13 April 2011

Let's all take a breath and give Natalie Portman a break

So she’s eating eggs. It’s going to be okay. We just need to breathe.

When Oscar winner and new mom-to-be Natalie Portman revealed on an Atlanta radio show this week that she’d gone from being vegan to vegetarian because of pregnancy cravings, the vegan world erupted in a cacophony of chirping.

"I actually went back to being vegetarian when I became pregnant, just because I felt like I wanted that stuff," Portman said on the Q100 Bert Show. “I know there are people who do stay vegan, but I think you have to just be careful, watch your iron levels and your B12 levels and supplement those if there are things you might be low in your diet.”

Portman had announced to the world in October 2009, with an article she wrote for the Huffington Post, that she had decided to go vegan after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. It wasn’t that big a jump for the long-time vegetarian who, back in 2007, actually launched her own line of high-end vegan shoes – a business venture which ended up tanking (with shoes starting at $250 it’s not much of a surprise).

When the news broke about the starlet’s new food choices, vegan websites and blogs around the world began howling in response: “She’s a role model!” they cried. “She’s a hypocrite and a fake.”

The backlash was similar when Kathy Freston started throwing around the term “Veganish” to describe someone who is actively working towards making more vegan choices but may not be all the way there, or when Bill Clinton was found to be eating fish – egad!

All this judgment flying around the purity of someone’s food choices scares regular people.

That soccer mom or that truck driver who heard about the benefits of a plant-based diet and thought about maybe trying it out, might just stick with the KFC if they think they might be attacked should they announce their intention to be vegan but be unable to stick to it a hundred per cent of the time.

It’s easier to just not try.

We need to remember the bigger goals here. Isn’t one of the primary goals of choosing a vegan diet to reduce suffering – be it for the animals, food animal industry workers, or the planet as a whole?

Portman isn’t telling people to load the kids into the minivan and hit McDonald’s for dinner. She’s telling people that, for now, she has decided to add eggs and dairy back into her diet. She’s still a vegetarian, she still promotes conscious eating and recognizing that what you choose to eat speaks volumes about what kinds of actions and policies you support and encourage.

Instead of attacking people who may not live up to the model of the “perfect” vegan, why not celebrate anyone who is willing to seriously explore these ideas, learn more about where the foods they eat come from, and make any kind of change for the better?

Let’s make it easy to try.

Sara Best | @shbest
Sara was literally born into the animal welfare movement. While growing up, her father worked with various organizations on campaigns from the Canadian seal hunt to the slaughter of dogs in the Philippines to the ivory trade in Africa. Eventually, Sara became involved in animal protection projects herself. Now she is a writer living near Toronto, a mom to two little omnivores and married to one dedicated carnivore. Visit Sara's blog.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/zenimagery