Tag Archives: Veganism

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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The Thug Kitchen Cookbook and the Problem of Vegan Blackface

 

In 2014, it was revealed that the authors of the Thug Kitchena best selling cookbook utilizing basic ingredients, colloquial Black English, and gangster tropes, were white identified. To begin, I believe their intentions were good. Similar to the Vegan Black Metal Chef and the Vegan Zombie, Thug Kitchen probably had hopes of making veganism appear fun and culturally relevant.

Heavy metal musicians, however, are not a disenfranchised group,1 and zombies are not even real. “Thugs,” however, refer to a very real, very marginalized group of people. In American society,2 “thugs” are profiled and assaulted by police, mass incarcerated, stigmatized, and otherized. Oftentimes, their lives are cut short as a result.

These experiences are wholly divorced from that of the white middle-class authors of Thug Kitchen, making this white appropriation of Black culture for the profit and amusement of white audiences a form of literary Blackface.

White-presenting couple standing in front of a food spread. Man is throwing back a large bottle of alcohol. Thug Kitchen authors 

What is Blackface?

Blackface is present when whites represent themselves as Blacks for the amusement of white audiences. Historically, white entertainers would paint their faces and change their dress accordingly, but Blackface more generally relates to the use of nonwhite cultural stereotypes for whites by whites.

Blackface reflects a white legacy of entitlement and control over nonwhite spaces. It is problematic because whites pull on cultural items of value from the safety and comfort of their spaces of privilege while leaving structural discrimination in tact.

As an example, consider the popularity of Black jazz music among young whites in the early 20th century. Whites audiences and white jazz bands enjoyed Black culture in white spaces, while Americans of African descent suffered the Jim Crow violence of enforced poverty, segregation, voting disenfranchisement, and lynching.

By way of another example, consider the mass extermination of Native Americans in the 17th-19th centuries compounded by poverty, mental illness, suicide, and environmental injustice that persists today. Despite this unimaginable state-imposed oppression, whites of European ancestry idealistically lay claim to native geneology, proudly display tattoos of sacred indigenous symbols, and enthusiastically defend the “Redskins” team name and logo as respectful of native culture.

The Thug Cookbook enterprise is supposed to be humerous because it showcases white people “acting Black.”  By extension, being nonwhite is marked as funny because nonwhite culture is supposedly ignorant, primitive, and uncivilized. The cultures of people of color are thus usurped for the entertainment of a presumed white audience, but there is a complete disregard for the dangerous reality of white supremacy in which this minstrelism will be interpreted.

Thug Politics

The rhetoric of vegan Blackface is problematic because “thug” is an extremely politicized word. For those who must live under the label, it can be a matter of life and death. To be labeled “thug” in white America means to be denied opportunities, civil rights, and fair life chances.

“Thug” politics also influence the epistemologies of white Americans. For instance, the murder of young teen Trayvon Martin was deemed acceptable to many because this young, unarmed man walking home from the store with snacks was perceived to fit the thug profile. Martin was young, black, male, in a hoodie, and in a white neighborhood. For this, he was killed.

“Thug” has become the new n-word.  It is a means of referring to race without actually mentioning it. It a “color-blind” modern society, it maintains the cultural language about Blackness as a public threat.2  “Thug” acts as a racial identifier. It also becomes a qualifier. We are more likely to believe that thugs are innately deserving of whatever institutionalized violence is enacted upon them.  Subsequently, there is no race-neutrality to thug rhetoric.  It works to maintain a system of violence against people of color.

Vegan Blackface

Thug symbolism cannot be disassociated from a long and ongoing history of white supremacy, of which the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has played a part. Early anti-cruelty efforts were framed in white supremacist, nationalist terms. Despite the fact that many activists of the 19th and early 20th century were also heavily involved in human rights causes, they levied humaneness as a means of civilization. Make no mistake, this framework was (and is) highly detrimental to nonwhite, indigenous, and immigrant groups. There are thriving vegan communities of color today, but the mainstream vegan movement continues to be white-dominated in both theory and practice. This documented problem with racism makes vegan Blackface all the more dangerous.

Just as it is inappropriate for whites to wear indigenous headdresses to music festivals or wear sombreros with ponchos to Halloween parties, it is also unacceptable to play “thug” to sell books, t-shirts, or other vegan merchandise.  This is especially so when the dominant ideology of the vegan movement centers the white experience and has historically been used to uphold white supremacy.

