Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Vegan Fat-Shaming: Not Kind. Not Helpful. Not Okay.

Is fatphobia one of the final frontiers where people feel comfortable publicly voicing and exercising their prejudices? Depending on the company one keeps, I wouldn’t go that far. We are a pretty bigoted species. The justifications used for upholding discriminatory attitudes toward people in larger bodies are unique and noteworthy, though. Not many people boast about their racist views, but I have observed many proudly describe the hate and discrimination they direct towards people in larger bodies as nothing less than a public health service. Could veganism actually offer the perfect cover for such bigoted individuals to hide in plain sight? I believe so. First, though, I want to address a word and suggest an imperfect replacement for it.

The word is one I’ve already used. It is fatphobia.

I started out using the word fatphobia because, while it isn’t as common a term as homophobia, it is an established word and it is intuitive: you hear it and are more-or-less able to discern its meaning with its tidy marriage of prefix and suffix. That said, I think it is a sloppy word in the same way that “homophobia” is: excep
t for rare cases, it is not a true phobia but a form of oppression and discrimination. A phobia is an extreme, irrational fear that is outside of one’s control and phobias can be very personally challenging to those who have them, often resulting in severe anxiety and avoidant behaviors that can impede a person’s ability to move about in the world. Discrimination and hate directed at those who are in larger-sized bodies, however, is not really a phobia any more than discrimination and hate towards homosexuals is evidence of an actual phobia: it is a form of bigotry. (There are no doubt real cases of phobia here but they are the exception rather than the norm.) Thus from this point on, I am going to use the word “size-bigot” and its various forms as well as some other terms because to me, they are more accurate and we need to stop making excuses for what is in fact discriminatory behavior, not phobic behavior. Language is powerful.

Size-bigotry is a natural byproduct of diet culture, something we are so steeped in, we usually don’t even notice it. It is the air we breathe and the water we swim in; steeping in it like tea bags, diet culture is what we absorb. Press us and diet culture is what we will express. It is so pervasive, though, we can scarcely see it.

Diet culture is a complicated shape-shifter of a concept and it is aided and abetted by our collective denial about it, but I will try to describe it with the help of the work of Registered Dietitian and intuitive eating counselor
Christy Harrison, whose incredible Food Psych podcast has been an invaluable resource for so many people, myself included. Diet culture is a system of beliefs that aligns slimness with health, value and moral virtue, as well as connects larger bodies with poor health, diminished personal value and moral virtue; diet culture also promotes weight loss and slimness as a necessary means for social elevation and increasing one’s moral status.

Diet culture tells people that we have less value and that we’re lazy, indulgent and gluttonous unless we hew to a certain narrow size range and then - if we are even able to attain it - our worth hinges on this very shallow and fickle factor, often requiring vigilance to maintain, if it is even possible. Diet culture makes us hate and judge ourselves and others; it both magnifies and invisiblizes people in larger bodies. It harshly judges and it swiftly convicts. Diet culture makes us obsessive. It diminishes us. It limits us and distorts our worldview. As Christy Harrison has aptly characterized it, diet culture is a life thief, robbing us of our time, our money, our resources, our relationships, our peace and our happiness.

According to the
National Eating Disorders Association, an estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder - from anorexia to binge-eating, bulimia to compulsive exercise - in their lifetimes, and the best-known environmental contributor to the development of an eating disorder is the sociocultural pressure toward thinness.

Why then would vegans, who seemingly believe in compassionate living, reinforce attitudes and biases that contribute to real-life harm? If they believe that shaming will result in the greater good by creating slimmer, seemingly healthier, bodies, perhaps
research proving that weight-stigma actually results in more eating and less physical activity, presumably the opposite of what size-bigots profess to encourage, should matter but it usually does not. It is proven, though, that weight stigma has negative physiological and psychological health outcomes for people in larger bodies, generates health disparities and, in fact, these attitudes of bias and discrimination encourage detrimental outcomes. The negative health consequences of the stress of living as a part of a stigmatized population is noteworthy in and of itself, but chronic stress and anxiety are actually linked to abdominal weight gain, driven by physiological mechanisms that increase appetite and diminish satiety so, in fact, weight-based discrimination can actually exacerbate the factors that lead to stigma. In other words, you cannot shame someone into weight loss because it simply doesn’t work and, there is a lot of research proving, in fact, that this kind of prejudice actually encourages the opposite to happen.

