5 Reasons Why Vegan is Not a “White Thing”

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Okay so there are a lot of white vegans. That one vegan friend you have is probably white. Before I went vegan, I thought what many probably have thought before: that veganism was some extreme, privileged white people ish.  

I’m here to tell you that vegan is not a white thing!! And I’m not saying people of color can make their own space within the “white vegan” world.… I’m saying that not eating animals and/or animal products is a concept that people of color all over the world have embraced for quite a long time. If we can change the narrative that veganism is only for white people, we can help introduce it as a possibility for those who traditionally would not consider eating less meat, and allow them to reap the benefits as well. Yes, “white veganism” is real, but globally and in America, people of color are leading the movement to consume less animal product. Sometimes, a change in perspective can go a long way. Here are 5 reasons why veganism is NOT a “white” thing. Facts only:

1. Not consuming animals and/or animal products is not a white concept.

Without a doubt, one of the major aspects of “white veganism” is the animal rights movement and the idea of living a “cruelty-free” lifestyle. Several major religious groups have been living this life long before white westerners started. In India, vegetarianism is expected for Jains, and encouraged for among Hindus and Buddhists, as these religions disdain violence towards animals. Taoists in China are generally vegetarian or vegan; a Taoist is even credited with the invention of tofu.

There are other groups of people around the world who adhere to vegan or vegetarian diets. In Jamaica, the Rastafari follow the Ital diet, and generally only consume natural, plant-based foods. The Nation of Islam advocates for a vegetarian diet. And let’s not forget about “Dr.” Sebi and his infamous raw-vegan-alkaline diet, which he alleged could cure cancer and other diseases.

Lastly, there are groups around the world who regularly fast from consuming animals and animal products. The Coptic Christians of Egypt participate in a vegan fast 210 days a year, and Orthodox Ethiopians also fast often, spending up to about 8 months a year on a vegan diet! Hopefully you get my point.

2. White vegans eat foods that originated in communities of color.

We know white people love colonizing other culture’s foods and profiting from it. I mean hell, they appropriate everything. But let’s stay focused— almost every food mainstream U.S. vegans consume came from somewhere else. Here are some things you’ll likely see in a vegan’s kitchen1:

Food Where it originated and is mostly consumed White?
Tofu East Asia- China No
Seitan (Wheat Gluten) East Asia- China Nope
Quinoa Andean Region- Peru, Bolivia, etc. Not at all
Chickpeas, Falafel, Hummus Middle East Nah
Lentils South Asia- India, Pakistan Not today, not tomorrow..
Rice Asia, Africa Never
Hemp Seeds East Asia They wish
Black Beans Latin America; Mexico In their dreams
Black Eyed Peas West Africa No chance
Shiitake Mushrooms East Asia Cancelled
Agave Mexico Blocked
Chia Seeds Mexico, Guatemala Lol
Avocado Mexico Gtfo

Many cultural markers people associate with vegans or “earthy” white people, like yoga or drinking kombucha tea, came from Asia. The menus at white-owned vegan restaurants are full of foods created by people of color: curry thai noodles, jerk chick’n salad, bbq chick’n sandwich, vegan quesadilla, etc… What really have white people contributed to veganism, other than vegan mayo???

3. You can find a vegan option at any “ethnic” restaurant.

I can find a vegan option at any of the following types of restaurants: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian/Pakistani, Middle Eastern, Jamaican, Trinidadian (who else loves roti?!), Ethiopian, Mexican, Cuban, Thai (tofu pad thai ftw), West African,East African, and many more. I live in DC, and even the veggie chili at Ben’s Chili Bowl is vegan. Vegan soul food is on the come up as well.

