‘Vegan’ Celebrities and the vegan diet vs. veganism

I am hugely sceptical of celebrity vegan role models a lot of the time. Not because of the person themselves, but because of the way many vegans react to their diet change. That is exactly what it is for many of them – a diet change.

I’ve mentioned previously about Bill Clinton unwittingly becoming the spokesperson for veganism in America, and when he announced that he was following a vegan diet bar a bit of turkey on Thanksgiving many vegans reacted as though a lost gospel of the New Testament had been discovered proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a member of the Animal Liberation Front. I saw a ridiculous number of comments on the internet and heard a couple from friends in real life relating Clinton’s motives for eating vegan to the causes of animal rights and environmental protection.

I’m sorry, but Clinton is not a vegan. I’m sure he hasn’t ever thought twice about wearing leather, and if it weren’t for the health benefits of eating vegan he sure as hell would be eating meat now. Just because you eat vegan, doesn’t mean that you are vegan.

What Clinton is, however, is a fantastic advocate for the vegan diet. Veganism and a vegan diet are two very separate things. Veganism is a philosophy of minimising (and, if possible, abolishing) the use of animals in your life. The vegan diet is a way of eating that relies purely on plant-based foods.

For many, the vegan diet is a starting point. I’ve known people who have come to veganism for health and stayed for the ethics. Whether or not this will happen with Clinton, I don’t know. For others, it never progresses past the stage of being just a diet.

However, those who turn to the vegan diet for health reasons are still beneficially affecting the world. To them, limiting animal abuse and environmental damage may be side effects to the health benefits that they are obtaining, but they are definitely positive side effects.

Whilst I feel global veganism may never be reached due to a combination of apathy and ignorance, the health benefits of a meat-free diet are becoming more and more tantalising. Anyone who’s seen Breaking Bad may remember this scene from the first episode, stylishly put in a comic book format by Breaking Bad Comics:

Whilst this may just be a comic of a forgettable scene from Breaking Bad (which is totally awesome by the way! If you haven’t seen it then you should watch it after reading this!) it taps into the essence of what may actually have the world turning towards a vegan diet. We have to watch our cholesterol.

There is overwhelming evidence that a plant-based diet will benefit cholesterol levels, despite Atkins, keto and paleo dieters claiming otherwise (there is little evidence to show their benefits, and the only person I’ve ever known to follow a high-protein, low-carb diet for a prolonged period has now sadly died due to bowel cancer – a disease commonly brought on by eating too much meat).

A diet that has proven to do this is an attractive one, as is one that, for most people, provides more energy, and boosts potential weightloss. With celebrities turning to a vegan diet faster than any other diet at the moment, the general public are following suit. I have read numerous times that the vegan diet isthe fastest growing diet at the moment (overtaking even vegetarianism) and it does not surprise me.

With advocates such as Clinton proclaiming the benefits of a vegan diet for health, more and more people are trying it out. For every person who goes vegan to lose weight, the demand for animal protein falls. As demand falls, less animals are utilised for meat and their products. And thus, there is a gain for veganism as a philosophy. If the world followed the vegan diet for health reasons alone, animal suffering would be minimalised.

For Morrissey, veganism is more than a dietary choice

It is, however, important for vegans to keep this in mind instead of seeing every celebrity who wants to shed a few pounds by following a plant-based diet as a hero. At times, the vegan community is at danger of becoming like PETA who seemingly lauds any celebrity as an animal rights activist simply because they said ‘I like my dog’.

There is also a danger of making the terms ‘veganism’ and ‘vegan diet’ interchangeable by describing everyone who follows a plant-based diet as a vegan.

There is a fine line between being glad for someone’s success on a vegan diet with the hope that it’ll persuade some other people to try it, and praising them as a fully blown vegan. In this regard, beliefs are everything.

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Dolphin personhood, and animals as persons

Due to their extremely high levels of intelligence and their self-aware mind, cetaceans (dolphins, whales, porpoises, and other marine mammals) have had a declaration of rights drawn up by philosophers and marine biologists.

This bill of rights would grant them protection and they could be defended by law. It will go as far as to grant them the status of ‘non-human persons’.

