Tim Livewire Shieff demonstrates the quiet ableism of health veganism adovocacy
Updated: Apr 22, 2019
Vegan athlete and Youtube star Timothy “Livewire” Shieff released a video yesterday in which he confessed to eating eggs and wild-caught salmon for his health.
Now, we could spend hours talking about the super-valorization of white men (which I’ve already touched on here) or criticizing the culture of celebrity vegan reversals (which I wrote about here). But it’s certainly nothing new. Vegan Street's Marla Rose has a hilarious satirical take on the confessions of ex-vegans as well.
We could also ask important questions that might undermine the sincerity of Shieff’s confession. For example, if he felt like he needed animal products, why did he not stop at eggs? In what way did wild-caught salmon benefit him that eggs didn’t? Since Shieff has traded in veganism to great economic and social success, will Shieff offer some form of reparations to animals that he now admittedly exploits? (I mean, he is literally featured in a video called, "How to make a living out of veganism.")
However, there’s no point in asking these questions. Shieff advocates for drinking your own urine and thinks that the earth is flat. There is no way that this person should have been elevated to the status of animal rights hero in the first place. But our collective need to validate white masculinity in our movement means that we often overlook dangerous intellectual leaps as minor ideological differences instead of glaring red flags.
The emotional 8-minute video also talked about how he came to this option after trying multiple alternatives, including a 30-day water fast. But long-term fasting is a pretty extreme measure for an undefined medical condition. While short-term or intermittent fasting shows scientifically credible evidence of extending life, the effects of such extended fasting are less studied. And some people report telogen effluvium hair loss disorder, exacerbated eating disorders, or permanent thermogenesis damage as consequences.
And herein lies the problem—veganism has a long history of extraordinary claims including clearing your skin, dropping your trouser size, growing your hair, paying your taxes, folding the clothes, washing the dishes, walking the dog, beating the kids, and replacing your lover.
But when people don’t experience these alleged benefits, or worse—experience chronic or degenerative illnesses despite a plant-based lifestyle—this reveals the ableism of promoting health veganism, and it invalidates the thousands of vegans with bad skin, thick bodies, cancer, baldness, and more.
Obviously, we should be very clear that literally every medical authority on the planet states a plant-based diet is perfectly healthy for humans at every stage of life including pregnancy, early childhood, and old age, and it is demonstrated to reduce risk factors of certain diseases. It is also demonstrated that consumption of animal products exacerbate some medical conditions. But veganism with no ethical framework is simply a plant-based diet.
Bottom line, and this will be contentious, health veganism is inherently underpinned by ableism and should not be part of a successful strategy for animal rights for anyone concerned with total liberation.
Veganism is guaranteed to do one thing and one thing only—reduce your complicity in animal exploitation to the extent that you’re able. Veganism is not guaranteed to cure disease. It certainly didn't help Tim Shieff although, according to him, eggs and salmon apparently did.
Author's note: To learn more about ableism and veganism, please follow Disabled Vegan, Lawrence Carter-Long, Crip HumAnimal, and artist Sunaura Taylor who also wrote the brilliant book Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation. You can also read How the Health Argument Fails Veganism by Ginny Messina, the Vegan RD.
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