Anyway, Bill Clinton winning People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) "Man of the Year" award today was definitely one of those things that made me go hmmm. Most of you already knew by now that Clinton adopted a mostly vegan diet in May of this year.
Yeah, OK, I know that just the other day I said that on balance, maybe - maybe - animal rights advocates should stick with PETA, despite the mistakes and lousy stands the organization has made over the past several years.
And yeah, I know Bill Clinton is the most high-profile figure to embrace a vegan diet in 2010, which does a lot to bring the issue of veganism into the mainstream. That's terrific. And I'm especially happy that the vegan diet has worked wonders in helping to improve Clinton's health.
Bill Clinton explained his vegan diet on a national talk show:
I live on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit. I drink a protein supplement every morning -- no dairy, I drink almond milk mixed in with fruit and a protein powder so I get the protein for the day when I start the day up. (Source)
And PETA defended its decision to name Clinton its "Man of the Year" thusly (in the words of Senior Vice President Dan Matthews):
Bill Clinton won not only because he's the most prominent person to go vegan this year but also because he used his platform to articulate the reasons why a plant-based diet is the most healthy diet. And of course, it doesn't hurt that he has Chelsea's lead to follow. She went vegan at 10, though her motivation was simply not wanting to support cruelty to animals. (Source)
I saw Clinton's interviews when he made the big announcement and he was extremely careful not to raise the issue of animal rights at any point. Moreover, Clinton admitted in all of those interviews that he eats fish. (Media outlets said Clinton was on a "mostly vegan" diet; is there such a thing??? I always thought you were either vegan or you weren't. Maybe I'm wrong...)
My purpose here is not to nitpick. I suppose my main concern is that there are a growing number of people embracing a vegan diet purely for health reasons. They want to lose weight. They want to feel healthier. And that's good. I'm happy to see it.
But when ethics are not at the root of these choices, then the "Vegan Diet" becomes a fad much like the South Beach Diet or the Atkins Diet (remember that god-awful thing??? I remember a loved one eating bacon all day long!!! Blech!).
People go on these fad diets. They lose weight fast (I lost 25 pounds instantaneously when I became a vegan... sadly a lot of his crept back on). And maybe in the process, the number of animals getting murdered dips slightly because of it.
But, much like all of those people who ditched the South Beach and Atkins diets after they quickly lost 10 or 15 or however many pounds, it's likely that a lot folks who become vegans for health reasons - like Bill Clinton - may very well end up following the same path.
It's difficult because of the temptation to cheer on every little advance that veganism makes. And I'm glad Bill Clinton is getting healthy again thanks to veganism - or a "mostly vegan" diet, I should say. But PETA giving him this award celebrates someone who became a vegan purely for health reasons, not to consciously help bring an end to the death and suffering of animals. Do his actions help animals? Probably some lives will be saved.
But you also have to look at intentions in these cases. Even if Clinton drew attention to the pluses of a vegetable-based diet, he did not - in any meaningful way - challenge the destructive system that is killing large numbers of animals every second of every day. Clinton deserves to be commended for his personal choices. But awarded? And by an organization that is supposed to champion animal rights?
Like I said at the outset, file this one under the "Things That Make You Go Hmmm" category.