On this episode of Knowing Animals, host Dr Josh Milburn speaks to Dr Emelia Quinn to discuss her book Reading Veganism: The Monstrous Vegan, 1818 to Present.
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Reflections from Dr Josh Milburn
I starting looking after Knowing Animals for Siobhan O'Sullivan at the end of 2020, and Emelia – who I had first met at the 2019 Vegan Society Research Day – was one of the very first guests I featured. In that first interview, we spoke about her work on the ‘vegan camp’aesthetic and she mentioned Reading Veganism, her forthcoming book on 'monstrous veganism'. I knew I just had to get her back to talk to her about it properly.
Despite the ubiquity of Frankenstein's monster in popular culture, it's not so well known that he had an animal-free diet. In the novel, when trying to convince Victor Frankenstein to create a bride for him, the monster says, "My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment". Emelia's detailed analysis of Frankenstein is some of what stuck with me from Reading Veganism, not least because this is a novel I could talk about all day. But Emelia's book is so much more than a study of Mary Shelley's classic. Reading Veganism charts how ‘monstrous vegans’ seem to crop up again and again in literature, and reflects on how this gives us a new – surprising! – way to think about our own veganism, and what it might mean to have a vegan point of view.
Reflections from Dr Emelia Quinn
This was the second time I have appeared on Knowing Animals, having first appeared in late 2020 to to talk about my article Notes on Vegan Camp (PMLA, 2021). It is always a real pleasure to speak to Josh. When discussing Reading Veganism, it was particularly helpful to hear about how the book registers from a non-literary studies perspective. As Josh and I discuss at the end of the episode, I continue to grapple with the anxiety that the kind of highly theoretical work I do may not be doing anything to ameliorate the suffering of animals.
However, this anxiety is perhaps what is most useful about the monstrous vegan figure that I both trace and rehabilitate in my book. For me, the monstrous vegan is a figure that embodies the awkward coming together of utopian aspirations with feelings of failure and insufficiency, a coming together that I see as inherent to vegan lives.
In our present world, as veganism continues to grow, it is important that we think about just what it means to be a vegan and I hope that a theoretical conception of veganism and understanding of monstrous vegan literary history has resonance for our understanding of vegan modes of being in the world both within and beyond the academy.