I found this article, from VICE, mentioned in a public tweet from activist and atheist Ali Rizvi, who was aping the “first they came from the bird names. . ” craziness. This time, though, it’s not bird names, but veganism.
I suppose that anything these days can be found racist, like knitting and young adult fiction, not to mention bird names, but the idea that veganism was inherently white was alien to me. Perhaps that’s because I live in Chicago, which has a fair number of vegan restaurants run by African-Americans (many Black Muslims are either vegan or vegetarians). And a well known vegan retaurant run by blacks, B’Gabs, is just a few blocks from me. The fact that veganism is seen as “white people’s culture”, then, surprised me. But Anya Zoledziowski, who is of Polish Armenian descent, and identifies as a privileged European, has seen fit to chide all vegans for racially “appropriating food” (click on the screenshot below).
What’s her beef? (Is that an appropriate question to ask about such an article?) It appears to be that veganism is racist because black people see it as a “white person’s habit”. And, says the author, it seems that black vegans have been ignored, though I’m not sure how. Finally, vegans are guilty of “appropriating” cuisine from other cultures, though why that’s a sin still eludes me. (Throughout the article, Zoledziowski confuses veganism with vegetarianism: for example, much of southern Indian cuisine is vegetarian but not vegan.) But somehow, says the author, since the murder of George Floyd, veganism is going through a “racial reckoning”. A few quotes:
When Afia Amoako became a vegan five years ago, she said she didn’t see herself reflected in the community, which was dominated by wealthy white women.
They often touted recipes—”African peanut stew” or “Asian stir fry”—that rely on racial stereotypes, said Amoako.
“One, they don’t look like you, and, two, they are appropriating your food. Those are ways to turn racialized people away.”
First of all, African peanut stew and Asian stir fry (which I often make) do not rely on racial stereotypes. They are foreign dishes, and that’s all. They are not “appropriated” but appreciated. And if you’re turned off of veganism because some white people cook vegan or vegetarian food, you’re not a victim of racism but perhaps an exponent of racism. Why do vegans have to “look like you”? And what are “racialized” people, anyway? That term is new to me.
Not only that, but black vegans are wary of white ones:
“These white women, they are the gatekeepers of the vegan movement,” Amoako said. “We Black creators have been here this whole time.”
White women are starting to acknowledge Black and racialized vegans now, following a string of racial reckonings happening in several sectors and communities, Amoako said, but “I’m not gonna lie to you, some of us are still skeptical.”
Skeptical of what? That the “acknowledgment of Black and racialized vegans” (what’s the difference between “Black” and “racialized”?) is real?
The connection between racism and veganism grows ever more tenuous as the article goes on, as Zoledziowski must drag in vegetarianism to make her case. And “privilege” of course, makes its inevitable appearance:
In this post-Floyd world of racial reckonings, many vegans are starting to look inwards at their own privilege. White vegan influencers are urging people to follow BIPOC accounts as part of the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices campaign, while racialized vegans who have amassed large followings continue to post about Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Stories are surfacing in the vegan corners of the internet, highlighting vegan Black Instagram accounts and vegan Black-owned businesses.
The article then goes on to note that many “racialized” communities are “plant based”, but of course “plant based” is not vegan but vegetarian, at least in these examples:
In fact, several communities globally, most of which are racialized, are either plant-based or largely so. According to the latest counts, Brazil and India have the largest vegetarian populations in the world: about a third of Indians—375 million people—and 14 percent of Brazilians, or 29 million people, are vegetarian. Taiwan, Jamaica, Mexico, and Vietnam also have sizable vegetarian or vegan populations. And while that’s not to discount the growing popularity of plant-based diets in predominantly white countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia, mainstream portrayals of vegetarianism and veganism are largely white.
. . . Almost one-third of Delhi, India residents identify as vegetarian today. A rich variety of lentil dishes—yellow lentil, brown lentil, and split chickpea dals, and mung beans cooked in different curries marked Siddharth Seth’s upbringing in New Delhi. Seth was raised vegetarian because his family identifies as Hindu and follows an interpretation of the religion that preaches nonviolence— Ahimsa—including towards animals. For Seth, who is now 40, vegetarianism was never a fad; it was just part of daily life.
Remember, the article isn’t about vegetarianism (which incorporates dairy food), but veganism (which spurns dairy). They have to drag Indian vegetarians into the mix to buttress their case. And most Indian vegetarians, as far as I’ve observed, are not vegans: they eat paneer (Indian cheese), yogurt, and milk-based sweets. As for American vegans, why is their diet not “part of daily life” as well?
I really can’t go on with this article. . . it’s just silly, but I’m highlighting to show how virtually everything on the planet can be seen as a racist act if white people participate in it. The most bizarre quote in the piece, and I’ll end with it, is this, which was uttered by Emani Corcran, who runs a black vegan Instagram site:
“Showing that many dishes from around the world are already plant-based is a huge step for people of colour who are maybe intimidated by veganism,” Corcran said. “That’s what influencers are supposed to do: show what you like to eat. I’m a woman of colour, so I like to eat what women of colour like to eat, and that’s what I’m going to show.”
Putting aside the silliness of people getting intimidated by veganism because it’s seen as white, I find the notion that one should eat what those with similar skin pigmentation eat as crazy. The fact is that most women of colour are not vegans, so why is she eating a vegan diet?
While the murder of George Floyd brought important focus on the persistence of racism in American society, it’s had the unfortunate side effect of allowing people to get away with racializing nearly everything. And that dilutes the message of movements like Black Lives Matter. My response to this article is to satirize its title: “Dear White Savior Zoledziowski: Get a grip.”