Veganism: A White Colonial trend?
For the last five years I have been a vegetarian, but this was never something fuelled by the health conscious movement or diet fads. My vegetarianism began as I read more about our environment, especially the destructive nature of our meat and agriculture industry. I was ready to try my hand at veganism, assuming that was the only logical next step, however recent health complications as a result of my eating disorder have prevented me from doing this. Although this plays on my conscience, I gradually began to notice more people around me who were also unable to commit to veganism for a range of different reasons: health problems, religious requirements and/or economic reasons.
Of course, it's illogical for someone to slave at a vegan diet if cutting out so many food groups will have serious consequences to their health. It also illogical to commit to a vegan diet if the outcome will deplete your bank account. But lots of vegans will continue to pull on our heart strings, pleading the moral case.
It is absolutely unjust that although our global meat consumption has grown by 20kg a year, 50 of the world's least developed countries still consume less than 15kg meat per year. ⅓ of all grain produced worldwide is now being used for meat production and by 2050 the loss of calories by feeding the cereals to animals instead of using the cereals directly for human food represents the annual calories to feed more than 3.5 billion people.
Clearly there is something wrong with the meat industry if the products being harvested through agriculture could help alleviate hunger around the world.
But that doesn't mean that veganism is innocent.
The practice of veganism has colonialist legacies, practiced within the meat and dairy industries. However, in this case, white popularisation of plant-based consumption is only shifting unethical food production from meat to plants. Industrial farming did not exist until the 1960s within the USA and as a result Indigenous farms and farmers are now being exploited for foods they once produced and consumed moderately. Consequently, this has a devastating effect on the price of said plants, the welfare of the farmers and inhabitants of the land, and the land itself. This lack of understanding surrounding the relationship between the farmer and the land/ animals means that the worker often is overlooked, and more value is placed on the product, in this case the plants. Furthermore, these animal free platforms prioritise the animal’s welfare over that of the worker which then ignore inhumane working conditions, the precarious nature of undocumented immigrant workers who also don’t have rights or unions to protect them.
On top of this, many of vegan activist groups often overlook the culture of certain groups, forcing meat free diets onto communities who cannot support this lifestyle. An example of this is with the indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting Sápmi, which today encompasses large northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula. An indigenous person from one of these groups recounted their experience when a group of vegan activists approached their community. They explain how the climate of the Sami is not conducive to the vegan lifestyle; the soil is too thin, the permafrost under it too hard and our seasons too brutal.
Therefore, the imposition of these western values of veganism and civilisation is an imposition of this group's beliefs and consequently a form of colonialism.
From this it is our duty to remove the veil of innocence that veganism likes to present itself under. Not only can veganism be an elitist health norm but also a colonialist tool which is detrimental to the life of the worker and their culture.
We must have a more holistic view of our world when evaluating our diets, in so much that we respect the different environments and cultures that people come from and how this may affect what they eat.
An individualist approach is not the answer, instead we must attack the forever power hungry agriculture and meat industries that continue to eat up land, animals and destroy the lives of workers.
By Meriel Colenutt
Lundstrom, M. (2019) “The political economy of meat.” Jounral of agricultural and environmental ethics 32(1) pp.95-104. Available at: http://web.a.ebscohost.com.oxfordbrookes.idm.oclc.org/ehost/results?vid=0&sid=5fb4e700-9abd-4349-a508-c949c6cfeb29%40sdc-v-sessmgr02&bquery=%28AU%2Blundstrom%2BAND%2B%28IS%2B%25221187-7863%2522%29%2BAND%2BDT%2B2019&bdata=JmRiPWJ0aCZ0eXBlPTEmc2VhcmNoTW9kZT1TdGFuZGFyZCZzaXRlPWVob3N0LWxpdmU%3d
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White, E. (2017) “ VEGANS: YOU SHOULD BE WORRIED ABOUT THE WORKING CONDITIONS OF FARM WORKERS IF YOU’RE REALLY AGAINST CRUELTY.” AfroPunk. Available at: https://afropunk.com/2017/10/vegans-worried-working-conditions-farm-workers-youre-really-cruelty/
Kraus, K. (2014) “The indigenous fight against colonial veganism” Rabble. Available at: https://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/vegan-challenge/2014/04/indigenous-fight-against-colonial-veganism