I saw Bill Clinton this summer. Not because I wanted to, and not because I really cared to, but because we crossed paths when he was visiting my, sometimes sleepy, Hudson River town for his daughter’s wedding. There was a throng of people around him, most of which were onlookers, fans, and ex-presidential enthusiasts that presumably wanted to feel the glow of Bill. And I have to say, he looked much better than I had remembered him ever looking. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I happened upon some bit of news cycle detritus that claimed Clinton had recently revitalized himself by becoming a vegan. He had dropped all of that McDonalds weight he had been carting around since the 90s, as well as dropped his omnivorous habits of yore to embrace veganism with abandon.
Had he made this dietary change, say, back in the 90s, during his administration, he would have either sent shock waves through the country ushering in a new era of ethical and healthful eating, or he would have branded himself as a total kook and as the ultimate lame (faux) duck president. Remember, just ten years ago Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich was largely laughed out of his presidential run because of his adherence to vegan ideals, among other things.
Now, according to a trend piece in Business Week, vegans are the new black, at least if you are a powerful white male. Steve Wynn, Mort Zuckerman, Russell Simmons, and, as mentioned above, Bill Clinton are now all part of the vegan elite, along with boxing powerhouse Mike Tyson, who is better known for munching on an opponents ear, rather than a flank of tempeh. As the article asserts, “It shouldn’t be surprising that so many CEOs are shunning meat, dairy, and eggs: It’s an exclusive club,” and to some degree, It affords them the opportunity to control their own health with the same manic id with which they control everything else.
While only one percent of the U.S. population (and probably less than that are wealthy moguls), veganism is gaining traction, and quickly moving from the feast of the freaky to the regimen of the rich. Beyond the difficulty that many have in giving up animal proteins, being vegan is difficult for many because it can be very expensive to maintain (depending on your approach and your adherence to meat substitutes).
Nevertheless, vegans are gaining power through this advocacy by association. But is this association with the elite hurting the cause, or helping it? Isn’t any advocacy, especially along the lines of health and the ethical treatment of animals, a good thing? Or does this sort of trending (especially with such a group of “power vegans”) run the risk of trivializing the politics and ethos of veganism? Does news like this make you feel more empowered to eat ethically, or just more cynical about all the reasons people eat to impress?