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I was urged to read SKINNY BITCH, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, by several friends whose transition to veganism increased in velocity exponentially after reading it. All I had previously heard about the book was that some of the language was a bit vulgar an tasteless, and I usually choose to stay away from books like that. Plus, I’m a vegan already, and I’m thin. Whether or not I’m a bitch is debatable.

Here’s what I think: It’s probably great for young adults. Maybe 18-25. There is a lot–A LOT–of foul language and the authors do the one thing I am never comfortable doing: Tell people they’re idiots if they don’t go vegan. But guess what? It’s working. The book is a New York Times bestseller. AND, it’s also full of information about the evils of sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol (except organic, red wine), dairy, and the USDA and FDA, and provides an introduction to the politics of food.

Barely a page is turned without seeing some word that children shouldn’t be reading or saying–at least not in my world–but the authors have done a great job tossing a variety of topics together and making you feel like, well, an idiot, if you’re not a vegan. As far as raising the level of discourse goes, they authors appear to be deliberately going in the opposite direction. And they do also say things like: "You will be a fat, unhealthy, bloated pig if you live this way" (p. 40, and they’re talking about the Atkins diet. My biggest problem with that sentence is the pig reference.).

What was especially helpful for my friends was the focus on reading labels, the glossary, the list of products and the sample menus. Note that the menus are loaded with faux meats, but expecting someone to go from omni to a mostly raw food diet, which would be far healthier, is unrealistic for most people.

If you have a college-aged daughter or friend whom you’d like to introduce to veganism, this is probably a good book for the job. I’m going to give it to a male friend who is a personal trainer and thinks he eats really well (he’s a grilled chicken with white rice guy, but because of how much he works out, he could eat anything and be thin). He’s youngish and might find the book appealing because he is concerned about being healthy. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Finally, please note that there is a page–the last page–that says being skinny really isn’t their goal, and that being healthy and taking care of their bodies is.

If the title and the tone and the slant are all about marketing, and they’re working for a specific segment of the market, more power to Freedman and Barnouin.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I'm glad if it's working and making people go vegan. I am worried it might contain inaccurate information but admittedly I've only read excerpts not the entire book. They say that thin = healthy, but this is not strictly true. For the most part decreased BMI (body mass index) is considered healthier, but studies show that thin people who never exercise have many of the same health risks as the obese, and then there are athletes who have high BMIs but are very fit. Also, some extra weight is associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis. They pick studies that sometimes fly in the face of other research. For example they urge giving up coffee saying one study links it to an increased risk for diabetes, but most studies on this subject actually find that something in coffee conveys a protective effect and coffee drinkers have lower rates of diabetes when other factors are controlled for. I gave up coffee myself because there are issues with it, but diabetes isn't one of them according to the bulk of the research.

    I'm probably just OCD though and hate to see any kind of misinformation out there.

    November 25, 2007
  2. Funny you should mention coffee. I don't even drink coffee, but for some reason I've come across a handful of articles on both sides recently. No one says more than a cup is good, but some say that cup is poison and others say it's medicinal. Skinny Bitch says if you have to have it, you shouldn't. I think that's a good approach. In fact, the one tidbit that might be new to some people is the discussion about food addictions. As for other information, for a vegan the book is very basic. There's not really controversial information in it. The brouhaha is really about the approach, not the information.

    November 25, 2007
  3. I'm friends with Rory, and I can tell you it is very much a marketing slant designed to take off on the interest in "chick lit" and get people reading a book about veganism that they would never read otherwise, and it has worked extremely well (they have a couple of sequels on the way, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, and one on pregnancy that I suggested they should call Skinny Bitch, Knocked Up, but even she thought that might be too much!

    I agree that it's beneficial to find ways to penetrate the mainstream with the vegan message (or "agenda," if you're in one of the animal exploitation industries). I'm not sure I'm into focusing on the health or environmental approaches to introducing the topic so much as normalizing veganism by incorporating positive portrayals in media, as well as working on shifting peoples' attitudes toward animals.

    November 26, 2007
  4. Beth #

    Hey Eric,

    Thanks for the information! I own "Skinny Bitch" and have ordered their second book, all while not being anywhere near the 18 – 25 age demographic.

    I agree with their marketing. Most people I encounter couldn't care less about animals. Many are acutely aware of the horrific conditions of factory farming but still don't want to give up their meat.

    However, they do want to get skinny. They do want to look great. They want to avoid that second (notice I didn't say their first) heart attack. Animal compassion seems to emerge once their mind has cleared from the Standard American Diet fog.

    I have a close friend (late 30s) who purchased the book simply because she wanted to get "skinny". She was a "happy meat" consumer (a tough nut to crack), but she's remains vegan today because she's losing weight.

    Go figure.

    Thanks for your post.

    November 26, 2007
  5. Porphyry #

    “but she's remains vegan today because she's losing weight.”

