Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Veganism and the Class War August 18, 2010

What follows is a thought exercise.

My own definition of a vegan is a human who eats fruits and vegetables [as well as whatever nuts, seeds or legumes he or she may desire], and never eats or uses animal products. For starts. For my purposes and for the purposes of this post, this vegan is not so heavily involved in extremely elaborate recipes, in highly-processed ingredients and additives, in soy and grains, etc. That can come later. I’m simplifying and scaling down for the purpose of understanding what this post wants to address, which is the skeletal basics (though in full disclosure I’m pretty much a fruitarian). A vegan, firstly, is someone anywhere in the world where fruits and vegetables are affordable and accessible who eats those items, eats produce. That sort of vegan, who isn’t strictly dependent on special products, mock meats, packaged goods, and so on, who could be just at home eating the fruits and veggies available in Kinshasa or Kisangani as are available in Karachi or Kansas City, might be said, for the purposes of this thought experiment, to be a universal vegan, or even a vehicular vegan, and I will use either term interchangebly going forward.

As for the class war, I define it as the conflict between workers and bosses, between capitalists and proletariats, between landlords and tenants, between elites and all us riff-raff, even between humans and animals, over access and claims of ownership over land, infrastructure, the means of production, the structure of our economy, the production of culture, and so on. It is the imperative of oppressors to oppress, to exploit, to profit, maintain ignorance, maintain illiteracy and food scarcity, maintain the divisions amongst working people, maintain ideological, religious, and political zeitgeists of constant histeria, and yet eat well and live comfortably all the while. It is the imperative of workers, of women, of ethnic or sexual minorities, of those rendered landless, to maintain unity in struggle, to vie for and claim power, land and freedom, to achieve self-determination and societies of fairness and justice, to collectivize resources, to build and practice pro-human cultures, and to, at a spiritual maximum as it were, prefer death to slavery. The class war is very real and it is everywhere and, whether or not we acknowledge it, we are all class warriors of some stripe, all over the world. If we find ourselves hating our banks and landlords and tiring of our bosses, that much makes us class warriors, just as a Naxalite Adivasi struggling against planned and perpetrated genocides and land thefts and who actually engages in armed struggle is a class warrior. The bosses that like exploiting and polluting and dominating – whether at Goldman Sachs or British Petroleum or Tyson Chicken or General Motors or Lockheed Martin or Uncle Sam himself – they’re all class warriors for their side.

So how can we mix veganism – as practiced by the universal vegan – with the class war? We start with the manner in which prestige is applied to certain objects to make them desirable, even when they aren’t healthy or necessary. Possession or consumption of these articles of prestige is then used to define who is of what class, or at least who aspires to more elevated social rankings. Yes, commodity fetishism includes propagating the meat prestige – look at the most extreme sorts of hamburgers the fast-food industry invents, or at the Heart Attack Grill.

So, all over the third world, even where meat is scarce or pastoralism is irrevocably destroying land, meat is a prestige. Automobile usage is another. The wealthiest eat the most meat and drive the most, and are often the most gorged and overweight, hence the typical gut of rich and powerful elites in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. (And thanks to the zombifying power of marketing and mass media, a million other useless, wasteful and dangerous products are rendered prestigious, and we must use our own voices and propaganda to fight this, but that is another topic.)

But if a society hedges closer to veganism, that means more calories will generally be available to its individual constituents, since growing plants is far more sustainable and efficient than growing animals which eat plants. So that society would naturally enable an environment of greater equity and less classism. On the other hand, if a society hankers hard after meat, that means fewer people will eat of the greater resultant scarcity in overall available calories. The meat-centric society will inevitably breed the conditions for less equality and for harsher stratification, just because of how much meat production usurps of limited environmental resources.

That’s macro-level. What about individual vehicular vegan class warriors?

Conscious vegan workers remove themselves partly from an equation of exploitation by striking animals from a hierarchy of exploitation and brutality from their own lives. They help keep the class war between humans and from involving non-humans, who have enough of their own struggles and class wars in the wild without having to worry about human consumption.

Conscientious vegan workers keep from supporting aspects of the elite apparatus and cash machine by non-participation in the meat-industrial complex and, should veganism keep them healthy, the medical-industrial complex. The industries of violence and slavery are among the largest which support class and caste structures worldwide. Not endorsing the meat prestige and engaging in veganism means one is using one’s own labor and consumer powers to directly disempower the most odious aspects of the system.

It could be observed that much of veganism, as it is known particularly in North America, is associated with upper classes and privileged populations, but veganism at the grassroots is actually potentially most revolutionary. In the US, poor communities of color are often bereft of access to fresh healthy foods, and disproportionately find themselves afflicted with the diseases of Western diets and lifestyles. This is part of class war, as I see it, keeping the most chronically impoverished from being able to be healthy, long-lived and highly functioning, and from excelling as human beings. The elites don’t really care to ameliorate this problem.

Thus it is up to grassroots universal vegan workers of color, aware that existence in a human society configured such as ours means lifelong class war, to promote healthy lifestyles, to strive and struggle to increase access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in our communities, and to speak loudly and widely on the benefits of non-meat consumption and the fallacies of the meat prestige and meat addiction.

Thoughtful vegans should make natural class warriors. Their veganism empowers them to escape relationships of oppression and violence with both humans and non-humans, while granting them the vitality and awareness to struggle for just power and representation for as long as necessary. The vehicular vegan revolutionary can be a revolutionary of stamina and substance, of vision and actualization, actually practicing diplomacy (with non-humans) and militancy (against industries and economies of subjugation).

