Resistance to Going Vegan: Excuses and Responses
The Coronavirus pandemic has brought renewed attention to the harm animal agriculture inflicts not only on our fellow animals, but humans as well. From the origins of COVID-19 in a wet market, to the spread of infection in slaughterhouses, people have had plenty of good reasons to stop consuming the products of this deadly industry.
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The decreased availability of animal flesh (“meat”) in grocery stores, along with stay-at-home orders that have greatly reduced communal food sharing, have added to the reasons why now is the perfect time for people to go vegan. Why vegan, rather than vegetarian or just cutting down on meat? Because the needless suffering and death of animals is not limited to those raised and killed for their flesh, nor to “factory” farms; the production of dairy and eggs, even on so-called humane and free-range farms, involves just as much carnage. And the consumption of dairy is harmful to the majority of the human population, especially people of color.
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So why do so many people who claim to care about the health and welfare of animals continue to eat their flesh, milk, and eggs? In my years of vegan advocacy I’ve heard many reasons and excuses. One of the most common responses is “not everyone can go vegan”, because:
- Food deserts
- Medical necessity
- Cultural traditions
I’ll respond to each of these points in turn.
Unequal access to healthy plant-based food is a legitimate concern. The Food Empowerment Project is one of numerous vegan advocacy groups that is actively working to address the issue of food justice.
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My question to non-vegans raising this concern is this: Do you, personally, live in a food desert? Are you, personally, unable to access or afford plant-based groceries on a regular basis? If not, how does you eating animal products help those people who are dependent on them for survival?
Is it a show of solidarity? Or is it virtue signaling? Can you think of ways to help people living in food deserts that doesn’t involve you, personally, consuming the flesh, eggs, and milk of animals?
I can. Support groups like the Food Empowerment Project, Vegan Outreach, Food Not Bombs, and others that are bringing awareness and plant-based cuisine into the communities that lack these resources. Volunteer to grow and distribute free produce from community gardens. Donate to fundraisers for marginalized people — particularly people of color — who seek to start businesses that bring plant-based food to their communities. Vote for local politicians who have workable plans for lifting people out of poverty.
Eating animal products does not help address the issue of food deserts. If you, personally, can afford to go vegan, don’t point to people who cannot do so as an excuse.
Some non-vegans and ex-vegans are convinced that they will die or suffer poor health if they do not consume animal products. Rather than just dismiss this claim out-of-hand as some animal rights activists are wont to do, I acknowledge that the consumption of animals for health reasons is a nuanced and complex issue, a full discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article.
My question to non-vegans raising this concern is this: Are you, personally, dependent on the consumption of animal products for good health? If not, how does you eating animal products help those people who are dependent on them for survival?
Is it a show of solidarity? Or is it virtue signaling? (You might notice that these questions are identical to those I asked in the previous section.)
From my perspective, if animal products are consumed for medical reasons then they should be treated just as that: medicine. Medicine should be consumed only in the quantity needed to address the underlying health issue, and only by the people who have that medical condition.
Taking the life of another, even when necessary for survival, should be viewed and treated as a solemn, regrettable action, not an occasion for casual, communal consumption or celebration. If you, personally, can thrive on a plant-based diet, don’t point to people who cannot do so as an excuse.
Some people who are progressive when it comes to human social movements claim that promoting veganism is racist, because it denies the role of animal consumption in traditional BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) cultures. As a Black vegan, I’ve noticed that many of the non-vegans using this excuse are white, which once again brings virtue signaling to mind.
So I will address my questions here specifically to BIPOC non-vegans: Do you, personally, engage in all of the traditions of your ancestors? If not, why are the ones that specifically involve animal consumption important for you to observe? Are there ways to celebrate your culture without eating the flesh, milk, and eggs of animals?
Unlike living in a food desert or having a medical dependency, participating in a cultural activity that involves the consumption of animal products is optional. And frequently, the role of animal flesh in BIPOC cultures is over-emphasized. Many Black vegans, for example, have drawn attention to the importance of plant-based cuisine both in traditional African cultures and throughout the African diaspora.
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If you feel that eating animal products is essential to cultural identity or celebration, first ask yourself if you, personally, are part of the culture you are speaking for. If not, don’t point to those who are as an excuse.
If all the non-vegans who have been using the above excuses were to acknowledge that they have no barriers to going vegan themselves, and act on that knowledge, we would be so much closer to achieving a vegan world. If you see yourself in this story, please go vegan, for the sake of our fellow animals and each other.