Vegans of Color

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

The Right Reasons for Veganism? February 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — dany @ 1:39 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about veganism lately and for why it has maintained such a strong hold in my life when there are so many ex-vegans running around.

My own journey into veg*nism was long. I first went vegetarian when I was 11. Looking back, I’m honestly not sure why. I have always been interested in nutrition, and I thought that without eating animal flesh I would be healthy. This was also a part of my ill-fated attempts to get my parents to eat more heaIthfully, as well. I pretended to be vegetarian at school the entirety of 8th grade. I was terrified when, last minute, my dad decided to invite my friends over to dinner, because then they would know my secret. Thankfully, he made fish and no one even batted an eye. When I was in boarding school through my first year of college, I was vegetarian 8-9 months out of the year, but when I came home, inevitably gave in to home cooked goodness. I would figure that if the animals were free range and organic, they couldn’t have been treated *that* badly, and humans were supposed to eat animals, after all. It was only the treatment of animals in factory farms that really concerned me. I went vegan January first of my sophomore year in college after I had discovered the rant-y goodness of the Vegan Freak podcast and came to one very sudden, very clear conclusion; I don’t want to be eaten. Why would I eat another creature when I, myself, am terrified of the thought of everything that those poor beings we call “livestock” have to go though just made the decision clear.

So, I’ve been participating in a lot of vegan communities, largely online, and find that, true to stereotypes, are holier than though in many respects. I won’t lie, I understand the word “vegan” to be rooted in animal rights over dietary choices, so if I see a self proclaimed vegan wearing a leather jacket I will give them the side eye. But then again, I’m not perfect either. I still have a couple of leather shoes that I bought years ago and will wear on job interviews. I buy sugar that may have been refined using bone char. I will get upset if you try to argue that eating honey is vegan. I’ve accidentally eaten honey and not thought twice about it. In our own way, we are all filled with contradictions.
A year or so ago I joined the Sistah Vegan e-group and my notion of veganism and dietary choices completely switched from being an act of benevolence to the animals, to fitting into my larger anti-oppression liberation-oriented political ideologies. In the spring, I joined and my love for Erykah Badu grew infinitely all of which helped me embrace and afro-centric vegan philosophy.

A lot of white vegan folks I have come across are very insistent that the only reason to go vegan is For the Animals. This is why I went vegan, 100%. I still think that it’s central to the cause. Most of these people understand the human rights implications of terrible diets and underregulated slaughterhouse environments, but not uncommonly, veganism for a lot of these folks veganism falls into a category of activism that I’ve heard called “the politics of helping.”

Although far from perfect, my vegan diet offers me the opportunity to resist the colonial influences that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and forced poverty has forced onto my people’s diets. Alicia’s post on lactose intolerance is a great example of the way that white folks have forced their diet, which works for their bodies, on to communities of color. In response, I’ve begun to see veganism as a means of resistance of colonial influence on my body. With the disproportionately high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and fibroid tumors in African America, taking accountability into our own hands seems like a great alternative to essentialist racial politics (see: the black heart pill).

Okay, so I’m not going to lie. I do eat a lot of white flour, white rice, and refined sugar, which is probably counterintuitive to the cause, damn, the cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World are damned tasty.
So, what is the “right” reason to go veg? I don’t have an answer. My political ideologies revolve around one simple hope: for beings to be able to live free. I’m a queer unemployed woman of color. I’m going to work to fight for my liberation and the liberation of others in tandem. I’m tired of hierarchical identity politics and the “oppression olympics.” If I didn’t understand my veganism to be inherently intersectional and liberatory, I wouldn’t still be vegan. I worry that holier-than-thou vegans who push the plight of animals above and beyond any personal and/or human rights benefits of veganism are doing nothing more than harming the cause.

Let’s just get people to go vegan, help them stay there, and work on teaching them about its many benefits.


23 Responses to “The Right Reasons for Veganism?”

  1. Crys T Says:

    Sorry I don’t have time to make a thoughtful response, but I did want to say that this is a fantastic post, and it’s given me many, many things to think about.


  2. Alicia Says:

    Very interesting perspective. I’ve heard so many sides of the argument of what is the right and wrong reason to go vegan and stay vegan. Ultimately I believe that choice is up to the individual. I’ve heard people get in heated arguments stating that Animal Rights is the only reason to become a vegan and I’ve heard equally passionate arguments saying that the environment or health were the best reasons to go vegan and stay vegan.

    As for me, I went vegan because I found the whole process of human’s drinking cows milk to be completely unnatural. As a result of going vegan (I was vegetarian before going vegan) my allergies subsequently disappeared so that gave me a huge incentive to stay vegan. 2 1/2 years later (and 6 1/2 meat free years later) I am a vegan for my own health, because it corresponds with my ethics, for animal rights and for the environment. For me all these things are reasons to go vegan and stay vegan.

