When Promoting a Vegan Diet Turns Into Body-Shaming

by Gena on February 13, 2012

image

image

Warning: long post ahead. If you hadn’t yet seen the new billboard ads that PCRM has put up on billboards in Albany, NY, there: now you’ve seen them.

My first reaction when I saw these ads was shock at how ugly they are. I don’t mean that the bodies pictured are ugly: I mean that using these bodies to prove a point about plant based diet is ugly. My next reaction was embarrassment that this kind of advertising will now be publicly associated with the vegan message. And my final (and lasting) response was disappointment. I am a longtime fan of PCRM: I think they’ve done extraordinary things to champion and protect vegan medical students, to share a truthful message about the health benefits of plant based diet, and to protect the lives of animals. But this latest campaign is, in my opinion, a serious lapse of judgment.

Let me state some facts: I am the first person to say that a plant-based, whole foods diet is one of the surest ways to improve health and protect against chronic diseases. I also believe that a diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium is directly linked to high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, obesity, Type II Diabetes, and countless other conditions, along with their attendant pain and suffering. And finally, I believe that diets rich in meat, cheese, and dairy are also rich in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium—to say nothing of the harm they do to innocent animals, the environment, and to us. So I’m absolutely on board with sharing a message that declares, “Look, America. Diets rich in animal fats are very likely to raise your BMI and put you at risk for countless diseases.” But I believe that there are ways to share this message without denigrating and vilifying overweight people, which is precisely what PCRM is doing in these ads.

Since the ads debuted, the primary reaction among consumers/viewers has been one of disgust and hurt. It’s tempting to say that this is simply because people don’t want to admit that eating animal foods is unhealthy or wrong. But the critiques—including those from vegans like me—have been a lot more thoughtful than that. No one disagrees with the basic premise that eating too much cheese—a food that is rich in sodium and cholesterol—is likely to lead to weight gain. But is it fair to say that cheese alone is a guarantee of obesity? And more importantly, is it right to brandish overweight bodies as a way of proving a point?

I don’t think so. This kind of advertising only validates the unnecessary self-loathing and shame that millions of overweight people struggle with already. It compounds the overly reductive idea that skinny=healthy. And it tacitly suggests that a thin body is a virtuous body. Beyond all this, research suggests that fat-shaming is not only ineffective, but actually counterproductive; this article, published in Time magazine last may, cited a study conducted at Yale University, which showcased images of overweight people who were also portrayed as being slovenly or lazy. The images had a devastating effect, heightening anti-fat bias and producing guilt. The authors of the study claimed that “those who view negative media images may themselves internalize harmful weight-based stereotypes, further worsening their mental health. That may trigger overeating, inactivity and weight gain.”

Of course, we all know this intuitively already: extreme guilt about food choices triggers a sense of hopelessness or rebelliousness, which leads to overeating, which leads to weight gain. But now we have some evidence to that effect. Isn’t it therefore all the more shocking that a non-profit devoted to health-promotion would target overweight audiences this way?

Beyond all this, it’s important to point out how embarrassingly simplistic these ads are. I believe that the role of genetics in health/wellness has been drastically exaggerated, and that everyday lifestyle choices have an enormous role in turning genes on and off, and thus preventing disease. But I’m also well aware of the fact that, while diet and lifestyle are supremely important, they are not the whole story: the field of epigenetics, which is in part devoted to studying how genes for obesity can be passed from parent to offspring before the offspring has a chance to develop dietary patterns of his or her own, is becoming far more important, and for good reason. In this day and age, some children are being born into the obesity epidemic with a genetic predisposition to be overweight, and it’s not yet clear how completely lifestyle choices might be able to deactivate their predisposition.

Additionally, numerous factors, from thyroid dysfunction to stress to mental health, might increase a risk of weight gain, in spite of a person’s best attempts to eat healthfully. And on top of all of this, there are still many cases of people who eat healthy, plant-based diets, and maintain a higher BMI in spite of it. This may not be the norm, but it’s a fact. Anti-weight dialogs ignore the simple truth that, while BMI is very often an accurate measure of health and disease protection, it is not always an accurate measure.

As for cheese: well, I don’t think I need to point out that there are a good many people who eat a whole lot of cheese and remain slim in spite of it. That doesn’t mean that the cheese isn’t packed with cholesterol and salt, nor that its production isn’t likely to have caused a tremendous amount of suffering. But “cheese=obese” is a laughably simplistic assertion. Aren’t we capable of using more precise, truthful language? Cheese is high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium. Diets that are overly high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium are linked to weight gain and risk for disease. It’s the cholesterol, fat, and salt that are to blame here—claiming that cheese alone is the issue isn’t accurate enough, and it’s actually likely to mislead Americans, who are already prone to vilifying specific foods and food groups (carbs, fats, bread) when they should be giving more to the nuances of nutrition science.

But wait, you’re thinking. What about, say, cigarettes? It’s not the cigarette that kills you, it’s the nicotine and tar and tobacco. Didn’t the anti-smoking ads prove that sometimes you need to shock in order to effect change?

That’s what Neil Barnard has argued, in his defense of the campaign. But there’s a big difference from the cigarette ads I remember from childhood, and these cheese ads. Those ads, which typically pictured triple bypass surgeries or other hospital procedures, didn’t seek to shame the bodies of the people who had smoked. They showed the ultimate outcome of too much tobacco use, which is the likelihood of a medical procedure. And if the PCRM ads had shown an operating room or surgical bed, along with an injunction against diets high in saturated fat, I’d have been all for them. I’m no shrinking violet myself when it comes to messaging.

But they didn’t. They showed sensationalized photos of a woman grasping her overweight thighs, along with a message about cheese. They used heavy people as the target of their campaign, rather than warning all Americans of all sizes—including the many thin Americans who overconsume animal foods—that saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium are unhealthy. They capitalized on people’s guilt, shame, and fear of being overweight to prove a point. And in spite of Barnard’s repeated assertions that food lobbies are to blame for the obesity crisis, this campaign seems far more intent on targeting and blaming individuals. In so doing, it extends far too little compassion to people who are uneducated about their food decisions. Why not educate first, rather than shaming?

The Time article speaks for itself: this is not the way to effect change. Part of why I feel uneasy about the language of “milk/sugar/meat is no better than heroin/crack/cocaine” is that we human beings have attached enough misery, shame, and guilt to our food choices. And compounding that guilt, by telling us all that our pastries and cheese are exactly the same as heroin, will not advance our message. It may reach some people, but only at the expense of a good many others who find the language accusatory, exaggerated, and triggering.

Instead, let’s focus on using honest language, honest facts, and honest statistics. Plenty of vegan physicians are doing just that: educating the public with simple, dispassionate, and courageous research. Will that be enough to effect wholesale change? I don’t know. But I have to believe it will be more effective than anger and insult.

It’s funny: these ads reminded me a lot of PETA’s “save the whales” campaign:

image

Which, in addition to being sexist and showcasing a terrible anti-fat bias, did a lot to turn even staunch AR supporters against PETA, an organization that has done groundbreaking and lasting work for animals in other arenas. Compare these ads, and the PCRM ones, to, Mercy For Animals’ billboards and TV ads, which seek to ask provocative questions, rather than shame and embarrass the viewer.

image

I think these ads, though tough to watch (check out the TV spots), embody best spirit of courageous, intelligent, and thought-provoking activism. They may be shocking, but they don’t resort to accusatory and personal sentiments to achieve their goals.

In order to effect change, activists sometimes need to push the envelope. I get that, and I respect it. But there are ways to do this without resorting to bullying and discriminatory language. The worst thing about sexist or fatist marketing of veganism is that pushes aside so many of the values upon which the vegan message rests: Compassion. Truthfulness. Hatred of irrational discrimination. A good many vegans—myself included—found our way to veganism intellectually because we disliked the speciesist allegation that animal lives are expendable, whereas ours are precious. So seeing discrimination employed shamelessly in vegan advertising, no matter how well intentioned, will never sit right with me.

I am certain that PCRM—an organization that has been championing animal rights through health-related messaging for over almost thirty years—can and will do better. But for now, I encourage all vegans to speak out against anti-fat bias in the marketing of plant-based diet. One of the most touching, insightful emails I ever got from a reader said the following:

I slip up so easily…it’s not so much the allure of meat/cheese that keeps me going back to the familiar foods, I think its a little bit of shame for not being thin. (A chubby vegan?! The horror! Kidding. kidding.) I am working hard to get healthy, so my progress is noted by my friends, even those who don’t know the extent of my dieting, but I feel like the second I out myself about flirting with veganism I’m going to be expected to drop a ton of weight instantly.

She also wrote,

It’s hard enough being overweight and lugging around a green juice. The eye rolling and casual comments about how “that girl will try anything” are incredibly hurtful; but, I deal with them, day in and day out. You’d think with the obesity problem in America that someone’s attempts to lose weight or get fit would be rewarded, but so often I find myself on the defensive. It’s like people look at me, see a chubby girl and assume I go home and eat fettucine alfredo, a box of cookies, and a pint of ice cream every night and wash it down with a coke. I eat raw zucchini pasta, for goodness sake!

If nothing else, I hope this email reminds us that vegans and aspiring vegans come in all shapes and forms, and that it’s dangerous to draw assumptions about a person’s willpower or habits simply from appearances. At the very least, alienating and hurting all vegans who don’t happen to have low BMIs for the sake of promoting a health conscious message is not a worthwhile form of activism. While some may claim that shock marketing of the vegan diet is effective, I think we need to tread very carefully with that line of reasoning. If we get to an “ends justify the means” place with our activism, we may very well wake up one day and find out we’ve forgotten what we stand for.

So, let’s stay true to the real message of a vegan diet, which is a compassionate message. By all means, let’s force people to consider the facts. But let’s do it without shaming, bullying, or devaluing each other.

