Fat Veganism in Spain and Latin America: Insights from Fat Activists towards Body Liberation Beyond Species

 

By Laura Fernández
Universitat de Barcelona
laurafernandez@ub.edu / lauferagui@gmail.com

 

Following the tradition of situated knowledge from feminist epistemologies (Harding, 1988; Haraway, 1991) and considering Aph and Syl Ko’s argument that veganism and animal advocacy will necessarily be shaped by those who talk, think, and act towards this horizon (Ko and Ko, 2017), this research invites us to collectively think about veganism and animal liberation from an embodied, political perspective of those who ally with oppressed nonhuman animals and at the same time experience structural oppression due to their weight and body size (Rothblum and Solovay, 2009; álvarez castillo, 2014; Wrenn, 2016). This means exploring something like a fat vegan activist standpoint.

This exploration is done from a collection and discourse analysis of eight works (including text and pictures: book excerpts, blog posts, fatzines, and conferences) produced by fat activists in Spain and Latin America where nonhuman animals, anti-speciesism, and veganism were explicitly mentioned. These materials address speciesism and veganism issues together with fat liberation, as an intertwined struggle (the author herself having participated in some of them). The main goal of this research is to explore how grassroots fat activisms have integrated animal liberation into their own emancipatory struggle.

The research first presents a literature review and contextualisation of fat activism in Latin America and Spain, considering key concepts and ideas such as:

  • Fatphobia (álvarez castillo, 2014; Piñeyro, 2016)
  • Healthism (Crawford, 1980)
  • The health-industrial complex (Oliver, 2016)
  • Diet culture (Harrison, 2018)
  • Anthroparchy (Cudworth, 2005)
  • Animalisation and zoomorphism (Wrenn, 2016)
  • Situated Spanish and Latin American fat activisms including the idea of a “genealogy other”, with a decolonial and South-to-North activist Flow (Masson, 2017)
  • Fatosphere (e.g. Casadó-Marín and Gracia-Arnaiz, 2020).

The results of the discourse analysis of the fat activists’ materials shed light on how these activists are questioning the binary thinking that structures the world (human/animal, male/female, culture/nature, West/East, thin/fat, etc.). They also emphasise interconnection and interdependence in their writings and drawings, considering the traditional ecofeminist notion that we need each other to survive and flourish and that individualism is a mirage. Fat activists also reclaim animal insults such as “cow” or “whale” associated with their own bodies, typically presenting animalisation as a strategy of inferiorisation of fat bodies (thus assuming that having a nonhuman animal body is something negative, which of course is not). Fat grassroots activists also refer to its veganism from a fat vegan embodied perspective, discussing important notions such as the equation between veganism and thinness, and thinness with health. Their discourse shows that they advocate for a critical and solidary fat liberation that questions the notion of nonhuman animals as food and argues that true body liberation can only happen if we take into account all bodies, including nonhuman bodies.

Considering these important materials from grassroots movements, the research discusses how the interconnection between speciesism and fatphobia can challenge hegemonic understandings of both forms of oppression. Furthermore, grassroots activists in Spain and Latin America have a radical core and intersectional sensitivities against all forms of oppression in addition to speciesism and are also concerned with aspects such as decoloniality, queer feminism, the fight against ableism, or anti-capitalism. From this analysis arises the notion of critical emancipation, which has to do with a form of bodily empowerment that includes nonhuman animals and rejects their commodification as food.

In summary, fat activists bring two political and ethical proposals of great value: on the one hand the advocacy for a more inclusive veganism away from diet culture and healthism, where all sizes and bodies fit. On the other hand, the commitment to interspecies-caring fat activism, where nonhuman animals are considered individuals oppressed by bodily control and exploitation who deserve our solidarity and action.

This is a summary of the talk presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists, 2023.

 

If you are interested in this topic and would like to read more about it, you can check the full version of this research in the chapter of the book Feminist Animal Studies (edited by Erika Cudworth, Ruth E. McKie, and Di Turgoose, Routledge, 2023).

 

References

alvarez castillo, constanzx. 2014. La cerda punk. Ensayos desde un feminismo gordo, lésbico, antikapitalista y antiespecista. Valparaíso: Trío Editorial.