By granting cetaceans personhood, they would also be granted individual rights. A killing of a dolphin would therefore be equal to killing any other person, including human beings, both ethically and legally speaking.

The bill of rights includes that of liberty, meaning an end to their captivity for theme parks such as SeaWorld. To hold a cetacean captive would be equal to enslaving a human.

It would also ban any practice which ‘disrupts their cultures’ which could include the use of acoustic sonar and certain types of fishing.

This comes at a very important time for cetaceans, particularly when we look at Japanese treatment of the animals. Commercialised whaling has been a notorious part of Japanese culture for over a century now, and the practice of whaling itself dates back for many centuries before that.

Similarly, the Japanese treatment of dolphins has become infamous since the Academy-Award nominated documentary, The Cove. The film uncovered the horrific and frequent dolphin drive-hunts in Taiji, Wakayama.

One of the companies that financially supported these hunts (by buying captured dolphins) was SeaWorld Parks, a chain of theme parks in the US. Should this cetacean bill of rights gain enough momentum and support, there could be further bad news for SeaWorld too, as the parks controversially contain several captive dolphins and whales.

Fishing will also be affected in a fairly big way. Bycatch (the name given to unwanted catches during fishing) consists of a growing number of cetaceans every year. Tuna fishing is mainly responsible for this. Even dolphin-friendly labelled tuna does not mean dolphins weren’t killed in the fishing process – it simply means that the fishermen targetted tuna using other methods (the easiest method for finding tuna hotspots is to target a dolphin feeding area). Dolphins, porpoises and whales are routinely entangled in nets and drown, due to being mammals.

I have no idea what's going on here, I just Googled 'dolphin person' and this guy came up.

This is not the first time a non-human species has been granted personhood. Great apes have famously achieved such a status in some countries. New Zealand, in 1999, granted basic rights to great apes, and it is now illegal to use them for research and testing. 8 years later, in 2007, the Balearic Islands granted personhood to great apes. As an autonomous province of Spain, it has been fighting to convince Spain to follow suit ever since.

Renowned animal rights philosopher, Gary Francione, also argues for the personhood of all animals. As one of the fathers of the abolitionist movement, Francione believes that we have no right to use animals in any way, even if they are treated respectfully. Francione argues that all sentient beings should be granted personhood, with sentience being the only requirement. Cognitive abilities beyond that are not of significance. For Francione, veganism a moral baseline – the minimum one must do to avoid being harmful and morally wrong is be a vegan.

Even if you disagree with Francione’s approach towards animal rights, allow me to at least argue abolitionism from another approach. As it has been noted, the personhood of cetaceans is garnering support due to their cognitive abilities. However, it is increasingly becoming evident that a huge number of species are far cleverer than they are given credit for.

This can be seen in some of the tests done on the animals to highlight their intelligence. One such test, which dolphins performed successfully, was to prove that they are self-aware. If you would like to do this test for yourself then do the following right now:

  1. Stand up and walk over to the nearest mirror or reflective surface.
  2. Look into it.
  3. If you recognised that the image in front of you was a reflection of yourself, then well done, you are self-aware.

If on the other hand you looked at it and thought ‘WHO THE F@%! IS THAT?!’ then I am afraid you are less intelligent than a dolphin, a pig, or even a chicken, and therefore most people wouldn’t recognise you as a person (although thanks to the likes of Gary Francione and myself, there are people campaigning for you!). That’s right, chickens have been shown to be self-aware. Yet there is never any speak of chickens being granted personhood.

Another test to highlight dolphins intelligence was their ability to trick reward systems. Dolphins have recognised when a reward system is in place (i.e. do this and you’ll get food) and have found ways to trick them. Again though, this is common in other species too. See below for this occurring with a cow.

Again though, there has never been any talk of personhood for a cow.

Francione speaks of humanity as being ‘morally schizophrenic’. We can look at our cats, dogs, or any other animals close to us and love them. We would never dream of calling these animals unintelligent, and we see them as persons (even if they are not recognised as so by society as a whole).

I am not by any means disputing personhood for cetaceans, I fully support such an implementation. However, I am just trying to highlight the inconsistency here. As a supporter of Francione’s ideas and abolitionism, it surprises me that we still fail to recognise animals as beings and not just property to be utilised. These ideas to implement personhood to dolphins, whales, etc. simply begs the question of why stop there? Pigs, dogs, foxes, snakes, spiders, chickens, fish – any animal you can name has shown mind-blowing feats of intelligence, some which we don’t always understand.

