Racism/Inequality in the Mainstream Vegan Movement

There is no denying that decreasing your meat and dairy intake has beneficial effects on the environment. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. Many people choose to go vegan because of these environmental benefits, as well as for animal welfare or the health benefits. Veganism should be a movement that includes everyone, yet when you think of a vegan, who do you think of? For many, it will most likely be a white person who guilts others into following their lifestyle without regard to the barriers holding people back. There is a new movement gaining momentum of BIPOC and white vegans who believe that the mainstream vegan movement needs to be decolonized and less racist.  

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity. It differs from assimilation or a cultural exchange because the cultural things are taken by the dominant culture from the minority culture and then is seen as colonialism. Many white vegans will appropriate cultural food for their own benefit and vegan restaurant owners may even profit off of other cultures. Almost every mainstream vegan food that is associated with US vegans originated from other cultures. Tofu originated in China, quinoa in the Andean Region (Peru, Bolivia, etc.), chickpeas (and hummus) from the Middle East, black beans and from Mexico, and the list goes on and on. Today, these foods are often attributed to mainstream white veganism and their cultural roots are not realized, alienating vegans of color. While consuming these foods does not mean that one is culturally appropriating, many white vegans will appropriate cultural dishes. Menus at white-owned restaurants have tons of items that are created by people of color or are appropriated from cultures such as tofu “Asian” stir fry and other similar dishes. There are countless vegan taquerias, jerk “chicken” restaurants, and sushi bars with white owners. Instead of the business and proceeds going to the people who are part of the culture, it goes to the white people appropriating it. 

Another issue with the vegan movement is that produce and vegan foods are not accessible for everyone. Produce is extremely expensive. Many people with low incomes live in food deserts. A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. Minority communities live disproportionately in food deserts as a result of historical racial redlining and discrimitation. For people with low incomes living in food deserts, buying fruits and vegetables at an accessible price is nearly impossible. Unlike in wealthier areas that have a plethora of health food stores and multiple grocery store options, individuals in food deserts have to travel great distances in order to get vegan options. Fruits, vegetables, and some vegan proteins usually cost more than processed foods which makes it an unrealistic option for many families and individuals with lower incomes. It is not fair for vegans to shame lower income people for not “choosing” to be vegan when for many it is not a choice. There need to be many structural changes implemented in order to make produce and vegan foods an option for everyone. If vegans truly care about animals and preventing the consumption of them, they will fight to ensure that people have access to produce and vegan options. One way to do this is to support community gardens and similar initiatives that bring produce to people who would otherwise not be able to afford it. 

Representation is very important. It matters because it can shape how people are viewed by society and how they view themselves. If one doesn’t see vegans who look like them or have the same beliefs as them, they might not view themselves as someone who could be vegan. Mainstream veganism tends to overlook BIPOC vegans by excluding them from the conversation. Each of the Independent’s best vegan cookbooks are written by white authors and Spoon University’s list of 10 vegan Instagram accounts that you should follow only includes one person of color. There are many amazing vegan influencers of color on social media sites that are overlooked. White vegans and news sites need to not only amplify their voices, but actively support them and include them into the mainstream vegan movement. 

Black owned vegan restaurants in Chicago to support:

  • Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat
  • Soul Veg City
  • Demera
  • Ras Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant
  • The Cultured Vegan
  • Libby’s Corner
  • B’gabs vegan kitchen
  • Soul Vegan
  • Ethiopian diamond
  • Plant Based Junkie
  • Conscious Plates
  • Cheesie Vegan
  • Ste Martaen
  • The Black Vegan
  • Uncooked
  • Vegan T’ease

Black vegan influencers to follow:

  • Ashley Renne, @heyashleyrenne on Instagram
  • Rachel Ama, @rachelama_ on Instagram
  • Cecilia Flores, part of @cocoverdevegan on Instagram
  • Koya Webb, @koyawebb on Instagram
  • Torre Washington, @torre.washington on Instagram
  • Monique Koch, @brownvegan on Instagram
  • Lauren Von Der Pool, @queenofgreen on Instagram
  • Berto Calkins, @whatsgoodberto on Instagram
  • Jenné Claiborne, @sweetpotatosoul on Instagram
  • Tabitha Brown, @iamtabithabrown on Instagram

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