Casadó-Marín, Lina and Gracia-Arnaiz, Mabel. 2020. ‘“I’m fat and proud of it”: Body size diversity and fat acceptance activism in Spain’. Fat Studies, 9, pp. 51–70. https://doi.org/10.1080/21604851.2019.1648994.

Crawford, Robert. 1980. ‘Healthism and the Medicalization of Everyday Life’. International Journal of Health Services, 10(3), pp. 365-388. https://doi.org/10.2190/3H2H-3XJN-3KAY-G9NY.

Cudworth, Erika. 2005. Developing ecofeminist theory: the complexity of difference. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Haraway, Donna. 1991. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 183-202. New York: Routledge.

Harding, Sandra. 1988. “Is there a feminist method?” In Feminism and methodology, 1-14. Indiana University Press.

Harrison, Christy. 2018. What is diet culture? [Online]. Available at: https://christyharrison.com/blog/what-is-diet-culture.

Ko, Aph and Ko, Syl. 2017. Aphro-ism. Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism and Black Veganism from two sisters. New York: Lantern.

Masson, Lucrecia. 2016. “Un rugido de rumiantes: apuntes sobre la disidencia corporal desde el activismo gordo” In Contrera, L. and Cuello N. (Eds.) Cuerpos sin patrones. Resistencias desde las geografías desmesuradas de la carne. Buenos Aires: Madreselva, pp. 99-108.

Oliver, J. Eric. 2006. Fat politics: the real story behind America’s obesity epidemic. New York: Oxford University Press.

Piñeyro, Magdalena. 2016. Stop gordofobia y las panzas subversas. Málaga: Baladre y Zambra.

Rothblum, Esther and Solovay, Sondra. 2009. The Fat Studies Reader. New York and London: New York University Press.

Wrenn, Corey Lee. 2016. “Fat vegan politics: A survey of fat vegan activists’ online experiences with social movement sizeism” Fat Studies, 6, no.1: 90–102.

The Anti-Anthropocentric Capacity of Mainstream Vegan Discourse

 

By Louis Arthur Gough

 

Introduction

Anthropocentrism – the normative (in Westernised societies, at least) notion that the human animal is in fact transcendent of animality and superior to the rest of existence, specifically the professed ‘archetypal’ human subject (white, cis-male, heterosexual, neuro-typical, able-bodied, property-owning, etcetera) – constitutes a foundational delusion undergirding interconnected human to nonhuman animal, intra-human, and environmental oppressions and exploitations. Thus, as worded by Crist and Kopnina (2014), ‘[q]uestioning anthropocentrism… is a fertile way of shifting the focus of attention away from the problem symptoms of our time… to the investigation of root causes’ (pp. 387-388).

This questioning – or better yet, repudiating – of anthropocentrism is, I believe, veganism’s most crucial capacity. It goes without saying, however, that not all manifestations of veganism exhibit this capacity. In a recent study (Gough, 2023) published in Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism, I conducted a critical discourse analysis of three leading (for better or worse) vegan advocacy organisations with the aim of appraising their anti-anthropocentric vigour. Given the inextricability of nonhuman and intra-human oppressions, and the requisite need to decentre the ‘archetypal’ human, the intersectional aptitude of said discourse was also scrutinised. As expected, the results – a selection of which I outline below – were mixed.

 

Anti-Anthropocentric Discourse

Much of the organisations’ output challenged the anthropocentric status quo. ‘Human narcissism’ – defined by Calarco (2014) as an ‘incessant attention to and rotation around exclusively human existence’ (p. 416) – was undermined by endorsements of veganism that centred nonhuman animals, nonhuman individuality, nonhuman interests, (potentially) beyond-human relationships, and nonhuman self-ownership in defiance of the egomaniacal fantasy that other animals’ bodies and secretions exist for human benefit.

