31 March, 2012

The Insidiousness of Fat-Shaming Vegans

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has once again decided to use a prejudicial and misleading advertisement to support their message.

Needless to say, vegans come in all shapes and sizes, and to suggest otherwise amounts to little more than an outright lie. Furthermore, the fat-shaming involved in this commercial is completely and utterly inappropriate. It is morally impermissible to treat a segment of society so cruelly when the majority of that population cannot help being the size that they are.

Yet what bothers me most about PCRM's attitude is that they are an organization dedicated to getting people to eat more healthily, and they strongly endorse a vegetarian lifestyle. It pisses me off to have a group so ignorant about why fat-shaming is bad actively support my position on ethical eating. Stuff like this really undermines the cause, much like Mike Daisey's recent This American Life fabrications which set back the cause of workers' rights in Apple's Foxconn factories.

If the ad focused instead on a $10 fee to allow you to sit next to a white, while others had the misfortune of sitting next to blacks, I'm sure that PCRM's advertising department would have realized how inappropriate the ad was. Unfortunately, the last bastions of prideful overt prejudice include fat prejudice, which society seems to not even notice. Contrary to popular belief, dieting does not work for most overweight individuals. This means that, for these people, being fat is no more attributable to their choices than being black is. (Of course, for a dedicated individual, dieting does work; but most dieters react to diets by gaining back more weight than they had before they started dieting.)

Further exacerbating the PCRM's ad is the fact that they did the same exact thing only three months earlier. Their "abs and thighs on cheese" ads were particularly vile, and sparked the ire of several fat-positive members of the vegan community. Yet somehow they managed to avoid learning how terrible such ads are and instead just repeated their mistake. Really, we all should have realized that they weren't going to learn a lesson back then; after all, they started their fat-shaming anti-cheese campaign immediately after Daiya, a vegan cheese brand, made a similar fat-shaming mistake just a couple of week earlier. (At least Daiya apologized for their mistake.)

At this point, I think I have just completely lost all respect for PCRM. They clearly are not going to stop this campaign of hatred, as evidenced in their most recent blog post. Although I expressed my dissatisfaction with them over this issue via twitter, facebook, and email, I don't believe it will do any good. Some people are just willing to throw other groups under the bus in order to get their issue heard by a wider audience.

But if you disagree, feel free to express your own opinion by tweeting @PCRM, posting on facebook.com/Doctors.Care, or calling/e-mailing their media contact, Vaishali Honawar, at 202-527-7339.

You can also read other bloggers' opinions on this issue, including Veggie Mightee!, The Thinking Vegan, and Vegansaurus, among others. [EDIT: The Vegan RD, a member of PCRM's board, has now resigned over this issue.]

(Note: Nofollow tags were used on all links pointing to PCRM's sites.)


  1. GREAT post!! Was so disgusted when I saw their latest ad.

  2. While I appreciate the overall content of your post, you also seem to imply that those people for whom dieting doesn't work are not dedicated enough (Of course, for a dedicated individual, dieting does work...). I don't think it's cool to criticize the shaming while shaming the 'undedicated' fat people at the same time. I can only hope you didn't mean it that way.

    1. There was no criticism intended. I see no shame in failing to lose weight when you try, just as there is no shame in failing to win the lottery when you play it. Nevertheless, the lottery still pays out, and people still can lose weight through dieting, if they are extreme enough.

      Remember that just because a thing is right morally does not mean it is true in reality. For example, we should never prejudge the Irish as being less intelligent, even if science were to one day discover that, in point of fact, the same genes that confer Irish heredity also confer a decrease in intelligence. The moral fact is separate from the actual state of affairs.

      When it comes to extreme diets, we have no choice but to admit that they do in fact work if a person completely ignores their health and insists upon losing weight at all costs. If you have less calories coming in than you expend, then your body must eat its own flesh to keep surviving. This is terribly unhealthy and not at all good for you; but it does result in a loss of weight. It's an undeniable fact of physics. For a truly dedicated individual, dieting does work.

      Of course, for some people, a small change in diet and exercise is enough to lose weight. In others, the only possible way is to literally starve oneself, harming one's body in the process. Nevertheless, it would be little more than lying to act as though taking in less calories than one expends would not cause weight loss to occur.

  3. Weight loss typically involves the loss of fat, water and muscle. Overweight people, or people suffering from obesity, typically aim to reduce the percentage of body fat. Additionally, as muscle tissue is denser than fat, fat loss results in increased loss of body volume compared with muscle loss. Thanks.

  4. Weight loss, in the context of medicine, health or physical fitness, is a reduction of the total body mass, due to a mean loss of fluid, body fat or adipose tissue and/or lean mass, namely bone mineral deposits, muscle, tendon and other connective tissue. It can occur unintentionally due to an underlying disease or can arise from a conscious effort to improve an actual or perceived overweight or obese state. Thanks.