    I think the all or nothing principle of veganism can be very off-putting. While I was a vegetarian if someone told me that the only good reason to become a vegan was animal rights I’m sure it would have taken me a bit longer. Especially because I was directly causing suffering since I didn’t eat meat (although I now understand how much suffering is involved in just a glass of milk). It’s a personal choice and whatever the reason is it’s important that you become vegan for your own reasons and for you. Going vegan because of what someone else says is right or wrong will just lead to becoming an ex-vegan.

  3. H Says:

    It seems counterproductive to pin point one specific reason why people go vegan. Although it obviously has to do with animal rights, the issue is incredibly multifaceted (obviously). I do not see why one could not go vegan because they love animals, they love the environment, AND they want to fight oppression. To me, the simplest way to explain to people why I went vegan is just to say, “I believe in compassion.” Compassion for animals, compassion for the environment, and compassion for my body/health.

    [I am aware that this is not a feminist blog, but I feel that the meat industry is also a feminist issue.] Although not a woman of color, I often connect the meat culture with a general culture of oppression – especially, like you said above, towards women of color who were forced into a diet that is JUST not healthy for them (and, as it turns out, for anyone else). Even if you aren’t thinking about JUST health, it also seems counterproductive (and perhaps even counter-intuitive) not to see the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy through dietary choices. As a feminist, how could I knowingly and willingly exploit other animals? Not only that, but when one considers how women are often referred to as “pieces of meat”, “prime rib”, etc. . . . you start losing the taste for hamburgers.

    However, it seems that the plight of animals get pushed to the forefront, because we can discuss colonialism, feminism, and any other -ism for as long as we want, but animals are dying right now. I think the urgency of wanting to fix a system that is so torturous and awful to living creatures trumps more complex discussions. I am sure many people see it like, “Ok, are we really going to talk racial politics? These cows are being tortured!” And, then, unfortunately, those who may not be as knowledgeable about issues like you pointed out, get sucked in for the ride. Thank you PETA????

  4. mihl Says:

    Excellent post. Thank you!

  5. johanna Says:

    Awesome post. Thanks so much for writing it. I think having an intersectionality to one’s politics is so important…

    H: I think it’s interesting that people would see the suffering of nonhuman animals as more immediate than the harms caused by racism, colonialism, sexism, etc. That’s their privilege, I guess… cuz RIGHT NOW people are being gaybashed or raped or working in a sweatshop to produce cute vegan t-shirts or living the incredibly hard life of a migrant worker to harvest our veggies. You know? It just seems so bizarre to me that they would see one form of suffering as ever-present & not the rest. But yeah, I can see that a lot of vegan rhetoric pushes that view — we’ve had folks leaving comments here about how we need to stop carping about race & start doing some “real good” for the animals.

  6. H Says:

    Like I said before, that is not my personal opinion. I believe violence is violence is violence and oppression is oppression is oppression. That pushing one agenda while recklessly ignoring the plight of others is foolish.

    For example, I am a pretty staunch and outspoken feminist AND vegan and I cannot stand PETA, because they seem to get off on objectifying women. It’s like, do we really have to oppress one group to free another?

    I am also all about nonviolent resistance and going vegan in response to colonialism seems to be one of the simplest ways to do that. I am not a woman of color, but I absolutely adore this blog, because, once again, these issues are so multifaceted that “going vegan” is just a blanket term for the rejection of so much.

  7. H Says:

    Oh, and your right – it is definitely a privilege to be able to see veganism as just an “animal rights issue” and not as a human issue as well.

  8. H Says:

    By “your”, I mean “you are”. Ooops! Proof reading is not my strong point.

  9. johanna Says:

    H: I didn’t think that was your opinion; you made it pretty clear that it wasn’t.

    You won’t find a lot (or any?) love for PETA on this blog, ha! (for which we occasionally seem to get flak)

    Glad you’re enjoying the blog, btw. I like the idea of the broad anti-oppression veganism too — wish it was more the rule rather than the exception that it seems sometimes.

  10. Anne Says:

    Great post! Thanks. My own veganism is that of a process, I got interested for reasons of the environment and a bit of concern about my own health. After some time, I understood the animal rights arguments. I am still working out where veganism fits into resisting discourses around capitalism and oppression amongst other things, and your post helps me see it a bit clearer. I hope it leads me to doing something more than thinking and reading…

  11. cruda Says:

    i have vegan friends (“of color”) who even seem anti-animal rights just becuase white people who support organizations like PETA are racist or seem to place animals above black/brown people. so? who cares what others are doing. why can’t we be people of color AND love the animals? there are a bunch of white environmentalists who i am sure are racists but we’re not going to ignore the issues surrounding the exploitation of our environment just because it’s a cause widely supported by white people. come on peoples! if anything, becoming vegan means we are open-minded and want to liberate ourselves from all types of oppression. anti-white people of color who are vegans and don’t give a sh* about the animals really are ignorant to me. if you want to protecte our enviroment and your bodies, then realize that animals are also part of our environment. vegan people of color need to go back to their real roots cus i am sure somewhere back in their indigenous cultures your ancestors had a totally diff outlook, even spiritually, about animals. if you hate white people so much then stop acting like them and stop placing YOURself in a hierarchy above animals! whew…

  12. cruda Says:

    oh and how can there be a right reason for being vegan? if you are vegan for your health and don’t focus on animal rights, then i love you anyway cus that’s just less meat you are buying and that’s all I care about! and the animals too! so be selfish if you wish!

