In literature, film and popular culture, vegans have long been mocked and dismissed as naive, privileged white women who allow emotion to guide their lifestyles. Food choices are indeed shaped by class and race, but using a “vegan lens” to analyze what people see and read may allow them to better recognize these “enmeshed oppressions,” according to Western Carolina University English Professor Laura Wright. She’s the editor of “Through a Vegan Studies Lens: Textual Ethics and Lived Activism” (University of Nevada Press/2019).
The essays in the book take on everything from the sexual politics of meat to the emergent hipster culture and its embrace of bacon.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Laura Wright about the essays in the collection and what these authors have to say about the gendered and hypocritical way people often talk about animals, people and the planet.
On veganism as a confrontational choice:
If you're the person who has made this decision, you are, without meaning to, very often calling other people’s choices into question. And that I think makes people very uncomfortable … We could really also interrogate the reasons why it is something that is viewed as elitist. What does it say about our society that in order to eat healthfully — in order to eat food that is fresh and good for you — you have to be more economically capable than other people? And I think that says a lot about the structure of our society … Veganism on the one hand is not eating animal products. But it's also kind of an affront to the various societies in which we live. It's requiring that one really consider choices in terms of everything that one purchases. You're really questioning the structure of your culture.
On being a vegan in the South:
I grew up in Greensboro. My family is from this part of the state: Western North Carolina. And all the food that I grew up with was very much Southern kind of food that centered around meat. And so to learn how to eat differently in a society where pretty much all of our diet is is centered around meat, I mean, the standard American diet is so heavily meat centric. To do that is really, really difficult if you don't know where to look or don't have the resources to kind of figure it out. And then also it's alienating to people in your life who have cooked for you or taken care of you to see you kind of do something that they don't really understand … [It] does feel like a rejection of the way that you have been taken care of your whole life.
On why there is no vegan movement:
Vegans tend to be non-joiners. That was one thing that I did discover about my people, if I can call us that! We don't tend to want to be in clubs or groups. So having a movement is not something that I think many vegans think about — or at least the ones that I know. It's much more of a kind of individual decision. [Though] it's nice to know other people who've made that decision, because it can be really lonely out in the world.