Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Weight, race, & veganism – possibly triggering December 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 2:24 pm
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I am (half-) Asian American. I’m also thin. And short. When people find out I am vegan, I feel like often their responses (explicitly & not-so) fall into two main categories:

Of course I’d be thin, because Asians are all thin & veganism makes you lose weight, lucky me. (A fallacious argument I hate — two links there, btw.)

Or: Of course I look the way I do — Asians being wimpily tiny, & obviously veganism has only exacerbated my genetic tendency to be undernourished & have stunted growth. Poor me. I should eat a steak or two ASAP.

Vegans of color: are there ways in which you have seen reactions to your veganism be shaped by racial assumptions about your weight & health? We’ve talked a lot here about how veganism is often viewed culturally as a white thing, but I’m interested in focusing more, in this post, on things specifically tied to weight & appearance.


24 Responses to “Weight, race, & veganism – possibly triggering”

  1. Meep Says:

    Apparently people’s responses are caused by only interacting with one Asian at a time.

    I’m starting to think that people in general have strange conditioned behavior as a result of mainstream media and a lack of exposure, coupled with critical analysis, of things outside themselves.

    • johanna Says:

      Yeah — I remember reading about how schools in the US at least are getting more & more racially segregated. I’m sure that combined w/stereotypes in the media does no good at all for pulling one’s head out of one’s ass. :/ (& plus US schools not being great for encouraging people to think critically to begin w/)

  2. Serenity Says:


    I’m vegan, but I’m not thin. Far from it. Whe people find out, they ask, “Are you knew?” or I get the screwface.


    • johanna Says:

      “Are you new?” — AUGH. Once I had a boss who, upon hearing that I knew several fat vegans, said, “Well, what are they doing wrong?” AUGH AUGH AUGH.

  3. Brandi Says:

    For the record: I am a White vegan girl. From that perspective, I would say you should be proud to be a thin, healthy, vegan Asian American rather than…what: An obese, unhealthy, meat addicted White person? Not that people’s words won’t be annoying, but be patient with others and stay true to you. Keep living healthfully and let it shine! Those who are worth it will get it.

    PS. I just posted an Arbonne Giveaway on my blog. Feel free to stop by an enter!

    • johanna Says:

      Thin does not automatically mean healthy & fat does not automatically mean unhealthy. There is a lot of information online about the myths around weight; I would encourage you to read more about them before making such comments.

      • Brandi Says:

        I did not say that if you are thin you are automatically healthy, I was drawing a conclusion on what I know about you. Vegans tend to be more be more healthy and more health conscious(this is supported by research). And there is a lot of research that states the more weight people carry around their waist the greater chance they have for developing heart disease, diabetes, etc.

        I was on your side, so why the remark, “I would encourage you to read more about them before making such comments.”? And I work in the health industry, so I DO read a lot of health information…and not from ONLINE sources.

  4. My dad calls me a fat vegetarian.

    “I don’t understand it – all you eat are vegetables, and you’re fat!”

    This is an exaggeration. Even though I could stand to lose a few pounds, I’m not fat (even though my BMI says I’m obese). My dad doesn’t really think I’m fat, but he has this perception that I should be thin as a rail (something he’d REALLY complain about – because women should be “healthy” with padding in all the “right” places).

    Usually in my case, the comments about my weight (one way or another, come from male relatives and older female relatives. I’m either losing too much weight or putting too much on, and needing to eat meat usually gets thrown into the former.

    Omnivores think veg*ns don’t eat (enough, or well), or can’t possibly be satiated with a plant-based diet, so, yeah, we’re all starving ourselves.

    It’s highly annoying.

    • My father was obsessed with telling me that I’m “too skinny” and said, “The only problem I have with the vegan diet is that you look like you walked out of a concentration camp.” I sh*t you not, he has said this to me multiple times and doesn’t understand that it’s offensive. I am under the impression that he perceives “healthy” to be “booty” and “curves” because that is what he’s used to when he sees all the other black females in our family. However, it’s interesting that he equates a certain body size with healthy. He doesn’t understand that people can be healthy with all types of body sizes. And he thinks he is saying these hurtful comments out of love, despite me telling him that he’s hurting my feelings.

