Author Archives: cwrenn

The Politics of the Pure Vegan Myth

Veganism as a Symbol

Social movements are not only concerned with identifying a social problem and prescribing solutions, but also with maintaining boundaries. Movements must delineate themselves from the mainstream that has been identified as problematic, but they must avoid constructing boundaries that are so rigid that they deter potential recruits and allies. Social movement theorist James Jasper refers to this balancing act as the “Janus Dilemma” as movements must be simultaneously inwardly and outwardly oriented. As a movement grows, differences inevitably arise in how problems should be defined and how best to solve them. Factions emerge as a result, and bring with them a new set of boundaries that activists must negotiate.

In my research of factionalism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, I have identified a number of symbols that are heavily politicized and contested in the social movement space. Symbols are ammunition in the crossfire between competing groups as they seek to define, protect, and breach boundaries. Veganism is one of the most vulnerable concepts in this intramovement battle for jurisdiction. What does it mean to be vegan? How important is veganism? Who is really a vegan, and who is not?

“Pure” Veganism

What I have found is that professionalized organizations expend considerable effort in denouncing veganism, what they generally refer to as a practice of “purity.” Oftentimes, they will frame this in individualist and ableist terms, describing “pure vegans” as “obsessive,” “angry,” or “self-absorbed.” Out of tune with reality, these “pure vegans” are alien from the more “practical” activist majority. As an alternative, large nonprofits advocate a variety of carnivorous diets that arbitrarily omit various animal bodies or products (vegeterianism, pescatarianism, veg*anism, plant-based, veggie, etc.).

Radical collectives are thus portrayed as unrealistic and self-righteous by contrast. Their relative powerlessness in the social movement space inhibits their ability to challenge the denigration of veganism or to defend their continued promotion of it.

Sociological thought acknowledges that social meanings do not necessarily correlate with objective reality. Instead, meaning is political in that it is constructed to serve particular interests. In this particular case, “vegan purity” is a a myth. It is not grounded in the daily reality of vegan life. The Vegan Society defines veganism as:

A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

Notice that this definition emphasizes exclusion of animal products as far as is possible and practicable. No practicing vegan actually believes that purity is achievable. Most vegans take medicine, drive cars, use computers, eat vegetables grown in animal waste, or shop in nonvegan grocery stores. Because speciesism is systemic, a human cannot exist in this society without indirectly benefiting from nonhuman oppression (this is the same reason why all whites who live in a white supremacy are “racist” even if they actively reject racism).

Nonprofit and Radical Applications

If real-world vegans recognize these common sense limitations, then where does the pure vegan myth come from? My research supports that the myth is constructed to invisibilize radical discourse that threatens hegemonic power structures in the movement. As an organization abandons the grassroots model in favor of professionalization, it turns on veganism by reframing it as impractical. In short, veganism interferes with access to grants. Even organizations that avidly touted the importance of veganism as a grassroots group would come to view it as a matter of “personal purity” after incorporating as a nonprofit and becoming dependent on fundraising.

Nonprofits are not the only players. I have sometimes observed radical activists feign an adherence to impossibly pure veganism. Among radicals, the pure vegan myth is employed most frequently to advance one’s own status or to undermine that of others. Purity is employed not to advocate for the interests of animals, but to protect boundaries and subdue contenders.

For instance, an American vegan society not long ago recommended Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in its vegan starter guide, innocently unaware that most commercial cereal products are fortified with vitamins sourced from animal bodies. A fact of vegan life is that “going vegan” is a lifelong process. Nonhuman oppression is so thoroughly saturated in our social worlds, we must be diligent in checking ingredients and challenging habitual consumer trust. It was an honest mistake and a real a shame, too, since corn flakes were invented in the 19th century to transition flesh-eaters into vegetarianism. The offending organization was roundly criticized for the accident by other radical collectives, but the assault had nothing to do with Nonhuman Animals, and everything to do with destroying the organization’s legitimacy as a contender in the radical space.

