Culture

College Op-Ed: We Have to Make Veganism ‘Intersectional’

(Photo: Studiovespa/Dreamstime)
A person who eats a plant-based diet because she thinks it helps with her acne is not going to declare solidarity with a person who thinks chickens are slaves.

According to an op-ed by a University of Texas–Austin student, modern veganism is too focused on rich, white-people vegans, and it needs to become more intersectional and inclusive.

In an article titled “Vegans must feed everyone, not just wealthy white people,” Audrey Larcher opens by explaining that the modern image of a vegan is “some hipster” who is “probably slender” and “definitely white” — and that’s a major, major problem.

“The caricature is indicative of underlying problems in the vegan community,” Larcher continues. “White veganism — which refers to the dominant cruelty-free culture of wealth, privilege and exclusivity — is not an option for most people.”

“If vegans want to promote sustainable and compassionate diets for the world, their communities must be intersectional,” she continues.

For example, Larcher explains that people from many other cultures — namely Indian, Ethiopian, and East Asian cultures — have a lot of dishes that are plant-based or don’t use dairy, and it’s a big problem that white vegans never talk about these cultures or their plant-based foods.

“Instead of promoting the foods of foreign cultures, vegans go great lengths to reinvent traditional foods which rely on animal products to taste good,” she explains.

According to Larcher, things like the vegan imitation-cheese industry are problematic because a lot of their products and the grocery stores that sell them are expensive, and that’s an example of “cultural exclusivity.”

Being a white, American imitation-cheese-eating vegan definitely is a certain culture (I almost left it at “cult”) of its own, and one that certainly is available only to people with a certain means. But everything in the world is like that. For example, rich people also pay a ton of money to take spin classes at SoulCycle instead of just going for a run, and that, too is a culture (cult!) of its own. Take any diet or interest in the world, and there is automatically going to be some sort of high-end, snobby version of it where the prices are high just because there are wealthy people out there who will pay them (and then talk with their wealthy friends about how, like, amazing their $34 candlelit spin class was and that they totally needed to go because they ate way too many $24 zucchini-and-cashew-cheese enchiladas at Candle 79 before seeing Hamilton for the fourth time on Friday night.)

Yes, of course this life isn’t available to everyone. It isn’t available to me. But that doesn’t mean that not eating meat and cheese isn’t available. The truth is, plenty of vegan staples — beans, nuts, rice, and even produce — are very affordable. Maybe she’s saying that there just isn’t enough information out there for people who are dying to be vegan but think they can’t afford it? Because if you Google “vegan on a budget,” you’ll get more than 42 million results. Perhaps — just perhaps! — the main reason that more people aren’t vegan is because they just don’t want to be vegan.

But, according to Larcher, the “cultural exclusivity” thing is “only the tip of an insensitive iceberg.”

“Most vegan communities offer no sympathy to victims of racism, appropriating minorities’ struggles to advance their own cause,” she explains, linking to a tweet from a popular vegan account that reads: “Black lives matter . . . more than Chickens or Cows lives . . . apparently.”

Of course, Larcher is correct in calling this “insensitive.” It’s true, people who are vegans due to radical animal-rights beliefs think that it’s unfair that a human-centric movement like Black Lives Matter gets more attention than their chicken-and-cow-centric movement, because they think that human suffering and animal suffering are the same. Yes, I understand that their logic dictates that they would say this about any popular human-centric movement, but still, talking about black lives in this way is obviously offensive. And there really is no image more vomit-inducing than a rich, white, hipster vegan tweeting little jabs at Black Lives Matter while he strolls through the farmer’s market on his iPhone.

According to Larcher, this kind of rhetoric can “alienate potential vegans,” and it shows a need for all vegans to unite behind a sensitive message in order to recruit more people. Now, just like I’m not sure how many people are being turned off of veganism by cashew cheese prices, I’m also sure how many are being turned off by the radical animal-rights rhetoric, but in a sense, she’s right. Seeing something so inflammatory attributed to the movement certainly does show that the movement could benefit from avoiding that, getting together, and rallying around something more sensitive — but it also shows why that’s going to be impossible.

Clearly, things like that Black Lives Matter tweet don’t represent all vegans — but the truth is, nothing really does. People are vegan for so many different reasons. Some people are vegan for health benefits, some people are vegan because they heard both Miley Cyrus and her pig are vegan, some people are vegan because their rich friends are vegan, and some people are vegan because they think that chickens are slaves. It’s going to be impossible for a group where some people are participating because they just think it’s healthier — but don’t think that animals are the same as people — and some people are participating because they don’t care if it’s healthier — they just do think animals are the same as people — to have a united voice. Think about it: A person who really believes that chickens are slaves is not going to just chill out and stop talking about it, because they believe that chickens are slaves. And a person who eats a plant-based diet because she thinks it helps with her acne or whatever is not going to declare solidarity with a person who thinks chickens are slaves because that person believes that chickens are slaves.

An anti-chicken-slavery advocate just isn’t going to be able to fit into a group if its criteria demands that he stop talking about chicken like they’re enslaved. Despite Larcher’s best efforts and op-eds, it’s going to be impossible to have any kind of “united” voice for a movement when the movement has so many different and passionate sects — especially considering that the only thing harder than getting a chicken-slave advocate to shut up about speciesism is getting a Whole Foods–advocate to shut up about how their vegan coconut “bacon” tastes just like the real thing.

– Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.

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