What do you think of the PCRM ads? With pushing the envelope? How can we “sell” veganism without losing sight of our ideals?

xo

Print Friendly
Be Sociable, Share!

{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

Shira February 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Thanks Gena for taking the time to write such a balanced and well thought out article. I personally am never a fan of shame or guilt advertising – I can only imagine this tactic is used now to try something opposite to the thin models and fit looking girls we tend to see in Women’s health publications everywhere. After years of vegetarianism/veganism, I for one have learned that ‘shaming’ those who don’t choose to eat like I do only alienates me from my audience. Compassion, acceptance, and sharing in a non-judgmental way does seem to work much better, along with research and fact based info. As a new reader, I am pleased to see the way you engage your readers in such a mature and intelligent way. Cheers ~ Shira

Reply

Gena February 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Welcome to CR, Shira! And thanks for this wonderful comment.

Reply

Gillian Young February 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I love the points you’re bringing up in these posts Gena (along with the Gillian McKeith/Nigella post). As someone who eats everything – but consciously choosing where I get my animal products and enjoying a mainly vegan diet for most of the day – I really hate any type of shaming for my choices. Not only this, but shame and guilt are never the right way for our culture to build positive body images and a healthy relationship with food.

I’ve noticed a lot of detox and vegan books (which I, for the most part, love for their recipes and ideas on food) have a beauty obsession. “You’re clothes will feel looser…skin will glow..” ect. While this is a benefit of healthy eating it should not be the focal point. I am perhaps an odd duck who usually gains weight from healthy eating because my body is getting proper nutrition, digesting properly, and my appetite is best. But I feel better and am innately healthier, and that’s what matters most to me.

Regardless, thank you for bringing ads like this to our attention in the right way.

Reply

Hoshigaki February 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I agree completely. Thanks and good job on this piece.

Reply

vanessa February 13, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Two, words, Gena: THANK YOU.

While I am no longer strictly vegan, I do believe that more plants = better health; and having struggled with an eating disorder for over a decade, it pains me to see even more shame being associated with food, no matter what that food may be. It’s obviously not our food that needs to change, per se, but our attitudes toward it – our diets will change themselves at that point!

Reply

Hannah February 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Thank you for this thoughtful and extremely important post. As a fat vegan I frequently struggle with the anti-fat discourse that seems to be so central to our movement. Yes, I have lost weight with a vegan diet, but that is not why I do it, nor is it how we should be promoting it, nor do I stick with it in the hopes of losing more. Veganism, for me, is about extending the circle of love and compassion beyond ourselves. If we cannot even love ourselves — if we continue to tell ourselves that we are not good enough, that we are not worthy of love until we are thin enough, pretty enough, good enough — then how can we ever learn to love those who are different from us, human as well as animal? Veganism is about radical compassion, and body acceptance is part of that.

I have also been on the receiving end of comments like “I don’t understand why, as a vegan, you aren’t thin” and they have made me feel like a failure — a failure as a vegan, a failure as a person. I am rejecting that sort of language, and I think we all (thin, fat, everything in between) should do so. Health is about so much more than size, and veganism is about so much more than health, so let’s ditch the hateful words and images and promote a veganism that is about nourishing and nurturing ourselves and others!

Reply

Valerie @ City|Life|Eats February 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Thank you, Gena, for a very eloquent and persuasive piece on why body shaming is so inherently counterproductive, for everyone – the people that the ad targets as well as the people that back the ad.

I can really relate to the quotes from your reader – I started drinking green juice and green smoothies when I was still very overweight and often drank those on the go. I still do now, about 40 pounds thinner than when I started drinking them, and I still often drink them on the go. Back then, I definitely experienced the eye rolling and the comments. Now, I still get some eye rolling, but because I look different I also get comments like “I wish I had the willpower to drink those green drinks, then I would ” – the thing is, I am still the same person and the green juice and the green smoothies still look the same, so it is fascinating to see the reactions differ. The sad part is, before the reactions were negative towards me, and now they are either negative towards me or towards the person making the comment (ie “I wish that I had clearer skin”).

Reply

Christine (The Raw Project) February 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Wonderful post, very well written and thought out with great points and balance. Thanks! I’m not a fan of the ads because even though vegan ism helped me conquer disordered eating, I feel they make a meat free diet appeal to fad dieters and not those seeking a cruelty free lifestyle or a diet driven by health goals.

Reply

Nada (One Arab Vegan) February 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm

What a great and well articulated post – thank you for writing about this Gena.

Those billboards are horrible in every way possible, but what bothers me most about them is the fact that they fixate on outer appearance as an indicator of good (or bad, in this case) health. Sure, it’s a billboard ad so pictures are inevitable and humans are visual creatures etc. And while I understand the need to include a “shock” factor, this is just completely the wrong way to go about it. You’ve said it here, and many times before – people and vegans come in all different shapes and sizes, but these adverts make the (ignorant, IMHO) assumption that anyone who steers clear of cheese will be lean and trim.
Veganism for me is a lifestyle and diet centered around compassion – and there is nothing compassionate about what these adverts are doing. Instead of fixating on avoiding flabby thighs, we should be boasting the wealth of incredible benefits veganism has to offer. The one thing I always try to highlight to others is how incredible I feel being vegan – both physically and mentally.

The vegan for health message is a great way to hook people into a cruelty-free diet and lifestyle – but these billboards aren’t touting health, they’re using the vegan for vanity argument by implying that cheese will make you fat and therefore “unattractive”. Horrible, just horrible.

Reply

Cath February 13, 2012 at 1:30 pm

I really liked this post… Since I started an almost-completely-vegetarian diet, I didn’t agree with this type of advertising. Not only because it is unfair, as you yourself explained here, but also because I just hated when someone came to me and criticised my diet. The same way I want people to respect my choices, I have to respect theirs, even if I don’t agree at all with them.

Thanks a lot for posting it… I really think more people should have that in mind!

Reply

JL goes Vegan February 13, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I’ve been dying to hear your thoughts on this! Vegansaurus took it up and the exchange has become a bit ugly.

No surprise that I don’t think this is the way to win hearts and minds when it comes to encouraging a vegan diet and/or lifestyle. If nothing else, someone who has already been shamed most of their life for their size will simply think “f*ck vegans!” Not a winning strategy.

Facts are one thing. This is quite another.

Reply

Jess February 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm

These ads, and their associations with veganism, brought up similar feelings that I felt when hearing about the book *Skinny Bitch* and the connotations that title, and these conceptions of veganism as a weight-loss tool, create. I will just comment on PCRM, however, and not the problematic nature of the title *Skinny Bitch* (because my head might explode if I try to do both).
As an ethical vegan I find these associations frustrating because they subtract from the animal rights aspect of veganism; as a person living in a society that constantly bombards us with notions that skinny is healthy (like you said, Gena) or skinny is happiness, I find these ads disgusting. I fear these ads will lead to cycles of guilt, shame, self-criticism, and disordered eating among members of its audience (especially women) when cutting out the cheese doesn’t magically transform their bodies into ‘perfect’ societal constructions. To me, a transition to a more plant-based diet should not be dominated by feelings of self-loathing, but of pride. Pride in the choices you are making and how they will have profound impacts on you, the suffering of other animals, and the environment.
Shame on PCRM.

(Long time reader, first time commentator. Thanks for all your intelligent posts and creative recipes, Gena. I only wish my first comment could have been more light-hearted, haha.)

Reply

Amanda @ AmandaRunsNY February 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm

What about the Skinny Bitch books? I know I’m not the first person to come over to the vegan way of life after reading Skinny Bitch, and that book is also pretty offensive. Granted it’s a whole book and provides a much more complete message than four words and a picture but it still can adopt a condescending and “fatist” tone. Ultimately, that tone grabbed my attention and kept me reading, while the articles on animal cruelty changed my mind.

I agree whole-heartedly with you, Gena, but I can’t say that I ever would have picked up one of the more thoughtful and articulate books on veganism. In fact, had I known that book was a vegan book, I might not have picked it up at all! So many people have such an extreme aversion to the vegan lifestyle and such a deep connection to food, that logic and reason are not enough to sway change. (Although it ultimately did work that way for me, the catalyst was the simple desire to lose weight.)

While I don’t like this campaign or support it, in a way it has succeeded by turning heads, garnering far more press than it would have on the side of a highway in upstate New York, and by encouraging a lot of really thoughtful debate. I wish that they would have found a different way to deliver their message, but I do believe that shock campaigns are effective and very powerful.

Reply

Gena February 14, 2012 at 9:48 am

Amanda,

I think this is a great point, and certainly SB made its success on fat-hating. That said, I think these ads vs. that book really bring to life the difference between text and print ads. SKINNY BITCH does at least make a humane and passionate argument for veganism, laid out chapter by chapter in print. And part of why one can swallow the offensive, if hilarious language, is that you understand the context Rory’s putting it into: you think, “ahh, there’s a reason for all the attitude: animals are dying.” And beyond that, the book has wit, charm, and sass.

These ads are divorced from context, purpose, or thought: they simply say “cheese turns you into a fat person, and being fat is bad.” They don’t even give health facts or statistics. Quite frankly, if I were to see them on a billboard, I’d find them simpleminded and desperate. And I’m on team vegan! And rather than seeming sassy, they seem mean-spirited and morbid.

I guess the point is, I can appreciate the value of shock marketing to prove an important, urgent argument. Which is why the Mercy for Animals ads, though totally shocking, leave me impressed, and why I can absolutely applaud what Rory accomplished, even though it wouldn’t be my approach. But I think the methods by which you try to shock people are really important, and these ads absolutely missed the mark.

G

Reply

Silvia @ skinny jeans food February 17, 2012 at 9:05 am

I wonder what the French will say to an add like this — they eat tons of high fat cheese, enjoy it, and most of them are at a pretty normal weight. — It’s not the cheese per se that is at ‘fault’ — it is always the calorie amount, thus also portion size. So, American type pizza, slathered with tons of cheese is a different story than French people having a slice of Camembert with a piece of baguette.