Veganism is not just a strategy for the emancipation of other animals, but a means of protecting jurisdiction. Professionalized organizations engage myths of vegan purity with hopes of appealing to elite-run foundations that are obviously less likely to award grants to nonprofits determined to undermine elite-run speciesist industries. Nonprofits thus distance themselves from radical collectives and their vegan agenda. As nonprofits trade ideals for resources, their power grows and reduces resources available for others. As a result, radicals disingenuously double down on the vegan myth in their struggle for survival in a movement that is increasingly dominated by large nonprofits.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

Readers can learn more about the politics of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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Are Animal Crackers Vegan?

vintage-barnumsDating back to 1902, Barnum’s animal crackers have been an American classic for generations. The original boxes came with a string and cardboard wheels so that the bears, elephants, lions, and tigers painted behind bars could be carried about by children encouraged to take on the role of ringleader. The animals were often shown vicious, wild, exciting, and in need of control. The cages separating the consumer from the wild beasts within were necessary and clearly defined.

vegan-animal-crackersIn Our Children and Other Animals (2014), Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart argue that children’s toys, media, and other products are carefully constructed to capitalize on children’s interest in other animals, while also teaching them speciesism and dominance. To accomplish this, the violence inherent to speciesism is presented as unexceptional or erased altogether to the effect of normalizing human supremacy.

In support of this socialization process, the “wildness” of other animals may be emphasized to teach children that violent relationships with other animals is “natural,” as is human dominance. However, oppression is increasingly framed as consensual, rather than forced. This approach surfaces is in Barnum’s packaging today.

Gone are the angry, caged animals requiring harsh control. Today’s box features sentimental images of animal families. This is a soft control. The bars become faint and fall into the background. Children can now imagine that the animals are there of their own will, their oppression desired and mutually beneficial. This ideology of consensual, happy, and willing participation is perhaps the most powerful in support of speciesism. It is not only circus animals who are reframed in this way, but other “zoo” animals. Over 50 species have been imprisoned in Barnum’s cardboard railroad cars since 1902.

barnums-animal-crackersSome of the newer special editions show no bar enclosure at all. The animals are still controlled, boxed or within a snow globe, but the child is encouraged to understand this control as benevolent.

lilly-crackers limited-edition-crackers

Are animal crackers vegan? While Nabisco’s recipe is free of animal ingredients, Cole & Stewart’s sociological analysis would suggest that consuming animal crackers is ritualistically anti-vegan, as it socializes speciesist sentiments and human supremacy in children. The work of vegan feminist Carol Adams supports this position, theorizing that Nonhuman Animals are routinely represented as willing, happy participants in order to repackage their consumption as something pleasurable, fun, and natural.

In the 1990s, Nabisco ran limited edition packaging that featured endangered species to raise awareness and funds, but even this intent to help was human-centered. Said the Nabisco product manager in a story with The New York Times:

What do people like about animal crackers? Biting off the heads! Our hope was that children will line them up, match them up with the names on the box, learn about them and then decapitate them.

barnum-crackers

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the sociology of speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on the Animals & Society Institute’s Human-Animal Studies Images blog on December 3, 2016.

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Fat Vegan Politics: Why Health-shaming, Body-policing, and Fat Stigma Hurts Humans and Other Animals

This month I published a qualitative study on fat vegan experiences in the journal of Fat Studies. Sixty-one respondents kindly gave their time to fill out a questionnaire asking a range of questions about their experiences as vegan activists. The results were surprising.

PETA ad reads, "'I hate men's guts.' Don't be a whopper go vegetarian." Has a blond white woman in an American bikini giving a beer belly the cold shoulder

Veganism is a food-focused movement that consistently banks on fat-shaming rhetoric and ideologies of thin privilege to persuade its audience to go vegan. In a sea of fat antagonistic claimsmaking, where does this leave fat vegans? After all, veganism is not a diet and many people do not lose weight after going vegan (some may even gain). Sizeist claimsmaking not only alienates fat audiences, but could also alienate fat activists.

What I found was that size discrimination was common, with one in four self-identified fat vegans having experienced it. What I also found, however, was that most were not deterred from participating. They resisted or sought out inclusive communities.

