She’s an exceptional actress, who has starred in some of the most iconic movies of the 21st century. Her best-known roles are Neytiri in the Avatar universe, Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek universe, and Gamora in the Marvel universe. Besides that, she’s also the CEO and editor-in-chief of the digital media platform BESE. But is Zoe Saldana vegan?
No, Zoe Saldana is not vegan. She generally avoids dairy because of her thyroid condition, and she has cut down on meat because she considers society’s relationship with meat production “very violent, dysfunctional, and wrong.” However, she hasn’t given up animal products completely and even occasionally promotes them.
Zoe rescued a dog
On a personal level, Zoe likes animals. So much so that, in December 2012, she rescued a dog off the streets. After almost hitting the dog with her car, Zoe felt compelled to take her home. The dog was a terrier mix, and Zoe announced on Twitter that her best friend had named her Mugsy.
Mugsy was there before Zoe started dating her current husband and before her first two children were born. And once they entered the picture, she got along with them great:
Unfortunately, after regularly posting pictures of Mugsy for years, Zoe stopped posting pictures of her after 2016. It’s unclear if Mugsy passed away or if something else happened.
Eventually, the family got a new dog, but we don’t know if that one is a rescue too.
Why Zoe cut down on dairy
In 2016, Zoe revealed that she has an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This means that her immune system mistakenly attacks her thyroid gland. The disease has a genetic component and Zoe’s mother and at least one of her sisters have it as well.
Zoe explained that the disease didn’t affect her much when she was younger, but that changed almost overnight: “I would hear those conversations with my mom and grandma, thinking I’d never get there. I’m going to live forever! But all of a sudden it hits you. I shit you not, it’s from night to day.”
Luckily, there are ways to treat it. A common treatment is to take a synthetic version of a hormone that’s normally produced by the thyroid. Zoe didn’t specify if she did that, but she did talk about her diet: “Your body doesn’t have the energy it needs to filter toxins, causing it to believe that it has an infection, so it’s always inflamed. You create antibodies that attack your glands, so you have to eat clean.”
Eating clean has different meanings to different people, but reports specifically mentioned that Zoe had gone dairy-free. However, these reports weren’t completely reliable. We know that because they also stated that she had given up gluten, while just two weeks earlier, she had clearly said that only 80 percent of her diet was gluten-free.
So, she may not have completely eliminated dairy. But, she did talk about making pizzas with “vegan cheeses for anyone who doesn’t want to have dairy.” So, she was definitely cutting down on it.
Why Zoe cut down on meat
Apart from dairy, Zoe has not talked about cutting down on animal products before 2017. In fact, when she was interviewed about her diet in July 2016, she actually talked a lot about eating meat, including fish.
She talked about having to be careful when eating fish and chips while wearing green body paint for the role of Gamora. She mentioned making panini with “a whole bunch of awesome cold cuts.” She said that her husband “just loves cured meats,” so she’d get “bresaola and another thick salami from a local farm, or really good organic turkey breast.” And when asked which childhood food she still craved, she said: “Rice and beans and a piece of fried or grilled fish. I’d take that any day.”
Even in February 2017, she posted a recipe video on her Cinestar Pictures YouTube channel which included turkey meat and eggs. So, there was no clear indication that she was about to cut down on meat.
But, when she gave an interview in May 2017, her views on meat had clearly changed. Although she still spoke positively about her diet as a child, when she ate “seafood that had been caught that morning,” she said she was cutting down on meat and spoke negatively about meat consumption in today’s society. She said:
“We’re starting to move in the direction of becoming a vegetarian family; society has a very violent, dysfunctional, and wrong relationship with how we cultivate and produce meat.”
She also mentioned rising rates of childhood obesity in the Latino community and her desire to inspire healthier habits: “Once you know better, you can’t not care. … I’d like to be a voice of inspiration for my Latino community, as underage diabetes and high blood pressure are on the rise.”
The health benefits of plant-based diets
While many people still believe that we need animal products in our diets, this is actually not the case at all. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of nutrition experts in the U.S., has officially confirmed that:
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
In their position paper, they even specifically stated that plant-based diets can combat obesity:
“With more than two-thirds of the American population overweight or obese and numbers increasing, RDNs should be aware of the evidence to support the use of vegan diets for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. A healthy body weight is associated with improved cardiovascular function and insulin sensitivity.”
With regards to diabetes, they referenced the Adventist Health Study, which found that, even after adjusting for age, BMI, and other factors, “vegans were 62% less likely to develop diabetes.” And when discussing treatment, they stated: “In a randomized clinical trial comparing a low-fat vegan diet to a diet based on the American Diabetes Association guidelines, greater improvements in glycemic control, blood lipids, and body weight were seen in the vegan group.”
Lastly, they also addressed high blood pressure: “Results of the EPIC-Oxford study showed vegans have the lowest systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels and the lowest rate of hypertension of all diet groups (vegans, vegetarians, fish eaters, and meat eaters). Data from the Adventist Health Study-2 confirmed that vegans have the lowest blood pressure levels and the least hypertension of all vegetarians, and significantly less than the meat eaters.”
