In the United States, many individuals have turned to veganism as a trendy or “hip” thing to do; veganism is often correlated with counter-culture or being a “hippie.” In many instances, vegans may shame those around them for eating animal products and/or l byproducts. Yet, what many vegans in the United States fail to recognize is that the element of choice regarding one’s diet is an incredible form of privilege. Many poor people throughout the globe do not have the choice to be vegan, or not to be vegan for that matter; rather, resources and monetary constraints may lead to a necessity for veganism to become (or not become) one’s diet. Often, the worst elements/forms of veganism and lifestyle/food shaming are prevalent coming from white vegan individuals and groups. This is not to say that only white persons make the choice to be vegan for ethical reasons, or that people of color do not have agency in their diet and lifestyle choices. Rather, it is to suggest that one should take structural and systemic factors into account, and that vegans should stop the tirade about moral inferiority regarding consumption. This has a tendency to be especially true in regards to white vegans.
Furthermore, the (white) vegan discussion of animal consumption being the “same” as antebellum slavery has been a heated debate; white vegans and organizations have had a tendency to compare the food and meat industries to the institution of slavery. Some examples of this are provided in the images below (Heuchen). As Claire L. Heuchen notes in a blog post about these tendencies,
A quick search of ‘vegan’ images reveals rows of white people gagged, chained, and shackled in order to make a statement. On Pinterest, perky white girl after perky white girl brandishes a poster conflating veganism with anti-racist politics. Vegan activists take to Twitter, questioning whether Black lives – Black, human lives – are as significant as the lives of cows and chickens. A white vegan activist took #AllLivesMatter to an entirely new level.
The interruption of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in order to critique its lack of an explicit demand for animal rights is both incredibly problematic and alienating for people of color. While many critical race scholars such as Sylvia Wynter* suggest that humans need to think of themselves as a species no different from other animals and accept that all species are part of the environment, that is not what these types of white vegan interactions are invoking. Rather, tweets by vegans such as the one above suggest that Black human lives are inherently inferior. It suggests that Black people should not be made equal in relation to white people or any other form of life, but should instead remain considered intrinsically less-than and continue to “not matter.” Refuting the claim “Black Lives Matter” in this instance becomes one of suggesting that Black lives do not matter at all. It also suggests that Black people are not and and can never be part of vegan movements or other movements that advocate for animals’ lives.
Such a suggestion completely ignores the existence of Black veganism and the fact that many Black-led movements in fact do advocate for animal lives. This act of silence coming from white people demonstrates the pervasiveness of white privilege. Mia McKenzie explores this in Black Girl Dangerous, stating, “White privilege is a hell of a thing…If it’s too much, they can just choose not to read it, not to think about it. But we don’t all have that option” (42). In order to counteract this silence, we would like to ask readers — especially those who are white and non-Black people of color — to please refer to some of these sources regarding Black veganism:
- This video of a talk by Afkh Ko (creator of the blog “Black Vegans Rock”) and Dr. Breeze Harper on “Afrofuturism and Black Veganism: Towards a New Citizenship:” https://youtu.be/W6MIJVmDhoI
- Stuff I Eat in LA, a black owned vegan soul food restaurant (http://www.stuffieat.com)
- The Sistah Vegan Project, a blog documenting “A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through The ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape…and Beyond” (http://www.sistahvegan.com)
- This list of 100 Black vegans compiled by activist Aph Ko in order to challenge the perception that veganism is strictly a “white thing:” https://strivingwithsystems.com/2015/06/11/blackvegansrock-100-black-vegans-to-check-out/
* To learn more about Sylvia Wynter’s conceptualization of a new humanism (that critiques current forms of humanism), check out her interview with David Scott entitled “The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter.” It was published in September 2002 and can be found in Volume 4, Issue 2 of Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism: