Where No Vegan Has Gone Before

Vegetarianism and Veganism in Star Trek

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NCC-1701Plates: the final frontier.
These are the voyages of the Red Hot Vegans.
Their continuing mission: to explore strange new foods, to respect all life, and eat vegetation, to boldly go where no vegan has gone before…

In case you can’t tell by now, I’m a huge fan of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, and the franchise of spin-off TV series and movies inspired by it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been inspired by the Utopian future portrayed in Star Trek, and have always held out the hope that some day the people of Earth might learn to put aside their differences and work together to make life better for everybody.

When I started going down the path that eventually led me to choose a vegan lifestyle, my hopes for the future of humanity grew to include the hope that we might some day move away from our dependence on animals for food. Luckily, the Star Trek future looks bright for vegans — let’s take a look what we might be eating in the next few hundred years:

22nd Century

Star Trek: Enterprise is the fifth live-action series set in the Star Trek universe, but the events portrayed on Enterprise take place a little over a century before the original adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew. In the early 2150s, humanity is just beginning to explore deep space in earnest, thanks to recent advances in propulsion technology that make long distance interstellar trips more practical. Watching closely over the shoulders of Earth’s early exploratory missions are the Vulcans, who have been around the block a few times.

Spock, Star Trek‘s original, and most famous Vulcan, is established as a vegetarian in the original Star Trek series. More on that when we get to the 23rd century. In “Broken Bow”, the very first episode of Enterprise, we learn that the Vulcan science officer T’Pol is also a vegetarian, when Captain Archer and Chief Engineer Tucker tease her about her eating habits while sitting down to dinner. T’Pol criticizes the Earth diet of the time, saying: “You humans claim to be enlightened, yet you still consume the flesh of animals.” T’Pol’s judgment suggests that “enlightened”, logical races such as the Vulcans do not eat meat.

(Note: in “Fusion”, towards the end of the first season, the Enterprise NX-01 encounters a group of renegade Vulcans known as V’tosh ka’tur, who exhibit a range of behaviors atypical of contemporary Vulcans, including eating meat. Another of the unusual habits of the V’tosh ka’tur is mind melding, which is prohibited in the 22nd century due to its association with Pa’nar syndrome (“Stigma”), but is established as a common practice in Star Trek series set in the 23rd and 24th century. It hasn’t been established in canon what other habits of the V’tosh ka’tur later became part of mainstream Vulcan society.)

In the third season episode “Carpenter Street”, T’Pol and Archer find themselves in an early 21st century fast food drive-through. After Archer orders a hamburger for himself, T’Pol, who has been studying the menu, asks, “Does the fiesta salad contain animal products?” The woman taking the order says, over the intercom, that it does not, but offers to upgrade the salad with bacon for just 75 cents. T’Pol apparently loses her appetite at this suggestion, and decides not to order anything. Though the word “vegan” has yet to be used on screen (there is a star system known as the “Vegan system” to which the Defiant escorts a convoy in Deep Space Nine‘s sixth-season episode “The Sound of Her Voice”), T’Pol’s inquiry about “animal products” suggests that Vulcans, or at least T’Pol, may in fact be vegan. It certainly seems like a logical choice.

We already know that it’s still considered normal for humans to eat meat in the 22nd century, but the Enterprise writers recognized that preserving fresh produce and meat on extended deep space voyages would be a bit of a challenge. While answering letters written by a class of fourth-graders from Ireland in “Breaking the Ice”, Captain Archer says:

Liam Brennan asks “what do you eat?”

For the most part, the same things you eat at home. Our Chef can make anything from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a turkey with all the trimmings. We have a hydroponic greenhouse on board where we grow fruits and vegetables, and we can also replicate certain foods with our protein resequencer.

It’s never stated on screen how the protein resequencer works (i.e., whether the raw materials for resequencing originate from animals), but the foods it’s capable of synthesizing include potatoes (“Fight or Flight”, “Singularity”), meatloaf (“Fortunate Son”), chicken (“Shadows of P’Jem”, “Singularity”), and at least five flavors of ice cream, including Rocky Road (“Oasis”). Resequenced foods apparently don’t taste quite true to the original (“Fortunate Son”, “Singularity”), and there does seem to be a limited amount of “real” meat in the ship’s stores (“Fortunate Son”), so crews on early Starfleet vessels aren’t accidentally vegan, yet. (More on this when we talk about the 24th century.) It does seem plausible, though, that ethical vegans living in the mid-22nd century should be able to synthesize reasonable analogs to animal-based foods by running plant proteins through a protein resequencer, which appears to be a commodity item that can be bartered for or given as a gift (“Oasis”).

23rd Century

Live Long and ProsperAlthough the original Star Trek series was originally intended to be set at some ambiguous point in the future (the stardate system used in Captain Kirk’s voiceovers for the captain’s log was designed to obfuscate exactly how far in the future this week’s adventure was supposed to be taking place), we now know that the events depicted in Star Trek take place in the mid-to-late 2260s.

One of the rare on-screen insights to food service on Captain Kirk’s Enterprise NCC-1701 comes early on, in the first-season episode “Charlie X”. Captain Kirk tells the eponymous Charlie in one scene that it’s Thanksgiving on Earth today (apparently in the 23rd century, Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated by the entire planet), and that if the crew has to eat synthetic meatloaf, he wants it to look like turkey. Shortly afterwards, the galley chef (fun fact: an uncredited voiceover cameo by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) pages Captain Kirk to report that the synthetic meatloaf he put in the ovens had mysteriously changed into real turkey.

Apart from the synthetic meatloaf scene (jokes about resequenced meatloaf in Enterprise may be a nod to this), there’s very little to tell us about what people ate on Captain Kirk’s Enterprise. Food on the ship would sometimes appear onscreen as an assortment of colorful shapes, and sometimes as more recognizable foodstuffs. Dispenser slots throughout the ship are depicted as being capable of producing a variety of foods on demand, but the workings of these slots are not described on screen, except for the detail that food selections can be made by inserting a food programming card (“And the Children Shall Lead”).

Off ship, it’s clear that humans of the 23rd century still routinely use animals for food, and likely for other purposes. In “This Side of Paradise”, the Enterprise is sent to check up on a Federation colony on Omicron Ceti III. Contact with the colony had been lost for some time, and it was presumed that all 150 colonists had perished due to lethal exposure to Berthold rays, a form of radiation prevalent whose deadly effects (slow annihilation of living animal tissue) were not fully understood at the time the colony was established. Upon beaming down to the planet’s surface, Captain Kirk and his away team are shocked to be greeted by the very much alive leader of the colony, Elias Sandoval.

As the crew investigates how the colonists managed to survive the radiation, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy attempt to convince Sandoval to evacuate the colony, reiterating the deadly threat posed by the Berthold rays. Sandoval refuses to evacuate, insisting that the colonists are in perfect health, and that there have been no deaths among the colonists. When Kirk asks what happened to the livestock mentioned in the expedition’s records, which were nowhere to be found when the Enterprise arrived, Sandoval sidesteps the question by simply telling Kirk, “We’re vegetarians.” Since humans were the only animals on Omicron Ceti III, the colonists were, in fact, vegans, though it seems more by circumstance than by choice, since the expedition records indicated that the livestock were intended for breeding and food purposes.

Of course, the original Star Trek‘s most famous intentional vegetarian is Mr. Spock, the Vulcan science officer and first officer on Kirk’s Enterprise. Vulcans are clearly shown to be vegetarian (maybe vegan) in the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, but Mr. Spock’s diet choices aren’t made explicit until “All Our Yesterdays”, the second to last episode of the original Star Trek. Spock and McCoy find themselves trapped in a prehistoric ice age of the M-class (that’s Trekkie for “Earth-like”) planet Sarpeidon. A cave-dweller named Zarabeth offers them shelter when they nearly freeze to death in the harsh climate. Later, Zarabeth offers Spock some food. Spock asks Zarabeth if it is animal flesh; she reports that there isn’t much else to eat. Spock makes a plan to build a greenhouse, then decides to eat the meat in the meantime. Soon after, he chastizes himself, calling his behavior disgraceful, establishing Spock’s vegetarianism for the first time on screen.

Earlier episodes do offer some hints of Spock possibly being a vegetarian: after returning from a grocery trip on early 20th-century Earth in “The City on the Edge of Forever”, Captain Kirk reports that he purchased “assorted vegetables” for Spock, and bologna and hard rolls for himself. In “Wolf in the Fold”, when McCoy says that a malevolent energy being “feeds on death”, Spock points out, “we all feed on death. Even vegetarians.” The only on-screen mention of a Vulcan food in the original Star Trek series was in the Vulcan-themed episode “Amok Time”, when Nurse Chapel prepares plomeek soup for Spock. (We never learn what’s in the soup before Spock throws the bowl against the wall in a fit of uncharacteristic rage.)

In “The Slaver Weapon”, an episode of the later animated Star Trek series, Mr. Spock and Lieutenants Sulu and Uhura are captured by the Kzinti, a race of… err… anthropomorphic cats, Spock knows that the thought eating plants is greatly offensive to the carnivorous Kzinti, and advises Sulu to imagine eating raw vegetables to discourage the Kzinti from reading his mind. (Uhura need not worry, according to Spock, as the misogynistic Kzinti are likely to assume that she has no intelligent thoughts to be read.) When the Kzinti come to check on their prisoners, Sulu introduces himself and Commander Spock, but the Kzinti captain scoffs, “You’re a Vulcan. I feel no pressing need to talk to an eater of roots and leaves. Humans at least are omnivorous.” The animated Star Trek series is regarded by many to be non-canon, but for those who do consider it canon, we know that 23rd-century humans are reputed to be omnivores, and that Mr. Spock’s dietary habits are typical of Vulcans in general.

Genesis CaveA major element in the plot of the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is “Genesis”, a research project to develop a terraforming technology that can transform a lifeless planet into a lush, idyllic world ideal for sustaining humanoid life. In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, it is stated on screen that Genesis was designed to create plant life only, and that there should be no animal life in an ecosystem created by Genesis. Although it’s possible that this was because of some other reason, I like to think that the Genesis effect was programmed to produce worlds rich in plants because our attitude towards food by the 2280s was starting to approach what we see in the 24th century…

24th Century

Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first live action spinoff series to air after the original Star Trek (a project called Star Trek: Phase II with the original crew was planned but never shot; the Phase II pilot “In Thy Image” was adapted into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and several of the screenplays written for Phase II were later used for episodes of The Next Generation). Set about a hundred years after the original Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced viewers to a brand new crew on a brand new Enterprise. With such a long time having passed since Captain Kirk and company boldly went, the writers made an effort to periodically highlight ways in which the society and technology of the Federation had advanced even further from Roddenberry’s original vision.

One of my favorite moments comes in the early first-season episode “Lonely Among Us”, when security officer Lieutenant Yar calls first officer Commander Riker to clear up a misunderstanding with a member of a visiting Antican delegation. The Anticans insisted that their food animals be brought to them live, a request that Yar found shocking. Riker cleans up the confusion:

Riker: Lieutenant Yar was confused. We no longer enslave animals for food purposes.
Antican Delegate: But we have seen humans eat meat!
Riker: You’ve seen something as fresh and tasty as meat, but inorganically materialized out of patterns used by our transporters.

The Antican expresses disgust at the concept, calling it “sickening” and “barbaric”, which both Riker and Yar find quite amusing.

Replicator makes coffee before mugThe replicator was one of the new technologies introduced to viewers in The Next Generation. With replicators being capable of producing perfect versions of basically anything from “Tea: Earl Grey, hot” (Captain Picard, in pretty much every episode, ever) to “a real chocolate sundae” (“The Price”), there would simply be no need to continue raising animals for food. There seems to be no consensus on whether replicated meat is vegan: the main argument against the veganness of replicated meat being that all of the food items produced by the replicator must have been made “by hand” at some point, so that they could be scanned for future use as replicator patterns.

I like to think that the replicator does something other than simply reproducing a perfect replica of some food item made in a long-forgotten kitchen, but instead contains patterns for basic “ingredients”, and “recipes” in the form of computer programs that can operate on the ingredients, calculating what the result of processing and combining them would be before synthesizing the finished food. Towards the end of the age of animal farming, it would have been possible to scan the last remaining farm animals as they lived out their lives peacefully in farm sanctuaries, then digitally “butchering” and “cooking” the digitized animals in the computer, without harming the original animals.

