He’s best known for playing Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation and playing the main character Dev on his own show Master of None. Besides his contributions to the world of television, he’s also successful as a stand-up comedian and a writer. But is Aziz Ansari vegan?
No, Aziz Ansari is not vegan. Despite having informed himself of what goes on in the animal industries and having criticized them extensively in one of his comedy specials, he continues to eat meat and other animal products and publicly praises these products in other shows.
Aziz’s initial curiosity
Aziz’s first reference to veganism came in the form of a tweet in 2011. It was clearly not meant to be taken seriously:
Two years later, in 2013, he recorded an improvised song with Reggie Watts. In this song, which is not in any way serious either, Aziz asks a vegan girl if she wants to get a sandwich with him, Reggie does the voice of the girl:
The song misrepresents veganism in every way possible, but since Aziz and Reggie were just joking around, we won’t subject it to a serious analysis. It’s an important song, though, because it likely inspired Aziz to do some research on the topic.
He gave an interview only three months later in which he was asked the question “chicken or shrimp?” And his answer was: “Oh my God, shrimp! I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, where he talks about factory farms and now I don’t ever want to eat chicken or turkey again.”
Shrimp in Eating Animals
Aziz’s comment might give you the impression that Eating Animals doesn’t cover shrimp, but it does. Here’s what the book says about it:
“Perhaps the quintessential example of bullshit, bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident — except not really “by accident,” since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods. Modern fishing tends to involve much technology and few fishers. This combination leads to massive catches with massive amounts of bycatch.
“Take shrimp, for example. The average shrimp-trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch.) Shrimp account for only 2 percent of global seafood by weight, but shrimp trawling accounts for 33 percent of global bycatch.
“We tend not to think about this because we tend not to know about it. What if there were labeling on our food letting us know how many animals were killed to bring our desired animal to our plate? So, with trawled shrimp from Indonesia, for example, the label might read: 26 POUNDS OF OTHER SEA ANIMALS WERE KILLED AND TOSSED BACK INTO THE OCEAN FOR EVERY 1 POUND OF THIS SHRIMP.
“The most common type of modern shrimp trawler sweeps an area roughly twenty-five to thirty meters wide. The trawl is pulled along the ocean bottom at 4.5 to 6.5 kmh for several hours, sweeping shrimp (and everything else) into the far end of a funnel-shaped net. Trawling, almost always for shrimp, is the marine equivalent of clear-cutting rain forest. Whatever they target, trawlers sweep up fish, sharks, rays, crabs, squid, scallops — typically about a hundred different fish and other species. Virtually all die.”
The fact that Aziz chose this over chicken gives you an impression of just how bad the chicken industry is.
Criticizing the animal industries
In October 2014, Aziz did a comedy show at Madison Square Garden. It was filmed and later released as a comedy special on Netflix, titled Aziz Ansari Live at Madison Square Garden. In it, Aziz talks about the animal industries for seven minutes, starting just before the seven minute mark.
He starts off by asking the audience if they eat meat and if they ever saw a documentary or read a book that “freaked [them] out about the meat industry.” A few people in the audience indicate that they don’t eat meat, but many of them do, even though they have seen or read something that freaked them out.
Aziz continues: “Now, clap if you saw that stuff and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s disgusting. It’s cruel, it’s inhumane. The government definitely needs to properly regulate the meat industry. There’s no excuse for this. The government definitely needs to properly regulate the meat industry. But, in the meantime… I kinda still gotta eat meat ’cause I don’t want to feel weird and hungry all the time.’”
The audience claps and cheers. Then Aziz spends some time arguing that the problem is that meat tastes better than vegetables, before mentioning that there’s “messed-up stuff with vegetables, too, like child labor and all these issues.” He mentions two fictional examples, a guy with a sword forcing children to pick asparagus and “Asian kids just jizz[ing] into a banana peel” to make Simply OJ. Of course, he doesn’t present any of that in a serious way.
Then he gets serious again:
“Eggs! You know how they make eggs? This is how they make eggs, okay? They genetically engineer two different types of chicken. One type of chicken is called the layer chick. Just lays eggs, right? And they have another type of chick called a broiler chick. This is the chicken they, like, pump up with a bunch of hormones so it has, like, huge breasts and legs, and that’s the one they use for the meat.
