Woodrow Tracy Harrelson—Woody to most—is known for his expert portrayal of seedy characters in blockbuster films such as Natural Born Killers, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Hunger Games trilogy, True Detective, and the Venom movies. While his acting credits are notable and his talent is profound, we follow Harrelson for his vegan acts of kindness and entrepreneurship.
From mentoring Stranger Things star Sadie Sink to investing in eco-friendly and plant-based businesses, Harrelson is as vegan as you can get. Here’s how the award-winning actor became a veritable vegan icon:
He’s been vegan for over 30 years
Harrelson has been vegan for more than 30 years—far before the invention of modern conveniences such as Beyond Burgers and non-dairy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. This was even before the introduction of soy milk at Starbucks. Back in the day, if you went vegan, it virtually dictated that you also ate whole foods plant-based, because processed vegan products were exceedingly rare. We tip our hats to you, sir.
Contrary to how most people ditch animal products—by going vegetarian first, then vegan—the Prime Time Emmy winner called it quits on milk and cheese first. In a 2014 interview with Metro, he said: “I was on a bus when I was about 24 and this girl saw me blow my nose–and I had acne all over my face. She told me I was obviously lactose intolerant and that if I gave up dairy my symptoms would disappear in a matter of days. She was right.”
In that same interview, Harrelson described how eating steak and hamburgers made him feel lethargic. But after giving up animal products, his energy levels went up.
Over the years, Harrelson adopted a predominantly raw vegan diet. He told InStyle in an often-cited article that has since been removed: “I eat vegan, but I eat mostly raw. If I have a cooked meal, I feel my energy drop. So when I first started shifting my diet, it wasn’t as much a moral or an ethical pursuit but an energetic pursuit.” Granted, he does admit to enjoying the regular vegan-friendly libation—but nobody should be held to perfect standards. In his mind, the mostly raw vegan diet balances the sluggishness post-alcohol.
He inspires new vegans
Stranger Things star Sadie Sink may still be vegetarian if not for Harrelson’s gentle guidance. The co-narrator of the 2018 documentary about industrial animal agriculture, Dominion, credits Harrelson for educating her about the vegan diet while the duo worked together on the 2017 biographical drama, The Glass Castle. And apparently, his family knows how to serve good food.
“His daughter and I had a three-day sleepover,” Sink told Elle in 2019. “The entire time I was with them I felt good about what I was eating, and not like I was missing anything.”
English actress Thandie Newton also mentioned in an interview that she had gone vegan while shooting on the set of Solo: A Star Wars Story with Harrelson. “I think it’s good to have a vegan in the mix … a vegan in a position of power. I have been vegan since working with Woody,” she said of the Texas-born actor, who she affectionately called “everyone’s parent.”
Harrelson also influenced former vegan Liam Hemsworth to give the lifestyle a try while the two shot The Hunger Games. Hemsworth stayed vegan until 2019 when he re-introduced animal products to his diet after battling kidney stones. Perhaps another film with Harrelson could get Hemsworth back on the vegan bandwagon.
He has vegan connections
Even though Harrelson feels best when eating raw, he can still appreciate and lift up other vegans in the culinary scene. As a friend of Chad and Derek Sarno—the chefs behind the Wicked Healthy and Good Catch brands—Harrelson wrote the foreword for the pair’s cookbook, The Wicked Healthy Cookbook. He’s also employed many vegan chefs (including the Sarnos) to cater his private events and “on-location” filming days. We can only imagine the quality of that catering spread.
He’s an activist
Harrelson’s transformative powers are not withheld when he’s off-set. He’s active in spreading the plant-positive message and takes action to do so. In 2019, he joined forces with the animal rights non-profit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to protest an annual pig rodeo in Texas. That same year, he was one of the many celebrities behind the activist group Million Dollar Vegan’s initiative to persuade Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent. The head of the Catholic Church has since made statements encouraging younger people to eat less meat in order to to mitigate the climate crisis.
He’s also contributed his voice and support to Sir Paul McCartney’s ongoing Meat Free Mondays campaign. And, even if it was just for laughs, Harrelson even brought his vegan point-of-view to season 11, episode four of the HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he bluntly told characters that they should cut dairy out of their diets for the sake of mother cows.
Harrelson is also the narrator behind the 2020 Netflix documentary about regenerative agriculture, Kiss the Ground, which paints a positive picture of the future of the climate, should we transition away from monoculture. While the film is not explicitly vegan, Harrelson cares deeply about preserving and restoring the planet’s biodiversity.
“We’ve got a lot of corporate industrial agriculture and the way they do it now is extremely destructive given pesticide use and the destruction of soil,” he said during a panel at the 2022 Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho. “Regenerating soil can be a great way to mitigate the effects of global warming.”
He invests in vegan brands
In October 2021, Harrelson and actor Owen Wilson both invested in the plant-based meat brand, Abbot’s Butcher. The Costa Mesa, CA-based company specializes in vegan meats that are made from pea protein and free from soy, gluten, and canola oil.
As a Sarno brothers friend and fan, Harrelson was one of the slew of big names—including business mogul Paris Hilton and Big Little Lies star Shailene Woodley—to invest in their vegan seafood line back in 2020. Today, Good Catch has crossed the pond from the UK to the US where its plant-based tuna, fish sticks, and crab cakes are available in major grocers nationwide. In 2022, the brothers’ Wicked Kitchen company also secured $20 million in a funding round which included Woody Harrelson to help further accelerate the brand’s growth.
“What I love about this brand is that the products are actually created by chefs that always put flavor first, making it so easy to go plant-based,” Harrelson said about Wicked Kitchen.
He’s also an investor in a Baltimore, MD property that housed vegan-friendly restaurant L’eau de Vie. Harrelson bought the real estate back when it was a boutique hotel, though the property has been redeveloped into luxury apartment homes. The restaurant opened on the bottom floor of the new apartment building, but unfortunately, it has since closed.
Earlier in his career, he partnered with entrepreneur Jeff Golfman to launch Prairie Pulp & Paper—an eco-friendly, tree-free paper company that supplies paper to Staples office stores in Canada and the US.
When in Los Angeles, Woody enjoys dining at one of the four locations of Sage Vegan Bistro—a vegan micro-chain he threw some money at in 2017 to support the expansion of its vegan beer garden in the Echo Park neighborhood of LA. Sage’s mix of exceptional raw and cooked dishes may have played a part in securing Harrelson’s generosity.