10 Most Influential People in Veganism

From the proliferation of new vegan cookbooks and products, to the sudden appearance of vegan recipes in mainstream media publications, it’s clear that the vegan lifestyle is on the rise. In fact, a recent poll from The Vegetarian Resource Group indicates that 2.5% of Americans now eat a vegan diet, up from 0.9% in 2000. What is driving this movement towards a healthier diet? Let’s look at some of the individuals who are championing the cause, both celebrities and unsung heroes.

  • Erik Marcus – Publisher of vegan.com and author of such books as The Ultimate Vegan Guide: Compassionate Living Without Sacrifice and Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, Erik Marcus defined a new balanced approach to veganism. He encourages people to transition from their old way of eating, not by “cutting out” foods, but by “crowding out” animal products with new, exciting food choices. In his vegan.com blog, he provides articles of interest to both new and established vegans and editorializes in a straightforward, no-nonsense style.
  • Alicia Silverstone – Actress, producer, author, activist, vegan mom… Alicia Silverstone is one busy woman. But the author of bestseller The Kind Diet makes time to interact with and encourage new and aspiring vegans through her website, www.thekindlife.com. In addition to tips, recipes, and personal views on going green, she posts success stories that site members have shared with her, helping others to see the wonderful changes that a plant-based diet can bring to your health and well-being.
  • Neal Barnard, M.D. ­– The founding president of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Dr. Barnard’s vegan advocacy is based on solid science. In a 2003 National Institutes of Health funded study, Dr. Barnard and associates proved that a vegan diet is more successful at regulating diabetes than the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. His 2011 bestseller 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart is just one of a dozen books he’s written on vegan nutrition. (To join the next online 21-Day Vegan Kickstart and receive tips and encouragement by email, visit www.21daykickstart.org.)
  • Isa Chandra Moskowitz – As the author or co-author of six bestselling vegan cookbooks, Moskowitz is a (punk) rockstar of vegan activism. Promoting what she calls “baketivism” or “vegan culinary activism” through her website, Post Punk Kitchen, Moskowitz believes the best inducement for people to consider a vegan diet is great-tasting vegan food options. In a February 2011 Natural Health review of her latest cookbook, Appetite for Reduction, Moskowitz is called “a tireless crusader against the perception that meatless, dairy-free meals taste like cardboard.”
  • Ingrid Newkirk – Newkirk is co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the largest animal welfare organization in the world today. Whatever one’s opinion of their tactics, no one can deny that Ingrid Newkirk’s organization brings attention to animal causes. While many advocates shake their heads at the audacity of PETA’s publicity stunts, they do get media coverage and drive curious visitors to PETA’s site, where an abundant amount of information for those open to a vegan diet awaits.
  • Oprah – While not vegan herself, media mogul Oprah Winfrey scored a big win for veganism in 2011, as she and 378 of her staff members tried a vegan diet for one week. In an episode of her popular talk show, she reported the positive results and interviewed Kathy Freston. (Many Oprah staffers chose to stick with a vegan diet, or at least reduce their consumption of animal products.) After the show, Freston’s book, Veganist, shot to number one on the bestsellers list. Information about the show and a vegan starter kit remain on Oprah’s website.
  • Ellen DeGeneres – Emmy-winning talk show host DeGeneres took the task of providing online vegan resources for her audience one step further, creating the site Going Vegan with Ellen. Veganism and animal welfare are frequent topics on Ellen’s weekday talk show (with an average viewership of 2.74 million people per episode), and the comic and her wife Portia are planning to open a vegan restaurant, as well as launch a vegan dog food line.
  • Bill Clinton – In a year where many famous faces declared they’d gone veg, perhaps the biggest surprise was Bill Clinton. Who could fail to take notice when the former President of the United States, noted for his love of fast food, showed up on CNN looking trim and discussing the health benefits he’s reaped from a plant-based diet? Perhaps no one person could have so easily legitimized the idea of a plant-based diet, taking it from an idea that seemed extreme to many to an idea whose time has come.
  • T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. – A lead scientist on the China-Cornell-Oxford Project – a groundbreaking 20-year diet and nutrition study – Dr. Campbell has scientifically demonstrated the causal relationhip between animal products and cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. He has authored literally hundreds of papers on nutrition and championed the health benefits of a plant-based diet for decades, but with the release of his 2005 book, The China Study, and participation in the 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives, he helped bring discussion of these diet-related health issues to a new peak.
  • Lee Fulkerson – Many readers may see the name Lee Fulkerson and wonder, Who? While he may not be a household name, Fulkerson – writer and director of the documentary Forks Over Knives – is the driving force behind a major wave of interest in veganism. In the past few months, celebrities as diverse as Ozzy Osbourne, Russell Brand, and Eliza Dushku have publicly credited their decision to adopt a vegan diet to Fulkerson’s film. Thousands of individuals outside the limelight have had the same experience. While relying on the knowledge of science luminaries such as Drs. Barnard, Campbell, and Caldwell Esselstyn, Fulkerson’s film breaks down the science in easily understandable terms and presents real-life examples of the positive changes a plant-based diet can have on health. More than a movie, Forks Over Knives is becoming a movement, with companion books, DVDs, and the opportunity for individuals or groups to hold screenings of the film in their community. Fulkerson’s brainchild can help you influence others to a plant-biased diet too.

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