When I go to an American restaurant, the best option is usually a mushroom burger (really?!), and you know white people gotta throw mayo on it, so that’s ruined. When I go to an Italian restaurant, what can I get that doesn’t have cheese on it? Cheese is a staple ingredient in MOST Italian cooking, and—

4. Speaking of cheese, let’s talk dairy….

This isn’t really on topic, but it’s an important piece of the story. Most people say they can’t go vegan because they love cheese too much. Let me just present a simple fact: most people of color are lactose intolerant, while most Europeans are not. The numbers: 90% of East Asians, 80% of Central Asians, 70% of South Asians, 70-90% of the African Diaspora, 50% of Hispanic Americans are lactose intolerant. Compare that to 21% of Anglo Americans, 17% of French, 15% of Germans, 5-15% of British, 17% of Finnish.For many people of color, dairy products are not a healthy choice for us to consume regularly, if at all. However, the US government claims we should eat multiple servings a day3 and supports the dairy industry4. SMDH!  Collectively, people of color have got to move away from regular consumption of diary.

5. The movement is growing! The culture is shifting

I became a vegan after watching a video of Russell Simmons on the Breakfast Club (more on that another day), not some white person.  Black veganism specifically is booming! Amazing athletes are vegan- Venus and Serena Williams, Colin Kaepernick, Carl Lewis, David Carter. Venus and Serena actually are mostly raw vegan (no cooked food). Amazing artists and entertainment stars are vegan- Erykah Badu, Andre 3000, Angela Bassett, Waka Flaka Flame, YG, Prince (RIP), Samuel L Jackson, Stevie Wonder.  Angela Davis is Vegan, Coretta Scott King was vegan, Corey Booker, and so many more. There are great web communities that exist such as Vegans of Color, Sistah Vegan, and Black Vegans Rock, as well as amazing POC doing vegan activist work.  If you live in a major city… like DC for example, there are plenty of black and asian– owned vegan/vegetarian restaurants, which from my knowledge mostly existed long before most white vegan restaurants opened.

I hope you see now that vegan is not a “white thing”, and that as people of color, consuming less meat is something that has been in our traditions long before white people told us about it.  If you are of color and want try veganism, or simply eat healthier, you will not be alone in your journey. I’m here for you!  

Sources:

1) See hyperlinks

2) http://milk.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000661

3) https://www.choosemyplate.gov/dairy

4) http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-us-cheese-surplus-20160824-story.html

See hyperlinks for more information

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8 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why Vegan is Not a “White Thing”

  1. Thank you so much for this post! It conveys such an important and underrepresented truth. I love your second point about how white vegans eat foods that originated in communities of color; so often, I see these foods branded as “basic white girl” foods or something ridiculous like that. I’ve also met several fellow Native Hawaiians over the past couple of weeks who have expressed the sentiment that they, too, didn’t realize how so many staples of Native Hawaiian culture are plant-based. Thank you for pointing out the cultural, POC histories of many plant-based lifestyles! ❤

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  2. This is such a great article. I can’t believe that so many people see veganism as a “white thing”, especially not in my hometown, NYC. Many whites are vegan nowadays, though I have to say, after being vegan for over 20 years, it certainly has not been white people who have facilitated my sustenance … I was probably the girl known to all the Chinese restaurants as the one who orders spicy tofu, Mamoun’s probably never missed my face until I actually left the country, some of the confectioners in Jackson Heights seemingly learned which Burfi were vegan and sometimes offered me free jalebi if they were in a good mood, all the plant-based health food stores I went to before 1998 were owned and operated by Rastas and Uptown Juice Bar probably hid a few pholourie for other customers when they saw me walk in the door – Haha!
    In addition to that, it’s still this way, my local falafel joint sees my face more often than my local vegan pizzeria. ❤

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  3. Excellent piece, thank you! Back in the day, when I lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, one of the only places that was vegan was Soul Veg. The folks at Soul Veg were leading the way before I even knew what veganism was or imagined I would one day embrace the vegan lifestyle. In the name of full transparency, I am a white guy 🙂 Keep up the great work!

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  4. There is no color for being vegan or vegetarian
    Whatever The color skin we may have, we are reponsable to our own act.
    And “Your blog is racist thing”
    Let me tell you, you don’t need a color to Not eating animal, you Just need a heart and a Brain

    Like

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