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Animal People: Freaks, Elitists, Fanatics, and Haters in U.S. Discourses about Veganism (1995-2019)


This dissertation emerged out of my efforts to understand what keeps animal lovers or animal people from identifying as vegans. Animal People traces anti-vegan discourses, alongside problematic white vegan discourses, in the U.S. over the last quarter century in journalistic, film, social media, legal, and literary texts to tell the story of how an eating and living practice that seeks to reduce harm has become a subject of cultural ridicule. If one-third of Americans think that other animals should be protected from exploitation, then why are only three to six percent of Americans vegan? (Gallup 2015). Animal People explores this aporetic discrepancy by analyzing discourses that negatively construct vegans and veganism(s) as sentimental, militant, elitist, anti-American, fanatical, sanctimonious, and misanthropic. Each chapter also addresses problems in mainstream veganism as a counter-discourse, such as white privilege, single-issue optics, consumerism, and perfectionism. Animal People looks at the way many vegans and vegan organizations fail to address issues of race and class in access to non-animal based foods and in animal rights more generally.

Eating choices are complicated and contingent: they straddle the borders between the conscious and the unconscious, the individual and the collective, the personal and the political. These choices, or lack thereof, are distributed unevenly along racial and class lines. Vast differences exist across communities and regions in terms of what foods are accessible. Advertising by the government-subsidized animal-abusing industries and the artificially low prices of many foods made from and by animal bodies compound the confusion. The fact that other animals exist both as sentient beings and as food makes it uniquely difficult to discuss, let alone legislate, justice for them. Veganism should be a bridge to critical re-evaluations of our exploitative relations and the way these relations negatively affect the wellbeing of others and the planet––and not an obstacle to such re-evaluations, which are increasingly urgent, according to every recent major scientific study about the effects of animal-abusing industries on climate change. Animal People tries to clear some of these obstructions to reveal ideological biases, larger philosophical, epistemological issues, and the way vegans sometimes perpetuate the stigmas.

Animal People proposes that these stigmas do a great disservice to other animals; the animal liberation movement; marginalized communities that have disproportionate numbers of animal-based fast food restaurants and lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables and bear the brunt of the environmental degradation caused by factory farms and slaughterhouses; and the planet at large, by keeping a large number of non-vegan animal people from taking animals off of their plates. People are far less likely to go against social norms in ways that threaten their social relationships to adopt an undesirable and derided identity position.

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