Monday, January 31, 2011

Veganorxia: A Term that I Thought I Coined, but Didn’t (damn it)

Well, first off, I think it goes without saying at this point that the extent of my scholarship for this semester will consist of this blog.  I’ve had two conference papers accepted, one at ASLE, an extremely selective venue, and the other at NEMLA.  And I haven’t written either paper.  I did, however, submit a review of someone else’s book (Monica Popescu’s impressive South African Literature After the Cold War) to Safundi, and I’ve been asked for a book cover blurb for a collection of essays on J. M. Coetzee, so I guess that’s something.  But all I seem to be doing is reading other people’s work, which is great, and other people’s program prioritization reports, which isn’t. 

But let’s not talk about me and my university service woes.  Let’s talk about veganorexia.

OK, so a couple of entries ago, I was sort of kidding when I said that my next entry would be on veganorexia and Natalie Portman’s portrayal of an uber-eating disordered ballerina in Black Swan (the first meal that she eats is half a grapefruit and boiled egg.  Of the grapefruit, she claims, “it’s so pink and pretty”).

Nothing vaginal there.

I was thinking of Portman, who is vegan as a result, she claims, of having read Jonathan Safron Foer’s Eating Animals.  As she notes, “what Foer most bravely details is how eating animal pollutes not only our backyards, but also our beliefs. He reminds us that our food is symbolic of what we believe in, and that eating is how we demonstrate to ourselves and to others our beliefs.”   

There has been much in the media about the rigors of both actual ballet training and what Portman put her body through in order to achieve the elongated and sinewy female form that we observe, via an extremely male-oriented gaze, in Aronofsky’s film.*  Victoria Looseleaf has written an essay on the ways that Black Swan fetishizes not only the anorexic body but also enforces various other forms of body fascism.  So there’s ample information out there for me to make a kind of joke of Portman’s vegan constructed balletic anorexia.

This photo says it all, don't you think?

Back to veganorexia, a term that I thought I’d coined.  But a search for the term pulls up all kinds of things, including an entry in the Urban Dictionary: a veganorexic is “A person with Anorexia who denies or hides it by saying he/she is Vegan.” And there is a perverse and performative vegan presence on various pro-ana web pages (note: possibly disturbing material), a call to women who want to get super skinny to become vegetarian or vegan.  Even Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch, a book that I grudgingly admire, is, as Julie Klausner claims, “a PETA pamphlet in chick-lit clothing and an innovative fusion of animal rights activism with punitive dieting tactics that prey on women's insecurities about their bodies.” 

The links between vegetarianism and veganism and anorexia are real in ways that are all too familiar to me, primarily because becoming vegan was, for me, part of a long process of overcoming a history of anorexia and bulimia, eating disordered behaviors that are defined by the willing denial of food.  Far more often, I fear, veganism or vegetarianism and used as the excuse for this denial; in my case, veganism was the excuse that I needed to get over it, to eat, to empower myself to react to cultural dietary proscriptions over which I had historically had no control. And, again for me, the gender implications of becoming vegan were profound and empowering.  I wish that could be the case for everyone.

But more on that later.  

* I really hated Black Swan.  Sorry.  But this is pretty funny:

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Vegan Brain

So things just got really busy: the North Carolina budget is a disaster; the University of North Carolina system is seriously affected by this reality; the university where I work is looking at ways to cut 15% (somewhere around $15 million) from its operating costs for the 2011-2012 year.  As a result, all programs at my university must generate “program prioritization reports” to justify keeping the program (as opposed to seeing it axed).  I had to write two of these things for two programs that I direct, so I’ve been busy; a lot goes into fighting for one’s job and the jobs of one’s colleagues.
And now we’ll all just wait for the proverbial ax to fall where it may.

But in the midst of all this – the panic, depression, and overwhelming certainty that no matter how much time and effort I put into these reports, no matter how much data I provide to demonstrate the mission critical nature of my programs, the quality of the faculty who teach in them, or their cost effectiveness, the administration will do what the administration has, most likely, already decided to do – a bit of vegan goodness came my way.  So I’ll share.

