Today’s post is a continuation of my series on misconceptions around veganism. I’ll be answering the question, “Are vegans privileged?”
The other day I was reading an article on the Huffington Post about two New York seitan makers who dub themselves vegetarian butchers. I know they always say, “Don’t read the comments,” but there were only a few there at that point, and I just couldn’t help myself. Amongst the complaints about how vegetarians making wheat meat shouldn’t be able to proclaim the word butcher (because the name is so revered?), this comment stood out to me. (It’s directly cut and pasted, as the person wrote it.)
“Is there anything more white bourgeois than vegans. So many people around the world going hungry, and you won’t evn eat honey?mercy.plus it tastes like crdboard.”
While “white bourgeois” isn’t a term I see bandied about everyday where vegans are concerned (and there are certainly plenty of vegans who aren’t white), this commenter isn’t the first person I’ve ever heard to imply that veganism is a diet for the privileged. The thought goes something like this: if you have the time to worry about honey in your tea, cow’s milk in your coffee, or sheep’s wool in your sweater, you’re out of touch with the rest of the world’s problems.
Are vegans privileged and out of touch?
First, what is privilege? Well, I’d say having access to clean water, food to eat, indoor housing, a toilet and indoor plumbing would all be things that make a person privileged. In a broader sense, even being in a position to ask, “Am I privileged?” pretty much means I am. On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with things like breathing, food, and water at the most basic level, getting to a place to be able to ask a question like, “Am I privileged?” would be closer to the top.
I obviously can’t speak for every vegan in every country in the world. In terms of privilege, some would have more, some less, and some none. So just asking for myself, as a vegan, since I have all of these things and more, am I privileged? Yes, I am. I am lucky to be able to get a clean glass of water from my kitchen tap. In the middle of the night when I have to go to the bathroom, there are no outhouses or fields of grass involved.
What about that commenter? Is she or he privileged? Judging from this person’s spelling errors while noting that he/she was able to correctly type out bourgeois makes me think that the comment was made using a cell phone. So here’s just a note. If you’re writing a comment on the Huffington Post using your cell phone, you’re privileged.
Very likely, most of the people reading this blog are privileged. With access to the internet and a computer, chances are you’re doing okay on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as well. You may or may not have as much money as you’d like, but more than likely you’re not sitting at the bottom of the pyramid. I am poorer than some people and richer than others, but all in all, my needs are met. I have a roof over my head and chickpeas on my plate.
So that begs these questions… To the person who mocks vegans for concerning themselves with animal ingredients in food, would I somehow help the starving if I ate a hamburger? Would there be some kind of trickle down effect? While it’s easy to write off vegans for reading nutrition labels or questioning the animal industry, is it somehow less privileged to not question where your food comes from?
I had to reexamine my food choices when I realized that my actions had a very real effect in terms of the suffering of others. U.S. citizens consume the world’s highest amount of meat per year at an average of 260 to 285 pounds. In the United States alone, we’re breeding and feeding 10 billion land animals every year, who receive grain and water until they are slaughtered. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef. In fact, about 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals – all of this while there are people who are starving. It takes approximately 250 gallons of water to make a pound of soybeans. For wheat, it’s about 25 gallons. And for a pound of beef? Approximately 2500 gallons of water – all of this while people are thirsty.
And let’s face it, when you think of extravagant foods, it’s not lentils, beans, rice, and barley that come to mind. Those are simple, inexpensive foods. My grocery bill is far less without high-ticket items like meat, dairy, and eggs, especially since I was buying the organic version of all of those things before I went vegan. Extravagant foods are things like foie gras, veal, and lobster to name a few. Far from vegan, they’re foods steeped in cruelty and suffering. In fact, I can’t think of any foods that would make some sort of top ten most expensive foods list that are vegan, except maybe morel mushrooms. Look at seitan, which started this post. It was purportedly invented by Buddhist monks in the seventh century. That’s hardly a bourgeois lineage.
So to those who would criticize vegans for being privileged, or out of touch, or self-involved I have this to ask… When a person is in a position to make conscious food choices in the interest of reducing the suffering of all animals – both human and non-human, but DOESN’T, who is more privileged really?
(The picture at the top of this post is from Herbivorous Butcher, a vegan butcher shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota.)