Bill Clinton is eating a plant-based diet – he’s not vegan

By on August 21, 2011

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The big story in the community is that former president Bill Clinton has gone vegan. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but President Clinton has not gone vegan, he is eating a plant-based diet.

Veganism is an ethical philosophy that incorporates the abolition of nonhuman animals from food, clothing, pets, entertainment and animal experimentation. I suppose I’m happy that he has chosen to eat a plant-based diet, at least for the short-term benefit to nonhuman animals, but the problem with getting excited about celebrities going “vegan” is that most do it for their own benefit, not the benefit of others.

Inevitably, they decide that they’ve reached their intended goal, lowered their cholesterol, lost weight, or whatever selfish goal moved them to eat a plant-based diet in the first place. Then they start eating animals again, often very publicly. Whatever positive gain was made by them eating a plant-based diet is completely erased once they stop. In fact, the negative is much greater. It reinforces to the public that being vegan is unrealistic, a hardship, tastes terrible; that we all secretly want to eat dead animals and their secretions again, and all the other negative perceptions out there. Often, more attention is given to the fact that they are no longer vegan than when they were.

So, good on Clinton for not eating animals and their secretions, for now. I’m sure he’s a fine guy, if you put aside DOMA, DADT, starving 500,000 Iraqi children with sanctions, NAFTA, shipping jobs overseas, AEDPA (Anti-terrorism and Effective Death penalty Act), but I digress. Maybe he’ll have a realization and realize that being vegan is not about his health desires and needs, but about animals. Don’t get me wrong, nothing makes me happier than seeing Vegan on food products, cleansers, in the media, book titles and the like, but furthering the confusion that being vegan is a diet and not an ethical philosophy is frustrating.

So, I won’t be posting about how awesome it is that he’s now vegan, unless I see him show up at a protest, handing out vegan literature, tossing his leather wingtips, silk tie and wool suits.

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Comments

  1. Greg
    August 21, 2011

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    Yep he’s a healthatarian not a Vegan

    Healthetarian: a person who adopts a diet free of animal “products” for health purposes rather then ethics.

  2. Greg
    August 21, 2011

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    Yep he’s a healthatarian not a Vegan

    Healthetarian: a person who adopts a diet free of animal “products” for health purposes rather then ethics.

  3. Carolyn
    August 21, 2011

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    Great essay, Gary!

    It’s very refreshing to see someone being realistic about this. I agree with everything you’ve said here.

    It’s a shame the term “vegan” has become so confusing. Perhaps if we were to use it more, instead of “vegetarian” the definition may become a little clearer.

  4. Carolyn
    August 21, 2011

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    Great essay, Gary!

    It’s very refreshing to see someone being realistic about this. I agree with everything you’ve said here.

    It’s a shame the term “vegan” has become so confusing. Perhaps if we were to use it more, instead of “vegetarian” the definition may become a little clearer.

  5. SkepticalVegan
    August 21, 2011

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    Great post.
    Don’t forget that he isn’t even eating a entirely plant-based diet, he openly admits to eating fish.
    http://skepticalvegan.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/bill-clinton-vegan-poseur/

  6. SkepticalVegan
    August 21, 2011

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    Great post.
    Don’t forget that he isn’t even eating a entirely plant-based diet, he openly admits to eating fish.
    http://skepticalvegan.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/bill-clinton-vegan-poseur/

  7. EthicalEater
    August 21, 2011

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    My animal companions and the relationship I have with them are THE reason why I don’t eat flesh. I call myself an ethical eater and could care less about using the term “vegan” as YOU define it to describe myself — no way would I give up living with dogs in order to qualify to use your label. Merriam Webster defines vegan as follows: a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also : one who abstains from using animal products (as leather). I think many people who call themselves vegan would be as surprised as I to learn they’d have to give up their pets. Bull!

  8. EthicalEater
    August 21, 2011

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    My animal companions and the relationship I have with them are THE reason why I don’t eat flesh. I call myself an ethical eater and could care less about using the term “vegan” as YOU define it to describe myself — no way would I give up living with dogs in order to qualify to use your label. Merriam Webster defines vegan as follows: a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also : one who abstains from using animal products (as leather). I think many people who call themselves vegan would be as surprised as I to learn they’d have to give up their pets. Bull!

  9. DogMa
    August 21, 2011

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    Bull.. I know plenty of vegans with pets. Your very broad definition is not real, nor even technically correct.

  10. Butterflies Katz
    August 21, 2011

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    Thank-you from the top of my heart for this piece. I’m just really sick of mainstream media as well as other “vegans” calling Bill Clinton a vegan when in truth he is eating a plant-based diet for his own health – NOT Veganism, folks. Please make the distinction already. We need to educate the public as to what veganism really is, in order to create vegans.

  11. Butterflies Katz
    August 21, 2011

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    Thank-you from the top of my heart for this piece. I’m just really sick of mainstream media as well as other “vegans” calling Bill Clinton a vegan when in truth he is eating a plant-based diet for his own health – NOT Veganism, folks. Please make the distinction already. We need to educate the public as to what veganism really is, in order to create vegans.

  12. Luis Tovar
    August 21, 2011

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    A plant-based diet is not a vegan diet.

    Unlike vegan diet, a plant-based diet can include animal products. “Based” doesn´t mean “only”.

    A vegan diet is without any ingredient from animals. Plant-only diet.

