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.


crosses June 12, 2008

I come out of my writing hole to write a response to La Chola’s most recent post on veganism and cruelty towards farm workers and the hands that feed us. I can relate to alot of what she is saying (more on this later), but what mostly prompted me was this:

Is a vegan lifestyle really a “cruelty free” lifestyle? Why is it so easy to prioritize cruelty inflicted on animals over cruelty inflicted on brown people? Why can people list a whole litany of wrongs committed against animals by the food industry–but at the same time those people “never really thought” about what happens to the workers?

As a person of color, a Mexican, a Mexican who virtually all my relatives built their houses and everything else they have by working in the fields and bodegas, and most recently a vegan, I have worked/lived/loved  with farm workers. Some of then are vegetarian or vegan. And it’s not easy to prioritize cruetly against animals over brown people-but there shouldn’t be a reason to prioritize, to say one is more important than the other. Many many of the activists I know who work for social justice, work for immigrations rights, work for worker’s rights, are against the border wall; are veg*ns. Yes I do agree, like a friend once told me when I was complaining about an awards ceremony to look at gorillas at a zoo that was part of a human trafficking conference, everyone does not see the connections like I do.  But  I will not continue to inflect pain and shed blood on animals because I cannot stop the cruelty against workers.  I gave up  meat, simply enough, because I felt it was violent. A few years ago, I took an oath to live a non-violent life as part of the 100 days of fasting: a response to the Minutemen’s presence in the Rio Grande Valley, organized by LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1989.  I often thought of what that meant, being a survivor of domestic violence, in an overly oppressive culture where even being a feminist or calling oneself a Chicana gave you dirty looks. And I also thought of Cesar Chavez, his commitment to workers, to the people, and his decision to become a vegetarian which lasted the last 25 years of his life. He saw the connections between violence against animals and violence against people, he saw the cruelty in both the  animals he chose not to kill to eat and the treatment of farmworkers.  (Take that people who say I’m not a real Mexican because I’m veg*n)

But I don’t have to name famous activists who see the intersection, Vicki “Hasta La Vicktoria”, radical childcare extraordinary xicana activist & friend, is an ethical vegan, volunteer for  the CIW and along with alot of radial cool feminist vegans (how many adjectives can I use?) have taken part in the local boycotts along with CIW. Most, if not all, of the events I have organized or helped organize (Mujerfest, Voices Against Violence Vigil, Homenaje a Nuestras Muertas, RGV Zine/DIY fest) provide cruelty free food.

BFP asks:

Can I bring myself to say with a straight face that I no longer eat meat because I care about ending violence against animals?

I can say with a straight face that I do not eat meat because I an non-violent, because I truly care about ending violence-I can say in society, I can say in my community, but I’ll say that I want to end violence within my own family.

How do I make eating vegan/vegetarian a political choice about liberation without making the sacrifice one set of beings make with their bodies more important than another set of beings?

I don’t think we have to make that choice.


I never wanted to call myself a vegan because I didn’t want to be labeled, didn’t want to be seen as “hardcore”, didn’t want to be compared/aligned with hardcore vegans I have known and because I thought it would be difficult being working poor/being Mexican and being a single parent with no time ever ever to eat veg*n. I gave up cheese after being vegetarian for a while (being lactose intolerant I had already stopped eating anything diary) like Joselle did at Mutual Menu, because of the feeling of revulsion. And for the longest time I simply said, I don’t eat meat, then I don’t eat meat or any meat by products then I don’t eat meat, byproducts or dairy, and yes that includes butter (I honestly didn’t know butter was a dairy).

I’ve talked before on how growing up meat was a luxury. Meat was for special occasions. At family gatherings, the fajitas, cabrito was for the men. At birthday parties, you knew the family had money if they were serving carne guisada or fajitas. If they served chicken, or heaven forbid, tuna sandwiches, you knew they were working it. My mom would buy those 5 pound tubes of ground beef and would work that baby for two weeks for a family of six, using smallest possible amount and still have meat for dinner because it was a status-we have meat to eat for dinner, we are not starving. We are making the food stamps last. We are working it. If lunch or dinner was rice and beans, it was because we couldn’t afford meat, because it was all we had. If we were having rice or arroz con leche three times a day, it was because we were running low on food and back then the government still gave out these big boxes of powdered milk that lasted forever. And thank the heavens for those big blocks of cheese that feed us for weeks.

So it only follows that it was a hard decision to say I will no longer eat meat.  Was I crazy? How many years did we wish to eat meat, to have that “status” to only go back to eating poor? When the meat was given to the older brothers/cousins/uncles already setting up the connections in my mind at 12, how could I go along with it willingly at 25?? I was met with crazy stares from family; coworkers said I had gone “radical” and “hardcore.” My son’s father told me, and continues to tell me, that I “better not be turning his son vegetarian*” because he is Mexican and has to eat meat to be big and strong. (*I note that it sounds almost homophobic in nature).


I promise this post has an end.

As many women probably do, I had an eating disorder for most of my teen and adult life. Food was the enemy I could not get away from. Friends have told me that veganism is just another eating disorder, or a way to frame an eating disorder to appear acceptable.  I can honestly say that for me, it’s not a form of e.d. While being a vegetarian/vegan I have never binged and/or purged on meat products. I do realize that this can be true for others, or to slip means to eat meat or meat by-products being part of their e.d. and I understand that this is part of living w/ an e.d. I cannot say I haven’t slipped since I became veg*n, but not on meat products and that it, for me, is not used to mask an eating disorder.  What I’m trying to say also is that it was  difficult on the level of food being central to my emotional stability, mental health and depression. What I am NOT trying to say is that veg*nism “cured” me or that I no longer think I suffer from e.d. since I stopped eating meat, because that is simply not true. These choices are not easy ones. They are built on one another, and I understand the difficulty in working out all the sides. And yes yes yes veg*nism and vegetarianism was only one layer of the long (life long?) healing process for me.

*I feel like I am exposing alot of myself in this post and I retain the right to take this post off, or delete it. You can contact me at noemi.mtz at gmail. I will not respond to hate emails.