisa realize she shouldn’t force those beliefs on others. There are a few moments where her characterization is a bit much here, but never enough that it ruins the episode.

    A part of what also helps set this episode apart from its future counterparts is that this episode actually has funny jokes. I like Homer believing that pigs are fictional. I like Homer ignoring Lisa, but then it carries into the other members. I also like him lighting the grill with a ton of fuel, only for it to light normally. I also really love “it’s still good” (especially Burns’s bit… I lost it when I first watched that part). It’s a generally funny episode.

    The McCartneys is kind of odd, I’ll admit. They do have some good bits (“Maybe I’m Amazed” backward, anyone?), and they do tie into the story in a good way. That said, their appearance still kind of comes out of nowhere and is somewhat random. It’s still a decent bit, but yeah. Still, they have funny lines and have a place in the story, so they’re better than pretty much all of the celebrity cameos in the later years. I do have my issues with this episode, but it’s still pretty great.

  12. I actually like the McCartney’s appearance in this for some reason. Homer would’ve fawned, but Lisa saying they learned about him in history class is kind of a joke where to a girl Lisa’s age he’s just an old man. It’s hardly less realistic where all the musicians that ever came through Springfield ended up drinking at Moe’s instead of somewhere more flashy.

  13. One thing about the McCartneys that makes this a classic episode and not a zombie episode is the bait-and-switch they do with asking Lisa if she’d like to hear a song, and then having Apu singing; a zombie-era episode would just have Paul sing a song in a more-or-less humor-free sequence.

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