Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Vegan Relationship Survey

I just finished reading the results of The Vegan Relationship Survey and I must admit, I had mixed reactions to it. Not the statistics, mind you. I have nothing against stats. I'm a sociology major. I heart stats. But the way the information was presented really squicked me. 

Perhaps, in M. Butterflies Katz's defense, this is my own personal issue since I'm used to reading study results that are presented in accordance with a certain professional standard. To my knowledge, Katz never claims the study is scientific. As I read it, however, I couldn't help but lament over the poor writing and clumsy handling of the findings.

The worst part of the article, in my opinion, was the paragraph dealing with two survey responders who reported battling cancer. Katz uses these people's illness to segue into a rant about the toxic world in which we live and cites vegans that "eat loads of processed junk food." She wags her finger, reminding us all of the importance of eating a healthy, wholesome, and balanced diet. This evoked an audible gasp from me. Katz, unwittingly or not, actually implies that these people are culpable for their illness. I consider this an unforgivable injection of personal opinion that is not only myopic, but in poor taste.

She also makes clear to us all, twice, that she is personally opposed to having children, or as she puts it, "continuing the overpopulation of the Earth." I know this is a hot button issue amongst vegans and environmentalists alike and even as a parent of my own biological son, I can appreciate this perspective. However, I don't want to have it, or any other personal opinion, thrown in my face when reading survey results.

I think this is the crux of my issue with this article. Are these study findings or is it a platform for Katz's personal opinions? Because the two should never catch sight of each other in a scientific survey. But then again, as I stated before, Katz never claims this thing to be scientific. It's good thing, too. If she had, I'm afraid she'd have half of academia after her.

That said, I'm actually happy to see this sort of survey done. I found the results very interesting, even if I had to soldier my way through the article. I recommend that you read it. And if you do, give me your opinion about it. Am I being too hard on Katz here?


Anonymous said...

Yea, cut'em some slack. It looks like they were just trying to have a little fun.

Plus, they brought up the toxic world part as a general point in their section about the health of vegans - I think they were just trying to say that veganism doesn't necessarily equal healthy, and there are always other factors to consider.

Marni said...

Anonymous: I'm totally willing to cut some slack. I'm also fully aware of my bias as a Soc major, which informs my expectations of surveys, studies, and the way findings are presented. I just thought this could have been done much better. If Katz was just trying to have some fun, I don't think she should have vacillated back and forth between personal opinion and survey findings. I think it would have been wiser to choose one or the other - preferable the former if "fun" was the name of the game.

But I do want to reiterate, I'm happy she took the time to conduct this survey and compile the results. I just think she missed the mark in presenting her findings.

Thanks for the feedback! :)

veggievixen said...

i think you're right. your instincts about the presentation of the stats/results are correct. that being said, no study, scientific or not, is unbiased. it probably would have been preferable to present the study in a different way.

annette said...

I think the presentation of the results is kind of biased, too. Rather than just giving the statistics, she clearly has opinions on the statistics.

The thing that made me angry about it was the bit where she talks about companion animals and says "A huge percentage of the responders, who think of themselves as vegans, are purchasing and feeding meat/animal products for their companion animals, and some believe it is the right thing to do." Clearly she's implying there that you're not a "real" vegan if you feed your cat meat-based foods; she gets more judgmental about this in the section "extent of responder's veganism." This just makes me angry. I know the whole vegan/not vegan pets and cat food thing is always a heated debate, and I don't want to get into it here, but I resent the implication that I'm somehow not a real vegan or am a poser simply because my cat eats a carnivorous diet.

Ps. love your blog... i've been reading it on google reader since veganmofo.

Marni said...

veggievixen: True. It's nearly impossible to conduct studies completely free of bias, but Katz doesn't even try. And since this is the sort of article that may very well be cited by future works on veganism, I think the flawed presentation is really unfortunate.

annette: Another excellent point, thanks for bringing it to the table. Fact is, most cats need meat to survive. We have a couple companion animals, including a snake. We feed our snake rats, because that's what snakes eat. They are not omnivores, like dogs, who for the most part can thrive on a veg diet. The fact that we feed our snake rats and you feed your cat meat doesn't make either of us any less vegan. And this sort of divisive, holier-than-thou crap being thrown around by some vegans is harmful to the cause as far as I'm concerned.

PS Thanks for following and thanks for weighing in on this issue. :)