The Problem with ‘Glam’ Vegans
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Last Wednesday, returning from a late Pio production night, I was pleasantly startled upon opening my computer to the homepage of the New York Times. A strikingly idyllic photo of vegan celebrity Rich Roll and his family sat at the center of the site, accompanying a Jeff Gordiner article titled “Vegans Go Glam.”
Roll provides a perfect focus for the article. An ultramarathoner, author, and plant-based lifestyle guru, Roll, his wife and four children (all beautifully glowing and tanned in their Calabasas home) provided a majestic picture of vegan glamour. Roll’s successful podcasts and books have put him at the forefront of a new vegan scene, one that is focused on social media presences, vegan food festivals, trendy restaurants, and expensive speciality food products.
The article is exciting evidence that veganism is getting media attention. Gordiner’s decision to focus on the ‘glam’ vegans, with interviews from prominent members of the vegan scene who boast beautiful skin, bodies, and Instagram accounts, challenges the classic stereotype of what Roll called “the dreadlocked hippie who is kicking the Hacky Sack.”
Focusing on the sexy and glam can indeed provide a new appeal for veganism. A photo slideshow of family smoothie making, homemade raw beet ravioli, and trendy and expensive plant-based restaurants like Crossroads Kitchen in LA and By Chloe in New York are clearly fun to look at.
But is ‘glam’ mainstream? Effervescently glowing, meditative, and yoga-practicing california vegans like Roll and his with Julie Piatt offer a great aesthetic, but it’s a stretch to say that their lifestyle is conventional.
These images challenge veganism history of absolutism and animal rights activism; instead, the lifestyle’s motivators become the health and physical benefits of cutting out meat and dairy. Vegan celebrity blogger Ella Wordworth is quoted in the article, saying “my skin is so much cleaner and clearer” after making the switch. The idea of the vegan “glow” has spurned dozens of extremely popular lifestyle blogs, and is the namesake of arguably the most widely read plant-based recipe site.
The message becomes inviting, less of a dogma and more of a tangible, image-focused health movement. This is great in many respects, but it leaves out the reality of the majority of people who choose to be vegan. Most people cannot afford a dinner at Crossroads, let alone a Vitamix blender. Vegan artisan cheese brands like Miyoko’s Creamery and Kite Hill are delicious, but one small package alone can cost between $12-14 dollars– more than double the price of dairy cheese.
Moving veganism to the mainstream, then, requires an emphasis on its surprising feasibility. We know that it can easily be far cheaper to live plant-based, if one can abstain from artisan vegan speciality products at Whole Foods. A delicious meal of beans and brown rice (a complete protein) with some steamed or raw veggies typically sets me back about $1: far cheaper than most dinners that includes meat and cheese. Advertising the lifestyle as ‘glam’ can have the effect of making it seem further out of reach.
The vegan ‘scene’ makes it clear that the lifestyle is becoming more and more normal. If we want to truly expand the scope of veganism, though, we need to focus on veganism’s accessibility, not its glamour.