I’ve noticed a trend in debates about the naturalness of veg*nism. While they of course ignore the fact that naturalness is constructed; they also use the bodies of folks of color to legitimize their arguments on both sides.
People who argue that eating meat is natural utilize these primitivist fantasies of brown folks hunting large game, and living almost exclusively on meat. They paint pictures of Indigenous and African folks as meat eating savages, as primitive folks that prove the naturalness of a meat eating diet. This of course ignores common sense and knowledge. The fact that a large portion of our fruits and vegetables were developed by agriculturists in Africa and the Americas should smack in the face of such arguments that
And the pro-veg*nism arguments often invoke Asia, especially India and East Asia, as a site where veg*nism has always been the norm, homogenizing an entire continent. The arguments consist of detailing how natural the diet is because those people have been doing it forever, and it seems to have a bit of orientalist bent. Of course there are strong vegetarian currents within parts of Asia (but these don’t get included in very much veg*n history. I guess because it becomes constructed as religious and dehistoricized).
I figure this relates to the way veg*n history gets told. As was noted a while back on VoC, Vegan histories are often suspiciously White. People of color get relegated to a sort of vegan anthropology (that is we are used to help understand white folks and get dehistoricized), and are reduced to specimens to prove what works for the human body. Europe’s own traditions of both veg*nism and meat-eating become invisible, or not valid for arguments of naturalness. Folks of color, when used in these arguments are Othered, and reduced from peoplehood to human bodies.
My objection to the whole “naturalness” debate has always been its irrelevance: Apart from the fact that the definition of the natural is notoriously vague, the naturalness of a behavior has little bearing on its ethics. And the health value of a veg*n diet can be established, and has been established, by means other than dubious appeals to history.
But I hadn’t thought about the debate from the perspective you raise here. Thanks also for the link to the previous VoC post. Certainly gives me something to think about.
Good points – thank you. I’d like to think that aspects of our better natures inlude compassion, decency, generosity, kindness, and fellowship or community with other sentient individuals, and that these traits, which we can cultivate, and which have great potential for worldwide peace, justice, and harmony, override more shallow and vague “it’s natural” arguments.
I hate the “natural” argument. People who say it’s not natural to be vegan are often the same ones who will eat CO2 treated beef that comes from cows who’ve had hormone injections. Argh.
I agree with you that “naturalness is constructed.” I absolutely, 100% agree on that. In fact, my husband and I have a running joke about how you could slap the label “natural” onto anything and it’ll sell 50% more. It’s more a meaningless marketing term than a helpful adjective.
You said, “The arguments consist of detailing how natural the diet is because those people have been doing it forever, and it seems to have a bit of orientalist bent.”
I think you’re right. There’s some “othering” going on.
Some of that is ignorance and white privilege whereas some of it is overt, intentional racism.
I read The China Study and the whole time I felt uncomfortable about it because of the title. First, it’s not very accurately titled since it’s not one study, but many, and since they’re not all in China or even related to China per se. Second, whenever people would ask what I was reading and they’d see the cover they’d assume it was about China or Chinese people and often they’d say something like that. When I’d say it was a book about nutrition and science they’d often come back with some strange response that indicated both an othering of Chinese people and vegans. Very frustrating.
The ‘natural’ argument around the concept of veganism is ridiculous, since human civilization is based around the domestication of plant and animal life. Nothing we consume is actually natural. It’s all a creative process. However, this creates a paradox. Humanity creates both meat eating and veganism as choices based around specific socio-historical contexts. Each has their place often based around geographic localities. For instance the Inuit can’t really grow too much, therefore historically they were dependent upon animal life for survival. This is not an exotification, but simply taking an extremely isolated population with an extreme geography and looking at their specific social context. White privileged society bases itself around imperially designating otherness. The creation of invisibility by using others as objects in which to control and order society. This control rhetoric continues with our current social climate, whether pro-vegan or anti-vegan. The paradox is that if we look at necessity and sustainability as they relate to the variety of ethical decisions, we do not necessarily invalidate either meat eating or veganism. To do so would be to de-socialize our food consumption, which ironically is empirical, in both the colonial and epistemological sense.