The illusory human/animal dichotomy was also subverted. On occasion, the organisations refused the speciesist conventions of the English language, extended typically human-centric indefinite pronouns to include, for example, our nonhuman ‘neighbors’; whilst anthropocentrism’s moral hierarchy was undercut, most obviously, by a direct contrasting of the human pleasure and nonhuman suffering resulting from the production of so-called ‘animal products’. This latter effort, I argue, both foregrounds the ‘absent referent’ (Adams, 2015) and discredits human interest in the exploitation of nonhumans.

 

Anthropocentric Discourse

The reinforcement of these same expressions of anthropocentrism was, frustratingly, evident too. Whether through a health, human-oriented environmental, or self-absorbed ethical lens, the notion that we ought to stop exploiting other animals primarily for our own benefit sustained the narcissistic centring of human interests. As did the overshadowing of the direct victims of ‘animal products’ in favour of more ‘attractive’ – from a human perspective, of course – species impacted indirectly by mass nonhuman animal (ab)use. Also of note was the organisations’ deification of ‘compassionate’ vegan practitioners, out ‘saving’ the lives of myriad ‘voiceless’ nonhuman beings, which perpetuates what Lilia Trenkova (qtd. in Brueck & McNeill, 2020) calls a ‘toxic human savior complex’ (p. 315); and an emphasis on the apparent ‘human-likeness’ of victimised nonhuman animals, which plays into the very criteria underpinning much historic and ongoing oppression (human and nonhuman) in the first place.

Moreover, regular references to ‘humans’ and ‘animals’ amounted to missed opportunities to reject the insidious human/animal dichotomy, whilst the associated moral inequalities of anthropocentrism were left unchallenged by the organisations’ human-directed scales of moral urgency between cases of exploitation – whether based on the conditions of said exploitation, such as factory versus ‘family’ farming, or the perceived ‘intelligence’ of the oppressed nonhuman beings in question.

 

Intersectional Awareness & Incompetence

As with above, intersectional aptitude was inconsistent. Oftentimes, the organisations exhibited intersectional awareness by presenting nonhuman animal rights as a component – rather than the final component – of social justice. In this connection, attention was drawn to overlaps between human and nonhuman injustices, such as the ransacking of ecosystems and indigenous communities to support Western demand for ‘animal products’, and egregious worker exploitation within slaughterhouses.

On the other hand, uncritical representations of veganism as ‘easy’ overlooked the experiences of the economically and locationally restricted, whilst celebrations of ‘vegan cappuccinos’ exalted frivolous consumerism and in turn dampened veganism’s radical propensity. Intersectional potential was further blunted by the discriminatory and colonial character of specific demonisations of non-Western practices and – perhaps most frustratingly given the amount of criticism this strategy has received – comparisons between nonhuman and human oppressions which, by exploiting the latter in an attempt to underscore the former, do little to challenge either of them.

 

Conclusion

Persuaded by the Foucauldian position that discourse dictates the perceived respectability – and even intelligibility – of ideas and behaviours, this study treats discourse as inherently ideological, playing a fundamental role in the formation and perpetuation of social conventions. This includes the exploitation and consumption of nonhuman life. ‘Changing culture is centrally a matter of changing language’, Fairclough once stated (2000, p. 122), thus our fight against the interconnected oppressions of anthropocentric culture must – in significant part, at least – take place on the level of language. As Nguyen (2019) persuasively contends, ‘we cannot eradicate speciesism if we continue to tolerate it in the very words we speak’ (p. 121). An offshoot of a much larger analysis I am conducting as part of my PhD, this study endeavours to contribute to the rejection of anthropocentrism contained in rhetoric concerning a practice that is indispensable to our moving beyond the arrogant and delusion destruction of human supremacy: veganism.

 

Read the full article here in Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism.

 

References

Adams, C. J., 2010. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Twentieth Anniversary ed. New York: Continuum.

Brueck, J. F. & McNeill, Z., 2020. Queer and Trans Voices: Achieving Liberation Through Consistent Anti-Oppression. [s.l.]: Sanctuary Publishers.

Calarco, M., 2014. Being Toward Meat: Anthropocentrism, Indistinction, and Veganism. Dialectical Anthropology, 38(4), pp. 415-429.

Crist, E. & Kopnina, H., 2014. Unsettling Anthropocentrism. Dialectical Anthropology, 38(4), pp. 387-396.