      When I went to my Dartmouth College reunion, there were interesting responses to my “new” body (in college I was about 20 lb heavier). All the black girls (well, there were only 5 of us there at the reunion) made fun of me and kept on saying, “Breeze needs to eat” or, “Someone give this girl some food!” They thought I was “too skinny.” My white friends did the opposite. They complimented me on how “good” I looked. I guess you just can’t make everyone happy. I don’t try to anymore. My father has problems with me getting back down to 121 lb, now that the postpartum weight is gone. He’s reminding me that 138lb, in his perception, is his daughter’s “ideal” weight. “Gee dad, thanks for letting me know how I should look.” I used to let his words of “concern” bother me, but now I’m like, “whatever dad, it’s my body.”

      My father is a junk food omnivore with diabetes and really is considered obese. However, I never make remarks to him about his body weight, type, etc. It’s strange that he would feel so comfortable to say it to me, but I have enough common sense to not say it to him.

      • Notions of “healthy” are cultural. “Healthy” black women are supposed to have ample breasts and booty, but not too big, curves, and “child-bearing” hips.

        It appears that in mainstream white culture, thinness is equated with health and success. Selma Hayek and Beyonce are perfect examples of that.

        • I have tried to explain this to most people I meet, that “healthy” is a cultural construct and changes with nation, place, over time, etc. But many people will tell me that ‘medical sciences shows…’. I argue that medical science is a social institution and ask people to be mindful of how science, in many cases, has been used to subjugate people. Who determines BMI? Is it really ‘objective’? There is so much one must be careful with when they start thinking of how someone is NOT ‘healthy’ because they don’t fit into an ideal norm.

      • BW Says:

        But Beyonce and Salma Hayek aren’t skinny… confused here.

  5. BTW Johanna, race, veganism, and weight will be a chapter in my dissertation. I’ll be focusing on Skinny Bitch and black female responses from the Sistah Vegan project list serv.


  6. art Says:

    i too am [half] asian american. i am short. i am relatively thin. i can relate to both of the responses you mentioned, as well as ones even more culturally insensitive.

    such as, “you really should eat more hot dogs instead of tofu”.

    i’ve found that many americans assume that asians eat somewhat less meat than americans, although they’re almost always surprised by me being vegan.

    like in one conversation, where an ignorant person stated “i thought “you guys” knew more about health than [veganism].” apparently this gentleman believed that asians pioneered the high-protein diet so popular today (his view of a healthy diet).

  7. Maegen Says:

    WOW….I feel like I am fighting a totally different fight being from a farming community in Southwest Missouri. I can no longer go home for the holidays…people can be so narrow minded. All I have to say is keep fighting!! We have to keep pressuring people to question their own ethical codes. They will catch up (hopefully :)).

  8. […] Vegans Of Color Blog – Race, Weight, & Veganism (Possibly Triggering) "Of course I look the way I do — Asians being wimpily tiny, & obviously veganism has only exacerbated my genetic tendency to be undernourished & have stunted growth. Poor me. I should eat a steak or two ASAP. Vegans of color: are there ways in which you have seen reactions to your veganism be shaped by racial assumptions about your weight & health? " (tags: veganism race stereotypes) […]

  9. Ruchama Says:

    Frequently, when people find out that I’m vegan, the first question is, “Oh, is that a religious thing?” Since there’s one thing that’s “different” about me — I’m Jewish — people assume that that must be the reason for every other way I differ from the norm.

  10. ash Says:

    This is actually an old problem. Look up histories of 19century visitors to Britain from India; they frequently encountered Brits who opined that lack of red-meat in their diet is what made them thin and “effeminate.”

  11. noemi Says:

    the second question I get when folks find out i’m vegan is, did I do it too lose weight. The first being-why, goodness why?? I’ve never been healthier and my weight has stayed the same, -/+20lbs, a good round yummy 200+lbs. The doctors are starting in on my kids too-they say my son is overweight and go on and on about not eating greasy foods, or fast food (we don’t), red meat (none), and his cholesterol levels…yet according to their charts, my daughter is underweight and they never comment on that.

