Are vegans social justice warriors?
According to the Oxford dictionary, social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. What does that have to do with being vegan?What does social justice have to do with being vegan? In today's blog, I'm going to be talking about veganism and social justice. I will preface it by saying, I'm going to talk about it from my African-American perspective. I've been vegan now since 2017, and I'm learning more and more that everyone has their own definition of social justice, and what it means to be vegan. I'm going to share from my perspective. If you are a brand new vegan, or if you're thinking about going vegan, and you're into social justice, some of this may reflect and mirror what you already feel.
Decolonizing your diet
When you participate in the vegan lifestyle you're decolonizing your diet. Have you heard of the traditional Western American diet? “ The Western diet is characterized by being rich in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and salt. This diet has been linked to the increased prevalence of metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes, as well as cardiovascular diseases and other associated conditions, including cognitive impairment, emotional disorders, depression, anxiety and chronic stress, related to HPA dysregulation” (López-Taboada et al., 2020). The Western diet is characterized by highly palatable foods that can trigger addictive-like eating behaviors, including seeking and bingeing fat and sugar, causing long-term changes in the brain, (Avena et al., 2009; Gordon et al., 2018).
During colonization, a lot of things happened. Cultures and peoples got disrupted and disconnected from their natural way of life and their traditional ways of eating. As colonialism spread, so did the influence of European foods. That introduced an influx of bovine, a lot of cows, lots of dairy based foods and cheeses. Very delicious foods, but as those got introduced and spread throughout the world, dairy has become part of many processed foods. Now we have tons and tons and tons of dairy and cheese and milks as ingredients in our products. That is a byproduct of colonization.
Per-colonization, many cultures did still consume dairy and milk products, but it wasn't at such a high volume. When you go vegan, you're not participating in the consumption of dairy products. You are taking a stand against that being imposed as part of your diet. Colonization has created a culture that says, "Hey, this is the right way to eat", "this is the norm for your diet", “ You should be eating dairy in almost everything all the time”.
As a vegan, you're also not consuming the same high levels of meat. Lots of cultures consume meat, but the quantity that we're consuming is unsustainable and out of proportion. The Western American diet is like, "Hey, you know, eggs, bacon, sausage is daily breakfast food". I know I'm not going to consume that. I'm going to consume what I know is healthy for myself. So that's how veganism kind of helps with decolonization.
The next way that veganism is connected to social justice is related to food access. From an African-American perspective, food access issues are killing us. Food and food access is a very difficult thing. Half of my family had no problem with food access. They could go to Whole Foods, whenever they wanted. They had access to everything. For the other half of my family, there are lots of difficulties with food access. They live in food deserts, in places where you can't get fresh foods. Stores are limited to convenience stores stocked with only processed foods. Chips, soda, frozen meals, and such.
Some of the foods introduced to us, such as ham hocks and chitterling made their way into our recipes and other parts of our traditions. The way I see them, they are generational curses. By going vegan and eliminating these products from my diet completely, I don't even think about them. I don't think about how to cook with them and things like that. I feel like it's breaking a generational curse by eliminating a lot of these food items and the way they're prepared. They add to our negative health outcomes as African-Americans. I'm doing what I can. Fighting back against the food systems that have really helped to play a hand in hindering our health as a people, that's how vegan works with social justice.
Finally, veganism as social justice is about taking personal autonomy. When we look at the imposed mindset of what kind of foods you should eat, food that has been placed upon us, a result of colonialism, and the fact that food access is an issue that impacts the health of people in our communities, taking personal autonomy is really huge.
It is important to know that when you go vegan, you become an even smaller part of society. You can really start to see and dissect a lot of the cultural norms that are not so useful anymore. When you go vegan, most of the restaurants don't cater to you. You become a minority in a new or different sphere of your life. Again, restaurants don't cater to you. Grocery stores, unless they're bigger, don't really cater to a lot of the things that you might like, especially the specialty items.
I began to see myself not fitting into society. As an African-American I already didn't fit into society. I was already kind of used to it. When I went vegan , I already understood how not to fit into society. I decided to do it even better this time. When you go vegan you start to create your own food norms. You look at your own ingredients, you start to do your own research. You start to compile your own recipes and meals and create things differently for yourself. You start to take your health into your own hands. You start to take your nutrition, your recipes, and it blossoms into this beautiful new lifestyle.
So how does veganism work with social justice? Individuals are able to have more autonomy, they're able to think more clearly for themselves rather than just accept what's just being handed to them from marketing and big food companies, and what is readily available in society. You are able to work to change food access. We're going to vote with our money. This is less about a boycott and more about buying the things that we need and more of them, changing our recipes and our ingredients. We are trying to decolonize diets, get people to think about food, where it comes from, and what is our purpose for consuming these things? That is how I see vegan and social justice coming together.