PETA billboard that reads, "Save the Whales. Lose the blubber: Go vegetarian." Features a fat woman in a bikini on the beach

While their resistance is admirable, it should not detract from the inappropriateness of sizeism in a social justice movement. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement has a long history of banking on human inequalities to shock, shame, or scare its audience into compliance. It is inconsistent with movement goals and is not sustainable. Rather than burn bridges and flame bigotry, the movement might instead appeal to intersections of oppression and shared identities. Like Nonhuman Animals, the fat community has been vilified, marginalized, an exploited, their bodies otherized and butchered (with diets and surgeries). Empathy will encourage behavior change, but scientific studies reliably demonstrate that stigma will not.

PETA ad that reads, "Obese in the USA? Go vegetarian." Image of a fat man's behind in front of an American flag

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about the problems of aggravating human inequality to advance anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


 

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Dr. Corey Wrenn Featured in Huffington Post on Women in Politics

cat-memes

On November 3, 2016, I was interviewed by The Huffington Post for its story, “The Bizarre History Of Anti-Suffrage Cat Memes: In 100 years, we went from cat memes to grabbing ‘em by the p***y” in response to the clear intersections between animalizing women in the early suffragette movement and the animalization of women in the 2016 American presidential campaign.

In the piece, I clarified that animalizing minority groups is one of the oldest tricks in the book. By framing women, people of color, immigrants, and other mariginalized folks as animal-like and of another species, their unequal position can be justified, rationalized, and normalized.

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When White Makes Right: Racism, Neo-Colonialism, and Single-Issue Campaigns

live-sushi

The white-centrism of vegan advocacy is perhaps best evidenced in its partiality for single-issue campaigns targeting the practices of non-Western cultures.

Take, for instance, the 2013 Free From Harm call to action regarding “live sushi.” “Live sushi” entails the presentation of  butchered, living animals such as frogs to demonstrate freshness of product. Free From Harm sensationalizes this practice as one associated with foreigners for a presumed white audience. The petition it promotes promises to ban the practice if only this presumed white audience were to join together to police and control non-white deviants.

From the petition:

This barbaric, vulgar and unnecessarily cruel practice is truly a shame on the Japanese people. So we, signers of this petition from around the world, ask respectfully that you ban this practice in Japan.

White-led nonprofits engage cruelty rhetoric from a colonialist perspective: Western violent practices are invisibilized, while non-Western violent practices are framed as “vulgar.” The presumption being that Westerners possess the correct morality and the appropriate solutions to social ills.

live-sushiSingle-issue campaigning creates a competition for attention. As a result, social problems deemed most easily sold to the public are prioritized, and they frequently take advantage of racism, sexism, and other inequalities to improve resonance. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement, in other words, exploits human injustice to promote nonhuman justice.

Single-issue campaigns are thus fundamentally arbitrary in their focus. They have more to do with the prejudices of campaigners and their public than the relative suffering of the Nonhuman Animals in question. Indeed, the practice of keeping victims conscious during consumption extends far beyond Japan. Many Asian cultures engage this practice. For instance, there are soup recipes that feature live prawns swimming in steaming broth and octopus hot pots in which a living octopi’s arms are cut off with scissors bite by bite for the duration of the meal.

In the United States, Americans torture, dismember, and intentionally sicken and traumatize millions of rats, mice, birds, pigs, dogs, cats, monkeys, and other animals before eventually killing them days, months, or even years later in vivisection and military testing. Thousands of Americans traipse into woods, penned enclosures, rivers, and oceans to shoot other animals with bullets, arrows, and harpoons or snag their faces with metal hooks.  These animals are also fully conscious, suffering, and are often dismembered and disemboweled, before being killed and eaten.

deer-hunting

Really, then, speciesism is a global issue. There is nothing especially “barbaric, vulgar and unnecessarily cruel” about what happens to animals in Japanese food systems. Yes, “live sushi” entails the spectacle of an animal’s suffering as they die for the consumer’s pleasure, but Westerners value the spectacle of speciesist violence as well. Thus, it isn’t the spectacle that is the issue for Western petitioners, it is the cultural context.

“Live sushi” consumption takes place outside the framework of traditional Western practice. As has been the practice for several centuries, Westerners are quick to frame the culture of non-Westerners as “barbaric” and “savage” to justify global inequality and Western imperialism. Nonprofits and activists in the West must be mindful of this legacy when framing their social justice efforts, lest they inadvertently aggravate inequality in the process.

