Vegans of Color

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

How NOT to Inspire More People to Go Vegan January 8, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 6:35 am
Tags: ,

Someone on Livejournal just posted a graphic created, apparently, as a vegan advocacy tool. In case that post gets deleted, the image is also here. I’m not posting it here because it makes me too angry.

It’s a graphic where the left half is a black & white photo of several black, presumably African, children who look extremely malnourished; the right half is a color photo of a cow. The text at the bottom says, “Who do you want to feed?” The font, by the way, is the same one used for LOLcats or other popular graphics that are generally seen as sarcastic or ironic (like Privilege Denying Dude).

I get what the person is trying to say; it’s drawing attention to how much grain is used to feed cows that are killed for human consumption versus how many people that could feed instead. I get the intention. Nevertheless, intention itself is not enough. This graphic embodies the worst kind of oppression porn, OMG-THOSE-POOR-BROWN-PEOPLE-OVER-THERE. And to many internet-savvy people, it may well appear to be a joke graphic because of the LOLcat font — like there should be a punchline. (Actually, I think it’s pretty close to an unintentional Privilege Denying Dude graphic myself.)

I’m not laughing.


34 Responses to “How NOT to Inspire More People to Go Vegan”

  1. veganelder Says:

    I agree with you….in addition the graphic seems to suggest that the choice is that food can only be provided for one group.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by vegans of color. vegans of color said: VOC: How NOT to Inspire More People to Go Vegan: Someone on Livejournal just posted a graphic created, apparentl… […]

  3. Wendy Says:

    I just posted the link to this site as a reply on Livejournal to that post.

    I also noticed that this person is not American, and wonder if that might cause some misunderstanding on her part.

    I’ll let you know how she responds if you like.

  4. toodlepipsky Says:

    I’ll post my answer here as well since a) you gave me a link b) I think I deserve a chance to state my opinion and here it goes:

    Uh…I really don’t know how to respond to that. I mean…due to an unfortonate chain of historical events, third world countries are where they are, georgaphically, and are filled with the people they are filled with.

    I’m not ‘of color’ but I am Israely and my country’s been under British mendate for thirty years during which the seeds of our current conflict were planted and nurtured. I understand and resent the damage that has been done to undedeveloped countries by colonialism and there is no molecule in me that believes the state of extreme poverty in some of them has anything to do with their native inhabitants. Why would I?
    I don’t mind, I really don’t and believe me I know some people can never be pleased, so this is your opinion and we can just agree to disagree.

    Frankly, I can’t wrap my head around your argument. I mean…That’s where extremely hungry people are at the moment and they are the ones who need the food that goes to livestock. Deal with it. There are malnurished children and adults in Asian third world countries, too. Some in South America as well. If you really want to see skeletons with white skin on them I can rake up some pictures from the huge starvation in the USSR in 1933 but…you know….it was 1933….things changed since then.

    • Jason Says:

      I think when the author uses the phrase “oppression porn,” the author is saying that those children pictured are being exploited by having their plight used for political ends. I’m not sure what the author’s argument is behind this claim, but that’s how I read the post.

      • toodlepipsky Says:

        Veganism shouldn’t be political. It’s a health, moral and ecological issue. That’s not political in my book, that’s sane.

        • There is no way that veganism *can’t* be political.

        • Jason Says:

          Of course it’s political! The _laws_ are stacked against animals. Also, there are no health or “ecological” arguments for being vegan, if that’s what you were implying.

          • Kla Says:

            There are plenty of health and ecological arguments for being vegan.

            Environmentally damaging effects of meat consumption:

            Many reports, including the most recent US Nutrition Guidelines, recommend reducing consumption of animal products for health reasons. Here is a simple example from the Mayo clinic (the article is vegetarian-based, but the science follows to veganism):

          • johanna Says:

            This post is not the place to debate the benefits of a vegan diet; further comments in this vein are subject to deletion.

            • Alex Melonas Says:

              Jason wrote, “I think when the author uses the phrase “oppression porn,” the author is saying that those children pictured are being exploited by having their plight used for political ends.”

              I can say I find this argument absurd. It is similar to some of the challenges to PETA’s exhibit analogizing slavery to the exploitation of animals. But consider this: *if* it could be shown that, say, PETA’s Holocaust display produced a significant response and convinced many, many people to go vegan, would that exploitation of anothers plight still be wrong? What if that display was meant to analogize the Holocaust to genocide in Africa, for instance, and the response to it was equally successful? Would it be wrong then?

    • Trinker Says:

      Um. Surely you don’t believe that malnourishment/starvation is just a Third world, non-white peoples issue in the present? Nor that all people in “the Third World” are malnourished or starving?

      Your graphic reinforces a stereotypical viewpoint – “all Africans are starving and unclothed”; in activist art, even more than in mainstream media, this is a problematic concept to perpetuate.

      • Jason Says:

        The commenter never said that “malnourishment/starvation is just a Third world, non-white peoples [sic] issue.” The commenter also never said “that all people in “the Third World” are malnourished or starving.”

        “Your graphic reinforces a stereotypical viewpoint – “all Africans are starving and unclothed”” – How in the world does it do this? Are you suggesting that one /never/ show images of starving or malnourished peoples? What kind of sense does that make? It’s a picture. It doesn’t say anything about who is in it or where it is and it makes no claims about “all Africans.”

        • Trinker Says:

          Choosing a picture is an act that stands not only for the individual artwork, but within the context of the ideas evoked by that image. In this case it strongly invokes the “charity fund for starving Third World children” trope, which has many, many problematic aspects to it – many of which have been explained in other comments here.

          (There’s no need for a [sic] after ‘peoples’ above. It was a deliberate and grammatical phrasing designed to emphasize the multiplicity of populations encompassed by the term “Third World person”.)

