Beyoncé and rapper Lil B are the latest to jump on vegan bandwagon, but far from detracting from a cause they are adding to a growing number of advocates
This week Beyoncé and her trainer launched a vegan food delivery service, meanwhile cloud rap star and self-defined “based god” Lil B partnered with a vegan food company to make an emoji app that brings vegan versions of his lyrics to a smartphone near you.
Celebrities aren’t exactly known for sound nutritional advice, but when they advocate a vegan diet, I’m not bothered. Why? Because reducing or eliminating animal products is often an ethical choice, not a dietary one. There are documented health benefits of a vegan diet, but that’s gravy for many who eat a plant-based diet: what most vegans and vegetarians I know are concerned with is reducing the huge amount of suffering animals on factory farms endure. Neither Beyoncé nor Lil B are paragons of vegan purity (though she flirted with veganism for a few weeks last year, Beyoncé wore fur to a vegan restaurant and isn’t strict about an animal-free diet. Lil B isn’t even a vegetarian, but is “ashamed of eating meat”.) I’m OK with that. The word vegan denotes a specific diet – no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy – but “veganish” diets are easier for many people and still cut down on cruelty.
But does the increasing trendiness of veganism (and the concurrent celebrity cashing-in on the word) actually translate to decreased consumption of animals? Maybe millions of strict ethical vegans aren’t being created overnight by a rapper’s emoji app, but when I was a kid the only celebrity role model I had was Linda McCartney. Every successful movement needs its celebrity mouthpieces, and if tweens are looking up to celebrities who are spreading a message of kindness toward animals, who am I to complain? I love the idea of the “cool kids” embracing veganism – for too long people have seen vegans as sprouts-eating, overly serious white people. If the world now sees vegans as more diverse, relaxed, and pleasure-seeking, I’m all for it, because that’s a more representative picture of the vegan world and can hopefully inspire more people to work for a world with less animal cruelty.
One thing though: as veganism is increasingly embraced by celebrities, it’s important to ensure that an animal-free diet isn’t seen as elitist – a label that vegans need to work harder to cast off. It’s true that fast food is cheap and whole, unprocessed plant-based foods can be pricier, and vegans must do a better job ensuring that everyone can afford good quality vegan food.
Fancy meal delivery services and emoji apps for smartphones don’t help the cause exactly, it’s true. I struggled with these questions when I ran a vegan meal delivery service for 10 years in New York City – preparing organic meals for busy New Yorkers helped me pay off my college student loans and put me through culinary school, but it wasn’t the activism I dreamed I would be doing with my life.
The truth is, animals are treated so badly under industrial agriculture that every little bit of vegan advocacy – unless it comes at the expense of other disenfranchised groups (Peta’s treatment of women in their adverts comes to mind) – helps. If celebrities think that it will up their street cred if they promote vegan causes, and if young people think it’s cool to be vegan because their favorite celebrities are, that’s OK by me.
It seems ludicrous that in a civilized society with so many technological advances we still eat the flesh of tortured animals on a regular basis. Opting out of this cycle of cruelty is the only option for many people when we learn about the saddening realities of life for animals raised for meat and milk and the steep environmental costs of animal agriculture.
The real work of animal advocacy – advocating for tighter regulations of industries in which animals are abused, etc – is done by people on the ground, and, as with any progressive movement, more advocates are needed. Bring it on.
This article was written by Lagusta Yearwood, for theguardian.com on Monday 2nd February 2015 15.21 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010