If you’re as active as I am on Twitter, then you’ll likely be aware of the recent discussion around whether or not vegan people are inherently privileged. Set off by this Tweet, the conversation quickly got nasty with vegan Twitter (which we all know to be a categorically lovely group – hoping my sarcasm comes across on screen) bringing out the pitchforks. While it seems like the embers of that particular spat have faded, I wanted to expand on this topic a little, because it’s one that I feel is very valid and often overlooked.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been confronted with a connection between vegans and ableism. I’ve definitely been guilty of jumping in with a “not all vegans” type response, instead of letting people express their lived experiences without feeling the need to centre myself and make clear that I’m one of the good guys. As my approach to positive vegan advocacy has matured, however, I’ve realised that there are valid conversations that need to be had around what sort of access and privilege one might need to have in order to adopt a vegan diet.
It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re privileged when our diets are being scrutinised, our beliefs laughed at, and our requirements not catered to.
When we first hear the association between being vegan and having privilege, it can feel like an insult. As vegans, a lot of us have come to change our lives because of an urge to do good in the world; to help animals and to save the planet, in the face of a population which doesn’t seem to care very much about either of those things. It certainly doesn’t feel like we’re privileged when our diets are being scrutinised, our beliefs laughed at, and our requirements not catered to. It stings to hear our lifestyle, which we’ve adopted out of a deep-seated moral shift in perspective, described as a fad, or as if it was a choice we made on a whim, because we could.
We all have a certain degree of privilege in some way. As a woman, I am at a disadvantage in society, and therefore have less privilege than a man in most scenarios. But I also have several privileges. I’m a white-passing person of mixed racial heritage. I’m a cisgendered, straight-passing, abled person whose mental ill health doesn’t overwhelmingly impact their everyday life. I have the privilege which accompanies living in the Western hemisphere, having been educated to degree-level and having a steady job. For all intents and purposes, I’m a very privileged person.
Does that have anything to do with my ability to go vegan? To suggest that people whose privileges differ from mine categorically can’t lead a vegan lifestyle is inaccurate and erasive. Equally, though, I can’t ignore the privileges that have made having a choice about my diet not only easier for me, but possible at all in the first place. Because, as was highlighted during the Twitter storm which inspired this post, having a choice is in itself a privilege.
I’ve written about some of the reasons why people might not be able to maintain a vegan diet before. There are a fair amount of reasons, including suffering with or recovering from an eating disorder or other mental illness, an unsupportive or indeed unsafe home environment, and living with disabilities. It should go without saying that these are all valid reasons why people might be unable to eat a fully vegan diet, or even concern themselves with what they’re eating much at all.
Veganism and privilege intersect for me in quite a radical way. The more I learn about the humanitarian impact of animal agriculture and climate change, and how it will hit the poorest communities the hardest and fastest, the more I believe that if you are in a position of privilege, you are obliged to at least try to lessen your consumption of animal products. If, like me, you come from a position of geographical, abled and mentally well privilege, I strongly encourage you to honour that by doing whatever you can to work towards a brighter future on behalf of, and for, those who can’t.
I always encourage people to check their privilege in every situation, and our diets and lifestyle choices are no exception. Next time you find yourself confronted by the notion that you are privileged by virtue of having been able to decide to go vegan, I implore you to acknowledge it, accept it and do what you can to use that privilege for everyone’s advantage.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Let me know in the comments below!