for The New York Times on May 21, 2008
There was a parade on Sunday that brought all manner of people who love flora and defend fauna to the city’s streets. It took place in downtown Manhattan and organizers called it Veggie Pride.
The festivities began at noon in the meatpacking district — get it? — and drew about 600 people and at least one vegan dog — Simba, a tofu-fed black Labrador retriever. Some people dressed up as bananas, or heads of broccoli, or pigs or bloodied cows. A police officer, Jim Alberici, who was helping with crowd control, said he did not expect any violence. “Not unless someone shows up dressed as a meat processor,” he said.
No one did.
The parade’s participants wended their way peacefully through Greenwich Village to Washington Square Park, led by a seven-foot-tall pea pod and an outsize carrot, who would later marry onstage in a faux ceremony. A giant pink replica of a human colon, replete with polyps and a sullied colostomy bag, brought up the rear.
“The worst part was Googling images of colons on the Internet,” said the colon’s maker, Dan Piraro, who is also a nationally syndicated cartoonist. He made the colon out of pink netting, plastic ties, bamboo sticks, cardboard, packing material, paint and hot glue, and three people were needed to hold it aloft. Mr. Piraro’s point, of course, was that meat can be harsh on the large intestine.
The parade was the brainchild of Pamela Rice, the author of a widely distributed pamphlet, “101 Reasons Why I’m a Vegetarian.” She was inspired by a similar parade held annually in Paris, and was also driven by the sense that the time for vegetarian pride was nigh. After all, she said, awareness about animal cruelty and the environmental perils of factory farming is spreading, as is the widening realization of the health hazards of meat.
Too often, Ms. Rice said, vegetarianism had been overshadowed by other causes.
“Today’s our day; we wanted to stand apart,” Ms. Rice said. “Apart from the yoga people. Apart from the New Age people. It’s just us today. We usually get the short shrift.”
The parade drew advocates from the United Poultry Concerns (“Dedicated to the Compassionate and Respectful Treatment Of Domestic Fowl”) and the Jewish Vegetarians of North America and members of the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Organization, a spiritual and avowedly vegetarian group. It drew Roni Shapiro, who runs a vegan meal delivery service in Woodstock, N.Y. Ms. Shapiro dressed up as a pig and carried a sign that read, “No I don’t have any spare ribs.” And it drew Rick Panson, who grows “sprouted foods” and showed up wearing a large thatch of wheat grass on his head.
“I’ll juice it later,” Mr. Panson said.
Also in attendance was Bernard Goetz, who embraced vegetarianism around 20 years ago, after he became known as a vigilante for shooting four youths he believed were intent on robbing him on a Seventh Avenue express train in 1984.
Mr. Goetz said he lamented people’s “distant, shallow and bad” attitudes toward animals. “The world is a deader place because of mankind’s relationship with animals,” he said.
Though it was a parade for vegetarians and vegans, some meat eaters quietly joined the ranks. Victoria and Edward Feltz of Hamilton, N.J., walked in the parade with their children, Noah, 1, and Autumn, 3, who were in a double stroller that was strewn with pro-vegetarian signs. “Be kind to little critters,” read one. But while Ms. Feltz is a devout vegetarian, Mr. Feltz is not, and the children eat meat, too. “We fight about it every day,” Ms. Feltz said sadly. Mr. Feltz conceded that he struggled with the animal cruelty issues involved in eating meat. “I’ve given it up for Lent,” he said, a hangdog expression on his face.
Another couple, Lisa Melian and Matt Belluardo, dressed up as bloodied cows, and carried signs that read, “We all bleed red.” Secretly, however, Mr. Belluardo is an omnivore.
“I’m vegan,” said Ms. Melian. “He’s here for support.”
The parade arrived at Washington Square Park about 1 p.m. Vegan jerky sticks were passed about, and a costume competition was held. One of the winners was Bex Vargas, an artist who lives in Queens and was dressed as a head of broccoli. Ms. Vargas, 26, had brought the costume in a bag. Once offstage, she admitted that she was exhausted and yearned to go home, but feared that her costume would invite harassment on the subway. “I don’t know if I’ll even fit through the turnstile,” she said.
Rain began to fall and the crowd started to disperse, yet through the drizzle a long line stretched from Thiru Kumar’s dosa cart, a vegetarian stand that won an award for best street food last year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, business was decidedly thin at Salem Atwah’s hot-dog stand, on the southwest corner or Washington Square South and LaGuardia Place. Rarely, Mr. Atwah said, had he sold so few hot dogs.
“It’s because of the vegetarians,” he said. “It’s one of my worst days in four years.”