Physicians for (Ir)responsible Medicine

There is an organization called “Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine”.  Using their naming style, I’m going to start a company called “Ragen Chastain Astrophysics Genius” because, based on the evidence, I know exactly as much about astrophysics as these people do about responsible medicine. Which is to say – precious little.

Interestingly, you don’t need to be a physician to be a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  You could be a veterinarian, a self-declared healthcare professional, or just someone willing to donate $20.  Even better – membership doesn’t seem to require any understanding of, or commitment to, responsible medicine.  How else can you explain creating an ad [Trigger warning – this ad is a fat shaming horrible idea, if you don’t want to give them traffic I’ll explain the ad below] that promotes veganism by shaming fat people, then shames vegans, with no evidentiary basis for the long-term efficacy of any of it.

In the ad, two thin men sit in aisle seats on a plane.  A large man boards the plane and decides to take the window seat by stepping across the seated man, smashing him in the face with his stomach (I’ve been on 16 planes in the last month and I’ve NEVER seen this happen but why concern yourself with reality when you are busy shaming fatties.)  Just as the other man is about to have to deal with the sheer, unadulterated horror (sarcasm meter 10 out of 10) of sitting next to another human being on a plane who happens to be fat, the seated man explains that he paid an extra $10 to sit next to a vegan. An announcer explains this option as his vegan seatmate enters the frame.  Of course it’s not just any vegan – it’s a hot blonde vegan.  (Because, as PETA has already taught us, going vegan gives you huge boobs).  But then they throw in a negative stereotype of vegans, she starts listing off “benefits” of veganism in an annoying voice (some of which I’m pretty sure are not supported by good research) and the announcer says that for another $10 you can NOT sit next to a vegan – although one assumes that your new seat partner will be guaranteed to be thin.

First of all, I am not in any way intending to cast aspersions on vegans.  Eat whatever you choose, I totally support you.

But let’s talk about PCRM a little more:

According to their website, “The PCRM family includes physicians, healthcare professionals, veterinarians, and compassionate laypersons, all of whom support our mission to:

  • Advocate for ethical research
  • End cruelty to animals in labs and education
  • Promote life-saving nutrition policies and practices”

One of the headlines on their homepage proudly declares “Victory for Ferrets”.  I’m all for happy ferrets but how can a group want to end cruelty to animals and simultaneously create cruelty to people?

What do they have to say for themselves?

The intention behind PCRM’s most recent ad, directed toward American Airlines, was to highlight a particularly positive benefit of the vegan diet – weight management. The video was not intended to offend those who are overweight.

First, responsible medicine is based on evidence, and there is no evidence that becoming a vegan will lead to long term weight loss.  There are fat vegans (and, I have been told, they are often treated very poorly by the vegan community).

But the question that I’m dying to ask is this:  What would the ad have looked like if they HAD intended to offend overweight people? And how can a bunch of people who are willing to stick up for the rights of ferrets not understand that this ad is offensive to fat people?  It strains credulity at best.

Credulity is strained to the breaking point when one realizes that PCRM was responsible for the fat shaming billboards showing fat stomachs and thighs for which they, almost inexplicably, blamed cheese; and for which they’ve already been roundly criticized.  At this point I think it’s safe to say that either they don’t care about shaming fat people, or they’re morons.  Either way, it’s time to fix the problem. People who are actually proponents of Responsible Medicine suggest evidence-based health interventions that don’t shame anyone.

Activism Opportunity

E-mail PCRM at membership@pcrm.org.  You could suggest that they look into the research around negative implications of fat shaming, you could tell them how being shamed makes you feel and if it induces you personally to want to treat your body well, and you could ask them to please start practicing actual Responsible Medicine.  Whatever you decide to write, I would personally suggest that you not just point out the problem, but offer solutions (like maybe focusing on evidence based health interventions that don’t shame anyone?), and let them know if you’re open to further dialog on the subject.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on April 1, 2012 at 6:24 am  Comments (25)  

25 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I hereby declare myself Cie, Queen of the Universe and demand that you all pay tribute. Because I say so.
    How can they get away with calling themselves “physicians for responsible medicine” when you don’t even have to be a physician to be part of their group?
    *headdesk*
    It seems that they are a vegan fringe group who buys into stereotyping.
    Blech.
    I don’t know if I have the Sanity Watchers points to make myself compose a letter to these gits.