What I am interested in understanding is why ethical vegans would compound the stress and suffering of another. Why compassionate people would marginalize and discriminate. Why those who reject the status quo in so many ways would be content to reinforce it here. Why people driven to take action against injustice would knowingly behave in ways that contribute to it.

Well, I’ve been paying attention long enough to know the rationales. Here are some…

I care about kindness to animals and if you are fat, you are doing harm to yourself. After all, you are an animal, too. This is why I speak up.

This one. Oh, this one.

How about this? How about not being so condescending, ignorant and presumptuous about the “right” size for someone else, the factors that contribute to that person’s weight and the notion that you have any right to assume one’s health (and presumed worth) by your visual scan or that your judgements are welcomed. You are not a compassionate person. You are a condescending, intrusive bigot. Go away.

But it’s because I care and I want to help!

If you knew that reinforcing stigma actually resulted in worse health outcomes, would that change your behavior? Because it does, in more than one way. Take the fear of seeing a weight-stigmatizing physician alone as just one example. It’s not an unjustified paranoia that causes people with larger bodies to feel mistreated by their physicians: Research has shown that doctors
reported that seeing patients was “a greater waste of their time the heavier that they were, that physicians would like their jobs less as their patients increased in size, that heavier patients were viewed to be more annoying, and that physicians felt less patience the heavier the patient was.” Many people in larger bodies avoid seeing their doctors as a result of the stress of this stigma being directed at them; can you imagine the consequences of not getting adequate checkups and office visits? Do you see how fear of weight-stigma could actually lead to someone’s avoidable death in a way that has everything to do with the bigotry that diet culture promotes? (If you are looking for a healthcare provider who is committed to not discriminating, please check out this resource.)

There are starving people in the world! Fat people eat more than their share.

Okay. This is wholly irrational.

Food insecurity is caused by a complex, interconnected web of factors but the underlying issues are usually poverty and political inequality as well as other factors, like climate change and poor food distribution. This is not to minimize the role that consuming flesh and animal products has on world hunger - as noted, climate change and poor distribution, like redirecting grains to feed the animals people in turn eat rather than grains themselves, resulting in a great inefficiency, are drivers of food insecurity - but it’s not because “fat” people are being so damn greedy and gluttonous. It’s not as if all the food in the world is represented by a large pizza and the fat people eat six of the eight slices, leaving the poor just two pieces. That is not how how food disparity and hunger works, at all. Do not use the hungry of the world as a justification for your meanness. Educate yourself and develop some compassion.

I lost 100 pounds. Weight loss is a matter of discipline and not sitting on your ass, stuffing your face with junk food and being whiner. I can say this with authority because I used to sit on my ass, stuffing my face with junk food and being a whiner.

Okay. Okay. Okay.

I will ignore the growing amount of research now showing that different bodies do indeed respond to calories in different ways. (Well, I will ignore it but for posting a
link you can follow on to do some more research on your own.)

To the person who says this, well, good for you if weight loss was a goal you sought and accomplished.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what to
say except to ask what part of “someone else’s body is not your business” do you not understand? It is not your business. Unless you are this person’s physician and you have talked together about weight loss strategies, someone else’s body is SO MUCH not your business it’s not even funny. I know you think people in larger bodies are lying around, withhold the world’s seemingly finite pizza supply from the hungry and then whining about being fat, but that is really not the case. How hard is it to stay in your own lane? Again, shaming and stigma do not help anyone so don’t even try to pull that nonsense.