And perhaps this strikes at the most important issue of all. We humans, as the dominant species on Earth, like to think that we are the be all and end all to animal intelligence, but the simple fact is that we aren’t. It is impossible for us to understand nature and its complexities in the way that we like to think that we can. Animals and their survival are dependent on their abilities to use their brain.

There are countless examples of intelligent behaviour developing within other species. From ants building fungus farms, to dolphins communicating verbally. The more we discover of Animalia, the more we are astounded. A matter of a couple of centuries ago we didn’t even think that other animals could feel pain, and now this has become universally accepted (with exceptions by some people towards some species e.g. fish).

A quote from Albert Einstein neatly sums this up. Sure, it’s taken out of context, but I think it is still apt (and in fact, more literal):

“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Humanity, in its naivety, is at risk of becoming stuck up its own ass. By proclaiming ourselves as dominant, we have come to fail to realise not just that other species deserve rights, but to even comprehend other species as living, breathing beings. I am glad that these discussions are finally happening for cetaceans, but we have a long way to go before Francione’s ideals are met.

WWE World Heavyweight Champion is Vegan

One of the things I love about being vegan and having a keen interest in fitness is that there is an ever-growing number of role models out there in a variety of sports. Whether it’s the likes of Mac Danzig in MMA, endurance athletes like Brendan Brazier, or hulks such as Patrik Baboumian, whatever sport you’re into there are vegan atheletes in the out there (and they are very often hugely successful).

However, here’s something I never thought I’d see. Today I discovered that, as of 18th December, the WWE World Heavyweight Champion has been vegan.

Bryan Danielson (better known by his WWE name of Daniel Bryan) has been in the wrestling business for 13 years now, beginning a backyard wrestler in 1999. However, following success, he decided to wrestle professionally.

 

Danielson had many years of success in ROH – a lesser-known but still widely respect wrestling organisation. However, in 2009 he was suffering from numerous liver infections and skin conditions. His doctor suggested trying veganism for a while, and he never looked back.

Since then, Danielson has gone from strength to strength (literally) and wrestled for the WWE. However, he’s not simply just following veganism for health reasons. Bryan Danielson joins the likes of Austin Aries (AKA The Vascular Vegetarian), Taryn Terrell, and one of the forefathers of modern wrestling, Killer Kowalski in stepping into the ring with convictions behind them.

Since going vegan Danielson ethical convictions have evolved. Danielson wrestles in faux-leather boots, and has a faux-leather strap on his belt. After briefly being fired in 2010, PETA followers successfully protested and demanded he be rehired. PETA has granted him the award for being the ‘Most Animal Friendly Athlete’ this year too.

Danielson runs a website/blog which he updates regularly with the vegan food and supplements he’s been eating as he travels in his career. Currently Danielson is engaged in defending his title in a feud with The Big Show.

Sadly, the WWE seem to have stumbled across the fairly obvious idea of making veganism his ‘thing’ and making something of a gimmick out of it. This somewhat mirrors their use of CM Punk’s straight edge convictions.

However, I can’t help but smile a little to see a WWE champion in the ring espousing the virtues of veganism in a sport that is otherwise dominated by carcass guzzling men. With wrestlers regularly suffering from early-onset health problems such as heart disease and bone weaknesses due to the amount of animal protein they ingest (whilst Danielson has only gone and reversed health problems he has suffered from), we can only hope that more follow in Danielson’s footsteps and become vegan.

It may have become Danielson’s gimmick but it’s great to see veganism taking such a high position in the WWE, arguably one of the most successful and renowned sports franchises of all time. And it is something of an inspiration to see yet another high-performing vegan athlete reaching the top of their game.

URGENT APPEAL: Farm Sanctuary Modesto Chicken Rescue

This is an urgent appeal for all our readers to help out with the Farm Sanctuary efforts in Modesto, California at the moment.

Farm Sanctuary is currently in the process of aiding and rescuing hens from a factory farm in the area. Two weeks ago, the farm was abandoned along with 50,000 hens there. They have been without food for this whole time.