A friend sent me an article about the differences between brain activity between omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans in response to images of human and nonhuman suffering.  Here’s the abstract:

Empathy and affective appraisals for conspecifics are among the hallmarks of social interaction. Using functional MRI, we hypothesized that vegetarians and vegans, who made their feeding choice for ethical reasons, might show brain responses to conditions of suffering involving humans or animals different from omnivores. We recruited 20 omnivore subjects, 19 vegetarians, and 21 vegans. The groups were matched for sex and age. Brain activation was investigated using fMRI and an event-related design during observation of negative affective pictures of human beings and animals (showing mutilations, murdered people, human/animal threat, tortures, wounds, etc.). Participants saw negative-valence scenes related to humans and animals, alternating with natural landscapes. During human negative valence scenes, compared with omnivores, vegetarians and vegans had an increased recruitment of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). More critically, during animal negative valence scenes, they had decreased amygdala activation and increased activation of the lingual gyri, the left cuneus, the posterior cingulate cortex and several areas mainly located in the frontal lobes, including the ACC, the IFG and the middle frontal gyrus. Nonetheless, also substantial differences between vegetarians and vegans have been found responding to negative scenes. Vegetarians showed a selective recruitment of the right inferior parietal lobule during human negative scenes, and a prevailing activation of the ACC during animal negative scenes. Conversely, during animal negative scenes an increased activation of the inferior prefrontal cortex was observed in vegans. These results suggest that empathy toward non conspecifics has different neural representation among individuals with different feeding habits, perhaps reflecting different motivational factors and beliefs.

Mostly I read this and think: “do what, now?”  I don’t know what a “conspecific” is, nor do I fully comprehend the nature of “increased activation of the lingual gyri.”  But what I’m taking away from this – and what I didn’t really need a convoluted scientific study to tell me – is that people who make dietary choices based on ethics that are opposed to human and nonhuman suffering process images of suffering in ways that are different from people whose diets don’t reflect these considerations.  The fact that brain functions differ between these groups seems like a big old “duh” to me.

 (a wee can of duh)

But – and mind you, I’ve only read the abstract and glanced at the charts (I was like, pictures!) – this kind of research tends to show me nothing.  What do we make of the differences in the way various vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous brains process suffering?  Does the brain response follow from the ethics behind the dietary choice, or do the ethics arise from a brain that is biologically hard wired differently from the majority?  Ultimately, I’m not sure that finding a definitive answer to these questions really matters.

But I’ll try to make it through the full piece and let you know if I learn anything useful, like, for example, how to make everybody's brain work like a vegan brain. . . but I'm doubting that that information is there.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Alicia Silverstone is pregnant.

So read a news headline in the Asheville Citizen-Times yesterday, which is weird, because, well, why the Asheville paper?  I sort of ignored the story, because I really don’t care about celebrities (or really anyone else, for that matter) having babies, nor do I really care all that much about Alicia Silverstone, except that she’s vegan.  Here’s her blog on the subject. 

I’ve thought about this a bit: the fact that if a celebrity is vegan, I will feel a sense of connectedness to that celebrity, but that connection to a vegan community, like all other imagined communities is, well, imaginary.  I guess that veganism is a pretty important thing to have in common.  It implies a kind of shared ethic, a shared set of ideological underpinnings – at least in theory.  But then I realize that part of my project with this project (blog and book) is to demonstrate that the very notion of a homogenous vegan identity is a fiction.

Still.  What’s the first thing that I do when I start to like an actor or musician?  Check to see whether or not that person is vegan.  It’s easy to do this, but there is sometimes conflicting information (is, for example, Mike Tyson really vegan?).  Websites like Happy Cow and Famous Vegans have lists of every vegan celeb imaginable.

When I was in New York week before last, I passed Parker Posey in the dog park at Washington Square Park. 
(seriously, that's her and the dog.  Photo taken by Jason)

OK, she has a dog that she takes to the dog park, so I already love her.  Love her anyway (have you seen House of Yes?).  When we got back to the hotel, I searched to see if Parker’s a vegan.  She’s not, at least her name doesn’t appear in any list I can find. 