You are a bad example to the public if you are a vegan in a larger body.

You know who’s a really bad example? Vegans who are self-righteous, self-absorbed, shallow, bigoted, nosy assholes. You are a really bad example to the public. You need to stop. This is your intervention.

We are in the midst of a reckoning that’s exposed the long-accepted culture of sexual harassment and gender bias in the animal advocacy movement, a reckoning that points out not only how pervasive the culture has been but also how many talented women have left organizations due to the injustices they faced as women. I would venture a guess that many more talented, dedicated people have silenced their voices and limited their outreach for the animals fearing that they would be called “fat” or “bad examples” by those who are entrenched in shaming diet culture. It cannot be overstated how profound this loss of talent and dedication is for the animals, who desperately need all hands on deck.

There is so much to say on this topic but this is already so long. You catch my drift. Stop being a size-bigot. It isn’t just. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t intersectional. And it most certainly is not compassionate.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Rockstar with Frances Gonzalez

I will admit, I am not much of a wine connoisseur (I’m more of a chocolate fiend, I guess), but I do know many enthusiasts and I know that wine production can be, as with many industries, full of hidden and unsavory ingredients and practices, another example of how widespread cruelty to animals is, even when it’s not obvious to the eye. Egg albumin, isinglass (AKA fish bladders), gelatin and casein are just some of the animal sourced-components of wine production that don’t need to be disclosed on labels. What is a compassionate
oenophile to do?

The good news is today’s wine lover doesn’t need to choose between a lovely vintage and a kinder world, thanks to the work of
Frances Gonzalez, founder of Vegan Wines and the newly-launched Vegan Wine of the Month Club, the first of its kind in the United States. A longtime vegan and animal rescuer, Frances has made it her mission to source boutique wines that are not only free of cruel ingredients in the filtration process but using grapes grown without with the use of animal blood, feathers and bones in soil cultivation. Members of the club get three bottles shipped to them every two months, family-owned and uncommon wines chosen by Frances after she has visited the wineries and confirmed their growing methods, production, and, of course, fallen in love with the final product. The wine also arrives with a story about each winemaker, creating a real vine-to-glass experience, along with original vegan recipes to complement each bottle. Members of the club also get early access – or even exclusive access - to wine and food events hosted by Vegan Wines and their partner organizations. This almost makes me want to start drinking. (In a good way!) Please follow Vegan Wines on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter and contact Frances with more questions. I am honored that vineyard trailblazer Frances Gonzalez is this week’s Vegan Rock Star.

