He’s one half of the production duo The Neptunes, which at one point produced 43 percent of all songs on the radio, he’s the lead vocalist of N*E*R*D, and he has released multiple albums and the hit single Happy as a solo artist. Apart from his career in the music industry, he’s also a successful fashion designer and entrepreneur. But is Pharrell Williams vegan?
No, Pharrell Williams is not vegan. Despite raising money to help animals in the industries, being vocal about climate change, and working with the same coach that got Jay-Z and Beyoncé to try a plant-based diet, he still eats animal products, uses animal materials in his designs, and even owns a non-vegan restaurant.
Pharrell before the vegan rumors
As a teen, Pharrell worked at McDonald’s and got fired from three separate locations. He applied to a fourth location, but “the other three, they jumped in and said: ‘Listen, don’t do it. Don’t do it. He burns the meat and he steals chicken nuggets.’” Nonetheless, Pharrell emphasized: “I love McDonald’s and I loved the experience.”
How much he loved McDonald’s became clear in 2009, when he was at the airport in Paris at 6 a.m. and wanted to order a Big Mac. When he didn’t get one, because they were only serving breakfast, he came up with a McDonald’s song on the spot to try to change their minds, but to no avail.
So, he definitely wasn’t vegan at the time. He also released his own cream liqueur in 2011. When promoting it, he revealed that he’s lactose intolerant himself. So, he probably didn’t consume much dairy, but not out of principle.
Why Pharrell was mistaken for a vegan
In 2013, Jay-Z and Beyoncé announced that they were both trying out a plant-based diet for 22 days. In his announcement, Jay-Z mentioned that it all began a few months earlier “when a good friend and vegan challenged [him] to embrace a ‘plant-based breakfast’ every day,” which was “surprisingly easier on [him] than [he] thought.”
That friend was coach Marco Borges, who met Jay-Z and Beyoncé through Pharrell somewhere between 2004 and 2007. At the time, Marco was guiding Pharrell’s exercise and diet plan. Whether Pharrell ate plant-based at the time is unclear, but if he did, he clearly didn’t stick with it.
Nonetheless, Pharrell’s name kept coming up. Jay-Z and Beyoncé kept working with Marco to promote a plant-based diet and it was frequently mentioned that they had originally met through Pharrell. Also, when Marco released his book The 22-Day Revolution in 2015, it was marketed like this: “Join the revolution! From the fitness and nutrition guru who transformed the diets of Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams comes practical advice and tools for switching to a plant-based lifestyle.”
So, even though Pharrell never said he was vegan or on a plant-based diet, it was easy to think that he was.
The Pharrell Burger and Pharrell’s restaurant
In 2014, while those rumors were spreading, Pharrell actually released his own burger in Japan. The Pharrell Burger became available at the 2-5 Café in Tokyo, which was owned by his friend and fellow producer/designer Nigo. It was a beef burger with cheese.
A few years later, in 2018, Pharrell released his own condiment: Nono sauce. It was presented as the sauce Pharrell’s father used to make to glaze and marinate meat for grilling. Meat was front and center in many of the photos used to promote it.
In that same year, Pharrell also opened a restaurant in Miami with French chef and personal friend Jean Imbert. Pharrell is such a fan of Jean’s cooking that he even mentioned him in a song (Chanel by Slim Jxmmi, featuring Pharrell). Jean is not a vegan chef and the restaurant isn’t vegan by any means. Jean even put veal on the menu when it opened.
Despite having many animal products on the menu, Pharrell and his business partner claim there’s “an emphasis on sourcing ingredients locally and sustainably.” This reasoning is based on the common but incorrect assumption that we can make a big difference by eating locally sourced food. In reality, however, what we eat is far more important than where it comes from. The Harvard Business Review has determined that, in terms of decreasing our carbon footprint, eating plant-based food is over seven times more effective than eating locally sourced meat.
Pharrell’s use of animal materials
In 2013, Pharrell showed up to the opening of a Moncler fashion store in Paris wearing a big fur coat by the same brand. He was criticized heavily for it. A few months later, he gave an unrelated interview in which he was asked if there were any looks he regretted. This was his answer:
“That’s a funny question. Often I see people going crazy over people who wear furs. And just recently I tried on something from Moncler. This crazy jacket. And I regret it because I sympathize with the people who are animal activists. I sympathize with their movement and I recognize that people could be impressionable.
