Fat shaming doesn’t help animals

By on March 29, 2012

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Large animal protection organizations are famous for their attention-getting, eyebrow-raising campaigns – but shaming overweight people in hopes of getting them to go vegan should never be accepted by our movement.

In the latest example, people are shamed for being fat, and told that vegans are thin (and obnoxious). Not only is it offensive to non-vegans who are overweight, but it is also offensive to vegans who are not thin.

Being vegan does not necessarily equal being thin. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes. Some vegans care about their health and weight, others do not. Some vegans will never be thin, no matter how low-fat, clean, pure, oil-free, sugar-free, salt-free and raw their diets are. And even if it did equate to being thin, how is shaming others for the size and shape of their bodies going to endear them to our cause? How is bashing overweight people going to help animals?

These types of campaigns make all of us look bad. They make us look like we are not compassionate and empathetic. They focus on looks and vanity, instead of the ethics of eating a vegan diet. They also make us look desperate. The ethics and facts are on our side, why would we attack overweight people and spread disinformation?

Eating a vegan diet does not guarantee any health benefits, body size, sexual prowess or any other magical superpower. Being vegan only means that you have chosen not to support the exploitation and murder of other animals. That’s it. That’s the special prize behind curtain number three.

I am not so naïve to think the only reason the world isn’t vegan is because of our “tone” or attitude, but fat-shaming is low and beneath us. Vegan outreach and education can and must do better.

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Comments

  1. Kezia
    March 29, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    I find lots to agree with here, but I agree far less enthusiastically than usual. (Sorry, sweetie.)

    I of course also disapprove of movement tactics that appeal to vanity, and promising that people will be thinner is one of those vanity ploys, just like clear skin or enhanced libido or etc. Any time personal appearance is used as a reason for going vegan, I’m going to have the same reaction. The exploitation of women’s bodies has the same effect on me.

    It gets a little muddy since in our culture being overweight implies poorer health than being slim – but I think we all know and accept that this is a gross generalization, that overweight people can be perfectly healthy in all regards, and that slim people can be terribly unhealthy. (And I think we all know that in lots of *other* cultures, being overweight is a sign of wealth, so it’s desirable.)

    It gets further muddied because weight brings up a host of other body image issues for people.

    But I’m not sure I’m qualified to say what’s “fat-shaming” and what isn’t, or what the line is between being real and being offensive. “Shaming” is strong language, while “bashing,” which you also use, is I think a bit more apt.

    As someone on one of the FB posts mentioned, who I hope comments here too, (I paraphrase) eating animals can lead to weight gain, diabetes, cancer, and so on, so the message is basically sound although the execution is poor. Yes, it isn’t my preferred way of doing outreach, because I take the ethical approach, which is unassailable, but, PCRM is largely focused on public health.

    And some days, sometimes…hurting the tender feelings of people who exploit animals doesn’t bother me in the least.

  2. Kezia
    March 29, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    I find lots to agree with here, but I agree far less enthusiastically than usual. (Sorry, sweetie.)

    I of course also disapprove of movement tactics that appeal to vanity, and promising that people will be thinner is one of those vanity ploys, just like clear skin or enhanced libido or etc. Any time personal appearance is used as a reason for going vegan, I’m going to have the same reaction. The exploitation of women’s bodies has the same effect on me.

    It gets a little muddy since in our culture being overweight implies poorer health than being slim – but I think we all know and accept that this is a gross generalization, that overweight people can be perfectly healthy in all regards, and that slim people can be terribly unhealthy. (And I think we all know that in lots of *other* cultures, being overweight is a sign of wealth, so it’s desirable.)

    It gets further muddied because weight brings up a host of other body image issues for people.

    But I’m not sure I’m qualified to say what’s “fat-shaming” and what isn’t, or what the line is between being real and being offensive. “Shaming” is strong language, while “bashing,” which you also use, is I think a bit more apt.

    As someone on one of the FB posts mentioned, who I hope comments here too, (I paraphrase) eating animals can lead to weight gain, diabetes, cancer, and so on, so the message is basically sound although the execution is poor. Yes, it isn’t my preferred way of doing outreach, because I take the ethical approach, which is unassailable, but, PCRM is largely focused on public health.

    And some days, sometimes…hurting the tender feelings of people who exploit animals doesn’t bother me in the least.

  3. Leslie
    March 29, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    As a fat vegan, I thank you, Gary Smith, for caring, writing the essay and generating this discussion. As a recent transplant, I find LA is full of fat prejudice. It’s a great filter that instantly tells me how open-minded is the person who I am meeting. I laugh inside and my stomach shakes like a bowl full of jelly giving me away. I love going to family gatherings, watching my fat and thin cousins munching down meat and reveal my cholesterol and blood pressure stats. Or maybe tell them how I had a 10 lb 10 oz baby with no pain meds and bounced back from severe anemia in two weeks after refusing a blood transfusion because there is no screen for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. I could go on.

