One of the main criticisms of a plant-based diet is that it’s for the privileged, more specifically privileged white people. This has led to the alienation of other races within the vegan movement, who believe that veganism is a ‘white thing’. Certainly there is some ignorance surrounding how easy it is for non-white cultures to adopt a vegan diet, and a lot of the information around transitioning to veganism out there is talking to white people, whether it’s intentional or not.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way, everyone deserves their own space in the vegan movement. What’s more, the concept of not eating animal products is not a ‘white thing’, so in alienating people from the vegan movement, white people are also denying them access to part of their own heritage.
Historically, people who have adhered to a vegetarian or vegan diet have done so due to their religious beliefs. In India specifically many religious believers have traditionally followed a vegan or vegetarian diet. Followers of Jainism are expected to be vegetarian, and many Hindus and Bhuddists also follow an animal product free diet. In addition to this, in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Christians routinely engage in vegan fasts.
Unsurprisingly, this means that a lot of the vegan food that white people consume has it’s origins in other countries and cultures. Tofu, rice, lentils, bananas even vegans’ sacred avocados are not western foods originally. Vegan food is largely an amalgamation of other culture’s foods as a western diet relies heavily on animal proteins.
In addition to this, as Russell Simmons has discussed, 75 percent of African Americans are lactose intolerant. Even now in central Africa, a lot of people live on plant-based diets and it is likely that historically they would have been consuming that also. Westerners have forced African Americans to adopt a westernised diet which is comprising their health. To then leave them out of the vegan discussion, when it could benefit them so much, is absurd.
Thankfully, the vegan movement is becoming more accepting of different types of veganism that aren’t all white-centric. Jasmine Leyva is soon to release a documentary specifically tackling veganism as an African American issue named ‘The Invisible Vegan’ which will hopefully encourage people to open up the conversation. There has also been an increase in the number of non-white celebrities being open about their veganism such as Stevie Wonder, Russell Simmons, Danielle Brooks and NeYo.
Despite the fact that white people have left everyone else out of the conversation for so long, veganism doesn’t have to be a white thing. Hopefully the future will bring a more inclusive veganism.