Let Beyonce be. About the biggest oversight in our movement

While many vegans applaud the fact that Beyonce is so outspoken about vegan eating, many others are critical of it. Among others, some folks from Direct Action Everywhere movement (which I’m still investigating but so far have been underwhelmed by) claims that “Beyonce going vegan is bad for the animals.” Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that Beyonce never said she was going vegan. We’ve heard it all before: Beyonce is not emphasising animal rights as the reason for her vegan efforts, but rather health. Many vegans demand that animals are always at the center of everything vegan. Health should have nothing to do with it. This is about morality, about ethics, about justice. Veganism can not be some fad or lifestyle thing. Right? Not really, I think. There is one thing that in my view is an enormous oversight in our movement, and its importance cannot be overstated. Here it comes: Behaviour change may precede attitude change. quote attitude behaviourRead it again, and try to let it sink in. We usually work like this: we give people all kinds of information, in the hope that attitude change (different beliefs about eating animals) will lead to behavior change (no longer eating animals). It surely can work like this, but we forget that it also works the other way round, and indeed, much research points to the fact that the other way round might be more effective. What does the other way round mean? It means that people may very well become open to animal rights arguments after changing their eating habbits. They might become “reducetarians” (or even vegans) for health reasons, for instance, or because it is a trendy thing to do. But the important thing is that once they are vegan, or partly vegan, it is much easier for them to listen to animal rights arguments. Why? Because they don’t need to be so defensive anymore. They already know they can eat tasty food, they know they don’t have so much to lose anymore, so their hearts and minds can be open. Attitude change follows behavior change, in this case. This means that in the end, we would all get in the same place, whether people start with animal rights, or not at all, like Beyonce does. It doesn’t matter all that much. A big part of the animal rights movement has  such an obsession with being vegan, and being vegan for the right reasons, that it blinds us to the fact that there are other ways to get where we want. Less direct ways perhaps, but therefore not less efficient ways. On the contrary, encouraging people to start out with whatever reasons they think are suitable, and encouraging them to moderate their consumption of animal products to whatever degree they think is doable, may be the fastest road forward. People might argue that those who become vegan for other than ethical reasons won’t stick to the diet. However, the reason why people don’t stick to the diet is mostly that it’s still not convenient enough (in several ways) to stick to it. As many more people eat more vegan meals (for whatever reason) sticking to it will become easier by the day. So bottom line: let Beyonce be. Let people have their own reasons for reducing or giving up animal products. They’ll be going along with animal rights arguments before you know it.

See also the follow post How what you eat determines what you think.

You might also be interested to check out Different approach, same results, with a sensible article, and also Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s videoblog on Beyonce.

26 thoughts on “Let Beyonce be. About the biggest oversight in our movement

  1. However, the fact that she wears fur and other animal skins and seems to have a careless disregard for many other animals, is not admirable, and in fact, deplorable, so I personally don’t feel any attention should be given to her for being vegan. Let her be by not letting her into your reality. As a society we pay far too much attention to celebrities who profit mightily from all the attention. I agree people change at their own speed and any change that helps animals is good, but looking up to her or congratulating her for her choice–that is going too far. There are so many others who are promoting the vegan message in a positive and uplifting way,

    1. courtney, thanks for your input. I’m formulating my thoughts on this, but here’s something already:

      should peta and all not recognize beyonce for her vegan efforts? Should they maybe be much more vocal about her wearing fur? I don’t know. When celebs get attention for their doing something good, that creates more attention. When PETA thanks Beyonce for doing that, it will be more in the media, and people will know about it more. Doing the same thing about “bad” behaviour does the same thing: it makes it more known. In the best case it is spread as shameful, but that’s not always the case. Also, we need to take into account that praising probably works better than shaming.
      So i’m not sure i see the point of overcriticizing beyonce in this case because she’s wearing fur.

      1. Thanks for your comments Tobias. What I feel is it’s like a Sophie’s choice. If someone is cruel to one animal but nice to another, do you congratulate them for their nice behavior? I don’t plan on or think it’s a good idea to criticize PETA for their decision for thanking her. I just ignore that. I also don’t congratulate Wal Mart for not buying products from meat companies that crate pigs. Wal Mart is still paying such low wages to workers in China, they don’t even have the basic necessities to live. In other words, you can’t choose one group and ignore the suffering of another. Beyonce’s being vegan does not override her public display of cruelty to elephants and fur bearing animals. I do think there is a point to be made that by honoring her, you also let her off the hook for those other abuses. Best in my opinion to simply ignore her–unless she really shows herself to be a true friend to animals. Being vegan is more than just a diet in my view, it’s a philosophy of kindness. Certainly I congratulate my friends if they choose to be vegan–or even eat less meat, but if they are hunters or wear fur, or exhibit any other cruelty, I certainly don’t congratulate them publically. Do you understand what I am trying to say? Cruelty is cruelty. All animals deserve to be treated with compassion and respect,not just farm animals. And if you highlight Beyonce’s diet and ignore her other actions, you in a sense are sanctioning her treatment of them. Best in my view to ignore her unless and until she shows true compassion. Showing compassion is what I believe Mercy for Animals’ philosophy is all about, or at least how I understood it to be.I understand the desire to get the vegan message into the public arena–but there are other celebrities who are vegan who can do that, and the vegan message is coming to the fore in so many ways–due to environmental concerns about animal agriculture and via many other avenues. The vegan message does not need Beyonce. It’s a powerful message on its own.