 

Notes

1.  It has been suggested that the heavy metal genre actually appropriates African, Asian, and Middle Eastern music to some extent, as well as having historical ties to racist ideology.
2.  UK readers may have a different contemporary understanding of “thug” than Americans, but it is important to note here that the term derives from the Hindi word, “thugee,” and Indians branded as “thugs” were violently oppressed under British colonial rule.
3. Other communities of color are also impacted by thug politics.

 

Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.
Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on September 30, 2014 on The Academic Activist Vegan.
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A Month of Vegan Research: Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism

race-veganism

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.

 


Harper, B.  2010.  “Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism:  Interrogating Whiteness, Geopolitical Privilege, and Consumption Philosophy of ‘Cruelty-Free’ Products.”  Journal for Critical Animal Studies 8 (3):  5-27.

Within the context of feminist geography, racial politics, and consumption studies, I have observed that mainstream vegan outreach models and top selling vegan-oriented books rarely, if ever, acknowledge the differing socio-historically racialized epistemologies among non-white racial groups. There is an underlying assumption among the white middle class mainstream vegan media that racialization and the production of vegan spaces are disconnected. However, space, vegan or not, is raced and simultaneously sexualized and gendered directly affecting individuals and place identities. Racialized places and spaces are at the foundation of how we develop our socio-spatial epistemologies; hence, these epistemologies are racialized. This paper will explore examples of how epistemologies of whiteness manifest within vegan rhetoric in the USA, and explain why a “post-racial” approach to vegan activism must be replaced by an anti-racist and color-conscious praxis.

Chris Nino, 11, carries empty pepper bags across a Plainview, Texas, field Sept. 21, 1997. Workers like Chris may earn as little as $1.20 per full bag of chili peppers. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Breeze Harper’s research asks activists to reexamine the meaning of “cruelty-free” in vegan production and the white worldviews that direct vegan outreach.  When major organizations define cruelty in food production as a nonhuman-only experience, the suffering of third world persons, immigrants, poor persons, and people of color are rendered invisible.

Harper’s article explores the heavy resistance to racial issues in vegan spaces.  One of the major reasons that human suffering is excluded from “cruelty-free” and vegan outreach efforts is because the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is predominantly white.  White privilege (and class privilege) reinforce the elitism of the movement, making social change piecemeal and stunted.  Harper suggests a rejection of “post-racial” ideology (the belief that racism is no longer a major problem) and a conscious awareness of the specific challenges facing vulnerable humans as well as nonhumans. Human and nonhuman oppression are heavily entangled.  A single-issue approach to anti-oppression work is not likely to be very successful.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its 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 November 5, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: The China Study

the-china-study

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

T. Colin Campbell.  2006.  The China Study:  The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health.  Dallas, TX:  BenBella Books.

While most people go vegan and stay vegan for ethical reasons, a common stereotype is that advocates face is the belief that humans need to consume Nonhuman Animal products for optimal health.  Research, however, warns that this simply isn’t true.

The China Study relies on decades of research conducted by Dr. Campbell that compares the diet and health of preindustrial China to Western nations.  What he finds is that Chinese people (usually rural inhabitants) who consume a plant-based diet have much better health.  As people migrate to bigger cities in China or to the West (where animal-based diets are more common), they start to accrue illnesses quickly.

the-china-study

He also explores hundreds of other scientific studies that support this dietary link.  Plant protein and animal protein are broken down very differently in human bodies.  Animal products are linked to a litany of debilitating and life threatening diseases including heart disease, cancer, auto-immune diseases (like diabetes), mental diseases (like Alzheimer’s), eye diseases, kidney diseases, and even osteoporosis.  This book is worth reading so that we can have a basic understanding of the health consequences of non-vegan lifestyles.

The immense suffering of speciesism impacts humans as well as nonhumans and the environment.  In this way, ethical veganism is as much about human rights as it is about Nonhuman Animal rights. Campbell considers the political reasons for obscuring this life-saving information and provides practical solutions for changing diet.

A glaring flaw with the piece is the overwhelming reliance on data obtained from Nonhuman Animal testing, which is counterintuitive to a vegan ethic and is usually indicative of bad science.  Considerable research demonstrates that tests on other species do little to inform human biology and can often present misleading results.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about the social psychology of veganism and its potential benefit to human society in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 22, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Veganism as a Cultural Movement

Vegan Culture

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Cherry, E.  2006.  “Veganism as a Cultural Movement:  A Relational Approach.”  Social Movement Studies 5 (2):  155-170.

