The Problem with White Veganism
White veganism is dangerous.
It disregards the fact that the meat and dairy industries are inherently colonial legacies. It comes charging in on its moral high horse, enforcing its beliefs that veganism is the only way forward, overlooking the truth: that the white popularisation of plant-based consumption is only shifting unethical food production from meat to plants.
White veganism fights the meat industry — a colonial legacy, and I will explain why — with the industrialisation of plants instead. As Erin White writes for Afropunk, “[W]hat’s so frustrating about too many animal-free platforms is the bizarre prioritization of animal welfare over that of the humans who produce the food.”
Only, it is more than bizarre. It is outright racist. In fact, at this point, being a white vegan is practically intrinsically racist. White vegans blatantly care very little about the working conditions of farmers from the global south, or immigrant farmers working in the global north (a problematic term in and of itself). While some white vegans put in the effort to purchase only locally produced goods from independent farmers, there is no general conversation regarding race and the colonial nature of plant-based mass production surrounding white eco-warriors’ campaigns en masse.
Indigenous farms and farmers the world over are now being exploited for foods they once produced and consumed moderately, as per their sacred agreements with their lands. Plants like chickpeas, quinoa, avocado, cashews, and coconut are suddenly being mass produced to meet the demands of corporate supermarkets supplying foods such as hummus, cashew butter, and coconut milk to modern-day northern hemisphere consumerists. This has a devastating effect on the price of said plants, the welfare of the farmers and inhabitants of the land, and the land itself.
Another crucial matter that is overlooked surrounding the war on animal consumption is that, as mentioned, the phenomenon of industrialising meat — and food in general — is a deeply colonial story. In fact, industrial farming as we know it today did not begin to emerge until the 1960s in — where else? — the US. That is also when farms began to “increase in size and decrease in number.” (Shawn MacKenzie, A Brief History of Agriculture and Food Production: The Rise of “Industrial Agriculture”, 2007) Settler-colonialism and the colonizer’s establishment of corporate capitalism was — and is — the precursor of unethical farming methods.
Fast food corporations frequently give the argument of ‘overpopulation’, and ‘the need to feed masses quickly and cheaply’ (hugely problematic take on human life but a story for another day). Overpopulation is but a symptom of an underlying problem. Overpopulation was and is not a natural phenomenon, despite what history books and mainstream media would have us believe. Mass migration, urbanisation, and the supposed need for ‘fast food’ came as an immediate result of capitalism, and the colonisation of places such as South Asia and the American and African continents. It is worth examining the root of the problem; rather than solely treating the symptoms (if at all).
One imposed ‘solution’ to this eco-crisis is hunting bans. The problem here is that this often includes banning hunting for indigenous peoples on indigenous land. Hunting bans are necessary in certain places and in certain practices. But to ban indigenous people from practicing their way of life — especially when their way of life is centered around a sacred agreement to take no more than they need or than the land can give, and to always give back to the land themselves — is equally colonial. For a colonizer to occupy a land, murder its people, replace them with more colonizers, impose colonial laws, and create an irreversible eco-crisis, then to turn around and point a finger at indigenous ways of hunting, gathering, eating, and living, is no more than a 21st century manifestation of white people’s colonial mindsets.
As an Arab, eating meat is part of my traditional way of life. I remember, growing up, going to the local butcher with my mother, and asking him for his kill of the day. The butcher worked with local shepherds whose goats roamed the hills, day in day out, and who occasionally slaughtered a few for sale. Our connection with animals was very close: We did not buy packets of frozen meat from the supermarket. We bought pieces of a carcass from the butcher; pieces we chose ourselves. We saw the animal. We knew what had been sacrificed for our meal. Things have since changed, and my people turn to the consumption of imported beef (not native to our land) sold to supermarkets by multinational food corporations. Local farmers are out of work. The cycle repeats — and worsens.
And so my message to white vegans is this:
If you do not care as much about the welfare of non-white peoples around the world as you do about ‘the environment’ (one would assume the environment includes humans, but I guess it only includes white humans), your veganism is performative.
If you continue to consume mass-produced vegan products sourced in the global south, your veganism is not only performative, but evil.
If you continue to impose your personal choice, however well-intentioned and admirable it may be, on indigenous people and people of colour, your veganism is cultural colonialism.
And most importantly, if you continue to push for ecological reform, but completely ignore the fact that there can be no reform without decolonisation, that realistically the only way forward is to return indigenous lands to indigenous peoples, that your fight would be better suited if it were directed at supporting indigenous calls for indigenous rights, and that any level of ecological healing fundamentally requires dismantling the system on which your soy milk pocket money is built, your veganism is a lie.
I invite you to examine the root of the problem, rather than solely treating the symptoms… if at all.