“Got Colon Cancer? Then You Should Have Gone Vegan”

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“The other day, I heard that one of my colleagues at work was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Well, serves him right. He has been consuming dead corpses every damn day for lunch. Every other week, he’s telling us how he went to some restaurant or BBQ party and had ‘the best ribs ever.’ Well, we reap what we sow. I don’t need to worry about colon cancer shit because I’ve been vegan for 12 years and am never going back to being a dead corpse muncher.”

Since becoming vegan, I have run into these above types of stories and/or comments a plethora of times. My initial response is both sadness and disgust, mixed with a lot of confusion. I find a lot of these comments entrenched in anger and rage, fundamentalism and judgmentalism. It’s a strange ‘narrative’ one uses to convince themselves that their born-again-veganism (as most folk who are vegan now were not born and raised into it) saved them from fatal or incapacitating illness. It’s as if they forget that there was a time in which they too ate animals or animal by-products and had a completely different consciousness than they do now.

I have been thinking about how to respond to these types of comments for a few years now, and today, I finally felt like sitting down and giving it a try. Instead of writing a long analytical article, I thought I’d switch up the narrative and write it from this perspective:

“I just received word that Carla was diagnosed with brain cancer. No surprise; she’s had that Smartphone glued to her ear during the last 5 years that I saw her on break. That’s why I never use those damn things and just have a hardline at home. And I’ve sent her several articles telling her how people in sweatshop like conditions make her phone and that mining for the minerals and metals to make her phone destroy the environment and pollute communities. But no, we reap what we sow. And to top it off, she is a die-hard vegan who is always telling us that eating animals will be the death of us. I used to tell her, ‘I’ll stop eating my locally raised egg sandwiches when you stop buying from technology companies that exploit people and pollute the environment.'”

For me, whether it’s vegans shaming/blaming non-vegans who are diagnosed with colon cancer, or omnivores blaming/shaming vegans diagnosed with brain cancer for using Smart phones made with exploited labor, these types of “I’m the most ethical person on the planet, and that is why you got cancer and I didn’t” narratives are really just missing the point; such narratives fail to deeply critique our own narrow focus on a one-method-as cure-all for all the world’s complex problems. Our own self-absorbed narratives often seem to just make us feel better and more superior, when in fact, we may be more part of the problem than we realize.

I remember watching Capitalism, A Love Story by Michael Moore. There was one segment about the mother who was fighting to get justice after her 2 year old died from eating contaminated cow flesh. I remember encountering the opinions of several vegans who basically responded in this manner to her loss: Well, giving your child animal products is child abuse and cruel. I wonder if she cares about how many cows died so her kid could eat a hamburger. Meat eating is unhealthy and cruel, so what did she expect? The underlying message that I heard was that this mother deserved no sympathy and that she and her child got what they deserved for not being vegan. Speechless. For me, this type of behavior is off-putting and the antithesis of thinking holistically, lovingly, and mindfully.

Why do so many of us get some type of sick satisfaction, when those who don’t follow our personal ‘rules for being a good human being’ end up getting sick, hurt, etc.? Why is it so hard to connect with all suffering and pain? Why is it so conditional?

(Next month is the Sistah Vegan Web Conference. Sept 14, 2013. 10am-6pm PST). Go to www.sistahveganconference.com to learn more and register).


About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project

Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business. Find out how you can donate to the Sistah Vegan Project.

21 thoughts on ““Got Colon Cancer? Then You Should Have Gone Vegan”

  1. I tried repeatedly to LIKE this but wordpress won’t let me do it. Thought I’d let you know. Thank you for your comments, I have friends who are Vegan and the opening lines really blew my mind. I would never imagine my friend Valerie saying something like the judgmental, self-righteous person you opened with. Thank you for a voice of reason amongst who are less understanding.

  2. I think its because it makes people like they are protected from bad things happening to them. Unlike others, they have made better choices. It reflects the idea that bad things happen to people who make bad choices (again, personal responsibility in the era of neoliberalism).

  3. Ugh, Gary Francione posted a news item of a young woman who was seriously hurt (her jaw dislocated) from eating a hamburger a few days ago. He and others joined in mocking her, while some posted about how she deserved it and how nobody ever thinks about the poor cows who suffered. I was not only disturbed by their absolute lack of compassion and celebration of suffering (which is a form of violence in my opinion), but the added creepy factor was that the victim was a young female, an especially easy target. The first thing I imagined was the awful misogynist sex jokes about meat and rough oral sex they were probably throwing back and forth in private and that were probably filling up the comment section of the news source.

  4. I just find that kind of commentary awful and painful to anyone who has lost a family member to one of the diet related diseases. Being vegan doesn’t make you automatically immune from illness. Also, people are animals too and deserve compassion.

    It also makes vegans look like jerks, to put it nicely.

  5. Yea, I guess you are a bigger person than me (I’m not being sarcastic). My husband’s mother died of colon cancer just this April. Now, first of all, she was an awful person and my husband had virtually nothing to do with her. But she made it clear she thought being vegan was stupid and in the past year, my son happened to be in grad school near where she lived, so he saw her pretty regularly. She never let up on him that being vegan was wrong and you “HAVE TO eat meat to be healthy.” We are all slim and she was very overweight as well. So yea, we sort of rolled our eyes when she got colon cancer at age 69.
    I wouldn’t make statements like the one you printed, but seriously, how can one not be frustrated by the people whom we try to convince, if not for the animals, then for your own health, stop eating this stuff. And they won’t and they die or are sick from the consequences. Life is full of risk, and certain behaviors entail greater danger.