“But at the same time, I like fashion. And I don’t like being told what to do. I especially don’t like people who judge because those people who sit around like they’re purists on every level, I’m sure you can find a sin there somewhere. Don’t point the finger. Like, I hope there’s nothing leather in your whole entire house. And if there isn’t, that’s cool, but what about what you’re driving? Oh, you’re not putting any emissions in the air? Oh, OK, cool. Alright, so are you feeding any people? What are you doing with your life? So, while I sympathize with their movement, I’ma take on a challenge.”
There’s a problem with this comment, and it’s not that he points out potential hypocrisy. The problem is that his comment is entirely focused on animal activists instead of on the animals themselves.
Even in the most apologetic part of his comment, he only expressed regret because he “sympathize[s] with the people who are animal activists.” But the activists didn’t ask him to sympathize with them, they asked him to sympathize with the animals. And he didn’t do that. He didn’t express regret about needlessly sentencing multiple animals to death for a coat.
He was completely right to mention leather. Animals are also killed for leather, and they needlessly suffer and die for other animal materials too. So, with this knowledge, he has the option to simply boycott all animal materials, for the sake of the animals. But unfortunately, he’s not doing that. He keeps wearing leather and he keeps using it in his designs.
There has been some confusion about the PLANT hats that Pharrell has often been seen wearing. But those hats have no connection to plant-based food or materials. They’re simply hats from the brand Cactus Plant Flea Market, CPFM for short. It’s a brand that was founded by designer Cynthia Lu, who used to be Pharrell’s assistant.
Climate change and veganism
Pharrell believes that “climate change is one of the most defining issues of our time, one that threatens our very existence on Earth.”
In 2007, he collaborated with Madonna on the single Hey You, and they donated $250,000 of the profit to the Alliance for Climate Protection. That same year, he also performed at Live Earth, Al Gore’s event to increase environmental awareness.
In 2015, Pharrell and Al Gore announced together that they were organizing a second round of Live Earth concerts later that year. Pharrell was the creative director. The concerts would take place on all seven continents, they would be broadcasted live, and the goal was to collect a billion signatures urging politicians to adopt a new climate accord at the Paris conference that same year.
Pharrell has also spoken about climate change at a UN event, and he has recorded a song about climate change. The song is a “super-sarcastic” dig at “pseudoscientists who don’t care about the ecosystem.” Almost no one has heard the song, and the only copy of it is locked in a cellar until 2117. The idea is that people in the future will only get to listen to it if sea levels don’t rise, otherwise the song will be lost forever.
Besides donating money and raising awareness, Pharrell has also become the co-owner of BIONIC and G-Star Raw. With these companies, he has worked to transform recovered plastic from the oceans into durable materials that are used in fashion. And in his personal life, he’s tried to make a difference by having his home built with locally sourced materials and incorporating solar power.
So, all evidence suggests that Pharrell genuinely cares about sustainability and wants to make a difference. He just seems to be unaware of how much veganism can help with that.
Growing crops to feed animals and then eating those animals is significantly less efficient than eating or using crops directly. The animal industries are so inefficient that they occupy almost a third of all land on Earth, while only providing 17 percent of all our calories. Some of the major problems they cause are deforestation, ocean dead zones, and the unnecessary killing of billions of animals.
When it comes to climate change specifically, scientists have calculated that a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food, and more than half of those come from animal products. That makes switching to a plant-based diet one of the most effective choices we can make as consumers to decrease our emissions.
Animal welfare and elephants
On Earth Day 2017, Pharrell performed at The Humane Society of the United States’ annual “To the Rescue!” event. At the event, money was raised for the organization’s “Farm Animal Protection” campaign. Pharrell personally helped to break the fundraising record by inviting guests to join him onstage and sing the song Happy with him for $25,000 each.
A year later, he visited the elephant rescue center Wildlife SOS in India to learn about the abuse inflicted on elephants in captivity and raise awareness about it. This is important, as many people are still unaware that elephant rides are not a harmless form of entertainment.
It should be noted that The Humane Society is not a vegan organization, although some of its members are vegan. The organization differentiates between “humanely” and “inhumanely” produced animal products, depending on how the animals are treated before they’re killed. This is at odds with the vegan position that it can never be considered humane to use and kill animals when we can simply avoid it altogether.
Nonetheless, Pharrell’s performance at the event and his visit to the elephant rescue center show concern for animals. Hopefully, he will take this concern to its logical conclusion in the future and adopt a vegan lifestyle.
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