Jenny Marie is a vegan from Manchester (UK) and works in higher education. I first got to know her through the article ‘On Being a Bad Vegan Fatty’.
In this interview she talks about her veganism, her medical diagnosis and how this impacts her, body size and health, and about her activism on her blogs Jenny Marie and Big Fat Vegan Zine, where she raises awareness about bodyshaming and challenges fat stigma and single-issue veganism.
Hello Jenny, tell us who you are? What’s your background and what do you do in life?
Hi! I’m Jenny. I’m in my late thirties and I live in Manchester (UK) with my rescue dog, Vulpe. I was born and raised in Manchester and have lived here all my life. I work full time in higher education, and have worked in HE for around 15 years.
When and why did you become interested in veganism and animal rights? What does veganism mean for you?
I’ve always been an animal lover and attempted vegetarianism quite a few times when I was young. As my family had very traditional meat-centric diets, it never worked out. When I was in my twenties I finally committed to vegetarianism, and then graduated to veganism not long after. I’ve lived as an ethical vegan for over 11 years now and to me this influences all areas of my life, and means much more than what’s on my plate. I am also currently studying a Master’s degree in Anthrozoology, which is the interdisciplinary study of humans and non-human animals.
You blog about vegan living on jenny-marie.co.uk. What is the core message of your blog, or in your activism in general?
My site could be best described as a vegan lifestyle blog. I talk about everything from recipes, to ethical consumerism, mental health, body positivity, and product reviews. I hope that my blog entertains! …. but also inspires others to live more ethically, challenge single-issue veganism, and advocates for fat/sick/disabled vegans who may find themselves unwelcome in other online vegan spaces.
Can you tell some more about your disability and how it influences your life? What are your specific challenges? How is it like to be living with an invisible disability?
I’ve lived with significant mental health issues for around 20 years. For a long time I was incorrectly diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but more recently I finally received the correct diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (aka Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder). I struggle predominantly with emotional dysregulation, poor distress tolerance skills, and co-morbid depression and anxiety. Interpersonal relationships can be extremely difficult and I also have difficulty in choosing healthy coping strategies. So BPD influences most areas of my life!
I was also diagnosed with CFS/ME in 2016. This is a difficult diagnosis to live with as many in the medical industry believe it is psychosomatic, despite research showing that there are unique biomedical markers found in those with the condition. I suffer mainly with fatigue, brain fog, loss of concentration, and muscle weakness. My symptoms are relatively mild and so I manage them through pacing – i.e. balancing out my spoons (editor’s note: referring to the ‘spoon theory’) carefully each day!
Most recently, I was diagnosed with hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes. This has been particularly difficult to come to terms with and I wrote a long piece on my blog about reconciling this with my belief in body/fat positivity. I’m still adjusting to this diagnosis and working on my health and healing, both physical and mental.
Given your diagnosis, how do medical professionals react to your veganism?
I rarely disclose my veganism to medical professionals; on the occasions it’s been raised, they are usually surprised. I guess that they make assumptions based on my health and my size, and also make the assumption that veganism is inherently “healthy”. At times this has implications for my health: recently I was prescribed a medication known to inhibit B12 absorption. I wasn’t given any advice by the prescribing doctor and found this out accidentally. I then started supplementing a higher dose of B12. I have been given virtually no dietary or nutrition advice from medical professionals at all.
Do you identify as being disabled, or do you prefer to be referred to as a person with a disability? (or none of the above) Can you explain?
I identify as disabled and I prefer the term disabled. This is because I’m a user of the social model of disability. In brief, the social model is an alternative to the medical model of disability, which posits our bodies/minds or impairments as the ‘problem’. The social model shifts the focus on to the cultural, physical, attitudinal, and social barriers that disabled people face, and presents these as the problem to be solved instead. This is why I think the ‘person with a disability’ label isn’t necessary. Yes, I’m disabled, but that’s because of my environment and its shortcomings!
Has your activism changed over the years because of your disability?
I’m glad of my disabled identity as it’s encouraged me to approach my veganism with a critical eye, and helped me find supportive and progressive vegan communities in which I’ve been encouraged to consider other/all social justice issues and their intersections.
I first got to know you through the article ‘On Being a Bad Vegan Fatty’. In this article you wrote: “If we are unapologetically fat and unapologetically vegan, there are very few places we can go”.
Can you please explain?
Put simply, I found over the years that fat acceptance spaces rejected veganism as restrictive eating, and that vegan spaces rejected fatness as unhealthy and a bad example of veganism. There were very, very few spaces in which I as a fat vegan felt welcome.
So then you started Big Fat vegan Zine. Can you tell us some more about that? Why did you start this platform and what message do you want to bring across?
I started the zine project as a result of the feelings outlined above – I felt that fat vegan voices ought to be amplified in order that fat folks would feel that veganism could work for them and that they were represented, and that fat vegans would feel empowered and welcome in at least one online space. For the most part I received an overwhelmingly positive response and I’m so happy now to see similar initiatives popping up.
The common perception is that there is a reverse relationship between body size and health. Is this true?
I’m no doctor or scientist, but I’m proficient enough in reading scientific studies that I am aware that fatness does not automatically imply ill-health (or gluttony or slothfulness), and that thinness does not automatically imply ‘good’ health. There are excellent resources on The Fat Nutritionist website, along with a blog called Big Fat Science and the Health At Every Size site. Size discrimination is a very real and pervasive barrier experienced by fat people, and the stigma of being fat is known to be more damaging to health in the long term than fatness itself. Personally, I prefer to focus on metabolic indicators of health, but it’s also important to stress that health is entirely personal and no-one owes their ‘good’ health to anyone (disability, for example, may be a barrier to ‘good’ health, or to veganism).
Veganism should always be about removing the barriers to veganism for as many people as possible. Advocating for fat/sick/disabled vegans is all a part of that and so it shouldn’t be ignored or minimised
Have you yourself experienced discrimination (in the vegan and animal rights movement)? Discrimination based on your abilities? On being a woman? On being fat? On being all of these? How does it impact your life?
I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of kickback as a fat vegan which simply presents as straight-up trolling, at times it’s more insidious and nasty than others. I choose to block and move on for the most part so the impact isn’t too great. I do this for my own wellbeing as distress tolerance is not a strong skill of mine!
What are the most common ‘bingo’ reactions or microaggressions you have received on being a fat vegan with a disability? Which reactions annoy or hurt you the most?
I think this primarily presents as people who make assumptions about my diet or lifestyle based on my size and my long-term health conditions, or those who offer unsolicited advice about the ‘right’ way to be a vegan.
What is your message to other vegan or animal rights activists who say that we should ‘focus on the animals’ and all of this talk about bodyshaming, ableism and other discriminations is a distraction from the core of veganism?
I think that veganism should always be about removing the barriers to veganism for as many people as possible. Advocating for fat/sick/disabled vegans is all a part of that and so it shouldn’t be ignored or minimised – it’s important that we make veganism truly inclusive and welcoming to everyone, and that means promoting the voices of vegans on the margins and working to make veganism accessible for all.
Jenny Marie – Interview Crip HumAnimal
– Interviews Crip HumAnimal – I particularly welcome stories of disabled LGBTQ+ vegans, vegans of colour, vegan women, or other oppressed and marginalised groups, to highlight their specific experiences and the interconnections of oppressions –