Dismantling White Veganism

Veganism in and of itself is the practice of abstaining from the use and exploitation of animals as far as practical. Veganism rejects the mainstream narrative that animals are here for us to use in whatever way we choose, from dietary consumption to attire to experimentation. It is a rejection of the carnist and speciesist mindset and calls for justice and liberation of animals.

White Veganism is a reference to mainstream veganism—which is, undeniably very white, narrow, one sided and ignores intersectionality. It aims to expose and erase the invisibility of oppression on other animal bodies to the masses, while simultaneously ignoring and being silent about the very visible injustice and oppression of black and brown bodies, femme bodies, or differently-abled bodies. Sometimes even utilizing the history of oppression on Black bodies and other oppressed groups as a tool to promote veganism.

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If the collective goal is to end oppression by evoking a massive awakening in our society, oppression should first be understood—how it functions, how it’s sustained, why it exist.  It’s easy to have a one-sided view of oppression when your existence in life is at the furthest location from oppressed.

Effectively engaging communities of color in the fight for animal liberation will not be accomplished by telling us to shut up about our issues and focus on animal lives. It will not be accomplished by a PoC walking past a naked, White womxn laying on the concrete lacquered in red corn syrup.

The more constructive approach would be illustrating how our government heavily subsidizes this corrosive industry, then create programs (i.e. WIC)  that will disproportionately funnel disease-inducing food into Black and Brown bodies. How CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are strategically placed in or near PoC communities where irresponsibly managed waste poisons the air, water, and food supply of the community. How we shouldn’t attack slaughterhouse workers who are not evil incarnates, but poor and marginalized people forced to work a job most people would not do themselves. How realizing that our plant-based foods are anything but “cruelty free” when you consider the  farm workers who are horribly mistreated most places our food is grown. The intersection of capitalism and white supremacy utilizes the mass exploitation of animals as a medium to drive profit and power over people and the planet.   

The tactic of guilting PoC into the fight for animal liberation needs to stop now. Shifting the focus towards enlightening and empowering PoC through veganism. Because the vegan voice of color will not be amplified for the voiceless by silencing our own oppression. Animal oppression is our oppression.

White veganism has created an image of veganism as Whole Foods shopping and dependent on having a large enough income to eat only expensive foods. It ignores issues of food security and rights from the prevalence of Food Deserts in low-income, PoC communities to the mass exploitation of farm and food workers. White vegans are the most prominent faces of veganism and so white veganism has shaped the dominant discourse had around animals rights, the environment, and health to be basic.
The adherers of white veganism (because white veganism is a way in which veganism is advocated and could very well be adhered to by a PoC) will often talk about how they do not care about the oppression of humans and will willfully engage in that oppression. They will often times perpetuate racism and sexism in their quest to promote veganism or just in everyday actions as they do not care about dismantling other systems of oppression. This is due to the privilege white vegans inherit that allows them to not think about race or racism on a daily basis. White veganism erases the role that whiteness and its constructs create and promote in animal exploitation. They will often say we are “divisive” and “taking away from the animals” when we speak on the issues of white veganism but nothing could be farther from the truth. White veganism creates barriers against veganism, it paints veganism as being inherently racist. 

Animal liberation cannot succeed through white veganism.

28 thoughts on “Dismantling White Veganism

  1. Excellent post I really appreciate you bringing these issues up. I’ve always been a little unsettled by vegan memes and other media that compare animal exploitation to human oppression but never really considered it farther than that. While researching an environmental justice project I was also extremely startled to learn about how CAFOs (and other nasty things like chemical plants) are placed in communities of color. Veganism and issues with sourcing food which no animal or human had to suffer for is actually one of the reasons I opened an organic vegetable farm and became an off grid homesteader. I think veganism should really be about striving to do right by everyone we can. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, great article with some excellent points.

    One thing I’d love to know more about is your perspective on the comparison of animal exploitation and slavery.

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    1. White vegans love to compare how to treat animals to how we treated Black folks, of course they never compare how we treat white folks and how we treat animals because they are still dehumanizing and creating a hierarchy between whites and Blacks, putting Black people closer to animals.