    2. Hi Courtney, I respect you and your position, but would you feel the same way about a celebrity who stands up against zoo abuse or circus abuse or dog fighting, but still eats meat? celebrities, like all people, are imperfect in their path to becoming vegan.

      1. Hi Matt! Good to hear from you. I see your point. I just don’t think Beyonce–since she so obviously and publically displays cruelty to other animals–riding baby elephants! Wearing real fur! Why not at least wear fake fur? I would think PETA of all organizations would want to highlight that–or as I see it, why not just pass over Beyonce as a spokesperson for veganism? There are so many other good choices from vegan celebrities.. Luckily there are wonderful activists like yourself who are helping to move that message forward. I really just don’t think Beyonce is needed to spread the vegan message. And if she speaks out against zoos while wearing fur or eating a steak, I would not promote that either. I think if someone were to publically state that they are just cutting their meat consumption in half as Vegan Outreach promotes, and recognizes that all animals deserve some compassion, I would support that more than someone like Beyonce who is really not showing any compassion to any animals. She is simply following a diet trend. That’s great and all, and good for her and her health, but it is not compassion. And yes, I think that’s important. In our elephant group we are always having vegan potlucks,vegan bake sales and so forth, so that anyone who supports our cause learns about the importance of compassion to all,even if they may not all practice it at this time in their lives. So if someone from PETA or elsewhere wants to use Beyonce as a messenger how about influencing her to not publically display cruelty to other animals?

  2. Exposing more people to the vegan ethic cannot be a bad thing. Before Beyonce, I’ll bet millions had never even heard the term ‘vegan.” Now they know. This is a good first step.

    1. brendon, i still need to give this some thought. it of course seems like a solid and important argument at first sight, but maybe it’s not so clear cut. Some preliminary comments:
      – when we use the health argument we can also make explicit that we talk about less meat in general, not just red meat.
      – it may very well be possible that people switch to chicken and that this means more lives and more suffering, but maybe only for a while. if they replace even a small part of their beef with vegan options (and the rest with chicken/fish) than this will already be an important step that may pay off later
      – it’s definitely not impossible that we’ll see more health concerns about chickens in the future
      Nothing scientific or well researched, as you can see, but let’s just say i think it’s not necessarily as simple as “health argument means more suffering”

  3. She’s not vegan. She still eats meats. She said so the very next day as she got backlash from her fans. She also said she is not vegan. You are correct to say that vegans should be ignoring her. She and her fans will not do much for the animal rights cause. She is merely pan-handling her plant-based diet food service–that is all.

  4. Thank you for your article. I know that this whole Beyonce thing made big news, but the point is that she never claimed to be vegan. Actually, she said plant based. It was everyone else that was saying vegan…so, there’s that. I also feel that many people are clueless about the treatment of animals and that their reasons for becoming plant based are as varied as we are individuals. As a vegan I do struggle with simple things like finding vegan shoes, clothes, handbags, etc., but I continue to become more aware of the huge scope of being vegan. How many individuals who say they are vegan still wear leather or wool or disregard everything but the food? I have no judgement here on the choices made, but I think a bit more compassion is needed. Awareness comes to each of us in different ways, and if by my example I can open the door to change then I feel that is a good thing. I applaud anyone who is making changes in their life toward veganism because in the end it’s all good news for animals and our planet.

  5. Excellent Tobias, and I instinctively believe you’re right, but can you direct me to any research that proves this (behaviour change may precede attitude change)? It would be very handy to have… Thanks again.

  6. Chickens and eggs. Attitude and behaviour. Which comes first. Doesn’t really matter if the outcome is a beneficial one. Positive.
    I had a vegan friend when I was still a meat eater. I remember the panic when she came round to see me and stayed for dinner! But her response was a calm one – do you have bread? (yes) Do you have a tin of baked beans? (yes). Easy! That was her meal and she was perfectly happy. And I was perfectly relieved.
    My own vegetarianism/veganism began when I was a student. Nothing to do with the plight of animals (at first). I just didn’t really like meat, never had done, and meat COST MONEY. I was a poor student, wanting to save my pennies for beer, not pork chops. So I started to reduce. But I had to eat something else instead for a proper diet (Can’t just have beer and potatoes – well you can, but…).
    And thus it progressed, research, asking around, observing, reading, listening… behavioural change led to a change in attitude.

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