EDITORIAL: Without accessibility, celebrity activism is empty

EDITORIAL: Without accessibility, celebrity activism is empty

Patrick Casey

EDITORIAL: Without accessibility, celebrity activism is empty

By Editorial Board

Beyoncé and Jay-Z are holding a contest in which fans could win free concert tickets for life for going vegan. Fans don’t have to go completely vegan immediately; they can also limit their meat consumption. The challenge is a part of The Greenprint Project, which seeks to help the environment by encouraging people to undertake plant-based diets.

As celebrities, Beyoncé and Jay-Z have every right to hold a contest where they give away their own concert tickets. But as people who clearly care deeply about social justice and equality, they should look deeper into potential consequences. Persuading fans to undertake a major lifestyle change with the promise of potential concert tickets is irresponsible. They may have a genuine motivation of helping the environment, but the contest overlooks the realities faced by many Americans.

Vegan diets may have benefits—reducing methane emissions and conserving land needed to raise livestock chief among them—but these benefits are not enough to insist that it is right for everybody. There are no one-size-fits-all diets that will make every person feel good. Due to allergies, certain deficiencies or diseases, many people simply are not able to go vegan.

Beyond that, this contest ignores the fact that veganism is not an accessible diet for all. According to the Department of Agriculture, 23.5 million people nationwide live in food deserts where it is difficult to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Until access to food is not an issue for these millions of people, pushing veganism is classist.

Celebrities need to recognize the privilege they hold that makes ethical choices available to them. They have the ability to purchase clothes not made by exploited workers and buy sustainably-sourced foods grown by well-paid workers. This is not realistic for the working class. Ethical choices as a consumer may be ideal, but they are not affordable, accessible or realistic in a society that systematically oppresses its masses.

Instead of hosting contests that entice fans, a better use of celebrity privilege is providing funds directly to underserved communities and advocating for accessibility. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have done an impressive amount of charity work in their lives, and using their money and foundations to help end food deserts would be an admirable action. In addition, they could advocate for regulating the mere 100 corporations that are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions, according to the Carbon Majors Report.

Though it may be a good first step, individuals making lifestyle choices is simply not enough to end a climate catastrophe that is largely the fault of major corporations. Consumers should definitely be encouraged to do what they can for the environment, but it is the responsibility of government and corporations to step in and make the sweeping changes that are only possible on an international scale. If celebrities are going to tout certain lifestyles, they need to use their money and privilege to go above and beyond to make those choices available and realistic for everyone. Without a commitment to accessibility, activism is largely an empty gesture.