Fairclough, N., 2000. New Labour, New Language?. London: Routledge.

Gough, L. A., 2023. Veganism’s Anti-Anthropocentric Capacity: A Critical Analysis of the Advocacy Discourse of Three Prominent Vegan Organisations. Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism, 11(1), pp. 9-28.

Nguyen, H., 2019. Tongue Tied: Breaking the Language Barrier to Animal Liberation. New York: Lantern Books

Vegans: PC-Ravaged Clowns or Plant-Powered Pioneers?

Source: Daily Mirror

By Affiliate Member, Norm Riley

The former, according to the UK TV presenter, journalist, ‘real meat’ loving millionaire man of the people and leader of the vegan resistance, Piers Morgan.

Morgan, permanently engaged in a personal battle with cancel culture, was so infuriated by a vegan sausage roll in 2019 that he labelled vegans ‘PC-ravaged clowns.’ Quorn filling wrapped in puff pastry was for this free speech champion a lethal weapon in arsenal of the army of ‘ultra-sensitive, permanently offended woke snowflakes.’

Rather than malice towards Piers for this spectacular take, I will be forever grateful to him because it inspired me to revisit Karen Morgan’s and Matthew Cole’s seminal 2011 article, Vegaphobia: derogatory discourses of veganism and the reproduction of speciesism in UK national newspapers. Their analysis of UK newspapers from 2007 argued vegans were overwhelmingly portrayed negatively. Writers presented them as hostile, weirdos, killjoys, and figures of ridicule. Subsequent studies in Australia and the USA aligned with such findings.

I wondered whether such portrayals were still the norm bearing in mind the over 300 per cent increase in people identifying as vegan in the UK between 2007 and 2020. Surely an (assumed) increase in public awareness of the detrimental environmental impacts of animal agriculture and the health benefits of a balanced plant-based diet, as well as the visibility of ‘celebrity’ vegans, would mean veganism was no longer denigrated in such ways?

I undertook a content analysis of UK newspapers from 2020, the results of which were recently published in the Journal for Critical Animal Studies. I categorised 11.2 per cent of articles as positive which, while double that of Cole and Morgan, suggested that positive portrayals remained rare. I found 27 per cent of articles portrayed veganism negatively and 61.7 per cent as neutral. This compares favourably with Cole’s and Morgan’s results of 74.3 per cent negative and 20.2 per cent as neutral. Such differences suggest, perhaps, that while pro-vegan sentiment in UK newspapers has barely grown since 2007, anti-vegan sentiment appears to have considerably decreased. 

 

Violent Vegans?

However, the negative portrayals I found were deeply disconcerting. A particularly depressing and perhaps distressing finding is the presentation of vegans in a handful of articles as sufficiently hostile to the extent they are willing to inflict physical and psychological harm on non-vegans. I found articles positioning vegans as militant[i], blaming them for inflicting mental health harms on farmers, and describing activism as akin to terrorism[ii] and extremism. Such portrayals, while rare, can impresses upon the reader an image of a dangerous other willing to enact violence and destroy livelihoods to achieve their aims.

 

Animal Absence

Furthermore, articles discussing veganism which also included reference to Nonhuman Animals were rare. Nonhuman Animals were referred to in only thirty-seven (3.5 per cent) of articles. Such a finding invokes Carol Adams’s concept of the ‘absent referent’ – the choice of making absent the life of the sentient being who is killed for human benefit. A handful of these articles provided explicit descriptions reflecting the reality of the practices of animal agriculture.

Speciesism, however, was still evident even in those articles mentioning the violence inflicted on commodified Nonhuman Animals. Our violent treatment of them can be justified because, for example, they taste ‘good’. Such a position resonates with Piazza et al’s addition of the fourth ‘n’ of nice to Joy’s 3 ‘ns’ (normal, natural, and necessary) of Carnism, the ideology underpinning and rationalising our subjugation and commodification of Nonhuman Animals.

