The number one thing I’ve learned about caring in the past few years is this: caring divides and multiplies. Care is a self-replicating virus (perhaps one of the only viruses you’ll ever want to get), and once you’re infected with caring for one thing, you can’t seem to stop!
When I was much younger, I started caring about how cows and pigs were needlessly slaughtered, just for a burger or some bacon. I was rightly upset how long I allowed myself to think that animals weren’t harmed for meat, or to block out the big red sign that said “Animals are killed for this, you know!” That seed of compassionate consciousness grew, and not only to strictly animal rights-related situations. Sure, I started to care not only about cows and pigs used for meat, but other animals abused for dairy, eggs, for wool and leather, and animal testing, among others. But I also started to care more about our environment, the only home we humans currently have and one that is deteriorating at a worrisome rate. And eventually, just when I needed to, I started caring for my health.
A plant-based diet helped me step into a lifestyle that didn’t just sustain our planet, or our fellow animals, but my own life. In a way, that little seed of caring that I’d tried day after day to send out into the world made a 360 turn right back in my direction and helped me become a more energetic person. Maybe this is why so many plant-based eaters, like myself, believe that to care about someone’s health so deeply is the compassionate thing to do. We used to mock our parents for shoving vegetables down our throats, and as a young teen I can remember thinking, “It’s my body, so why can’t I do what I want with it?” My right to my body is still alive and well, but I do take this mantra with a little more scrutiny than I used to.
This passion toward health among plant-based eaters and the broader animal rights community can sometimes be very jarring. Occasionally, it reaches levels of downright vilification: hating anyone who would choose to eat a Tofurky pizza over a raw vegan salad bowl or berries and nuts. I have seen people call mock meats the devil and processed vegan foods the spawn of all that is evil in the world. Well, not literally, but you get my meaning: some health-conscious people frown upon certain animal-free food products, products that they have every right not to eat, not to put in the body that belongs to them and them alone. And I can put up with that kind of attitude most days. Hey, more soy ice cream for me!
But this attitude soon bridges over from frowning on people’s food to frowning on their bodies. In particular, “fat” bodies. Fat shaming is well and alive, and it goes far beyond outdated PETA ads that encourage vegetarianism for the sake of weight loss. Not only do some still use tactics that claim non-veganism is the source of body fat…
…but overall, they see a plant-powered lifestyle as equivalent with thin bodies and “good” health. And while your gut instinct may already be telling you this is wrong, here are a few reasons why:
Not All Bodies are the Same, Even When Healthy
Study and experience has shown that health and weight are not direct correlates. We are at the whims of genetic and environmental factors which will influence our weight, and even individuals clinically categorized as “obese” have found, according to Harvard health publications, that they can lead healthy, active lives. Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health says, “It appears that it doesn’t affect everyone in the same ways.”
The real case about our personal health cannot be so easily seen by glancing at someone’s body: a fat woman or man may have a higher exercise and clean dietary regimen than someone who is naturally thin. We all know, or have heard of, someone who claims they can eat a whole pizza each week and still maintain the Victoria’s Secret model look.
Linda Bacon, an associate nutritionist at the University of Calif., published a book in 2010 titled “Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight“, which notes that: “A society that rejects anyone whose body shape or size doesn’t match an impossible ideal is the problem. A medical establishment that equates ‘thin’ with ‘healthy’ is the problem.” Focusing on weight as an equivalent to health may not only be rude, but also deeply problematic for the health of the public.
Not all Plant-Based Eaters are Healthy
I love salads, steamed vegetables are a gift from the plant-based Gods, and there’s a good chance my body chemistry is 99 percent fruit smoothie by now. That said…
Even when health and weight are not so clearly synonymous, fellow plant-based eaters everywhere encourage their supposedly “less healthy” non-plant-powered friends to drop anything that causes weight gain from their dietary habits, or insists that in order for a plant-based lifestyle and animal rights to thrive, we have to show people reasons for wanting to be vegan…with our bodies. In essence, it has been suggested that fat vegans ruin the success of plant-powered lifestyles by not appearing thin and energetic. They say, “Why would anyone want to be vegan if they think it turns you fat?”
This is much harder to deal with than simple misconceptions about health, because these people are not hiding fat shaming behind a veil of health concern. They are putting it right out there: they do not like the bodies of fat activists “clogging” up their clean eating, jogging vegan space. I find it difficult to combat this because all I can really say is that fat shaming has always been and will always be unnecessary, that it adds negativity to a positive space, and that “fat bodies” are not a burden on society. They are citizens with equal rights who have hopes and aspirations — brave individuals in a world that deems their physical shape unworthy.
In the end, I can only hope that human decency wins within plant-based and activist communities and that we eventually erase fat shaming and size discrimination just as fervently as we attempt to erase discrimination against other species. Additionally, don’t we discourage great fat women and men everywhere from participating in ethically conscious lifestyles by telling them they would ruin its image? Why would anyone want to go plant-based if they think their body is not welcome?
While I enjoyed Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s book promoting a healthy, plant-based lifestyle, isn’t it time we ditch the “Skinny Bitch” attitude in the animal rights world and extend our caring to the humans we’ve excluded because of superficial values?