The Problem With Celebrity


A while ago I briefly asked whether celebrity vegetarians really matter. My stance on the issue has lightened a bit, and I think that celebrities that truly stand for animal rights and follow veg*nism as a lifestyle day in and day out can be helpful in spreading the word. However, after chatting at lunch with Isa, Eric, and Huyen the other day, I think the problem is not in celebrity vegetarians, but the lists of celebrity vegetarians floating around the web.

The problem is that once someone even indicates that they’ve thought about vegetarianism, they wind up on the list and once they’re on the list, they’re there forever. Take Julia Stiles, who shows up on a bunch of the lists. She was a vegan for a short time, but then went so far as to totally discredit it on Conan and in interviews. Saying things like “I stopped being a vegan and then became a vegetarian. But the first meat I ate was not a hamburger” is just confusing… if she “became a vegetarian” what’s this about “the first meat [she] ate”? Shortly afterwards, she says, “So now I do eat some red meat but not all the time.” Well good for you, Julia. Congratulations on not being a lion.

But this isn’t about Julia Stiles. It’s about out-of-date lists and how the vegetarian community and animal rights organizations use them to try and claim legitimacy. Unfortunately, it works against us because of the inaccuracy of many of these lists. I understand that any list of this type can’t be kept completely up-to-date (until PETA develops a Vegetarian Registry or something like that), but perhaps less emphasis should be placed on what famous people are eating. The first time someone sees Michael Stipe eating a steak (and I swear I saw someone write that recently), the entire movement loses ground because then it seems like more of a trend diet or a phase rather than a compassionate lifestyle.

We don’t need famous-veg lists. Sure, when a real celebrity comes along and speaks out for animal rights, it helps things, but the AR/veg community can exist without them, so let’s not focus on publicizing our out-of-date lists of famous-people-who-may-have-once-been-vegetarian.

(Boy, I’ve been cranky lately, haven’t I?)

12 Responses to “The Problem With Celebrity”

  1. Isa

    Agreed. But might I add that the only celebrity we really do need is James Cromwell? I love him.

  2. Viren

    From the link you gave, it seems like Julia Stiles was a vegetarian and then became a vegan for a while, and then wasn’t either. Hence the “first meat” comment (though that comment could be taken in at least one other way). So, why was this confusing?
    Also, since when do we pay much attention to what goes on in late-night comedy shows? Most of it is jsut for laughs anyway.

  3. Ryan

    That may be the case (probably is), but what I quoted (“I stopped being a vegan and then became a vegetarian. But the first meat I ate…”) implies the following:

    1. She was vegan.

    2. She then “became vegetarian” and had her first meat.

    And, yeah, taking a talk show appearance seriously can be dangerous, but we cranky vegans tend to take any public poo-pooing of our lifestyle by “former practitioners” as a personal offense. :)

    (Plus, I’ve always had an irrational hatred toward Julia Stiles… I think she’s one of the least talented actresses I’ve seen in years.)

  4. Sarah

    I think that making celebrities our spokespeople for anything can be dangerous. A prof of mine used the example of having someone who was a baseball player in a movie talk to congress about steroid use in professional sports. Using celebs as our spokespeople for veg*isms can be just as tricky. I think we forget that they are paid to ACT for a living, acting like a vegan/vegetarian is a lot easier than actually adopting the lifestyle. It would be cool if an unfamous (or infamous, ha ha) person could be the spokesperson for veg groups, but I think most interest groups believe that having a celeb lends credibilty to your orginization.

  5. vegenaise

    Your comments are spot-on. Also, the whole celebrity question likely yields the kind of veg*ns that we don’t really want: wishy-washy types who are willing to do _whatever_ they must, well, like, because, like *Julia Stiles* is like *totally* doing it. These people are veg*n for a week, and then for the next 20 years of their life they tell everyone, in loud tones, “I USED TO BE A VEGETARIAN but I just couldn’t give up hamburgers. yum.” Why’d they become vegetarian? Because they were emulating someone else, and their heart wasn’t in it.

