Thursday, April 4, 2013

Big Long Food Rant Part 3: "Oppression"

It's been taking me a while to write this because I started with a long list of things wrong with the vegan and paleo communities before realizing it can best be summed up as "a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic fuckers."

The whole reason I was inspired to write this essay was, in fact, because the biggest response I've seen in the higher-up paleo community to a vicious tirade of racism and sexism was that Mark Sisson was "disappointed" at "negative" discourse.

It turns out that most of the issues I've been writing about are tied to oppressive behaviors, including; a dismissive or mistrusting attitude about health problems, oppressive advertising used to coax people into a restrictive diet, and accusations that some people are just "doing it wrong" when they quit or bring up problems.

In the vegan community, advertising that is directly oppressive to women and minorities is pretty much par for the course.  There's this ad that blames meat consumption for men having breasts (queer-body shaming), and their famous fat-shaming "Save the Whales" ad.  They've also run appropriative campaigns that use the Holocaust, KKK, and chattel slavery comparisons.  Interestingly, health- and fat-shaming are some of the least effective ways of creating long-term vegans.  The reason is that veganism is not inherently a fat-loss or health-promoting diet.  Long-term vegans are long-term vegans because of a dedication to animal rights, so in essence they're using these ads to shame and guilt people into what should be a well-thought-out decision involving ethics.  Appropriative comparisons may or may not be effective... but that doesn't matter because they're offensive.

These wind up being poorly called out because although there are many vegetarians critical of PETA's tactics, their size and power makes them hard to criticize without animal rightsists accusing you of harming the movement.  Remember what I wrote about issue purity in social movements?  If you bring up a major foresight in the movement's handling of an issue, then you're not boiling it down to "purely" animal rights arguments.  Bleh.

The health- and fat-based ads are so pervasive that it leads people within the movement to believe veganism is universally beneficial and will inherently cause you to lose weight.  This makes it hard for people who do have health problems to be believed when they display doubts... it becomes an issue of a personal failing of the individual--or worse, they're lying about their dedication--so legitimate health concerns are shoved under the carpet for more people to unwittingly fall prey to.

Even if veganism was inherently healthy, though, it would not be an excuse to body-shame people based on fatness or secondary sexual characteristics.

Paleo has similar issues, but without even the shittiest excuse.  Veganism, after all, is associated with an anti-oppression movement, so it's easy (even if it's wrong) to believe that the oppressive behaviors within the community are justified.  You know, "for the animals."  Paleo has some sustainability activism within it, but it's overall a personal health movement.  But there's still a lot of oppressive bullshit.  It's also not as easy to link to examples, because the issue is not as well documented in the paleo community as it is in the animal rights community.  So instead I need to rely mostly on things I've personally experienced... which is a lot of them.

For example, a public paleo figure can apparently get away with writing racist and sexist rants for years before a significant number of people call him out, and poorly so (and littered with people complaining that others are calling him out).  Now most people have taken down their links to him because he has gotten so offensive... the problem is that he's been offensive for a very long time, but people didn't pay attention until he ramped it up some.  And people still don't as a community call out people for saying stupid shit like this:
Lierre Keith--a seriously transmisogynistic radical feminist--is a cult hero in the paleo community simply because she wrote a book that promotes eating meat (but, of course, when you write about it you're obligated by the paleo man-code to explain that you're totes not a feminist).  Oh, speaking of her, Lierre Keith was assaulted by vegans on stage and it was a great example of the fucked-up nature of some strains of anti-oppression activism: If you say you're defending animals and trans people, it's totally cool for three able-bodied people to assault a woman with a disability on stage.  My point here is that whether people viciously attack her or elevate her to a weird paleo martyr, they're still ignoring oppressive power structures.

For a common personal experience, forums are peppered with people who force their sons into paleo because they're "feminine," and while this is not a majority it's not very well called out, either.  Evolutionary psychology is also really big (especially among paleo men), which--regardless of the authenticity of the actual field--is heavily associated with rape apologetics as well as naturalization of homophobia and heterosexism.

With the male-dominated nature of paleo, body shaming tends to run along the same lines as queer-body-shaming.  One of the reasons I started, to be fair, was to masculinize my appearance more.  It's a good diet for that... but it's also not something everyone wants or needs.  So why do I still read about people who use emasculating tactics to shame male friends into the diet, shaming them for having "womanly" body fat levels?  Why is "it'll feminize you" an appropriate reason to damn soy products?  And why are there paleo men who are surprised when women choose not to try it out when "feminization" is presented as some awful side-effect of a modern lifestyle?

When I change diets it's because whatever one I was previously on stopped working for me the way I want it to.  This is not, however, the reason I leave food communities.  I leave the communities because they wind up being populated with people who have no intention of checking their privilege or understanding why what they're saying is offensive.