As in, people-on-people aggression? Apart from arguably aggressive acts of procurement, eating cheese or fish makes a person more aggressive?
A fascinating idea and, if true, a worthwhile consideration. The justification for the claim, according to PETA’s letter, was: “At Alabama’s highest-security prison, for example, prison operators found that serving inmates vegetarian meals as part of a violence-reduction program resulted in a significant decrease in behavioral problems … We’re pointing out this link in our call to Kim Jong Un to change his diet, which might just lead to a change of heart in his dealings with other nations. You never know!”
Do we never know? If it is presently difficult to get Kim Jong Un not to repeatedly violate international accords and human rights in his own country, why would it even be conceivably possible to assume he will change his own diet at the suggestion of Rex Tillerson?
And even if Kim Jong Un did—if amid all the requests to be made of North Korea at this point in history, Tillerson told the autocrat that he really should stop eating meat—is there real reason to believe this would change his temperament?
This isn’t the first time PETA has made this sort of claim, injecting some hot veganism into a news story that might, on its face, seem otherwise totally unrelated. Consider the 2015 headline “PETA Says Vegan Diet Could Calm Woman Who Shot at McDonald’s After Baconless Burger.” She was sentenced to three to seven years, at which point the group sent a letter to Michigan’s Kent County Sheriff suggesting, “Switching to vegan meals might just help this hot-tempered prisoner curtail some of the rage that led to her incarceration in the first place.”
I asked PETA where these claims come from. Obviously a person who doesn’t eat bacon isn’t going to shoot a person over being deprived of bacon, but is there any solid evidence veganism makes a person less aggressive? If anything, a quick search for veganism and aggression conflates the two in the opposite direction. As in, My aggressive vegan neighbors won’t stop telling me that I’m worse than Satan. Or, My teen turned vegan and said she can’t love me anymore and is holding her breath until I renounce a lifetime of slaughter, and I’m unwilling to do that, please help.
PETA’s director of communications responded by linking me to a 2011 NPR story—one about the aforementioned Alabama prison. It’s a story about a silent Vipassana meditation program among death-row inmates at Donaldson Correctional Facility outside of Birmingham:
Isolated in the gym, the inmates wake up at 4 a.m. and meditate on and off until 9 p.m. They eat a strict vegetarian diet. They can’t smoke or drink coffee. And there is absolutely no conversation—only an internal examination of how the body is reacting.
“You’ll start feeling little stuff moving all around on your body,” [inmate Johnny Mack] Young says. "Some guys can't handle this; some guys scream."
It’s a rude awakening for some prisoners, Vipassana teacher Carl Franz says.
“Everyone’s mind is kind of Pandora's box, and when you have 33 rather serious convicts facing their past and their own minds, their memories, their regrets, rough childhood, whatever, their crimes, lots of stuff comes up,” Franz says.
If you ever find yourself trying to describe what public radio was like to someone in the future, and you had to give an example of what types of stories they did, I can’t think of a better example than one about a meditation program on death row. It’s a good and provocative story. But veganism was no part of it. Vegetarianism was, but even that dietary change was a relatively small part of program. Sitting silently every day for 17 hours withdrawing from caffeine and tobacco might affect a person in ways dramatic enough to be considered confounding variables.