Simpsons Episode Review: Lisa the Vegetarian (Season 7, Episode 5)

Bovine University!

Lisa Simpson

“Lisa the Vegetarian” is one of the all time classic Simpsons episodes, with memorable lines like “Bovine University” and a message that has stuck with Lisa for decades. It begins with a visit to Storybook Village, a great spoof of cheap theme parks. The animals in the petting zoo are tired and Bart’s trick to sneak onto a boring kiddie train backfires hilariously. Bart’s comment “He blows all right. He blows big time” is an overt double entendre that Marge innocently doesn’t get.

Petting a lamb makes Lisa feel guilty about eating lamb chops for dinner. The episode is irreverent about Lisa’s journey but sensitive to it. She imagines where the meat the Simpsons eat comes from, and when she gets to the hot dogs, it’s hilarious what she imagines are the ingredients. She’s probably not far off. The irreverence continues when Lisa tries to explain her misgivings about meat and Homer doesn’t believe all his favorite foods come from the same animal. Even Lisa’s notices her own sensitive fantasies are inconsistent, as a science class worm sounds like the lamb who spoke to her.

When Lisa expresses her pro-animal stance in school, it triggers two instances of the Independent Thought Alarm, a sly dig at educational institutions frowning upon actual intelligence. The school shows a propaganda film from the meat industry that is one of Troy McClure’s finest. 

"Meat and You: Partners in Freedom" introduces Bovine University, which is funny just because of the word bovine. The idea of the meat industry using propaganda is exaggerated in a way that should make us take a second look at tobacco or alcohol ads. They cut off the actual scientist completely, and paint it as an “us or them” issue against the cows. "Don't kid yourself, Jimmy,” McClure says. “If a cow had the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you loved." Cut to a closeup of a cow with sinister music playing.

Bart even says that cartoons don’t have messages in the middle of a cartoon with a big message. On a macro level, “Lisa the Vegetarian” really is about how hard it is to have conviction when the world wants you to conform, let alone when you are a kid. The kids ask Lisa if she’s going to marry a carrot. She mocks them back, and they don’t even get it. This is society.

A subplot ties in very nicely with Lisa’s new conviction. A Flanders reunion barbecue makes Homer want to host his own BBQ, but now Lisa doesn’t want him to cook meat. Homer, Bart and even Marge join in a conga line to “You don’t win friends with salad,” which surprisingly has been cut out of syndication broadcasts, so it’s definitely worth hearing in its entirety on the DVD.

All of this leads to one of the biggest celebrity cameos in Simpsons history. Paul and Linda McCartney appear in Apu’s secret garden to talk about vegetarianism. The secret entrance is in the nonalcoholic beer fridge. Lisa questions what happens if someone wants non-alcoholic beer, but Apu assures her, “It has never come up.” Apu ends up teaching Lisa tolerance of meat-eaters and sings “Sgt. Pepper.” It’s as if the former Beatle knew that everyone would be expecting him to sing, so he refused to.

There’s some great randomness in “Lisa the Vegetarian” too. In an Itchy and Scratchy short, Itchy feeds Scratchy his own stomach in a cannibalistic loop. The silent treatment confuses Homer magnificently. Ralph says he’s a Viking in his sleep. 

Once again, The Simpsons shows it can have a real message without losing any of its comedic edge. “Lisa the Vegetarian” is one of the funniest episodes ever, but it stuck to its guns. Lisa has remained a vegetarian, apparently at the insistence of the McCartneys, but with a great display of conviction from The Simpsons