Vegans of Color

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

notes on “Veganism Overly Defined” January 6, 2010

I just read the blogpost that Johanna linked to over at Vegan Soapbox. So I thought I’d post my notes on “Veganism Overly Defined” until such a time as I finish my critique.


It is possible for an advocate to attach favorite causes to Veganism and it result in the listener becoming turned off by the package.

1. The author has already constructed “Veganism” as a whole, complete, entity. A solid being in which one can “attach” another issue like one would staple a flier to a telephone pole, or tape a card to a present. Concluding with “the package” reiterates that Veganism is a complete object, closed and sealed in plastic. That anything not in this package that is attached will distract from the true “Veganism.”


Typically Vegans are caring and compassionate beings that have a broad range of interests. Some oppose Ableism, fat-phobia, hetrosexism, and a large range of ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’.  Others want to champion the awareness of environmental concerns.

2. Harry lists some ism’s and a phobia. These are issues that are important and Harry admits that caring about these is a sign of compassion. Interestingly racism and sexism aren’t mentioned. Neither are the other popularly mentioned “isms and phobias,” i.e. oppressions: transphobia/cissexism, xenophobia/nationalism, classism. These are the phantom oppressions. I, the reader, am curious to where they are. I am certain they are hidden under the carpet statement of “a large range of ‘isms’ and ‘phobias.’


Yet others have extreme left or right wing political views which they wish to champion. All too often such persons and some blogs get their Vegan message all jumbled up with defending or opposing issues which are only distantly related to the elimination of exploitation of the non-human species.

3. Perhaps this is where the concern about racism, sexism, cissexism, classism and xenophobia are hiding. What else could these people be connecting to veganism but other “isms and phobias.”

4. With the extremists, to be fair he’ll mention the ones on either side of a perceived spectrum (are left and right even useful terms for talking about politics outside of the ranges of liberalism?).

5. Those of us who are included in this category are not caring or compassionate like the previous category of vegans. We are extremists who wish to “champion a cause” and not caring, compassionate human beings. The “yet” at the beginning of that sentence serves to disconnect us from the caring, compassionate “Vegans.”

6. We jumble the “Vegan” message (always spelled with capital letters to designate its state as a proper noun and separateness). To jumble is to confuse, to mixup. It is related to words like bumble, and fumble. We are confused about what Veganism is? Confused about what is connected?

7. We “jumble” issues that are only “distantly related” with the “elimination of exploitation of non-human species. (I’m certain Harry means non-human animals, not non-human species). How do we know what is distantly related and what is closely related. Harry has already provided a hint. Is it the oppressions that the caring, compassionate “Vegans” care about (Ableism, fat-phobia, hetrosexism, a non-list of “isms and phobias”). A cartography of issues is being drawn. Vegans can talk about these closely related issues, but not the distant ones.


The principle of ‘non-exploitation’ can be as far reaching as the teaching of ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’  The application of these principles strikes resonant chords with many persons.

8. A theological connection.

9. Also, finally we see what these extremists have been championing: “non-exploitation.” Non-exploitation would mean simply being against the use of others for the turning of profit. I’m reminded of the two sets of oppressions:

10. Harry’s consist of fat-phobia, heterosexism, and ableism.

Mine: racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, cissexism.

11. There is possibly a difference between these. Excluding cissexism, all of my list have been traditionally described as exploitive oppressions. People of color were used for free/cheap labor, women provided free labor in the home, and continue to provide labor for less than men, xenophobia is a fear of the alien other who provides labor cheaper, and classism is all about labor exploitation.

13. Harry’s list are through-and-through oppressions but they were never truly crafted in terms of exploitation. LGBTQQ folks, larger people, the differently-abled all face oppression, but they have not been constructed as exploitive. If anything they have been constructed as a denial to fully participate within the flow of capital (Is this simply because they’ve come to age in their analysis analyses at a point where globalized liberal-capitalism has proven itself supreme?)

14. Our phantom isms, are the ones we “jumble” with veganism. The “isms” based in a historical exploitation, the ones mentioned by us who chamion non-exploitation, are the ones that are distantly related to veganism.


However, I feel it is important that all of this baggage not be attached to Veganism as such.

15. Again. “attach.” Veganism as a whole object, with definite borders.

16. “Baggage” -something that is carried, luggage.

17. “Baggage” -encumbrances, burdensome matters.

-Rubbish, refuse, dirt.

-A worthless good-for nothing woman; a woman of disreputable or immoral life, a strumpet.

18. Baggage is not a neutral term. It connotes something as trifling. It is a value judgement.

19. Baggage is always something someone brings in, never something one has at home. Can a “Vegan” not come to care about these issues after becoming a vegan, to see the connections?


As a Vegan one may choose to concern oneself with saving the planet environmentally, but others may be disinterested in this pursuit.

19. The environment is another entity that has been exploited, but has already been mentioned. Is it an attempt to not mention those unnamable, phantom oppressions? It was already disconnected from the isms and phobias before (2).

20. Which others? Could it be possible that more people care about saving some abstract notion of the Earth compared to saving animals? A method of getting to the self-preservationists?


If they get the impression that in order to be a Vegan they ’should’ or ‘must’ also embrace all these other interests as well, they just might reject the ‘package’ altogether.

21. The package again (1).

22. The inverse is that to be a “Vegan” these “interests” must come secondarily.

23. The theological connection (8). If there are too many “interests” we may lose converts, they will “reject the package.”


