By Sheldomar Elliot
As a young Black man, transitioning into the vegan lifestyle, I would join groups and organizations around the city, but was quick to notice that they were strictly concerned about the welfare of animals.
It was only after I began joining closed groups on Facebook that were exclusively for Black-vegans, I felt apart of a greater collective. Finding community was a significant step toward understanding how political our food choices are, and the ways in which mainstream veganism differs from the ideologies of afro-veganism, or veganism for people of colour.
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible, all forms of exploitation and cruelty towards animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. On the surface level, it prioritizes compassion for animals, and opposes their mistreatment that society has come to normalize. However, white-centered-mainstream-veganism isn’t compatible with the goals of people of colour since it fails to acknowledge Black people’s struggles and lived experiences.
An example of this in Toronto was the implementation of “Vegandale.” Which was the vegan takeover of Parkdale—a neighbourhood that has historically been home to Black and brown folks. The community is now being gentrified in exchange for the placement of a capitalist vegan haven. This shows that mainstream notions of veganism is not inclusive nor considerate of the problems that impact racialized peoples and their communities.
A vegan lifestyle and a plant-based diet not only fights against the oppression of animals, but also helps to recognize the issues in migrant-workers rights, and through decolonizing the ways in which we eat.
The over-reliance of the meat we eat is the byproduct of colonization. Traditional diets of people of colour historically were heavily plant-based. European colonization came with the increased commodification and industrial production of meat. So embracing veganism should go hand-in-hand with rejecting notions of colonialism by decolonizing our idea of what food is and how we are supposed to eat.
The struggles of many slaughterhouse workers, who are often migrant workers and/or people of colour, are often forced into the slaughter industry. As a job that is highly mechanized, fast paced, and quite precarious for workers employed under illegal status, these workers are subjected to violent conditions in these factories, as they are forced to slaughter upwards to eight hours a day.
Besides the physical injuries that workers may endure, many of them end up diagnosed with PTSD and other health and psychological issues as a result of the work that they have to do, having a quick turnover rate due to the stress that is put on the individuals.
It is easy to forget the impact the animal industry has on people without an intersectional approach on veganism. There should be work towards recognizing the impact that the meat-processing industry has on the livelihoods of people—outside the context of health or climate change.
The current state of the meat industry is a direct cause of corporate greed and the failure of current regulatory policies. The veganism narrative should embrace a vegan lifestyle that simultaneously stands up against abuses that workers and communities are exposed to.
Folks should think twice about their food options and to recognize that food is indeed a political matter. From the problems of food insecurity that primarily affects racialized and Indigenous populations to the choices that we as students are offered on and around campus, we should always try to challenge the status quo and not remain complacent to the issues that we as consumers perpetuate within our conventional food system.
Essentially, both the oppression of humans and animals are upheld by systemic supremacy, which is enabled by neo-liberalism and capitalism. This in return continues to have impacts on the welfare of animals, climate change, and the individual health of people and communities.