And this being a vegan or not being a vegan is certainly not the deciding factor in terms of whether or not I like a celebrity or his or her art, but it’s still something that matters enough for me to search for it, to feel a common bond if I find it -- which I realize is perhaps ridiculous. 

But back to Alicia Silverstone and her pregnancy: Alicia’s body has been an object of intense scrutiny since she starred in Clueless back in 1995.  Her role in that film won her much critical acclaim, and the media positioned her as the next big thing.  And then she starred as Batfgirl in Batman and Robin (1997), which flopped.  And then suddenly there was all this press about how she had gotten fat. She gave up meat and all other things animal over a decade ago; the weight dropped, and she wrote a cookbook called The Kind Diet

Alicia Silverstone’s body and her bodily decisions have always been in the media, have either been praised of maligned, from the time she was the hot young thing in all those early 90s Aerosmith videos, to her Catholic schoolgirl turn in Clueless, to the skin-tight rubber suit wearing Batgirl.  Her veganism is closely tied to her animal activism, something that she has always been outspoken about, but her veganism is also the key to the weight loss that allowed her to be deemed sexy once again.  In fact, she was filmed by David Meyer in a naked testimonial for PETA in which her voiceover extols the virtues of being veggie while she slips naked from a pool and basically licks the camera. 

In her case, her veganism has allowed for her bodily ascension, or perhaps re-entry, into the cult of Hollywood beauty.  And in allowing herself to be videotaped naked for PETA, she demonstrates a failure to connect the objectification of animals via our consumption of them, to the objectification of women via our scrutiny and fixation on their bodies.  In this video, Silverstone is consumable object, panning to the very internalized male gaze that perpetuates her need to drop the pounds, and the very real and pervasive masculinist ideology that very often undermines her dietary and ethical choices.

It will be interesting to see how the media and Silvestone herself treat her pregnancy; it will be telling to see how much she has to justify in terms of her diet as she carries her child to term. 

Next time, veganorexia: Natalie Portman and Black Swan.  Oh, and Jason loooooves Alicia Silverstone.  When I told him that she was pregnant, he sighed and said, “sadly, it isn’t mine.”  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

These guys

I work in the rural backwater of Western North Carolina.  And this is generally a good thing, except for days when I find two dogs on the side of Highway 74 on my way to work on my FIRST DAY OF CLASS FOR THE SEMESTER (in single digit weather, in the snow, dogs without tags, without microchips, without any discernible way for me to tell from whence they came, most likely because they were dumped -- maybe dumped in the hope that someone like me would pick them up and take them in).

Freaking ruined my first day back, by the way.  I'm just glad that I have good friends who let me stow said dogs in their basement while I taught (and I'm so glad that I have tenure. Otherwise, my performance in my class, compromised by the fact that my mind was on the displaced dogs, might have profound implications for my career).  Now the dogs are in my home office, 40 miles or so from where I found them (I work 50 miles from my house, and my journey takes me through the mountain wilds of North Carolina.  It's a beautiful drive, except on days like today, when the drive is tainted...and this isn't the first time I've picked up animals along this route).

I'm one of those people who finds dogs and cats, which is to say that I am one of the ones who stops when I see them.  I'm one of the ones who takes them in, one of the ones who keeps them and finds homes for them.  I'm not chosen; I'm not someone special, and I'm certainly not someone who believes that it's my destiny to find stray and abandoned animals.  But I am someone who notices them.  And while many people might see them as they wind along the highway, most people don't stop to take them in.  So in this sense, I'm special.  Or whatever.  But I shouldn't be.

