• Alwia

Unraveling the Layers of Vegan Privilege

This can be quite a sensitive topic, so I want to make one thing clear:

There are many different kinds of vegans, vegan diets and I'm not against veganism in principle. In fact, I'm interested in incorporating more vegan/vegetarian meals into my own life. But I do have an issue with certain 'radical' vegans who feel ethically superior to non-vegans and will demonize those who eat meat while failing to understand that their choice to be vegan stems from living privileged lives.

Let's break this down this way: What are the factors needed for someone to switch to a vegan diet?

1- Education

Let's be real now. If you are lucky enough to have an education that teaches you the importance of healthy eating, the science being taught is mainstream. In other words, if you're in a regular school around the world, you will be taught that meat prepared in the correct way and eaten in the right quantities is part of a healthy diet. Schools don't teach children that there is something essentially unhealthy about eating meat. Health organisations define healthy eating as following a diet that is high in fruit, veg and whole foods. But they don't exclude meat and diary in the way you would want to exclude drugs and alcohol.

So if you're thinking of being vegan, this means that you have access to non-conventional science. You probably have an internet connection to do research and watch videos. You have access to a library and bookstores. But most importantly, you have the ability to understand what you read (or you should) and analyse the data, compare both sides of the argument and choose to be vegan. How many layers of privilege is this? Let's count.

One- You've had an education.

Two- You have access to resources.

Three- You are educated enough to understand and judge competing scientific data. Basically, by many people's standards, you are highly educated.

Already these factors are going to exclude a lot of people around the world, especially in developing countries. On top of this, it's such a nasty thing to judge someone for following the advice of most of the medical community. Like what do you expect regular people to do? Stop listening to their doctors and nutritionists?

2- Access to the alternative

We don't need to eat meat.

Yes you don't need to eat meat...if you have access to the alternative. I'd love to try being vegan if I had access to mock meats, TVP, vegan cheese, chia seeds and flax and hemp. Then I could get me some cool vegan supplements like plant omega-3 etc. These sorts of products are so much easier to get in the West than in the East. Of course, there are many ways of being vegan that don't rely necessarily on some of these ingredients. But the fact remains that a lot of products that make it easier for people to switch to a vegan diet are just not available and when they are available, they're not affordable. I bought my first small bag of chia seeds in Kuwait for the equivalent of 8 pounds.

On top of this, vegan/vegetarian labeling is an issue in a lot of countries. Vegans in the West can take these things for granted. You can walk into a Tesco and things are labelled for you. You have more vegan choices and you can buy things like dairy-free yogurt, organic vegetables and Quorn. You can make use of wholesale prices and farmers markets. The other day at a huge supermarket, I asked for tofu and the workers had no idea what I was talking about. No joke.

My family is well-off and l'm living in what would be considered a rich country and yet I wouldn't be able to afford to live on organic produce and vegan products.

3- Money

This brings me to money. Even in the West where vegan friendly products and organic food are readily available, they are still more expensive. It's sad, but we live in a world where it is cheaper to buy a burger than prepare a vegan meal, or any other healthy alternative. For many families who struggle to make ends meet, finding the time and the money to eat healthily is hard enough- without adding the limitations of veganism. Having the time and money to make healthy choices is another privilege radical vegans forget. Beggars can't be choosers and if you live somewhere where your food choices revolve around meat and chicken, that's what you'll eat. What we need is for people, all people, to have access to affordable healthy food and fresh produce. This in my eyes should be a priority for vegan campaigners and everyone else for that matter.

The ethical arguments- Animal suffering

I'm all for animal rights and caring for the environment. These things are important. The conditions animals are put under in factory farms are disgusting and unethical. That being said, I'll be the first to admit that caring for these thing is a first world luxury. If I was struggling to feed my children, if my family was suffering under a war, if I was living in poverty I'd be too busy thinking about my own suffering, than the suffering of animals or global warming. Of course, this may not apply to everyone but still, when you're relatively comfortable in life, it's easier to look outward and think in terms of the bigger picture.

When I hear vegans say: what about those poor animals?' It triggers me. What about the people who rely on animal products to survive? Yes, we can and should care about both but demonizing non-vegans in a general sense is so insensitive to the struggles of people around the world.

But why should their lives mean more than an animal's?

This is a complicated ethical question and will depend on the person's worldview and if they follow a human-centric ideology. I personally put more value on a human's life. So if I had a choice between saving a baby or a monkey, I'd save the baby. This isn't to say we should manipulate and abuse animals. Of course not. But I'd prioritize human suffering over animal suffering. And yes, eating meat, chicken or fish is a necessary part of life for a lot, if not most, people.

I studied ethics and philosophy and really wouldn't recommend vegans relying on these kinds of ethical arguments. It's a black hole and I seriously doubt, you'll get anywhere.

But there are things that we can all agree on. We can agree that mass factory farming is bad for the environment and unethical. We can agree that we should reduce the amount meat we eat. We can agree that animals should be treated with dignity. On top of all of this, we need to spread awareness about the basics of healthy eating before debating the controversial aspects of the non-conventional science adopted by some vegans. Most importantly, we need everyone to access affordable health products, fresh and organic produce before judging them.

'Food' for thought in this week's post. Let me know what you all think about this topic in the comments.

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