  4. Kasey Minnis
    March 29, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    I really appreciate this article, and the acknowledgement that vegans come in all sizes. As a fat vegan, I find this campaign very marginalizing. While I appreciate that PCRM’s primary focus is on public health, not animal rights, they undermine their own attempts with these types of campaigns. Research shows that fat-shaming is counterproductive. They’re wasting donor’s dollars, alienating vegans and non-vegans alike, and accomplishing little. It’s a shame that a “responsible” organization resorts to tactics like this.

  5. Kasey Minnis
    March 29, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    I really appreciate this article, and the acknowledgement that vegans come in all sizes. As a fat vegan, I find this campaign very marginalizing. While I appreciate that PCRM’s primary focus is on public health, not animal rights, they undermine their own attempts with these types of campaigns. Research shows that fat-shaming is counterproductive. They’re wasting donor’s dollars, alienating vegans and non-vegans alike, and accomplishing little. It’s a shame that a “responsible” organization resorts to tactics like this.

  6. Gena
    March 30, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    Thank you so much! I am really appalled by the most recent round of body-shaming ads. It’s not only that I take offense to the message, but more importantly, I think those ads will turn off all of the intelligent people we want to win over. And they’ll certainly hurt and alienate the overweight Americans we’d like to woo into making healthier choices.

  7. Gena
    March 30, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    Thank you so much! I am really appalled by the most recent round of body-shaming ads. It’s not only that I take offense to the message, but more importantly, I think those ads will turn off all of the intelligent people we want to win over. And they’ll certainly hurt and alienate the overweight Americans we’d like to woo into making healthier choices.

  8. Midge
    March 30, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    This is the second time I’ve seen PCRM use a fat-shaming tactic. I was really disappointed and frankly, quite offended as a vegan myself. I unfortunately had to call them out on Twitter the other day. I understand and appreciate what they do as an organization but they need to think hard and long about how to bring the message of veganism without alienating people who don’t embrace it. Veganism is largely about compassion and this is not an example of that.

  9. Eric Herboso
    March 31, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    Kezia: I also read those comments on facebook about health for meat-eaters, but I think the claims made were more anecdotal than scientific.

    For example, does eating animals lead to weight gain? Jack Norris points out (http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=2561) that vegans tend to consume less calories (and fat). But this does not mean that eating vegan reduces calorie intake; it means that people who reduce calorie intake are more likely to be vegan. If you eat just as much as a vegan as you did as meat-eater, your calorie intake will remain constant.

    What about cancer? Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary, the link between nonvegans and cancer has only scant correlation (http://www.ajcn.org/content/48/3/739.full.pdf+html). Meat-eating (and cheese-eating) does not seem to correlate at all with cancer, though egg consumption does for colon and ovary cancer, and milk consumption with prostate cancer. In short, only milk and eggs slightly correlate with some cancers. Other studies concur with this (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21139125).

    Veganism is worthwhile for ethical reasons. But it is important not to rely too heavily on flawed citations like The China Study (http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/385/). The reasons there are more healthy vegans is because healthy people are more likely to go vegan, not because veganism is necessarily more healthy. It _might_ be more healthy, but it also might not. Arguing on that basis is like balancing upon a razor thin edge; all it takes is one major study to conclusively prove that meat eating is more healthy, and all your vegan activism will have gone to waste.

    On top of everything else, the fat-shaming is just despicable. It is no different than any other kind of prejudice, and should be eliminated from the animal rights community, as I point out on my blog entry on this topic (http://www.ericherboso.org/2012/03/insidiousness-of-fat-shaming-vegans.html). There is no room for bigotry if you want your activism efforts to succeed.

  10. Eric Herboso
    March 31, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    Kezia: I also read those comments on facebook about health for meat-eaters, but I think the claims made were more anecdotal than scientific.

    For example, does eating animals lead to weight gain? Jack Norris points out (http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=2561) that vegans tend to consume less calories (and fat). But this does not mean that eating vegan reduces calorie intake; it means that people who reduce calorie intake are more likely to be vegan. If you eat just as much as a vegan as you did as meat-eater, your calorie intake will remain constant.

    What about cancer? Despite widespread beliefs to the contrary, the link between nonvegans and cancer has only scant correlation (http://www.ajcn.org/content/48/3/739.full.pdf+html). Meat-eating (and cheese-eating) does not seem to correlate at all with cancer, though egg consumption does for colon and ovary cancer, and milk consumption with prostate cancer. In short, only milk and eggs slightly correlate with some cancers. Other studies concur with this (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21139125).

    Veganism is worthwhile for ethical reasons. But it is important not to rely too heavily on flawed citations like The China Study (http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/385/). The reasons there are more healthy vegans is because healthy people are more likely to go vegan, not because veganism is necessarily more healthy. It _might_ be more healthy, but it also might not. Arguing on that basis is like balancing upon a razor thin edge; all it takes is one major study to conclusively prove that meat eating is more healthy, and all your vegan activism will have gone to waste.

    On top of everything else, the fat-shaming is just despicable. It is no different than any other kind of prejudice, and should be eliminated from the animal rights community, as I point out on my blog entry on this topic (http://www.ericherboso.org/2012/03/insidiousness-of-fat-shaming-vegans.html). There is no room for bigotry if you want your activism efforts to succeed.

