Black, white, fit, fat, who cares about sexy? the continuing evolution of vegans

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Oh Guardian. I saw how you tried to jump right on the results of the recent Ipsos MORI survey about veganism in Great Britain. I know you wanted to do something different and talk about veganism like maybe you knew a little something about it. You don’t really, though, do you The Guardian? You didn’t do a very good job and so I’m here to make it all better and to let you know that nonsense ~journalism~ like this only perpetuates the idea that veganism needs to be reinvented. Let’s have a look at where you went wrong shall we?

Ready?

Ok so. Here’s what the media’s been latching on to. It’s a recent Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by The Vegan Society (rolly eyes) and Vegan Life Magazine (double rolly eyes) to discover the number of vegans in Great Britain. Somehow they interviewed 10,000 people and found 500,000 vegans. Did some of the 10k have vegans hidden down the back of the couch? I have no idea. I don’t remember filling in the survey anyway, and I don’t remember the 50 vegans down the back of my couch filling it out either. But there we are.

[source]
The Guardian jumped on this in a very unusual (but unsurprising) manner. They decided to wax lyrical on the ‘recent’ shedding of veganism’s ‘hippy image’, its celebrity adopters, and posing the question of what ‘real’ (not imaginary?) vegans think of ‘the newcomers’. (Maybe I only think this is unusual because I know it’s complete balls?)

Real Vegans

So obviously the Guild of Real Vegans got together following our recent Shedding the Hippy Image conference to discuss what we thought of The Newcomers. We figured this would probably happen after having recently despatched The Vegan Bros, Thug Kitchen and Deliciously Ella into The Mainstream, and especially after that time Beyonce (briefly, sort of) joined us. I’m not sure why we were ever surprised about The Newcomers, but thank goodness The Guardian is here to monitor our reactions and to instruct any potential vegans to adopt the brace position before diving into the existing vegan community.

DUDE VEGANISM! FIT AND SEXY HEGANS!

[source]
Obviously The big G thought it best to jump right into those Vegan Bros. As if HEGANISM (I don’t know how much rolling my eyes can do today but I’m soldiering on) needed any more public attention. VEGANS CAN BE FIT AND SEXY? Well, actually meat eaters can be ‘fit and sexy’ whatever that means and if your ~activism~ consists purely of some gross masculine version of the Skinny Bitch type rhetoric that seeks to bully and shame folks into giving up animal products, then it ain’t much good at all. I mean, you definitely spent a bit of time discussing the ‘strategies’ of promoting veganism and I think all the non-vegans agree that it’s Bad and Wrong to shame people about their consumption practices but it’s ok to shame them about their health and their body RIGHT? A-ok! At least you mentioned their whoopsie-daisy occasional misogynistic tendencies though right, Guardian? Phew, thank goodness you’re being a little bit responsible! It’s not at all like anyone’s been analysing the links between veganism and feminism and meat and masculinity for years and years and years….

Obviously the Guild of Real Vegans have a limited amount of spokespersons as the Guardian 100% accurately identified in their article and we never critically examine the moral ins & outs of problematic folk pushing veganism. I’m so glad the media can do this for us!

THE ‘RISE’ OF VEGAN OPTIONS

An exceptionally rare and lesser spotted Vegan Option.
An exceptionally rare and lesser spotted Vegan Option.

Well now, this actually is rather exciting. Here at the Guild of Real Vegans we also remember when vegan options were only available in ‘wholefood cafes’. It was definitely absolutely not possible to order a baked potato with beans and salad ANYWHERE except wholefood cafes. But ok, I concede, it is more exciting to see actual other options available so I’ll give you that one. I see that the article mentioned “food tech” (what’s that?) company Hampton Creek which has, apparently, attracted huge investment. That’s super because Hampton Creek make splendid mayo alternatives and other yummy foods! But….what’s this? Did you forget to mention how a US-appointed egg lobby tried to sabotage the company using very sneaky and naughty tactics indeed? We at the Guild of Real Vegans thought it was almost as if powerful economic forces with vested interests were trying to keep veganism in its little non-mainstream hippy box where it belongs, but probably we’re just paranoid! I’m pretty sure that sort of story can’t be relevant to a journalistic piece about the rise of veganism! Silly Guild.

WHY ARE THERE SO MANY NEW VEGANS??