  13. RB Says:

    Really interesting post. I always have such hard time explaining to people why I’m a vegan. But I always am looking for new health advice. I used this new search engine which apparently searches more specific resources…and I got really good stuff…like vegan food for athletes, even. Good luck!

  14. EL CHAVO! Says:

    Good post.

    I’m not a vegan anymore but still a vegetarian (if occasionally a bad don’t-ask-don’t-tell one) and one of the main problems I find in both diets is the excessive morality tied to eating choices, especially by people who became interested in these diets for political reasons. That often leads to demonizing poor people that eat bad fast food, even though the world of good food is practically out of reach, or at least to their pocketbooks. Ultimately, there’s no right reason to be veggie, just many good reasons. Helping them become aware of the implications of their diets is a good start, but even if they still chose to eat animals, a bit of understanding might be more useful in the long run; they’ll respect that you respect them, and maybe eventually take a veggie diet as a serious possibility.

  15. tara Says:

    what is the black heart pill?

  16. Lisa Says:

    I’m trying to settle into a vegan diet, but I just don’t know how to yet. It’s been about three weeks and still, cooking for a family as a vegan is so, so difficult.

    This post is so important and I regret I don’t have stronger words to convey my heartfelt thanks.

  17. mykos Says:

    Interesting post. I admire how you arrived at the decision to go veg. The process of how animals are raised and slaughtered, is often kept hidden pretty well from the public. But despite some of this knowledge, sometimes animal compassion isn’t enough. I suggest bringing up another reason to go vegan or meatless: cattle raised for meat and dairy are leading contributors of global warming!

    If more people adopted meat-less or vegan diets, the world would save trillions off the cost of addressing climate change.

    The United States emits far more greenhouse gases than many other countries, esp. Africa, but its these countries that will receive an unfair share of climate change effects. In addition the enormous volume of resources that we use (land, water, crops) for our diet affects everyone else, including the hungry in the third world.

  18. Noemi M Says:

    Lisa-it is hard- but it gets easier & tastier! hang in there.

  19. adam Says:

    Mycos, just thought I’d point out that Africa is not a “country” like the USA, but a *continent* like North America. Sadly, Africa as a continent has been so marginalized, colonized, and symbolized that this mistaken perception of a unified (“national”?) identity is not uncommon.

    It is certainly true that no African country consumes/produces even an approximate number of cattle as does the USA, Australia, Argentina, many western European and some Latin American countries.

  20. Noemi M Says:

    It seems counterproductive to pin point one specific reason why people go vegan.

    while it may seem counterproductive to you, I think it’s important to hear the different rich layered stories behind a person, and specific to this blog, persons of color decision to live as vegans. It’s also important on a personal level, I think, to write the reasons down, revisit them-see if they still hold true for the person or to ask yourself why you have deviated. But that’s just me and my strange strange writer/activist ways.

  21. mykos Says:

    @Adam. Oye! Perhaps it was a freudian slip.. but I certainly am not one to mistake continents for countries! I should have written “esp. in Africa”. I agree w/ what you said about it.

  22. Karen Says:

    as a person of color who is not a vegan (or remotely a vegetarian) I found this argument very refreshing and even thought provoking. an argument stating that colonial foods were never good for us anyway is a lot more provoking than an argument stating how animal rights usurp everything else. also it is because most arguments I’ve heard for veganism or vegetarianism are made by white, middle class females who just dont want to hurt the cute baby animals or by people who really dont understand the depth of fighting against a system that holds us prisoner, in one way, by what we eat.
    What especially pissed me off is how many of the vegans/vegetarians that i have met want and believe that EVERYONE can and should follow this diet. when I bring up people who have little access and funds for the more expensive specialty “vegetarian foods” that richer folks like to substitute their diets for, people act as if those people dont really matter or that they should just do it anyway because this cause is just that important. (yet they rarely can go in depth at the heart of this cause)

    and maybe one day i will learn enough that will finally make me put down the foods that I havebeen consuming for so long. (well, 19 years)

  23. pheno09 Says:

    Hi, great blog, which I discovered via Racialicious. Would u if you haven’t already post the link to Alicia’s post pls. Thank you

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