FactCheck Social Media

“Cabbage-walking vegans” story wanders away from its artistic origins

2020-03-05 11:42:57

The Statement

An article being shared on Australian and overseas social media groups claims “vegans” are walking cabbages instead of dogs in a purported trend among young people that helps to cure depression.

Young people walking and dragging cabbages on leashes.
 A Facebook post purports to show “vegans” walking cabbages in an effort to cure depression. 

The article, from the website National File was shared on a Facebook group called Fraser Anning Support Group on February 18, 2020, with the poster commenting “No words”. That poster had shared the post from a group called “Exposing the modern day left”.

Fraser Anning is a former federal senator for Queensland.

The February 6, 2020 article says a “new trend has emerged where young vegan adults, instead of walking a pet such as a cat or a dog, take cabbages for walks on a leash”.

The National File article quotes a psychiatrist named Wen Chao stating: “The idea is simple – you feel as lonely and as simple as a cabbage, so you begin to act like one and befriend one.”

An unnamed “vegan student” is quoted as saying: “It’s a way by which depression and loneliness can be escaped; I feel free, I feel unchained-going for a walk with (the cabbage) makes me feel fully recharged.” The report includes a photo of a group of young people dragging cabbages with leashes.

National File describes itself as “a bold new media project” focused on news topics “pertaining to the New Right”.

The National File report has been posted more than 40 times on Facebook, including posts by Australian groups here and by Facebook groups overseas here and here. In total the report has received more than 43,000 interactions, been shared more than 3,900 times and received more than 14,000 comments.

The Analysis

Stories about teens walking cabbages as a cure for loneliness started to appear in May 2014 with The Daily Star, Metro UK and the Huffington Post all reporting on the ‘craze’.

The original report was published on May 2, 2014, by the Austrian Times, a now-shuttered news outlet that was part of Central European News (CEN) a news agency run by English-born journalist Michael Leidig.

The 2014 Austrian Times story, titled “China’s Cabbage Patch Kids”, contains many of the same quotes from psychiatrist Wen Chao and student Lui Ja Chen as the 2020 National File story.

However the Austrian Times article does not mention vegans or quote a “vegan student” as the National File article does.

A story titled “Teens Are So Lonely, They’re Taking Cabbages On Leashes For Walks” appeared in the Huffington post in 2014. The piece attributed a quote and linked to the Austrian Times story. The American news website and blog later updated and corrected the piece after it was debunked by Chinese media outfit thatsmags.com and gaming website Kotaku. “The teens pictured walking cabbages on leashes were taking part in a performance art piece,” reads the correction.

Beijing-based artist Han Bing told the Wall Street Journal in 2014 that people were walking cabbages at a music festival as part of a performance art piece he had devised.

In a 2014 interview with The New York Times, Mr Han said he has been walking cabbages as an artistic statement since 2000. “At the beginning they treated me like a psychopath. Now young people are more open and accept it, they even choose to walk cabbages,” he said.

In 2015 Buzzfeed published a report on an investigation into the veracity of some stories published by Central European News. The story titled “The King of Bull Sh*t News” said evidence suggested “an alarming proportion” of CEN’s “weird news” stories were “based on exaggeration, embellishment, and outright fabrication”. The Austrian Times cabbage-walking story was among the examples cited.

In 2016 Michael Leidig and CEN launched a $US11 million libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed in response to the story. The case was rejected in March, 2019 and an appeal was thrown out in December 2019, with the US Court of Appeals ruling that the “plaintiffs [Leidig and CEN] offered no evidence regarding the accuracy of the story about young people walking cabbages in China out of loneliness”.

Mr Leidig’s lawyer was reported as saying there would be a challenge to the Court of Appeals ruling.

A stack of cabbages in a Beijing residential area.
 A man walks past a pile of cabbages on a Beijing street. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. There is no evidence that “vegans” are walking cabbages as a method to cure depression. The photo used in the post is of people at a 2014 Chinese music festival who were walking cabbages for a performance art piece. The artist responsible has given interviews confirming the cabbage-walking is something he devised as an artistic statement.

False – The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/