While I do not believe that anti-speciesist organizations are ignorant of the cultural contexts that shape their audience’s interpretations, some activists do make half-hearted appeals to the suffering of all Nonhuman Animals, not just those harmed by the practice in question. In doing so, they seek to leverage the non-white/non-Western cruelties highlighted by the campaign to build support for a wider vegan ethic. However, such an approach will not be enough to counter the racist and colonialist culture that translates their message. When met with criticisms of sexism, for instance, PETA counters that it uses men in its sexualized campaigning as well, but this does not negate the sexist cultural context in which PETA’s message will be read. We do not live in a post-gender world, and we do not live in a post-racial world. There are repercussions for vulnerable groups when campaigns of this kind are promoted.

The potential for aggravating racist and colonialist attitudes is a problem particular to single-issue campaigns. Single-issue campaigns are intended to otherize and create a sense of “we-ness” to motivate action.  Unfortunately, in doing so, these campaigns create divisiveness and invite stereotyping.  Advocating for all animals with a holistic vegan approach can combat speciesism without drawing ethnic/racial boundaries or appealing to paternalism.

Intersectional failure in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement alienates marginalized human populations in its fervor to liberate Nonhuman Animals. Many like to believe they live in a post-racial utopia where race, ethnicity, and nationality do not matter . . . but they do.  The majority of Western vegan activists and nonprofit leaders are white and middle-classed and Western nonprofits are the most influential in the global charity system. This imbalance nurtures a privileged worldview that will shape decision-making and campaign development to the potential detriment of others.

For further information on resisting intersectional failure in campaign development, I recommend a panel talk by Dr. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project and Lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project:  Animal Liberation, Tokenizing ‘Intersectionality’, and Resistance Ecology:

Note: Following the controversy in the article’s comments section, the Free From Harm article discussed here was been edited to reduce inflammatory elements and the comments section was closed.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about single-issue campaigning and racist strategies in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and their consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on June 9, 2013.

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It’s Like, Totally Sexist

Young white woman twirling her hair, reads, "I'm vegan. But I TOTALLY respect your RIGHT to harm other animals for your frivolous habits."

In my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, I argue that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement banks on sexist scripts in the interest of promoting veganism. To this effect, stereotypes are frequently employed to shame women into compliance.

Memes like that pictured above “work” because they draw on a popular cultural trope, “The Valley Girl,” to negatively characterize the behaviors of others. Recall the cult classics Clueless (1995) and Legally Blonde (2001). Their leading characters are jokes, something to be laughed at or despised.

The women in these memes tend to be described as frivolous and smug, often infantilized and always trivialized. They are always women as well. I have yet to see a “Valley Boy” meme in circulation.

Movie poster for Clueless, shows Alicia Silverstone holding a cell phone and wearing a minidress and heels wrapped in a boa on a staircaseMovie poster for Legally Blonde, shows Reese Witherspoon dressed in heels with a tight dress and blonde hair blowing in the wind while she looks up to the sky, small chihuahua in a pink sweater at her heels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These memes frame veganism as a personal choice and nonveganism as women making selfish choices over righteous ones. Women are degraded and insulted for “the cause,” while the structural causes of speciesism are subsumed under sexist deflections.  Too often, women become the targets of activist frustration and anger with little regard for the intersectional nature of women’s oppression and that of other animals.

Meme of a white woman with her mouth open very wide and she is looking up with her eyes almost rolling back. Reads, "OMG IT'S LIKE SO SAD THEY KILL BABY COWS AND GOATS BUT I CAN'T LIKE LIVE WITHOUT CHEESE!"These memes are chosen intentionally to draw on particular cultural knowledges.  In a society that systematically disadvantages women as evidenced in an epidemic of discrimination that is fueled by negative stereotypes, sexism in vegan advocacy is something that social justice activists should take seriously. Exploiting oppression to combat oppression is unlikely to be successful. Given that gender oppression and species oppression interlock, aggravating the devaluation of women is likely to have negative impacts for other animals.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about sexist strategies in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on June 3, 2013.

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The Vegan Politics of Taste

12582229724_5423168e8f_zImage from BZDogs

Psychologists tell us that we eat with our eyes. Sociologists, however, think we eat with our ideologies.

