So I has an assignment in class this week: to present a topic in which pop culture ties to public health, and then to blog about said topic on the class website. Well, obviously I chose going vegan, but in my post to the class’ website, I fear I may not have been as professional as graduate school may require. I wrote in my own language, not unlike any post on here. I’m posting my article below, so let me know what you think! It’s entertaining, if anything! Here’s to hoping my professor agrees with me!
You’re a what? What’s a vegan? Is that some kind of weird new religion? Until a few years ago, “vegan” was not in many people’s vocabulary. Sure, we all know about vegetarians. Vegans take their dietary restrictions to a whole other level, though. Like vegetarians, they don’t eat meat, but they also don’t eat/use any products coming from an animal. That means (among other things) no butter, milk, eggs, honey, cheese, yogurt, leather, furs, or even jello! Diets like veganism and other phytonutrient-dense eating habits have become all the rage among celebrities within the past year or so. Being a vegan myself, I opted to report on a topic close to home. Go with what you know, right? I became a vegan for my own reasons, though much of the public are becoming aware of such eating habits through pop culture icons. Famous vegans like Joaquin Phoenix, Ellen Degeneres, Bill Clinton, and Brad Pitt are bringing the vegan lifestyle to the masses, hailing it as the new “it” diet trend. In doing this they are bringing plenty of attention to the the 0.5% of Americans already identifying themselves with the title. Gwyneth Paltrow even released a cookbook of her favorite vegan recipes a few months ago. Back in February of 2011, Oprah took a vegan challenge for one week, and encouraged her entire staff to join. Of course, if Oprah does it, it must be the new “it” thing! Whether these advocates prove the effectiveness of the vegan lifestyle, or the opposers expose chinks in the armor, one thing is certain: veganism and its health benefits have been made popular subject matter and common vocabulary in this country thanks to media intervention.
Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples Retreat)was voted “Sexiest Vegan of 2013” by PETA, bringing celebrity status to their cause and making healthy eating “sexy” in one swift move. With celebs like Carrie Underwood, Anne Hathaway, and Casey Afleck backing veganism, who wouldn’t want to hop on the band wagon? The media uses their images as well as provocative images of others to draw people in and listen to the vegan hype. What girl doesn’t swoon at the image of a shirtless Brad Pitt? What? He’s vegan? Where do I sign up? While Kristen admits her choice was based more on health focuses than animal cruelty concerns, PETA is still able to get their message to the masses with her indirect support for their cause.
Even celebrities such as Steve-O from the popular Jackass television show and films can be found in internet pop-up ads nowadays, directing users to websites exposing harsh realities of factory farm procedures in an attempt to guide them towards a diet consisting of less animal products. The film Vegucated also exposes viewers to factory farm techniques in an attempt to promote veganism, and does so using humor and a fun premise to lure in viewers.
Okay, so we’ve got celebrity endorsement. Now it’s time to put some content behind those famous smiles. You see the pretty, successful famous people getting on board, and you’re ready, too, but you need a little more information. Documentaries surfacing within the last few years such as “Forks Over Knives”, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”, and “Hungry For Change” have become wickedly popular as they help spread the popularity of plant-based diets to the public through interviewing famous researchers such as T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Joel Fuhrman. They, among other medical professionals, explain the medicinal benefits of a vegan (or mostly vegan) diet. They hail a vegan diet’s ability to halt and even reverse coronary artery disease, startling evidence since the CDC reports a whopping 25% of Americans meet their demise each year in the form of heart disease and coronary heart disease accounting for over half of those deaths. With this information being delivered through popular media outlets, lead researchers in the field of nutrition such as biochemist T. Colin Campbell gain access to a valuable platform to deliver their critical research to a large population. They are able to advocate for dietary change as a highly effective form of preventive medicine, and with celebrities endorsing health, people are eager to listen.
Is going vegan truly the future we all should be heading towards, or just the next in a long line of celebrity fad diets? That’s not tremendously important. What is important is that celebrity endorsement of a plant-based diet has allowed researchers a platform to deliver pertinent and valuable information about food production and health concerns to the masses. Now that eating healthy is sexy (thank you shirtless Brad Pitt and bikini-clad Olivia Wilde) the population is becoming more engrossed in where their food is actually coming from and how to make better choices when it comes to fueling their bodies.