Posted in Veganism

On vegan-bashing, fat shaming, and cancer-causing bacon

On vegan-bashing, fat shaming, and cancer-causing bacon Posted on 27/10/20152 Comments
Ahoy, hello! My name is Jenny. I am a thirty-something human female from Manchester in the north of England. I enjoy rainy days and sad songs, custard donuts and salt & pepper chips and beer, lentil dhal and fried okra, X-Files and Twin Peaks, fierce fat heroines and mental health advocates, dogs and cats and otters and a very special beirdo. To paraphrase Sylvia Plath: "I blog because there is a voice within me that insists on writing lots of ridiculous chuff".

Time to get serious for just a mo you guys. (CW for talk of eating disorders.)

So I guess you’ve probably seen the news about the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) research on the links between processed meats and cancer, right?

I linked to the Guardian report on this because, as usual, the Guardian is pretty much the only news source that reports in an even vaguely balanced way. But obviously the hope of bias-free media reporting is far, far too vain these days.

Faced with the alarmist headlines claiming that BACON WILL GIVE YOU CANCER, the internet (predictably) lost its shit and prompted the hugest backlash ever. There were (perhaps also predictably) plenty of vegans with an undeniable air of smugness about them. There was even the obligatory Daily Mash send-up.

I regarded all of this on my social media feeds with an occasionally semi-raised eyebrow and a bit of a yawn. I’m vegan, so obviously I think killing animals for food is Bad, I also think people have the right to eat themselves into oblivion if they so wish; as you can imagine, sometimes this can be hard to reconcile.

But anyway. Lately I’ve been getting into a movement called Health At Every Size. Here’s some information about the HAES movement: “Even If They’re Fat“.

And here’s a little more about the ‘science’ behind the movement: Debunking BMI and the The Value of Body-Positivity.

I don’t mind being fat. Fat is value free. I also have red hair (um, not natural) and grey eyes and am bizarrely talented at grouting. If you think being fat makes someone a bad person, an unhealthy person or an unnattractive person, you’re being ignorant and shallow. Fat is one part of who I am and after a couple of decades of hating my body and constant yo-yo dieting, I’m finally coming around to accepting myself as I am. That’s TOUGH in today’s world, let me tell you. I cycle and I eat my greens and in any case, none of that stuff’s anyone’s business. I’m 34 and I’m only just starting to feel comfortable in my skin.

But also, there’s this weird intersecting world. The world of the FAT VEGAN. And I’m a member of a (usually SUPER) Facebook relating to HAES where someone recently posted a (self-described) rant responding to the news reports about the WHO meat/cancer research. The original post (snipped but not altered)……

“I have been vegetarian, I’ve been vegan, I have attempted a paleo diet, I’ve juiced, I’ve refrained from juicing, I’ve avoided sugar, I’ve avoided diet sodas, I’ve enjoyed diet sodas, I’ve enjoyed alcohol, I’ve avoided alcohol. I’ve cut carbs. I’ve avoided grains, I’ve enjoyed grains. I won’t even get into the various things that I’ve done to lose weight, believing that weight loss could only be a healthy choice. There is a solid body of evidence against that notion as well.

Every single one of these dietary choices has been fueled by studies and reports that informed me of the benefits or risks of consuming these foods. There is a lot of “information” out there, most of it contradictory. Food and health science are complex. I only consider what is evidence-based, but even those findings are skewed, as so often recommendations are based on correlations, causations are usually unknown………………………

What is rarely mentioned is that restriction can have a detrimental effect on us – often causing a rebound effect. Anxiety and stress about what we eat is also detrimental. There is an emerging eating disorder called “orthorexia.” It’s an obsession with only eating foods that are “pure”. “

The implicit suggestion that veg*ism is a ‘diet’ (based either on weight loss or ‘health’ concerns) is Wrong and Bad. The further suggestion that it’s one of a number of restrictive eating practices that can bring on actual mental health problems is More Wrong and More Bad.