Poor cheese, and cheese shaming ;-)

Yes, cheese is calorie dense and kale is not. But eating cheese does not make anyone gain weight — just eating too much of it.

Reply

AmandaRunsNY February 17, 2012 at 9:53 am

First of all, I’m so impressed that you have taken the time to respond to so many of these comments.

Second of all, Skinny Bitch is very thoughtfully written and it does ultimately produce arguments about animal cruelty and factory farming that really resonate. It is not on the same level as those ads; I would call Skinny Bitch’s attitude more like tough love than shame and scare tactics.

Thanks for addressing these types of issues on your blog!

Reply

Ashley Hermann February 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Dang, I love you. As a chubby vegan I have really struggled to feel welcome in a community that feels skinny = healthy. I have been vegan for over 3 years and a 100% whole-foods, no oils, organic vegan for about 6 months. I have not lost any weight and may have actually gained some. The thing is – I love myself, my husband loves me, so I tend to ignore what others think – the 2 most important people in my life love me so who cares what anyone else thinks? The trouble is, within the vegan community I am made to feel like a bad ambassador for the cause because I am not a size 2 – and that is shitty. It prevents me from talking to people about veganism because I am afraid they will think I am unhealthy simply because I am not skinny. There is so much negativity in the world and we are constantly made to feel bad about who we are (inside and outside) – do we really need to get it from people who are most like us and supposed to share our values of compassion? These billboards are not the first example of vegans making other vegans feel like shit and I think it’s time to put a stop to it.

Reply

JL goes Vegan February 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Love your comment, Ashley! I often preface some of my comments with “I’m not a skinny vegan.”

You’re not alone — in fact, there are more of us who are rounder than not, but book publishers and magazines in the vegan world are no different than the rest of the media. Prettiest and skinniest front and center!

Reply

Kathryn February 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I agree! I’m not skinny, I have cellulite on my thighs. My arms are not as toned as I think they should be. I do feel beautiful though. Something about knowing that my insides are becomming finely tuned machines and that I feel good about the compassionate way my diet serves the earth makes that less important (don’t get me wrong, I do want the weight off, but it isn’t why I’m vegan).

I have a heavy male co-worker, who is also older than me and therefore wiser (not!), that decided to adopt a vegan diet for his health. He’s lost a ton of weight, but he was quite heavy. I get annoyed when co-workers ask him all about it even though they know I’ve been vegan since they met me.

I would love for people to understand, in general – whether vegan or not, that skinny and healthy are not always the same thing.

Reply

FreeRad February 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Actually, the fact that you are not a skinny vegan is a good reason to talk to people about veganism! Many people have a huge misconception about what a vegan looks like, and many feel that it would be unattainable for them. Normal size, plus size, chubby, overweight, thin, muscle-bound, etc — they all have a place in the continuum. Until the definition is changed to encompass everyone, veganism will be marginalized and will not be mainstream. I recall my venture into vegetarianism and veganism started with a good friend who is naturally very skinny. I thought she had the natural temperament and disposition to be vegan (lots of self restraint). That was something I thought I lacked personally. However, she encouraged me and even told me that she wasn’t perfect. For some reason, I had defined “perfection” as extreme skinniness and a disinterest in food altogether. I’m so pleased to realize that I was wrong! 15 years vegan strong , I’m an average sized girl and people sometimes say that I “don’t look like a vegan”. Don’t take it personally, this is a misconception that you can easily correct!

Reply

raechel @the rebel grrl kitchen February 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Thank you so much for writing this, Gena. I had a moment last week when I posted a picture of myself on my blog and I thought it “made me look fat,” and was so nervous that people would not want to take healthy food/exercise tips form someone who didn’t have a perfect body. It was such a horrible feeling. I ended up keeping the picture up, but I admit I still felt a lot of shame about not looking “skinnier.” Ugh. So, point being, no, shame ads are not the way to go. I had the same problem with the movie “Wal-E.” Like there are no lazy people that are skinny? Or non-lazy people that are fat? COME ON!

Reply

Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga February 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Wow Gena I had not seen those ads and I cringe at them. I cringe at the shaming, the bright yellow and black ad copy, the whole message. I just cringe. They will definitely turn heads, though. Maybe for all the wrong reasons, but if the only goal is getting people’s attention, they can consider it a success: attention gotten!

People come in all shapes and sizes and there’s so many unspoken and behind the scenes reasons why people are their current size, and what their relationship with food is. Whatever a person has going on that is contributing to their size and shape and their food choices I can only think goes much deeper than an ad like this and more shaming than helping will be done with ads like this, but I hope I’m proved wrong.

Thanks for this post and can’t wait to read the comments.

Reply

Jasper @ crunchylittlebites February 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Hi Gena! I appreciate your post, for as a fellow in ED recovery, I have managed to gain more weight than I like…and am at my current highest weight…but I have never managed a more healthy and balanced relationship with food. I am not a vegetarian nor a vegan, however I read your blog faithfully and incorporate recipes into my diet…so I am one of the courageous, I’d like to think that continues to apply healthy aspects of the vegan, vegetarian, humanitarian, ethical, raw, etc. principals despite any industries advertisements and standards that would otherwise label me as chubby and unappealing.

Reply

Greta February 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Oh, these ads made my heart plummet and my temper flare. I am fired up about this! One of the main reasons I have been drawn to veganism is the compassion you write about, Gena. I see none of it in PCRM’s advertising. In regards to the “shock value,” I think body- and fat-shaming are tired tactics. Featuring an overweight PIECE of a person (not even the whole damn body, thereby reducing a fat person to just a “thing”) to prove a point has been done, over and over. Showcasing an overweight person in a negative light is NOT shocking. And for the record.. I consider fat to be an observation, not an insult.

I also want to point out this article, which highlights exactly what you mentioned about shame tactics not working. http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/01/30/us-feeling-fat-idUSTON07906120080130.

The study is a few years old, but the fact that the message is almost identical is pretty telling about what we’ve known about obesity, and how little things have changed in the ad world. It’s sad.

Reply

Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles February 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I absolutely agree with your sentiments here, Gena. Not only am I horrified that an organization with such potential to make positive change is participating in “fat shaming”, but I also despise the mentality that veganism is the answer to becoming skinny. As you stated, perhaps I could get behind a campaign that advertises “Your arteries on cheese”, for instance, because there is unbiased scientific evidence to support such a claim. But in reality, there are skinny vegans, fat vegans, and likewise for omnivores. I also think that it’s important to mention that going vegan doesn’t equate to going healthy. Just because you don’t eat cheese doesn’t mean you do eat a wide variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. It doesn’t mean you limit processed foods. When veganism has so many positive points and necessitates positive media, these ads are an abomination of the effective advocacy that could be used by such an influential organization.

Reply

Hannah February 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Oh my thank you for sharing this with us! I’m in awe that you have time to write this thoughtful piece while getting your post-doc. I wrote about the PETA whale ad a year ago in my consumer culture class, though not as articulately as you have here with these ads! Fat shaming, or any kind of shaming, is ineffective and hurtful no matter what cause you are trying to promote. Also, while there have been some studies suggesting that sugar has addictive properties like cocaine, I feel like it is sensationalizing sugar/fat/dairy’s effects by comparing it to drugs. That ignores the absolute difficulty of drug addiction and how amazing it is when people can overcome it.

Reply

Skye February 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Wow- these ads are shocking, especially coming from PCRM, an organization that I generally respect. Many Americans already see veganism in a negative light and ads like this certainly do not help. I agree that ads with shock value can be effective- some shocking Peta literature highlighting the cruelties of factory farming was actually one of the things that led me to become vegetarian. But focusing on weight and trying to disgust people with fat body parts is shameful. Vegan ads should focus on animal rights or true measures of health like what high cholesterol can do to you. Thank you for this eloquent post.

Reply

bitt February 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Dr Barnard should be hanging his head in shame! I’m sorry but I don’t find Dr. Furhman any better! He is also part of PCRM. I recently heard him on an eating disorder interview say that over 90% of Americans are overweight. He was full of exaggerations there and obviously his ideal of size is distorted, not to mention a lot of his statements would be triggering to someone who has restricted food. (Seems that wasn’t their definition of ED, just overeating.)

I can’t stand this fat-bashing stuff either. I agree with you that dairy cheese is not healthy at all, and I am all for good health. For some people they feel better being slimmer. But other people are perfectly healthy at a bigger size. Over the past several years being vegan, I’ve met vegans of all sizes and with a wide variety in diets. Not to mention being various sizes myself and stayed vegan thought it all. I actually think a more voluptuous vegan is a better sell for the diet because it means you have plenty of good food to eat! As we know we do.

The health based approach to veganism is a tricky area, I much prefer to promote veganism for the animals and let the health benefits come with it. There will always be research about food that conflicts with each other and people who will be healthy despite eating crap. I wish more people would focus on saving the animals and not making voluptuous vegans & nonskinny vegans feel bad about themselves and alienate part of the community.

ps: glad you have seen the light on PETA.

Reply

Carrie (Carrie on Vegan) February 14, 2012 at 10:48 pm

What makes you think Dr. Fuhrman is part of PCRM, Bitt? I don’t believe he is. Also, it’s one thing to give facts about the number of people who are overweight, it’s an entirely different situation to put out ads such as these that are obviously discriminatory.

Reply

Sara February 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Gena, I really appreciate your well-reasoned comments regarding this ad campaign. Not living in that part of the country I was not aware of it, however, I am horrified as well. I am one of the many who used to be overweight….and chose to change that about myself. I am also one who realized my lingering health issues, while the doctor blames them on genetics, may still be able to be impacted by my lifestyle choices. All that came about because I looked at MYSELF, realized I was not who I wanted to be, and decided to exercise power over my own life. Plant strong is more new to me, so guess what? I lost over 70 pounds while still eating cheese….IN MODERATION. In my opinion that is our biggest health problem….we have lost all sense of moderation. There are vegans like you who promote a wonderful lifestyle of healthfulness, but yet I have realized one could be vegan, or gluten-free, or low-carb, or whatever and be hideously unhealthy. Its all about the approach. I have not affected anyone else’s life by preaching at them about their choices, but I have been able to share with many people when they have seen the change in me and approached me.

