When most people think of veganism, they think of white hands holding a bundle of kale. Why is this?
Looking at a gallup poll, white people are actually lagging far behind people of color when it comes to abstaining from animal products. Only 3% of white Americans call themselves vegetarian compared to nonwhite at 9%.
Looking at another survey, we see another surprising statistic. There were twice as many vegans making less than 30k than making 75k or higher.
So given these two facts — that vegans are largely nonwhite and making less than 30,000 a year, why is our cultural perception of veganism that of a white person holding some expensive produce?
Indeed, mainstream articles shy away from these two facts, or in fact any of the reasons 9% of nonwhite Americans are not eating animals. Instead the focus is on white celebrities and commercializing the vegan label.
Let’s take a look at those reasons now.
The top — over 50% — of the reasons people have for swapping to plant-based is for Animal Welfare. Second to the animals is (personal)Health and Environment.
With that in mind, we see that mass media has painted a very different picture of veganism than what actually exists. The average vegan from these surveys is nonwhite, making under 30k, and made the swap at least partially based on animal welfare. So why the perception about how Veganism is something only rich white people are only able to engage in? Why do we keep getting pictures of white hands holding a bundle of kale instead of brown hands holding a bowl of spiced lentils?
Let’s take a materialist look at why this is happening.
1. Journalists are white
77% of newsroom employees are white. Newspaper employees are 87% white. TV newsroom state are 78% white, and radio staff are 87% white. Journalism is not free of problems, but this leads especially to problems when white people report on race related issues:
What has served the press well in terms of establishing itself as an authority to tell societal stories — objectivity, accountability, evidence — has not benefited communities of color. In fact, these standards have been used as crutches for the status quo, according to scholars who study race and media. These scholars have demonstrated a narrative of ignorance, stereotyping, racist framing, and other problems in the mainstream, ‘objective’ press, which ignored key topics and people in coverage of reparations, affirmative action, and other racial issues.[…] Journalists have tended to highlight extreme positives and negatives for African-Americans and subject them to binaries such as hero (athlete) and villain (criminal), rather than investigate more complex causes of systematic bias.
It is the tendency of lazy white journalists to rely on these racist tropes and story-telling techniques rather than doing the hard work of investigation. You can see this dangerous framing whenever the police has killed a person of color. The media will uncritically accept whatever the police says as fact, despite the vast number of times they’ve lied and the outright hostility of the police towards the media. The structure of white supremacy relies on accepting the police as a default authority figure. The lie of this ideology is so strong that network reporters who were shot and arrested by the police continued to report positively on structure of policing.
So what does this have to do to veganism?
A lot, it turns out. Veganism is a boycott of some of the biggest companies and systems in our white supremacist capitalist nation. According the USDA, Animal products made 166 billion dollars last year, and that’s after taking a healthy couple billion in subsidies from our taxes in subsidies. Let’s take quick detour to talk about milk.
2. Ignorance of racism in our food system
The Special Milk Program is a program by the United States Food and Nutrition Service. It’s goal is to provide milk to kids for free. Billions of gallons of milk is provided to schools at the cost to taxpayers. This is despite that lactose intolerance is widespread, and even more so prevalent in non-white populations.
Approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, with 70 to 100 percent of people affected in these communities. Lactose intolerance is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.
Imagine you are supreme ruler of a country of millions of people. Your people are diverse and multi-cultural. Why would you decide to put this liquid in schools when it turns out a large population of your people gets literally sick when consuming it? Why not replace this with something like water, juice, or even a plant based milk? Materially, water is the most hydrating and lower sugar than milk without any negative side effects. So why are we indoctrinating kids to consume stuff that will literally poison their body? And if anything, the problem is getting worse, not better.
The same year, the Trump administration bought $50m worth of milk in August to give to food banks and schools. In September, it announced $127m in direct payments to dairy farmers. In October, American dairy farmers gained more access to the Canadian dairy market thanks to Trump’s renegotiation of Nafta. Then, in December, the new school milk rules were finalized.
“For milk processors, this was really important. They saw milk sales were declining, they continued to decline in schools,” said Frye. Getting low-fat flavored milk back in schools, she said, was one of the “top five” issues for milk processors. “We were very pleased to see this change made.”
It’s clear here that the USDA, the big businesses, and politicians do not see kids as children who need actual nutrition. They see these children as consumers, and spare no thoughts to what harm might befall these children. This is despite that once dairy was studied by actual scientists, the positive effects of milk disappear and don’t seem to have any positives.
Similarly, a review of dairy and bone health in youth found that of 37 studies of dairy or dietary calcium intake, 28 found no relation between dairy or dietary calcium intake and measures of bone health.
Further, 2 meta-analyses of studies of milk or dairy consumption and fracture risk have shown no reduction in risk with higher intakes of milk, dairy, or total dietary calcium.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warned against early introduction of cow milk because of the relation between milk consumption and type 1 diabetes in children.
Aside from the potential internal damage dairy does on children’s bodies, it also increases acne. This seems less concerning on the surface, but we shouldn’t forget that acne severity can be incredibly damaging to self-esteem and quality of life. With teen suicide rates so high, we shouldn’t dismiss something as external personal appearance having an impact.
Intake of any dairy, any milk, full-fat dairy, whole milk, low-fat/skim milk, and yogurt regardless of amount or frequency were associated with a higher odds ratio for acne compared to no intake in individuals aged 7–30 years.
Luckily, swapping out dairy milk for free and clean water would fix all of these issues. But we’re not done with this section yet. You see, we haven’t even touch on the environmental racism of where factory animal farms are placed.
Our findings of the disproportionate location of CAFOs [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations] provide evidence of environmental disparities with respect to race and socioeconomic status in NC and have implications for future studies of environmental and health impacts of CAFOs.
And what are the health effects of a businessperson deciding to put an industrial animal feeding or killing machine in your neighborhood?
After 1993 construction of one of the nation’s largest industrial hog operations in Milford, Utah, hospital discharges for respiratory and diarrheal illnesses tripled and quadrupled, respectively, overthe subsequent five years
Iowans living within two miles of a 4,000-sow operation reported problems such as increased sputum, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing significantly more often than did people not living near the factory. They also reported more frequent dizziness, weakness and nausea.
North Carolina residents within two miles of a 6,000-hog operation reported respiratory, intestinal and other symptoms significantly more often than did people from communities not near such facilities (see table). These residents also reported 13 to 15 more episodes where odors prevented them from opening windows or going outside than did non-CAFO neighbors. North Carolinians experiencing odors from living near intensive hog operations for an average of five years reported significantly higher levels of tension, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion than did an unexposed group.
People living near industrial sources in Texas and Hawaii reported fatigue, restlessness, anxiety, short-term memory loss, and headaches at rates averaging five times higher than among people not exposed to H2S. They also reported, on average, 10 times higher rates of respiratory symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath, persistent cough and bronchitis.
In both cases you can see that profit for the few is put over the health of actual people. This is a byproduct of our white supremacist capitalist system, where you are only counted as person as far as you can be profited from. Despite the science clearly showing the vast amounts of environmental damage animal farming causes, there is no financial incentive to stop. There is no financial incentive to stop forcing kids and their parents pay for milk they cannot digest, and there is no financial incentive for cities to protect their poor and minority citizens by giving them environmental regulations that would prevent placing animal farms just miles from their homes.
I haven’t even touched on water pollution, the health effects of actually consuming animals, the predatory practice of preying of immigrants for slaughterhouse work and giving them all PTSD, or the history of white slaveowners giving poor quality animal parts to slaves, and already this segment is highlighting the issues in our white supremacist capitalist system. Is it any wonder that journalists tend to take the lazy route and ignore all this stuff?
3. Modern journalism is a vehicle for consumption
Why is it when you type “vegan” into mainstream news sites, you end up with a list of products? Surely if journalists were consulting actual vegans, who selected “Animal Welfare” as their number one concern for becoming vegan, that would be what comes up when looking for news. Instead we receive products to buy and glowing reviews of chefs who have converted one of their many restaurants into being plant based. Worse still, prominent celebrity vegans tend to be tight-lipped about their activism, which allows journalists to frame veganism as a personal choice, and not a deeply held ethical belief that animals shouldn’t be harmed so simply for a human to feel some brief pleasure. This framing of veganism as a personal choice gives animal eaters a pass by implying their carnism is an opposite-yet-equal-choice. This is a trick of neoliberalism, to frame an action that does real and material harm to others (in this case: the planet, the communities around the animal factories, and the billions of animals themselves) as ethical because you have provided people a new “freedom” — options.
The neoliberal capitalist has one goal: to use you for profit. They wish to use you for labor so they can skim most of your money off the top, and they want you to sell you things. Either way, they make the money and you do the work. Because of that, companies that profit off the selling of animal bodies now have a “vegan” wing. Milk companies have seen their sales dropping and have opened plant milk wings. “Vegan” companies have propped up that are not even fully vegan. This has provided consumer plant based dieters with more choices, sure. If you’re unconcerned that your money still funds animal death — albeit in slightly a more roundabout way — there are now many more plant based consumer alternatives to dairy milk and animal flesh products. However, these alternatives are still at the end, helping keep companies that profit off the slaughter of animals profitable.
The plant based choice is provided — but they aren’t provided to the person. They are provided to the consumer and worker, and it’s not for their benefit or the good of the planet. The choice is provided for the sole purpose of profiteering. This is despite that humans have been eating plants since the dawn of humankind across almost all cultures, and that vegan staples such as rice and beans are extremely cheap and easy to make while still fulfilling your protein requirements. Yet trendy restaurants have banked in on the vegan label, offering plant based choices at a premium cost.
But to the vegan, veganism is not a choice we make every day. Veganism is just a shorthand descriptor for the refusal to see animals as an object to be consumed. There is no choice. Materially, we know animals feel emotions, feel pain, pleasure, joy, sadness and want to live. Every animal you have ever eaten has wanted to be alive and free as much as they understood they could. And scientifically, we know that there are endless personal benefits to eating plant based and a negative effects to eating animal products. And yet people claim living in the ideological world of neocromantic carnism is a still a valid personal choice and not a sick ritual of cultural indoctrination that ends with billions of animal deaths while poisoning the planet.
Veganism is not a choice. It’s the material moral baseline of responsibility that we have to each other and to innocent animal victims.
And so that is why we don’t see the radical, the poor, and minorities uplifted by mainstream media. The power of journalism is they choose where to point the camera, where to tell the story. They show us where to look. And if they’re only looking at people who don’t challenge capitalism, colonialism, carnism, and white supremacy, that is how veganism will appear.
So instead of asking “Why does veganism seem so white?” we should ask, “Why has modern journalism chosen to frame veganism in this way?” I hope the answer is clear by now.