The Vegetarian Society (UK) used to publish on a semi-regular basis The Vegetarian Handbook, The Guide to Living a Vegetarian Lifestyle! It was very informative listing all branded manufactured foods that (at the time) were vegetarian, with specific reference to those which were vegan; it also listed recommended retailers. Additionally, it had a list of food additives and how they were derived, which I found very useful as for many of these I was unaware of their origins. I have the 17th and 18th editions of this guide, published respectively in January 1989 and October 1990. On pp 12-13 of the latter there is a list of Famous Vegetarians, some of whom were well known at the time, some were not very well known at the time and had had their 15 mins of fame as it were during the year or two leading up to publication. Some have long-since fallen off the vegetarian wagon and some are now sadly deceased. The list did have a caveat:
Occasionally celebs claim to be vegetarian and then in a later article reveal that they eat fish, so although every effort is made to keep the list up-to-date, we can’t be 100% certain of its accuracy.
Of those in the list, some such as Carol Royle and Martin Shaw have regularly supported the Vegetarian Society, since before the list was published and one can assume that both are still vegetarian (though neither has ever claimed to be vegan). Doing a google search on some of the others reveals that they are (or were) ‘pescetarians’, so the Vegetarian Society’s disclaimer was as well. One can understand why this list was published, as even as recently as two and a half decades ago the vegetarian diet was still perceived to be outside the mainstream, whilst the vegan diet was, well, well beyond the pale. By focusing on celebs the Vegetarian Society was trying to bring the former diet at least into the mainstream. Unfortunately however it didn’t really help, as although these talented thespians may not be that rich, their lifestyles – by vocation alone – were and are still somewhat removed from the mainstream.
Possibly because so few celebrities back then were, or claimed to be, vegan, the Vegan Society has never made a big deal of trying to have celebrity supporters; Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who sometimes appears at vegan festivals, is the nearest to fit into that category, but he is the exception rather than the rule. However it has now become fashionable for celebrities to claim to be vegan and for this we can thank PETA, for providing them with a free career platform. Declaring one’s self to be vegan is now the Hollywood thing to do. Whilst some of these celebrities, Joaquin Phoenix and Alicia Silverstone, for example are genuine, expressing the vegan ethos in more than just dietary terms, for others it has become just a faddish ‘detox’ diet, with a bit of politically correct career publicity thrown in for good measure. Vegan Sleb-Cred, in other words.
I accept that criticising someone for adopting a vegan diet for whatever reason is in itself a snobbish and elitist attitude; many people make a correct decision for a ‘wrong’ reason and then look into the broader issues afterwards. Someone who adopts a vegan diet for health reasons is more likely to be won over by the ethical arguments than someone who is omnivorous; hence that dietary vegan is more likely to give up wearing leather, fur, wool, silk. Some of those who have done it for publicity might well see it a bit beyond that. And really one shouldn’t be too harsh. Search for ‘vegan celebrities’ or such and you’ll find several lists of which the longest I’ve found is this one, from just over a decade ago which appears to be derived from the list of a quarter of a century ago, mentioned in the first paragraph. These lists, by volume of names, not just the names themselves, are obviously fulfilling a need, or a wish, for those looking.