Why Black People Avoid Going Vegan
When you think of the word “vegan,” what comes to your mind?
A wild guess would probably be a mental picture of an upper-middle-class, white hipster sipping a soy-latte or maybe a wealthy, tanned, super skinny, yoga-obsessed white woman.
For many years, veganism has predominantly been described as a lifestyle for the privileged white folks. To prove this, let’s do a little Google search for “vegan,” “vegan person,” “vegetarian.” The results will show you why mainstream veganism is mostly white.
You’re likely to see a handful of people of color. When Thrillist, an entertainment, food, and tourism website, experimented with searching for “vegan person,” out of 480 images, the search didn’t bring up a face of color until the third page. Social media give the same results on social media, and even white chefs operate many high-end vegan restaurants.
By now, you should see a pattern of excluding and even directly overlooking vegans of color from the leading discussions. And this has been the case with history as well.
As we know it today, veganism wasn’t a concept until Donald Watson (the father of mainstream veganism) coined the term and founded The Vegan Society in 1944. He used veganism to differentiate those who didn’t eat animal products and vegetarians who did.
But many communities of color and religion practiced the plant-based diet for centuries. For instance, Hinduism and Buddhism promote nonviolence, thereby avoiding animals and animal-derived foods.
Rastafarianism, a lifestyle developed in Jamaica during the 1930s, advocated for “ital” eating — plant-based, natural foods. The diet originated from Hindu customs established by Indian apprentices.
The reality is that a cruelty-free diet has been a part of black communities for longer and is not an invention by the whites. This distortion about veganism’s true origin is one reason why vegans of colors don’t feel adequately represented.
Meat Is a Cultural Staple
A 2012 breakdown of meat consumption by race revealed that African Americans were the largest consumers in America. Centuries of enslavement led to “making do” with everything from typical meat cuts to scraps like pig’s feet and intestines.
To date, black families cook and eat these foods. They also pass down these recipes to the younger generations as part of their cultural heritage. The means of survival became normal. That’s why for many African Americans, Afro-Caribbean, and other communities of color, veganism just isn’t appealing.
The Fight for Other Socio-Cultural Issues
With the never-ending cycle of systemic racism, police brutality, and unfair profiling, you can easily understand why we link veganism to the privileged.
Now privilege goes beyond have financial security. Privilege is also existing in a safe and positive environment where you can fight for animals’ welfare — before yours or your community’s.
Think about it. Do you expect someone who has to deal with racial profiling or systemic imprisonment of black males to advocate for circus animals’ protection?
Racial discrimination is a terrible reality to exist in. Many black people lack the care they need for themselves, much less for animals. This disconnect is discouraging.
But one way of encouraging the fight for animal rights in the black community is to present it in the light of the potential health benefits of the plant-based lifestyle.
Every black person has a relative who survived some cancer, a diabetic uncle, or a hypertensive grandparent. Hence, leading with veganism as a ready may bring a warmer reception.
Little Knowledge about Veganism or Black Vegans
When did you first think about going vegan? How many people in your life or social circle practice the plant-based diet successfully?
The reality is that a large part of the black community doesn’t know or understand what veganism is really about. While some public figures and influencers follow the plant-based lifestyle or are “vegan-curious,” the little representation isn’t solid enough to make a permanent change.
The William sisters, Serena and Venus, Beyoncé, and NBA star Kyrie Irvin are black vegans shining a new light on the movement.
Poor Access to Vegan Options
Have you’ve ever heard of racial food deserts? If you have, then you’d know that many communities of color lack access to affordable, fresh produce. Instead, what you find are corner or convenience stores stocked with cheap, highly-processed canned foods and meats and numerous fast-food chains.
These communities have become heavily reliant on these types of diets for nutrition. It’s almost impossible to expect these low-income families to afford fruits and vegetables. And that’s even when they can find them in their areas. The obvious alternative is to feed their families with animal products.
Perhaps, if these communities have more access to plant-based options for staples in local grocery stores and food marts, they might sustain veganism.
The Way Forward
We need the contributions of the countless organization geared towards promoting plant-based diets in black communities. Not just to provide access to nutritious vegan options in shops and restaurants but also to create awareness of racial diversity in veganism.
When more voices speak up about how veganism is a part of our culture and affects black health, then more black people will find the appeal of going vegan. Speak the language of the people and get them on your side.
I am a full-time vegetarian and part-time vegan. My favorite vegan food delivery and pick-up service are Soul Vegan UK in South London, UK.
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