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?