Moreover, in a rare article informing readers about the motivations for ethical veganism, the speciesist lens through which the writer views the human animal/Nonhuman Animal relationship is obvious. The writer suggests that while it may be admirable to want to stop cows being ‘artificially inseminated’ and ‘traumatized’ and bulls to no longer have semen ‘mechanically drawn’ from them, vegans’ refusal to consume dairy is hitting humans hard by impacting them financially.

Such language dilutes the actual violence inflicted on Nonhuman Animals and frames the financial implications of decreased profits as violence towards those humans employed in and profiting from their oppression. By highlighting the ‘negative’ impacts of veganism on humans and couching the horrors inflicted on Nonhuman Animals in the language of science, the public is kept ‘comfortably detached from the unpleasant reality of modern farming’.

 

Neutrality as Dangerous?

I also argue that neutral articles, those offering non-evaluative content such as ‘vegan’ recipes or consumer products, while not generating anti-vegan sentiment, are perhaps not as harmless as their banal content suggests. Baltzer’s argument on the dangers of neutrality helps us understand that such articles, while not portraying veganism negatively, may contribute to maintaining carnism and, therefore, the killing of Nonhuman Animals. By asking whom our neutrality benefits, it is revealed to us that the notion of such a position is a myth. Put simply, remaining supposedly neutral in an unjust system perpetuates injustice and reinforces existing power (im)balances.

 

In conclusion, newspapers (print and online) have the power and authority to construct meanings, are influential in informing readers’ opinions, and are critical platforms for educating the public. Mainstream news media is inclined to promote the practices of the hegemonic culture while simultaneously perpetuating the marginalisation of minority group practices through denigration or ignorance. The persistence of negative portrayals of vegans, the intentional absenting of the Nonhuman Animal from discussions on veganism, and the misinformation around the impacts of vegan activism remind us that we must continue to challenge those journalists and writers whose words contribute to the perpetuation of the immiseration, oppression and slaughter of billions of sentient beings.

[i] Thomson, A. (2020) Britain needs farmers more than ever. The Times. 04 March 2020.

[ii] James, E. (2020) Butchers: Vegans are just terrorists. The Sun. 22 February 2020

The World is On Fire – Vasile Stănescu

On March 25th, IAVS affiliate Dr Vasile Stănescu from Mercer University spoke to the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. He gave an impassioned talk to an audience of 80 on the politics of climate change, the silence on animal agriculture’s contribution to the environmental crisis, and major tactical failings of the animal rights movement.

Watch here >>

Abstract below.

The World is on Fire: Animal Agriculture, Climate Change, and the Path Forward

In 2006, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), issued a report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” concluding that animal farming presents a “major threat to the environment” with such “deep and wide-ranging” impacts that it should rank as the leading focus for environmental policy. Recently, these stakes were raised again when the UN determined that the world has only fourteen years to act to prevent catastrophic effects due to climate change. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity estimates as high as 150 species go extinct each day; the UN determined animal agriculture represents the single largest cause of habit loss, species extinction, and biodiversity loss. Most importantly, exponentially more animals are killed, in worse conditions, every year: My first publication in critical animal studies, entitled “Green Eggs and Ham: The Myth of Sustainable Meat and The Danger of the Local” was published in 2010; at that time, the world raised and killed approximately 60 billion land animals each year. Today it is 80 billion; the UN estimates by 2050, the number will exceed 120 billion. The world is on fire.

The response by many, including both advocates for animal agriculture and animal rights, has been three main strategies:

  • Attempts to move toward local, humane, and free-range animal farming based on, in part, a belief that such moves will positively affect the environment
  • The rise of so-called “in vitro” meat which, like claims about humane meat, will also offset the environmental effects of animal agriculture
  • Market based moves to sell new meat substitutes, such as Burger King’s decision to sell the Impossible Whopper.

However, in reality none of these proposed solutions will work. Indeed, most – if not all – will in reality make the environmental effects of animal agriculture worse. Instead, I argue, we need a social justice based approach to animal advocacy, based on directly confronting speciesism and anthropocentrism, that seeks to build solidarity between animal rights and other social justice movements to affect broad based change. We are running out of time. To paraphrase the famous maxim attributed to Marx: As scholars, we no longer possess the luxury to only understand the world; we have to change it.