Lastly, I appreciate your comments regarding judgments on appearance. I look totally healthy, I am a normal weight, and I am in fairly good shape….yet my cholesterol is way too high. My brother could stand to lose 30 lbs, eats junk, never exercises, shares my exact same genetics, and has nooooo cholesterol problem. So don’t judge.

I appreciate you weighing in on these issues of late.

Reply

Ruth February 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

It is possibly the worst attempt at promoting veganism that I have ever seen. People were discussing the offensive ads from an “anti-cheese group”. Absolutely bizarre.

Of course as a fat, healthy vegan I’m completely appalled, but beyond that, it’s just terrible advertising!

I’m really tired of people trying to sell veganism (or anything else) as a weight loss diet. Spend some time as a vegan and you can count all the animal lives you have saved. But if you didn’t lose weight too, it’s not worth it? There isn’t any reason to live on cabbage soup or whatever, but there are real reasons to be vegan, and I’m sick of seeing them sidelined in favour of “edgy” fatphobia and misogyny. Maybe it’s also because I don’t actually believe that there are any health benefits to a vegan diet that wouldn’t be seen on a omnivorous diet that is high in plant foods. I’m not saying we need a vegan police to make sure everyone has “pure” motives for their diet, that would be silly, but I wonder if veganism has somehow lost its way over the years.

Reply

Paisley February 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm

I’ve only been reading your blog for a couple of days, but I feel the need to comment as a Fat Acceptance and Body Positive advocate. First, I would like to admit that I am currently an omnivore – veganism has not really appealed to me until I started reading your blog but it’s something I’d like to transition to over the next few years of my life.
Ads like this, however, discourage me from exploring a vegan/raw-food lifestyle. It perpetuates the idea that there is no room for fat people in veganism, and makes me feel self-conscious about publicly eating healthy and vegan foods. As a person with chronic illness and mental health issues, I am interested in becoming healthier overall so that I can feel better, but as a Fat Activist I am really against the idea that fat=unhealthy. I am not looking to lose weight, I am just looking to feel better, and if I happen to lose weight in the process then so be it.
I just want to say that I truly appreciate the way you addressed these ads in a way to not alienate your fat readers. Your recipes and approach to food are really inspiring even for still-omnivores like myself, so keep it up!

Reply

Carol1978 February 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I think the real dividing line is this – IF these ads DO work (compel people to go veg, or consider it), would you still want these ads stopped?

I wouldn’t. I’d rather hurt some feelings and save lives than vice-versa. Admittedly, I’m an animal rights activist and not well-versed in body image debates, and possibly not as sensitive to them as I could be.

Great post thought. You’re the best (and most thoughtful) vegan community writer out there, for the record in my opinion.

Reply

Gena February 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Thanks for the compliment and intelligent question.

I think the real question would be, even if the tactics work, are there other tactics that are equally as effective that are *also* more intelligent and compassionate than these? If there aren’t, the question becomes, can we create some? And if shock is the only option (an unlikely reality, but let’s play devil’s advocate), I still believe that there are forms of shock that don’t attack shape, size, and personhood. The anti-cigarette ads are a great example, as are many of PETA’s graphic ads/posters showcasing lab testing or factory farm cruelty. I think it’s quite a stretch to say that mocking body fat is the only form of shock marketing out there. And the way we treat animals is so shocking in and of itself, that I suspect it’s material enough for galvanizing people who are morally complacent about it.

In the end, I basically agree that the true test of this campaign will be who it converts, and whether or not it advances the cause. If, in ten years, we recall this ad campaign and find that it made many people go veg and save animals, I will need to acknowledge that the hurt it caused was in some ways justified by innocent lives saved. But I really doubt that’s how we’ll remember it. In ten years, I suspect that, if anyone remembers this campaign, it’ll be as an embarrassment to veganism. And I’ll still wonder if we might have accomplished the same things without as much hurtfulness.

G

Reply

Silvia @ skinny jeans food February 17, 2012 at 9:14 am

They don’t work — they are just part of a vicious cycle of self loathing, loathing some more, punishing yourself with the new hope of the ‘vegan solution’, failing and going back to self loathing.

There is no need to perpetuate this or leverage it for a shock value ad.

Reply

Gena February 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Bitt,

I didn’t realize that Fuhrman’s low-BMI bias was that strong. Distressing to hear. I actually changed the language of the post so that I can read a little more deeply his thoughts on weight before mentioning him as an exemplar :)

I had the feeling that conference was mostly aimed at overeating/binging.

As for PETA: well, it’s complex. I dislike the sexist/sex-exploiting messaging, though I also appreciate how much they’ve done on anti-vivisection, anti-lab testing stuff, as well as hidden cameras and the like, as well as the general passion and outspokenness. I suppose that, as with any institution, we can acknowledge both the good and the bad?

Reply

Nancy February 19, 2012 at 10:27 am

what about the fact that peta kills most of the nonhuman animals they “rescue.” What about the fact that they lied and told people they would find homes for animals, then euthanized them in their mobile death van and dumped their bodies in a dumpster? What about their x rated channel? What about the fact that ALL nonhuman animals are not ours to kill. Remember peta’s victims.

Reply

Ela February 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Thanks, as always, for saying what needs to be said so eloquently and for giving others the opportunity to find their voice.

Funny–the first thing I thought of when I saw those ads (which was right here) was about the PETA ad you referenced further down–to the point that initially I had the two organizations conflated!

Otherwise, I so agree with all that you say, and so compassionately. I’ve known vegetarians and vegans at both extremes of the size spectrum, and everywhere in between. Just like your recent expose that beauty isn’t necessarily a prime indicator of health (or of healthy practices), so weight isn’t either.

As I continue my own eccentric little weight crusade, I begin to think more and more that it’s a personal issue and that everyone should just mind their own weight–but then I’m as susceptible to triggering as the next person, so obviously it’s not that simple…

Reply

susie February 13, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I think you’ve gone overboard on this one. You’re projecting your own shame at your own fat, as discussed a while ago when someone at a gym brought up the extra weight on your thighs, and how annoyed you were about it, opining that you wish you weren’t.
I don’t see the images as “shameful”, and I was surprised that you used that adjective. I see them as “sad”, as I would see a ravaged alcoholic or drug addict’s face or a smoker’s sunken chest, or a melanoma sufferer’s moles.
Says more about people’s own biases than anything, don’t you think? I think your outrage is symptomatic of lingering issues with your own disorders and I think your political correctedness is masking a personal issue.

Reply

Gena February 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I think that’s a slightly simplistic and ungenerous analysis of my motives, Susie. However, I can understand how you felt that way about the post.

Just to be clear, I think the images are shaming, not shameful — I think they’re intended to cause shame. Hope that makes sense.

Reply

meerkat February 17, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Ah, the old “if you’re angry you must be wrong” argument.

Reply

Emma February 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm

What a thought-provoking post!
I am honestly appalled by the entirety of these ads and their reductivist take on such a complex set of issues: body image, nutrition, health, veganism, all of it. As a number of previous commenters pointed out, these ads manage to really dehumanize the models in defining them by their weight. It’s almost like they are using a kind of visual synecdoche to signify all of the complexity surrounding the “overweight” label by using mere body parts of these models, and to be honest it’s a little horrifying. Furthermore, they use “overweight” – a mere symptom, and not even a universal one – as a synonym for “unhealthy,” which we all know is far from accurate; and in doing so they cast an incredibly harmful light on people with this body type. Effectively, this campaign loses sight of the most compelling support for a vegan lifestyle too: the animals.
The veganism I support is unconcerned with aesthetics insofar as they do no harm to the mind, body, and soul of another living being, and honestly to use veganism in this way – to attempt make someone’s subjective experience of having a certain type of body less fulfilling – is absolutely antithetical to the core value of veganism as ethics: compassion. And honestly I think that stripping veganism of its ethical implications will usually leave a person wanting something, and as such a strictly health-based approach to vegan activism is, in my opinion, incomplete and thus often ineffective in the long run (which is certainly not to diminish the fantastic effects veganism has had on my health!). As many commenters have pointed out, health is just one of the many benefits, and casting negativity on this aspect of veganism is actually just harmful to the way of living that PCRM is trying to promote.
Again, thank you so much for your wonderful posts Gena!

Reply

Sarah February 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm

These ads are totally bizarre and hurtful. As a vegan and an animal rights activist I think that the approach that this campaign is taking is completely off and is going to get far more negative attention that positive. It’s very sad to me that PCRM is trying to use shame as a motivational tool to get people to switch to a plant based diet (as apposed to an ad that encourages compassion for suffering animals). It is almost as if PCRM is saying that humans are more likely to make a change out of vanity than compassion – like the only way to get people’s attention is to say that they need to do something in order to better themselves as opposed to helping better animals, the planet, etc.

Reply

Hilary February 13, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Cheers! I admire your informed eloquence on these topics. I’m a newcomer to CR, and already look forward to reading your posts each day–not only for the insight, but the joy of reading your writing! As a lifelong vegetarian and new vegan who struggles with an ED identity, your words are truly inspiring. Considering each person’s mind and body are radically unique, our society does a pretty good job at burdening nutritional choices with grossly exaggerated stereotypes of healthy v. unhealthy. It makes recovery from any disorder, whether it be eating related or not, increasingly sensitive and challenging. Lifestyle changes happen at the level of the individual, but positive shifts in the cultural corpus must arise from the collaboration of individuals dedicated to common good. It’s a shame to see misrepresented values like this PCRM campaign projected to the public, so thank you for adding your honest and supportive voice to the mix!!

