Earlier this week, Jay Z made an important announcement on his website: “On December 3rd, one day before my 44th birthday I will embark on a 22 Days challenge to go completely vegan, or as I prefer to call it, plant-based!!” Hova joins a long roster of celebrities—Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zooey Deschanel—who have temporarily forsaken all animal products. Perhaps in part because of its most visible advocates, veganism retains an aura of girliness—real men, according to a persistent and stupid stereotype, eat meat. But unlike most famous vegans, Jay Z has machismo to burn. Could Jay’s decision to go vegan for a few weeks be an effective antidote to veganism’s effete image?
Maybe, but probably not. For one thing, “22 Days challenge” isn’t a typo—Jay is following a plan set out by the company 22 Days Nutrition, which was founded by exercise physiologist Marco Borges (whom Jay Z calls “my friend Marco”) and makes meal-replacement bars—excuse me, “nutrition-packed vegan options for people who are trying to transform their lives, bodies and habits.” 22 Days bars appear to be something like spiked Lärabars—concoctions of dried fruits and raw nuts with additions such as yerba mate (a source of caffeine) and inulin (a dietary fiber). They cost $3 a pop when you buy them in bulk; 22 Days also sells various protein powders for $45 a pound. On the surface, at least, Jay Z appears to be endorsing not the environmental, health, and moral benefits of veganism so much as his friend’s line of expensive diet foods.
Of course, shilling for your friends’ brands is nothing new for pop stars or hip-hop royalty—and I’d rather Hova promote vegan snack bars than, say, a company with a pattern of racially profiling its customers. But given the convenient brevity of Jay’s abstinence from animal products and the underlying commercial aspect of his announcement, I’m skeptical Jay will be a PETA spokesman any time soon.
In the meantime, hip-hop fans who want to demonstrate that vegetarianism is compatible with street cred can continue to point to the Wu-Tang Clan.