Food, Life

You don’t have to be white if you want to become a vegan

I didn’t realize that I had a whole community of my people practicing veganism as well.

If you had asked me about veganism a few years ago I would have told you that only white hippies were vegans. I probably would have made a scathing remark about how they walk around using words like Namaste and how great they thought they were for “discovering” yoga.

For a very long time, I really believed that this was all the vegan community was. I can’t really blame myself either seeing as that’s what I saw over and over again in mainstream media. From movies and TV shows to books and online resources, veganism is constantly portrayed through a white lens. Because of this, many people of color are under the impression that veganism is not something we do.

Veganism is constantly portrayed through a white lens. Click To Tweet

It turns out, we’re mostly wrong.

Veganism at its simplest is just a different kind of diet. People make the decision not to eat meat and animal byproducts for a number of different reasons. For some, it’s related to health, and for other’s it’s related to animal rights. For a lot of people, it’s both. Both of these reasons are, in their own way, political stances.

Deciding not to eat meat and animal byproducts for health and animal rights reasons are connected to disapproval with the agricultural industry.  Its use of hormones on livestock, the ill-treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, and the effect that large-scale livestock farming has on the environment form part of this disapproval. Legislation like the “Cheeseburger Bill” also inform people’s decision to become vegan.

Even though many people of color do know about these issues and stand by them, the real reason why they do not feel that veganism is for them is because of the way these issues are portrayed in mainstream vegan communities.

So many people of color feel like veganism is unaligned with their political views. Click To Tweet

For example, look at the documentary Earthlings. The documentary opens by explaining a term called “speciesism” – the oppression of certain beings solely based on the fact that they are not human. It feels like the documentary might be going somewhere with this, but then it takes a turn for the worst. It proceeds to show images of Black people in chains, comparing slavery to animal rights abuses.

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For so many reasons, this is absolutely despicable. Firstly, to compare hundreds of years of slavery and oppression to the consumption of meat is a stretch. Yes, animals go through extreme forms of pain and torture, but comparing that to Black people’s historical struggles is ridiculous.

Secondly, it compares Black people to animals. Whether or not the director intended for this to be so is irrelevant. The images of Black people in chains juxtaposed next to images of animals in chains is racist.

Putting images of Black people in chains next to images of animals in chains is racist. Click To Tweet

It’s obvious, then, why I felt so disgusted by the vegan community. I am a queer, Indian woman whose family was brought to South Africa through indentured labor, and seeing something like this portrayed by the vegan community is dehumanizing.

But the more I ate vegan the more I realized what it was doing for my body. I wasn’t perfect at it, so I needed to find resources from people I knew would understand my personal identity and my politics. I wanted to find a place for myself in the vegan community where I could feel like I belonged.

I wanted to find a place for myself in the vegan community. Click To Tweet

That’s when I found sites like Black Vegans Rock and The Sistah Vegan Project. These sites, led by women of color, give other vegans of color a platform from which to write and support one another. These sites actively address the intersections between race, gender, and ethical eating, and also offer resources like recipes to help you on your vegan journey.  In comparison to famous, online vegans like Freelee who use bullying as a tactic to convert people to veganism, these sites offer more nuanced and kind information on veganism.

On these sites, I can see people like myself eating vegan food and talking about vegan politics. They give me a chance to think through the choices people make to become vegan without the isolation of a white lens. Since finding these resources, I’ve become so much better at being vegan, not just for my physical health but also my mental health.

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So to all my vegans of color out there who feel alone, misrepresented and in need of community: we have your back. There are resources for us, it’s just a matter of finding them for ourselves.

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Ariana Munsamy

Ariana Munsamy

Ariana Munsamy is a graduate from the University of Cape Town with majors in Gender Studies and Anthropology. She is a plant-lady artist, writer and poet, who has been published in Prufrock, Type/Cast Literary Journal and Ja Magazine. Ariana lives in Durban, South Africa and does not think it’s boring. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, retweeting and playing Skyrim.

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