Dear Salon.com: Veganism Isn’t an Eating Disorder

While reading an article on Salon.com, I became distracted by a sidebar entitled, Glee‘s mysteriously shrinking Rachel.” I enjoy reading criticisms of how awful Glee is as much as the next blogger, so I clicked. 

First, in the subhed, the article tries to connect Glee actor Lea Michele’s shrinking body to the quality of the TV show overall, arguing, “The slimming down and sexing up of Lea Michele is another sign that the heartfelt show is losing its warmth.” This assertion is ridiculous: It’s the transphobia, sexism, tokenism, racism, ableism, use of stereotypes as characters, clichéd story lines and lazy writing that make Glee a waste of airspace, not Michele’s skininess.

The part that irked me most, however, was the following:

Listen, I understand the game: She’s in Hollywood, keeping up with her flying star and getting in touch with her ‘vegan’ side. (Back in the day, we used to call it an ‘eating disorder’–now you can hide behind the healthier guise of ‘veganism’ to slim down without all that stigma.)”

OK, let’s get this straight: Veganism is not an eating disorder. Since this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of slur against vegans, some correction is in order.

“Real” vegans–the ones who treat veganism as a lifestyle choice, not the next fad diet–have reasons why they stop eating animal products, believe it or not. And these reasons don’t necessarily include weight loss, no matter how badly PETA shot itself in the foot by asserting that this reason alone is a good one to go vegan.

Reasons to become vegan include, but are not limited to:

Yes, there is such a thing as orthorexia, and yes, I’ve heard of young women who become vegan to lose weight (although without a larger purpose, maintaining a vegan lifestyle is very difficult and people easily slip back into vegetarianism or meat-eating). And yeah, there are vegans who struggle with body image issues. But if you want to look at absolute numbers–since vegans only make up about one percent of the U.S. population–there are a lot more omnivorous women who do that. Body-image issues and eating disorders aren’t strictly vegan issues, but problems afflicting society as a whole.

In my limited experience of seeking out vegans to socialize with, I’ve been pleased to see that most of them are feminist, in their words as well as actions. That includes cis-male, trans-male, trans-female, genderqueer, gay, lesbian and sistah vegans. (I assume intersex and asexual vegans, as well as vegans with disabilities, also exist; I just haven’t met any yet and couldn’t find websites catering to these groups. If you know of any, please link in the comments.) So there’s no need to pit veganism against feminism, as the author’s comment somehow did by suggesting that veganism serves as a cover for body issues. Let’s not lose sight of the common enemy: the kyriarchy, which has shown time and again to prefer lining the pockets of people on top rather than caring about women’s health and dignity.

Photo from Flickr.com user norwichnuts through Creative Commons License 2.0

Comments

  1. Is it true Vegans only make up 1% of the US population? Because I know several… I'd be curious as to how they got that number?

  2. constance says:

    Haven't read the original article but isn't that quote saying that people pretend to be vegan, which is healthy, as an excuse for weight loss? So the author is not being negative about veganism, just people who use it as an excuse for getting very thin?

    Speaking from experience it's quite easy to be a fat vegan if you know how to cook – baked a huge uncheescake for the family last night that I'm looking forward to indulging in this evening

    and oops, I enjoyed the first series of Glee – much prefer my kids to see that as an example of US tv on our screens here than some of the other stuff that gets broadcast.

  3. Asexual vegans woop woop!

  4. You go, girl! :)

  5. veggiegirl says:

    there's at least 1 disabled vegan out there!
    -actually I became a veggie to help my fibromyalgia – the animal rights stuff came later :)

  6. Monica Shores says:

    I came across this idea before on another feminist site (that "vegan" was the new cover for "anorexic") and I was completely baffled. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of feminists or women in general being encouraged to further to the diet/food policing that most Western women are subjected to by regarding vegetarians or vegans suspiciously. Thanks for setting the record straight!

  7. YAY YAY YAY—- disabled vegan right here and believe me there are lots of us! ! ! your article was great and thanks for mentioning Glee's ableism.

  8. Eating disorders are not a "slur." In addition to "without a larger purpose, maintaining a vegan lifestyle is very difficult" –there are also systems of privilege that make veganism more feasible for some than others.

  9. I became vegan because it felt good. That should be added as a bullet point.
    •It feels good.

  10. Opinioness of the World says:

    Kathleen, thank you SO much for your articulate article! Vegan is not code for having an eating disorder. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes as well as genders, races, classes and religions. As a vegan feminist too, I find that some people want me to pick a side. They don't seem to understand that I'm both a vegan AND a feminist, not one or the other. While PETA's sexist ads certainly haven't helped this sentiment, veganism and feminism are not at odds; they have far more in common than they do differences.

  11. krystalimage says:

    I had originally found the 1% statistic in the June 2010 issue of VegNews magazine–a print magazine–in their article "We the People," which tried to address the accusations that veganism is racist/classist. (I actually thought it was an unsatisfying article). In this article, it states that a 2009 Harris Interactive Study commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) found that about 1 percent (i.e. 2.5 million) Americans identify as vegan. Since not everyone has access to that article, I thought it best to link to the wikipedia page, since it uses the same study that the VegNews magazine used. (it's link #8 at the bottom of the page.)

  12. Having a child who is very ill with an eating disorder, I converse with a lot of other families of children with eating disorders, and most of us experienced our children’s eating disorder first showing itself in “eating healthier.” Often that “eating healthier” took the form of veganism. Veganism doesn’t cause eating disorders and may be not be an eating disorder in and of itself, but if a friend of mine’s child were to decide to be a vegan, I would advise my friend to make sure her child was eating enough food and often enough, as it one of the first clues to an eating disorder. It doesn’t mean the child has an eating disorder, it is just a warning sign. People with eating disorders often have anosognosia, which means that they can’t see their illness. Thus the people in their lives need to look out for the possibility.

    That being said, you do have some points, but I am also perplexed at the implication here that vegan may be a code for feminist.

  13. Another asexual feminist vegan here (hi Kate!).

    Many vegans are feminist, at least many of the ones I’ve met, because they are concerned with the exploitation of any living being. Carol J. Adams is a fantastic writer who is fantastic when it comes to writing about how the exploitation of women and animals are connected (“The Sexual Politics of Meat” is a fascinating read). You can find her site here (http://www.caroljadams.com/).

    It’s unfair to equate eating disorders and veganism (and offensive to the individual deciding to pursue a vegan lifestyle). While I can understand a parent’s concern, a vegan diet is just like any other diet in that it requires moderation and good nutrition. It’s a learning process. Just because we don’t eat animal products doesn’t mean we eat less food.

    I’m so happy this article was written. Thanks, Kathleen! :)

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