Social movement scholars have long studied actors’ mobilization into and continued involvement in social movement organizations. A more recent trend in social movement literature concerns cultural activism that takes place primarily outside of social movement organizations. Here I use the vegan movement to explore modes of participation in such diffuse cultural movements. As with many cultural movements, there are more practicing vegans than there are members of vegan movement organizations. Using data from ethnographic interviews with vegans, this article focuses on vegans who are unaffiliated with a vegan movement organization. The sample contains two distinctive groups of vegans – those in the punk subculture and those who were not – and investigates how they defined and practiced veganism differently. Taking a relational approach to the data, I analyze the social networks of these punk and non-punk vegans. Focusing on discourse, support, and network embeddedness, I argue that maintaining participation in the vegan movement depends more upon having supportive social networks than having willpower, motivation, or a collective vegan identity. This study demonstrates how culture and social networks function to provide support for cultural movement participation.

punk-culture

 

Cherry’s sociological research into the importance of networks and culture in vegan outreach and vegan retainment reminds us that promoting veganism is more than leafleting to strangers and graphic images.  Many vegans go vegan and stay vegan because it is culturally normative. More specifically, there are others in their social circles who are vegan.

This closeness to other vegans creates a familiarity with vegan living, lends social support, and significantly reduces stigma.  We learn what foods, music, fashion, morals, values, etc. are desirable from those around us, and veganism is no exception.  Given that social institutions are generally elite driven and protect oppressive structures, subcultures that reject mainstream values are especially important for normalizing radical, justice-focused choices like veganism.  Some organizations attempt to recreate these networks and subcultures by sponsoring vegan mentorship programs.

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about vegan motivation in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 7, 2013.

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A Month of Vegan Research: Veganphobia

scared-peppers

The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


 

Cole, M. and K. Morgan.  2011.  “Veganphobia:  Derogatory Discourses of Veganism and the Reproduction of Speciesism in UK National Newspapers.”  The British Journal of Sociology 62 (1):  134-153.

This paper critically examines discourses of veganism in UK national newspapers in 2007. In setting parameters for what can and cannot easily be discussed, dominant discourses also help frame understanding. Discourses relating to veganism are therefore presented as contravening commonsense, because they fall outside readily understood meat-eating discourses. Newspapers tend to discredit veganism through ridicule, or as being difficult or impossible to maintain in practice.Vegans are variously stereotyped as ascetics, faddists, sentimentalists, or in some cases, hostile extremists. The overall effect is of a derogatory portrayal of vegans and veganism that we interpret as ‘vegaphobia’. We interpret derogatory discourses of veganism in UK national newspapers as evidence of the cultural reproduction of speciesism, through which veganism is dissociated from its connection with debates concerning nonhuman animals’ rights or liberation.This is problematic in three, interrelated, respects. First, it empirically misrepresents the experience of veganism, and thereby marginalizes vegans. Second, it perpetuates a moral injury to omnivorous readers who are not presented with the opportunity to understand veganism and the challenge to speciesism that it contains. Third, and most seriously, it obscures and thereby reproduces exploitative and violent relations between human and nonhuman animals.

veganphobia

 

This article lends important evidence to how hegemony protects its privileged interests and marginalizes those who pose a threat to that power. This is partially due to the elite ownership of an increasingly consolidated media industry, but also due to the interests of those elites who purchase advertising. Society’s most privileged are creating the media that the rest of us are expected to absorb.  And absorb it we do. The media is a powerful agent of socialization, so elites have a vested interest in making sure that socialization is one that normalizes oppressive conditions.

 

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about the challenges posed by state and industry institutions in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 2, 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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Selling Cancer to Beat Cancer? When Nonvegan Foods Go Pink for Profit

Yoplait Breast Cancer Campaign logoVegan theory acknowledges not only the systematic violence imposed on vulnerable Nonhuman Animals, but also the tendency for this oppression to intersect with the suffering of vulnerable humans. One such instance occurs in the pink ribbon “find a cure” campaign.

There is a tendency for companies that peddle carcinogenic products to go pink to increase sales. Caring about cancer is commodified, with the well-being of both women and other animals undermined. For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was, at one time, donating proceeds from every bucket purchased of deep-fried chicken parts to fund cancer research. That is, KFC encouraged the consumption of chickens to fight cancer, although the consumption of these body parts are known to cause cancer.