1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
As a small child going to visit my grandmother in Puerto Rico for the summers, I already had this connection that chickens were our animals and not our food. The chickens I would want to befriend were the same chickens that were placed on our plates as dinner. I remember not wanting to eat those chicken dishes. My family would say I was a “picky eater,” but deep down I now know that this was the start to my future of becoming a vegan.
Then in my twenties I dated a guy who was vegan – a Morning Star brand eater. He got me to watch this gruesome video about what happens to animals for the purpose of our so-called food chain. That was when I really saw all animals in a different way. I decided that day I was going to change my way of eating.
Whenever I contemplated not eating meat again, it wasn’t like I had this sudden clarity. There was no flash of “Oh, now I know what I’ll do!” in my brain. It was more like, “Okay Frances, how can we do this? First, let’s stop eating red meat, then we’ll work on the chicken.” (I wasn’t a fan of seafood, so no biggie there.)
But even when I had a little piece of chicken on my plate, I just couldn’t do it. I never ate meat again.
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
Well, I would never want to change the way I was shown that gruesome video. I saw that day how animals are abused and tortured for games, amusement, and to become our food.
I feel truth is strongest influence, and passive ways would have given me excuses to delay being vegan, so I am happy about the way I was taken into light, shown the truth. I just wish it had happened sooner.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
I became a vegan for animal rights. When I moved to Puerto Rico I became an animal rescuer. To help these animals, I used so many “before and after” images of ugly street dogs blooming into beauty with love and care. I feel my love and passion for these dogs and cats helped people who love and care for me understand the way I saw all living beings, including the humans in my life. It helped them understand the reasons I became vegan, that it wasn’t just some diet.
In time my loved ones respected my decisions. That in turn made me aware that passion is the best way for me to be the voice to send a message on veganism.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Media has brought so much truth into light. It has given us the opportunity to be the voice for the voiceless.
Even people who become plant-based for health reasons is still a strength in our movement, because it's a start, and still means that they still play some part rather than nothing. There are so many reasons why people start, and our mission is to help them through their journey so we all meet as one for the voiceless at the end of the path.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Big corporate companies keep trying to hinder progress by putting out false information that we need keep consuming animals for our health, like proteins, B12, calcium. We need to remember they spend so much money to convince people about these lies!
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
Please come with me to visit an animal sanctuary to meet all the wonderful and loving animals that will make you see things differently. Then let's go eat at one of the awesome vegan restaurants, and taste the art in vegan cooking. After, we will go see the movie “What the Health.” At the end I will be ready to answer all your questions yet I think you will completely understand the why and most likely agree!
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
My favorite book is Where The Blind Horse Sings by Kathy Stevens. I am Buddy’s sponsor and love him so much!
“The Last Pig” is my favorite film and “What The Health” has been the most effective with new vegans I have met. My continuing evolution includes animal sanctuaries, because you keep meeting the animals who are safe because of love.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Wine, of course! Wine is my main way to unwind. I have not eaten meat in over 20 years so to be honest there is no physical burn-out for me. I love wine, but when I learned that egg whites are used in the fining or filtration process, I would have stopped drinking it. That trip went from being just a vacation in wine country to research. I wasn’t the only one who had no idea that wines weren’t naturally vegan, most people think it’s just made using grapes and nothing else.
I will also say travel, especially since I travel with a purpose. I personally visit each vineyard and speak to the winemakers to see and learn about their production, their ecosystem, their soil, their climate. To do this in a way that serves animals, and promotes veganism…I feel very lucky.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Dogs and cats! I have rescued over 50 dogs and 10 cats by myself when no one would help me. My parents live in a small town in Puerto Rico called Coamo where there was nobody to help these street animals. But now, there is one woman, Rose Robles, who came to live in Coamo after I moved back to the states. Imagine my joy when I finally met someone that loved these animals as much as I did. However, we still have dogs dying every day in this small town, because as many as she saves, there is only so much she and I can do.
These dogs are so loving and I would love to share all the hard work that Rose from Misfits Pet Orphanage does, not just to save them from death and find them homes, but to raise awareness. She is also the only one I know of who seeks adopters on the island, so if anything goes wrong and the adopter wants to give the dog back, they can bring the dog back to her.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
My way of life forever!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie with Hannah Kaminsky

Okay, so can I just say that
Hannah Kaminsky is one of the original vegan rock stars of the Internet age and she’s still in her 20s? How is this possible? Well, when you’re an ambitious, creative and precocious teenager and you start your own website to post your innovations as a ridiculously talented wunderkind, it’s kind of easy. Hannah has been gifting the world with her alluring vegan recipes and adorable crafts since she was a wee teen and today, she lives in San Francisco as a photographer, continuing to post on her original website, BitterSweetBlog, and to knock my socks off with her beautiful, bold photography and imaginative recipes, made especially for the lover of sweets but with plenty of savory delights as well. The original post that got me hooked to all things BitterSweet was this recipe for peanut butter cups, which I still make every year for Halloween. (And, oh, whenever.)

