Veganism and privilege: A Vegansaurus editorial »
We had a post the other day about veggies being cheaper than people acknowledged, and it garnered some responses that called it insensitive to greater structures of food politics. We know the cost of food isn’t the sole determiner in the diet of many people, but the fact remains that many people think veganism is expensive because fruits and veggies are more expensive than non-vegan food.
That post brings to light studies that have shown that veggies are actually not expensive when compared to other foods. It didn’t say that everyone can walk to the corner and buy vegetables. The studies simply show that veggies are actually more affordable then they are made out to be. If we don’t have that information, we can’t move on to discuss what does make vegetables unaffordable or inaccessible.
When someone writes in response to that post that “this is (a big part of) why I am done with vegansaurus and the main(er)stream veg* activism framework,” it troubles us. It makes us think that you’re not reading the site very closely. Which is fair, there are about 10,000 posts a day. However, this isn’t the first post we’ve ever had about food accessibility. We’ve written about food accessibility on Vegansaurus many times, and about healthy school lunches—which affects children with limited options and resources—on multiple occasions. We understand the difference between poverty and college-educated living-on-a-tight-budget.
It bothers us that people consistently use “privilege” as an attack against veganism. Yes, being able to make decisions about your food is a privilege—for this very reason, many people with little options are in fact vegetarian or vegan, by default. But food decisions aren’t the only privilege; caring about and fighting an issue that doesn’t directly affect you is a privilege. Any animal rights activist has the privilege of time and energy to dedicate to helping animals. That, really, is beyond privilege. It’s a responsibility. If you are able to, you should be helping others. If you are able to, you should be vegan.
Honestly, we’ve never had a genuinely poor person say tell us that “being vegan is expensive;” it’s always people in our socio-economic group. We’re not swimming in riches, and maybe even paying rent is hard sometimes, but if you are wealthy enough to live on your own, or even with a few roommates, you are wealthy enough to be vegan. How many times have we heard the argument “WHAT ABOUT KIDS IN AFRICA WHO DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO EAT? ARE YOU GOING TO FORCE THEM TO BE VEGAN?” To which we say A) you totally think Africa is a country, don’t you?; and B) NO, We’re talking about your privileged ass, you cask-ale-drinking jerk.
We recognize that having food choices is privileged; we also realize that having internet access and tumblr accounts and time to write about the things we care about is privileged. Having time to read about the things you care about is a privilege. That’s how we know most people who are reading this post right now have the ability to go vegan—right now.
While you’re at it, you can also work on food sovereignty, and preaching to other liberals who fully understand food deserts about how they’re not liberal enough to understand food deserts in the same complex way that you do. Now get out there and start baking vegan fair-trade organic cupcakes and delivering them on bike to your West Oakland neighbors. We’ll do the same.
This Vegansaurus editorial was brought to you by Meave, Megan and Laura! xoxoxo!
Commercial Street: Does veganism mean you can trust NOTHING?! »
So this is neat but also depressing: Your Daily Vegan has a new interactive tool called Commercial Street, which shows you more truthful versions of labels on the stuff we buy. Imagine how many people would buy a carpet if they first had to read a colorful description about the making of the product, including the number of animals abused and killed each year to make it. The economy would collapse! More than it already has, I mean!
Take a virtual stroll down Commercial Street, and click on things you might buy, like duck (because that’s what I get every day at the Safeway):
I realize I’m coming off a bit snooty. However, Commercial Street could be a useful tool for the vegan-curious who might not know that, say, cheese and cashmere are not vegan. Plus it will get folks in the habit of doing more research. But since it is unlikely non-vegans will be casually perusing a site called “Your Daily Vegan,” people like us need to send them there!
On the other hand, reading these labels also makes veganism seem ever more daunting. It’s definitely important to consider the effects of all the choices you make, but when you see a visual representation of how you’ll never be a perfect vegan, it’s enough for some to throw up their hands in defeat. In my opinion, we need to make veganism more accessible, not less. What do you think of this feature?
Guest post: Food accessibility is a vegan issue »
I was sitting at my desk, staring at my coffee, when my co-worker walked in with a bag of cherries and said, “God, organic fruit at the farmers’ market is fucking expensive.”
