“A person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused”
Let’s face it, vegetarians and vegans are often mocked by people from all walks of our society—your kids, other people’s kids, grownups, comedians, your family, smart people, ignorant people, your friends, your enemies—it breaks through all barriers. Despite the fact that the practice of vegetarianism has been around for many centuries, and even for millennia in certain parts of the world, vegan living seems to provide easy fodder for jokes in our culture and, sometimes, outright disdain and contempt. Even though the decision to become vegan is made for serious reasons, do vegans lose their sense of humor when it comes to their veganism, thus marginalizing themselves and alienating the vast majority of non-vegans? Can the ability to laugh at ourselves help break down the barrier between vegans and non-vegans? When a vegetarian allows his sense of humor and laughter to defuse the antagonism he may feel, does the divide become smaller?
First, before you ponder these questions…please watch and enjoy this video of the hilariously talented Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live dressed as tofu and rapping “Bring It On Down to Veganville.” It’s from an episode that was rerun this past Saturday night. Both characters are mocked in a light-hearted way and capture the sense of laughing at oneself.
Even as vegetarianism keeps growing as a sector of the population (about 5-15%) and the health benefits appear regularly in mainstream media, why are so many people resistant to it and feel so comfortable poking fun at it? The overwhelming majority of today’s vegans are former omnivores–people who chose to adopt the practice at some point in their lives, whether as children or adults. Since today’s vegans were yesterday’s or last year’s meat eaters, we should be able to see it from both sides which might provide an important key in understanding why we are made fun of by comedians, critics, haters, non-believers and more. Do we take ourselves too seriously?
Since I only transitioned into veganism a few years ago, I have been confronted with all sorts of comments, jokes, criticisms and bewilderment over the past couple of years. Being attacked or criticized for a personal decision could put just about anyone on the defensive. My knee-jerk reaction used to be hurt feelings and mild alienation. Who doesn’t want to be accepted and respected for who they are or choose to be? Gradually, I began to realize that getting in touch with the humor of a situation is healthier and usually eliminates the conflict and can even bridge the gap.
This weekend, we hosted a holiday break-fast in our home for about 20 people and I found myself choosing dishes to make for our guests, only one of whom is a dedicated vegan besides me. This meal is usually centered around bagels, fish and dairy (at least, in my experience) and I wanted to make everyone happy and satisfied after fasting for 24 hours. So I decided to make all the dishes that were expected of such an occasion but also, surprise!, their vegan counterparts. Even though this amounted to more work for me, I was excited by the prospect of presenting my fasters with vegan mock-options of their favorites, along side the “real thing.” After all, I had just posted a blog with 15 different delicious, vegan dishes to break the fast with and I had to put my money where my mouth is!
As I was cooking and contemplating, I thought that I would love to bring some humor into my buffet table to grab the attention of my guests and entice them to laughingly agree to try out my vegan dishes and see how good they were as an alternative to the real thing. (I didn’t want to hear murmurs of “Ew, what’s that?”) It’s not in my nature to preach or pressure—that just pushes people away anyway. I enlisted my husband, who always makes me laugh, to come up with “mocking” name tags for my “mock” vegan alternatives. And here is what we laughingly labeled my dishes:
I laughed a lot making these signs and, if anything, I entertained myself immensely and it served to calm my nerves about making and serving stand-ins to people who were starving for the real thing. I think most people tried almost everything and I got positive reviews for all the vegan dishes. If my guests were afraid that I would be serving only vegan dishes and there would be “nothing” for them to eat, I’m glad that they were wrong. I hope that providing a good laugh at my own expense brought all our guests together in the eating frenzy.
An article entitled, “Red Robin Ad Mocks Vegetarians with ‘Teen Phase’ Joke. Guess Who’s Not Laughing?“ appeared on Yahoo in June, 2013, and questioned, “Are vegetarians humorless?” Red Robin, a burger eatery, ran a commercial in which they said they offered 24 different burgers–”even a gardenburger just in case your teenage daughter is going through a phase.” This mocking statement elicited a strong response from many vegetarians and vegans and an apology was made by the company. Animal advocate and vegan blogger Katrina Donovan Fleming discusses this idea of exclusionary humor in a blog on Our Hen House, called, “Just a Joke: Confessions of a Humorless Vegan.” Donovan Fleming suggests. “Very few people would actually find animal abuse funny. If you can plug into that, share some food for thought, and give the person the benefit of the doubt, incredible things can result.” Would that commercial turn you off, make you angry or make you laugh? Should we loosen up and say it’s just a joke or be angry and say it’s not funny? Is there a line where once it’s crossed, it ceases to be funny? The irony to me is not that the commercial was poking fun of eating animals—it was poking fun at the people who don’t eat animals!
On the other hand, Ellen DeGeneres, well known comedian who just happens to be gay and vegan, is quoted as saying, “Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.”
According to a Time magazine article, “Why Laughing at Yourself May Be Good for You,” a recent, first-of-it’s-kind study, as reported in the British Psychological Society Research Digest, indicates that the ability to have a good laugh, especially at your own expense, may be essential for survival.
“The findings support what has long been believed: that being able to laugh at oneself is not only a distinct trait, but is also linked with having an upbeat personality and good mood and may be the foundation for a good sense of humor.”
Laughing, smiling and optimism is associated with better health. According to WebMD, laughter has been shown in research studies to ease blood flow, raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body, boost levels of immune cells, lowers blood sugar levels, dulls pain and discomfort.
The Mayo Clinic also asserts that a “good laugh….actually induces physical changes in your body”: stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles with oxygen and increases the endorphins released by the brain, relieves your stress response and soothes tension, helps release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses, increases personal satisfaction in life and improves depressions and anxiety. Even Laughter Yoga, where people learn to laugh at nothing but themselves and other people laughing, is spreading around the country and the world.
Possibly my favorite video of all-time…if you want to laugh!
OK, so there’s no doubt that laughing feels beyond good and is actually good for your health—and the ability to laugh at yourself is an even higher evolution of the human spirit. Where does it fit in with veganism and vegetarianism?
It seems that the intentions behind a person choosing to be vegan are profound, deeply personal and very individual. In order to get the message across and be perceived as the “normal” people that we are, we need to be open and understanding to all people, whatever their position and not put them on the defensive or preach. We need to stop pointing the finger at each other, measuring how vegan this one is or that one is, but appreciate the baby steps people try to make, no matter how big or small. Being encouraging and accepting and learning to laugh at ourselves will bring about a world of good to each other and veganism!
Watch as the self-deprecating Ben Stiller Comes Out as a Miserable Vegan
Thanks for reading and I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic!
If you would like to see the 15 Vegan Dishes for a Break-the-Fast, click here. They would all be wonderful for a brunch or luncheon!
To read the Yahoo article about the Red Robin ad campaign, click here
To read the Time Magazine article about laughing at yourself, click here
To read the British Psychological Study on Laughing at Oneself, click here
To read about WebMD article about Laughing at Oneself, click here
To read about the Mayo Clinic and laughter, click here
To learn about Laughter Yoga, click here
To go to Our Hen House, click here
Click here to read Debby’s post Vegan Bashing Everywhere…It’s All Good!