Is conductor Lorin Maazel going vegan?

Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2007. (AP Photo/Chris Lee)

The world-renowned conductor Lorin Maazel, who last worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2005, made an interesting declaration on his blog and Facebook page just after the turn of the year.

With his well-established flair for the dramatic, he listed famous vegetarians such as Pythagoras, Paul McCartney, Natalie Portman, Fred Rogers, Albert Schweitzer, George Bernard Shaw, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Leo Tolstoy, following up with:

They are all vegetarians.
Together with my son Orson.
Together with of today.

His son Orson is a vegan, and in a December blog post (scroll down; no permalinks) Maazel spelled out that Orson was the biggest influence on his decision, including dialog such as

LM: "We can always drink milk, eat cheese, with an easy conscience."
OM: "Sorry Dad, you can't: the calves are sent to market and the cows confined to narrow stalls and milked to death."

and the subsequent note that "I am thinking of making a New Year's Resolution: Go Vegetarian (and maybe someday vegan)."

I have to admit this makes a bigger impact on me than on, perhaps, some readers: As a teenager I collected classical LPs and Maazel was one of my favorite 'maestros,' especially his take on the Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet suite and Dvorak's New World Symphony. So while it was no surprise when Jay Z and Beyonce completed their 22-day "vegan challenge" and went back to eating animals, I have some hope that his vegan son's influence may keep Lorin Maazel on this path all the way to vegan, as he has speculated.

That said, celebrities "going vegan" is a double-edged sword, as I pointed out last year in this NAVS article. Bill Clinton is likely the most high-profile "vegan" in the world, yet as of his last interview on the subject he admitted he's not actually vegan, occasionally eating fish or eggs. That's why when news broke that Al Gore was going vegan, I had to ask if perhaps he was only going "Clinton vegan."

So it's easy for those of us who are seriously following an animal-free lifestyle to dismiss the comings and goings of celeb "vegans" as irrelevant noise. But when we do, we're being insincere: We do care about these stories, and we do follow them with interest, because we know that well-known public figures have the capacity to get people thinking about things they otherwise try to ignore.

True, some of these are fly-by-night "health improvement" jaunts that don't take root and probably wind up as bad PR for the plant-based idea. But not all of them: James Cameron is motivated by environmental concerns, and this past July he told a National Geographic Society Gala that “I’ve had an epiphany recently. I want to challenge all of you as people of deep conscience, people who are environment stewards of the earth and oceans ... By changing what you eat, you will change the entire contract between the human species and the natural world."

That's a celebrity endorsement I can get behind. Cheers to James Cameron for using his bully pulpit to spread the word, and cheers to Maestro Maazel in taking an important step - and declaring it publicly, as he says, "in the hope that a few of the up to 250,000 readers my blog has at times attracted will follow suit." Here's hoping!