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has theorized extensively on the politics of taste. What is good taste? What is bad taste? How do we know what we like? It has less to do with our taste buds than we might think.

The human senses are, of course, capable of detecting sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness, and so on, and these tastes are synchronized with our brain to help us to determine what is edible, nutritious, and potentially useful for our bodies. However, as with so many embodied experiences, this process is highly shaped by our social environment.

For example, “vegan food” is regularly chastised for tasting like cardboard, sticks, and leaves (taste tests popular on Youtube exemplify this), but how much of this is based in reality? Stealth vegan entries into bake-offs should give us pause:

Tweet by username @ShultzTheWorld: "@triplejHack a vegan pie accidentally judged as meat pie and came 2nd at fine foods expo yesterday. Pie makers furious vegans rejoice"

Strange how vegan food can taste pretty good when we’re focusing on the flavor and not the politics.

Without culture to shape how we assign meaning to food, we are free to objectively rate it according to our senses, not our conditioning. The silliest part is that all humans eat plant food regularly without thinking twice about it. Fruit, grains, and vegetables, for instance, do not contain animal products, but nonvegans do not grimace when offered a banana not wrapped in bacon or dipped in butter.

Once the vegan label is attached, suddenly all the cultural baggage, promoted and reinforced by powerful industries and the government they influence, flood into the brain, manipulating the consumer’s experience of that food.

vegan-food-taste

 

Social constructions of taste are one of many operatives in the maintenance of oppression. What tastes good, bad, healthy, or not is determined by those with the power to shape interpretations. In Western society, this means corporate influence should not be discounted.

Some food companies and activists avoid describing their products as vegan, fully aware of market research that demonstrates apprehension about alternatives. “Plant-based,” “meat-free,” “soy alternative,” “vegetarian,” “veg,” and “animal-free” are labeling schemes that have been tried with varying success to encourage nonvegans to overcome their politicized palate.

Treating adults like toddlers, however, is perhaps not the best approach. Reducing vegan stigma by coming out of the closet, so to speak, is one way to resist. Until veganism is promoted proudly by the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, it cannot overcome stigma or challenge social constructions of taste.

Unfortunately, most professionalized organizations in the movement enable this behavior. Reclaiming veganism as a matter of political support for the advancement of Nonhuman Animals is a crucial first step. Taste follows power structure; until veganism is recognized as legitimate, vegan food will continue to “taste” yucky in a speciesist society when human privilege is on the line.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.

 

Readers can learn more about sociological theories of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

 


 

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The Surprising History of John Harvey Kellogg and His War on “Meat”

John Kellogg

But although the sheep goes dumb to the slaughter, do not its [sic] eloquent eyes appeal for mercy?  Do not the bleating of the calf, the bellowing of the bull, the cackling of the frightened geese, the gobbling of the reluctant turkeys, and the cries of the hundred of other creatures that we call dumb, but to each of whom nature has given its [sic] characteristic mode of speech, rise in eloquent protest against the savagery to which the instincts inherited from our cannibalistic ancestors habitually lead us?  That we are able in cold blood to take the lives of these innocent beings, then to bury their carcasses in our stomachs, as do the savage beasts of the forest, is made possible only by the fact that the ancient savage still leaps and yells in our hearts. (Kellogg 1923: 219-220).

Dr. Kellogg’s 1923 The Natural Diet of Man [sic] offers an interesting perspective into the vegetarian/vegan movement of the United States 100 years ago.

mw7ybnnm7cestj0dq1tzdig

Take, for instance, the preface and final chapter in which Kellogg complains of the “meat” industry’s reaction to post-war declines in flesh consumption.  As he explains, the industry launched an “Eat More Meat” campaign, flooding newspapers with scientific claims to “meat’s” essentialness to human health.

Take, also, the cringe-worthy examples Kellogg reprints in the chapter entitled, “Newspaper and Magazine Misinformation.”  The “meat” industry has been bombarding the public with strategic advertising to increase profits for a century or more.