Tens of thousands of the hens have already died, but with your help Farm Sanctuary can hopefully prevent many more from dying.

Hens are being rushed to Farm Sanctuary’s shelter in Orland, California, for emergency medical care, including treatment for starvation and dehydration. Farm Sanctuary is hoping to offer 24-hour care to these hens.

Many of them are now ridden with parasites from the appalling factory farm conditions. This, coupled with damaged immune systems, means that the hens are having to be watched consistently in case of organ failure occurring.

A survivor (photo from Farm Sanctuary's Facebook page)

One user of the vegan sub-Reddit page has said:

I know some of the people who are helping with the rescue efforts, as well as the staff at the shelter, and it’s just heartbreaking. Some of them have already died after being rescued, so many are knocking at Death’s door, many of them were just coated in feces, weigh next to nothing, are unable to eat or drink, extremely malnourished, and just so many more problems and ailments. The staff, interns, and volunteers at the shelter will be up day and night for many weeks taking care of these babies and trying to get them healthy. I’m sure a majority of the survivors will be adopted out to loving families through FAAN once their health is no longer a concern, so if you have the means to adopt a pair or more of chickens, keep your eye out for news in a couple months.

If you can spare anything to help in this urgent rescue effort, please visit Farm Sanctuary’s Donation page and give what you can.

Avon, Estee Lauder and Mary Kay found to be testing on animals

Despite consistent claims that Avon, Estee Lauder, and Mary Kay have halted the use of animal testing in their product development, the three companies have been found to be doing first-hand testing on animals in China.

Chinese laws dictate that all cosmetics sold must pass a series of animal tests before they are to be marketed. The tests all have alternative non-animal methods available, and Mary Kay has been working with the Chinese government to take steps towards the acceptance of these tests. The company still accepted using animal testing.

Avon and Estee Lauder meanwhile didn’t even complain, and got straight to the business of torturing animals as if they’d never claimed otherwise.

We have highlighted before the extent to which companies will to try to cover up their use of animal testing, or their use of animal tested ingredients (a big thanks to Uncaged). However, this is a whole new level of deceit.

Despite having consistently benefitted off of animal tested ingredients, Estee Lauder and Avon have always been adamant that they have halted the use of animal testing for their own benefit.

However, with this latest discovery regarding their use of animal testing in China, Avon, Estee Lauder, and Mary Kay are guilty of straight-up lying to their customers. Anyone will tell you that deceiving customers is one of the most damaging things a business can do.

And why would these companies do this? Profits, plain and simple. China is a huge market which is irresistable, and the idea of extra profits has these companies walking straight over their integrity in order to get to a piece of the pie.

Avon has also routinely been utilising toxicity tests on animals and covering them up. They have explained that utilising toxicity tests has allowed them to bring new and innovative products onto the market. New products = more profit, and animals better not get in the way.

The deceit that goes on surrounding animal testing is disgusting. Customers very rarely approve of animal testing cosmetics. The result is that companies have to find elaborately worded sentences to cover up their usage. They hide their true intents behind semantics.

Anyone who’s ever emailed a company guilty for animal testing will know this. It’s not uncommon to receive an email that is several paragraphs long, which basically states ‘we don’t like animal testing, but we gotta do it!’

As Dr Dan Lyons of Uncaged quite rightly states:

‘Sadly, these large animal testing companies appear to have a policy of systematically misleading consumers rather than responding to their overwhelming opposition to gratuitous cruelty to animals. Given that a large majority of people are opposed to these tests, we believe that we are witnessing a multimillion pound fraud as consumers purchase products on the basis of deceptive claims about their provenance.

My advice is to stay safe. Don’t trust any company that says it doesn’t test on animals in a vaguely worded statement, or a company that’s response to the question ‘do you test on animals?’ is longer than the word ‘no.’

Look out for the BUAV bunny logo, or the vegan society logo to ensure a trustworthy company.

A sign you can trust

The plus-side to this is that hopefully this discovery will result in other companies coming clean about their exploits with animal abuse, such as L’Oreal, Chanel, and Clinique – all of whom thinly disguise animal testing.

