How Vegans Of Color Deal With Veganism’s White, Privileged Image
Ask your average person on the street who they picture when they think of a vegan and they may say a hippie, an animal rights activist covered in tattoos, or a yoga-loving yuppie. Chances are, however, that none of these images will involve a person of color. Much of the general public views veganism as a lifestyle reserved for white people with money. This image of veganism has negative consequences: researchers have found that people of color are less likely to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, and those who do may be stigmatized for doing so.
In this study, the author sought to examine veganism and race by interviewing twenty-seven people of color who identify as vegan. The goal of the study was to understand these particular participants’ views on the relationship between the two issues, rather than to create a representative sample. The author talked to the participants about how race played into their decision to go vegan, how they challenge veganism’s privileged image, and how vegan food can fit with ethnic identity.
Most of the participants said race did not affect their decision to go vegan. One participant did say race was a factor in her decision to go vegan, because for her it was a way to avoid health problems faced by many African Americans. The participants agreed that veganism is a privileged lifestyle in the sense that if you live in a food desert you simply don’t have access to healthy products. They also agreed it can be expensive if you buy a lot of vegan convenience foods such as imitation meat and dairy products. However, they contended that veganism can be affordable if you buy canned foods, rice and beans, and shop in bulk.
One unique aspect of this study was that the respondents noted that their families saw veganism as a rejection of their culture. This perceived rejection comes from the fact that when people of color go vegan they cannot eat the food their families have prepared. One Indian American in the study said she thought that this was not an issue for white people because they do not feel the need to preserve their culture like recent immigrants do. For their part, the participants discussed ways this hurdle could be overcome, noting that culturally appropriate food can be prepared vegan. One participant, an African American, noted they were starting a business selling vegan soul food from a food trailer. Two other participants said there needed to be more cookbooks by people of color with cultural food reimagined in a vegan form.
This study is valuable to animal advocates in that it gives them a peek into the experience of vegans of color, and also suggests ways they could promote a plant-based lifestyle to people of color. However, advocates should be cautious in extrapolating the results of the study, as the sample size was relatively small and not statistically representative. The author notes that the experiences of vegans of color are not all the same, and therefore, other vegans of color not interviewed in this study may feel differently than the ones that were spoken with.