White Supremacy and Veganism

Just a quick note before beginning this post, thank you to the wonderful BIPOC environmentalists at Intersectional Environmentalist for helping with the main flesh and information in this post! As a white person, with this post, I aim to disseminate and amplify the voices of BIPOC environmentalists who are already saying and voicing the opinions, experiences, and information below. I fully agree with and support these people and their voices and urge others to amplify their voices as well. You can start by finding and following them through the link above!

Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles transcend racial identities, and have been part of traditional lifestyles in BIPOC communities all around the world for centuries. However, looking at vegan promotion sites and advertisements today, you would probably never know that. In 2016, only 3% of Americans in general identified as vegan. For Black Americans, 8% identified as vegan. In 2020, 19% of white people claimed to be eating less meat. Among people of color, the proportion is much higher, at 31%.

For many cultures, veganism/vegetarianism is a way of life, not a popular trend. It is “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” Leading a plant-based lifestyle is strongly encouraged in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. While these and other communities did not use the specific term “veganism” to describe their lifestyles, they continuously took moral stances against the slaughter, and consumption of animals. It is crucial that we acknowledge the contributions of BIPOC communities to the vegan movement, and actively push against the erasure of this history when offering the western definition of veganism.

Despite the fact that the vegan movement is largely supported and advanced by people of color, mainstream veganism has become overwhelmingly white and inaccessible. The country with the most vegetarians in the world is actually India, but despite this, in western media, vegans and vegetarians are represented by a certain aesthetic, which tends to be predominantly young, attractive, and more often than not, white. This encourages “selling” plant-based living as a cool trend to hop on, rather than acknowledging that rooted in core cultural/traditional values, it’s about respect for animals and people alike. All too often, white veganism is complicit in maintaining white supremacy in both our food system and the world at large. Some examples of how mainstream veganism continues to uphold white supremacy:

Repackaging foods traditionally eaten by BIPOC for centuries as new/novel (ex. tofu, chia, quinoa, pepitas).
Driving demand for products that require violent natural resource extraction in the Global South (ex. Avocados).
Appropriating Black culture to sell cookbooks and recipes.
Gentrifying predominantly non-white neighborhoods to open white-owned/operated vegan restaurants.
Failing to speak on the mistreatment of farm workers who are largely undocumented.

It is time for activists to put the core values of veganism, and those who uphold them, at the forefront of their advertising. Veganism is not a single-issue movement. It is not just about animal rights, nor is it just about the climate. Being against speciesism must go hand in hand with fighting climate change and all other systems of oppression. Veganism must be intersectional because the liberation of non-human animals is connected to the liberation of all living beings on Earth. The first step on the path toward intersectional veganism is recognizing that we cannot fight speciesism in a vacuum. Presenting human and animal rights as competing interests is not only unproductive, it is also not based on reality. As intersectional vegans, we must seek to continuously highlight the interconnectedness of these struggles, and work toward dismantling all systems of oppression. It is our responsibility to acknowledge the racism we tolerate and perpetuate in our own community. We must dismantle white supremacy in all its iterations, including in our food systems.

To make your veganism more intersectional, return to the reason why you went vegan in the first place:

If you went vegan because you are an advocate for animal rights, then ask yourself what systems have enabled humans to treat animals as disposable commodities. It is also important to research ways in which white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism and human supremacy (speciesism) are all deeply connected (I recommend starting here and here).

If you went vegan because you discovered the relationship between animal agriculture and the climate crisis, read up on environmental racism, and educate yourself on the ways BIPOC communities are disproportionately harmed by climate change (you can start with this and this).

If you went vegan because you learned about the horrible conditions for workers in slaughterhouses, don’t forget about people who pick and grow plant-based foods. Remember that just because it’s vegan, does not mean that it is necessarily cruelty-free.

Taking a stand against white supremacy in veganism can look like:

NOT co-opting BLM or other movements led by BIPOC to promote animal rights
NOT comparing the conditions of industrialized factory farmers to slavery
NOT demonizing BIPOC who are not vegan 
NOT ignoring the role of western imperialism in popularizing meat and dairy consumption
NOT disregarding the effects of your diet and vegan food on the Global South
Acknowledging the role that BIPOC have had in developing your favorite vegan foods
Recognizing the disparate impact of food injustice and advocate for people's rights to fresh and affordable produce
Call out anti-blackness, racism and cultural appropriation in the vegan movement
Amplify voices of BIPOC vegan businesses, accounts and organizations and support them financially (#spreadthewealth) when possible
Educate yourself (even more) on the ways in which our food systems perpetuate white supremacy

To end this post, just remember that vegan consumerism will not lead to animal liberation, especially not for those whose habitats are also threatened by climate change. By living a vegan lifestyle, we have already begun the hard work of questioning how our food is made and where it comes from, but this work does not stop at meat production. Our activism cannot stop at boycotting animal agriculture. because that alone will not end speciesism. There is no one-and-done solution to the broader issues in our food system, but we have to continuously make the strides that we can toward harm-reduction on all fronts (#progressoverperfection).

On a final note, always be compassionate and extend the same care and sympathy that you do toward farm animals to other humans and to yourself!

Once again, thank you to the wonderful BIPOC environmentalists at Intersectional Environmentalist for helping with the main flesh and information in this post! As a white person, with this post, I aim to disseminate and amplify the voices of BIPOC environmentalists who are already saying and voicing the opinions, experiences, and information above. I fully agree with and support these people and their voices and urge others to amplify their voices as well. You can start by finding and following them through the link above!

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