Dogs constitute one component of our minion biota, a species that we, homo sapiens, continue to perpetuate, even as we decimate numerous other species by virtue of our environmentally destructive, overly consumptive excesses.  Dogs are in the company of our other minion biota, cats, for example, as well the species that we consume: pigs, chickens, and cows.  These species survive because we allow them to survive, because we need them in some way -- either as consumable objects or companions.  But in both contexts, they exist at our whim; dogs and cats are still "other," creatures that we can abandon if we need or even want, if they get sick, if housing them is inconvenient.  Cows, chickens, and pigs are food, manufactured for consumption, not to live a life during which they might experience happiness, comfort, or even companionship.

I have these abandoned dogs, now, and I'll find a place for them, as I've done for many others.  And my feelings for them are not sentimental.  These dogs (chickens, pigs, cows) should have the same right to a life without suffering that I have.  So I'll do whatever I can to ensure that they get it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

No Vegetarian/Vegan series on Food Network of Cooking Channel

On January 2, I accidentally caught the tail end of a show on the Cooking Channel called “Veg Edge,” which was being hosted by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.  The show was unlike anything that I’d ever seen on either the Cooking Channel or Food Network, as it was focused on vegan chefs and restaurants.  As far as I can tell – and after numerous emails to both networks suggesting that they consider it – there had never been a weekly vegetarian, much less vegan, cooking show on either network, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this one; not only was it focused on vegan food, restaurants, and lifestyles, but also because the people and places featured were the tough face of veganism, the hardcore, heavy metal, badass variety of vegan.  The show offered a kind of response to the view of vegans as tree hugging, weak, and feminized.  Of course, these two views constitute a kind of binary that seems present in the popular cultural discourse surrounding veganism – vegans as members of an anarchistic, post-punk subculture that is subversive, or vegans as ascetics, dietary minimalists, pale and ineffectual in their misplaced zeal.

Interestingly, this binary is also very gendered: the “Veg Edge” show featured both men and women, but the show did much in terms of generating a view of veganism that is highly masculinized, a version of veganism that presents a counter-discourse to the view of human herbivores as feminine or emasculated, particularly in U.S. culture where meat is presented and sold as masculine

But anyway.  I bring this up because of Jason.

I’ll go ahead and say that I’m completely biased about Jason, because I’m sort of married to him (and here's an interview with him), but the “Veg Edge” special made me angry (for about the 700th time), that Jason doesn’t have his own show on the Food Network or Food Channel.  So I wrote to Isa Chandra Moskowitz, thanking her for hosting the “Veg Edge” show and telling her about Jason, “the salad-eating vegan who can put you through a wall,” as a possible guest for the series.  And she wrote me back…to let me know that the show was a one time special. 

I feel pretty certain that at some point, there will be a mainstream vegetarian show on one or the other of these networks, but it hasn’t happened yet.  The closest that they’ve come is the “Veg Edge” special and an episode of Food Network’s “Top Chef Masters” during which five famous carnivorous chefs made a vegan, gluten free, soy-free lunch for Zooey Deschanel  – an event that sent good ole boy Art Smith into such a frenzy that he served a desert of Rice Dream and strawberry jam…which got him axed from the show.  The Top Chef episode revealed just how difficult it is to make delicious food, if you don’t know how to do anything other than meat, butter, and cheese.  It showed that vegan cooking requires a level of creativity – or perhaps just a different kind of creativity – that is not accessible to more classically trained chefs.

Here’s an episode of Yvonne Smith’s* “The Traveling Vegetarian” that features The Laughing Seed and Jason.

Now get off your butt and write to the Food Network and demand a vegan cooking show!

* Yvonne Smith has 3876 friends at present, which I find amazing.  At last count, I have 326, which seems impressive, until you are friended by someone with 3876 friends.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More on vegan comics

Things I learned from creating Stupid Vegan Comic #1:

1. “Paintbrush,” the Mac version of Microsoft Paint, is crappy.  And this will be the only time that you ever hear me complain about my Mac.  In fact, I hope I haven't hurt Mac's feelings by speaking disparagingly about its software.

2.  And slightly related to 1 above, using a paint program on a laptop that doesn’t have an external mouse is impossible.  Hence the terrible drawings.  And I can actually draw.  Sort of. 

