Friday, June 6, 2014

On Celebs Who Go Vegan, But Not For the Animals

J-Lo and fur coat. Jennifer Lopez is the latest celebrity to convert to veganism for reasons that have nothing to do with animals. 
It seems like at least once a week, you hear about a celebrity who "goes vegan."

The latest convert to veganism is pop diva and actress Jennifer Lopez, a.k.a. J-Lo. J-Lo went vegan earlier this year, and she is now crediting the diet with leading to her abrupt 10-pound weight loss. She explained her reasoning recently to Access Hollywood:

I'll be honest with you guys, since I had the babies about six years ago, I had that really stubborn 8 to 10 pounds on me. People are used to seeing me be kind of thickish, but when I started eating [vegan], right away I dropped like 8 to 10 pounds. It was a real change, but more than that I felt better and people were like, 'Your energy's better,' ... everything's better.

In the Access Hollywood interview, there was one word J-Lo never mentioned: "animals." It's clear that Lopez did not embrace veganism for ethical reasons. She merely wanted to get rid of that 8 to 10 pounds she put on when she had babies. In fact, at one point in the same interview, J-Lo advises, "The truth is, even if you're 70-80 percent vegan, it's so much better having those vegetables, greens, plant-based stuff. It's going to change your health."

I know what you're thinking. "Huh? 70-80 percent vegan???" One cannot be 70-80 percent vegan, any more than one can be 70-80 percent kind, or 70-80 percent ethical, or 70-80 percent of anything that demands an entire lifestyle commitment. You either live that life or you don't.

What J-Lo probably should've said is "even if your diet is 70-80 percent plant-based." But I imagine these matters having to do with semantics are lost on the singer/actress. She is clearly not an ethical vegan. She is not doing it for the animals. In fact, J-Lo has been a target in the past of anti-fur protesters for constantly wearing fur coats.

I don't want to pick on J-Lo. Lots of celebrities have "gone vegan" for reasons that have nothing to do with animals. One of the recent big vegan crazes is the so-called "22-Day Vegan Diet." Such entertainers as power couple Jay Z and Beyonce have gone on it. Ashley (High School Musical) Tisdale has started on it.

Two years ago, actress Michelle Pfeiffer went vegan, after being inspired by a documentary about Bill Clinton's conversion to veganism. Al Gore also embraced veganism, citing concern over his health and "environmental ethics." (source) Singer Alanis Morissette claimed to be a vegan - then clarified that she was "80 percent vegan" - for health reasons. The liberal MSNBC commentator Al Sharpton told Oprah Winfrey that he went vegan and plunged from 305 pounds to 135 pounds (he actually looks too gaunt, in my opinion) as a result of an exercise regimen and a "sugar free vegan diet." (source)

Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson recently boasted of 40-pound weight loss from veganism (to his credit, Jackson also cited the film Forks Over Knives as an influence, and has mentioned cruelty to animals as a motivating factor in his decision).

With the exception of Jackson, all of these vegan celebs have something in common: Animals aren't really on their radars.

There are a fair number of vegan celebs who put animals front and center in their justifications for being vegan: Woody Harrelson, Natalie Portman, Joaquin Phoenix, Russell Brand, Casey Affleck, Olivia Wilde, Ellen DeGeneres, Emily Deschanel, Russell Simmons, James Cromwell, the list goes on. These celebrities have been especially laudable in their unwavering commitment to the animals.

But the question arises: Are celebrities who embrace veganism for reasons that have nothing to do with animals helping the cause?

I believe they are. Hear me out. Sure, they treat veganism as a "flavor of the month." It is also true they're misusing and abusing the word in a way that reduces it purely to a dietary term, rather than an ethical lifestyle (which it is). How does one be a 70 percent vegan? It's impossible! And yes, their lack of compassion, their refusal to even devote a single sentence to the suffering of sentient beings, is troubling.

However, on the flip side, at least the health-conscious vegan celebs who avoid the "a" word are choosing the right diet. Remember when the Atkins Diet was all the rage and people were eating meat from sunrise to sunset? Ew. That disturbing trend gave rise to the dreadful bacon-eating hipsters who are so abundant these days. You know the type? They have bacon on everything: sandwiches, deserts, salads, pasta - you name it, they top it with bacon. I won't go so far as to say, "There's no getting through to these people." I used to eat bacon. Obviously, someone got through to me.

But at least with someone starting a vegan diet for health reasons, even if they only plan to stick with it for 22 days, there is some hope that their commitment might become longer term (look at Al Gore, who only intended to become a vegan temporarily, and no anticipates that he'll be one for life).

Mark Bittman
And look at Mark Bittman, author of the VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 cookbook. Initially, Bittman wrote his cookbook to encourage healthier diets. He now constantly wrestles with issues of animal ethics, even if he himself hasn't fully taken the big plunge into permanent veganhood (is that a word?).

For good or ill, in our contemporary culture of celebrity, people pay close - one might even say obsessive - attention to celebs - right down to what they eat on a day-to-day basis. The "foodie" culture is huge in North America and other parts of the world right now. It is true that some high-profile advocates of a "vegan diet" have focused almost exclusively on its nutritional value instead of animals.

Yet all of this attention to veganism has actually helped legitimize it. It has moved veganism into the mainstream. Twenty years ago, veganism seemed extreme. Vegan options were hard to find in stores, even harder to locate on restaurant menus. All of that has changed over the course of the last decade. Veganism has made a great leap forward.

So what do we make of a fur coat wearing "vegan" like J-Lo? Hey, she's reaching a far bigger audience than I am with this little blog mine. She could be extolling the virtues of putting bacon on everything. She's not. Other people will try veganism because she's doing it. And maybe one of those people will open his or her eyes to the suffering of our fellow sentient beings. Hell, is it naive or foolish to expect that one convert might even be J-Lo herself?

Whoever it is that's awakened, that is one more person in the trenches with us. One more light has gone on. That's one more man or woman who understands that what happens to non-human animals actually matters a great deal to us, both as individuals and as an entire species.


  1. I appreciate what you have written here. I haven't been sure how I feel about it, but I have to agree with much of what you wrote.

    One correction: Natalie Portman is no longer vegan. Allegedly, she is now vegetarian because she had "cravings" when she was pregnant. And she said it was hard to find vegan versions of what she wanted. (In New York City?? With her finanical means? C'mon!).

  2. It is difficult to argue against anyone who does less matter the reason.

    We don't need everyone having the right reason for doing the right thing or the right reason for not doing the wrong thing...we just need people not doing the wrong thing and/or doing the right matter the reason.

    Now, you may not want to spend time discussing things very seriously with them because you might not enjoy it...but as long as they are behaving well...who cares what's going on in their reason factory? would be wonderful if everyone understood clearly and cared deeply...but I gotta tell ya...down here in Oklahoma that's pretty rare. Maybe it's different elsewhere but I'm skeptical. I used to think/wish Canada and Canadians were different...but you and DEM and HGV have disabused me of those notions.

    Oh, I also admit to a deep prejudice...if someone is a "celebrity" I automatically figure they're pretty flawed to begin with hence anything that is positive that comes out of them is always a pleasant surprise to me. :-)