Celebrities Changing The Face Of Veganism
Veganism is defined as a diet without any consumption of meat, dairy, eggs, or honey. Only about 2.5% of the U.S. population identifies as vegan, and less than 1% identify as vegan within the U.K. According to The Vegan Society, veganism is defined as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” Veganism decreases animal suffering through a reduction of demand for animals and animal byproducts, and it helps to mitigate climate change by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite the many benefits of living a vegan lifestyle, perceptions of vegans have historically been negative where mainstream media has portrayed veganism as a ridiculous concept and characterized vegans as oversensitive or even hostile. These negative stereotypes have caused vegans to downplay the role that ethics serve in their decision-making, causing them to focus mainly on the health benefits of veganism. However, those perceptions may be changing as dozens of celebrities have openly embraced the concept of veganism and championed for a vegan lifestyle with a focus on ethics, compassion, and kindness (e.g., Alicia Silverstone and Ellen DeGeneres). This research study examines how the emerging phenomenon of celebrity veganism can facilitate the ethical adoption of veganism and therefore make veganism more accessible to the general population. Furthermore, this phenomenon is examined through the lens of veganism and eco-feminist philosophies.
Prior to identifying the methods by which celebrities might change the perceptions of veganism, it is important to consider the complex cultural and power components that have historically caused veganism to be viewed as hostile, emotional, or illogical. From a feminist perspective, veganism and vegetarianism provide a platform for exposing the connections between forms of power and oppression across and within species. For example, women and vegans have been the targets of sexist and anti-vegan stigmas through feminization tactics whereby women and vegans are depicted as overly emotional and illogical. Conversely, eating meat has historically been equated with heterosexual masculinity. These stigmas and stereotypes reinforce power inequities, and result in perceptions of the environment being separate from humans. With the compounding difficulties that vegans encounter when trying to communicate the ethical reasons for adopting a vegan lifestyle, how might celebrity vegans facilitate the discourse around the ethics of veganism?
Celebrity vegans can serve as role models and “ethicalized cultural intermediaries” that support consumer choices and lifestyles that represent a new form of citizenship. Celebrities have a national (and sometimes international) platform in which to communicate their views, and many also have the social capital to influence the general public. As such, they have a mechanism by which they can empower marginalized groups. By communicating the ethical implications of living a vegan lifestyle, they can create a sense of civic engagement through consumer behaviors while also normalizing the phenomenon of veganism for ethical purposes. With that being said, there is a danger of veganism being viewed as a branded commodity as a result of “spectacular signs of celebrity endorsement”. Clearly the decision to adopt a commodity branded lifestyle would not align with one’s expectation of veganism resulting in an authentic and transformational journey.
Some of the mechanisms used by celebrities to promote veganism include social media and authored books (e.g., Alicia Silverstone) and personal websites (e.g., Alicia Silverstone and Ellen DeGeneres). In comparing Alicia to Ellen, Alicia has promoted her vegan stance across platforms making animal activism her main message and identify while Ellen has made her vegan lifestyle only part of her brand. Furthermore, Ellen’s message may be limited by the fact that she did not build her brand upon a history of animal activism, or have the more traditional experience of being viewed as a highly attractive heterosexual woman. However, given Ellen’s self-identified lesbian status, she is better able to make effective connections between power inequities across gender, sexual preferences, and animal rights.
As the celebrity vegan platform continues to grow and evolve, further analysis will be required to better understand how celebrities can transform the views of the general public on the phenomenon of veganism through celebrity brand commodity status and power. Having celebrities promote veganism is great, but effectiveness still matters. Having a more comprehensive view of the trade-offs associated with celebrity approaches to promote veganism, including one’s own brand, can help identify the most effective means for normalizing and promoting veganism as an ethical lifestyle choice.