Veganism offers an important critique of unethical and unsustainable food practices. Yet vegans have been largely ignored or stigmatized in mainstream media, affecting how vegans communicate about their veganism with non-vegans. Given the recent rise in prominence of vegan celebrities, this article asks, how might the cultural intermediary work of celebrity vegans make the ethics of veganism more accessible? And how do ethical concerns about the exploitative production and consumption of animals as food and by-products get reframed in the context of celebrity consumer culture? In order to answer these questions this article brings together two distinct sets of literature: on veganism and eco-feminist philosophy; and on ethical (food) consumption and celebrity culture, to provide a philosophical and theoretical framework for the analysis of two celebrity vegans - Hollywood actor, Alicia Silverstone and TV chat show host, Ellen DeGeneres. Focusing upon the educational and campaigning work of Silverstone and DeGeneres, the analysis finds that veganism is figured as a diet and lifestyle that foregrounds an ethics of care, compassion, kindness and emotion, consistent with ethical veganism. Yet these ethics are reworked through the commodity logic of celebrity culture to make it more marketable and thus consumable as a set of ideas and lifestyle practices. By downplaying the term ‘vegan’, and replacing this with ‘plant-based diet’ and ‘kindness’, potentially hostile attitudes towards veganism are circumvented. Yet, an ethical commitment that forms the basis of many vegans experiences of vegan identity is refigured through celebrity work as the individual choice to be a healthy, happy and kind self, consistent with lifestyle consumer politics. The tensions between ethical veganism as an intervention at the point of consumption within the production of exploitative human/animal/environmental relations, and the focus upon an individualised lifestyle politics through which celebrities maintain their commodity status, thus coalesce in the work of celebrity vegans.
Bibliographical noteThis is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Environmental Communication on 01/12/2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/17524032.2016.1205643
- cultural intermediary
- climate change
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- School of Media - Professor of Media and Communication
- Centre for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics