Veganism is ‘othered’. That’s a fair enough statement. Growing up in the remote north of a country, with a population of less than 5,000 people, vegetarianism is the act of a rebellious teenager that will pass with just a little patience. And usually their definition of vegetarian allows the occasional piece of fish or chicken. Especially when eating out. Being a vegan means stitched eyebrows of incomprehension. Move to the city and those furrowed eyebrows relax a little. But still, even in the most diverse city, vegans are going to encounter people who labels them as different, not like us, other.
But is veganism ‘another white privilege?’
In November the group blog Vegans of Color joined the online arena. Not surprisingly, those who write here are all non-white vegans. Their blogs and discussions look at the intersection of veganism and animal rights with anti-racism and oppression. An offshoot of this blog was a discussion on Livejournal.com about the correlation between veganism and race. There were three separate camps that most people subscribed to. The first being in full support of Vegans of Color as an underrepresented viewpoint, next came those who disagreed with the idea that vegans of colour and vegans without colour had any relevant differences as veganism had nothing to do with race. The last camp carried the slogan, ‘Veganism is another white privilege.’ First what does veganism have to do with white privilege? A lot, actually. Though it has a lot more to do with class privilege. Especially in the West or developed countries. In developing countries people often go without meat, dairy or eggs simply because they’re too poor to afford these luxuries. They’re forced to make due with whatever is available to them. Eating meat can therefore be seen as a sign of status, wealth or power.
In developed countries, people are afforded the choice of what they will or won’t eat. This is true to a certain degree. Once you divide members of the developed world into groups of class, choice is limited by price and availability.
Having lived in several countries throughout the developed world, including Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, there is a pattern of availability. Such that poorer neighbourhoods generally have fewer grocery stores and fresh produce but more fast food restaurants. The organic vegetable stalls, the natural, health food stores, the massive grocery stores that offer a wide selection of foods are all in wealthier neighbourhoods.
However, since poorer neighbourhoods are largely made up of minorities, immigrants and refugees, and the richer areas home to mostly white people it is easy to see where this privilege is attributed to race.
Similarly, if you’re looking to buy ready made food, or eat at one of those trendy exclusively vegan restaurants, the prices are much higher than if you were to buy the fresh ingredients and make these same items from scratch at home. But having the time available to make your every meal from scratch is a lot harder when you’re working multiple jobs or facing long hours in physically demanding roles. Again a distinctions of class, not race.
But none of this is designed to discredit the need for a blog like Vegans of Color. The creator of the blog, a vegan of colour, looked around and found that the information provided wasn’t always relevant to her situation. To illustrate this she referred to articles proclaiming the wonders of exotic edibles like pakoras or samosas. With exotic being used to illustrate just how unusual and unfamiliar these foods were. Feel free to replace pakoras and samosas with onigiri (rice balls), vegetarian spring rolls, bannock, salsa or kim chi and you’re essentially stipulating that vegan food is primarily traditional white food.
The idea that race doesn’t enter into the equation is preposterous. Vegan is a descriptor used to describe ones views on cruelty to animals. But a complete person it does not make. Race, gender, sexuality, ability, age, education, class, religion – all of these things come together to define who you are. People are the sum of all their parts. Whether you’re a vegan of colour or not this blog has something to offer.