Reply

Lee February 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Well balanced Gena, thank you!

Before I started learning about veganism (not vegan myself… yet!) I had this idea that vegans were all slim and healthy folk. This I believe was purely because of images I’d been exposed to. In reality now, I have two vegan friends who are morbidly obese through no exercise and bad diets. So I see now that with any ‘way’ of eating, one has to be educated and sensible with their bodies.

I don’t know where I stand on using overweight people in advertisements targetted towards good health. See, I was once obese and through a change of lifestyle and hard work, I’m now in a healthy weight range and all my ailments have gone (chronic joint pains, sky high cholesterol, sleep apnoea, I was also in the danger risk zones for all kinds of nasties). I love life now whereas before I was depressed and wouldn’t leave the house.

I admit I cringe now when I hear the line “I’m overweight and healthy” because being overweight is not healthy, no matter what spin someone tries to put on it. I used to say it too and I’d defend myself with “well my blood tests results show I’m healthy so nyer nyer”. Blood tests for example may return results in the normal range, but there are things like increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, risk factors for medical conditions in later life, the long term effect of no exercise and so on. Yes I know people in a healthy weight range can have those things too but I feel that line too is given out as an excuse all too often: “yes I’m overweight but skinny people can be unhealthy you know”.

I also feel the people who promote healthy lifestyles, like personal trainers for instance, are instantly slammed for promoting the “thin is in” message. This is a shame because the issue is brought back to how people look, and not what an unhealthy lifestyle is doing to their insides and for a lot of people (like me), their mental health. This is why I side with trainers because all too often they’re accused of pushing thin-is-in, when really they are trying to get people to be HEALTHY. Big difference!

I don’t like fat shaming but again, as someone who was once obese, sometimes I think we’re all a bit too scared to say “well actually, an overweight body is not really a healthy body because various risk factors are increased”. I spent all of my adolescence and adult life (I’m 38 now) being overweight and not doing much exercise. I was physically and mentally unhealthy. Once I discovered what obesity was doing to my insides, and my state of mind, I decided to stop the excuses and do something about it. So now, I can see why some people think it’s necessary to target overweight people in good health campaigns, because overweight is not good health… but at the same time, it’s not helpful to use ‘fat’ in a way that falls in to the humiliation category. It’s a tricky one for me personally!

Reply

Kait February 13, 2012 at 7:57 pm

So much love for this post. I also fall into the “heavy but healthy” category. I don’t let the comments about “looking healthy for a VEGAN” go to my head often but if its a bad day…

Its so disappointing that PCRM went for physical appearance over health in their ads. I’m with you on this one and it breaks my heart a little!

Reply

Effy February 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I am so shocked by this billboards. This definitely is not the kind of thing I would want people to think of when they heard the word vegan. That said, I think for myself it kind of did work, I definitely felt guilty and even more like I should become a vegan more so than I already do. I am on a gluten-free and vegetarian mainly plant based diet, and for the most part I eat very little dairy (maybe 2x a week at most, and even then always organic), very little eggs (1x every 2 weeks maybe? All organic and truly free range) and no honey, but the few times I do eat it I feel so guilty. This ad did definitely make me feel like if nothing else to get in control of my weight and hormones I should go on a vegan diet. I still think it is awful but maybe being so awful that it made you feel guilty was the point?

Reply

Sarah February 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I’m so, so glad you wrote this. I’m a med student (I actually went through a post bac program myself not that long ago), and I’ve always been a fan of PCRM. But this body shaming has to go. It’s utterly ridiculous and hurtful.

And in that vein … PETA will never get a penny of my money because of their shaming AND sexism. There are other organizations that support animals that I’d much rather give to.

Reply

Bryant February 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Absolutely brilliant. Thank you! You make a significant contribution to the world with your sense and wisdom. I always come away from these posts more informed, wiser and gentler. I realize almost every day more ways the media has affected my image of myself and my life. We need great women like yourself who are also advocates of being a normal (wonderful) human. We are told that we are only valuable if we are superhuman somehow. We are all human and we are all valuable. We are in this experience together, we just live it differently. Honor and acceptance facilitates change, not fear. Thank you for speaking up!

Reply

Alex February 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Hi

Thank you for an intelligent and well thought out post and discussion – as always. I particularly loved the last sentence. I believe this goes for our individual interactions with people who eat non-vegan diets also. Education and clear kind communication is not only so much more compassionate and loving than aggressive rhetoric but also so much more effective.

I really enjoy reading your blog and appreciate the time and energy you put into your carefully thought out viewpoints. I am a recovered anorexic and your post about a month ago on recovery from anorexia was the best piece on recovery that I have ever read. It has been 12 years since the height of my illness and while it took me somewhere about 5 years to be “not sick”, it is only much more recently that I can really say that I am “totally well”.

Reply

Louise February 13, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Interesting post, and interesting comments. I think that the PCRM does do great work, and did not think that these ads were particularly offensive. Is this about shaming or is it about visually linking the one likely cause to the health outcome? As Dr Barnard states in the article you have linked, cheese is one of the most obesogenic foods out there. Consumption by Americans has increased from 3.8 to 34 pounds per year between 1909 and now, this is a startling statistic!

Personally, when I cut out the dairy (predominantly cheese as I have drunk soy milk for years) to my surprise I lost 14 pounds. I really didn’t know how much of an effect cheese had on my size, and I think that is the point of these ads.

Yes it is true that there may be some vegans who are overweight, however across populations this tends to be the exception rather than the norm. Vegans have a lower BMI and larger, ahem, stool sizes than vegetarians, and of course omnivores. What is most certainly true is that cheese is clearly over-consumed by many and I hope these ads give people pause for thought.

Reply

jenny February 13, 2012 at 10:27 pm

wait, this was a billboard? it looks like a “CLICK HERE” type ad straight out of a hokey internet site. jeez!

Reply

Kathleen February 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head with the point you made about veganism reflecting compassion and truthfulness. If we look at other leaders who have used humane, non-violent methods to progress their own movements even when addressing serious atrocities, (Ghandi, MLK) we can surely see that lasting effect is possible without involving shame and hatred.

On a side note, I find it interesting that Dr. Barnard vilifies one food. Isn’t he an advocate of the no oil/fat free version of the vegan diet? Along that line of thinking (which I don’t follow myself), couldn’t he have just as easily inserted oil or avocados or nuts etc into his billboard? While I certainly think of those as healthful foods, according to his dietary recommendations, animal products would certainly not be the only offenders.

I also have to agree with Bitt’s comment above. I do really admire Dr. Furman’s work (I read the post earlier today before you had omitted his name) and have learned so much from his books, however I find some of his recommendations a bit extreme! While I don’t have the information directly in front of me, I believe he mentions in Eat to Live that no one should have more than 1 inch of fat on their abdomen. I have ” low-normal” BMI and am generally regarded as thin, but I certainly have more than an inch around my midsection and would not want to lose weight to obtain his recommended body type.

Brava, Gena. Another gem.

Reply

Sasha February 13, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Thank you Gena. Your post brings me to tears. As someone who is overweight and has gone back and forth from vegetarian to vegan to raw to pescatarian over and over again for the last 21 years, I know exactly what is like.

The motivation towards veganism and raw foods needs to be one of inspiration instead of condemnation. Even when education explains to people the suffering for themselves and others that come from their choices, it needs to focus on the positive of how new choices can be so much better for all effected.

My inspiration to return to being vegan and high raw is to see 90 year-olds who are so strong and healthy they look like they are 30 year younger. It is seeing the glowing skin and beautiful hair of raw chefs. It is seeing the adorable faces of pigs, cows, and chickens on an animal refuge.

The change towards veganism needs to come from a place of self-love, not self-hate.

Thank you Gena for standing up for veganism and standing up for the dignity of people who are not there or who are and are still overweight.

Reply

Lorri February 13, 2012 at 11:27 pm

The bottom line (excuse the pun) is this; no one diet is right for everyone. We are metabolically different. Everyone has an opinion–and they are just that-opinions. Everyone has the right to make their own choices based upon what their body/mind/heart/soul tells them to do but please don’t push your way on me. The entire world is caught in this horrible way of being right now–my way or the highway. Politics, religion, diet–so much polarization. Can we find the middle path? There is no one right way for anything or anybody. Our work is on ourselves. Who am I to think I know what is right for anyone else? Instead of either/or why not both/and? Please respect the right of each person to choose.

Reply

Lorri February 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm

I would also like to offer this; these billboards remind me of bullies. The message is mean. It is no different than the bullying that is causing our kids to commit suicide. Children will also see these billboards and learn to act with judgement and ridicule instead of love and compassion. So sad.

Reply

elizabeth February 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

That “startling” statistic is not startling at all if you do the math. Consuming only 2 oz of cheese a day (as I did for YEARS) gets you to 45 lbs a year. So 34 lbs, to my mind, seems like very a reasonable amount of cheese for an omnivore to eat in a year. Incidentally, I’m not remotely obese and my cholesterol, if anything, is probably too low. My total to HDL ratio is 1.5. There are reasons not to eat cheese – it’s not the most digestive friendly food if unaccompanied by wine – but consumed in moderation, it’s not a cause of obesity, or ill health, and singling it out – with no reference to the quality or quantity of cheese consumed – as the ads do is just ludicrous. So distasteful as I found the ads, for many of the reasons Gena mentioned, I actually had a bigger problem with the message than with the medium.

Reply

Louise February 14, 2012 at 5:00 am

Sorry, I should have made my point clearer. What is startling is not the amount of cheese consumed, but that it is a tenfold increase from 100 years ago. These rich, cholesterol and fat-laden foods have made their way into breafkfast, lunch and dinner on every day for a lot of people, not as occasional luxuries. This day-to-day feasting should be questioned, not just for cheese but for all animal-based foods, which used to be reserved for special occasions.

