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.