The Simpsons is truly part of the family. In over 680 episodes spanning over 30 years, Springfield’s favourite family have cemented their place as a pop culture phenomenon and embedded endless quotes and lines our brains. It’s been going so long that it even has its own golden age, from the first season to the 10th – or fourth to the 12th depending on who you ask.
Right in the middle of either timeline is the season seven episode, “Lisa the Vegetarian”. After visiting a petting zoo and encountering a doe-eyed lamb, Lisa decides to forego meat and become a vegetarian. From her school friends to her family, no one is impressed – especially not Homer, who is planning a BBQ feast to win friends in the town. When Lisa asks him to “have some other kind of party where you don’t serve meat”, Homer responds “I’m trying to impress people here Lisa, you don’t win friends with salad.”
Cue Bart repeating the line and an impromptu family conga line, with Bart and Homer singing it out of screen. When they come back into frame, Marge has joined, her uniquely coarse voice announcing itself off-screen. When Lisa complains, Marge replies, “I didn’t mean to take sides, I just got caught up in the rhythm.”
And plenty of other people got caught up in the rhythm. Not since the Chicken Tonight jingle has a food-related song been adopted so passionately by people around the world. Don’t believe us? Then check out these dubbed versions from countries around the world.
The first episode written by David X. Cohen (who would later develop Futurama with The Simpsons creator Matt Groening), it’s considered one of the show’s best by those who produced it. Not only does it have a positive environmental message that won it an Environmental Media Award and a Genesis Award, it teaches audiences to accept the differences in others when Lisa finds out that Apu is a vegan and must consider her a “monster”.
“But I learned long ago, Lisa, to tolerate others rather than forcing my beliefs on them. You know you can influence people without badgering them always,” he tells her.
It’s also significant for featuring one of the show’s only permanent character changes. Before agreeing to take part, Paul and Linda McCartney said they would partake only if Lisa didn’t revert back to a meat-eater in the next episode. To this day she remains vegetarian.
For the creator of The Simpsons Matt Groening, the “don’t win friends with salad” conga line is one of the “high points” in the series, according to the DVD commentary on the episode. Critics agreed, with MSNBC’s Patrick Enright listing the episode as his second favourite and the song as “one of those archetypal Simpsons moments, one in which the writers hit a joke so long that it goes from funny to unfunny and back to funny again”.
It’s so iconic that the producers came back to it over 20 years later in the season 30 ‘Treehouse of Horror XXIX’ episode. In the scene, Lisa is transferred to an alien utopia via her consciousness and one of her most intrinsic memories is Bart and Homer singing “you don’t win friends with salad”.
It’s so beloved, that someone even created a 10-hour version, while it’s also been recreated with LEGO, as tattoos and Pedestrian TV even investigated whether it was possible to win friends with salad to promote the launch of Disney Plus.
Of course, from “It’s still good! It’s still good!” to “I can’t believe I used to go out with you”, there’s a bunch of quotable quotes in “Lisa the Vegetarian”. To determine what’s the best from this iconic episode, software engineer Todd W. Scneider used term frequency-inverse document frequency “to determine which words are most significant to a document that is itself part of a larger corpus”. In the case of The Simpsons, individual episodes are individual episode scripts, and the corpus is the collection of all scripts. And in the case of “Lisa the Vegetarian”, the most significant phrase is “you don’t win friends with salad”.
– Matt Millikan