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Do Celebrities Help or Harm the Vegan Movement?
By Tyler, Global Vegans
Despite the many abhorrent acts inflicted upon animals in abattoirs and laboratories across the world, and despite the best efforts of the vegan community to draw the public’s attention towards these horrific truths, there is nothing quite like the global infatuation with plant-based celebrities to drag the vegan movement into the headlines.
This time it’s singer Katy Perry, who told her fans earlier this year that she was preparing to go vegan. Writing to her 109.3 million Twitter followers, Perry said that she was ‘95% ready to be 100% VEGAN’, before asking her fans to ‘pray’ for her.
For many people, Perry’s pledge to go vegan can only be a positive step. The more public figures and celebrities who publicise veganism, the better...Right? However, like many parts of modern veganism, the growing link between celebrity culture and the vegan lifestyle is a double-edged sword.
Of course, we should applaud anyone who not only stops eating animal products but who uses their platform to advocate for change. Many celebrities are also passionate animal activists, with lifelong vegan Joaquin Phoenix being one of the most vocal. From narrating the 2005 documentary Earthlings to using his 2020 Oscar speech to highlight the monstrosities inflicted upon cows by the dairy industry, Phoenix is the definition of someone who uses his fame to advance the vegan movement.
Woody Harrelson, Alicia Silverstone and Pamela Anderson are also amongst the list of world-famous vegan ambassadors who regularly join forces with animal rights organisations, highlight injustices and encourage their fans to consider the benefits of following a vegan lifestyle.
We cannot underestimate or undermine the power celebrities have in impacting change - and this grows continually. In a world of social media, fans are hyper-connected to the public figures who influence and inspire them. Following celebrity behaviours, from the way they dress to the way they eat, is particularly common amongst millennials and Gen Zs. It may be reductionist to assume that constant exposure to celebrities and influencers affects the vegan population, but perhaps it’s no coincidence that vegans aged 15-34 account for 42% of all vegans in the UK.
Nevertheless, for every public figure helping to make veganism a more mainstream topic, it seems there’s another spreading misinformation about the lifestyle. Let’s take Miley Cyrus, for example, who recently shared on The Joe Rogan Experience that she no longer eats a completely plant-based diet due to health reasons. Specifically, she claims her diet wasn’t given her enough omega-3s. Her news was met with both frustration from vegans and glee from people who don’t support the lifestyle, with game hunter and podcast host Joe Rogan included in the latter.
While it isn’t constructive to hold individuals accountable for the attitudes and behaviours of large groups, the publicity surrounding Cyrus’ decision stirred up an anti-vegan sentiment that detracted from the true aims and objectives of the lifestyle. Miley isn’t the only public figure whose retraction from veganism garnered widespread attention; Ellen Degeneres, Anne Hathaway and Mike Tyson have also moved away from completely plant-based diets in the last few years with similar media curiosity.
When people with the fame and presence of A-list celebrities publicly eschew veganism, they - whether purposefully or not - validate society’s deep-rooted misconception that a diet free from animal products is unhealthy, unsustainable or unfulfilling.
Flitting between eating and not eating animal products also confuses plant-based dieting with veganism. Veganism isn’t about eating for your health; it’s about doing everything you can to minimise animal suffering. The health benefits are simply a bonus. By calling plant-based celebrities ‘vegan’, we draw attention to the movement for all the wrong reasons when they are inevitably papped eating animal products or, like Beyoncé, wearing fur to a (vegan) restaurant.
While we can hope that celebrities use their platforms to promote veganism and its many benefits, we should also stop funding the commercialisation of vegan eating and paying attention to the people whose actions don’t align with their words. Putting the value of veganism in the hands of celebrities doesn't serve the purpose of the vegan community, nor does reading clickbait articles about the latest public figure to adopt or dismiss a plant-based diet.
What we should do is direct our energy towards what matters: educating as many people as we can about the importance of fighting against animal exploitation and working towards a kinder, fairer future for every species. Let’s get to work.
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