Despite this entrenching ideology, Kellogg seems confident the industry would not succeed:

The packers are certainly trying to “raise the wind” in behalf of their industry, but they will not succeed.  When they set to work to find “scientific data wherewith to correct adverse propaganda,” they will find nothing to correct.  The physiologists have been stating the simple, incontrovertible facts about meat, which show its uselessness and harmfulness, and there is not a word to be said in its favor which has not already been said and resaid so many times during the past that there is nothing new to say.  […] it is not to be believed that these eminent and efficient promoters of national welfare can be persuaded by the packers to back up their “Eat More Meat” campaign, which has been organized, not in the interest of the public welfare, but simply to enrich the pocketbooks of breeders and butchers. (361)

What right have packers and breeders to undertake to exploit the consumers of food simply to create a market for their products? (362).

For a time, the scarcity of WWI normalized vegetarian and low-meat eating

For a time, the scarcity of WWI normalized vegetarian and low-meat eating

Despite this optimism, the role of “meat” in the project of oppression is deeply rooted and the “science” the industry creates is just as biased but convincing as it ever was. Kellogg, however, was witnessing the very formation of an ideology in an era of great social change. “Meat” was shaping nationhood.

Indeed, “meat”-eating and colonialism went hand-in-hand at this time.  British colonizers, for example, explained their supremacy in India as a direct consequence of the physical and mental superiority granted from consuming flesh.  Indians, who primarily ate plant-based diets, were argued to be weak, stupid, and ripe for subjugation.

This ethnocentrist and racist ideology permeated the Western defense of flesh consumption.  Dr. Kellogg counters in The Natural Diet by highlighting many of the amazing and physically exerting feats that Indians regularly achieved.  He suggests that any feebleness suffered by Indians and other colonized vegetarian groups was more accurately attributable to starvation. British imperialism, in other words, was the source of harm, not a vegetable diet.

Incidentally, Kellogg was certainly no egalitarian himself by any right. Notably, he founded a eugenics society at his Battle Creek sanitarium where he hosted conferences on “racial betterment.”

All patients at Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium were expected to practice vegetarianism. Photo from Willard Library.

All patients at Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium were expected to practice vegetarianism.
Photo from Willard Library.

 

While primarily concerned with “meat’s” impact on human health, Kellogg does make an ethical appeal to vegetarianism near the end of his book:

With winter’s frost an evil day arrives,–a day of massacre, of perfidy, of assassination and bloodshed.  With knife and ax he turns upon his trusted friends,–the sheep that kissed his hand, the ox that plowed his field.  The air is filled with shrieks and moans, with cries of terror and despair; the soil is wet with warm blood, and strewn with corpses (220).

As this prose attests, plant-based eating was serious business for Dr. Kellogg. He required vegetarianism of all patients sojourning in his Battle Creek sanitarium   In fact, when patients were caught sneaking “steak,” he was known to place their meal under the microscope to grant them a closeup view of the bacteria active in the decomposing flesh. In a shock tactic that remains favored by vegan activists today, he hoped the exposure would repel and disgust them from further digression.

Perhaps understandable for the time, The Natural Diet of Man [sic] explicitly argues for vegetarianism, with only a fragmented acknowledgement of vegan politics. He does, however, note that a completely plant-based diet is just as healthful and nutritionally sufficient as a vegetarian one. It is also cheaper, he concedes.  Kellogg even recommends nut milk, a suggestion would be unheard of in today’s corporatized and monopolized food system. That’s just as well. Today’s Kelloggs cereal is fortified with animal-derived Vitamin D. Nut milk or no, it would not suitable for vegans.

 

 

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the relationship between colonialism, racism, and speciesism as well as the media politics of nonvegan industry in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


A version of this essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on May 25, 2013.

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Could Fat-Shaming and Health-Shaming Encourage Veganism?

Pink striped socks standing on pink scale

 
Fat-shaming and health-shaming, two popular tactics in the vegan movement. Want to get that beach body? Go vegan. Want to cure yourself of depression, anxiety, diabetes, cancer, or heart disease? Go vegan. Remain nonvegan at your own risk.

The majority of activists and organizations regularly tout the wonders of veganism for curing humanity’s many ailments, and, in doing so, they create a vegan-as-healthful / nonvegan-as-unhealthful dichotomy which invites shaming. Shaming nonvegans does not work because stigmatizing health behaviors in general does not work.