I quite enjoyed your adorable musings about what might be influencing this rise of veganism, Guardian. You pinned it down thus:

  • Campaigning
  • Social Media
  • LOGIC!
  • Bloggers (we’ll get on to that)

That’s not a bad list! I mean, here at The Guild we figure you are probably spot on. Campaigners, The Internet, LOGIC, bloggers….. These are all Very New things of course! I’m sure there’s no value whatsoever in examining public representations of veganism, problematic content in messages of veganism, the social barriers that vegans face when transitioning, the long-term commitment of ‘ethical’ vs ‘health’ vegans (spoiler: ethical vegans more likely to stay vegan) etc. Oh no!

At The Guild we thought that maybe, perhaps, if the media was going to write pieces that give a potted history of veganism and its Rise To The Mainstream it might be a good idea to do a better job of critically analysing the movement first? But we’re just big sillies! Mostly we just listen to Beyonce and get our swears on by reading Thug Kitchen and watching the Vegan Bros. Speaking of…..

Thug Kitchen

Oh Guardian. Did you have to? Did you really have to? I can’t bring myself to go into too much detail here, it’s actually really not my place, but I just want to mention a couple of amazing folks you could have dedicated those paragraphs to:

Wellness and Clean Eating (Bloggers & Enthusiasts)

I can see that you latched on to the Guild’s number one favourite blogger, Ella of Deliciously Ella. I mean, we know that she’s not actually a vegan, but eh! Any strategic compromise to push our message on people, right! And obviously this is a super subject to mention since we already know that ethical vegans aren’t more likely to stay vegan than ‘health’ vegans are! Hang on……reverse that. Well, never mind. We just know that clean eating is The Best. It’s not like a focus on health, fitness and eating clean will alienate anyone right? Super! You wouldn’t want to be inclusive enough to talk about fat vegans or fat vegan heroes. Good grief. Too far! If we can’t be alabaster white hippies then we have to be super fit boxers or some thing, right?

Speaking of bloggers and enthusiasts, I am pretty sure there was absolutely no need for you to mention Isa Chandra, Terry Hope Romero or the Post Punk Kitchen. Bryant Terry (again). Sarah Kramer. And all the folks who have been bloggin’ vegan for years and years and years and years? Never mind them!

Preachy vegans and protecting ‘vegan’

Oh my gosh Guardian, I am so glad you touched on this. We at the Guild have never really understood why people who aren’t actually vegan seem so keen to stick that label on themselves as sticky as can be, but we don’t bother ourselves with too much analysis of the situation! Once upon a time, when you joined the Guild of Real Vegans you came along to the HQ, surrendered every non-vegan product in your household and office drawer, were hosed down naked with a cool lentil soup and then issued with a tracking device to enable the Vegan Police to put a black mark on your record every time you ate fish stock, bought beeswax candles, or coveted leather shoes. Three strikes and the Guild membership card was taken off you and that was that. But OBVIOUSLY we abandoned all that long ago. We just couldn’t bear that ~hippy image~ and what we couldn’t bear the absolute MOST was upsetting non-vegans who thought that other New Vegans ought to be able to flipping well splurge on a little animal product here and there and most importantly STILL BE ABLE TO CALL THEMSELVES VEGAN WE DON’T KNOW WHY BUT THERE IT IS!

compromise

So one year after our Guild AGM we decided that the best thing wasn’t to just rely on the decades old definition of veganism coined by Donald Watson, founder of The Vegan Society, which is totes sufficient for describing what veganism actually is, but just skip right over that and say “of course you should call yourself a vegan if you’re Not Actually one, why on earth not?! and it is completely logical that you should want to do that!”

Compromise is our motto! Since it’s CLEARLY not possible for vegans to be realistic about the issues faced when transitioning to a vegan lifestyle and to be sympathetic and supportive to our fellow human beings then this is the only option! I mean, obviously all us Real Vegans just went cold tofurkey and we couldn’t possibly empathise. And we all know it’s a Preachy Vegan or no vegan at all, right? The rest of us just have to remember to be consistently apologetic for being passionate about what really matters to us, and everyone’s ok!

Wrapping Up

So, m’Guardian. I hope I have managed to touch on the important points here. My red pen was positively quivering in my pencil case when I read your article. Talk about promoting stereotypes……do you really believe we went straight from hippy to super-fit sweary dude vegans and that’s that? And who do you think you’re excluding? Who does the Vegan Society and Vegan Life Magazine exclude when it comes to the vegan movement? I mean, even their survey infographic was a sea of white faces, never mind their ongoing content. Are we doomed to be hippy, or fit/macho/sexy? Are black vegans, LGBTQI vegans, fat vegans, feminist vegans, healthy vegans, unhealthy vegans and all other vegans who don’t fit your fit/sexy/macho mould all doomed to be ignored? Cos, guess what, we’ve actually been around for quite a long time, and thank goodness the vegan community still strives to be a compassionate social justice movement. Thank goodness for those who speak out for both humans and other animals and can teach the rest of us white, middle class, cis vegans a thing or two about how veganism intersects with so many other social justice issues, and we can continue to strive to be better people and allies.