    • OMG, Sanity Watcher points…best thing EVER!

    • Har, Cie! I just said the exact words “vegan fringe group” to myself. 😀 And yes, I understand. I have a few spare SWPs, but am swamped with school. I’ll get to it this week, though, I hope.

  2. This is totally an animal rights group in disguise. I have seen basically nothing supporting veganism specifically from actual medical associations, most doctors know that poorly planned veganism causes various health problems. Most doctors also know that modern medicine would not exist without animal testing, so they are not generally strong suppoters of an anti-animal testing perspective.

    I have a suspicion that this group is trying to get physicians to push veganism like bariatric surgery and dieting, by pretending that they are the medical community. Either that or they want regular people to think that doctors suggest a vegan diet for anyone overweight. Either way, completely dishonest.

    • The Conspiracy Theory switch got flipped in my brain. This makes me wonder if PETA isn’t behind all this somehow. They are very anti-fat and nothing but vegan will do as far as diet.
      I do a lot of work to try and help animals and PETA has done a few good things, but their extremism tends to offset the positives. I could go on and on, but this isn’t the place.

    • omg, I literally *just* read this post and them clicked over to a job alert in my inbox and it said that PCRM is looking for a Communications Director where I live. I wish I were a masochist, because going to that interview could have been hi-larious.

      http://www.indeed.com/m/viewjob?jk=b03cd76a8db9c753

    • PETA is completely dishonest. Did you know they euthanize animals that get surrendered to them? Yeah. See, it’s cheaper to euthanize them than it is to house them until they get homes.

      As far as I’m concerned, PETA is a money-making operation, and nothing more.

      Oh, and apparently it’s OK for their president (who is diabetic) to use insulin derived from animal sources to stay alive… but it’s not OK for anyone else.

      Funny how that works, isn’t it?

  3. I can’t really figure out what they think they are doing with this ad. It makes airlines, fat people, AND vegans look bad.

    I looked at their website, and here’s something very ironic — they offer advice about medical school curricula, saying:

    “This curriculum offers perspectives for patient-centered, effective health care, with a special eye on ensuring proper care for traditionally disenfranchised groups. The materials address the medical needs of the homeless population; offer advice on recognizing and effectively treating victims of domestic abuse; examine the prevalence of unnecessary surgical procedures; discuss issues in care for patients with HIV and AIDS; and ask students to confront their own attitudes, beliefs, and values.

    There are no hard and fast rules in dealing with the most difficult social issues in medicine. But we do our patients a disservice if we ignore the outside forces that shape health care today. This applies not just to allocation of and access to hospital services, but also to the way patients from various backgrounds and situations are treated once they enter the emergency department, examination room, or operating suite.

    The challenge for us as physicians, then, is to consider the underlying social issues that affect patient care and to overcome our own misunderstandings, discomfort, or uncertainty in order to become the most effective advocate for those in our care.”

    Interesting that they profess to understand how some populations are mistreated due to stereotypes, but don’t seem to get that this applies to fat people.

  4. I live in Southern California..I have quite a few veggiesaurus friends and as I make a mental note right now, not a single one of them are at a weight that society considers “healthy.” Most are way TOO thin and a few have quite a generous bit of meat on their bones (irony not really intended). I only know two vegans but one was already “Hollywood Hot” before she converted and the other’s just a hippie and certainly isn’t doing it for his figure. And every last one of them has problems with their skin! Constant breakouts (ok except Hollywood Hot girl…God just likes her best all the way aound, I guess). So frankly pushing any meat-free lifestyle as the next great diet secret or the only healthy choice isn’t based on any evidence I’VE seen as yet. Btw – not dissing anyone who doesn’t eat meat, more power to ya! I just don’t think it’s anymore effective for weight management than any other diet is. Also not saying ALL people who don’t eat meat have skin problems – but the ones I personally know do, including my sister when she went veggie for a few years (her skin cleared right up when she started eating meat again). Regardless…it says nothing for their organization to put out the message that it’s disgusting to brush up against or have to sit next to a fat person. I’ve got two words for them — one starts with”F” and the other ends with “them.”