3.  From now on, my Stupid Vegan Comics will be hand drawn, as using the Paintbrush program to create my first comic took me somewhere in the neighborhood of eight hours, and I just don’t have that kind of time.  And no comments about how it took me that long because I’m technologically illiterate; I already know that.

But seriously, I got the idea to do my wee comic after reading Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh’s blog, in which she incorporates lots of drawings made in Paint. Allie’s blog and comics aren’t about veganism, but she’s hilarious, and reading her work has given me a sense of appreciation for the art of creating, well, art . . . and it's given me a profound sense of respect for anyone who can create art using the Paint program.

There are, of course, tons vegan comics out there, all of them much better than mine; a google search for “vegan comics” pulls up a veritable smorgasbord of comic art pertaining to veganism, from pieces that promote veganism, to those that poke fun at it, to those that are outright hostile.  There are famous comic artists who are vegan, like Scott Adams (Dilbert) and Cathy Guisewaite (Cathy), whose work may or may not feature vegan themes, and then there are other folks, like MC Miller and Jen Hernandez, whose work is centered around veganism. 

Here are a few random comics that tickled my fancy:

Frederic Patenaude has a series of Raw Food Comics.

Wiley takes on Hansel and Gretel.

And, perhaps most notably, Dan Piraro, whose page I’ve linked to on the right, uses his comic art to promote both animal rights and veganism.

Then there’s the more bitingly satirical and/or caustically critical.  Marvel offers this rendition of a vegan life form:

Natalie Dee calls out vegan hypocrisy:

 And then there's the strictly silly (and this one is my favorite):


* My brief foray into the world of vegan comics reveals that there is a whole weirdo vegan zombie subculture, complete with all manner of products.  And maybe "subculture" is the wrong term to define this phenomenon, but there is something very compelling about the parody of rendering a cannibal as vegan; we already see this, to some degree or other -- although without the self-aware irony -- with those sparkly Cullen vampires who are vegetarian (that is, they eat animals, which is the very antithesis of vegetarianism).  And I'm really sorry to have brought up Twilight, but I can tell you that it won't be the last time I do it.  I promise, however, to be scathingly critical of that whole franchise whenever I address it.

And on an unrelated note, I love daiya

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stupid vegan comics #1

Quite possibly the worst drawn comic ever.  But it's also my first.

Scott Pilgrim and the Vegan Police

A snowy morning dose of vegan humor.  This representation is demonstrative of several things in terms of the ways that vegan identity is perceived as not only holier-than-thou but also as mere posturing devoid of a committed ideological stance.  Veganism as cool, as outward indicator of a kind of moral superiority dependent upon one's ability to eschew the dietary choices of mere mortals.  And veganism as an impossibility, an affront to one's more human inclination to partake of animal-based foods.

But while the vegan is shown to be a fraud, the non-vegans are also satirized, depicted as policing the dietary regimen that allows for super powers.  They record each transgression, determined to strip the supposed vegan of his powers (and to totally fuck up his hair).  My favorite part is that the police aren't holding any weapons; they strip Todd of his powers by pointing their fingers at him.

Oh, and on a totally unrelated note, Isaiah Mustafa, "the man your man could smell like," is vegan.   

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Harold Fromm

Since I mentioned his piece in my previous post, here it is, in its entirety: Harold Fromm's Vegans and the Quest for Purity

And here's my response, some of which was published in the Chronicle:

In response to Harold Fromm’s “Vegans and the Quest for Purity” (4 July 2010):

Ah, the othering, via sweeping generalizations, of some presumably homogenous entity known as vegans – and from someone who should know better.  I have to wonder first at The Chronicle’s reasoning for publishing this piece: what is the connection between this fallacious anti-vegan rant and higher education?  And second, I am concerned that such a completely unsupported argument, devoid of any concrete examples, dependent upon the stereotyping of various groups (vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters) passes muster with the editors.

