I was as shocked as everyone else yesterday to learn of the death of the legendary musician Prince, at the untimely age of 57. While I was growing up in the 80s, Prince’s music and music videos were in constant rotation on the radio and MTV. Although I only bought a couple of his albums myself, I appreciated his amazing musicianship and fierce individuality.
So it is with some trepidation that I must point out one “fact” about Prince that many of my friends on social media are sharing is actually false. Prince was not a vegan. He was a vegetarian. Hear the man say this in his own words in a 2011 interview with George Lopez:
Despite not being vegan, there’s no doubt that Prince definitely spoke up for non-human animals. As the link notes, he openly shunned wool and leather in addition to flesh and cheese. But he was not opposed to all dairy products; he drank yak milk with the reasoning that “It is given freely by the yak, so U can truly enjoy it.” He also enjoyed snacking on cookies that contained milk and honey. [Update: See note on this below, under Edit, 4/24.]
Some will decry my words as excessive “vegan purity,” but I feel it’s important to point out that drinking animal milk isn’t vegan regardless of what animal it comes from (with the exception of human breast milk for human children, which can indeed be “given freely”). Besides, as shown above, Prince didn’t even describe himself as vegan, so it really isn’t appropriate to put that label on him, post-mortem.
Another danger of describing someone as vegan when they aren’t is that people who are convinced vegan diets are deficient or dangerous will latch onto any disease or early death as an excuse to bash veganism, independent of the actual composition of the diet or other factors. (See also: Steve Jobs.) Veganism is not a diet, and vegans can and do get sick. But most people in the USA do see veganism as just another dietary choice at this time, so it is not helpful to give conflicting information regarding what vegans eat.
Again, being non-vegan does not diminish Prince’s legacy, either as a musician or as a spokesman for the animals. Regardless, we should not be looking to celebrities as role models for veganism anyway, even in the black community. There are plenty of black vegans from all walks of life to connect with, including struggling artists who could use your support. We don’t need to falsely or mistakenly attribute veganism to black folks like Prince or Alice Walker (whose oft-repeated quote about animal rights is taken out of context) to convince others to go vegan.
As an aside, Prince also did not publicly label himself as genderqueer, genderfluid, or otherwise non-binary. By all accounts, he never openly identified as anything but a straight cisgender man. A man who gave no fucks about conventional masculinity (whatever that is), but a man nonetheless, song lyrics and clothing style notwithstanding. (Non-binary bloggers on The Orbit and Medium also wrote on this subject.)
Let’s celebrate Prince for what he was: An amazingly talented, passionate, groundbreaking musician, who deeply cared about animals in his own way.
Edit, 4/24: A commenter pointed out what I failed to notice, that the “What’s in Prince’s Fridge?” article linked to in the paragraph about yak milk was posted on April 1. Whether that was an April Fool or not, my point still stands based on the 2011 video of Prince being asked “You’re a vegan?” and responding “Vegetarian.” As I noted in response to comments below, if anyone finds a more recent statement from Prince himself saying that he is a vegan, please post a link to it here.
Edit, 6/3: Since this post keeps getting hits: Prince did describe himself as a “complete vegan” in a 1997 Vegetarian Times interview. So as I suspected, it appears that he was indeed vegan for part of his life, but not in the years immediately prior to his death.