Health Videos

Health shaming in the vegan movement

Although a vegan diet does reduce the risk of developing certain diseases and conditions, it is no cure all or magical bullet. Vegans also can get chronic diseases, cancer, … Stop the health shaming in the vegan movement. Veganism is about animal rights.

This is part of my talk at VegFestUk, which was held on October 27-28, 2018 in London. Full talk (on ableism, bodyshaming and health shaming, Geertrui Cazaux) is available here.

Health shaming in the vegan movement, Geertrui Cazaux.

Video has English subtitles (put on subtitles in Youtube).

Transcript of video:

Related to that is the health-shaming. Health-shaming is shaming people about their health status. So veganism is often presented as a miracle cure for all health problems. Oh, go vegan and all your health problems will be solved. And if you are not healthy, oh, okay, that’s probably because you are not doing it right. It must be something that you not do right. Because normally, yeah, if you go vegan, it should be solved. But there are so many other factors that determine one’s health. Not only diet plays a part, but also lifestyle, environmental factors of where you live, think of for example air pollution, water pollution, radiation, genetics, and often there is no 1 to 1 link between any of these and health status.
So I’m certainly not denying that a vegan diet, and certainly a Whole Foods Plantbased Diet is generally beneficial to one’s health, and it can reduce the risk for many chronic diseases, for conditions and illnesses.
So vegans are less likely to have Type 2 diabetes, they are less likely to have Hypertension. they are less likely to develop certain cancers. I’m certainly not denying that. But there is no guarantee. Even vegans can get cancer. Even vegans get cancer. And even vegans die. So this is euh… Maybe you have heard of these books. That’s How not to Die on the one hand, which stresses the health advantages, and then on the other side Even Vegans Die, from Carol Adams and other authors, who stresses that we should be careful with the health shaming, that it’s not so straightforward one to one relationship. And sometimes there’s also damage for example because of a chronic or progressive disease that cannot be reversed with a vegan diet.
So, also like with body-shaming, chronic health shaming has proven to work counterproductive, possibly leading to depression, weight gain and also addiction. So it can actually make people’s health worse, rather than motivate them to live a better lifestyle. And this also contributes to the idea that chronically ill vegans, that they are not good vegans. That they are not good enough to stand on the barricades for veganism. That they are not good ambassadors of veganism. Because if you don’t fulfil the stereotypical image of beauty, of being young, and of being healthy, you could scare people away you know. We should be careful with putting you on the cover of a magazine, because you know, you’re not really … You are not a good poster boy or girl for veganism.
So this was another example of a meme that I saw doing the rounds, which I think is health-shaming, because vegans do sometimes need a cardiologist [MEME says: Non Vegan to vegan: “My cardiologist told me I need to eat meat”. Vegan to non-vegan: “I don’t need a cardiologist”] And memes like that could also reenforce, give the idea to vegans, thinking, maybe when they develop certain symptoms, and they don’t think about going to a doctor. Because, they think, I am vegan, there can’t be anything wrong with me, and they delay going to a doctor. But actually there can be something wrong with them. We are not immune to diseases. So euh, being chronically ill myself, I have never really felt comfortable about opening up about my diseases in the vegan or animal rights community. And I know from fellow vegans who are chronically ill that they have similar feelings, because of the health shaming in the movement. So It’s like I often, I feel like kind of sandwiched in between, yeah, you could call them spheres of social interaction, I don’t know. On the one hand I sometimes feel outcasted from the vegan or animal rights movement, who portrays veganism as a miracle cure for all diseases, and as such alienates chronically ill vegans. So if it is such a miracle cure, I must not be doing it right, right? On the other hand, I can also read the judgement in the heads of non-vegans when I tell them I am vegan. You are vegan? But you are not healthy? How come? They will pinpoint my illness to not eating animals of course. My veganism is to blame for not being healthy. And they say then, oh, but you would be cured if you just eat ‘normal’, if you eat animal products. And then also on the other hand, when the issue of diet is raised in support groups, so for chronically ill people, I am really ambiguous about suggesting veganism as a diet. Do I mention it or not? Do I also add that veganism is not a miracle cure? Because if it is such a miracle cure, how come I am still not cured? So I don’t feel comfortable in any of these about opening up about my condition and the intersection with veganism. It’s difficult for me.
Another point to take into account, to be an inclusive movement, points of ableism that we should think about, is the conflicting message concerning healthy foods that is often going around in the vegan movement. So on the one hand you, we are advertising veganism as a healthy message, and then the next day organisations will put out a message and be excited about ‘oh there’s a new vegan burger’ and ‘we have new vegan cheese, and chocolate and ice-cream’ and all the well ‘unhealthy’ foods you know. That’s a really conflicting message. And I must admit, I have done it myself. I run a couple of pages on Facebook, and I will sometimes share articles, of course there is a health benefit of following a vegan diet. But then the next day I also will be excited about vegan cheese and all the less healthy foods. But that can be very conflicting for people you know. Because then they can try, perhaps try all of these new foods and be excited about it, but that won’t bring the supposed health benefits that goes with a whole foods plant based diet.
The pseudoscientific health advice that runs rampant in the vegan community. You know, the coconut oil cure everything, I’m sure you have seen advices like that. Also wishing bad health to non-vegans. Celebrating their death and illness. I think this is horrible. This was an example from last Summer, that was a British woman who died on holiday in Greece after she ate chicken and she had food poisoning, and I think the next day already she was dead. And the comments that I saw on that in vegan groups was just horrible. And then I think, what if her family and her friends and so read this stuff. Will they be inspired to come join our movement? To try veganism? I don’t think so. I think that was really horrible.

Geertrui Cazaux (Trudi in English). Vegan. Gardener. Wife. Disabled. Writer. Activist. Caretaker. Ex-academic. Wannebee drummer. °1970. Belgium. Vegetarian since mid '90's and vegan since 2010. My main motive has always been the ethical perspective, although I am also inspired by the environmental and health aspects. Writing about veganism, animal rights and ableism on Graswortels.org, Brugesvegan.com, and CripHumanimal.org

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