But sure, if you want to reduce it all to fit sexy macho, go ahead. I think we’ve all come to expect these things from the mainstream, no matter how much closer we (apparently) creep to it ourselves.

Lots of love,

Jenny.

p.s. I know I missed out a lot of other cool, amazing stuff here but I was cross and had to write up All The Feelings.

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11 thoughts on “Black, white, fit, fat, who cares about sexy? the continuing evolution of vegans

  1. I completely understand your frustration, Jenny, and I think your post really addresses the obvious holes in the Guardian piece. Still, I’m happy to see that the Guardian was covering veganism, even if they chose a silly title and stuck primarily to names that are well known outside the vegan community (including non-vegans like Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyonce). I do get really tired of the emphasis on clean eating, etc., in the media, but it represents a large swath of health vegans who experiment with the occasional raw/fast/clean diet and identify (for better or worse) as vegan.

    I was glad to see that the interviewed Tobias from the Vegan Strategist, as I think he’s an important voice for effective vegan outreach (and I think anyone who can convince a Belgian city to go meatless one day a week deserves kudos).

    If veganism is going to be a massive social movement, it’s public image will morph over the years, much like the feminist and civil rights movements. Keeping that in mind, I also think it’s crucial that vegans from all backgrounds make themselves heard so journalists don’t make the mistake of stereotyping us as fit/sexy/healthy or any other labels that have nothing to do with the underlying movement.

    Like

    1. I think the issue for me is that this is the only type of ‘mainstream’ veganism (here in the UK at least) and it’s just not one that speaks to/for me nor one I can get behind at all I’m afraid (the same with the hippy thing!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Literally as I’m reading this someone tagged me on Facebook celebrating the Telegraph article touting the same meteoric rise of vegans, haha.

    LOVE THIS SO MUCH! Thank you for this, we need to be calling this shit out without apology. Whitewashing, thinwashing, fitwashing of veganism HAS TO STOP. I’m over getting people into the movement by putting others down or just flat out ignoring the existence of those who have been working for YEARS doing this the right way.

    Also, I had all the feels and all the laughs at: “It’s not at all like anyone’s been analysing the links between veganism and feminism and meat and masculinity for years and years and years….” SERIOUSLY.

    You’re a rockstar ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! You guys are rock stars too, and such an amazing resource for new vegans. I wish you’d been around when I was a little wee new vegan all those years ago 😀

      Like

    2. “I’m over getting people into the movement by putting others down or just flat out ignoring the existence of those who have been working for YEARS doing this the right way.”

      AMEN, what a great way to put it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “were hosed down naked with a cool lentil soup” 😄 I feel like everyone has a great vegan lentil recipe! 😄

    I totally get where you are coming from, but I try not to be too judgy about problematic vegans. Uh… not because I think they should be promoted, but I think it is important not to word your issues in a way that makes them seem less vegan.. because I think that creates a toxic “you must be this perfect to be vegan” sort of ideal. And I don’t think you worded it that way, by all means.

    Although veganism is getting more mainstream, it is still the same “hippie culture” as before, it just got a trendier face lift. The media is more so glorifying the health properties, over ethics, so instead of hemp bracelets the scene has gucci purses (that are vegan mind you) Although I do think it overall helps veganism, the next generation eat more vegan meals growing up, so the transition seems less drastic, short term it just creates confusion. I try not to judge the almost vegan vegans, because I shouldn’t judge people in general, anyways. But god is it frustrating!

    Like

    1. I think calling out problematic vegans (or problematic anyones) is a vital step to being a good ally to marginalised and unrepresented folks. Mainstream media has very little idea of the true face of veganism and they do bugger all to try and find out!

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  4. Thanks for linking to me and my fellow Black Vegans Rock advisory board members. I can’t bring myself to read most mainstream coverage of veganism… I’m glad you were able to endure it by having a sense of humor about it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Pax! Of course I had to link to all of you folks since you are blazing a really important trail. I also avoid most mainstream coverage of veganism, but (naively) I expected a little better from this publication (lesson learned!) So many vegans seemed to regard this article as a positive portrayal of veganism, I couldn’t help but deploy lots of sarcasm 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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