The West has white-washed eating plant-based
Veganism has become trendy in recent years, with the rise in plant-based eateries and celebrity endorsement of the lifestyle. It is fantastic that such an ethical and environmentally friendly movement has become popular, but have we turned it into an elitist trend?
Even searching for an image to accompany my article, proved the point I aimed to make- when I searched ‘vegan’ into image websites, nearly every single image that contained a hand holding an aesthetically pleasing salad was caucasian. The image that I used in this article was not a cherry-picked exception, I could not find an image that showed a POC holding a vegan meal.
As veganism has become popular, it has become a sign of white privilege. The majority of vegan influencers are white, and so are the majority of vegan business owners.
The most ironic thing is that eating plant-based has been ingrained in many cultures for thousands of years. In Indian culture, the practice of veganism or vegetarianism is considered ‘sattvic’ in Hindu texts which means to purify the body and mind. Eating in this way says to bring you purity, calmness and mental clarity.
It is also popular in Rastafarianism and is called ‘ital’, which seeks to encourage plant-based eating.
So the lifestyle that has been popularized in Western culture, has actually been practised for thousands of years. However, veganism appears to be a thing of the West, disregarding the other cultures who initially introduced this way of life.
The dominant discourse of veganism, understands it to be a forward-thinking lifestyle, which is evolving. Whilst it is true that veganism is evolving, it is in actual fact an ancient practice. One clear example of this dominant idea is that when vegans go on holiday to other countries that have different cultures, they worry that they will not find anything to eat. The common belief is that these other cultures do not provide accessible vegan food because they are ‘backwards’ or less developed. This aligns with the orientalist ideology that the East lacks innovation and progress, or as Edward Said stated, is an ‘underground self’.
The reason why many vegans struggle to eat outside of the West is that veganism hasn't been as commodified as it has in the west. It is not because these cultures do not understand veganism or because they are not progressive, yet it is due to the fact that they have not capitalised from the trend as much as countries like America or England.
Whilst eating a plant-based diet doesn't have to be an expensive lifestyle, the West has certainly turned it into an idea of privilege. In other cultures, foods such as rice, pulses, vegetables, or tofu would be eaten to achieve a plant-based diet. All of these foods are highly accessible and cheap. However since the west has commodified veganism, it has become a lifestyle favoured by white privilege. When going to a restaurant, it is common for vegan options to be more expensive than the meat ones. Brands have created meat alternatives and protein sources for vegans, however, these are often very costly.
The misrepresentation of veganism in mainstream culture can make people of colour feel excluded and as if this lifestyle is reserved for the white middle class.
On a list of the top 30 celebrities that are vegan, only 2 are black. All of the rest are white, which makes it obvious that veganism is marketed and shown as a thing of white privilege.
The West has turned a lifestyle that is ethical, environmentally friendly and kind, into a capitalised trend, that is associated with the rich, the privileged and people that are white.
For this lifestyle to truly stick to its ideology of kindness, it has to properly represent veganism and stop whitewashing plant-based diets. Veganism is not a Western idea, so it must cease to be presented as one.