    It can be a gateway, but the thin and healthy vegan approach can backfire. All it takes is for your friend to gain the weight back by reverting to old habits of eating poorly, just without animal products, or get a deficiency or illness whether it’s related to her diet or not. The health conscious and dieting types tend to be susceptible to health marketing, so perhaps she may hear about some amazing health benefits from animal products that sway her from her plant-based diet (cause it ain’t veganism if the goal is to be skinny).

    Former “vegans” who practiced primarily for perceived health and beauty reasons tend to quit seemingly more so than vegans who wholly embrace the ethic. These “ex-vegans” end up as vegansim’s worst detractors, and they never quite "got it" in the first place.

    “I was vegan once, but I was fatter back then / got sick / felt weak / some doctor told me to stop / I heard fish and eggs are healthy / I heard soy was bad / I felt isolated / there was too much chopping / eating out was a hassle / I was missing out / my tastes have gotten more sophisticated / I wanted to have a baby / it’s not natural / free range is the same thing – and therefore take it from my firsthand experience, veganism doesn’t work.”

    Going vegan to avoid participating in exploitation of persons works immediately upon the first vegan meal and at every vegan meal and at every conscientious vegan consumer opportunity. One individual going vegan may not overthrow the exploitation paradigm in one day (or maybe, that’s exactly how it may happen), but unlike the promises of vegan health and beauty claims, no forthright vegan advocate with comprehension of the ethic is promising anything other than moral alignment with concepts that most people already possess.

    November 28, 2007
  6. Porphyry,
    I used to want people to go vegan for the "right" reason, only. But now, I don't really care how they get there, because once they do they are much, much more receptive to the idea that animals aren't ours to use. Two of the people who recently went vegan to lose weight told ME that they now can't help but consider the animals, and they've come around all by themselves (actually, by reading Skinny Bitch) to not wanting to eat animals because of THE ANIMALS. How cool is that? As they say, "When the student is ready the teacher appears." Everyone's got their own time table and path and all I can do is respect that and provide them with love, support and resources. If someone's entree is losing weight, I'm happy to start there . . .

    November 29, 2007
  7. Porphyry #

    It is imperative to consider the liabilities of pitching health vegansim and acknowledge the conflicting messages inherent in mixing female body image with an ideology opposing exploitation. The Skinny Bitch tactic parallels Alicia Silverstone’s ads closely. These pitfalls just aren’t apparent with a coherent ethical delivery that doesn’t offer up contradictory trappings of body objectification and culturally ingrained sexism.

    Gary Francione expresses the sentiment (in the context of animal welfare activism) that in the long term, abolition would be better served by being honest and up front, instead of continually trying to steal through a side door. Harboring an agenda creates public suspicion, resentment, and confusion about what the motives really are. Francione understands that a person that goes vegan for the right reasons makes a much stronger representative from the onset and for the long term.

    Examine how well people in the United States can follow a planned diet, any diet, and selling veganism as a weight loss system is a statistical bad idea, especially considering dropout rates of people who attempt a plant-based diet compared to a meat inclusive one. Worse, veganism gets lumped in with all other diet fads. The notion that it is about self-deprivation gets reinforced and the philosophy is burdened with being something it is not.

    There is a very real possibility that a strict plant-based diet may not be the optimal diet or may be rendered secondary to other methods to achieve health and weight loss. Beth’s friend is an archetype of the Skinny Bitch audience and also an ambassador for veganism. When confronted by non-vegans as to why she eschews animal products it is lamentable to imagine her say, “To lose weight and be skinny.”

    The chance that there will be tragic news coverage about an teenage girl diagnosed with severe anorexia who has a copy of Skinny Bitch and a picture of Silverstone by her bedside is now very high. As a news icon, the book is easy pickings. The only words between the cover that will garner attention will be the profanities.

    Skinny Bitch readers who embrace the vegan ethic will go unreported. Media discussions won’t expose the population to concepts of abolishing animal exploitation. Dialogs across the nation will be mired in the nebulous and irrelevant subject of “proper” diet and nutrition. The conclusion reached though mainstream nutritional experts’ sound bites will be that a well-planed diet that includes animal products can be healthy and that even a vegan diet, by given example, can be an unhealthy one, and they will be right.

    It is a weak foundation to build an ethical movement on. By stacking this health house of cards it makes it all too easy for anyone to blow it over, “Oh, I know a vegan who / is really fat / who got cancer anyway / who got a deficiency / had an eating disorder.” Naturally, these common events for non-vegans are ignored. When vegan advocates exalt these health claims people are more acute to notice when it “doesn’t work,” for whatever reason, and veganism instantly becomes nonviable to a much broader audience.

    November 30, 2007
  8. Deb #

    I have to agree with Mary here – the best time to discuss the ethics of using (in any way) animals is when they are not participating in that use. Talking is one thing, getting people to listen is another.

    November 30, 2007

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