Commodity Veganism: Is Celebrity Endorsement Enough?
Are celebrities good spokespeople for veg*nism? For animal advocates, this question likely elicits varied opinions. On the one hand, having people in the public eye cosign a veg*n lifestyle can be a positive thing. If somebody like former U.S. President Bill Clinton goes veg*n, for example, all of a sudden it doesn’t seem like such an “out there” diet. In other words, celebrity culture can have a normalizing effect on what might seem like radical ideas to the general public. On the other hand, celebrities are not always the best spokespeople — nor the most levelheaded. Boston Celtics’ star Kyrie Irving, for example, has been embraced by some animal advocates for his vegan diet, but also holds a strong belief that the earth is flat. In other words, celebrities can sometimes, by association, make veg*nism seem less legitimate in light of their other interests.
In this article, researchers look at celebrity endorsements of veg*nism through a particular lens: by looking at pop singer Beyoncé, the “22 days diet,” and the way “post-feminism” plays into it. In particular, they are interested in how Beyoncé’s embrace of temporary veganism connected with the following three dimensions: “empowerment in terms of consumer choice; full agency and responsibilization; and the investment in a sexy body while at the same time imposing strict self-surveillance, management, and discipline.”
Extending the concept of “commodity feminism,” they refer to the outcome as “commodity veg*nism,” a trend that doesn’t challenge the status quo of animal exploitation, but rather emphasizes individualism and consumer choice. Their analysis centers around instances where the veg*n diet “stops being ethical,” such as Beyoncé’s temporary embrace of veg*nism as a way to lose weight post-pregnancy. The authors also assess recent marketing trends that claim “vegetables are sexy,” and how these claims devalue the political and ethical aspects of veg*nism. Advocates who have success promoting veg*nism for its health benefits will likely have some trouble with this.
It’s hard to know if the authors’ arguments will affect animal advocates’ embrace of veg*n celebrities one way or another. They admit that — all of their critiques notwithstanding — “the endorsement of feminism and veg*ism by a public black figure such as Beyoncé has the potential to open up these discourses to people who might have previously felt excluded and/or alienated from them.” For animal advocates, this is the crux of why celebrity endorsements of veg*nism are valuable. However, the authors add that the reduction of veg*nism to mere consumer choice and business opportunity reduces food choices to “a private matter” that is disconnected from the marketplace. While the paper doesn’t provide a clear answer to this conundrum, it does demand that advocates ask further questions about the implications of celebrity veg*nism.