Reply

Ruth February 14, 2012 at 5:55 am

But what they didn’t eat in cheese they were eating in lard. I think people eat more animal products today, but actually less animal fat. Only the most meat-loving meat-eaters tend to cook in lard nowadays, and even butter is seen as extravagant, but lard on bread used to be a common snack. There have always been fat people, even in the working classes. (There are more now because we have less starving people.) If there are none in your family photos, have a look at these: http://oldtimefatties.tumblr.com/ :)

Reply

Marty February 14, 2012 at 1:36 am

Excellent post, agree completely. Creating further disgust and shame towards anyone who is battling their weight gets our plant-based lifestyle nowhere but dead in the water and might continue to
accomplish just the opposite: our continual ridicule of our choice to live compassionately and healthy by eating a vegan diet.

Reply

Fiona February 14, 2012 at 1:47 am

Yay! I love this type of post from you and this one does not disappoint! I strongly dislike the ads too, although I’d be interested to find out how many people become and stay vegetarian or vegan because of ads like these.

Reply

Midge February 14, 2012 at 2:06 am

Gena, thank you once again for writing about another tough issue that is necessary to address. I do admire what PCRM has done in terms of advocating a plant-based diet for health but hope that they become more thoughtful of their campaigns.

Something kinda along these lines, a few days ago a fellow vegan who promotes the use of superfoods made a comment on Twitter. She said that you probably won’t see any vegans on the new Food Network show Fat Chef. I kinda felt sad when I read that. Perhaps it was an innocent comment but it could have potentially offended someone.

Reply

Ashley (Southern Purple Vegan) February 14, 2012 at 2:07 am

First Off Gena, Thank you for writing this post.

You have made me feel SO better about me trying to lose weight because when I saw these ads my self esteem went down alot. I mean I was vegetarian for a little while and I had my BMI however , you could see my bones in my collar & hips but I was at the perfect BMI according to doctors. So I decided to gain weight to fix this, I got to a healthy weight that I was comfortable with. Then I got very sick from a allergic reaction and I had to find out the hard way that I was allergic to eggs, milk, sulfa and wheat. Which was a result of me gaining alot of weight in a short time because my doctor had failed to see that I was allergic to certain foods. Now that I am Gluten Free Vegan that avoids soy , I am starting to lose weight. It’s coming off but these ads that PCRM has come out with is just wrong in so many ways.

Yes they are shocking , and get attention but they are wrong. I feel that PCRM should have approached this in a different manner to where. I mean in this case it’s just not PCRM , I get alot of negative feedback from doctors about my weight. It didn’t offend people who are in the process of getting healthy, I feel that everyone should respect each others diet. Even If they are not vegan , I do agree that less animal products is good for anyone just like eating more fruits and veggies.

Reply

Ali February 14, 2012 at 2:19 am

Doing something out of fear (like the fear of being, gasp, obese) is never going to be as effective as doing something out of love. True veganism is born of compassion, for our animal friends AND for our bodies. Doing things out of hate will never last.

Reply

Zena February 14, 2012 at 3:17 am

Gena,

Thank you for such a though-provoking post, however i have to declare a friendly disagreement with you here. I actually think that the latest PCRM ads are important, effective and necessary. Let me explain: I have suffered from an eating disorder since age 14, and have always been inclined toward compulsive overeating. Genetically, i gain weight easily and am more prone to overeating. 2 years ago i read Skinny Bitch, which of course “changed my life”. Rory Freedman herself stated that she used that un-politically correct title to market the book and appeal to the millions upon millions of people who are trying to lose weight and looking for a solution- a little opportunistic? perhaps. An opportunity to learn about factory farming, environmental damage and other health issues in addition to the demonstrated link between the exponential growth of animal product consumption and obesity? Yes.
I used to be fat, and appreciated the shock value of Skinny Bitch, which i liken to these PCRM ads except it was in print. I needed the wake up call and i needed an assertive, confident and somewhat simplified and easily accessible information to make the change. Certainly ‘The China Study’ wasn’t going to cut it.Of course things aren’t so clear-cut and of course there are many, many people who eat animal products who don’t gain weight but will suffer other health issues. Just as there are many who can regularly drink without becoming alcoholics. But is appealing to the market that does gain weight due to seductive qualities of their drug of choice- namely dairy products, meat and fried food- wrong? i don’t think so. I could have become obese directly because of the drug-like lure of cheese, ice cream and other, mostly animal-based products. When i am sad and stressed out those things scream my name. But becoming a vegan, and eating healthy, balanced meals based on mostly whole, plant-based foods, and avoiding the addictive qualities of casein, has helped me tremendously in maintaining a healthy weight.

Sorry this got too long :)

Reply

Gena February 14, 2012 at 9:49 am

Zena,

A good point. See my response to Amanda, above, RE: Skinny Bitch!

G

Reply

kate February 14, 2012 at 5:56 am

Thank you for another thoughtful and insightful post as always.
I, too, am appalled and disgusted by these ads, and this comes from someone who worked in the British advertising industry for 11 years, often working to promote beauty brands. But I digress.
This is the kind of cheap, sensationalistic tactic that gives Veganism a bad name, and also plays to the extreme overplaced importance that society places on the aesthetic and cosmetic appearance being all, and the deciding factor in all lifestyle decisions. These ads are crude, vulgar and lazy in the extreme. No thought has gone into these images as part of a long term communication strategy and how they will affect people’s relationship with the PMRC brand or indeed, Veganism, merely a quick fix deep shock tactic to cause shock, disgust and generate much (angry) debate over the consumption of just one aspect of an overall diet, that could contain many other unhealthy lifestyle choices, which are not food related. Sure, consume foods high in any kind of saturated fat in moderation, and as part of balanced diet, containing many many leafy greens, but don’t focus on just one aspect of the diet as the central causal blame factor. This kind of unbalanced communication damages Veganism irrepairably, and just reinforces many people’s belief that Vegans are a bunch of arrogant, judgemental ******les who are to be avoided, if not villified at all costs. It totally ignores and undermines the essential ethical underpinning that is central to so many Vegans’ decisions to adopt this lifestyle, and cheapens and narrows it to a narcissistic purely cosmetic choice, that fails to mention the compassion and sense of responsibility to all species and deeply held beliefs that dominate so many Vegan’s lifestyle and consumer choices. (Please be assured that with the latter statement I am not suggesting that Veganism is akin to sainthood, and that non Vegans are not compassionate, responsible beings. I am simply making a somewhat simplistic generalisation. Please forgive me).
As someone who used to create long term communication strategies for my clients, and as part of this to work with the creative departments in agencies to produce visual and written campaigns to support my client’s business goals, all I can say is that, if this had been presented in an internal agency meeting as something to be put forward to the client, I would have objected to it in the strongest possible terms and discouraged any further work along these lines.
I am only sorry that PMRC has resorted to these cheap tactics and that they are able to work to promote the positive work that they do do, so that people can react to the positives of a plant based diet rather than react against the negativity and cynicism of those peddling this kind of negative sell scare tactic promotion.
Apologies for the rant, but this kind of irresponsibility drives me mad!
Love to all.

Reply

kate February 14, 2012 at 6:15 am

Apologies for yet another comment. I would also like to add how shocked and appalled I am by your reader’s email (and Valerie’s revelations) about how free other people feel to make negative and judgemental comments on other’s superficial appearances, and to attribute what they decide they don’t like to negative mental traits. What kind of a mindset sets out to judge and denigrate another human being so openly and confidently as if it is their divine right to pass judgement on someone else?
I am shocked beyond words.

Reply

Meg | One Love Meg February 14, 2012 at 8:43 am

You make some great points Gena. I have not seen any of these ads but I am shocked that they are even out there. I think a great campaign would be seeing vegans/vegetarians in action and why they are passionate about choosing that lifestyle. We all have different reasons and why not showcase our passions for eating a plant based diet!

Reply

Lisa February 14, 2012 at 9:31 am

I can’t say I’ve seen those ads in person, but they are quite shocking. I agree that fat shaming is something that people and corporations should stay far away from. Making people feel bad about themselves is not the answer in any situation. The compassionate message you’ve explored here is far more effective and less likely to induce anger, defensiveness and depression.

Reply

sophie February 14, 2012 at 10:44 am

This is a GREAT post. Thank you for not agreeing with those stupid billboards :)

Reply

Linda-Marie Hamrin February 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

You have a great way of putting my thughts and feelings in words. Great post, I agree comletly!

Love
/Linda

Reply

A February 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

Adding to this conversation:

Coincidentally enough, my non-vegan (but very vegan-friendly) boyfriend sent me this link just moments ago: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/cutline/does-peta-ad-featuring-young-pantsless-woman-neckbrace-222920818.html

Hugely problematic, I would say. It seems that more and more frequently I see promotion of veganism that tries to subvert the idea that eating vegan is not “masculine”. Meat is for Pussies, the book and the publicity around it, is an obvious example. I think it’s certainly important to emphasize that masculinity does not hinge upon eating meat, but I think it’s troublesome to encourage plant based eating by preying upon those same insecurities.

And then there is the issue of dating violence in this ad, and the seeming glamorization of it. It’s disappointing to see, but I suppose it’s consistent with PETA’s publicity tactics. I question the ethics behind these tactics, as well as the efficacy.

Gena, I’m a frequent reader but a first time commenter. This just seemed too jarring not to share. Thank you for the thoughtful discussion, as always, along with the great recipes.

Reply

Gena February 14, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Pretty disappointing, A. This is the kind of thing that a lot of people would laugh off, but frankly, PETA has a lot of very young, impressionable supporters, and these are the kinds of messages that can easily influence a young woman’s sense of normalcy within her own relationship. PETA has so much good material and selling points from which to work, so the constant reliance on sex as a means of selling the lifestyle (especially given that it looks desperate/offensive to so many people) really baffles me.

Reply

Silvia @ skinny jeans food February 17, 2012 at 9:24 am

while this ad is quite offensive to women its secret intended audience might be the meat eating male and ‘his’ secret desire to be a ‘sex machine’. I bet they find it funny. — although the ad does cross a line, IMHO.