Zoe has promoted plant-based food
So, Zoe’s decision to cut down on dairy and meat is completely in line with her goal of being a voice of inspiration to the Latino community. And she has promoted plant-based food multiple times, on her personal Instagram account as well as through her digital media platform BESE.
For example, in 2019, she promoted Planet Oat Oatmilk on Instagram. And while it should be noted that the parent company of Planet Oat is dairy company HP Hood, that doesn’t negate the fact that Zoe chose to promote plant-based milk.
Zoe founded the media platform BESE herself and she’s also the CEO and editor-in-chief. The purpose of the platform is to tell the stories of people who are underrepresented in the mainstream media, like people in the Latino community. In her own words:
“Mainstream media misrepresents and omits positive role models or figures that are actively bringing change and reshaping their communities. They do a good job of being sensational in a way that sells, but not in a way that informs and unites our community. I wanted to find a way to encourage mainstream media to evolve so it can better represent what the American public really looks like today versus 80 years ago.”
A great example of how Zoe has used BESE to promote plant-based food is the video titled “De-colonizing Latinx Food with Todo Verde,” also published in 2019. The video features Jocelyn Ramirez, the founder of the plant-based food business Todo Verde:
Zoe still eats and promotes animal products
Unfortunately, though, Zoe hasn’t stopped eating and occasionally promoting animal products. So, she sends out an inconsistent message.
For example, six months after she said that her family was moving “in the direction of becoming a vegetarian family” because of society’s “violent, dysfunctional, and wrong” relationship with meat production, she posted a picture of their Thanksgiving dinner with a turkey in the middle. In the caption, she said: “Yes, I cooked that turkey myself!”
Of course, we don’t know which of those products Zoe personally ate, but there’s no doubt that she eats animal products. Apart from the fact that she has never claimed to have given them up, she also made and ate coconut macaroons with eggs on camera in 2020.
Zoe on climate change
In 2018, Zoe published a BESE video about environmental activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. Xiuhtezcatl is outspoken about the importance of adopting a plant-based diet to combat climate change and other environmental problems. He has said before that “we eat three meals a day, and every single one of those is an opportunity to make a choice for or against our future, for or against a healthy climate.” The BESE video, however, includes no mention of that.
That’s especially unfortunate because Zoe is concerned about climate change. That same year, she put out another video in which she personally talks about it. In that video, she mentions a number of reasons why “people of color and the poor are always hit the hardest” by extreme weather. She ends the video urging us to “ring the alarm” and “do [our] part to fight climate change.”
You can watch it here in full. It’s only 2.5 minutes long:
There are numerous reasons why the animal industries are bad for the environment. Fundamentally, it’s because feeding plant-based food to animals in order to eat them and their secretions is extremely inefficient compared to eating plant-based food directly. That’s why it takes a lot more land, water, and fuel to produce animal products, and that’s also why it causes significantly more pollution.
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. Even though, worldwide, animal products only provide 17 percent of all our calories. That’s why switching to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective choices we can make as consumers to decrease our emissions.
Minorities in the meat industry
Since Zoe is raising awareness about the problems minorities face, it’s important to realize that minorities are overrepresented in the meat industry. In the U.S., 44.4 percent of all meatpacking workers are Latino and 25.2 percent are black. Of the frontline meatpacking workers, 51.5 percent are foreign born and 45.1 percent live in low-income families.
The industry employs these people because they accept working conditions that others don’t. And that doesn’t just mean long hours for low pay and low job security, it also means working in an unsafe environment.
Slaughterhouses are set up to kill animals and cut up their bodies as fast as possible. Given that everything that can kill and cut an animal can also kill and cut a human, slaughterhouses are inherently dangerous environments. Human Rights Watch investigated just how dangerous and found that “nearly every worker [they interviewed] bore physical signs of a serious injury suffered from working in a meat or poultry plant.”
U.S. slaughterhouse workers are three times more likely to suffer serious injuries than the average American worker, and those in the pork and beef industry are seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries. Serious injuries like second-degree burns, fractured fingers, amputations and head trauma occur weekly. And, on average, at least once a month a U.S. slaughterhouse worker dies of their injuries.
Factories that produce other food, like plant-based meat alternatives, are not that dangerous to work in. So, by buying plant-based products instead of animal products, we can create opportunities for these workers to switch to safer jobs.
Veganism is more than a diet
We’ve focused on diet because that’s where Zoe has made changes, even though she still eats animal products. But it’s crucial to realize that veganism is more than a diet. Veganism is about avoiding animal exploitation in every aspect of life. So, it also means, for example, not using clothes made from animal materials or makeup tested on animals.
A lot of the topics Zoe cares about align with veganism, and the fact that she rescued a dog off the streets shows that she’s definitely capable of empathizing with animals as well. So, hopefully, she will go vegan in the future.
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