          • Jason Says:

            And one of the context of ideas evoked by that image is that “malnourishment/starvation is just a Third world, non-white peoples [sic] issue”? And the creator is responsible for _every_ possible idea that the image could evoke? Come on. It sounds like you’re trying to justify your uncharitable reading into the image.

            Note: I added the “[sic]” because you didn’t include an apostrophe indicating possessiveness.

    • baba Says:

      why didn’t you put starving palestinians on your button?

  5. Jason Says:

    If the graphic designer’s goal is to produce a graphic that non-speciesists will identify with, then that person has failed. We ought to find ways that both animals and humans don’t starve.

  6. […] How *Not* to Inspire More People to Go Vegan | Vegans of Color "It’s a graphic where the left half is a black & white photo of several black, presumably African, children who look extremely malnourished; the right half is a color photo of a cow. The text at the bottom says, “Who do you want to feed?” The font, by the way, is the same one used for LOLcats or other popular graphics that are generally seen as sarcastic or ironic (like Privilege Denying Dude). […]

  7. lavajin Says:

    I liked it at first, but I saw it just as saying that it takes so much more grain to feed “food” animals than to just feed the grain to people. I didn’t even notice the font, that’s an excellent point. After reading the responses, it’s obvious to me now how it can be perceived. :[

  8. Sam Says:

    In the same vein as the LOLcat font, there’s an unfortunate watermark on the cow image: ROFLBOT. It’s a very poor graphic, indeed.

  9. Babs Says:

    Found this rather randomly, as I’m no longer a vegan but was for some time… I read the whole thread in the community and I’m flabberghasted. The willful ignorance of the OP and creator of the image is astounding. And the joke she posted in response to some of the arguments just helps reinforce her persecution complex. “Help me help me, I’m white and offended because I did/said something really racist and insensitive and then people very calmly and rationally called me on it”. Sorry for being harsh but ARGH! Man. Damn. You could fill a bingo card on that one thread alone.

  10. veejayblox Says:

    yes malnutrition and starvation are very big problems in all but “developed” third world countries. yes that graphic is a bit over the top, the message is muddled. yes speciesism, racism, hatred and bigotry all come out of the same bag, and yes they are political issues. that being said, we need more vegans that don’t tone down their message and stay true to their roots. compassion is the name of the game, that graphic just doesn’t cut it.

  11. steph Says:

    the other offensive part is that we should suddenly NOT feed the cows that have been mass produced? doesn’t sound very ‘humanitarian’.

    • veejayblox Says:

      nice twist, but i don’t believe the graphic conveys that message at all. but then again i don’t live in palestine or the gaza strip maybe we should all check our cheeky criticisms at the door.

  12. kitINstLOUIS Says:

    Admittedly, I’m a “speciesist.” I’m glad to be at the top of the food chain. I have celiac disease, I don’t function well without meat.

    On the other hand, I dislike that some people are so incapable of empathy toward starving people that they feel the need to donate money to PETA instead of Oxfam. Still, that’s their choice.

    To say that eating meat is equivalent to starving (verb) children is ridiculous. This planet produces enough food to feed the entire world, with lots left over. Starvation is a problem of distribution, economics and politics. It has nothing to do with the choice to eat meat.

    • Alex Melonas Says:

      @kit…: Your argument assumes that human suffering is worse than nonhuman suffering: is that because we are “at the top of the food chain”? But how is that any different than disregarding ethics entirely, reverting back to some kind of “it is natural” argument, and justifying racism, which is clearly well-grounded in our natural, biological predisposition to out-group?

  13. Blissfulrain Says:

    Something that doesn’t sit right with me about this image is that it also implies feeding the malnourished people depicted the same thing you’d feed the cow. As if to say these poor people are so impoverished that livvestock feed is good enough.

  14. […] Via Vegans of Color, a textbook example of how not to argue for veganism. […]

  15. Daniel Says:

    I think the graphic is problematic for many reasons which other people have pointed out. I think the graphic also completely misses the political, economic and social factors behind food supply. I am vegan but i’m in no doubt that my personal veganism is not going to change global food supplies. If the world went vegan tomorrow there would still be people without food. It annoys me how often vegans seems to ignore any other factors beyond ‘go vegan!’…

  16. Jenn Says:

    Just wanted to show my support! Saw this on tumblr and I BEYOND agree. That graphic is so disgusting.

  17. Pretty egregious, I’d say.

    How DO we audit vegetarian and animal rights organizations? I’m suddenly VERY interested in this emerging set of issues.

    I’m a vegan. You may wish to connect with me on LinkedIn.


  18. e Says:

    I just stumbled upon this blog and I wanted to say –way to go! I am white, mostly vegan, and consider my self intelligent and sensitive to social/political issues. Given that perception of myself, it is extremely embarrassing to admit that I didn’t understand why the image was offensive right away.

    But, reading the comments here and the comments in the entire thread on LiveJournal was not only informative, but inspiring! It’s rare that our misconceptions can be laid out so clearly for us, and it’s a gift when we can correct our ignorant ways of thinking, truly understand a valid opposing opinion, and have our minds changed. That rarely happens as we age, and I wanted to thank you all so much for that and for taking the time to explain this complex issue.

  19. Tim Barker Says:

    I understand the issues that the author of the articles has and I am sure that many people will find the graphic “unpleasant”. Being vegan means that you must take the rough with the smooth. It is definitely a political step. It is making a statement which ever way you look at it. People starving in Africa and bad ecomomic and political policies of the west are things that we are supposed to be trying to stop. Exchanging vegan cookie recipes and thinking of fluffy kittens while being offended by graphics is not the way forward. At least we are talking about it though!

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