  13. Greg Lynott
    August 22, 2011

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    I disagree. Transition comes in steps. 2+ years ago I was an clueless meat eater. Two Thanksgivings ago my wife and I became vegan. For me it was all about health. After discovering the Boulder Vegan meetup and learning more from Lisa S. and Ann S. and others, I slowly started to understand the ethical philosophy of veganism. At this point I have handed out leaflets, contributed time and money to animal welfare causes and am now buying fabric belts and vegan shoes. Your all or nothing attitude might of turned me off in the early days of my transition. I recommend welcoming those among us who are starting their discovery of what it means to be vegan.

  14. Greg Lynott
    August 22, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I disagree. Transition comes in steps. 2+ years ago I was an clueless meat eater. Two Thanksgivings ago my wife and I became vegan. For me it was all about health. After discovering the Boulder Vegan meetup and learning more from Lisa S. and Ann S. and others, I slowly started to understand the ethical philosophy of veganism. At this point I have handed out leaflets, contributed time and money to animal welfare causes and am now buying fabric belts and vegan shoes. Your all or nothing attitude might of turned me off in the early days of my transition. I recommend welcoming those among us who are starting their discovery of what it means to be vegan.

  15. Frida Critters
    August 22, 2011

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    This is the first time I have read that someone defines being vegan to include not sharing a home with companion animals. This is a rather broad definition of the term and wonder if I “missed the memo”. I understand that animals are not ours for any reason and that an argument can be made that humans benefit more from having companion animals than our fellow animals themselves, but this is certainly debatable as we are all social creatures and enjoy each the company of one another (regardless of species).

  16. Frida Critters
    August 22, 2011

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    This is the first time I have read that someone defines being vegan to include not sharing a home with companion animals. This is a rather broad definition of the term and wonder if I “missed the memo”. I understand that animals are not ours for any reason and that an argument can be made that humans benefit more from having companion animals than our fellow animals themselves, but this is certainly debatable as we are all social creatures and enjoy each the company of one another (regardless of species).

  17. Kezia
    August 25, 2011

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    Hi Greg, thanks for your comment – and most of all thanks for representing the art of “disagreeing without being disagreeable.”

    Some people who commented on FB had similar thoughts. Their replies said more about *them* than Clinton – which is as it should be, since this blog isn’t really about Clinton or any other celebrity – it is about US and how we portray or promote our lifestyles and ethical choices. I think many were new vegans, not just in the dietary sense, who are still wearing and using animal products from BV – before vegan. I understand nobody likes having a mirror put up to their face, so I made a point of saying congrats and that I hoped they considered those choices sometime too.

    But this blog as I read it is not about why a celebrity changes his or her diet, but about how vegans opt to publicize that. I tweeted about this the other night too because I strive for accuracy – until we hear otherwise, it would be fair to say he “eats a vegan diet, “plant-based diet” or “strict vegetarian diet.” I honestly didn’t understand why there would be so much hubbub over trying to be accurate, saying it “set the movement back.” What it does or doesn’t do for a movement isn’t my call, but I’d rather people in general not be confused about what a vegan is.

    It’s not that *only* an interest in animal protection is a valid reason to be vegan. That is certainly not the case. I understand how this post could be misconstrued, or cause that reaction. It’s about us as vegans being clear on the distinction between exploiting animals and not exploiting animals. If Clinton is still exploiting animals for clothing, entertainment, etc. – he isn’t vegan.

    No one is knocking Clinton for changing his diet. I reserve the right to knock him if like so many other celebrities, he goes on Piers Morgan to talk about how difficult it was to eat out or how much he craved a cupcake. That certainly will not help veganism, in fact it would do the opposite. One or two days after this post, another starlet said publicly she gave up being vegan and went back to eating animal products to gain weight. This just enforces an undesirable, unfair image of veganism.

  18. eileen
    September 7, 2012

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    who cares what the motivation. he looks great and is showing the world that eating plants got him there. we are fighting a tough enough battle without adding to it by insisting that it is our way or the highway. I don’t judge people. If i am convinced they will eat meat, i try to convince them why certified humane makes sense. i am in it for the long haul and will take any bit of incremental change I can get….one day we will look back on the way we treated animals like we look back on slavery….with disgust. for now though, we just have to work it one step at a time.

  19. Dan
    November 8, 2012

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    From Wikipedia…

    The term vegan was coined in England in 1944 by Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society, to mean “non-dairy vegetarian”; the society also opposed the consumption of eggs.

  20. Dan
    November 8, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    From Wikipedia…

    The term vegan was coined in England in 1944 by Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society, to mean “non-dairy vegetarian”; the society also opposed the consumption of eggs.

  21. Elizabeth C
    August 5, 2013

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    In the AARP Magazine article the presidential vegan says he eats fish or an omelette… “Once a week or so, he will have a helping of organic salmon or an omelet made with omega-3-fortified eggs, to maintain iron, zinc and muscle mass.”
    Bill Clinton is, at best a flexitarian who eats a plant strong diet. As a strict vegetarian who does not eat dairy, eggs, or meat – but who does not have the ethical boundries I find this mis-labeling to be almost offensive. I would not give myself the title of vegan and I am a lot closer than he.

  22. Elizabeth C
    August 5, 2013

    Leave a Reply

    In the AARP Magazine article the presidential vegan says he eats fish or an omelette… “Once a week or so, he will have a helping of organic salmon or an omelet made with omega-3-fortified eggs, to maintain iron, zinc and muscle mass.”
    Bill Clinton is, at best a flexitarian who eats a plant strong diet. As a strict vegetarian who does not eat dairy, eggs, or meat – but who does not have the ethical boundries I find this mis-labeling to be almost offensive. I would not give myself the title of vegan and I am a lot closer than he.

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