Friday, March 02, 2012

The Subtlety of Stereotyping

The Piece

CNN ran a piece yesterday on how differing diets can affect relationships ("Love is a cattle field: When diets divide relationships"). Part of it involves a couple consisting of a vegan and a nonvegan, and the issues they've found themselves facing over the years. What was disappointing is that no context is provided for how they came to be together or how and when he went vegan; it's also made painfully obvious that the two have never really discussed how to live their lives together as a vegan and nonvegan.

Communication: Is It Really That Complicated?

The husband is presented as the cause of awkwardness when his wife tells the story of his first going to dinner at her parents' home and of how "he just put salad on his plate, passing up most of the huge gourmet meal [her] father had cooked [which left her] thinking [his veganism] might be a problem". It would seem to me that if someone was bringing a significant other home to 'meet the folks' for the first time that a mention of that significant other's dietary needs would have been a given, if not just so that the dietary needs could have been accommodated, then so that the hosts wouldn't have felt slighted when said significant other wouldn't have dived into all dishes provided regardless of their content. That his wife would have viewed this event as some sort of indicator of problems to come seems odd and reflective of her own early inability and willingness to understand and to help accommodate her significant other. Would it have been so hard to say "Hey, Mom and Dad, my date's vegan and can't eat _______"? Instead, the reader is left with this image of the vegan as somehow rude and as being an inconvenience.

Context Is Important!

The article goes on to mention how the birth of the couple's first child eventually triggered a need for couples counseling. One would hope that a vegan and nonvegan deciding to start a family together would have the wisdom and common sense to discuss beforehand how they would choose to raise offspring, no? The article addresses this in a really clumsy manner, referring to the wife's inability to produce enough breast-milk when their daughter was born, stating that her husband suggested feeding the baby almond milk. First of all, what's not indicated is the age of the baby at the time of this recommendation. One's left wondering (and I really hope that it wasn't left vague on purpose) whether the husband was, in fact, recommending almond milk as a substitution for human breast-milk, which would of course be absurd. It's not specified whether the baby was old enough to be weaned and whether almond milk was suggested as an alternative to cow's milk. It's also not indicated whether the almond milk in question was fortified. Sure, it's brought up that a pediatrician may have been consulted, but it's disappointing that CNN didn't see fit to fill in some more information to assure its readers of why the almond milk in question would have, in fact, been suitable.

This concern shows up in the comments to the story left by its readers. The bottom line? It was sloppy writing. With all of the news stories that have popped up in recent years of so-called vegan parents being charged with malnourishing their children, these details are especially significant. Not filling in the blanks concerning this seems neglectful and potentially (if it's not too harsh a word) misleading. How on earth could a CNN reader be expected to fill in those blanks properly?

It's great to see veganism being discussed so readily in mainstream media, but at the cost of allowing it to be misunderstood and doubted further? Not so much. The article leaves more questions than answers and most of those questions reflect badly on veganism. Whether this is due to its unfortunate choice of subjects to illustrate vegan-nonvegan relationships, bad or negligent reporting and writing or a deliberate sloppiness to allow a taste of sensationalism to slip in, who knows? Here's hoping that more lucid and well-rounded pieces show up in mainstream media in the future to portray veganism outside of its stereotypically accepted representations.


Wendy A.M. Prosser said...

Better no media coverage at all than this kind of misleading, derogatory rubbish!

veganelder said...

You're too kind to the author of the article. This looks like something written by a middle-schooler that treceived a D or D- grade. The "dumbing of America" is one of the few things that appears to be working well.

K Scott Crafts said...

Great article. I'm only surprised that it wasn't a female vegan and male omni in the article you were commenting on as that's the usual sexist stereotype!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you and Wendy. I love seeing veganism in the mainstream but when its full of stuff that simply encourages people to doubt its legitimacy it really makes me sad.

Vanilla Rose said...

I do like the title "Love is a Cattle Field", but it seems the article went downhill from there.

Unknown said...

Well, at least they managed to find a male vegan with a female carnist, rather than the other way around, which is what I would have expected based on stereotypes. Thankfully, we were spared the usual gendered clap trap about "man food" that would certainly have turned up in this article had the diet roles been reversed.

Also, I agree with Rose that the clever title was the high point. Why do I suspect the title and article had different authors?

boston dater said...

My 2-cents: "…If one person is a committed vegan, he or she may need to get off his/her high horse…" isn't a vegan-friendly term underscoring the authors ignorance.

The last time I checked people with compassion are not above anyone else, quite the opposite.

And EVERYONE can eat veg, not the other way around.

I'm vegan and have a non-veg partner who is very supportive (his family is quite aware and thinks of me at meal time) and he's now 90% veg!

M said...

OK, I'll bite. What the heck does "90% veg" mean?