As a multitalented freelancer – she can do photography, writing, recipe development, web work and more and you can hire her for it by
contacting her – her prolific spirit and work ethic has produced FIVE cookbooks (okay, now I’m really feeling like a loser) including the new beauty, Real Food, Really Fast: Delicious Plant-Based Recipes Ready in 10 Minutes or Less. It’s a fabulous new cookbook, full of her trademark creative recipes and stunning photography, but written from the angle of ease and speed, which is so important if we want to make plant-based food more accessible, with fast and flavorful recipes like Red Velvet Smoothie, Chickpea Mulligatawny, Cauliflower Risotto alla Milanese, S’Mores Baked Alaska and this week’s guest recipe, Hash Brown Waffles. Follow Hannah on her Instagram for loads of inspiration. I highly recommend Real Food, Really Fast for everyone, from vegan-curious to long-time vegans alike. I am proud to feature vegan trailblazer Hannah Kaminsky as this week’s Vegan Foodie.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

It was all quite unintentionally, really! Everything started with my blog, which began life over 12 years ago as merely a place for me to share my crafty ventures- Knitting, crochet, sewing, beading, and so forth. Eventually I began to see baking as an art and a craft, and slowly grew more passionate about that. My love for creating food only grew when I got my first job cooking at a small café, and my boss there really taught me the fundamentals from the ground up. I was a 16-year-old with no experience and no skills, but Sue Cadwell took my enthusiasm and turned it into real competence in the kitchen.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

I was a super picky, unhealthy kid growing up! The basis of my early diet was instant ramen, mac and cheese out of the box, and hot dogs. My current eating habits couldn’t be more different. Luckily, I was never big on eating meat, so it wasn’t a strain to go vegan, even back in those early days when the alternatives were not so widely available nor palatable.

3. It’s late at night and you just got home: What is your favorite quick and simple vegan meal?

Soups and stews are my go-to instant meals. If there are any vegetables in the fridge or freezer, there’s a soup waiting to happen. Start with onions and garlic sautéing on the stove, add in any produce you can scrounge up, raid the spice rack for any sort of complimentary flavors, and you’ve got a delicious meal in minutes, no matter the time of day or night. Canned beans are indispensable at these times to add a quick infusion of plant protein, too.

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

Tough question… I think it would be fun to bake my version of Nana Blanche’s famous chocolate cake for her and see what she thinks, comparing it to her original creation. She was my Nana’s nana, so that would be a long lineage of strong bakers to live up to!

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?

I’ve found that a lot of people conflate veganism with gluten-free, or no oil, or no sugar diets, and it’s a big mistake to jump in and cut everything out at once. If those approaches work best for your healthy, then the more power to you! It’s just plain wrong to think that merely cutting out cruel animal ingredients should automatically mean a severe, strict, deprivation diet.

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment? Also, what ingredients do you always like to have on hand?

It’s awesome to see aquafaba getting so much love these days, even from the mainstream media! I no longer need to explain the weird “canned chickpea brine” to people and get nothing but raised eyebrows in response. Since I eat a ton of chickpeas anyway, that’s something I always have around. I tend to freeze the excess in ice cube trays, so I can pop out a few portions anytime I want to bake.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?

Japanese cuisine has always been a top inspiration for me; I went to a magnet high school to learn Japanese language and culture, so I was obsessed from an early age. Living in California, I’ve been exposed to lots of excellent Mexican food, which has slowly begun to influence my own approach to building flavors as well. Finally, Chinese food has always been very accessible, yet diverse and always exciting, so I find a lot of those nuanced flavors and unique cooking techniques very inspiring.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

When I first went vegan over 15 years ago, Vegan Freak by Bob and Jenna Torres was my north star in a dark sky. I’ve gone back and re-read it several times since then, and it always reminds me why I’m vegan and re-energizes my commitment, if I find my enthusiasm ever flagging.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

I wish that so-called “conscientious carnivores” would really take a closer look at what they think is “humane meat.” It’s a lovely concept, but not the reality…

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, vegan food is…"

Simple. There’s no need to make life so complicated. It’s just good food, period!