Growing up, I was obsessed with Mister Rogers—so much so that my older siblings hated when the show came on and were grateful when they had to go to school. I would sing the theme song (loudly and poorly, I might add) until I was blue in the face. Even as I write this, I have “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” stuck in my head, one of those earworms you can’t shake for the rest of the day.
So if you think I’m not stoked about the new documentary and a new movie (starring Tom Hanks, no less!) celebrating the radical kindness of legend Fred Rogers, you’re clearly wrong.
Without a doubt, today’s society needs more people like Mister Rogers, who feverishly fought for better children’s education, including saving PBS from defunding, and for animals alike. Indeed, spreading kindness to all was the main theme in his show. Famously quoted, Rogers remarked:
There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.
Throughout the series, Rogers continually spoke about being kind to others, but he also practiced what he preached. A devout vegetarian since the 1970s, he often remarked, “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother” and “It’s hard to eat something you’ve seen walking around.” He knew that if children discovered the connection between meat and the animals killed for it, they’d be upset, something we’ve seen again and again.
Rogers was a minority shareholder of the Vegetarian Times. He even promoted soy-based products and vegetarian burgers on his show. In one clip, he exclaims he “eats a lot of tofu.”
According to the Huffington Post, “Rogers was one of the rare Christian ministers at this point who believed that treating animals nonviolently and embracing a vegetarian lifestyle are deeply spiritual practices that bear witness to God’s love for animals.”
What’s more, being kind is actually good for you. There are documented health benefits to practicing kindness. A wealth of scientific research shows that humans are genetically rewarded for being kind, and it’s really not that surprising. The fact is, our species probably wouldn’t have survived this long if we weren’t instinctually driven to work for the common good. But practicing kindness is more than just a successful evolutionary strategy—it’s medicine. Kind people live longer, healthier, happier lives, and science backs this up.
In a world where hatred, violence, and lies are consistently spread in the media, teaching compassion for and acceptance of other living beings to future generations can start simply through what you choose to put on your dinner plate.
As a species, we’re genetically programmed to feel good when we make compassionate choices, yet our diets often contradict this. Each year, more than 56 billion farmed animals are killed by humans in horrific ways. And animal agriculture is culpable for more than 90 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction.
So take the message of kindness to all—including animals—from Mister Rogers and leave animals off your plate for good.