PETA – The vegan love-hate relationship

As a 15 year old kid, I was into a lot of punk and nu-metal, that whole thing. I listened to a huge number of bands, and followed them on Myspace and their email lists. For anyone who’s into similar music, particularly the punk scene, you will know about the large proportion of vegetarian and vegan musicians out there.

Some of those bands I loved (and still do love) who happened to be vegetarians/vegans included Rise Against, Goldfinger, and Strike Anywhere, to name but a few. Now, these bands had ties with an organisation called ‘PETA‘ and supported ‘animal rights.’

At the time, that meant very little to me. I mean, I thought hunting sucked, and people who wore fur were douchebags. But I ate meat and loved it, and wore leather without even considering that it was an animal’s skin.

I got an email through from one of the bands to sign a petition against Chinese fur farms on PETA’s website. Thinking ‘right, fur does suck, I’ll sign!’ I opened up the link, and watched the accompanying shock video. Two minutes later, cringing back in my seat from what I had just watched, I signed the petition and began browsing PETA’s site and resources. A couple of months later I was a fully-fledged vegetarian, and a few years after that, a vegan.

In the past week, PETA published this video and campaign:

This is yet another of a long string of offensive and obscure campaigns run by that same organisation that set me on the animal rights trail in the first place.

Other highlights from PETA’s past include a large string of misogynistic, sex-sells style adverts with nude female celebrities, holocaust comparison posters displayed in Germany of all places, and (my personal favourite) a number of anti-video game campaigns against the likes of Super Meat Boy, Cooking Mama, and, most bizarrely, Super Mario.

Tactful doesn't seem to be in PETA's dictionary

I want to ignore, if you will, issues with PETA supporting convicted animal rights terrorists as that opens up a huge ethical black hole surrounding animal testing and morality of methods used to stop it. I know where my opinions lie on these issues, but you should decide for yourself. Just so you know though, PETA has supported convicted members of the animal liberation movement in the past.

I want to primarily focus on PETA as a resource and as an associate of the vegan movement. In this regard, PETA is now something of a joke. The organisation is routinely ridiculed and parodied from all sides (including in an infamous South Park episode), and unfortunately this organisation is now the face of veganism and animal rights.

It’s not just embarrassing campaigns though. PETA is hated by vegans for their policies and treatment of animals. One incident which sticks out in my mind was over a device called the Crustastun. This device, which kills lobsters more quickly and humanely than boiling water received approval from PETA. PETA then hosted an event in which they invited a load of seafood fanatics to come and eat humanely killed lobster, but forgot to get the Crustastun devices shipped in time. So…

  1. PETA, a devout animal rights organisation, supports the killing of lobsters for consumption so long as it’s done humanely.
  2. They organised an event in which they’d use the Crustastun device to kill a few hundred lobsters for seafoodists.
  3. The Crustastun devices failed to turn up, so PETA used traditional methods to boil the lobsters alive, rather than cancelling the event altogether. Wouldn’t wanna upset those seafood fans now, would we?!

Face palm to the max

Despite all of this though I still find myself utilising PETA’s resources on a regular basis. Their animal testing database is woefully incorrect and often contains companies which use animal tested ingredients (I recommend Uncaged or BUAV for trustworthy lists), however it can often be a gateway to finding some companies which are worth supporting.

They also offer an excellent free vegetarian/vegan starter kit, which I still recommend to people looking to go veggie. They also have a great recipe database available online to browse.

Perhaps most importantly though, PETA has brought more light to some abhorrent issues in the world than any other organisation that I can think of. These issues include the Chinese fur farms, animal testing in cosmetics, and Canadian seal hunting. They have changed a lot in these areas, and drummed up a massive amount of support.

Their campaigns in these areas have been relatively mature, intelligent, and well-targetted. I’m sure there are actually very few who don’t back them. Yet then they go and piss themselves by claiming that Super Meat Boy is the most evil character in videogame history, and put together a campaign against the game.

Why does this happen? My thoughts are that, whilst some of PETA’s causes are easy to support, a positive thing is not actually that newsworthy. We love controversy, cynicism, and negativity. If someone fucks up, it’s fun to hate on them. They will be the centre of news attention. PETA is playing on this to grab attention for itself, but is damaging the animal rights movement in the process.