  11. Diane
    April 4, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    Thank you for this. Although I applaud their mission, I have quit giving money to PCRM because they encourage prejudice against fat people, which is already nearly intolerable in our culture. I tried their 30-day vegan challenge and did not lose a pound. I think the expectation of weight loss is what made me give up on being vegan after that. I ended up gaining weight afterwards and was ready to throw in the towel on veganism altogether. I’m now trying again to change to a vegan diet, with more focus in my own mind on general health and on the treatment of animals. As an overweight person, I have to deal constantly with a society that judges me based solely on my weight. I have to face the “war on obesity,” when I know full well that many thin people survive on junk food and even cigarettes but, because they stay thin, are assumed to be healthy. PCRM needs to stop promising weight loss to people who change to vegan diets and to stop encouraging society to heap more misery on people who are fat. I wrote and told them I was going to quit contributing and why, but I’ve received no answer.

  12. Diane
    April 4, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    Thank you for this. Although I applaud their mission, I have quit giving money to PCRM because they encourage prejudice against fat people, which is already nearly intolerable in our culture. I tried their 30-day vegan challenge and did not lose a pound. I think the expectation of weight loss is what made me give up on being vegan after that. I ended up gaining weight afterwards and was ready to throw in the towel on veganism altogether. I’m now trying again to change to a vegan diet, with more focus in my own mind on general health and on the treatment of animals. As an overweight person, I have to deal constantly with a society that judges me based solely on my weight. I have to face the “war on obesity,” when I know full well that many thin people survive on junk food and even cigarettes but, because they stay thin, are assumed to be healthy. PCRM needs to stop promising weight loss to people who change to vegan diets and to stop encouraging society to heap more misery on people who are fat. I wrote and told them I was going to quit contributing and why, but I’ve received no answer.

  13. Christy
    April 6, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    To Kezia, I agree with you that the message is sound. Obesity is something we should be talking about because it has become a serious epidemic. Maybe us vegans don’t need to discuss it, like Gary said in his next post we shouldn’t care about health as much, but someone needs to be talking about it. And I never really understood why vegans wouldn’t care about their health. If you are healthy you are a better advocate for animals across the board.

    I think PCRM is using tactics to get people thinking. Not sure if it actual works. I think what works is relating to obesity in a more sympathetic compassionate way. We all know the serious health conditions that are caused by obesity. As vegans we can help people understand this and that there is a better way to live and eat that can help relieve their health issues and possibly save their fucking life. For the most part, those who are obese are responsible for their conditions. If someone isn’t actively trying to fix their condition with diet, exercise and therapy (if necessary) then what can you do? You can only help those that will help themselves.

    Obesity is serious, we should not tippy toe around the issue. It’s affecting too many people. And it’s affecting those of us who do not have the condition (displayed in the PCRM ad). It’s a huge drain on the economy, the fact that airplanes and public bathrooms must be built bigger, that now we must adjust our world because of the increased size of people is absurd. People must take control of their health.

    To Eric, what you said about there are more healthy vegans because healthier people go vegan is far from true. The trend these days is people go vegan because they are overweight or have serious health conditions. Then the fat-shaming starts in our own community and from outsiders who look at these vegans and say that to be vegan must not be healthy.

    It’s a vicious cycle. People come in all shapes and sizes. Some people eat like shit and are skinny but are unhealthy on the inside. I don’t think someone should be judged on their appearance. But if your health condition is going to affect others then it’s something that needs to be addressed.

  14. Christy
    April 6, 2012

    Leave a Reply

    To Kezia, I agree with you that the message is sound. Obesity is something we should be talking about because it has become a serious epidemic. Maybe us vegans don’t need to discuss it, like Gary said in his next post we shouldn’t care about health as much, but someone needs to be talking about it. And I never really understood why vegans wouldn’t care about their health. If you are healthy you are a better advocate for animals across the board.

    I think PCRM is using tactics to get people thinking. Not sure if it actual works. I think what works is relating to obesity in a more sympathetic compassionate way. We all know the serious health conditions that are caused by obesity. As vegans we can help people understand this and that there is a better way to live and eat that can help relieve their health issues and possibly save their fucking life. For the most part, those who are obese are responsible for their conditions. If someone isn’t actively trying to fix their condition with diet, exercise and therapy (if necessary) then what can you do? You can only help those that will help themselves.

    Obesity is serious, we should not tippy toe around the issue. It’s affecting too many people. And it’s affecting those of us who do not have the condition (displayed in the PCRM ad). It’s a huge drain on the economy, the fact that airplanes and public bathrooms must be built bigger, that now we must adjust our world because of the increased size of people is absurd. People must take control of their health.

    To Eric, what you said about there are more healthy vegans because healthier people go vegan is far from true. The trend these days is people go vegan because they are overweight or have serious health conditions. Then the fat-shaming starts in our own community and from outsiders who look at these vegans and say that to be vegan must not be healthy.

    It’s a vicious cycle. People come in all shapes and sizes. Some people eat like shit and are skinny but are unhealthy on the inside. I don’t think someone should be judged on their appearance. But if your health condition is going to affect others then it’s something that needs to be addressed.

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