Reply

Robyn@ ayearwithoutantibiotics.blogspot.com/ February 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

As a copywriter in advertising and instructor, these ads are confusing and possibly ineffective. First of all the call to action leads you to pcrm.org. It took me a moment to find a link on their home page about the campaign. According to their website the objective of the campaign is to combat and reduce childhood obesity. So why the pics of adults on billboards? Another objective is to lessen the amount of dairy in school lunches. The billboards make no mention of rethinking school lunches. One alarming nugget I found on the pcrm.org site is: the obesity rate for children between 6 and 11 years of age has quadrupled over 30 years. Seems like this information should have/could have been communicated in a provocative and informative way. This is just the type of campaign I’d love to work on. PCRM, if you’re in need a creative problem solving team please let me know!

Reply

Robyn Okrant February 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I keep getting online to comment on this post, but get so upset I have to log back off.

Gena…Thank you VERY much for posting this.

I was a overweight, unhealthy vegan for many years. My worst “cottage cheese” thighs occurred when I had sworn off dairy. VEGAN does not equal THIN and it does not equal HEALTHY.

About 15 years later, I’m a healthy, conscientious, mindful vegan who is sick to death about the way advertising insists on treating consumers as if we’re broken, unattractive losers. How dare members of the vegan community (who are frequently victimized, judged and dismissed by the majority of eaters/restaurants/corporations) use the same tactics against others. Can’t we take the high road?

I’m embarrassed about these billboards, and I’m embarrassed for the obese people they’re attacking and chastising.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get off my soap box and get my kale out of the dehydrator….

Reply

Lauren February 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I’m so glad you wote about this. I’ve been a long time admirer of the work of PCRM, so saying that I was taken aback by these ads (and Dr. Barnard’s defense of them) is an understatement. The shaming they are doing is just awful. Additionally, it’s so misleading to say that cheese causes people to be overweight. This kind of oversimplification and generalizing is what so many other industries and companies do, ones that I am sure that PCRM has even criticized in the past.

Personally, I was far thinner when I still ate animals and dairy. I’ve been struggling to find my way into eating a healthy, low fat vegan diet recently, but its a long process. I can’t simply drop all of my excess weight overnight. Much like others have commented, I struggle when I get stares and comments for eating at the Whole Foods salad bar, grabbing a green juice at Java Green or even when I am running on the treadmill. I’m tired of feeling bad for the way other people make me feel. The shame comes from so many places. I never thought that PCRM would be one of them.

Reply

Diana @ frontyardfoodie February 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I think this sort of advertising is shameful. We don’t want people to start eating healthy because the world tells us that it’s ugly….it’s about being healthy. Vanity shouldn’t play into it and a coerced view of vanity is no way to promote it.

Reply

jennifer February 14, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Enjoy your blog – and this was a well written thought provoking post.

Personally I think the number of people who need something shocking to understand that cheese is a very unhealthy food far outweighs those who cannot lose weight for a reason other than unhealthy eating habits. I have a family member who was overweight and vegetarian. He started following the Esselstyn diet after learning he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He lost the weight and his cholesterol and blood pressure returned to normal. He actuall ate healthy for the most part, and the two major changes were no cheese and no oil. He said he honestly had no idea that the cheese he was eating caused so many problems. When I showed him the ads he said he wished they had come out years ago.

Living in the San Francisco area I am constantly barraged with people saying “oh but cheese is healthy if it is organic and locally produced. If the are overweight or have high cholesterol they say “it must be genetics.” It is so infuriating to hear people say cheese (and butter and eggs) are good for you if they are local and organic.

Finally – I am vegan and follow the Esselstyn way of eating. I am thin, have low blood pressure and cholesterol, and do not have any other diet-related conditions. I spend tons of time preparing healthy food and stick to whole grains/no oil/vegan food. It takes a LOT of time and effort but it is worth it to me. When people say “oh you must count calories” or “you must have good genetics” and I tell them that it is due to the way I eat they don’t believe that could possibly be true.

I have no doubt that it is hard for people who are struggling to lose weight to see these ads. But my friend mentioned above has another perspective – that few people who who can’t seem to lose weight are truly sticking to healthy foods and portion control. It’s easier to get defensive than face that truth. Eating well and staying healthy is really really hard work – and to those like my friend who have done the hard work to get there, the reactions can sound whiney and overly defensive.

Reply

ducky February 17, 2012 at 5:28 am

“to those like my friend who have done the hard work to get there, the reactions can sound whiney and overly defensive.”

I’m sorry, but what makes you think the rest of us aren’t also working DAMN hard to lose weight and deal with our own eating issues? Whiny? I find these ads offensive because they’re ugly and judgmental, and will give people at a glance another excuse to look at me and judge me without informing themselves of the facts, i.e. cutting out cheese alone won’t make me thin.

Reply

Conor February 14, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Interesting post. I believe you brought waaaay too much depth to this campaign. I don’t think the average ephemeral reaction can possibly be as deep as you suggest. I think you make some excellent points in your piece, but I think hyper-analyzing a single ad like this is a bit tedious and unfair.

Reply

Raw Antonia February 15, 2012 at 1:00 am

This has officially become my favorite post on your blog yet and i fully agree with everything you’ve said here.

In all honesty, the first thing i thought when i saw these adds was “boy, this must be wrecking for overweight individuals”. We constantly criticize body objectification in models and actresses, but then we turn around and use the very same approach to prove a different point. Not only is it inaccurate to pin obesity on cheese, but downright shameful to use what often is a medical condition to portray an undesirable body image.

Reply

ChenaRaw February 15, 2012 at 5:01 am

Thank you so much for this! I would applaud right now if you could hear me!

Reply

JC February 15, 2012 at 8:10 am

Wow…really stirred it up with this one. I really appreciate your blog.

I’m also a vegan who is a bit overweight. My extra pounds have more to do with a medical condition, stress management and not enough exercise than with my diet. I quit eating meat decades ago and cut the dairy from my diet about 5 years ago largely thanks to one of Dr Barnard’s books. I have to say from reading his books or seeing his PBS specials I never got the impression that he was trying to shame anyone at all. Quite the opposite.

Initially I wasn’t bothered by the ads. I believe there is a strong correlation between the rise in dairy consumption and the rise of obesity. I suspect that this was pcrm’s intent. Not to say that all obesity is due to dairy or that being overweight makes you a bad person. After reading your blog and the many great comments, I can appreciate how the billboards can be seen very differently. In Dr. Barnard’s defense of the ads he talks about a conversation he had with the reporters. That’s fine but not everyone who sees the billboard gets to have that conversation to hear what they intended. I guess that is just the nature of this type of ad.

One thing we (and more importantly the marketing depts of pcrm, peta, mercy for animals) need to keep in mind is that we all approach these ads with different life experiences/perspectives/baggage. I also wonder who the target audience is for these various ads. While you liked the mercy for animals ads, I found them more troubling and shame-inducing than the pcrm ads. These ads weren’t targeted at me since I’m already in the choir but I know if my meat eating friends and family saw those ads they would say (as JL said above) “f*ck vegans!”. These ads might push someone who is right on the edge one way or another but I really question their far reaching effectiveness.
Thanks again for your wonderful blog!

Reply

Denise February 15, 2012 at 10:55 am

Here,Here!!!!!!!!! What a marvelously eloquent post that respectfully delineates the true issue and a strategy to get the message out while adhering to the vegan principle of non judgmental education.

Thanks for a great read.

Reply

Lyza February 15, 2012 at 11:07 am

OHHH…*CLAPS* WONDERFUL article!!!! Bravo.

Reply

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Shock is good for conversation but I feel like the real goal of promoting awareness is education, real education. That’s something you can’t argue with and aren’t we past the grade-school insults and scare tactics? Well-informed doesn’t have an agenda other than promoting the truth and after all, isn’t that how we want to be seen rather than fanatics and extremists?

Reply

Kathryn February 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Shock is good for conversation but I feel like the real goal of promoting awareness is education, real education. That’s something you can’t argue with and aren’t we past the grade-school insults and scare tactics? Well-informed doesn’t have an agenda other than promoting the truth and after all, isn’t that how we want to be seen rather than fanatics and extremists?

Reply

Kathryn February 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Shock is good for conversation but I feel like the real goal of promoting awareness is education, real education. That’s something you can’t argue with and aren’t we past the grade-school insults and scare tactics? Well-informed doesn’t have an agenda other than promoting the truth and after all, isn’t that how we want to be seen rather than as fanatics and extremists? I don’t have an answer but the direction is definitely more thoughtful promotion. What do we really want to say.

Reply

Laura C February 15, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I feel that my thoughts are already well-represented in the comments section, and short on time (I’m taking a 5 week med school course, actually- first year med neuro!). But thanks as always for bringing intelligent attention to such an important and emotional issue. Personally, I’d like to see “health recovery” bulletin ads for plant-based or vegan diets. A compassionately presented before and after highlighting various health improvements (and in some cases improvements in appearance). This could be highly inspirational- even shocking in the extreme cases- and by the diversity of “after” images, still show a realistic depiction of what vegan and “healthy” or “healthier” mean.

Reply

Silvia @ skinny jeans food February 16, 2012 at 8:01 am

I think we really have to think about society when something like fat shaming is an acceptable, public form of bullying.

Reply

Mimi (Gingersnaps) February 17, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Ugh, ads like this make me cringe. I work in PR right now, for a TV network, and it’s always a fine line between selling your talents’ quirks and exploiting them (my network specializes in weird reality shows). But even then, these people are on TV and know the risk of being laughed at.