Lending support to this theory of replicator functionality is a scene from the second-season episode “Time Squared”, when Riker explains to Lieutenant Commander Data, an android, why he chooses to prepare food by hand instead of relying on the computer, when Data points out that Riker is not employing “an efficient method for the preparation of sustenance”: “You’re right, Data. The ship’s computer would be more efficient, but it wouldn’t allow for the sublety neded for great cooking. It would give you all of the ingredients in pre-determined measurements; it wouldn’t allow for flair, or individuality.”

Cooking from scratch the old fashioned way seems to be something of a lost art, as shown in this scene from “The Wounded” between newlyweds Miles and Keiko O’Brien:

Miles: I can still remember the aromas when my mother was cooking.
Keiko: She cooked?
Miles: She didn’t believe in a replicator. She thought real food was more nutritious.
Keiko: She handled real meat? She touched it and cut it?
Miles: Yeah, like a master chef. She was fantastic. Of course, I’ll have to use the replicator, but I’ll make something special for you tonight.

Sisko serves a home-cooked mealIn some of the later spinoff series, we are introduced to other characters who enjoy cooking, including Commander Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Sisko learned to cook from his father, who grew all his own vegetables (“Paradise”), and owned a restaurant in New Orleans. Menus and dishes depicted on screen show that the restaurant serves seafood; given that Sisko’s father apparently frowned on replicated food, and scenes from “Tears of the Prophets” and “Image in the Sand” where Sisko is shown scrubbing clams, it is presumed that these foods are not replicated; perhaps animals in the 24th century are no longer enslaved for food, but they may still be caught or hunted in the wild.

Commander Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager is identified as a vegetarian on screen, suggesting that in the 24th century, there are still people who intentionally avoid meat, though the writers seem to have been not entirely consistent about Chakotay’s eating habits. Another member of the Voyager crew, the Vulcan security officer Tuvok, doesn’t actually eat a meal of (very much non-replicated) eggs in “Flasback”, before it gets destroyed in a kitchen accident, but he also doesn’t overtly refuse the meal after it is identified by the cook, Neelix, to be eggs; I like to think of this as another oversight by the writers, but it’s possible that (some?) Vulcans may be lacto-ovo vegetarians.

As for what people eat outside of the Federation, we know that Bajorans eat some kind of wrap – what’s inside it is never mentioned on screen, so might as well make it vegan, Klingons like to eat their food while it’s still alive and moving (extreme raw food diet?), though an actor who plays a Klingon on TV is vegan these days, even if he’s a little bit confused about what vegans don’t eat.

Anyway, back in the 21st century, it’s still pretty great to be vegan, even without a replicator. Hopefully, something like the replicator, or even a protein resequencer like what we see on Enterprise, will show up one day to make the ultimate mock meats, but until then, live long and prosper, all ye vegan Trekkies!

9 comments

  1. Pingback: Science Fiction and Animals: from Jonathan Swift and HG Wells to Star Trek and Doctor Who; with Sherryl Vint, Robert McKay, and Tara Lomax | THE VEGAN OPTION internet radio show and blog
  2. Kat

    Thanks so much for all the research!! I used this in an argument about the ST future and kicked ass because of you. Do you mind if I repost with credit on my vegan blog? (You may have to email me)

    • Daniel

      Hi Kat,

      So glad you found the post useful! I wish I could have been in the room for that conversation. I’m always interested in hearing what other vegan Trekkies have to say the role of animals in the ST future. You are more than welcome to use excerpts from this post, with a link to the original.

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  4. Pingback: Oh, that kiss! How ‘Star Trek’ voyaged into controversial social and political frontiers – Entre' Bond
  5. Jim

    Great post, my additions would be:

    In Star Trek Voyager episode Scientific Method, Captain Janeway speaks out against an alien using her crew as scientific test subjects. Janeway says “what you’re doing isn’t self defence, it’s the exploitation of another species for your own benefit. My people decided a long time ago that was unacceptable. Even in the name of scientific progress.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxjlsm1wq5I

    In the TNG episode The Schizoid Man, when speaking of the rights of Data, an Android, Captain Picard addresses speciesism saying that “He is different, yes! But that does not make him expendable or any less significant. No being is so important that he can usurp the rights of another! Now set him free!”

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