When this happens, one less person is enlisted in the reduction of exploitation of the non-human species.

24. “Enlist” has the military connotations. One less soldier to add to the list of those fighting to end animal “exploitation”?

25. Are the other oppressions of exploitation competition for animals? Is that why they are further away on the map, more distantly related? It seems they should be very closely related.


Personally I have been turned off by several Vegan blogs which get so involved in the bruised feelings of some humans that the plight of voiceless animals becomes a marginalized issue.

26. I wish Harry had mentioned which blogs. He is shadow boxing with someone only he can see, and his punches look nice(ish) but are they actually connecting?

29. What is a “bruised feeling”? Combines something an action that is bodily, temporary, cosmetic, and minor (bruise) with something ephemeral and seen as part of the mind (feelings).

30. The feelings, minds, and issues that some vegans take up as critical to their being is seen by Harry as the fruition of “bruised feelings” and that it ignores the voiceless animals.

31. By calling these “bruised feelings” Harry moves to marginalize a whole lot of vegans who know their veganism to be connected to animals and other issues.

32. In detailing other oppressions the issue of animals isn’t marginalized. In telling people not to talk intersectionality, and trivalizing their issues is to be worse than marginalizing (a moving from the center to the edges), it is an erasure.


I feel it is in the best interests of Vegans to keep their message simple and succinct.

33. The best interest of these capital-letter, proper noun “Vegans.” The ones whose primary identity is vegan. I thought of comparable proper nouns: Vegan is like Black, Chicano/a, Palestinian, Filipino/a, Irish. That is it is like an identity based in race, ethnicity. Or it is like Christian, Muslim, Hindu, a faith-identity, a religion with rules and rituals.

34. For what reason is it better to keep the message simple and atomistic? For the process of conversion, of “enlistment.”

35. What is the alternative? A systemic, holistic anti-oppression stance of which veganism, the stance against non-human animal exploitation is a cornerstone. A view that sees oppressions as all connected.



These were just my notes, but I thought I’d post them. A piece about different approaches to veganism (atomistic or systemic) will be appearing in the next day or two hopefully.


9 Responses to “notes on “Veganism Overly Defined””

  1. meridith Says:

    That was a pretty confused post on the soapbox blog. Putting “Veganism” on a pedestal over other forms of injustice just reinforces stereotypes of vegans as being elitist. Should I give up the “Vegan package” because thinking too much about the use of forced labor in the production of chocolate marginalizes animal issues? Overlooking, or outright omitting, the inter-related nature of animal and human subjugation is cherry-picking at best and at worst, underestimating people’s capacity to draw connections.

  2. johanna Says:

    ❤ Royce! That post just made me incoherently grumpy; thanks for the breakdown.

    Point 33 made me think of this zine I saw years ago w/a consideration of whether or not the (white, male — do I even need to say that?) author could call himself "Punk American" in the same way one might claim a Chinese American, etc. identity. The article started out thinking no but ended up leaning towards yes. *eyeroll* Blue hair oppression FTW!

    • coathangrrr Says:

      That’s too funny. I just got me some blue hair, and I’m a punk, but the idea of ever identifying as a “Punk-American” is just absurd. As if a lifestyle choice is somehow comparable to ethnicity or race.

  3. C Says:

    “Non-exploitation would mean simply being against the use of others for the turning of profit.”

    I disagree with this statement.

    Merriam Webster defines exploit, the root word in exploitation, this way: “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.”

    MW defines exploitative (or exploitive) as, “unfairly or cynically using another person or group for profit **or advantage**.” (emphasis mine)

    Someone can derive psychological gains, as well as material gains, from using someone “meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.” Making a profit off using someone/s is simply one way of exploiting them, not the only way.

    Ida over at The Vegan Ideal does a great job clarifying veganism as the principle of non-exploitation, and in pointing out the centrality of exploitation to oppression.

    I’ll let her explain:

    • Royce Says:

      Yes, I narrowly defined exploitation in my notes, that is true.

      However, I disagree with Ida that exploitation is necessary for oppression, or that they are synonyms.

      I do think that they are closely related, and interact with one another, but they are used differently in everyday speech, they etymologically have very different meanings. I think a different analysis of exploitation and oppression are needed.

      If we want to expand the meaning of exploitation to include more things, psychic/psychological advantages gained and so on, then I would think we could do the same for profit and conceptualize it as also meaning a psychic/psychological gain.

      But I don’t even think most people receive a psychological gain from”using someone meanly or unfairly.”

  4. C Says:

    I swear I don’t collect a penny from Merriam Webster (yet?), but to cite them again, they define oppression as “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power”. Given the definitions of both oppression and exploitation (“to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.”), I think it would be extremely difficult to separate the two. This is why I think Ida’s analysis is apt.
    Non-exploitation means not making use of another (or “others”) meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage. Therefore seriously understanding and applying the principle of non exploitation to one’s life would certainly, by definition, preclude “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power”.

    • Royce Says:

      I understand, exploitation is intricately linked to oppression, but I think they are separate things. I feel that exploitation is largely an economic term (economic defined broadly as a means of exchange), and oppression as a relationship of power dynamics, which includes exploitation.

      I think one can be oppressed without being exploited. Like the ways that the words are used in everyday speech.

      I would say that the heat is oppressive, or is oppressing me, and that makes sense, because it has power over me. I could not say that the heat is exploitive, or exploits me, because when I use the word exploit I am aware of an exchange that takes place, of the heat taking something from me unfairly.

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