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  3. Wow, really great and important article. You are articulate in your points and bring great contemporary examples of meme cultural in regards to veganism memes that rely on racism/racial undertones. In a conversation with a vegan friend, she said she was adhering to veganism for dietary reasons (to lose weight and be healthier) and while part of me is happy that people join veganism for whatever reason, another part thinks that the commercialization (white-branding) of veganism takes away from the opportunities to have meaningful discussions surrounding systems that oppress humans. A lot of discussions that I have had in regards to veganism is about animal rights, environmentalism, and health, but do not touch upon dismantling other systems of oppression. This is a great article that made me think deeper about what should be included in my vegan dialogue. Cheers

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  4. Thank you for publishing this! I have been aware of this discussion in vegan circles for some time and know how important it is. At present, I’m putting together a book on “Jewish veganism.” I feel that it must include a critique along these lines (outside of the nods it will receive in my own piece). If you know of an author who may want to contribute, please have them contact me: jewishveganismbook@gmail.com. Thank you!

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  5. For many years ive been waiting to read something like this. Understanding the oppression of colored people is critical to their emancipation. Considering that most people leave that part out, this is an impressive article. Killing animals is one of the most unfortunate things we do as a species. You guys point out that white people marginalize both the colored people and the animals. Over centuries these things have not changed. Underlying all of these problems is the white patriarchy.

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    1. Thanks for opening my eyes to this point of view: as a white vegan I blindly never noticed any connection between me and not supporting ALL and ANY in need and being treated unjustly. Now I’ll be aware of my blind eye to how you feel. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this great piece that lays bare the intersectionality of oppressions and between social movements. I’ve been deeply troubled by the equation of animal husbandry with human slavery and the ethnocentric projection of the Western (but ostensibly universal) idea of human rights onto the animal kingdom. When I started to work with the environmental justice movement over 25 years ago, I reintegrated some meat into my diet because I would not refuse the hospitality of communities of color (FYI I’m from the group of people who believe they are white). In the context of white supremacy, I couldn’t suggest that even the traditional foods proudly served by members of oppressed communities were too inferior for me to eat. Apart from the racially oppressive nature of white veganism as a social movement (I’m sure there’s spectrum of white vegans from righteous allies to straight up white supremacists), I’ve also wondered if veganism is really the answer to improve animal welfare or environmental protection. I’ve read about the large number of burrowing animals killed in the cultivation of vegetable crops and the huge amount of animal habitat destroyed in order to grow various food crops around the world. I don’t understand how, for example, eating bananas or drinking coffee grown in clearcut rainforests and transported in a climate destroying airplane is ethically superior to eating eggs from your back yard, honey from your own hive, local seafood that is low on the food chain, hunting, or occasionally eating humanely raised and pastured animals. In short, if our goals are to reduce human suffering, animal suffering, ecological damage, and improve access to healthy food in communities of color, perhaps veganism is not a logical strategy. Michael Pollan’s Ominvore’s Dilemma showed that there are problematic consequences to any diet. Can we address these consequences directly without the ideological assumptions of veganism?

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    1. Wow, thank you so much for writing this. This articulated how I’ve been feeling/thinking about this issue perfectly. I only very recently made the decision to try to cut down on (not eliminate completely) meat from my diet, not because I feel strongly about animals, but because I want to preserve this planet, and doing that would be a means to that end. With that being said, if a plant-based diet is just as destructive to the planet as a meat-based one, then what is the point of said diet? It wouldn’t. That’s why I think that the issue is not an ethical/moral issue, it’s a pragmatic one based on cause and effect, where the effect is that we’re destroying the planet. Thanks so much for your post.