    When they do this, they look like complete fools, and make veg*nism look impossible (which it most definitely is not!).

  6. soyjoy

    Amen, brother. About a decade ago I pitched the concept of an illustrated vegetarian calendar to VRG, who said fine, as long as you nail down who’s veggie and who isn’t. That process sank the whole thing as it seemed the only people we could count on were the famous *dead* vegetarians.

    That said, we shouldn’t ignore the value of committed, longtime vegetarians who are also celebrities, e.g. McCartney, Chrissie Hynde, the B-52s, Cromwell – people who have walked the walk for some time. Due to our celeb-obsessed culture, if they say something thoughtful about vegetarianism, it will get ink that otherwise would’ve gone to the latest breakup rumors. And their existence in the culture helps keep the fact of vegetarianism as a public issue. But again, yeah, the crop of bandwagon-jumpers who are veggie this week, “lapsed” tomorrow, are more of a drag than the others are a boon.

  7. Meredith

    I was going to grant Julia Stiles the benefit of the doubt and say that it probably is hard to maintain a healthy vegan diet while travelling all the time – you can’t guarantee that everybody even knows what veganism entails. But then I realized that she’s rich and can afford to bring her own cook everywhere. So that’s no excuse, Julia.

  8. bea

    I’ve been an on again/off again vegetarian since I was 15 years old. Presently I accept that I may have some free range meat perhaps once or twice a year. I wouldn’t knock that lifestyle choice – think of what could be accomplished with animal rights if most people ate meat less frequently. The fact that Ms. Stiles is conscientious about her diet is a positive thing. I don’t think she can be compared to the likes of Naomi Cambell and Cindy Crawford who did all of those “I’d rather be naked than wear fur” ads, and then of course, now wear fur.

  9. Allie

    To celebrities being a vegetarian is just a fun fad. They just like to be different, they could care less about those poor animals in factory farms. They wear fur and do what they want because they think the world is theirs. I wish all the animals we’ve ever eaten just came back from the dead and picked us apart. Even the now vegetarians once ate meat when they were children. I hate celebrities. I don’t know why everyone is obsessed with them. I could care less if they eat meat or not or if they spend 10,000 on a pair of underpants. I just don’t see how people can eat cows, pigs and chickens. They’re such sweet, peaceful creatures. I just wish everyone ate grass.

  10. Ruth

    Well, sorry I don’t know Julia Stiles, but regarding Celebrity Vegetarians. They have a right to speak out about their concerns and hopes for a better world, pity they don’t all stay vegetarian, but my guess is that most do. Maybe this Julia Stiles might go back to being vegan when there are more of us around. And there is no denying the copycat nature of people, especially young ones, vegetarian role models can do a lot better the usual hedonistic types.

    And as far as vegetarian being some kind of superficial trendy thing that celebrities do, well that sounds like someone has found a new kind of discrimination, lets call it Celebritism. On the contrary, I have found that declaring oneself publically vegetarian does not make for more popularity, we still live in a society where the majority eat meat and resent anyone who will bring their attention to the guilt ridden lifestyle they lead.

    I put celebrities who speak out for vegetarianism alongside those of us who don’t have that power, but do what we can with what we have, that may be joining groups that educate and do stuff to bring vegetarian consciousness to the sleepers. Those who are an example to their family, friends and community, those who demonstrate and go out courageously saving abused animals.

    Hey we all have a role to play, lets be supportive of each other, VEGANS UNITE FOR A HUMANE WORLD.

    Peace and Love

  11. Karen

    I hadn’t read this “rant” before but I’m with you on what you wrote, and with a few of the above commenters…

  12. Pete

    what a dyke….. i admit i have a celeb veg list on my site but i try to keep it up to date… whenever i hear or see anything that might count as grounds to be off the list i take them off and put them in the “shameful faces” list :)

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