In another example, dairy consumption is linked with increased breast cancer occurrence, recurrence, and mortality, but Yoplait brands its yogurt products as cancer friendly with its “Save Lids to Save Lives” marketing scheme:

The goal of Save Lids to Save Lives is to support the millions of people who have been impacted by breast cancer by raising awareness and funding to fight the disease.

If Yoplait’s goal really is to save lives (and not to bandwagon on a serious disease to profit from public fear and sympathy), then Yoplait might consider changing out its animal ingredients.

Instead, Yoplait works to make their carcinogenic product “synonymous” with fighting cancer:

For many, Yoplait has become as synonymous with breast cancer research as we are with yogurt. We are proud that over the last 15 years, our commitment to the cause has resulted in nearly $35 million from all our donation programs. Because of this, programs like Save Lids to Save Lives have given many women the support they need when they need it most. However, we can still do more.

I agree, we can still do more. How? First, there is a need to prioritize prevention over “cures.” Cure research is an extremely profitable enterprise, and for the amount of resources it entails, offers very few beneficial results. Much of this research is conducted through vivisection, a speciesist, archaic, and scientifically unsound approach (which also happens to be an extremely profitable enterprise).

Prevention programs require just a fraction of the billions expended on cure research. Importantly, these programs could aid vulnerable human demographics in avoiding suffering and death. They could also spare billions of Nonhuman Animals exploited to both create these dangerous products and test their toxicity.

Prioritizing cure research and trumpeting more consumption to support it is conducive to corporate interests, but a truly effective strategy for combating cancer would entail a focus on prevention. This must begin with structural support for food choices not shown to be carcinogenic (meaning there will be no place for fried chickens or dairy-based yogurt). For those who also wish to support cancer research, they might consider donating directly to animal-friendly cancer foundations, a much more efficient strategy than collecting yogurt lids.

 

 

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

 

Readers can learn more about the intersections of capitalism and 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 March 20, 2013.

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White Women Wanted? Research Uncovers Diversity Strains in Vegan Media Spaces

Cover of BUST magazine showing a white woman, cover of VegNews showing a white woman, and cover of The Advocate showing James Franco

A two-part content analysis I began in 2012 has just been published in Societies and the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. The first study, published in JAEE examined media diversity in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, the second study, published in Societies, expanded that analysis to include other movements for comparison. I conducted this research with the understanding that the vegan movement, for the most part, has escaped scientific analysis, although many theorists (such as Dr. Breeze Harper) have commented on the curious tendency for anti-speciesist media to portray mostly white, thin women. Vegan media is a vast and varied landscape, and my content analysis could only give a limited perspective. Yet, with so little prior research to inform vegan studies, a magazine analysis of high-profile publications is as good of a place to start as any.

I wanted to see exactly who was dominating the covers of vegan media (I particularly looked at VegNews and Animal Times). I was concerned that, as with Yoga Journal, which features almost all thin white women and reflects (or aggravates) the same demographic in yoga classes to the potential alienation of people of color and people of size, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, too, could be presenting (and thus attracting) a very limited demographic. For comparison, I analyzed two magazines from the feminist movement and two from the gay rights movement. 

The conclusion? None of the movements are adequately representative of their actual movement constituency or the diversity found in the wider public. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement, in particular, seems to loves its skinny white women (probably as much as Yoga Journal, come to think of it!).

This is important for movements in two ways. First, any movement in the business of social justice should be concerned if its strategies are complacent in the marginalization of vulnerable groups. Second, a diverse constituency is not just an ethical problem, but a strategic one. Diversity is important for movement success.

The good news is that this is an easy enough fix. Vegan media producers could work more mindfully to ensure that no demographic is underrepresented. However, even if more diverse body types and backgrounds were to hit the covers, I don’t think the solution is so simple. If the movement structure itself doesn’t change to become less white-centric/thin-centric, non-normative cover subjects will only act as tokens. Diversity isn’t a matter of checking off quotas; it’s about redesigning the space to be more inclusive and safe for a variety of experiences and identities.

 


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Essay on Incorporating Diversity into Vegan Advocacy published on The Vegan Society

logoforsite

I have just published an essay originally authored in 2013 on The Vegan Society’s blog. The essay is titled, “In a world of food deserts and many other inequalities, Professor Corey Wrenn gives tips on how vegan outreach can be made more inclusive for all walks of life.” It explores how white-centrism in our discourse and attention can alienate communities of color who might otherwise be interested in or benefit from vegan outreach. Diversity is important for improving resonance, and this should be incorporated into our dialogue, our outreach materials, and our campaign frameworks.

 


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