Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rejecting Fat-Negativity in Vegan Advocacy

 Seems like there's something vegan-friendly in the news this week from Oprah to more offensive PeTA advertisements for the Super Bowl. Something I've been thinking more about, though, is how the only vegan news items or stories that ever get any traction are ones that talk about veganism as a method to lose weight, get healthy, or introduce a new way to police the size of bodies. Observe:

PeTA Advertisement with a back view of a person in a red and white polka dot bikini looking out on a beach scene. Copy reads: Save the WHALES Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian

For the record, I can't stand PeTA. This and other ads are precisely part of the problem. They beg for money, get the animal agriculture industry to modify one practice that was already cost ineffective, then claim victory for animals. All while euthanizing 85% of the healthy animals they shelter rather than finding them homes and spending gobs of money on sexist advertising that gets rejected from cable networks anyway, and most importantly, don't work. But that's all for another rant.

As a vegan, I'm interested in resisting oppression, violence, and exploitation of ALL animals on this planet, and when we use veganism as a "fat-buster" we insert the dietary choices of vegans as part of this larger, diet-centric culture that emphasizes restriction of foods, guilt, and personal failure as the causes for larger bodies or health issues. It obscures corporate and state control over food distribution, content, and advertising and perpetuates the notion that when something goes wrong (and fat bodies are ALWAYS coded as wrong), it's your fault and you're a bad person. Women's bodies are particularly policed when it comes to size and body fat and, as the typical cooks in most households, are singled out for ridicule when it comes to making food choices for their families and homes.

In resisting oppression, vegans should want no part in dictating the "right" kind of bodies that women should have, or in guilting low and middle income families for making food choices that prioritize affordability. Our aim is to advocate respect for all sentient beings, and if we're treating animals well, we should treat humans well by not vilifying the diversity of body shapes and sizes. Work can also be done to show how vegan diets and other lifestyle items are affordable, and often cheaper, than omnivorous alternatives, and to advocate for greater access to more fruits and veggies in food deserts and environments distorted by agricultural subsidies.

As for vegans, wake up: you can still live pretty healthfully on an omnivorous diet. Vegan diets are not the only healthy diets. Folks who go vegan to lose weight do not typically stay vegan, or live vegan-ly beyond the dinner table. We're not doing anyone favors by advocating veganism as cleanse/metabolism jumpstart/super diet, which is really just fat-negativity thinly veiled in shallow concerns for others' health that isn't even effective at convincing someone to go vegan in the first place.

If you're going to promote veganism, it's not wrong to talk about feeling better eating more veggies, or being more environmentally conscious (but even that has it's problems). Remember, veganism is about more than just what you put in your mouth: it's also about what you wear, what you use, and how you entertain yourself. To cast veganism as only a "healthy choice" ignores what it means to be fully vegan, emphasizes veganism as just another restrictive diet that is easily abandoned, and allows a cascade into fat-negative talk that is offensive and hurtful. At the end of the day, we're perpetuating violence and getting no closer to providing a sensical argument as to why someone should go vegan.

Overall, the only consistent reason to choose veganism in all of your life choices is to come at it from an ethical or moral place. It's also the one least fraught with triggering intersecting oppressions that "healthy" veganism or "eco-conscious" veganism are suspect to.


  1. Great post. PeTA ain't our allies, and woman-hating in any manifestation has no place in vegan movement.

  2. great post, thanks. i dislike peta so much at times. of course not everyone there is horrible but they play such a big part of how animal rights are portrayed in society, too. urgh.