Classism and ableism in vegan politics

Veganism as a political movement operates on principles that are both classist and ableist. At the level of the individual, being vegan can be an environmental and moral standoff with the stubbornly omnivorous world around us. But when individuals seek change by gathering converts, they make harmful assumptions about the abilities and needs of their target population.

Being vegan takes time, money and the skills to cook unfamiliar foods. One must make time to gather ingredients, which includes finding a grocery store with plentiful vegan options. This mythical store may not even exist outside of Portland, the Narnia of hipster co-ops. And I don’t know about you, but the most important cooking lesson I received in my formative years was to broil meat until it browned on both sides, which does not translate well to preparing kohlrabi. Many people are not familiar with the processes of cooking certain vegetables or grains. Getting enough nutrients from vegan food requires large quantities of fresh produce in addition to grains and legumes, ingredients you would be hard-pressed to find affordably in a food desert. If one has to travel to a grocery store outside of their immediate area, they add extra time to the assembly and preparation of these foods. If someone is not eating plants on a regular basis, consider the social factors that influence their decision rather than fantasizing about their impending death by French fries. If they do not have access to a variety of fresh foods, they will not be able to sustain a diverse vegan diet, nor will it be the healthiest choice for them.

Veganism also assumes that a person has no physiological or psychological barriers that would prevent them from achieving a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. It is no coincidence that veganism and vegetarianism are common among people with eating disorders; when you are already predisposed to exert extreme control over your food, a disordered mind relishes the challenge of a highly restrictive diet. Those in recovery must be allowed to eat whatever foods they want without cutting out entire food groups; yet we are often made to feel like we should prioritize the ethics of veganism above our own wellbeing.

As far as the oft-touted health benefits of veganism go, it can be more important to eat a diversity of foods, mainly from plants, than it is to eat exclusively vegan. If you have the ability and the means to do so, expanding your diet to include more plant foods can have health benefits independent of whether you also eat animal products. Many plant-based nutritionists will encourage their clients to incorporate more plants rather than swear off animal products altogether. This is not only more realistic for most people, it can also be more enjoyable. Food is not merely calories and macronutrients; it is also meant to nourish our souls and provide pleasure and satisfaction.

There are many reasons why a vegan diet could prove detrimental to a person’s physical health. Certain nutritional needs are difficult to meet without including meat. If someone is allergic to beans or soy, for example, they need an alternate source of protein that is affordable and available.

Some people are passionate about veganism for its environmental benefits, while others see eating animals and animal products as inhumane and unethical. Shame campaigns depicting horrific acts of animal cruelty and black smog from carbon emissions fail to generate long-lasting change in people who are accustomed to the relative ease of an omnivorous diet. They create a false moral hierarchy in which those who eat only plants are superior to those who choose to fuel their bodies in a different way. Rather than shame individuals for not adopting their lifestyle, vegan activists should focus their efforts toward sharing recipes, donating to food banks, and hosting cooking classes. By investing money and time in productive, non-guilt-inducing ways, they can campaign with a conscience and avoid doing further harm.

  1. Veganism cannot be intrinsically abilist nor classist. The definition of veganism given by the Vegan Society is Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Individuals pertaining to a vegan diet may be abilists or classists, like any other person.

    I want to dissect every little argument that was made, and how it doesn’t describe rightfully the philosophy of Veganism.

    “Being vegan takes time, money and the skills to cook unfamiliar foods”. I’m going to take apart this sentence: it takes time, relatively: I would say the most time it could take is the prep time. One has to inform themselves before going into a new lifestyle – not only a diet, veganism is a lifestyle – and maybe not everyone has access to that lot of time. But at the same time, there are many activists that dilute that time by informing with pills, so that one can “convert” themselves to veganism in a more subtle way, and not necessarily in an abrupt one.

    It takes money. So, veganism is classist y’all. That is also untrue, because Oxford University research has today revealed that, in countries such as the US, the UK, Australia and across Western Europe, adopting a vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian diet could slash your food bill by up to one-third. So, not expensive. Obviously access to certain foods is limited, but that is referred more to highly processed foods that should be consumed with caution. Every social class can be vegan.

    It requires skills. I’m not a crudist vegan, but the fact that crudist vegans exist show that veganism can require little to no skill, having you eat essentially nuts and fruits. No skill in that case. But, if we want to avoid extremes, we can still look at a typical vegan diet. Again, not everyone had a functional family growing up or a good basis of domestic skill, but still there are activists and popularizers that provide the information to start having some abilities in the cooking department. It does require time, but again it can be watered down by making the lifestyle change after some time, as one should be informed before jumping into it. And still, if you know how to cook meat, you probably know how to grill some vegetables or to boil them. Still, if you don’t, it’s ok, there’s people teaching stuff online.

    “One must make time to gather ingredients, which includes finding a grocery store with plentiful vegan options. This mythical store may not even exist outside of Portland, the Narnia of hipster co-ops”. I don’t where you live, but most things a vegan need is cereals, legumes, nuts, vegetable and fruits. You need to look for less food than a non-vegan, because a non-vegan eats literally everything – except dogs. Meat should be – as in the guidelines – really toned out on how much we eat it, because in large portions it leads to a health hazard. What I mean by that, is that a truly healthy omnivorous diet is really similar to a vegan diet, as in it need – I don’t want to repeat myself – plants, and then animal products. If you want the bourgeoisie stuff, like fake meat or fake tuna, it’s ok to eat it – it is easier to “cook”, as you know how to broil meat already -, and it costs more, but still you aren’t supposed to consume it every single day. They can be harder to find for sure, but the fact is, you don’t need it. You can have a perfectly balanced diet without these pre-prepared meals, and a fulfilling diet at that.

