In case you’ve been living under a rock, or joined the Internet today, Beyoncé announced she’s gone vegan. In a pre-filmed clip aired on Good Morning America she announced the benefits a vegan “diet” has done for her body and a wish to share it with the world (via her new business ventures and co-authored book).
While Beyoncé’s news is a happy one for animals everywhere, I wonder whether her new announcement should be welcomed by the rest of the vegan community or not. Don’t start blasting me yet! I don’t hate Beyoncé or any other celebrity that’s chosen to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. I think it’s great, but the pros and cons of a person of such social power joining any movement, specifically ours, could mean great or terrible things.
The Pros: Reach, Reason, and Riches
There’s no denying the social influence of a woman like Beyoncé. She, and any celebrity that goes full-veggie, has the possibility to reach a lot more people than the average person. They are watched so closely by the rest of the world that almost anything they do goes viral. Women yearn to look and act like their favorite celebrities. Women copy makeup styles, fashion trends, and even relationship advice from celebrities, so it’s safe to assume that diet and exercise advice will also be mimicked. The fact that Queen Bey touts a vegan lifestyle and may just be the jump-start people need. After all, it’s got to be amazing if she does it.
Beyoncé went fully vegan because it was the easiest way for her to lose weight and keep it off. She’s not alone! Many celebrities have chosen to adopt a plant-based lifestyle for weight and beauty reasons. This is huge for veganism, because it allows the idea of a meat- and dairy-free lifestyle to reach people who aren’t interested in the ethical incentives of veganism. As much as the rest of us would love for everyone to care about the animals and the environment, not everyone is going to change their lifestyle and long-ingrained eating habits for those reasons. Some people are going to be more tempted to try something that’s going to make them as attractive as their favorite singers and actors (not that other vegans aren’t hot – they are). A person’s choice to adopt a vegan lifestyle, no matter what their motivation or style of eating, is something to be celebrated.
Along with their social power, celebrities also have the monetary power to create businesses, write books, and create other entrepreneurial ventures to make veganism attractive and available for everyone. The average vegan can’t just decide to create their own mail-order food service to help those struggling with meal planning and expect others to jump all over it. Something like that takes money, time, and great marketing in order to flourish. (This is also where a little social influence helps.)
The Cons: Fads, Fortune, and Failure
Although it can be a pro, celebrities going full-veggie as a diet, not lifestyle, can turn veganism into another fad diet. Veganism is a lifestyle. It’s a cruelty-free way of living where no animals, or animal by-products, are consumed, worn, or used. It is not a fad diet to get unwanted body weight off quickly. When people treat it like a fad diet they often fall back into their old routines. Treating it like a fad diet invites “cheat days,” the continued use of leather and fur, or the use of veganism as a catalyst for weight loss, which will be abandoned the moment the desired results are obtained. These don’t help anyone. Animal lives will still be in jeopardy and people who don’t get their weight loss results will fall right back into their old eating habits with a new grudge against veganism for not working. It’s not meant to work for anything other than the safety, and welfare of animals. Our health is a bonus, not a selling point.
With so many celebrities now turning to veganism, it’d be nice if they didn’t always try to capitalize on the movement. Celebrities using veganism to make more money or gain more publicity seems a bit shady. We get it, they stopped eating meat and dairy and now look even hotter. Do they also need to make money on it? Can’t they just spread the word, donate their money to vegan causes, or support vegan businesses (which ultimately makes more people want to go there too) without having to get some of the profits themselves? If they do choose to create their own businesses, where does that money go? Does it get split between the business and animal charities or does it go into their already bulging pockets?
Besides the money and the debasement of veganism into a fad diet, there is still one con that hurts the movement far worse – failure. The media loves celebrity failure. Relationship, career, and weight failures seem to be what the media and Internet live for. When celebrities go vegan and give it up to eat meat again, the media jumps all over it. (Just look at Bill Clinton’s vegan failure, or even this average guy’s tofu disaster.) If they didn’t like eating vegan, why should anyone else? (Stupid, right?) The sad reality is that society looks up to celebrities, like Beyoncé, as a model to live by and strive for. Veganism has an elitist stigma and can be hard for people to imagine themselves following it long-term after the first few (often expensive) trips to the grocery store. It can be overwhelming for people to get use to giving up animal products, cooking, packing food in advance, finding new recipes, and reading labels for ingredients. When their role model struggles with veganism and fails, it makes it ok for them to give it up too.
I think celebrities can be great allies or great foes in the vegan movement. I’d like to think they will help more people get healthy and save more animals’ lives in the process, but I’m also skeptical. Time will tell, and for right now I’m just glad we’re getting a little media attention. Isn’t that at the very least a step in a positive direction?