Anti-Fat Sentiment in Animal Rights


I’ve talked about this briefly before, but one of the things that most frustrates me about the animal rights movement is the continuing focus on fat and weight loss as reasons to go vegetarian. We mostly see this from the national organizations (though I’ve also seen it used in smaller scale activism, too), like in PETA’s abhorrent new campaign addressed to Michael Moore:

Michael Moore, for those of you not familiar with him, is a fat, bearded dude who makes political documentaries and occasionally angers conservatives.

PETA is challenging Michael Moore to reduce his risk of fat-related illnesses by taking PETA’s 30-day Veg Pledge. The idea is that if people didn’t make themselves unhealthy in the first place by eating meat products that are known to cause heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes, the situation would easier for everyone.

Read Ingrid Newkirk’s full letter (PDF).

PETA has run similar anti-fat campaigns in the past. This angle is troubling because it represents a dangerous approach to vegan activism: insulting people to get them to give up animal products. Not only is it not going to work, it’s misguided.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “fat and fit” before. The idea is that fat is not necessarily an accurate indicator of overall health. There are plenty of people that are fat but who actually eat well and get proper exercise. And on the flip side, there are plenty of skinny couch potatoes. Kate Harding says it well when she notes that “no one knows how to make a naturally thin person fat any more than they know how to make a naturally fat person thin.”

But what about all that research that shows how the United States is in the middle of an obesity crisis of epidemic proportions? Similar to how we can often trace anti-soy research back to the dairy industry, much obesity research is somehow tied to diet companies.

But let’s put that aside for the moment. Even if fat always equaled unhealthy, what right does anyone have to criticize someone else for being fat or unhealthy? It requires making an awful lot of assumptions about someone you don’t know. Do we know why someone is fat? Do we know it’s not a genetic issue or because of a medication they’re taking? If someone eats an unhealthy diet, how do we know they’re not a junk food vegan? Really, it just amounts to shallow stereotyping. Shallow as those terrible stock news clips of faceless fat people walking around during a story about obesity.

I’m not saying we should back off the health arguments for veganism. Go ahead, advertise ’em. But don’t attack people or physical traits. Attack diseases or conditions. “Reduce your risk of heart disease,” not “lose weight and look great!” Many of us already have enough of a complex about our appearance already, we don’t need to use it as a tactic in our activism.

Added: Over at the Big Fat Blog, user Kreeli has posted a great comment on the subject of being a fat vegan.

23 Responses to “Anti-Fat Sentiment in Animal Rights”

  1. Becci

    I just wanted to say that I think you did a nice job with this blog post. I have nothing to add, though.

  2. Songbird

    I am a very fat vegetarian and sometimes vegan!! I hike several times a week! My health is perfect! I weigh 300 pounds. Yes, yes. It’s all true.

    The letter to Michael Moore was repulsive. You’re right- the message in their letter is all wrong. For those people still living in the dark age- de-program yourself from the diet industries’ fat studies. BEING FAT DOES NOT EQUAL BAD HEALTH. The goal is NOT to lose weight anymore, it is to live healthily.

  3. Emmie

    …and I’m really fat too! And guess what, I don’t eat animals… ever.

    I really like this blog post. I read fat acceptance and fat activism blogs all the time, and I was thinking of bringing this up in my own veg blog, but other people say it much better than I do. kate Harding wrote that excellent post on it, and now you wrote a great post too. Awesome!

  4. selina

    Well said. And if Ingrid is going to write a letter to Michael Moore, that’s well & fine, but I don’t think she needed to call him a elephant. That would make me purposely NOT want try Vegetarianism, just out of spite.

    I have only been Vegan for 6 mo. Still hovering around the same weight. But I eat so much better now. But it doesn’t help that I am addicted to Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

  5. Sheryl

    Eeesh, why does Ingrid Newkirk have to be such a freak? She’s personally responsible for the majority of Peta’s bad rep.

    The first vegan I ever met weighed 250 pounds. She lived on nothing but potato chips and peanut butter straight from the jar (didn’t care for fruit or vegetables at all). Choosing to not eat animals doesn’t magically bestow someone with the knowledge and skill set to choose and prepare healthy foods.

    And there’s plenty of heavier folks, myself included, who eat healthfully (and are vegetarian or vegan) and exercise regularly, who just happen to be big because that’s they way nature made us.

  6. Jared

    I am a fat vegan too! I have been vegan for over 12 years.

    I don’t like to exersize and I love Rice Dream Cocoa Marble Fudge and I eat huge portions (trying to cut down) and I eat right before bed.

  7. Joselle

    What a great post. The anti-fat (and holier-than-thou) rhetoric in some vegetarian/vegan literature has been a real turn-off to me. Since giving up meat and poultry two months ago, I’ve actually GAINED weight. And before transitioning to a vegetarian diet, I lost a ton of weight eating a lot of meat. Calories and movement count the most. A 400 calorie vegan cookie is not a health food, no matter if its organic and lacking dairy! And one’s waist size is not the only indicator of health.

    As for Michael Moore, he says he actually lost weight while making Sicko and has spoken about how his weight is tied to his health status, so Ms. Newkirk hasn’t entirely done her homework by making him a target. While Moore may still be a meat eater, he encourages eating your fruits and veggies and walking as part of being a health care activist, and that’s a great stance no matter your diet.