  5. I wrote and asked how they were going to maintain quality control on their ‘sit next to a vegan’ offer, since vegans come in all shapes and sizes.

  6. I have a friend who is vegan, she is lactose intolerant and was eating very little meat anyway, so she went properly vegan, making sure she balanced her diet. Most other people I’ve seen who go vegan just cut things out of their diet – they also seem to spend lots of money for tiny meals and sometimes look like they are gonna start eating meat again by attacking the people around them.

    For some people being vegan is a good choice, but the most outspoken proponents of the choice seem to be a touch rabid and unhealthy which makes it come across as the choice of the weird – like most of life the vocal minority spoil it for the rest. And like a number of people have mentioned, I know a fat vegan, so it’s obviously not a magic cure for anything.

  7. Here’s a good article about PCRM:

    http://activistcash.com/organization_overview.cfm/o/23-physicians-committee-for-responsible-medicine

    Basically, they have virtually nothing to do with physicians or medicine. They are an extremist animal rights group, and they don’t care what lies they tell or what harm they do to humans. To them, it’s all worth it if they can convince people to stop eating meat.

  8. April Fools? No…? *sigh*

  9. My messages to the idiots for irresponsible fat shaming keep bouncing back. I’ve tried sending it from diff. email addresses, subject lines, etc. Here it is…

    I’ve recently come across the ad for AA in which your group gladly contributes to oppressive, offensive fat shaming with old and outdated stereotypes. I’m curious what your group has to say about someone like me: a lifelong fattie, who exercises DAILY and who has been vegan for over 2 years. Going vegan didn’t make me magically lose weight. Neither did exercising daily. Exercising has made me healthier. Veganism has forced me to take supplements. None of these made me lose weight, though veganism has, potentially, made my health deteriorate.

    Instead of pushing offensive pseudo-science with little basis in reality, how about fighting for HUMAN rights the same way you fight for the rights of ferrets, rats, chickens and cows? Are fat humans not worthy of dignity and respect simply because our bodies are larger than you might personally like?

    Furthermore, learn the difference between CORRELATION and CAUSATION, geniuses. Obesity is ASSOCIATED with illnesses, JUST LIKE THINNESS IS. WOW. I will be sending further letters of protest to the governmental agencies overseeing legalities of names such as yours. RESPONSIBLE medicine? With a total lack of regard for science, and mental health? The exact opposite of responsible, right there.

    Muah,
    Brazen Lee

    http://brazenlee.blogspot.com/
    brazenlee@gmail.com

  10. There are many of us engaged in a bidding war right now saying we would pay up to 20 dollars to sit next to Ragen!!! 😀 I urge people to contact the organization and give them feedback. This kind of ad, at best, is fit for The Onion, if it were meant to point out the stupidity of weight bias…unfortunately, this was in what is supposedly considered a mainstream newspaper. Tongue in cheek aside, this just isn’t funny.
    Warmly, Dr. Deah

  11. “The video was not intended to offend those who are overweight.”

    Ah magical intent, I haven’t missed you. Melissa at Shakesville covers this wonderfully if you’ve never read it, and thanks to her piece I never fail to see it now. http://www.shakesville.com/2011/12/harmful-communication-part-one-intent.html

  12. I googled PETA & PCRM …they are closely tied in to eachother…

    • What a shocker! You could knock me over with a feather right about now, you know?

  13. “At this point I think it’s safe to say that either they don’t care about shaming fat people, or they’re morons.”

    Or? I was going with ‘and.’

    Also, in keeping with their magical naming protocol, I will from now on be addressed as Twistie, Vegan NASCAR Goddess. After all, I’m a confirmed omnivore, I’m an atheist, and I don’t drive.

