Culture

Veganism Isn’t Racist. But It Is Elitist

By Elizabeth Condra··  6 min read
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Veganism Isn’t Racist. But It Is Elitist

Nowadays, previously innocuous topics have been re-labeled as “racist,” so much so that we have to wonder if the word has any inherent meaning anymore. Recently on the docket? Veganism. In fact, there’s an entire TikTok trend advocating for the “decolonization” of veganism. The thing is, veganism isn’t racist. But it is elitist.

There’s obviously a difference between racism and elitism, and when it comes to veganism being intersectional and examining the roots of white supremacy within veganism (their words, not mine), we’re missing perhaps the core aspect of the costs of a vegan diet and why it’s not accessible to all levels of income. Simply put, factors other than racism are why more people aren’t vegan in this day and age.

The Stereotypical Vegan

Like they say, stereotypes exist for a reason. When we think of the typical individual who adheres to a vegan diet, we do tend to think of a white person with an excess of disposable income to spend at Whole Foods or Erewhon. 

Politics, Meat Eating, and Veganism

For whatever reason, we’ve also politicized veganism. Think about it. Climate alarmists tend to advocate for an end to meat consumption full stop, while popular consumer brands like fast food restaurants use beautiful models to eat messy burgers, appealing more to a masculine, male demographic (who will fight for meat consumption).

If you don’t believe there’s a needless politicization around meat consumption and veganism, take Carol J. Adams’ 1990 treatise The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. The New York Times called this work “the Bible of the vegan community,” and by Adams’ own admission, it was meant to “explore a relationship between patriarchal values and meat eating.” Apparently, meat eating was inherently sexist and anti-feminist long before the masses on TikTok decided veganism was racist. 

A “Healthy” Diet of Moral Superiority

There’s also an attitude of moral superiority that many individuals who decide to go vegan might adopt. While the health benefits of a vegan diet are a little suspect (experts say vegans who can’t keep up with the demand of meal prep and meal planning rely on processed foods more than anything else), many vegans are vegan for the sake of the unethical treatment and consumption of animals. While there’s nothing inherently bad about this, the deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the more and more synonymous a vegan diet becomes with activism and demonizing meat-eaters. 

Identifying as a vegan is alluring because it feels like you have drastically shifted the goodness of your person.

Sofia Karliner, a former vegan herself, writes, “I am of the opinion that identifying as a Vegan is alluring, in part, because it feels like you have drastically shifted your moral compass or the goodness of your person. That was indeed how I felt when I first took up the mantle: I saw myself as being a better person, which drastically elevated my self-esteem. But in order for there to be ‘better’ people, there need to be worse people. Feeling ‘good’ for going Vegan instills a hierarchy of morality, which becomes inherently problematic.” 

Karliner also clarifies that while she isn’t against veganism, even as an ex-vegan, she is against the “shaming, morally supreme attitudes” that she found within the vegan community. 

Examining the True Costs of Veganism

One of the core arguments of the vegan community is that in this day and age, it’s never been easier to be vegan, given all that’s accessible to us. But veganism isn’t a question of mere accessibility. It’s a question of individual income, work/life balance, family, location, geography, socioeconomic status, culture, religion, etc. 

All of these obstacles haven’t hampered the popularity of veganism, however. In 2019, the number of self-identified vegans doubled in the U.K., an upward trend from 2016. Research also indicates that a high percentage of vegans are single individuals without any family, which naturally speaks to the financial cost of a 100% plant-based diet. Data from the U.K. shows that while cutting out meat and poultry items from your grocery shopping does result in less expensive bills, replacing those items with plant-based meat replacements costs considerably more. The same goes for dairy replacements as well. 

Replacing meat and dairy with plant-based replacements is expensive. 

There’s also much to be said for the basic economic axes of supply and demand. Specialized vegan products are not as high in demand as regular meat and dairy products are. There’s also the fact that America has been subsidizing meat and dairy products for decades. With these benefits, food producers can afford to sell them for less than the comparable vegan version.

Veganism Is Elitist, So Why Blame It on Racism?

Lack of intersectionality, white supremacy, racism, inequality, oppression — all of these have, by activists’ standards, been propping veganism up for longer than we realize. 

So if it’s so easy and accessible (by their own standards) to be a vegan nowadays, then why aren’t more people vegans? The masses on TikTok would say “racism.” But maybe it’s not a question of the majority of vegans perhaps being Caucasian or in higher income brackets. It’s that veganism is a form of elitism.

If we’re going to use a media buzzword in this conversation, it should be privilege, not racism. We’re immensely privileged to think that the fact more people aren’t vegan is due to racism rather than the cultural norms that influence the food we make, our weekly schedules, what we’re able to afford in groceries, and how and what food we put on the table for our families after a grueling day of work. 

The popular diets taking over social media are indicators of wealth and status, not race.

Healthy fruits and vegetables should be cheaper than fast food, but they’re not. Choosing the healthy option over the most filling, less expensive one should be easier, but it’s not. Claiming that vegan diets are the best bet for eliminating carbon emissions or the unethical mistreatment of animals while ignoring the starving populations across the world who would benefit greatly from easy access to meat and dairy is peak privilege. 

We revert to “racism” these days because we’re not motivated enough to find the root cause behind the issue. If we did, we’d have to confront the fact that the popular diets taking over social media and influencers are social indicators of wealth and status, regardless of skin color.

Closing Thoughts

Apparently, failure to account for the white supremacy or colonialism and imperialism in veganism hinders us from making it “accessible for all.”

Maybe it’s the fact that a working mom of four, no matter what race she is, doesn’t have the time or money to make her own almond or oat milk. Maybe it’s because a healthy individual, no matter what race he or she is, comes home exhausted from work and doesn’t want to completely rely on processed alternatives. Maybe it’s the fact that healthier, organic options just aren’t available at our closest grocery. Maybe we’d love to shop exclusively at a farmer’s market, but we can’t fit it into our budget.

There is a gross lack of inaccessibility in veganism. But it’s time we start looking at the money behind it rather than focusing on what skin color a vegan individual may be.

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