Bye-bye, meat. That's the cry from a growing conga line of celebrities who've become vegetarian or vegan. One of the latest star recruits is English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, named the "most beautiful vegan" of 2018 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He's joined a long list of vegan stars, including Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Sia and Ariana Grande.
Holier-than-thou posturing by over-indulged A-listers? Maybe, but the new wave of "compassionate celebrities" typifies a much deeper trend gaining traction globally.
Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are being embraced by more people, including Tinseltown celebrities.Credit:Getty Images
While the proportion of vegetarians and vegans remains stable in most Western nations – at between 5 and 10 per cent of the population – "flexitarians" or "partial vegetarians" (people who limit their meat intake to weekends or selected days) are a fast-growing segment. The three main reasons: a healthier diet lower in fat, climate change (the livestock industry produces 18 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, the UN says) and overwhelming evidence that sentience – the ability to feel fear, pain and form attachments – is everywhere in the animal kingdom, including in mammals.
But the trend towards a less fleshy diet is not just a Western phenomenon. Two years ago China's government, alarmed by rapidly rising rates of cancer, obesity and heart disease, released a set of new dietary guidelines, encouraging people to reduce their meat consumption.
Vegetarian and vegan cuisine is hot among China's young; the Chinese vegan market is forecast to grow 17 per cent by 2020. McDonald's opened its first vegetarian outlet in India in 2012 but, significantly, menus in its restaurants there are already 50 per cent vegetarian in a country that's nearly 80 per cent Hindu, a religion that holds cows to be sacred.
Need more convincing? Oxford University research published in 2016, bringing together health, environmental and economic data, concluded that the widespread adoption of vegetarian and vegan diets could save millions of lives and trillions of dollars each year. And some environmentalists are prepared to put their money where their mouth is: they have invited Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent (March 6 to April 18) in exchange for a $US1 million charity donation. You can't go much higher than that.
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