A number of folks rightly challenged this, pointing out that veg*ism isn’t inherently restrictive, and shouldn’t be considered a Diet. Ohhhhh dear, but folks didn’t like this. Pointing out that it’s an ethical lifestyle choice rather than a ‘diet’ made the crowd feel JUDGED. A moderator response here:

“I can ……. accept that veganism is a way of life for you and many others and one that offers many benefits. It a way of life that can be incredibly healthy. Sadly though as I think you were trying to highlight is that some do this not so well and their purposes are mixed, sadly weight loss gets dragged into these conversations which comes from both vegans and others and that’s hard to think people are lumping you all together. There are those whose health, nutrition and lifestyles suffer because they are not doing it for the right reasons and ensuring they understand the choice In eating disorders someone saying they are vegan can be a red flag, it’s not a slight against vegans but merely recognising those who are not choosing this for the right reasons but as a way to restrict intakes. Be assured I always trust that when people say they are vegan, they are doing it for the right reasons and also very capable of achieving the nutrition and health they desire and are happ[y]. Its also true in my experience that I’ve come across vegans who tell me they are choosing [to] be vegan for ethical reason but don’t like vegetables and live on pasta and cereal, which if that’s their choice I’m ok with that, but they also need to accept the risks that go with those choices.”

For a movement that condemns diet-policing, this is very worrying moderation! How can we rightly declare that veganism is not a diet or a diet-related fad without mentioning our ethics? And how on earth can we mention our ethics without everyone feeling judged? Hallo from my corner that I appear to be backed into.

Since a moderator ruled that discussion of veganism was no longer allowed on that particular thread, I felt compelled to make my point separately, and thought that I would share because this stuff makes me SO MIFFED.

“Veganism is not restrictive; it may occasionally correlate with, but is NOT a *cause* of, EDs/”orthorexia”/anxiety/whatever else. It’s not at all in the spirit of HAES to make any comments, ideas or assumptions like this. I find it really upsetting when I read anything that spreads misinformation in this way. It’s harmful and hurtful.

[Excellent, brilliant post about this.]

Vegans eat: roast dinners, pizza, ice cream, cake, sushi, Mexican food, burgers, fries, sweets, crisps/chips, sausages, curries, spaghetti and pie. As well as quinoa, lentils and nut roasts……

Fat vegans are plenty. Fat shaming is rampant in the vegan world. It’s horrible and it’s bullsh*t and lots of really amazing people are calling it out in a totally fantastic way.

[Example one / two / three. Also a shout-out to Rad Fat Vegan.]

Veganism presented as a ‘diet’ (for weight loss) or as an inherently healthy option is stupid and wrong and I really wish people would stop doing it. It is harmful for the ‘image’ of veganism and spreads misinformation. Veganism can be healthy and it can be unhealthy (whatever those mean) and it’s still no-one’s business.

I was fat before I was vegan and I’m fat now. I eat what I want. I feel free to consume whatever I like and I live & consume in a way that gives me peace and is consistent with some very dearly & deeply held beliefs about the world.

To state that veganism is an ethical lifestyle choice is correct. BUT. We all make our own choices about what is ethical, about what is important to us and to the world. Saying that we are an ethical vegan is not *in itself* a judgement of anyone else.

As a fat vegan and with totally 100% intersectional politics, I am happy to chat vegan with anyone. I try my best never to get defensive but with stuff like all the media cr*p around the WHO research hanging about, AND the backlash, sometimes it can be hard.”

All is curiously quiet on the Facebook-rant front right now. Are America still sleeping in their beds? Or did I manage to get my point across, I wonder?

Internet arguing gives me severe confrontation-anxiety so I’m crossing my fingers no-one will be mean to me!

Thoughts and comments are welcome………and so this isn’t ALL seriousness, please enjoy this perfect picture of my silly toothy pooch <3

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  1. I think your statement was well-written and good links you included; hopefully you will get positive feedback on it! 🙂

    1. Thanks Julie; unfortunately (predictably) the discussion descended into more pitchfork wielding anti-vegans, but HAPPILY, we ended up creating a vegan friendly splinter group and all’s feeling much more positive over there 🙂

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