We have received a lot of great feedback on our article 100 Vegan Celebrities to Inspire Your Plant-Based Journey! The main intention of this piece was to showcase a diverse mix of celebrity figures that adopted a vegan diet, and who were doing something good with their position of fame. However, It has been brought to my attention through social media and Reddit that a few of the people on the list are no longer vegan. It is quite a shame to hear this given the amount of time and energy spent creating this piece of written content. I thought it would be a useful thing, then, to look into some of the specific celebrities noted as not being vegan celebrities anymore and examine why this confusion is apparently pervasive around the internet. I hope we can have an honest discourse on these former vegan celebrities!
Former President of the United States Bill Clinton is a critical starting point when it comes to examining these ex-vegan celebs. Afterall, his position of power is difficult to come by, and to have had him speak positively regarding a vegan diet for many years may have been quite impactful on many lives. Unfortunately, there appears to be much dishonesty in many vegan media outlets regarding Bill Clinton's status as a vegan. Whether this is intentional or unintentional, it is difficult to judge, as I myself know how difficult finding the real facts online can be.
Let's define what it means to be "vegan"
If you are already aware of what a vegan diet is comprised of (and what it is not), you can skip to the next section of this article. I think it is of value to quickly define what a vegan is for those who may be unaware, and for the purpose of better understanding the problem with considering Bill Clinton a vegan.
The full definition as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
This definition of "vegan" is simple to understand. No animals food or byproduct in the diet. Of course, modern veganism has come to have a connotation that is also associated with an ethical point of view "which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose."
In the context of Bill Clinton, the definition of "vegan" we are focusing on is the one pertaining to dietary choices, as he has made clear in the past that he likes a vegan diet because of the health benefits.
Let's look at some of the simple facts available to us about Bill Clinton - "The Vegan"
When typing into Google Search the phrase, "is Bill Clinton a vegan?" I am met with many resources indicating quite plainly that, yes, he is vegan!
For example, the top search hit is a blog article by The Hill - Bill Clinton: Going Vegan Has Kept Me Alive. This is not a dated article on Bill Clinton either, as it was posted in February of this year (2016). Initial indicators based on the title and throughout this article would certainly suggest that Bill Clinton is a vegan. I mean, take his own words and consider how they can sit on your heart:
However, with more digging into the content, I find a simple quote that sums up the difficulty with identifying any celebrity as a vegan or non-vegan in this day and age.
"The nation’s 42nd chief executive admitted he is not always strictly vegan, and added that he has also not always enjoyed the food." He then notes that he eats "organic salmon" once a week per a doctor's recommendation. Anyone with basic awareness of what constitutes a vegan diet would know that consuming fish, even once a week, would make you not a vegan.
As I continue to dig into this question of whether or not Bill Clinton is a vegan still, I continue to find information that matches with this account of eating fish "in addition to" a vegan diet. The truth of his "real" dietary lifestyle is that of a pescatarian who eats a primarily vegan diet. Of course, even more conflicting information is available online regarding Bill Clinton's diet, such as a piece addressing him as an "ex-vegan" that has adopted a low carb paleo diet.
Why does it matter if Bill Clinton is vegan, pescatarian, paleo, or something else?
The truth of the matter is that it probably does not matter all that much what diet Bill Clinton chooses for himself, given that we all have our biases and preconceived notions of who he is as a person based on his political career. The intention of including him in the 100 Vegan Celebrities article was to showcase the diversity of people who adopted a vegan lifestyle, and to imagine someone with such power and authority as a former President vocalizing the value of this lifestyle seemed to hold some value. Of course, just because Bill Clinton (or anyone else) adopts a vegan lifestyle, doesn't inherently make it right. But there is something to be said about the lighthearted fun we can get from reading about big named celebrities being a part of our minority group.
With this said, there are 2 major reasons why Bill Clinton not being a vegan bothers me:
1). It's hard to trust what Bill Clinton says
As humans we are all prone to a change in heart, and should always seek the right lifestyle for ourselves. As you should know, Farmer Fred has his own backstory that has driven him to promote a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle because of how it literally changed his life. But even he was not a vegan since day 1. But the problem is not just in the "change of heart," but the attention and fame acquired by making these changes. And let's not rule out, in the case of Bill Clinton, the possibility of an exchange of money with some of the media sources such as AARP, which is an organization that makes money, at least in part, through membership referrals.
I personally like the idea of someone being principled enough to stick to something and not cave in to every fad and change of the season, which unfortunately seems to happen all too often with celebrities who go on to endorse "fad diets."
By choosing to become a vegan and discussing the virtues and health benefits, and most importantly uttering the intense line: "I might not have been around if I hadn't become a vegan," Bill Clinton became an instant authority of the lifestyle. By labeling himself a vegan, but not living a vegan lifestyle, Bill Clinton has set himself up as a false prophet of sorts and misrepresents the lifestyle. This misrepresentation breeds confusion, which is at the heart of what discourages many folks who really need to see positive change in their physical and emotional health.
I saw this entire situation summed up in a short-and-sweet blog post on Ecorazzi, stating that Bill Clinton should stop calling himself vegan because "eating salmon and avoiding most animals food products does not make you a vegan, it means you eat less animal products."
2). It's hard to trust the media to properly report about celebrities
Perhaps even more significant to me is how the media portrays Bill Clinton as a vegan, while knowing without a doubt that his own words contradict this term.
Take for example the in depth article posted on AARP's website Bill Clinton Reveals Why He Became a Vegan. Used as a staple piece of content, the largest flaw within the article lies within the single reference to how Bill Clinton eats organic salmon on a weekly basis. It is strangely insincere to read the article, only to be met with this single and simple fact that undermines it entirely. One cannot be vegan and eat any form of meat.
Of larger concern is that it has been reported that "Bill Clinton has stepped 100 percent off of his vegan diet - though he's still going to call himself vegan." And this news was met with support from large vegetarian and vegan organizations including the American Vegetarian Association.
What is the truth?
There is no doubt in my mind that Bill Clinton is at least "partly" vegan (whatever that means). There may have been a time where he was strictly vegan, possibly around 2010 or so, but in many interviews about his diet he appears to provide contradictory answers. Discussions with his personal doctors (such as Dean Ornish) also seem to only further complicate things. In this case, "mostly vegan" means Bill Clinton is not a vegan at all.
What has come to bother me about this issue is how he speaks in half-truths about his diet and uses the word "vegan" to describe his diet - inaccurately. Not to mention, a number of media outlets online proudly displaying Bill Clinton Is Vegan as truth, and leaving many of us more confused in the process.
While a mistake was made in our article 100 Vegan Celebrities to Inspire Your Plant-Based Journey, it is easy to understand how it can be made given the number of different opinions and diets Bill Clinton appears to have held over the years. Most importantly, with Plant-Smart Living we not only wanted to issue a correction, but provide a more in depth investigation into a topic that is interesting to some.
Hopefully you find this look into Bill Clinton's "veganism" useful to understand how not all vegan celebrities are what they say they are (or what media outlets say they are). And maybe you have stumbled on more information that could be useful here as well about the former President's current diet? Be sure to let us know!