    “Getting enough nutrients from vegan food requires large quantities of fresh produce in addition to grains and legumes, ingredients you would be hard-pressed to find affordably in a food desert”. Again, I don’t know where you live, but vegan products are the least expensive out of all of them. Everyone should eat 3 portions of fruit and 2 servings of vegetables. Fruits are highly filling foods, so no, you don’t have to eat that much more as a vegan. If you eat your grains and legumes, again you’re going to get full. And they’re cheap, cheaper than meat. So, the thing about fresh is also untrue, as you could buy frozen goods and eat them when you want to. Frozen also means that you preserve most of the nutrients, so no worries about that either.

    “If someone is not eating plants on a regular basis, consider the social factors that influence their decision rather than fantasizing about their impending death by French fries”. My mom taught me to never wish for someone’s death. Not eating vegetables on a regular basis means that you’re probably malnourished, and that you had bad habits growing up, that lead to this health crisis. I’m not saying that someone is worthless if they’re unhealthy. I’m saying that one should consider reaching out for help. Veganism is an intersectional philosophy that goes well with feminism, and one – a vegan – should not seek for animal liberation without seeing equity and justice played for human beings. Justice in this case would mean to get everyone to have access – not to be forced into – to a balanced diet that involves all food groups. If has other health problems – like depression or sensory issues – it should be discussed with a doctor, and they can see if it is solvable or chronic.

    “Veganism also assumes that a person has no physiological or psychological barriers that would prevent them from achieving a healthy, sustainable lifestyle”. Veganism doesn’t, actually. I’d like to quote again the Vegan society with these two words: “possible” and “practicable”. If one has an unhealthy lifestyle, they shouldn’t be condemned for it, nor should it define their worthiness, but all the same, they need help. Not because there’s a defining standard of healthiness, but because I wish for everyone to reach their highest level of health possible. Now, if you live in a state where you don’t have public health, that is possibly one of the hardest task I could mention, but all the same, I wish for everyone that cannot now achieve a healthy sustainable lifestyle, to one day overcome their physiological and psychological barriers, that, as I said before, are already considered in veganism.

    “It is no coincidence that veganism and vegetarianism are common among people with eating disorders”. Now, this is really hurtful for a person that has overcome an eating disorder and that is also vegan. Obviously not everyone can have my same luck, as I could discern my ethics and philosophy from the disorder, but a disordered eating is a disordered mind, and the fact that a “highly restrictive diet” – which it isn’t, it’s an highly explorative one, happily so – attracts a disorder mind is no wonder. The problem is also the narrative around veganism, that makes it look like a healthier option or highly obsessed with health. Vegans think about the exploitation of animals and humans, the fact that it is also healthier – generally – to be vegan is just a plus. Food should scream joy, it is our fuel, and the fact that it doesn’t harm anybody should mean more joy and more fuel, as our mind is as happy as our stomach.

    “As far as the oft-touted health benefits of veganism go, it can be more important to eat a diversity of foods, mainly from plants, than it is to eat exclusively vegan”. I don’t know what whoever wrote this meant by it. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics thins otherwise anyway, as a vegan diet is appropriate for any stage of life, and is in fact more similar to the Mediterranean diet than the actual Mediterranean diet – nowadays at leat -. A diversity of food should be looked only at plants, as highly processed meats should be cut down to less than a portion a week, and meat in general should be consumed almost never, especially red meat.

    “Food is not merely calories and macronutrients; it is also meant to nourish our souls and provide pleasure and satisfaction”. I’m glad we think likewise. Food is also social, so it contains many parts of our health. As a vegan, the thing that nourishes my soul the most, is knowing that I cause no harm while eating the delicious food that I’m consuming, which is possible and affordable. I think the writer presumed that vegan food could not satisfy anyone really, when in reality it does – again the Mediterranean diet is the most similar to a vegan one -.

    “Certain nutritional needs are difficult to meet without including meat”. This is just false, idk. Like, the only thing that you can’t get from plants that you get from meat, is the thing that is given to animals – before they’re meat yk -, and that is actually bacteria – which are not animals -. That is B12, and on a truly healthy and balanced and omnivorous diet you also need to integrate it. Integration does not mean unhealthy diet. For the point made about allergies, again the Vegan Society already predicted that not every single person could be 100% vegan, but there are already examples of allergic people – to beans or to soy – living a pretty good life on a vegan diet. But, always go to a dietist for these things, as one should take account of their personal allergies and how they interact.

    “Shame campaigns depicting horrific acts of animal cruelty and black smog from carbon emissions fail to generate long-lasting change in people who are accustomed to the relative ease of an omnivorous diet”. This is probably an approach that is not well received by you, but it is an approach. For example, i follow many vegan accounts on instagram, and all of them use a different approach. There are the ones that talk like how you would like to be talked to, so by saying that you don’t need to switch entirely, there are ones that speak up about animal cruelty in customs and traditions that should be long gone, there are memers. Idk, there are many approaches and no one is better than the other.

    “They create a false moral hierarchy in which those who eat only plants are superior to those who choose to fuel their bodies in a different way. Rather than shame individuals for not adopting their lifestyle, vegan activists should focus their efforts toward sharing recipes, donating to food banks, and hosting cooking classes. By investing money and time in productive, non-guilt-inducing ways, they can campaign with a conscience and avoid doing further harm”.
    I feel like it is much less a created moral hierarchy as much as a perceived one. You feel inferior, you feel like we’re pushing it on your face, you feel like you’re not doing
    enough. No one creates hierarchy, and if they do, then they are a minority. Explicating what one is doing and why is not pushing it to anyone’s face, and no one shames anyone. If you feel ashamed, you are acknowledging the fact that you’re spreading unnecessary cruelty to the world. Vegans already do what you suggest them to do.

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