04 April 2011

Vegan VIPs: How the rich and famous are raising veganism's profile

It's a sweet time to be a vegan, don't you think? Every other day, it seems, there's news about another famous person who's hitched a ride on the meat-free bandwagon and wants the world to know…

And it's not just the usual suspects. Sure, Oprah and her staff went on an exceedingly public vegan diet back in February, but Oprah's known for trying just about everything. And Bob Harper, fitness trainer-cum-guru on TV's The Biggest Loser, recently announced his conversion to a vegan diet. But how surprising was that, given his already uber-disciplined, health-conscious reputation? Not very.

No, the veg-friendly newbies who really surprise us are the who-woulda-thought? types. Some of these were recently profiled by the notably un-trendy Business Week magazine, in a story provocatively titled "The Rise of the Power Vegans." According to the article, among the growing number of prominent individuals who have become vegan are:
  • Steve Wynn, Las Vegas casino resort developer with a net worth of $1.5 billion
  • Mort Zuckerman, real estate billionaire and publisher/owner of the New York Daily News
  • Russell Simmons, hip-hop pioneer and co-founder of Def Jam records
  • Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States
  • Bill Ford, executive chairman of the board of Ford Motor Company
  • Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter
  • Joi Ito, Japanese venture capitalist and Internet entrepreneur
  • John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market
  • Mike Tyson, legendary heavyweight boxing champion
  • Alec Baldwin, award-winning actor
Business Week gave a nod to other notable converts to veganism, including "ex-NBA star John Salley, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, former National Hockey League brawler Georges Laraque, professional poker player Daniel Negreanu, and, less recently, pop star and amateur bodybuilder Madonna."

Of course, the list of influential vegans goes far beyond these names. Other stars shining brightly in the vegan universe include Ellen, the popular talk show host who often uses her fame to advocate for the vegan lifestyle; actress Alicia Silverstone, whose Kind Life book and website introduces readers to healthy, eco-friendly living; techno musician Moby, a longtime champion of animal rights and author of Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat), his first book; and journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell, host of CNN Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell.

Like many of her fellow vegan VIPs, Velez-Mitchell takes advantage of her celebrity status to speak out for vegan causes. In a recent interview, this winner of the Farm Animal Rights Movement's Celebrity Animal Activist Award, urged everyone, famous or not, to speak out:
"We all have to be part of the solution, every single day. Do not go to a party without bringing vegan food. If there's a potluck at work, bring vegan food. I have literature, animal rights literature, all over my office. Every person can be an activist. I don't care what you do. I'm a journalist and I'm an activist, so you can be an activist too. Don’t let anything stop you; every person you meet is a chance to spread the word."
Who are your favorite high-profile vegans, and what are they doing to inspire others?

Elizabeth Gordon | Facebook
Elizabeth is an Asian-Appalachian writer, activist, and college professor living in north central Massachusetts. Once an avowed carnivore, she was a vegetarian for 15 years before making the conversion to veganism. She is passionate about trying to live a life that lessens, rather than contributes to, the amount of cruelty and suffering in this world. Follow Elizabeth on her Vegosphere blog and Facebook page.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/deltona2003