“And I’m reading this, I’m like, ‘Well, what happens to the male layer chicks?’ They serve no purpose, right? They can’t lay eggs. They can’t be used for meat. What happens? They just get murdered! In insane ways. Like, they’ll take all the male layer chicks and they’ll throw ’em into a big chicken woodchipper. Um, another thing they’ll do is they’ll put ’em in a big plastic vat and just put a lid on it and suffocate ’em to death.
“And, yeah, it’s a bummer. Like, none of us is into that. Like, we’d all check ‘No’ on that box. But the problem is, this kind of information, this kind of footage, it just hasn’t been seen in the right context to elicit the kind of mass outrage that would actually result in some changes, you know.”
He then continues to describe different fictional scenarios involving the rapper Ja Rule that would, according to him, elicit the kind of mass outrage needed for change. He even does an impression of a song Ja Rule would perform as a form of activism. And that’s where he ends the segment.
Aziz deserves credits for using his stage to discuss animal exploitation. He could have talked about any other topic, but he chose to talk about this. That’s commendable. And he did his research, the information he provided about the animal industries is accurate. However, he also built his story on several misconceptions which are worth addressing.
First of all, going vegan doesn’t make you feel “weird and hungry.” On the contrary, a lot of people actually feel better after making the switch because of the many health benefits associated with plant-based diets. This is what the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says about it:
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
Secondly, going vegan doesn’t mean compromising on flavor. There are countless good vegan products available to us, and all the herbs, spices, and most of the condiments used to add flavor to food are already vegan. Of course, if you’re unfamiliar with veganism, you might not know which recipes are best and which restaurants serve the best vegan food, but there are free vegan challenges and sites/apps like HappyCow to help with that.
Thirdly, while Aziz is right that growing crops is not without problems either, we don’t solve these problems by eating animal products. On the contrary, eating animal products only exacerbates these problems. That’s because the production of animal products also requires crops, and feeding crops to animals in order to eat the animals requires more crops than consuming the crops directly.
Lastly, the idea that government regulations can fix the meat industry ignores the essence of the industry. How can we expect them to stop harming animals when their core business is killing animals? It defies logic. We can’t regulate the violence out of an inherently violent industry. But we can do something much more powerful: We can stop buying from them.
Aziz’s continued meat consumption
Unfortunately, Aziz has shown no willingness to stop eating meat and other animal products, including chicken and eggs, since the release of his comedy special. He even continues to praise animal products in other shows.
The first season of Master of None came out in 2015 and it includes many scenes in which Aziz eats animal products. Granted, he’s playing a character, Dev. But he’s the one who invented this character and wrote the script. He made a conscious decision to have Dev eat meat and make eating an important part of the story.
Interestingly enough, he made Dev’s girlfriend in the first season a pescatarian who inaccurately calls herself “kind of a vegetarian.” She doesn’t start out as Dev’s girlfriend, so Dev only finds that out in the sixth episode, inside a barbecue restaurant. Dev wants to order a combo of “drummies and ribs” for two, but because she doesn’t eat either he has to choose one. He orders ribs, she orders a banana. But she surprises Dev by secretly ordering the chicken legs for him as well because he “seemed bummed.” That’s how Aziz wrote the only character in the show who doesn’t eat land animals.
In the second season, which came out in 2017, Dev and his girlfriend are no longer together. There’s one discussion about meat, but it’s a religious discussion about pork between Dev and his parents, who are Muslims. Aziz included this in the show because it was a topic of conflict between him and his parents in real life. When he talked about it with Conan O’Brien, he explained his reasons for eating pork: “I eat pork because I’m not religious and it tastes very tasty, and I’m not religious so it’s not a big deal.”
He has talked about eating meat and other animal products on other occasions as well, and he has eaten them on camera multiple times since. For example, on the Netflix show Ugly Delicious, a non-fiction show which Aziz has appeared on more than once. In the very first episode, he eats a pizza with tuna and mayonnaise. And in the second episode of the second season, released in 2020, he eats different types of meat.
Whenever he talks about animal products or eats them on camera, he only talks about taste and makes no reference to the actual animals. So, he has clearly found a way to block out everything he has learned. But while blocking out the suffering and death might be convenient for him, the animals who are getting killed for him unfortunately don’t have that option. So, hopefully, he will stop doing that and go vegan.
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