Stigma strategies have been employed against fat people, people with HIV/AIDS, people who abuse heroin, and more. The thinking is that the facilitation of a culture of stigma will facilitate social control. I have been teaching deviance and stigma with Colorado State University for several years, and I frequently emphasize to my students that these approaches are not based in evidence, but rather in discrimination.

Shaming strategies individualize what are essentially structural issues. That is, instead of focusing on food production, food access, poverty, racism, or classism, shaming focuses on each person’s presumably good or bad choices within that system. There is a false assumption of equal access in opportunities and choices. There is also a failure to acknowledge painful oppressions faced by those who are cut off from privileged pathways.

Many scholars and activists who specialize in the critical study of age, ability, and size emphasize that what is considered healthy is often more subjective than we, as a society, are willing to acknowledge. Healthfulness as a social construction depends upon a number of ascribed advantages that grant the privileged class the ability to define “normal” and “healthy” for everyone else.

Unfortunately, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement regularly pulls on established stigmas in hopes of shaming its audience into veganism. This tactic, however, is unsupported. More importantly, evidence demonstrates that stigma strategies only aggravate oppression. Anthropocentric approaches also incorrectly present veganism as a diet and invisibilize Nonhuman Animals, whose injustice should be centralized.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the problems with stigma strategies in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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You Won’t Believe This Shocking Whole Foods “Healthcare” Policy

Photo by Jay Janner

Photo by Jay Janner

Cooperation with speciesist industry is a primary tactic for professionalized organizations in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, despite its dangerous consequences for normalizing a post-speciesist ideology. This strategy concerns me as it normalizes capitalism, despite capitalism’s inherent need to exploit social inequality.

“Father” of Nonhuman Animal rights and elite philosopher Peter Singer supports this pro-capitalist route, insisting that those with the privilege to do so should financially support the world’s poor, generally by funneling wealth through carefully selected, elite-operated charities. From this perspective, it is not necessarily the unequal system that is the problem, but rather the failure for more privileged parties to take care of those underneath them.

Altruism and corporate success are fundamentally incongruent. Consider Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s 2009 editorial piece published in the Wall Street Journal warning of the perils of Obamacare (President Obama’s attempt to provide healthcare to the millions of Americans who were vulnerable and unprotected, myself included at the time). Mackey insists that each person is responsible for their own health, and placing this burden on corporations is inappropriate:

“Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.”

Not surprisingly Mackey’s prescription for personal responsibility and better health entails consuming more whole foods (conveniently on offer in his stores).

While activists believe that elites are the gatekeepers to to a more altruistic society, the pressures of capitalism will ensure that their cooperation with industry will entail serious compromise. Like many grocery chains, Whole Foods amassed its wealth through the exploitation of Nonhuman Animals, prison laborers, and immigrants producing product and the lower classes pushing the product on shop floors. What Mackey fails to acknowledge is that social services such as Obamacare are funded in part by corporations because it is considered a means of redistributing the wealth extracted through these inequalities.

Whole Foods Vegan
 
Mackey, like many wealthy elites, resent this government intervention, promoting instead a neo-paternalist charity system which would keep this redistribution process within in his control. In doing so, corporations are able to feed or starve particular programs or issues  according to the economic and political interests of the corporation.Revising tax laws, he insists, will, “make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance…” The celebration of individualistic solutions to social problems created by capitalism redirects blame to the most vulnerable in our society and absconds corporations of their responsibility to redistribute the wealth accrued through the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Mackey advocates “capitalism with a conscience,” supposing that a system built on inequality need not be devoid of altruism or compassion for others. But this conscience is conditional on the protection of a system of haves, have nots, and “personal responsibility” for successfully navigating a fundamentally unequal  society.

This is not a game that social justice movements ought to be playing. Capitalist corporations require exploitation and prioritize profit. This incompatibility with egalitarianism should be a warning to activists that corporations will hold very little genuine support for social justice. Indeed, when activists offer their movement’s seal of approval to these “conscientious capitalists” as the Nonhuman Animal rights movement frequently does, corporations such as Whole Foods will happily apply these commendations to their products. Undoubtedly, this will also justify dramatically increasing the profitability of their value-added products.

 


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.Readers can learn more about the dangers of corporate welfare and pro-capitalist approaches to anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

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