  8. Vance

    I would be the last person to defend PETA’s grasp of public relations or sensitivity. But number one, anyone who has seen Sicko and watched Moore trying to walk knows there’s no way in hell he can be described as “Fat but fit.” Also, whatever he’s saying now about eating fruits and vegetables, he has in the past been extremely, vocally ignorant about vegetarianism. He owes us all a major apology and recantation.

  9. ryan

    I dunno, Vance… even if he’s criticized vegetarianism and is the unhealthiest guy on the planet, does that make it right for PETA to essentially say, “Hey, fatty, go veg!” I don’t think it does.

    It would have been nicer if they took the “you didn’t cover this in your movie” tact like many people did with Al Gore’s omission of animal agriculture in An Inconvenient Truth. Referring to Michael Moore as an “elephant” is pretty damn tactless.

  10. Lousy Hunter

    Totally agree with this post. Some comments though sound like “being fat is healthy campaign”. I can appreciate you’re OK with the way you look as long as it doesn’t turn into a self-delusion. Carrying around extra tissue that doesn’t serve any useful purpose is NOT healthy and it’s going to hit you you sooner or later, no matter how fit you think you are.

    Let’s say 20% body fat max is still healthy, not if you look anything like Michael Moore.

  11. eric

    I agree with your point here in regards to PETA but overall I think PETA gets a bad rap. I look at PETA like I used to my highschool football coach – I listen to what they say and not how they say it.

  12. Lazurii

    I hate how veg*nism always has to do with weight. The hub and I went vegetarian after we married, and he’s 125lbs. People blame his weight on the vegetarianism, even though he weighed that much when we got married 2.5 yrs ago. Heckling people about their weight, either over or under, is just ridiculous. PETA needs to clean up their act.

  13. Vance

    Again, my comment is not in defense of PETA’s tactics or style. “[I]nsulting people to get them to give up animal products” has long been part of their strategy to which I object.

    However, I saw nothing in your post acknowledging that Moore has a real health problem, and instead you went off on this Fat and Fit stuff as though it applied to him. However the fat issue may be for others, Moore has made himself a poster child for the health liability of obesity, not only by showing himself onscreen trying haul his bulk around (seriously, did you see Sicko? I’m not exaggerating) but also by demonstrating (I believe it was in Dude, Where’s My Country) an antagonistic ignorance about vegetarianism and nutrition. So I thought that angle needed to be covered.

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  15. cannibal vegetarian

    “Moore has made himself a poster child for the health liability of obesity, not only by showing himself onscreen trying haul his bulk around”–Ingrid, is that you? LOL

    As for Peta, can this be the same group that enthuses about all the varieties of vegan junk food available with its “I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan!” page at ??
    Hooboy, look at all the crap on that list, cocoa puffs, oreos, ritz crackers, hershey syrup, bisquick, wonder bread, crisco etc. And the article starts out with “Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to
    eat wheatgrass and alfalfa sprouts.” Really! Well, being vegan doesn’t mean you can have your cake/oreo/pop tart and eat it too, either. Either a vegan diet is invariably healthy or it isn’t. I like Peta in general, and admire many of the things they’ve done. But they owe fat vegans–to borrow Vance’s phrasing–a major apology and recantation.

  16. johanna

    Really late comment here, but: yeah. The whole anti-fat strain in veganism really offends me too. As far as “fat but fit”: I love the illustrated BMI categories — it’s a slideshow (best seen w/the notes turned on so you can see the judgments that the BMI makes, along w/the person’s weight) & is just amazing in smashing stereotypes. I love love LOVE the several “morbidly obese” triathletes in there. I know for a fact they could kick my ass, & I’m probably considered “skinny” (although according to the BMI I’m actually overweight)!

  17. Jajajajono

    i support the animal rights movement and enviroment movement but Peta is a complete write-off in every way just put some research into

    also lawl at this “I don’t like to exersize and I love Rice Dream Cocoa Marble Fudge and I eat huge portions (trying to cut down) and I eat right before bed”
    this guys a legend haha

  18. Jesse

    While I agree that even criticism should be done with kindness (especially when dealing with an individual), I do feel that the majority of obesity is a result of gluttony, which is a form of wastefulness that I cannot condone. Certainly, promising anyone that they’re going to look fit and fabulous once they go vegan is not a good angle to take (as it might be a lie).

  19. Lisky

    I too am a big, fat, diabetic VEGAN..weighing in at 250 on a good day. I’m sort of disappointed about it too, because I actually gained weight after becoming vegan…go figure! I don’t blame veganism for the gain, I blame my newfound love of soy and rice ice cream and the fact that I just plain eat too much and don’t exercise enough. The assertion that you have to be thin if you’re vegan is ridiculous..and I’m living proof. The ad campaign by PETA is offensive to me, but I think they’re trying to get as many people to give up meat and animal products as possible by putting down fat..which is just another example of fatty-hate. Wish there was a way to make people see through the crap and understand that not all fat people are inherently disgusting and contributing to the downfall of society…which is a feeling I’m also getting from the PETA ad. Sad…

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