In the end, I feel PETA is kinda like that friend I’m sure we all have. The person you invite on a night out who gets obscenely drunk and makes a massive dick out of themselves (leaving you to apologise to all your other friends for his/her behaviour). However, when you’re in private, they’ve actually got a lot to them, and that’s the side of them that you wish everyone else would appreciate.

Anyways, that’s my personal stand on PETA, and I guess I’ll always feel like I owe them a little seeing as they turned me vegetarian in the first place, but I’d love to hear some more views. What do you think of PETA? And, to you, how important are they as an organisation?

The importance of vegan fitness, and a little motivation

Veganism has again exploded into the mainstream public domain over recent weeks with Bill Clinton’s announcement that he is officially following a vegan diet for 364 days of the year. With support from his doctor, he has effectively reversed cardiac problems that he has been facing as well as dropping a couple of stone in weight. Thus, he has recently become a spokesperson for veganism, albeit somewhat unwittingly.

It seems like at the moment everyone is hanging off his every word on this issue. Many nutritionists are keen to dispute Clinton and his doctor’s claims that the diet is healthy and even heart-disease reversing. Vegans are relishing the fact that they’ve got a former President now backing their diet and ideas. The media and the public meanwhile seem just generally fascinated at the whole prospect – veganism is still not a mainstream diet by any means, and a high profile figure such as this abandoning animal products and espousing the health benefits is an interesting development.

What is at the centre of this fascination though? Is it as simple as the fact that a previous junk foodist has turned his life around? I’m sure this holds some degree of weight – the celebrity culture that we live in entails this. But there is undoubtedly an added degree of fascination over exactly how it has been done – by following a vegan diet. The very same diet that the mainstream media portrays as unhealthy, lacking in protein and various vitamins and minerals, and completely unnatural. Here’s a case of a vegan diet working wonders for someone on the road to heart disease and possibly an early grave.

Veganism gets a lot of bad press, we all know this. Not least though is in the area of health. Consistently, it seems to be believed that by denying meat and dairy one is also sacrificing their fitness. I have met people who have actually told me that they couldn’t be vegan because they play too much sport/lift weights/run marathons. Of all the bullshit excuses I’ve heard, this is pretty high on the bullshitometer, due to the fact that veganism will not impair their activity and may actually enhance it.

You only have to type in ‘vegans are’ on Google, and amongst ‘stupid,’ ‘retarded,’ and ‘idiots’ it suggests ‘not healthy.’

A badly planned vegan diet is not healthy. But what about a badly planned omnivore diet? Haven’t really seen obesity, heart attacks and diabetes plague the former. Sure, there’s anemia, but that’s not too difficult to overcome. Besides, someone who is playing sports or following any kind of fitness regime should be regulating their diet heavily anyway. No one gets healthy and fit without monitoring what they’re taking in on a daily basis.

Now, I’m sure that at some point in the near future I’ll probably write up a list of vegan athletes, or at least write about a few of my inspirations. But for now I just want to write briefly about what fitness means to me as a vegan. I am a keen runner and weightlifter. I’ve never been one for teamsports really, but I love sports where I can set my own goals and tackle them, and I am committed to doing so. However, at no point have I ever felt hampered by my diet.

I ate meat for years, and was very overweight. I turned vegetarian and shed most of that. Yet since turning vegan my progress has been hugely boosted. I no longer feel sluggish and bloated from dairy products, and I’m avoiding cholesterol entirely. People are often surprised to find out that I am vegan. And this is important to me.

As veganism is still a diet that is widely unpopular in mainstream culture, every single vegan is an advert for the diet. Most people only know one or two vegans, if any. If you are that one vegan, they’ll probably look at you and judge veganism based on you.

It is your duty to prove the vegan stereotype wrong. The stereotype shouldn’t be of a skinny, preachy hippie. Prove that veganism is better than that. To me, this is a real motivation to maintain my fitness. If I am vegan, yet can outrun and outlift the majority of my peers then they will realise that something is working. If I am vegan, yet my body is in better shape than those panicking about their next meat-based protein fix then I am doing my bit to smash that stereotype which veganism has acquired.

Every vegan out there is responsible for the stereotype that develops with it. If you are that one vegan that someone knows, surprise them. Prove what veganism can be.

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