  14. I was absolutely shocked by that video – how horrible. I immediately sent them an email saying how grossly disappointed I was. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.

    -Christine

  15. as a fat vegan commie, i am offended by the idea that lookism is a path to animal liberation. The path to stop exploiting animals is compassion, not exploiting something else.

    There are a lot better organizations that promote animal welfare quite openly (Mercy for Animals, Humane Society) without resorting to this kind of bullshit.

    If he paid extra for the vegan seatmate, maybe he would have gotten my gut in his face.

    Fat vegans are not fucking unicorns.

  16. This makes me really sad. I first went vegan in 2007 and back then, I remember thinking that I liked PCRM better than some other organizations (Okay, I just mean PETA) because PCRM seemed to be more focused on facts and less into sensationalism, the objectification of women’s and celebrities bodies, and attention-grabbing stunts at the expense of other oppressed groups besides animals. So I was way off base, or they’ve changed, either way I’m disappointed in that organization.

    On a more positive note, I just thought I’d share that one of PCRM’s board members has resigned as a result of the fat-shaming ad that this blog post is discussing, and she wrote a post on her blog in criticism of it entitled “Body Shaming Fails Vegans and Vegan Advocacy”
    http://www.theveganrd.com/2012/04/body-shaming-fails-vegans-and-vegan-advocacy.html

    I also want to second joojooluv’s comment that there are a lot better organizations that promote animal welfare and even veganism than PETA or PCRM… (my personal favorite is Vegan Outreach). Also, Fat Omnivores or Skinny Vegans are dumb stereotypes as there’s plenty of other combinations. I was vegan for 3 years and ate the exact same amount of food and got the exact same amount of exercise as my skinny vegan friends, and I was never skinny. I’m sure no one here is surprised by that, but it seems somewhat relevant.
    It’s appalling that people use veganism (or any other morals-based ideal) as an excuse for furthering their own bigotry.

    Thanks for being awesome and advocating for fat acceptance! It helped me realize that it wasn’t me not being a good enough vegan (or ‘good enough’ anything else) that kept me from being skinny, and that it wasn’t the end of the world that I wasn’t, and that I’m the right size for me.

  17. I went vegan 5 years ago. I weighed 205 pounds at 5’6″ before being vegan. And (get ready with the drum roll) 5 years later I weigh 205 pounds.

    People (including my family) do not believe me when I say I am vegan. I’ve had lots of comments from fellow vegans along the lines of “well, you must cheat sometimes.” Or “everyone loses weight with a vegan diet, you must be doing something wrong.” I’m not and I don’t cheat. I eat a healthy vegan diet and I lead a more active lifestyle than a lot of my vegan acquaintances. Physically, though, I resemble my dad’s side of the family – who are hearty, strong, big boned, heavy set folk. Interestingly, my dad’s family tends to lose the weight after menopause – naturally. Before then, though, we’re chunky folk. And there is nothing that veganism can do about that.

    I actually prefer to say I eat a vegan diet, but I’m not a vegan. I don’t like the whole PETA association with veganism, and I don’t like to push one way of eating on the entire world. Eating a vegan diet cleared up my health issues. But, everyone does not have MY specific health issues, so a vegan diet may not be right for them.

    I usually lurk and read. Thanks for writing such wonderful articles!

    • “I actually prefer to say I eat a vegan diet, but I’m not a vegan. I don’t like the whole PETA association with veganism, and I don’t like to push one way of eating on the entire world.”

      Vegans have a… ah… certain reputation. And it’s well-earned, IMO. There are people who put their cats on vegan diets and watch them go blind and die, because cats are obligate carnivores. They’re not making a moral choice; *their bodies need meat to survive*. Arrrrgh!

      Sorry. Didn’t mean to dump that on you!

      • But then there are other vegans who don’t do anything like that.

        This ad manages to reinforce bad stereotypes about vegans AND about fat people – an impressive load of fail, there! (I sent an email.)


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