British actor Ricky Gervais referred to himself as vegan live on U.S. television last week. It’s long been suspected, but it’s the first time he’s admitted it publically. A keen animal rights activist, Gervais has frequently supported PETA campaigns and launched scathing attacks on people and brands he deems to be animal abusers.
There was no big fanfare or confetti cannon when Gervais revealed his veganism. In his typical understated style, he nonchalantly slipped it into conversation with Jimmy Fallon, on The Tonight Show, while playing a game. Asked who he would eat if he had to be a cannibal, Gervais replied “Well I’m vegan, so it’s worse for me. I wouldn’t…” And that was it. Seriously, that was it.
The surprise that wasn’t
Fallon might not understand what being a vegan actually entails, asking why Gervais wouldn’t eat Sir Paul McCartney, who is also vegan. A bemused, perhaps even indulgent Gervais went on to explain that that isn’t how it works. He used the example that eating a vegan animal, like a cow, doesn’t make you a vegan because you’re eating meat. To those already on the plant-based path, his response was a patient and rather well-thought-out one.
For viewers of the segment, one question remained: hasn’t he always been vegan? The simple answer is: maybe. Though Gervais has enjoyed a successful career as a writer and actor, his lack of celebrity-induced largesse has always rendered him something of a private and down-to-earth figure.
He hasn’t felt the need to broadcast or brag about his diet. Come to think of it, has anybody ever directly asked? He has followed a meat-free diet for years, that much has been confirmed. Super sleuthing has caused some observers to assume he was vegan after mentioning things like he “used” to eat cheese, but does the label matter?
Using his voice for the things that matter
Gervais has done more than many to progress animal rights. In 2018, he was awarded The Cecil Award from The Humane Society International. It came after numerous campaign efforts to end trophy hunting, which began in earnest in 2015 when Cecil the lion was killed in North Zimbabwe. He has been regularly vocal about the need to cancel the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, and animal testing is, he says, an outmoded system that could have been replaced by AI years ago.
After joining forces with a host of other celebrities and prominent animal rights groups, Gervais wrote to the UK government, asking for a ban on fur imports, post-Brexit. The Fur-Free Britain campaign is still ongoing. In 2020, Lord Goldsmith, the minister for animal welfare, reiterated that Britain banned fur farming (now) 20 years ago, but there was scope to raise welfare standards even higher. There have been no new updates since August 2021.
Most recently, Gervais used the Covid-19 pandemic to urge people to rethink their reliance on meat. He also railed against wet markets. “We can’t carry on exploiting animals, eating wildlife and trashing the planet,” he said in an interview with the Mirror. “The wildlife trade and markets have to close, otherwise it will be a case of when, and not if, we have another global pandemic.”
Quiet activism shouts the loudest
Perhaps the biggest problem with celebrity endorsements of veganism is that it’s all too easy to get caught up in the who, not the why. When Beyoncé embraced plant-based eating, the world went crazy (in love…?) and missed the fact that it was a temporary 44-day fix to get stage-ready for Coachella. If there were any messages about animal welfare interwoven in her decision, they were easy to miss as she discussed post-pregnancy weight gain.
Then we have chefs getting in on the action as well. Marco Pierre White recently reminisced about his experience with veganism, a decade ago, as he launched his new vegetarian cooking course. He is not vegan now but it all sounded like jolly good fun when he was.
Gervais represents the quieter side of vegan celebrities, alongside Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Woody Harrelson, and Alicia Silverstone. Long-term plant-based eaters with no desire to shy away from hard truths and, in some cases, raising next-generation vegan children. These are the people embracing veganism for a bigger purpose than what’s fashionable, and therefore, don’t wear the label like a must-have brand. If Gervais feels comfortable enough to refer to his veganism now, that’s great. Equally, if he had stayed silent on the subject forever, his actions would have always spoken louder than that one word.
Lead image courtesy of Ricky Gervais/Twitter.