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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.
Readers can learn more about the problems with stigma strategies in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.