  12. ansel Says:

    I’m a white guy vegetarian. I know this space isn’t really meant for me and I’ll understand if this comment is held in moderation. I just wanted to chime in that I’m skinny and not very tall, and I get people telling me to eat more, or more meat, all the time. Including friends and family. Even though if you eat a few meals with me, you’ll see I always eat way more than anyone else because of a high metabolism.

    It must suck royally for to have people’s racial stereotypes adding another dimension to their insistent “advice” for you. The best I’ve been able to do is simply ignore it or smile, nod, and shrug and the person drops the issue. Maybe that works for others, I don’t know.

  13. AK Says:

    1. Globally, about 60 percent of all vegetarians are South-Asian. Vegetarian is distinct from vegan, and veganism in America is definitely a “white thing”.

    2. Not all Asians are thin, and obesity is in fact on the rise in industrialized Asian nations as people increasingly adopt unhealthy Western-style diets. Therefore an incorrect stereotypical generalization

    3. Strict veganism does tend to make people lose weight, so that part is not an outrageous stereotype.

    4. Interpretation of people’s reaction also depends somewhat on your definition of “thin”. Especially among females who have a preoccupation with body weight/body image, “thin” could mean anything. Are you anorexically thin to the point that people would be concerned about your health on the basis of appearance alone?

  14. Joselle Says:

    AK, what’s your backup for the statement that being vegan is white thing?

    Also, veganism doesn’t make people lose weight. Severely restricting calories does. I lost almost 50 pounds by restricting calories and eating lots of dead animals (hello, Atkins!). When I went vegetarian and then vegan, I gained 20 pounds. Why? Because I ate more calories. Yes, plant-based foods, in general, have lower amounts of calories than animal-based ones but it doesn’t mean you can’t go into the stratosphere calorically, especially with all the processed vegan food that is available.

    People who make blanket assumptions about weight have usually never had to lose any. What we weigh is an interplay between genetics, metabolism, our diet, our environment, our emotions, the time of freakin day. It’s very easy for me gain weight, not so easy to lose it. I have not found veganism to be the ticket to weight loss or health.

    When I first went vegetarian, I was told the opposite of the weight loss thing. A friend’s mother said, “I once went to a vegetarian restaurant and everyone was fat! Vegetarians are fat because they don’t get enough protein!” Everyone’s a damn expert and can twist the facts to suit their fancy. Basically, to lose weight, you have to starve. Yes, starve. Not to death but losing weight by definition means your body goes into fat stores because you are not giving it enough (or too much) calories anymore. Don’t give me that healthy eating crap. You have to eat a lot less and exercise a lot more. I diet. I know.

  15. Mo Says:

    I’m not sure that the questions of weight have been related to race with me. Some people expect me to be a size zero because of veganism. Truth is that the more involved in veganism I got, the more weight I gained. In the beginning, I survived off of tofu, pasta and fresh fruits and veggies.

    My “blackness” has been questioned before, though. My pescatarian uncle told me I wasn’t black because I don’t eat fish. The entire thing is a bit ridiculous. I think a lot of people definitely want to make me out to be somebody I’m not. People expect me to be an Erykah Badu type because that’s the kind of black girl that would be vegan. I don’t know if that makes sense or not.

  16. Taymer Says:

    Do not get me started on this topic. I am from the west indies and before going vegan I was 220 lbs on a 5 foot 7 frame after 6 months of veganism and exercise i was 135lbs. Over the past few years I have fluctuated between 5-10 pounds.People saw me and said I looked great ( black people). I recently went home for Christmas and my family told me i look sick and i look skinny. Note I am no where skinny but to be deemed as happy and healthy in the Caribbean u have to be carrying some extra junk. I kinda dieted before going home and it was like an outcry and everyone was forcing meto eat more over my 2000 calorie allowance. Everyone wondered why I was working out and it was Christmas….
    I went back home and had somedinner with a few white ppl and everyone said how great I looked.
    In my black community how I look in comparison tomany ppl is she is slim and in the white euro community my muscular physique is too big for a female so I am stuck between 2 worlds and I feel a tug o war between these worlds. If a white person finds out I am vegan they wonder why I am so big because I am not weedy and if a black person find out I am vegan they say oh thats why your bum is not as big! You cannot please anyone

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