I Love the Noughties: A Vegan Decade in Review »
If you had to pick a single word for vegan in the ’00s, it would be “mainstream,” as we watched veganism get wrestled away from the Birkenstocks-and-hemp set. Celebrity vegans and vegan fashion changed the public face of a movement that had been left for dead, and the food came along for the ride, with cupcakes and melty cheese pizza replacing granola. We even went political, passed some laws, lost some rights, and ran for president. Our fad diets beat their fad diets, and now here we are, 10 years later. Older? Wiser? Better dressed and topped with frosting? Let’s see how it all went down.
2000: Alicia Silverstone goes vegan and ushers in the Celebrity Vegan Decade. Yes, there were vegans before 2000, like Ian Mackaye, but it was still a fringe thing, for college activists and crusty old punks. In the ’00s, going vegan equals getting press, with celebrities coming out of the pantry left and right. It was the decade that gave us PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian Alive award, and high profile announcements from Natalie Portman, Ellen Degeneres, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kristin Bell, and other stars like supermodel Petra Němcová and MMA cage fighter Mac Danzig. Love or hate celebrity culture, it’s here to stay, and now it’s going vegan.
2001: Stella McCartney leaves Chloe to start her own designer label, starting the first high fashion vegan shoe line. While most of what she does is out of the price range of mere mortals, in a very real way, this was a good thing for the perception of vegan fashion. “But if I went vegan, I would have to shop at Payless” would no longer be an excuse, and the false dilemma between ethics and looking good was finally gone.
2002: Atkins Diet goes mainstream and gets cred. Dr. Atkins’ book had been out since 1972, but it wasn’t until the early ’00s that people gave it a real try. In 2002, a Duke University study appeared to confirm the worst fears of vegans, that Atkins dieters lost weight and lowered their cholesterol. Of course we all know what happened in the end. Like any fad diet, the guru died and the company went bankrupt, leading to its fiery demise. Why was the Atkins diet such a big deal for vegans? It was the first fad diet to attack the “eating less meat is healthy” argument at the jugular. In the end, we were still right, but not without spending a few years in the low carb wilderness. Dark times.
2003: Dennis Kucinich announces that he will run as the first vegan for president of the U.S. of A., then wins the election with 76 percent of the vote, dissolves the Senate, and ends factory farming by executive decree. Okay I made up like half of that. But admit it, you decided to vote for this guy, sight unseen, the second you heard he was vegan, and his flappy ears or anti-abortion stance didn’t scare you away. Hell, I did. He also helped heal the left after the Green Party split in 2000 that gave us George W. Bush, by giving all of us lefties some hope that the Democratic party doesn’t have to completely suck. After all, any political party with a high-profile vegan politician couldn’t be that bad, could it? Okay don’t answer that. Anyway, give it up for the D-Kuch for making vegan history! Dennis, I present you with this gold plated dino-statue as Vegansaurus’s highest honor. As soon as I have a sec to ‘shop that up.
2004: Wayne Pacelle becomes the first vegan president of the Humane Society of the United States, making that one for two in the “first” and “vegan president” category. For the first time, a vegan is president of the largest animal protection group in the world. He completely broadened/shifted its focus on to farm animals. It makes sense because the vast majority of animals suffering in this world are the ones we eat.
2005: Vegan cheese that melts hits the stores, with the first known appearance of Follow Your Heart’s Vegan Gourmet. “It melts!” the label proudly trumpeted, reminding us of past disappointments, fraught with casein and other milk-based substances that were needlessly present in the so-called cheese replacements of the day. True vegan pizza was finally possible, and so was GRILLED CHEESE (and the great pre-Vegansaurus Mac and Cheese Bake-Off). And with that, we kicked off a revolution in the greatest vegan technology advancement of all. Teese, Dr. Cow, Follow Your Heart, Daiya—before the ’00s, such things were only found at the Whole Foods on Fantasy Island.
2006: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World takes over the world. Seriously, where would we be without this book? It combined every element of vegan baking into a single handbook, a canonical scripture to be read aloud during holy days of rest. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World appeared at exactly the right time, just as the global cupcake phenomenon was reaching a fever pitch, and convinced a skeptical omnivorous world that vegan baking is not only passable, but preferable.
2006: The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act passes, expanding the War on Terror to tofu. Last I checked, violence was already illegal, and politically motivated violence was already doubleplus illegal, but apparently we needed a special law to target animal rights activists. I’ll be the first to admit that our cause, just like every other cause, has its extremists that could use a chill pill. However, the new law did nothing to provide exemptions for whistle-blowing and other undercover investigations, and codified the right of animal enterprises to uninterrupted profits at the expense of free speech. The ACLU, unfortunately, allowed this abomination to pass. Thanks, jerks!
2007: Spotted: Victoria Beckham carrying a copy of Skinny Bitch while shopping in Los Angeles. Skinny Bitch had been out since 2005, but it took Posh Spice to get it on the bestseller lists. While the idea of going vegan to lose weight is hardly new, this was the first successful attempt to bring animal rights philosophy and PCRM’s nutritional science to the diet frenzy mainstream, by weaving our beliefs in with the ideals of Americans who desire “skinny” over “healthy” (these ladies are NOT actual nutritionists, you guys). Those of us on the vegan-lifer side of the fence know that being vegan is anything but a fad diet (and come on, we have pizza and cupcakes now, we’re enjoying life as much as anyone else) but as a subversive social experiment, Skinny Bitch was the first of its kind.
2008: Oprah goes vegan for 21 days. You don’t mess with the Oprahnator. Oprah speaks, everyone listens, and in 2008, she spoke about going vegan. “How can you say you’re trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?” she wrote at the time. Which is a nice thought, but do we stop thinking about what happens to the animals after 21 days? I didn’t really get it. Anyway, Oprah has a way of sprinkling her magic credibility fairy dust on everything she touts, which means “You’re what?” is no longer the Jeopardy answer to “I’m vegan.”
2008: Proposition 2 wins in California! Although not the first animal protection law to win by popular referendum (voters in Florida and Arizona passed laws of their own in 2004 and 2006) we won a truly epic battle that will protect calves, hens, and pigs from horrible confinement. Prop. 2 won with 63 percent of the vote in the U.S.’s most populous state, and as they say, as California goes, so goes the nation. Put that in your gestation crate and smoke it.
2009: Martha Stewart has a vegetarian Thanksgiving, Obama adopts a breeder dog instead of a shelter dog, and Jonathan Safran Foer proposes that we all eat our pets or give up meat. It was a freaky-ass year.
Erika, Maria, Laura, Megan Rascal, and Meave also contributed to this post. We are fam-i-ly! I got all my sisters with me! OK I’ll stop now.