Was Leonard Cohen A Vegetarian?

Because questions about Leonard Cohen’s vegetarianism arise periodically, I’ve compiled a summary for reference.

Was Leonard Cohen A Vegetarian?

Yep. Leonard Cohen was a self-professed vegetarian for a few years in the 1960s.

Leonard Cohen Loses His Veginity

There is some confusion about when Leonard’s stint as a vegetarian began and ended. The best contemporaneous description I’ve found is this excerpt from Is the World (or Anybody) Ready for Leonard Cohen? by Jon Ruddy (Maclean’s: October 1, 1966):

He [Leonard Cohen] has started eating meat again after being a vegetarian for two years. He had stopped eating meat because he disapproves of the killing of animals. He wrote:

Great torsos of meadow animals strung in glistening exhibition Heads piled in pyramids like parked cannon balls some of them cruelly facing a display of their missing extremities.

He started eating meat again because he got to dislike a certain kind of arrogance he had developed about being a vegetarian. The arrogance was shown in his subtle and partly unconscious attempts to convince Marianna, the sweet-faced Norwegian blonde he has been living with for six years, that not eating meat somehow would make her a finer person. Sometimes Marianna would abstain, sometimes she would be fiercely carnivorous. Now, sitting there among the turtles, drinking Welch’s grape juice, eating a licorice cigar, Cohen says, “I don’t know, everybody has become kind of loony.”

In his description of the life Leonard and Suzanne [Elrod] led on their rented Tennessee farm in 1968, Nadel writes1

At the time, he [Leonard Cohen] was continuing with his macrobiotic diet (between 1965 and 1968 he was a vegetarian). Cohen often had nothing to offer his guests but soy tea.

In the same volume, Nadel notes

A January 28, 1968 article in the New York Times captured Cohen’s state of mind … He offered diet tips; three years earlier, he had been a vegetarian, now he ate only meat.

Leonard Cohen On Vegetarianism

In Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen, the 1965 documentary about Leonard Cohen from the National Film Board of Canada, Leonard declared:

Well its true, ever since I stopped eating meat I feel a lot better among animals, I feel I can be much more honest when I pet a dog.

He also wrote A Person Who Eats Meat2, which he recited during his performance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival:

A person who eats meat
wants to get his teeth into something
A person who does not eat meat
wants to get his teeth into something else
If these thoughts interest you for even a moment
you are lost.

And, he composed

So you’re the kind of vegetarian
Who only eats roses
Is that what you meant
with your beautiful losers

The final words of this poem from Parasites of Heaven (1966) provide the name for Cohen’s novel, Beautiful Losers.

The serendipitous consecutive mentions of Cohen’s Beautiful Losers (1966) and his vegetarianism proffer an irresistible opportunity to – finally – present my favorite passage from that novel that features vegetarians and hilarity in equal parts:

Secret kabals of vegetarians habitually gather under the sign to exchange contraband from beyond the Vegetable Barrier. In their pinpoint eyes dances their old dream: the Total Fast. One of them reports a new atrocity published without compassionate comment by the editors of Scientific American: “It has been established that, when pulled from the ground, a radish produces an electronic scream.” Not even the triple bill for 65˘ will comfort them tonight. With a mad laugh born of despair, one of them throws himself on a hot-dog stand, disintegrating on the first chew into pathetic withdrawal symptoms. The rest watch him mournfully and then separate into the Montreal entertainment section. The news is more serious than any of them thought. One is ravished by a steak house with sidewalk ventilation. In a restaurant, one argues with the waiter that he ordered “tomato” but then in a suicide of gallantry he agrees to accept the spaghetti, meat sauce mistake.

Credit Due Department: Photo from On Tour With Leonard Cohen by Sharon Robinson.

Note: I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Aug 3, 2017.

  1. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel (Random House of Canada, Oct 29, 2010) []
  2. Selected Poems 1956-1968 []

Leave a Reply