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As concerns regarding climate change and environment protection have been rising, Veganism is becoming the new vogue. With celebrities and social media influencers taking up a vegan diet, there has been a significant impact on the public that is now challenging itself to follow the aforementioned diet and explore new, eco-friendly food options available to them. However, there are several debates surrounding the plant-based diet’s efficiency, necessity, and even origin.
Social media has played an enormous role in the projection of veganism as a trend against animal cruelty, which also comes with added benefits of health and wealth. Though it is moving towards countries within the Indian subcontinent, vegan influencers are mostly white. The culture is said to have been appropriated by them in such a way that the roots have been made invisible. Social media has not been able to do justice to the indigenous vegan culture despite the “trend” having been practised in ancient Indian and West Asian cultures.
The first mention of a vegan diet was in a poem titled “I no longer steal from Nature” by blind Arab poet Al-Ma’arri, which is around a thousand years old. Jainism, which originated in India, also preached non-violence and complete avoidance of meat and animal products. The religion has been practiced since the 7th century BCE. The Black Hebrew Israelite community, which was established in the late 19th century, also adheres to a strict vegan diet, believing it to be the secret to eternal life.
In the US, many non-white Americans complain of the whites appropriating Veganism and vegan foods which are sometimes Asian or African recipes. They say that veganism seems alien to them; even when there are conferences of vegans it is the whites who come to dominate podiums. Meanwhile, the reality is that people of colour, especially Black people, are more likely to adopt veganism than white people. A 2016 Pew Research Center Poll found that 3 percent of people in the U.S. follow a vegan diet, but the number jumps to 8 percent for Black people. In fact, Black people make up the fastest growing vegan demographic right now. However, this should not be a reason to not choose veganism as a lifestyle choice, argue vegans.
White veganism is shifting unethical food production from meat to plant-based foods. Veganism, which was initially perceived as a left-wing phenomena, is not turning anyone against their ideological leanings. Socialists argue that it is colonialism and capitalism which brought in meat industries and squeezed life out of animals, dumping them unceremoniously when they were of no ‘use’ anymore. In Beasts of Burden, a vegan-socialist pamphlet which came out in 1999, a section says that, the difference between humans and animals in factories is that humans are expected to work for the maximum time, while animals are fattened to slaughter in the minimum time possible. Leftists argue that veganism is deeply rooted in socialist principles. But at the same time, there are debates within the left about whether veganism is the option.
Vegans are attacked by people for disregarding human rights. The comparison of African slavery with meat and diary production has been pointed as racist. This mere comparison shows how they do not value human lives much. However, the counter-argument that arises here is that they understand and empathise with African slaves and are against apartheid, but at the same time they believe that animal lives are equally important. They argue that this comparison is valid as animal lives are as significant as human lives. Non-vegans are also attacked by vegans for not adopting veganism and accused of being traitors who contribute to environmental imbalances and climate change. They often refuse to acknowledge how expensive vegan commodities are and thus inaccessible to a large portion of the world.
The vegan diet is not for EVERYONE. There are also areas known as ‘food deserts’. The perfectly dressed vegan salad is not available to all. Food deserts are areas where there is limited access to affordable and nutritious food. Most vegans consume other tablets and costly food products which provide them with nutrients. However, these may not be accessible to all, especially to those living in food deserts. These predominantly affect low-income communities, again making veganism a luxurious lifestyle. To adopt an idli-sambar diet in your routine and become a vegan might seem easy, but to be able to afford nutritious food which can replace dairy and meat products is not possible for everyone. Celebrities including Liam Hemsworth and Anne Hatheway have given up veganism as they started feeling unhealthy. Some people have to go through severe health conditions due to the absence of animal protein in their diet.
Vegans very often share posts on how many lives you can save by going vegan. Trends show that veganism is on a rise in the world. However, the 2021 edition of OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook projects the global meat supply to expand over the projection period, reaching 374 Mt by 2030. Growth in global consumption of meat proteins over the next decade is projected to increase by 14% by 2030 compared to the base period average of 2018-2020, driven largely by income and population growth. Protein availability from beef, pork, poultry, and sheep meat is projected to grow 5.9%, 13.1%, 17.8% and 15.7% respectively by 2030. The numbers of growth in vegans and growth in meat supply and consumption may appear contradictory. What is to be understood here is that, in a capitalist economy based on perpetual growth, both vegan and non-vegan industries can grow at the same time.
Ethical consumption is an extremely tricky concept. For instance, Haagen-Dazs, a popular American ice cream company, is originally owned by Nestle, which usually sells dairy products. Nestle has been criticised much for its water privatisation in California. The chocolate that the company uses is made from cocoa harvested by children who are forced to work like slaves. This is just one example among the many.
Another argument that can be put forward is that one person going vegan might reduce the demand but will certainly not reduce the supply of meat. As long as capitalism thrives, the companies will outsource and make working conditions worse for the slaughterhouse workers. For instance, an article published in The Guardian says that, “US meat workers are already three times more likely to suffer serious injury than the average American worker, and pork and beef workers nearly seven times more likely to suffer repetitive strain injuries. And some fear that plans to remove speed restrictions on pig processing lines – currently being debated by the government – will only make the work more difficult.”
Vegan lifestyleists also advocate for it arguing that if the whole world switches to a vegan diet, world hunger can be eliminated. The argument is that when the food grains fed to sustain animal agriculture are transferred to humans, there would be more than enough food to feed the whole world. This is a myth. Assessments show that there exists a surplus in food production. There is wastage of food grains because of surplus, which can be made available to the hungry. Yet, global hunger persists. This is because corporations look at food as a commodity to generate profit rather than as a basic human right.
A book named, ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory’ explains the relationship between patriarchy and animal-meat consumption. Carol J. Adams, in her book, explains how female reproductive organs are abused for . She coined the term feminized protein for eggs and dairy products. Feminized protein is taken from living female animals, whose reproductive capacity is manipulated for human needs. She argues that production of meat is an example of male dominance. She has also written another book named Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals. The prominent argument made in both the books attempts to make links between patriarchy and meat and dairy production. She argues feminism and veganism go hand-in-hand. In ‘The Pornography of Meat’ she refers to examples of anthropornography--that is the sexualizing and feminizing of an animal. Protests against women being treated like animals have to understand that under a patriarchal structure women and animals are treated alike, is what Adams opines.
A pressing issue during the pandemic is how vegans refuse to get vaccinated. All the vaccines produced so far have been tested on animals. Hence, they are not cruelty-free. But the argument that this practice is condemnable is being put forward, as it is violating the social responsibility of every individual. Another problem associated with this is that anti-vaccination campaigners are now pretending to be vegans. Animal Aid, an organisation fighting animal abuse and promoting a cruelty-free lifestyle urges all vegans to take their jabs.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that veganism contributes to lesser carbon emissions and a better balance of the climate. However, there are several issues tied to it. The appropriation of veganism by the whites has to be called out. Veganism can be intersectional. Veganism can be adopted by all, but cannot be forced on anybody. It is not about one’s choice of food, but about one’s health conditions and financial stability. Debates on the intersectionality of feminism and veganism also have to be encouraged. To go vegan will definitely not help in saving the world altogether. The fight against capitalist structures is inevitable in the endeavour towards a safer and sustainable earth.
By Meenakshi Senan
Meenakshi Senan is a second year Political Science Honors student at Hindu college. Apart from writing, she enjoys reading and cooking. Struggling to breathe while gulping down icecream simultaneously fighting the dilemma of going vegan is how Senan describes her life.