    1. I agree with you Andrea. Even medical doctors have repeatedly mentioned meat, especially red meat, is harmful; they’ve been saying this for many years now and other articles regarding animal products. But it’s sad and tragic for both humans and animals.

      I don’t like Gary Francione. I have huge issues with him and that mega-ego of his….

  6. Yes, I know vegans who talk like this. They think they are morally superior. These people even think they are morally superior to those who fall somewhere in the spectrum of their own movement. JUST TODAY, I read an offensive article that implicitly shames those of us who avoid dairy (or meat for that matter) for reasons that aren’t connected to animal suffering, EVEN THOUGH the author addresses that MOST people who are lactose intolerant are nonUSA or people of color. It was another display of vegans (especially WHITE vegans) exerting their moral supeirority over those of us who avoid dairy (and meat) for the “wrong reasons”, which just means eating a certain way because of health will NEVER BE a “real” social justice or moral issue.

    I was so offended.

    Here’s the link:
    http://academicabolitionistvegan.blogspot.com/2013/08/lactose-intolerance-doesnt-count.html

    1. Yes, that was me that wrote that blog. I completely understand your argument, I’m sorry to have written it in such an offensive way. I totally dropped the ball, and I appreciate you pointing out those important issues. I’m going to write a follow up post about this to address where I went wrong. In the meantime, I invite you to write a follow up piece and I will gladly post it on my blog.

  7. Thank you so much for this article. I loved it & read it twice.I think this is my first comment on your blog although I’ve been reading for a long time & watching your youtube videos but I just wanted to let you know that you inspired me to become vegan. I read book when I travelled to the US this summer. I’m African & live in Ghana & there’s a growing vegan population here (includes rastafarians, people inspired by black Hebrew Israelites who were invited to Ghana by our Health Department, expatriates & people embracing veganism for health & religious reasons etc.). The food here is mostly vegan with a little bit of meat/ fish so it’s not been hard for me to transition. Keep your fingers crossed for me because I intend to do this for the rest of my life!

  8. Very well written! I’m a cancer survivor and have been the recipient of cancer shaming. Someone I’ve never even met once told me online that I got cancer because I’m overweight. They assumed that because I have cancer that I must practice an unhealthy diet. But I’m not overweight and never have been. I used to be hurt by the assertions that I somehow caused this. What I now understand is that people want to be in control of the uncontrollable. The simple fact is, in the United States, half of all men and 1 out of 3 women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer at some point in their lives. And that’s a frightening thought to some people. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions. Especially fear of death. I used to be afraid of cancer. My mother died of cancer at the age of 54 and I certainly didn’t want to die that young. But having faced “the Big C” myself, I’m not afraid anymore. Cancer is just one of the many unexpected hurdles you may have to jump over in life.

    1. Thanks for sharing Robyn. I definitely think people are responding with fear to the fact that we have no control over anything. We can do our best (or even what we think is best at the time), but that really doesn’t mean life will work out the way we had planned [through a ‘holistic’ diet]. Sorry people shamed you and said it was your fault. Very hurtful. I send my best.

  9. Robin Gibb, was vegan. He developed Colon cancer. Died of liver failure after chemo. Dont kid your selves. Diet is a major factor but eating meat in small quantities is healthy.

  10. Diet is not a “major” factor in developing colon cancer. It is *one* factor out of many factors that *may* increase the risk of developing colon cancer. Some scientific studies have shows a correlation between eating meat and developing colon cancers. Other studies have not found the same correlation. A definitive answer on this does not yet exist in the scientific community.

    There are other factors that also may contribute to the development of colon cancer, that have much more agreement in the scientific community, such as having ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, IBS, having had bladder surgery or gallbladder removal in the past. One could also have FAP, which is an inherited condition that causes the colon to produce hundreds of polyps, in which case, the individual has a 93% chance at the age of 50 of developing colon cancer, regardless of diet. Or Lynch Syndrome, a genetic condition that gives an individual an 80% chance of developing colon cancer in their lifetime.

    So, not only is cancer-shaming colon cancer patients for their meat-filled diets incredibly un-compassionate, lacking in empathy, and self-righteous; it is also ignorant of all of the complexities of this devastating disease, and the different causes that individuals have absolutely no control over.

    1. Lee, I find that most people who subscribe to a fundamentalist belief (i.e., ‘I’m a born again Christian but I got cancer. I don’t understand why.’ or ‘I am a local omnivore who only eats food from farmer’s markets, why did I get cancer”‘) about anything, very unsympathetic to those who fall outside of their logic. It causes a lot of cruelty and it seems to confuse the person subscribing to fundamentalism, even more when things don’t work out they way it’s ‘supposed to’. Thanks for sharing your views. I appreciate it.

  11. Thank you (and sorry for commenting on the 2 yr old post ;))! I just got diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (which comes with an increased colon cancer risk) after 13 years of being vegan and it’s funny that vegans in this case immediately connected it to ‘bad luck’ while some omnivores connected it to my diet – whatever fits your paradigm ;-). One particular nutrionist at the hospital would repeat over and over that the only solution were to become “at least” vegetarian. Fortunately, the doctor’s advice was “don’t listen to anybody’s dietary advice”. 😀 Thank you for inspiring us to be kind. ~janey

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