Veganism, Fat Shaming, Health and Why I am Vegan
After several readers asked me to do this, I translated (also changed and added some things) a German entry I wrote on this topic here.
Until recently I had never heard of the English expressions “fat shaming” or “body shaming”. But then I read about both on several websites. I learned that they describe a kind of discrimination which is very common and as opposed to other discriminations, it is very socially acceptable. (It’s also nothing new. But the expression was new to me.)
Often it comes under the guise of prevention. A very recent example of how to do this came from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit organization many vegans are familiar with because they promote a vegan diet.
PCRM focuses on the health aspects of a vegan diet. I always thought this was a good thing, not because a healthy diet is super important to me but because non-vegans keep telling me how unhealthy veganism must be. I always thought I could tell them about the great work PCRM does. Well, I am not doing that anymore. Because it seems that PCRM kind of turned into PeTA. They are now promoting a vegan diet with the help of embarrassing, discriminating, and insulting ads. They all have one message: Fat people are unhealthy and their bodies are ugly. Because they are fat, they get all kinds of diseases like diabetes and heart attacks. Oh and of course fat people are not vegan. (I don’t want to link to those ads. Instead I’d like you to read Ginny Messina’s reply to these ads.)
Veganism and Health
It seems that their message is “Go vegan and get slim.” Last month I celebrated my 5 year vegan anniversary. It was also my blog anniversary. I feel like the vegan blog world was a completely different one when I started. Maybe I am making this up, maybe this is my wishful thinking, but I feel like I have never before been bombarded with so many book advertisements or blog entries that focus on the connection of health and veganism. Going vegan or “plant based” as the new term seems to be, will help me become full of energy, detoxed, slim and all together beautiful.
I went vegan for ethical reasons. I am still vegan for ethical reasons. Five years ago it didn’t occur to me that veganism could have particular health benefits. As I said, I often had to defend my diet. I also didn’t think my diet was unhealthy. I knew that I would thrive on it. I read a lot about nutrition and was very confident that I wouldn’t die of meat and dairy deficiency. But my diet wasn’t super important to me. And I still feel that way. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t care what I put into my body. But I try to follow a relaxed and everything-in-moderation approach.)
At some point veganism was seen in a different light. I don’t know when it started but I noticed more and more vegan food blogs focussing on health by improving their diet. I started getting comments by people who told me they couldn’t make my recipes because they had too much fat, sugar, gluten, etc. Many books which described a whole foods, low-fat vegan or near vegan diet as a way to cure certain diseases like diabetes also popped up. Suddenly it seemed that veganism was stronger connected to the positive health aspects it could have (if done in a very certain way) than to its ethical aspects. It also seemed that more and more people not only went vegan, but also fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and sometimes even salt-free.
I don’t want to ridicule or judge this. I am sure that everyone has good reasons for their food choices. I am sure many people want to and can improve their health by avoiding or adding certain foods to their diet. I don’t want to criticize them. But it makes me sad when people who seem to be perfectly healthy post “healthy” cookie recipes or apologize for posting those that aren’t “quite that healthy” and swear they almost never eat sugar. I hate it when people mention the words guilt and food in the same sentence. I hate it that vegans who are not a certain size feel they are setting a bad example and therefore try to lose weight. I hate it when people go on restrictive diets because they are afraid of gaining weight. I hate it when people buy into health claims that are none or cut out foods for heath reasons when in fact these foods aren’t bad for them. And I hate it that most of these people are women. So my question is: What the hell happened here? Are vegan blogs the new women’s magazines? Sure, many food blogs are written by women but does that mean we have to reinforce stereotypes of how we as women are seen in this society? Why can’t we indulge in cupcakes or eat fried food without making sure to inform our readers about the next detox regimen we have already planned?
Why are people stigmatized, who do not fit into our frames of what we consider healthy and beautiful? And worst of all, why do we stigmatize ourselves because we made so called bad food choices? And why do so many people still think that being thin means being healthy? Why do we work so hard to match a often very biased and repressive ideal of beauty – when in so many other areas we (as vegans) try to fight oppression and be compassionate?
Everybody is hassled to be slim, not only us vegans. In a society where being slim is what you should always strive for, especially as a woman, being fat means you are violating moral values. (At first this seems like an awful exaggeration, but I think this argument is interesting because fat people seem to violate many rules our society lives by: they are seen as lazy and undisciplined and egoistic, costing the health system boatloads of money, etc.)
But it’s not that easy. Being overweight isn’t the same as being unhealthy. Thin people can be unhealthy, too, especially those who diet all the time. (This is also addressed in the post I just linked to.) In fact fat people can be as healthy as thin people. And yes, there are overweight vegans. So what? Vegans come in all sizes, too.
I know that the number of “health vegans” is growing, and again, I don’t want to say it’s a bad thing. Everybody should do what they think is best for them. But as I said, I don’t like the fact that people feel pressured into healthy eating for example because of their body weight. I don’t want people to feel guilty about a cookie. (And I don’t want them telling me the cookie was healthy because they used whole wheat flour and agave, or whatever the newest trendy “healthy” sugar is.) I don’t want women (and men, too) to be ashamed of their bodies. And personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go vegan for health reasons only. I saw many vegan health bloggers come and go. And quite a number stopped being vegan for the same health reasons they went vegan for in the first place.
Yes, health is important, and yes, you should try to read up on vegan nutrition because it will benefit you. But I think it is even more important to keep in mind you should be kind and compassionate to others and to yourself. Please stop beating yourself up about your weight or your eating habits. Please stop hating your body and abusing it by dieting, fasting, or detoxing. Please stop counting calories and fat grams. Please stop cutting out fat/sugar/gluten, etc. just because. Please stop chasing a crazy body and beauty ideal, especially if you are a women. (Because this beauty ideal ist just another lame patriarchal tool to keep women quiet. And I am sick of it.)
Personally I stopped telling people about the health benefits of veganism. The reason is that I don’t believe a little milk and meat in your diet will kill you. Instead I try to tell people about the ethical reasons that made me go vegan. And I brag about vegan food all the time. I tell people about the kick-ass stuff I made or about the wonderful vegan food I had at a restaurant or a friend’s place. Because I want people to know how awesome veganism is and that vegan food means your being comassionate but you’re not depriving yourself of something. You are not starving because you can’t have a steak. It’s not sad that you won’t eat the cake made with eggs and butter. Because there’s a a whole new world of flavours, ingredients and fantastic recipes to be discovered.