A marketing campaign based around shaming people is sick and ineffectual. It’s little better than the Gillian vs. Nigella picture floating around Facebook or the “haggard skinny vegan” stereotype. From an unemotional marketing perspective I think it’s stupid — at best, it becomes meme-fied or parodied. At worst, it causes a backlash. There’s just no way “positive change” comes from attacking people. Plus, those kinds of ads totally invite a “comeback.” I could totally picture a steak ad featuring Angelina Jolie.

But I agree, the ad with the chick and the kitten you posted is wonderful. That’s the kind of ad I pay attention to. It’s powerful without being aggressive and “leads” people to a conclusion (through their own thoughts) rather than smashing them in the face with something that might then seem like dogma or woo.

Reply

Matt February 19, 2012 at 11:53 am

I think it is simply dishonest to imply that eating animal products (any amount) is inherently unhealthy, and eating vegan is inherently healthy. These ads may make (some) vegans feel smug, but they don’t help animals.

Reply

Mary February 20, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Hi Gena,
I couldn’t agree more with your points. I’ve often noticed quite a bit of aggression and unfounded judgmental attitudes among the vegan doctors whose lectures I’ve attended and on vegan discussion boards where people are trying to lose weight. As an omnivore I was thin and fit. As a vegetarian and now vegan for the past year, I’ve gained thirty pounds, have low energy and quite a bit of that cellulite so graphically exposed in the PCRM ads. Like you, I find this offensive. Their message is simple-minded and, like all propaganda, inaccurate. I wish anyone trying to spread the vegan message would stick with respect for all animals, including humans.

Reply

Kelsea Norris February 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Wonderful, brilliantly articulated post! Thank you!

Reply

wendy (healthy girls kitchen) February 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Gena-I cannot believe I totally missed this post, then picked it up on Medicinal Marzipan! Anyway, the problem I see is the confusion nowadays of the two messages–the vegan for animal rights message, which has nothing to do with health, and the “Plant-strong” message which is about human health. This ad could have easily read, “Your Thighs on Baked Goods Made with White Sugar, White Flour and Earth Balance.”

Reply

Wendy (Healthy GIrl's Kitchen) February 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm

What I am attempting to say is that pretty much everyone knows what a Vegan is, but relatively few understands the concept of being “Plant-strong.” We all know that a person can be vegan and be very unhealthy. I think that most of the readers of Choosing Raw might take that for granted–the knowledge of the difference. I think these ads are trying to wake people up from a deep sleep, people who might have no exposure to the concept of “Plant-strong.” Unfortunately, the ads were done in an insensitive way, but I totally understand the motivation behind them. I doubt Dr. Barnard has ever had an ED and it might have never occurred to him that the ads would be thought of this way. I know that I have made major mistakes in my life, who hasn’t. I hope the community will forgive Dr, B, his work on behalf of animals and humans is so important.

Reply

KimvanWelt May 14, 2012 at 8:45 am

Here through your comment on Miehl’s blog.
Excellent post! Education & Respect. Very much seconded!

Reply

Jon Wheeler August 7, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Correction:

I meant to say that cheese is the highest contributor of saturated fat in the American diet (not the food highest in saturated fat).

Thanks

Reply

Jon Wheeler August 8, 2012 at 7:05 am

Gena

I hope you don’t mind me saying, but this post epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the vegan movement.

If you look at the top of the Wheat Belly homepage:

http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/2011/08/hey-bagel-face/

you’ll see that William Davis MD is not only fat shaming, but also completely distorting the science to the extent that he blames the obesity epidemic on wheat. Furthermore, his solution to the obesity epidemic is for us to eat more meat.

So there’s a website that engages in fat-shaming, blaming obesity on a vegan food staple and touting meat as the solution to the problem, and you and your readers are spending God knows how many hours bashing PCRM and letting Mr Davis get away completely scot free. Do you see the problem ?

The PCRM ad may have been a little on the offensive side, but unlike the Wheat Belly website, it was at least vaguely rooted in truth. Saturated fat is one of the leading causes of obesity, and cheese is the leading contributor of saturated fat in the American diet.

Please also take a look at the body mass index section of this webpage:

http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/dxmarkers

Quote: “on average, the evidence supports the notion that becoming vegan is conducive to permanent weight loss.”

Take care

Jon Wheeler

Reply

Gena August 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Dear Jon,

I don’t disagree that Davis’ post is guilty of all of the same things, with perhaps more distortion of the facts. I agree entirely, and if asked, would say so. But this post was meant to hold people in my own community to a higher standard than the ones exhibited in Davis’ video. If we engage in fat shaming and draw pat, rather than nuanced, health conclusions, we run the risk of making our message look illegitimate. It’s a shame that illegitimate health claims abound everywhere (evidenced on the Wheat Belly site) and that vegans are scrutinized harder, but we ARE scrutinized harder, and for that reason, need to take full responsibility of our messaging. We can do better.

Beyond that, fat shaming and mocking of obesity shows tremendous lack of compassion regardless of where it’s exhibited, but it’s particularly conspicuous in a community that is founded upon principles of compassion for all living beings (human and non human).

Gena

Reply

Jon Wheeler August 9, 2012 at 3:08 am

But Gena, that’s exactly the point I’m making. It means that PCRM are not only facing opposition from the food and drug industries and the government and the medical establishment, now they also have to deal with vegan advocates bashing them every time they do anything remotely provocative.

Meanwhile, doctors like William Davis are fat shaming and giving people faulty nutritional advice that will harm them and harm animals and they’re getting away completely scot free. His followers aren’t criticising him, we’re not criticising him, the government isn’t criticising him, the food industry isn’t criticising him.

Don’t you see the imbalance in that ?

And what about doctors recommending stomach surgery or medications to their obese patients ? It’s not exactly fat-shaming but isn’t it much worse than fat-shaming ? Not only does it keep the patient in the dark about what’s causing the problem, it also puts their longterm health in jeopardy.

The PCRM ad is obviously very blunt, but at least it gives people some idea about one of the major causes of obesity, and despite what you and some commenters above are saying, it is backed up by science to a large extent (see my post above).

So I really don’t think it makes any sense to be so publicly vocal in your criticisms of PCRM whilst witholding your criticisms of people like William Davis until “you are asked”. I personally do it the other way round and I wish other vegan advocates would too. Or at least vocalise their criticisms in proportion to the damage that those various people or groups are doing to the vegan movement.

Yours sincerely

Jon Wheelr

Reply

Gena August 9, 2012 at 5:47 am

Jon,

I’m hardly furtive about my feelings about inaccurate information about nutrition given out by omnivores! Many CR posts have addressed them head on. Many others still have taken a hard stance about animal rights; I do not shy away from outwardly sharing a vegan message or criticizing flawed arguments within the non-vegan community. This post was simply meant to address one vegan ad campaign that I thought failed to do our message any justice. That it comes from an organization aligned with professional health care troubles me, and beyond that, I don’t think it will effect change. I cannot imagine any overweight person seeing these ads and feeling genuine curiosity or openness to the vegan message, and meanwhile, I think it’s the sort of messaging that turns people off before they even have a chance to listen to valid information about the benefits of veganism.

I really do admire your eloquence and your point here. And I’m not trying to undermine a sense of camaraderie within our community. But I think it’s a dangerous premise to say “because we’re all on the same team, we’re not allowed to criticize each other.” A lot of social justice movements have differences and a spectrum of opinion; I’m a feminist, for instance, but I can’t honestly say that I agree with all other feminists’ approaches. I’ve given PCRM a lot of support at other moments (I own most of Dr. Barnard’s books, and have recommended them widely), but in this instance, I felt the need to express concern over a tactic which I fear undermines the compassion we’re all trying to share and promote.

G

Reply

Jon Wheeler August 9, 2012 at 4:21 am

Gena

Can I please also make one last point.

In the article, you mentioned your preference for ads like the Mercy For Animals ad: “Why love one but eat the other.”

Then at the end of the article you said: “By all means, let’s force people to consider the facts. But let’s do it without shaming, bullying, or devaluing each other.”

Can I ask you to consider in all honesty, when (reasonably good natured) meat-eaters read that ad, or if you’re at lunch with a (reasonably good-natured) meat-eater and you ask them that question, what sort of feeling would you be trying to evoke in them ?

Jon

Reply

Gena August 9, 2012 at 5:35 am

I see your point, Jon! But I think there’s a qualitative difference between the MFA ads, which show people’s bewildered, surprised, and horrified faces when they “make the connection,” and the PCRM ads, which simply sensationalize overweight bodies (no faces, no humanity), and don’t show any process of realization at all. Both seek to force people to make a connection, but one does so with a narrative that might well say “it could be any of us; so many of us don’t know about the suffering that underlies our food,” while the other seems simply to scold people about what they’re eating. This is an interpretation I’m offering you, and so of course it’s subjective (my response to an ad won’t be the next person’s response), but that’s how the two strike me side by side, which is why I mentioned it.

Reply

Jon Wheeler August 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Hi Gena

Just wanted to say thanks for hearing me out, and thanks for your replies.

All the best.

Jon

Reply

Gena August 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Hi Jon,

No, thank you, for your thoughtful and honest criticisms. I appreciate that level of engagement with my blog more than I can say, and I’ll keep what you wrote in mind.

G

Reply

Reisa Stone May 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm

I’ve long thought that PETA should face legal sanctions for their hate messages. This started in the mid-90′s with bullying chubby school children. Then years of porn, treating women as objects. Now this. These people need to face serious charges under the Human Rights Act. The way PETA shames normal people about our bodies, is no less heinous and damaging than a billboard damning people with darker skins. I don’t understand why anyone still supports this woman hating, anti-pet organization.

Reply

Mulloyo May 17, 2013 at 10:22 pm

also, from a pure marketing perspective, these are just bad ads.

Reply

PatronStOfTofu June 3, 2013 at 10:46 pm

I came back to this article after reading your VVC rundown in which you linked to it. I just wanted to say a very belated thanks! I’m a recent MPH graduate, and these ads are all too similar to many shaming health promotion ads that I have seen. It’s refreshing to see pushback, especially from other vegans.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: