My beef with veganism

Vegans, people whose diet excludes the consumption of animal products completely, are a group that is constantly gaining new members. Anyone who has met a vegan or found information online about the interesting lifestyle understands that many of them are quite passionate about what they do. 

Veganism can be healthy, environmentally conscious, and be a great foundation for the animal liberation movement. Many people report looking and feeling better once they decide to go vegan. Vegans do what many of us, however, could not. I would like to pay them my respects for such commitment.

Some people may opt out of veganism simply because they enjoy consuming animal products and could not imagine themselves actually going through with such. They might have reasonable access to a vegan diet and yet still choose not to participate.

Ridley Downs, a senior at Hart Highschool, claimed, “Well I respect it, for sure, because it takes a lot of discipline in order to be vegan and maintain that lifestyle.”

“But I personally think that it’s a tedious task and there are a lot of joys in life that you miss out on.”

Avery Tracy, another senior at Hart, added on to the claim, providing an example, “Like sinking your teeth into steak.”

Downs went on to say, “I love a lot of vegan dishes and vegetarian dishes because I mean, they’re good. But maintaining that lifestyle seems like an effort that I could never do.”

“Vegan substitutes for foods are absolutely awful. See the thing is, vegan food on its own is actually very delicious. But if you try to add in substitutes for foods that are not vegan, they all suck. You’re just always missing something.”

However, whether or not somebody decides to go vegan based on personal enjoyment is one thing. Not being able to access a vegan diet, realistically, due to the effects of marginalization, is another.

There is a fine line between appreciating what vegans do and forcing yourself, or others, to do the same. Although veganism may be the right approach for those that have the privilege to partake, it is a largely inaccessible practice that can be exclusive for a lot of groups of people.

Veganism should remain a personal decision instead of something expected of everyone. There are many reasons why someone may be aware of the positive impacts of a vegan diet, yet still consume animal products regularly that have nothing to do with “…sinking your teeth into steak”, to quote Tracy again.

First of all, many ethnicities and cultures consume animal products, especially meat, as a part of their lifestyle and traditions. Numerous Indigenous tribes have sacred relations with the animals on their land. They find that using every part of the animal in an intentional way is a way that they can connect with the Earth as well as their ancestors. This is completely different from chowing down on a slaughterhouse burger from In-N-Out on a Friday night.

According to TIF, The Indigenous Foundation, “Animal rights groups have been fighting to shut down the sealskin trade since the 1960s. In 1983, the European Union banned sealskin products made from white coat harp seal pups, which had immense impacts on the Inuit. Although the European Union exempted Inuit communities from the ban, this has been ineffective and not had an immense positive impact on the Inuit. The market for sealskin evaporated, leading to lower income for Inuit seal hunters.”

“Seals are crucial to the Inuit economy and way of life. Inuit seal hunters never hunted the baby whitecoat harp seal pups targeted by these anti-sealing campaigns; they hunted adult seals. In the Inuit communities, food is expensive. The Inuit eat seal meat, which is lean with less than two percent fat, offering a free, local, and inexpensive food source to them, which offers much better nutrition than what the stores offer.”

Indigenous traditions were around long before colonization and capitalism. Therefore, they should not have to suffer the consequences of such ideologies that they did not create or agree with from the very start. 

Sure, the constant consumerism nowadays creates unethical practices in relation to animals. Almost everyone has seen a horrific slaughterhouse video and felt terrible about their diet.

But when White vegan activists critique those that do consume animal products with broad terminology that condemns everyone at once, their language can often come across as not well thought out and even Eurocentric. Regardless of whether they are referencing Indigenous people or not in their critique, they should be culturally aware enough to specify.

Some may even wonder if the cultural practices themselves are worth the animals’ lives. But that isn’t for non-Indigenous people to decide. We have to recognize the nuance of the situation and realize that Indigenous practices and traditions can’t, and shouldn’t, even compare to the wrongdoings of the slaughterhouse industry.

There seems to be this conception about vegans that they save the animals. Vegans are supposedly animal activists; passionate ones as well. To that I ask, aren’t humans animals too?

It appears that we have been so concerned with not killing and eating non-human animals that we have somehow, once again, forgotten about the mistreated Hispanic immigrants who harvest most produce of the United States.

Animal lives are precious and should be protected as much as possible. That is why I respect vegans for doing what I do not. But on the other hand, absolutely no products are “cruelty free” regardless of the little label slapped on by someone who is probably also underpaid. 

Capitalism exploits the most vulnerable in order to keep people consuming. It is not, and never was, as cut and dry as to kill or to not kill. While you may have decided against that burger for the sake of the cows, the blueberries sitting right in front of you could have been picked by someone earning less than half of minimum wage, just trying to make ends meet. 

Hispanic immigrants are constantly discounted for their contributions to American society. They come here looking for a better life and hearing all about the american dream just to labor intensively in the boiling sun for 12 hours a day nonstop. Not to mention, getting underpaid for doing so and harassed by racists in their little amount of time off.

According to Knowable Magazine, “The power imbalance between employers and immigrant workers, who have few rights, forces migrants to take risks that endanger their health. Many migrant workers also lack access to proper health care because countries restrict the benefits they can receive, or workers are afraid to claim services that do exist.”

Their labor should be accounted for. Your produce, containing animal products or not, should also be considered exploitative and cruel, because it is.

That isn’t to say that you should consume nothing, however. If no food is ethical, that does not imply that one should not eat. I am merely requesting that we become more aware of the harmful ways in which we get food to our dinner tables everyday.

In the case of vegans, the entity being harmed may be closer in similarity to yourself than the lives you swear to protect. Again, I am not arguing that one is more important than the other. I am aware that that is a hot topic, especially in the vegan community. I just want people to think twice before attempting to put themselves on a pedestal by claiming their eating habits involve absolutely no exploitation. Especially when many vegans and vegan activists are white and may not have as emotional or personal responses to the discrimination against Hispanic immigrants.

The expectation that everyone should be vegan is also extremely ableist, in more ways than one. We must consider the reasons why both mentally and physically disabled people may not want to, or not be able to, partake (and respect their wishes).

Mentally disabled people generally have different ways of seeing the world. Their neurodivergence actually creates more unique behaviors than a mentally abled person would usually consider. 

Autistic people, for one, receive comfort from routine and continuity because it brings them a safe space in a world that wasn’t built for them. Changing this routine can cause so much distress that many experience what is called meltdowns, which consist of essentially, an explosive and spontaneous breakdown. 

Not to mention, Autistic people experience multiple sensory differences, which can result in either hyper or hyposensitivity. Basically, as for sensory input, most Autistic people experience extremely more or extremely less than the average population. While you may not feel your clothes sitting on your body all day, they might experience painful feelings of thousands of needles poking around them continuously. This is because allitistic, or non-autistic, peoples’ brains perform what, in psychology, is referred to as sensory adaptation, where the sensory input is filtered through to allow only what is deemed necessary by the brain. Meanwhile, Autistic people do not have this built-in luxury.

With both routine preferences and sensory differences come what the Autistic community has named “safe foods” or “same foods”. When Autistic people find a food that they enjoy, especially sensory wise, they may eat it over and over for a long period of time without getting tired of it.

Some of these foods may contain animal products. Who are we to say that Autistic people must either eat foods that are deemed unsafe and uncomfortable to them, or find safe foods that are exclusively vegan. Autistic people are robbed from so much joy in this world already, we have no right to lecture them on the few things they have that bring them comfort. Lecturing people on their diet habits can cross a fine line very quickly if you aren’t careful. 

Physically disabled people can also find veganism inaccessible. Lots of people have health conditions that essentially require animal products in their diet to survive. When people are allergic to multiple foods or otherwise have limitations, expecting them to also be able to manage cutting out all animal products is just unreasonable. 

Veganism may be unsafe or unpleasant for some with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), or Crohn’s Disease. According to The Nutrition And Lifestyle Medicine (NALM) Clinic, “Vegan junk and processed foods often contain lots of additives which may have a negative impact on our gut health and IBD.”

“A whole food vegan diet that is high in fibre may not be well tolerated by many with IBD who find certain fruit, vegetables and vegan sources of protein like legumes cause symptoms.”

Being able to even consider going vegan is also a class privilege. Let’s face it, vegan foods are expensive as heck. Even regular, average, fruits and vegetables are generally more pricey than let’s say, some potato chips or soda. Although not as fulfilling, many lower and working class people may resort to these items when grocery shopping because they have essentially no choice in the matter. 

I have heard some vegans argue that basic vegan foods, such as beans, are really cheap and easy to find. While that is true, we must again be realistic. Who is actually going to be spending their entire week eating beans besides my Mexican grandma?

Even besides the monetary aspect, simply going to get food is an act of labor for some. We must realize the privilege we hold when we hop in the car and drive down the street to Target. Between the car itself, insurance, gas prices, etc. Lower and working class people can’t always afford to drive a car. Many rely on public transportation to get around, which takes significantly more time and energy.

It’s come to the point where we have terms to identify certain types of places because they are so neglected. According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Food deserts are geo­graph­ic areas where res­i­dents have few to no con­ve­nient options for secur­ing afford­able and healthy foods — espe­cial­ly fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles. Dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly found in high-pover­ty areas, food deserts cre­ate extra, every­day hur­dles that can make it hard­er for kids, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties to grow healthy and strong.”

It appears that holding a vegan diet expectation over peoples’ heads has only amplified the visibility of already ongoing systemic issues. We cannot expect these residents, or those in similar situations, to go out of their way to access vegan food when the issue is clearly pervasive. People are here just trying to survive and make it through each day at a time. 

Depending on the type of employment, people may be more concerned about their extensive work shifts or even applying for government assistance programs. Some things are possible in an ideal circumstance, but just not realistic in the current one.

Considering the vegan diet through a lower income perspective allows you to realize that veganism might not be as personal as it seems. Yes, like I stated earlier, it should be an individualized choice that some make and others do not. But the accessibility of veganism boils down to larger issues than whoever feels like it.

This is why it is so disheartening to hear some vegans criticize people for not taking part, as if it’s an indicator of virtue. Veganism is more a measure of privilege than of character. 

Yes, some people may be able to participate if they wanted, and still choose not to. That is a bit of a different circumstance. Not to say that we should go and judge that type of person either, it’s just not what I’m referencing at the moment. 

A lot more people care about their health, the environment, and animal rights than some vegans might assume. We as people should more often give others the benefit of the doubt anyways. But just because they care about something doesn’t mean they should have to bend over backwards and sacrifice small joys or aspects of their identity for the sake of it. 

It’s absolutely vital, especially in this situation, to realize that people are coming from different backgrounds and have different situations going on at the moment. Marginalized people should not be further punished or scolded than they already are in a lot of ways outside of veganism. However, some people with the money, time, and energy, constantly find ways to make it seem as if the groups mentioned have more autonomy than they really do.

Ultimately, veganism may be a positive in this world, but one that only some have reasonable access to. It’s about time we start recognizing it as such, including the nuance within the latter half of the statement.