The Fat Vegan

In December 2008, the Dr. McDougall posted a newsletter to his website, entitled The Fat Vegan.  Frankly, I loved it.  Not for its content, though, but for its honesty.  Finally, someone is finally explicitly stating what the modern vegan movement has been so strongly implying:  fat vegans are bad for business.

PETA has shown a penchant in recent years for sexy ad campaigns, although they haven’t completely foregone all the blood and gore.  They, along with dozens of other veg organizations, have realized that the North American (wait, are we counting Mexico?) fixation on Obesity, and to a lesser extent, “Going Green”, means that NOW is the perfect time to recruit new converts to our cause.  NOW, when people are fatter, hotter, and more desperate than ever, vegan marketers have to act quickly, and show people how a vegan, or at least, more vegan, lifestyle is the solution.

However, there is still one… bean (?) in the ointment: fat vegans.

Because, as Dr. McDougall observes (underline provided by me for emphasis), “At extraordinary personal costs, many [vegans] labor tirelessly to protect the welfare of all animals. Fat vegans, however, have failed one important animal: themselves. Furthermore, their audiences of meat-eaters and animal-abusers may be so distracted by their appearance that they cannot hear the vital issues of animal rights and the environment; resulting in an unacknowledged setback for a fat vegan’s hard work for change.”  The newsletter goes on to suggest that the reason that Fat Vegans are Fat Vegans is because of vegan junk food.  Fat Vegans are filling up on chips, cake, pop, fries, pasta, bread, and the occasional limp iceberg lettuce salad.  If only FV’s would stop trying to replace meat burgers and milkshakes with veggie burgers and soyshakes, they’d probably lose weight, and we’d all feel a lot better.

To be fair, I completely agree with what I think is the intended message of this article: it’s easy to be an unhealthy vegan, just like it’s easy to be an unhealthy meat-eater.  Being vegan isn’t a fast track to a thin body and a clear conscience: like any person, veg or not, you have to actually think about what you’re putting into your body.

But whether he meant to or not, Dr. McD has made a more telling observation.  It’s not just about you, Fat Vegan.  It’s about all of us.  We, the vegan movement, have a vested interest in your Fat Vegan-ness, because in all honesty, you’re weighing us down (yep.  I’m that clever).  How are we supposed to recruit new animal-lovin’, earth-savin’, belly hatin’ people to our cause if they’re looking at YOU and they start to wonder, “Wait.  Being a Vegan is… complicated?”  Our entire recruitment strategy seems to on the loudest voices talking about how EASY being vegan is once you get going, and how much better you’ll feel and look when you do it.   We’ve learned that people don’t want to look at videos of horrific injustices happening to animals, so they turn off the computer, close the magazine, and otherwise walk away.  But sexy, naked, thin bodies draped in lettuce leaves, stroking great danes and suggestively biting a carrot: that turns heads.  You, CuPcAkE-lOvIn-VeG*N99: not so much.  Our sales pitch is rapidly becoming: “Fat and Vegan are not synonymous”… and fat vegans are holding us back.  Indeed, as Dr. M suggests, “the word “vegan” will become synonymous with terms like healthy, trim, active, young, strong, and energetic, and finally the most important adjective, earth-changing” only when Fat Vegans get their act together, start dropping those pounds, and making us all look a bit more credible.

I get it: it’s hard to compete in mainstream media without a little jutting hipbone.  However, I send out a small plea to all vegan marketing moguls: don’t dismiss the Fat Vegan, and don’t pretend that pre-packaged veggie burgers are the root of all fatness.  As the loudest voices of this ever expanding movement, veg-promoting organizations have a responsibility to advocate health, green living, and animal rights in a manner that includes, not rejects, EVERY body that wants to join in a make a difference.  Yes, Obesity has become epidemic in North America, and we all need to make some pretty big changes to our diets, our culture, our ethics, and our communities… but the growing obese population needs our compassion and support, not our judgement and ridicule, if sustainable changes are going to be made.  Weight is a complicated issue – one that can’t be reduced to stereotypes, in vegans or non-vegans alike.

So, media planners: next time you’re planning your next sexed-up veg campaign, or showcasing pictures of obese American bellies and butts with a “Caution! Isn’t This Horrifying?  It could be you if you don’t drop the steak!” caption, think of me… The Fat Vegan.  Think of the many dedicated vegans who work hard every day to be the best, healthiest vegan they can be, but just. aren’t. thin.  Think about how frustrating it would be to feel like you’re doing something wrong, or that you’re not quite vegan enough, or that you’re letting the team down by not looking the part.  Then, think about the unique position that the vegan movement has to showcase how the message of compassion that we promote forms the backbone of not only our outreach, and the way we treat animals, but of the way we treat each other.  And finally, think about the dozens of factors that influence weight and health, beyond overeating and meat consumption.

Not that I don’t like a little bit of suggestive carrot nibbling now and then.  I mean, who doesn’t?

Side note: In November of last year (right before The Fat Vegan was written), Tracy Reiman wrote a letter to Air Canada flight company’s president, with, “an idea that could help ensure the health of [Air Canada] bank accounts and [Air Canada] passengers”.  The idea? Serve only vegetarian meals on flights!”  Pour quoi? “Since vegetarians weigh, on average, 10 to 20 pounds less than their meat-eating counterparts, meat-free meals may help ensure that [Air Canada] passengers won’t be carrying “extra baggage” on their next flight… In addition, helping [Air Canada’s] passengers shed unwanted pounds will not only help them fit into their own seats but also save [Air Canada] money on fuel costs.”

Brilliant!  Yet another way to get people to make the switch to veganism… fear of fat PLUS the crumbling economy!

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