Food privilege: The unfortunate truths of veganism
Don’t worry, this isn’t exactly a depressing article, just a true one, and sometimes the truth sucks. Unfortunately, we live in a society that utilizes stereotypes left and right. We live in a world that stereotypes the color of our skin, the length of our hair, and even what we put on our plate. That salad, that steak, that plate of scrambled eggs drenched in syrup, it all come with connotations that we immediately associate with the consumer. Even worse is how we label one another’s lifestyle choices when they pertain to food. Vegans? Vegetarians? Who needs those hipster, tree-hugging, alternative, animal-obsessed people anyway? Right? Kidding, of course.
Everyone’s lifestyle choices are entirely up to them – especially when it comes to food – because we all deserve respect. That being said, there is a great difference between respect and a lack of awareness and it is with this idea that I offer this disclaimer: this is an article that may be pointed at people who reject meat. It in no way seeks to critique this lifestyle choice but rather to curiously approach it from a global perspective, a view that has been overshadowed in the modern-day-meat-forsaking psyche.
Although his rhetoric on the vegetarian and vegan population has always been exceptionally harsh, there is truth to Anthony Bourdain’s comment that vegans are a “first-world phenomena.” It is ironic that the majority of “vegans” and “vegetarians” are actually found in non-Western countries throughout the globe. I use quotations because these people are not actually vegan or vegetarian by choice, but rather simply because they cannot afford meat. When 13-14% of the world is chronically undernourished, the last thing these approximately 900 million people are concerned with is whether the consumption of a chicken is morally just. It’s not to say that the ethical question is unimportant, but that for almost a billion human beings, a significant portion of our global population, the question is just so irrelevant. According to NPR, the average American eats ten times more meat than the average Mozambican and twelve times more than the average Bangladeshi.
Such statistics are directly related to income, wealth, and fiscal security. A visual representation of the varying levels of meat consumption throughout the globe and where they occur can be seen in the diagram below. This images shows a clear correlation between wealth and meat consumption, adding another layer of complexity to a situation and lifestyle that is already extremely complex.
Furthermore, the impossibility of veganism is not limited to starving people in far-off lands – a dehumanizing way of separating ourselves from those subjected to famine – but also to those close to home and in the United States itself. Dairy-free groceries and fresh food are expensive and may be completely unavailable in areas known as food deserts. Additionally, the information that is required to healthily sustain veganism is often inaccessible and difficult to properly pursue. This is vital to maintaining a suitable diet that consists of food which, silly as it sounds, just tastes good. At the end of the day it comes down to the fact that when you’re vegan in a first world country, it is your choice to not eat meat while others aren’t given the option at all. There is something inherently unfair about this and it should be acknowledged when we reach our dieting decisions. Moreover, this is applicable to any and all of us at Tufts who can go to the dining hall and choose what we put on our plate. In this act alone, we have a food privilege that others simply do not.
So what does this mean? Honestly, not much. The truth of the matter is information like this should not be groundbreaking. These statistics about our fellow human beings are well known but unfortunately obscured amidst silly debate over whether meat is natural to consume or how much animals suffer. In my opinion, the important question should be how are we going to change meat distribution? How are we going to pursue proper allocation? When will we forsake the food on our own plates and start considering the lack thereof on the plates of others?
I do not have the answers to these questions; this is just a hope that these facts, these unfortunate truths, may spark a new way of looking at the choices we are fortunate enough to make when it comes to our diets. And please, next time a vegan or vegetarian or anyone informs you about all the reasons meat consumption in the Western world – particularly the industry and packing conditions – is detrimental, listen. They have great points and there are a plethora of articles establishing these facts and unfortunate truths. But it is just as important to remember that the option of rejecting meat is one that too many people simply do not have. Such a rejection, no matter how validated and understandable that choice may be, still has undertones of privilege that may be very offensive to those who will be able to consume an animal maybe twice a year, once in their lives, or never at all.
Every lifestyle choice we make is layered with these connotations and every decision has trade-offs, this is a part of life we cannot escape and thus must be conscious of. When we acknowledge these connotations we can be more assured that the choices we make are layered with deep understanding, an understanding that is pivotal for generating positive change.
Cover photo source.