As I read through this piece, I could not help finding myself in composition instructor mode, knowing that any good first-year writing teacher would return this piece for revision, given its hasty generalizations (“Unlike vegans, who are enlisted in an open-ended but futile metaphysic of virtue and self-blamelessness that pretends to escape from the conditions of life itself, vegetarians have more limited goals and have marked out a manageable territory with fewer cosmic pretensions,” “Behind their beliefs is the hopeless longing for innocence”), its faulty analogies and slippery slope hyperbole (“But even larger creatures like cockroaches and rats, do they enter into the purview of animal-rights activists? And the HIV virus, the swine flu, tuberculosis? Do I want to eschew antibiotics and vaccines that help my life out of respect for theirs?”), and its argument from tradition: “We're compromised from the start. Evolution favored meat-eating primates, enlarging their brains and enabling them to live in more and more complex and survivalist societies that today extend our life spans, provide genteel habitats, and produce philosophers who have the wherewithal to object to the very components of their own existence.”

Who are these vegans of which Fromm speaks, these ethereal, “grandstanding,” self-righteous creatures, these judgmental and friendless beings, alienated from society (“Veganism, while perhaps harmless enough, especially if you don't care about being part of society or alienating potential friends who may find you more trouble than you're worth…”)?  I’m afraid that I don’t know these folks.  And I’m doubting that Fromm knows them either.  Since concrete example is always preferable to nameless, faceless stereotype (like vegans, blacks, gays, women…), I’d like to introduce you to a real life vegan: me.

Since The Chronicle sees fit to entertain the subject of veganism via Fromm, it seems fair that there be a counter narrative out there as well, one straight from the mouth of a creature whose existence must be the product of selective biological evolution and the evolution of intellectual choice: a female, vegan animal.  The reasons that Fromm lists for why vegans are vegan are somewhat alien to me; indeed, most of them are not my reasons.  I was vegetarian first – because I didn’t want to participate in an industry responsible for what I view as so much needless suffering.  I visited a sausage plant on a school field trip when I was 13.  And that was that.

Veganism came later, when I was working on my dissertation on J. M. Coetzee, an author whose work Fromm and I both admire.  But my decision wasn’t based on reading Coetzee, or even on a much more influential text that I read at the same time, Carol J. Adams’s The Sexual Politics of Meat, a text that made manifest for me the connections between the subjection of animals and women.  I chose to be vegan because I could make that choice, because it wasn’t going to hurt me to do so, and because, in a much larger sense, doing so forced me to come into direct and engaged contact not only with what I eat and wear, but with the capitalist economies responsible for such commodities; for me, being a vegan requires my vigilance, my attention, my focus in ways that make it impossible for me to consume anything – from food to politics to fashion –without at first considering its source.  As the result of that decision, I am healthy and strong, a distance runner, scholar, teacher, and fully realized member of society.  I am a person who feels a sense of internal consistency, at least in one aspect of my life.

I know that I am lucky – privileged – to be able to make the choices that I make.  I never take the ability to make those choices for granted.  I am fortunate to be able to take a considered approach to my evolutionary history and my biology, and to decide that simply because something has been the case in the past, it does not necessarily need to remain the case.  I get to choose not to eat certain things, not to wear certain things, heck, even not to have children – a choice that clearly flies in the face of my biological “purpose” – and for the ability to make these choices, I am supremely thankful.  I have never found myself hopelessly “longing for innocence” as the result of my life, but, then again, I think that the longing for innocence of which Fromm speaks is probably the same longing that accompanies any quest for meaning or truth, any attempt to make sense of one’s place in a world that is filled with suffering.

Choice is an interesting concept, if we approach it from the evolutionary standpoint that Fromm seems to embrace; if we are biologically and historically predetermined (because our evolutionary history would suggest that we are) to do such and such, how do we account for the evolution of an intellect that allows us not to?  If, as Fromm states, “to be alive is to be a murderer. Or to be murdered,” then isn’t the decision not to go outside and kill your neighbor for whatever reason just as suspect as the decision not to eat a cow or wear leather (or, for that matter, kill a spider)?  We all make choices with regard to what we will and won’t allow, what we privilege and what we exclude from consideration.  We are all, vegan and non-vegan, involved in both destructive and creative processes.

