This letter is in response to an article I recently read in which the author addresses her belief that veganism perpetuates issues of classism and racism. The article can be found here.
Dear Ms. Ogwude,
I appreciate the thought that went into your article, touching on so many aspects of the obstacles that vegans face: economic, cultural, convenience, and although not addressed directly, lack of education.
I respect your hypothesis with regard to classism and I do hope you will give my comments some serious consideration. Although you opened your article with what seems to be an understanding of some of the very valid reasons one would adopt a vegan lifestyle (“More and more people are deciding to reject the slaughter, consumption and exploitation of animals. People are realizing that there are safer and more environmentally friendly options out there to sustain themselves.”), you depart from these ethical and environmental reasons which are very compelling, to explain why it is just too hard to follow for those who are not middle class Caucasians.
I agree that there is classism at play in the availability of healthy food to people of some socio-economic groups, especially when you consider the food deserts that exist in so many underprivileged communities, where convenience stores are stocked with processed foods and fresh produce is rarely available. It would be far more productive to join forces with those working for food justice, than to succumb to the existing reality and rely on that quick convenient MacDonald’s hamburger or that bulk package of chicken parts, that we know is detrimental to our health and to the environment (not to mention to the sentient beings that were tortured and slaughtered). So rather than resenting “notion that it is a superior lifestyle,” it would be prudent to examine whether or not it is indeed a more beneficial lifestyle for all, regardless of class.
That said, I wish to address the economic issue first. The only reason that a MacDonald’s hamburger or bulk package of chicken is cheaper than the veggie burger alternative is the price is unnaturally low because our tax dollars contribute to the torture and exploitation of millions of sentient beings every day. Our tax dollars subsidize the production of millions of acres of monoculture grain to feed these animals, grain that is not meant for humans. Our tax dollars support the the industrial animal ag industry with water rights to consume billions of gallons of water to raise these crops, to sustain the animals, and to wash away their waste into “lagoons” that poison the water tables. Our tax dollars support the use of public lands for grazing. If these dollars were directed to small scale organic farmers and food equity, we would solve the economic issue while improving the environment along with the added benefit of a healthier population, thus reversing the downward spiral of health and life expectancy in the US. There are many ways to eat healthy vegan food without spending a fortune. Changing public policy with regard to subsidies is one of them. Until we get the money out of politics, we can educate ourselves, while working at the local level to bring in healthy food into our communities at low costs. We can be instruments of change by encouraging food cooperatives, establishing buyers clubs and buying in bulk, organizing community gardens, eliminating lawns to grow edibles, creating rooftop gardens, applying pressure on our government, teaching others how to prepare affordable healthy food, and certainly by being an example.
You mention culture. The traditional diets of most cultures did not include meat as the main course, but rather as a condiment, if it was available at all. We have departed greatly from the traditional diets that sustained humanity for so long, and have now have placed animal flesh as the main event on our plates, and it is infused with a cocktail of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, coupled with a huge dose of fear and suffering. That was certainly not typical of what our ancestors consumed.
If you examine the food industry since WWII, you will see how convenience foods became the mainstay of the western diet. Our grocery store shelves are lined with edible food-like substances that come in packages (adding to our waste stream) and are laden with preservatives so that they may sit on the shelf for years. This is not real food. This is not what our traditional cultures ate. This convenience has a cost – on our health and on our environment. But those costs are shrouded by the convenience and cheap price.
So how would one be able to eat if animal products were left off the plate? I admit that it is a little more challenging at first, especially in our fast food culture, huge food lobbies, and separation from nature. But with some education and re-connecting with the source of our food, it becomes far more simple, and there are so many benefits. Research and countless case studies have proven that a whole food plant-based diet can prevent and even reverse the most common chronic diseases that are among the top ten causes of death in the US (cancer, heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, renal failure, to name a few). Isn’t it time to educate the public, and especially the medical professionals, in the prevention of disease through proper nutrition rather than treating symptoms with pharmaceuticals, costing us billions of dollars every year? This shift from the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is the hallmark of our current culture (certainly not embedded in our history) will only occur when people recognize that we have strayed from our core values.
Each and every one of us who cares about life on this planet should become the change agents to bring about a more beautiful world. It takes courage to live our true core values (I don’t think anyone wants to routinely contribute to suffering and exploitation). Food is our livelihood. It is at the root of our culture, class, economics. It takes commitment to set an example of living a life in alignment with our core values. It takes stamina to educate others that we don’t need to submit to what the masses are doing, even if it may be more convenient and more acceptable to others. I trust that you have the courage, commitment and stamina to become a change agent.