Animal Rights/ Politics/ Veganism

Is veganism another white privilege?

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 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.

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  • beforewisdom (3 comments)
    March 17, 2008 at 9:42 am

    I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 30 years. Vegan for over a decade.

    Veganism in 1st world countries is dominated by a white middle upper middle class subculture. In my opinion that is as far as the “white privilege” thesis goes. No offense to anyone, but questioning “privilege” is often a “class privilege”.

    Most of the healthiest vegan foods are also some of the cheapest foods and most available foods on the planet. I have never found a market that did not sell legumes, some kind of root, vegetables, fruit and some grains.

    It is true what you say about the quality of produce being less in poor areas. The worst produce is still better for you than fast foods. Making your own food from what is available in local markets is still monumentally cheaper than buying most fast food. Poor people make the time to cook their food. I’ve worked 12 hour days and have made large pots of rice and beans for very little money while I was decompressing coming home. You only have to do this once every few days.

    I don’t buy the argument that veganism is an inherently elitist thing.

  • xetvx (29 comments)
    March 18, 2008 at 7:34 am

    In regards to beforewisdom’s comment:

    Now there’s someone who has done their homework! Thank you for shedding light on an all too common, sincerely weak and under researched proposition.

  • Canook (4 comments)
    March 18, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Hi beforewisdom,

    Thanks for posting. I’m enjoying being a part of the Veggie Blog and hearing the constructive voices and views of other members.

    I agree that the idea of veganism being an elitist tool is rubbish, but there seems to be a whole troup of people over at LiveJournal who disagree. And like your comments confirm, and like I tried to illustrate in my post, there are holes in their argument.

    I think it was as a white vegan that I chose to consider whether there was any validity to the idea. Turns out there was none I could see.

  • beforewisdom (3 comments)
    March 18, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Hi Canook;

    Poor people don’t use terms like “white privilege”. I’ve heard the term a lot in college, almost always coming from upper middle class college students. Most of them white.

    I often heard it from various leftist idealoges who were not vegans, who seemed bothered that there was an ethical argument to be made where they were not already standing on the moral high ground. “White privilege” was their dodge and their defense. If the truly noble people on the planet…..poor people of color, preferably in the third world, could not be vegan then it was a bourgeoise frivolity that could be dismissed. Unlike say, the marxism or feminism they were studying for thousands of dollars a year.

  • Chimacintosh (1 comments)
    April 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I grew up in a small town too. I am white, but I suffered being the “other” because I was not a member of the majority religion. I was denied jobs, relationships and opportunities not because of the content of my character but the choice of my parents religion.

    It is wrong to separate and deny others opportunity for reasons that have no bearing on the ability to benefit the individual and society. I live in a nicer part of Chicago that is what you claim. I live within 6 blocks of a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Store. Are they nice? Sure, do I visit them? Rarely. I go to a store that is more affordable a few miles away and save almost 50% over what I would spent there.

    It is true that wealthy people have more options. That has always been true. What is also true is that non-wealthy people find ways to economize and you learn pretty quickly how affordable home cooking is. The rich have a disproportionate share of diseases and suicides like heart disease, cancer, etc. Did you know that heart attacks used to be called the businessmans disease? If the rich want to eat themselves into disease, we should feel sorry for them and not feel upset that they have that “white privilege”.

    I understand where you are coming from. Sometimes it seems that the rich don’t suffer for their actions but they do. You don’t get something for nothing, even when money is given to you. The rich for example can afford to consume drugs and they pay for that. They ruin their brains, relationships and lives. Do you want us to want that “white privilege” as well?

    Everything has a silver lining. Look for the silver linings in your own life, rather than focus on the perceived injustices in life.


  • Gen-XerJakeJones (2 comments)
    June 30, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Do the people hurling the accusation have a clear description of “white”?
    I ask because I have heard black separarists theorize that any non-black person in the West is a caucasion with “white privilege”. So I would ask do they mean anglo-saxon/hordane privilege or indo/aryan? The West adopted vegetarian culture from Asia and clearly “white privilege ( as in anglo-saxon)” isn’t really accurate”. Be very leary of victim politics and oppression olympics.

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