At least we have a farmers’ market nearby selling local, organic fruit and vegetables, I thought, and my co-worker has the resources to buy some. When discussions of veganism and privilege come up–as they seem to be doing with increased frequency—there’s some understandable defensiveness from vegans, and some valid concerns that the “veganism is for rich white people” trope is both wrong and insulting to anyone not rich or white. But there remain striking differences food access across communities. This should concern everyone, but especially us veganism advocates.
A recent survey [pdf] by the very rad Food Empowerment Project (FEP) lays out the data. Looking at Santa Clara County specifically, they found that:
“On average, higher-income areas have twice as many locations with fresh fruits and vegetables compared to the lower-income areas…14 times more locations with frozen fruit and six times more locations with frozen vegetables.… In addition to being generally less available in lower-income areas, the variety of produce is also limited in these locations.”
Some of these findings are helpfully laid out in chart form:
Other sections point out things that should be obvious to those of us who live, work, or generally exist in urban cores, but are worth stating plainly: there are fundamental differences between supermarkets and small corner groceries; meat and dairy alternatives are virtually nonexistent in many communities, despite high levels of lactose-intolerance in some of those populations; that, along with being “cash-poor,” many providers in low-income communities and communities of color are “time-poor,” way too overstretched by multiple jobs and responsibilities to travel to a distant shop for decent produce, return home, and prepare dinner. The FEP study calls this “environmental racism.” Check out the full thing, along with their recommendations, here [pdf].
Your ability to make healthy food choices shouldn’t depend on your address or income, and lack of access to fruits and vegetables amounts to a public health crisis in many places. The growing trend of farmers’ markets accepting food stamps is a welcome development: by expanding access to good food rather than restricting access to junk, it’s also a much smarter, and less paternalistic and classist way to encourage people to eat well. (Another option would be to eat all the locavores, provided they were humanely put down, with reverence for all that they would provide us, but that’s a topic for another post.)
As vegans, it should matter to us especially. When we tell others to go vegan–which we should–it’s crucial to consider what barriers might stand in their way. Some are ideological, reflective of long-standing habits and assumptions, but some are more practical, like whether they can get to a market that sells non-gross apples. The ability to do so does mark a sort of privilege that needs to be recognized and dismantled, even if anti-vegan internet goofballs like to cite it for their own purposes.
And finally, concern about food security and access shouldn’t be the domain of a borderline-sociopathic “locavore” community that seems to raise these issues only to argue that we need to kill chickens in our yards. We shouldn’t cede that ground (sign a petition against at-home chicken-slaughter right now!). Everyone deserves decent food, produced sustainably, locally, and without poisons, and vegan advocates should be on the frontlines of that push. The FEP’s work is a good place to start.
Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday.
This blog calling vegans “privileged” and “oppressive” makes no sense »
Hey guys, know what this world needs? More internet people making vegans look bad. Lucky for planet Earth, this blog has crossed my radar. The content consists of accusing under 1 percent of the U.S. population of oppression and privilege, and anyone who offers a different opinion becomes a “troll” (N.B. You can’t have a link in the sidebar saying “Ask Me Anything!” and go on the defensive when people do.)
The last thing anyone would call me is preachy, and it is unfortunate that the author has apparently had so many bad experiences with vegans, but I can think of a million better ways to waste time (Law & Order: SVU marathons, 4chan, knitting with dog hair) than to write a blog dedicated to how “ableist” and “privileged” and “racist” vegans are. Some vegans might lecture you about your choices, just like some omnivores might. Vegans merely make up a small cross-section of humanity. I think, rather than “vegan,” the word you’re looking for here is “jerk.”
A great number of vegans are vegan because they give a shit—about the planet, about their own health, about animals, about other people—not because they want to judge others, or because they care more about cute, fuzzy, nonhuman animals than humans, or because they have eating disorders, or because it’s easy anywhere in the world (hint: It’s not). Being vegan isn’t about policing fellow humans, and it’s especially not about being “perfect.” We’re people, too, doing the best we can.
I could wax poetic about being a vegan on food stamps, about being flat broke for my entire vegan life until the last few months, about dumpster-diving, about nutrition and health as a vegan, about how veganism has actually helped a lot of people suffering from eating disorders, about veganism being a viable option and even solution for poor people and in poor countries, about finding ways to make veganism work if it’s what you really want. But instead I’ll say that it’s not privilege to try to limit the torture and killing of sentient beings. It is privilege to think you’re above trying.