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    2. You raise some good points regarding the negative impact of vegan products like bananas and coffee, but eating animals is still wrong. This is not an inherently “Western” concept – in fact, Hindu/Buddhist/Daoist traditions managed to grasp this concept many hundreds of years before white people did. It sounds to me that you are trying to use anti-racism to excuse your consumption of animals. If you are a subsistence herder in Kenya or Tibet, then yes, eating animals is probably necessary. But for bourgeois white liberals in developed countries (like Michael Pollan and his fanbase), there is really no excuse. I know a lot of Michael Pollan fans, and for all their rhetoric about “eating humanely raised and pastured animals,” the vast majority of the animal products they consume comes from factory farms. They just frame everything they do in Pollan’s greenwashed ideology so that they can continue to enjoy the products of animal suffering without making any sacrifices, and with the added bonus of getting to feel smug about their consumption of dead animals.

      The field study you cite is highly problematic if you actually read it in detail (for starters, it assumes that 100% of the rodents who vanished were killed, whereas they might have just relocated). But even if we are to accept the results of the study at face value, animal agriculture requires a much higher quantity of grain than feeding grain directly to humans does. So veganism actually does result in less grain being grown. Yes, in certain situations, grazing animals can be raised without grain, but the overwhelming majority of the animal products you eat comes from animals that were kept in a cage and fed grain.

      That said, this was an excellent article that all white vegans need to read.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting pov but it still remains that veganism is the future, and everybody needs to catch up to it. Whatever you can afford, do what you can to lessen the slaughter of the animal kingdom. And if you are concerned about where your food comes from, research the and only buy from local farmers that you know can discern are good employers. But none the less, vegan is the future for the majority of humans within another 20-40 years. If we survive Trump, that is.

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    1. It seems like you missed the point of this article. The author never writes that veganism isn’t the future, and never takes a stance on veganism at its core. The whole point was to bring up a setback of a movement……and your reply shows the difficulty of critiquing a typically dogmatic group of people. You mention the slaughter of the animal kingdom – people are animals – so do you also protest wars and police brutality? The author’s point is that in order for veganism to take hold in poc communities, it needs to start being a more inclusive movement, one that takes the time to listen and reflect on the struggles mentioned by the author.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Totally agree that racist comments are never ok whoever says them, and certainly such vitriolic racist comments are against the deep and true spirit of veganism. Surely all of us must be supported to access veganism, and the inequality in access to veganism does indeed show up those parts of the system that are yet again unequal and need to be sorted out, and fast. Veganism on this scale is so new, that many people are having to deal with vegan situations that have no moral precedent, they are literally learning as they go. Sharing hard earned wisdom and experience, and learning from each other is surely a good place to start, I’m all ears, Hoping to learn and to put that wisdom into action wherever possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello,

    Thanks for sharing your blog, I found it a really interesting piece of writing and for me, it highlights so many of the issues around intersectionality and veganism as a whole. I am 100% with you that the examples of racism in the above memes and photos and comments are disgusting, they upset me greatly. I agree that vegans who don’t take into account the oppression of all people around the world are perpetrators of the oppression that they philosophically are supposed to be fighting against. I also love the paragraph you’ve written on a more constructive approach. It’s hopeful and inspiring when someone writes about possible ways to help change the current broken systems.

    I’m not sure where you live so maybe the different parts of the world we live in will affect how veganism comes across in that society, I am in Scotland. The one difficulty I have with this piece of writing, though I don’t think in anyway it’s meant to come across this way, and genuinely feel I’ve learned from reading it. It’s just that for me it forgets that there are many many white people living in poverty.

    I saw this blog reposted on a vegan page in Scotland, and everyone was so in agreement with it, which is great. Most of those people appear to be white, that to me, shows that although their are white vegans who are, as you illuminate here, overlooking the oppression and struggles of many PoC and who are perpetrating racism and shutting out groups by their words and actions. There are also many white vegans, certainly all the ones I personally know, who are not. Who are for equality the world over. Who are human rights activists. There are people here who are living on benefits who are vegan, I myself, am aware I am a privileged person, but I live from pay cheque to pay cheque earning 30 pence more than the national legal minimum wage. I’m happy with my life, that comment is not supposed to be some vain self leaking of anguish, but more to illustrate that where I live, veganism is for anyone not just rich upper class white people.

    Although for sure, it has a long way to go to reach out to so many people living in impoverished situations and in fact all walks of life. I have watched the blog, of a person in Scotland who is clearly not living in the easiest of situations financially, who has overcome anorexia, who has many mental health issues and health problems, who is vegan, so full of love and wanting to spread that love, but he is a man and he is white. White men are often portrayed as the most privileged section of society and thus can be talked about negatively. But this man is not part of those rich, racist, sexist, men living well above their means. When we talk in generalisations, we can become part of what we are trying to help alleviate from the world.

    I am a vegan, I’m an advocator for human rights, I have spent most of my adult life living and working with people who have learning disabilities. I am not an abelist, speciesist, racist. I am trying to live to live a life where I cause as little harm as possible and I know I will always have more to learn, understand and accept. Which is why I’m writing this, because I want to be in a position where I learn, and I’m not shut down by expressing my thoughts.

    There are people of all classes, abilities, walks of life, from all over the world who can portray the most beautiful and inspiring examples of humanity and there are those who do the opposite. I feel that the language of ‘white veganism’ perhaps needs a different terminology, or it ignores the struggles of many white vegans who have issues with intersectionality, from the LGBTQ community, from marginalized sections of society living below the poverty line, to people who are differently abled and so on. As you rightly point out veganism may contain a higher demographic of white people, but that doesn’t mean that the people who ignore intersectionality are all white. Perhaps a more accurate terminology would be ‘Non-intersectional veganism’.

    I hope you take this with the non confrontational way that it is meant, it’s always hard to know how something will come accross in writing, especially when writing to a stranger.

    I’ll continue following your blog, as like I said, I agree with so much of what you are saying and appreciate it greatly.

    With respect,

    Rachel

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great article. I have read similar pieces and I always wonder what the desired outcome of such an article would be? What actions (by white people) does it wish to promote or set in motion?

    Thanks in advance

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  11. Avoidance is a psychological defense mechanism that is used to protect one’s self from situations that cause anxiety. In regard to the white vegans mentioned in this article, dealing with oppression as a whole would require them to take ownership for how their racial privilege contributes to the subjugation of others. They would have to help deconstruct a system that either, they don’t acknowledge even exists, whether out of ignorant or blindness, or as a beneficiary of that system, they don’t want to see it laid to rest.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for this insightful and well constructed piece.

    As someone who identifies as a PoC vegan, I wonder if you would be open to rehashing the term white veganism. It seems that the issue, which is extremely valid and well-founded in evidence, is not that white people are becoming vegans but that *some of them* are losing all perspective towards other issues and making unjustified comparisons to human suffering in order to push their agenda. I’m afraid coining the term white veganism will do more to discourage people from becoming vegan than it will to discourage people becoming a vegan in a problematic way.

    After all, it’s not somebody’s place in society relative to their veganism that we are taking issue with, it is their attitude towards veganism. Maybe you would be open to using the term “aggressive veganism” or something else that refers to attitudes and practices.

    I’m glad you brought up the comparison people make between slavery and veganism. I also think this is a huge problem. My take on the issue is that the only reason forms of dehumanization should ever be brought up as an argument for veganism is to give examples that show the human predisposition to desanctifying other living beings. By showing evidence of that tendency to desanctify, we can make a stronger argument for why people should be skeptical of their superiority complexes.

    Thanks again!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Reblogged this on This One Vegan and commented:
    For many readers who have never ventured into intersectionality this article might at first raise defences, but I would ask that you allow yourself to take in what the author is saying and open your mind to their words.

    There is a lot more I’d like to say on this subject, as although it isn’t vegan education as such, it is incredibly important to keep discussions such as these going, however I am incredibly tried right now as it’s almost 2am!

    Thanks for reading, let me know what your thoughts are on the subject of mainstream veganism and the criticism made in VVOC’s piece.

    Goodbye for now!

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  14. Love your article. I am painfully aware of the systematic racism that exists unnoticed by most people. I am a white person who has had a lot of support from my family making my life easier than it would be otherwise. I feel that the racism in the vegan movement is a direct reflection of systematic racism that perpetuates the young, white social norm as, well, the norm, while marginalizing everyone else. This MUST be addressed in the vegan movement, directly, boldly, and unapologetically.

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