And that is how, and why, veganism can relate to the class war, and why vegans, especially working-class vegans of color, should consider themselves class warriors. But it’s just one small open-source theory that still needs help (or refutation) from y’all.

Veganism can indeed be revolutionary, and we must make it so if we are serious about social change, food sovereignty, Earth and non-human justice, and human freedom and equity.

 

More on classism, and some thoughts on ableism, within vegan movements March 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 1:53 pm
Tags: , ,

Stephanie at Animal Rights & AntiOppression: Classism from Vegans Doesn’t Help Animals, Nonhuman or Human.

Steph at Vegan About Town: the ability to make choices.

And Prof Susurro at Like a Whisper re-posts a list of Feminist Reading Tools for Recognizing and Dismantling Intersectional Oppressions in solidarity with Breeze’s offering of resources here.

Nathan Gilmore at Alia Porci recently presented this thoughtful post: Earning the Right to Be Vegan: On the Intersection of Ableist Privilege and Speciesist Power. Here’s an excerpt:

Ability prejudice can also play out in the even subtler forms of animal rights activism that demand a intimate familiarity with every single hot topic in the movement, or at least, the ability to show yourself well-versed any of a number of disciplines ranging from law to sociology to ethics. While each of these certainly is germane to the broader issue of animal rights, and can be used with great efficiency, might it not be conceivable that the vegan, who for whatever reason (e.g. disability), honestly and truly cannot engage these issues so deeply might read this demand as a slammed door in the face?

Over the past year I’ve been thinking more about the privileging of the able-bodied (& neurotypical) in activist movements — including, but by no means limited to, veganism & animal rights. Often certain types of activism are held up as the pinnacles of commitment & getting shit done: direct action; mammoth demonstrations on the street; confrontational protests; etc. These are more risky for people who do not fit within a certain paradigm. For example, the risk of being dragged away by the cops at a protest may look very different to you if you are: POC; gender nonconforming; undocumented; a person with childcare commitments; female; disabled — not that any of these categories are mutually exclusive, of course!

I remember during the late ’90s & early ’00s, in the NE & mid-Atlantic area of the US, if you were an activist in certain circles it was almost taken for granted that you would do a lot of summit-hopping: primarily (but not always) to NYC or DC, wherever the next big anti-globalization protest was. If you weren’t climbing on the bus early in the morning every week to go protest, people asked why.

Maybe you find it uncomfortable to stand or walk for long periods (especially in the cold!). Maybe the routes of protest marches aren’t necessary accessible to those with mobility issues. Maybe you’ve got anxiety or other mental health issues that make potentially confrontational activism an issue. Maybe you can’t afford to take time off work / pay for childcare / pay for the bus even with sliding scale fares! (&… maybe you have doubts about the efficacy of huge demos as the best use of activist time & energy, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue…)

I really appreciated the paragraph in Nathan’s post that I quoted up there because it highlights one way in which neuro-atypical people are often invisibilized within activist communities (as are people with disabilities — PWD — in general). Here are some other standard activist behaviors that might be challenging to someone who’s not neurotypical or someone with mental health issues:

  • Tabling
  • Doorknocking
  • Wheatpasting flyers
  • Leading workshops
  • Working the door at events
  • Being a panelist or debater

Of course a lot of these may pose issues for PWD in general. And yet how much do these sorts of things form the core of activist work in many communities? Could we be alienating PWD from our movements partly by not thinking more of how standard activist work could be more inclusive (in addition to, you know, recognizing that PWD exist)? I think a lot of activist groups are still lagging behind on making events truly accessible, but I don’t think I’ve often seen consideration of PWD beyond a hasty search for accessible venues, if that.

(And given how many vegans push the health aspect of veganism, I wonder if any of the spaces on this bingo card have been used to PWD: specifically the ones about diet/exercise or how if you just took vitamins etc. you’d be cured. Shudder.)

EDIT: It seems I misused the term neurotypical up there; I had gotten the impression from seeing it online that it was used to cover a wider spectrum of conditions than autism, but apparently not? Neurodiversity maybe is more what I was looking for, as I meant to use a broader term & it sounds like some people, at least, use it in that sense. Also, I probably should have specified that the list of challenging activist items was at least partly inspired by my experiences with activism as someone dealing with mental health issues.

 

Don’t Use Classism and Anti-Sex Worker Rhetoric to Protest Fur December 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 3:05 pm
Tags: , , ,

Fur is for beautiful animals & scary hookers, claims an incredibly fucked-up post at the Vegan Shoe Lady. She cites a Guardian article where Ingrid Newkirk is quoted as saying, “Fur has lost all its cachet. It’s yesterday. I see prostitutes in Atlantic City wearing fur.”

The Vegan Shoe Lady then takes this idea & runs with it, suggesting that if we see a woman wearing fur in public, we should make loud comments like, “She’s probably a hooker. Tacky coat, lower-class manners – no one respectable presents themselves that way.”

Her other suggestion, should you see a person wearing fur standing outside holding coffee, is to drop change into their cup, implying that they look like a homeless person. She offers this caveat: “Please treat actual homeless people with respect – they are human beings, and many of them have untreated mental illnesses. More than 80% of young homeless people are forced to leave home, often due to abuse. True compassion extends to disadvantaged people, too, so be nice.”

True compassion extends to disadvantaged people but apparently not sex workers. Or people at the lower end of the class system. Why should we play into the prejudices of certain segments of the fur-wearing population? The post points out that wealthy fur-wearers probably don’t care about environmental or animal rights issues, which I imagine is true. But I refuse to believe that perpetuating stereotypes, prejudice, & shame is the way forward either.

 

 
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