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Thanksgiving and Mr. Rogers: Plant-Based Living in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe

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by Diana O. Potter

If, like me, you’re old enough to remember (and/or have children who do), it was always a beautiful day in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. His personal goodness shone out from the television screen and lighted the world for millions of young children — including many whose world was often dark and frightening. 

He was and remains a person to be thankful for. So it’s no surprise that Thanksgiving 2019 saw the opening of a movie about him, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

But Mr. Rogers’ goodness extended well beyond his TV persona. In fact, it touches our plant-based lives even today. Why? Because Mr. Rogers was one of the first “celebrities” (not a good-enough word to describe him!) to stop eating, as he put it, “anything that has a mother.” That was back in the 1970s, when Frances Moore Lappé wrote her groundbreaking book advocating vegetarianism, Diet for a Small Planet. 

The times were right for taking a new look at the food-animal industry’s cruelty to animals and adopting a plant-based lifestyle in opposition to it, and Mr. Rogers was solidly on board. His TV Neighborhood of Make-Believe was, too: No one was ever seen eating meat on the program, even when he filmed a week-long series about food that included a visit to a family restaurant! (The cameras recorded Mr. Rogers and his guests eating tofu, fruits, nuts, and, of course, lots of vegetables.)

And then there was Thanksgiving. Tuning in to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood each November, his millions of young followers must have been expecting him to talk about the turkey and trimmings, and he did — but not in the way they expected. Instead, he spoke of treating turkeys and all animals as creatures who deserved love and caring just like them, the children (and the rest of us). 

In an interview in 1983, Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, underscored his commitment to eating plants rather than animals when he said: “I want to be a vehicle for God, to spread his message of love and peace.” He didn’t talk much about his faith in the show, but its influence was always there.

In keeping with his compassion for all of Earth’s creatures, Mr. Rogers took care to bring to life the “flip side” of eating well: not having enough to eat. A poignant episode of his show featured a goat that stole food from the Neighborhood because he was just so hungry.

His teachings also went beyond food, as he reminded his TV audience that there were other ways to nourish ourselves including music, seeing the beauty in the world, reading books that take us out of our worlds and into new ones, and loving those around us to enrich our spirit.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers!

Love, your many friends in the Neighborhood of Make-It-Real.

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