There are many reasons for why I made the decision to become vegan; they are my reasons, and I have never tried to impose them on anyone else (although the very act of my being vegan is enough to threaten some people, like Fromm, for instance – but that’s not my problem).  I am happy; I have friends – from raw foodists, to vegetarians, to full out carnivores – who eat all kinds of different things.  I live in a world where there is room for differing systems of belief, different reasons why people make the choices that they make.  And I’m a vegan, Harold.  Now you can say that you’ve met one.

What's up with this

Well, I have to start somewhere, so how about here: I'm writing this blog as a way to post and gather data for a book I'm writing called The Vegan Body Project: The Cultural Construction and Performance of Vegan Identity.

My project is informed by an examination of cultural mainstream discourse surrounding and connecting animal rights and veganism, with specific attention to the construction of the physical vegan body as a contested cite manifest in contemporary works of literature, popular cultural representations, advertizing, and news media. Karen and Michael Iacobbo, in their study Vegetarians and Vegans in America Today, note that “lingering stereotypes and dubious ‘facts’ plague the depiction of the lives and habits of . . . vegans” (58), and in a July 4, 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Vegans and the Quest for Purity,” none other than Harold Fromm, the co-editor of The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology (U of Georgia P, 1996), had this to say about vegans:

The grandstanding of vegans for carefully selected life forms, to serve their own sensitivities—through their meat- and dairy-free diets, their avoidance of leather and other animal products—doesn’t produce much besides a sense of their own virtue. As they make their footprint smaller and smaller, will they soon be walking on their toes like ballet dancers? And if so, what is the step after that? Pure spirit (a euphemism for bodily death)? If our existence is the problem—which it is—then only nonexistence can cure it. The supreme biocentric act is not to discover yet one more animal product to abstain from. The supreme biocentric act is dying, returning the finite matter and energy you have appropriated for yourself and giving them back to the creatures you stole them from. And what makes them so pure? Are they shedding tears as they tear you and each other apart? The real “crime” is existence, not being or using animals.

Fromm’s comments here and elsewhere throughout his essay point to varying conceptions of vegan identity as contradictory, elitist, ill-informed, and anti-social, but underlying these assertions is the very prevalent mainstream belief – even held by environmental advocates and ecocritics – that there should be a limit to an animal rights agenda that may approach, but not fully encompass, a vegan ideology. Furthermore, the acceptance of Fromm’s essay by The Chronicle points to the ire that conceptions of veganism inspire – even in academic circles – but, perhaps more importantly, such acceptance points to the ways that veganism, as a sub-cultural movement, has entered the mainstream discursive fray and the ways that vegan identity has become a loaded idiom in mainstream culture.  

My study examines not only the reasons for the often negative and inflamatory discourse surrounding vegan identity, but it also explores the sexualization and often-contradictory gender-specific rhetorical constructions of both vegan and animal bodies.  For example, the feminist argument for veganism offered by such writers as Carol J. Adam’s (whose foundational text, The Sexual Politics of Meat, provides a sustained analysis of the connections between meat eating and patriarchy), has very different gender-specific valiances from model and plastic surgery devotee Pamela Anderson’s identification as vegan, as do multiple anti-vegetarian/vegan ad campaigns aimed at men, which associate meat eating with masculinity. The Hillshire Farms’ ads in which men cheer, “Go meat!”, for example, offer a starting point to examine mixed martial arts cage fighting champion Mac Danzig’s (or, for that matter, Mike Tyson’s) ultra masculine vegan (or “hegan”) identity, at once derided as effeminate or unbelievable – many cage fighting discussion boards host numerous postings from people who doubt Danzig could acquire his physique without meat – and alternately embraced by animal rights entities like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

And there's more, of course.  But that's enough for now.  I'm looking for any and everything out there that depicts or discusses vegans, that portrays them, that stereotypes and/or vilifies, that praises and/or glorifies.  Send me something, ok?