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Intersectionality and Veganism: Let’s Talk About It

February 18, 2022
Rhi Henkelman

In the US, black people are 3x more likely to be vegan or vegetarian than any other racial group. A recent study also found that 31% of people of color (POC) have reduced their meat consumption in the US, compared to only 19% of white Americans.

So why is there a lack of representation in a movement that black vegans are clearly such a big part of? Let’s talk about intersectionality and the vegan movement.

First, the basics:

What is intersectionality?

Essentially, intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how, depending on combined social and political identities, people live in and experience the world differently depending on the different levels of privilege and oppression they experience.

For example, while a black woman and a white woman may both deal with sexism, a black woman will also deal with systematic and day-to-day racism. Both parts of her identity come with their own ways of experiencing the world and become tied up together, mutually reinforcing in a way that creates specific and unique experiences that, for example, a white woman would not face.

Understanding intersectionality means respecting the fact that someone else’s reality may not be the same as your own, and that due to the complex ways oppressions reinforce each other, a one-size-fits-all approach to activism and movement-building just won’t work. For people living with these multi-layered identities – in this instance, Black vegans – in order to address one type of oppression, you need to address all of them.

Why representation in the vegan movement matters:

The face of the vegan movement pushed by the media has overwhelmingly been white, thin, and female-presenting. A lack of representation of vegans of colour, diversity of body types and gender expressions, combined with the misconception that a vegan diet is more expensive than a non-vegan diet (now proved to actually be the reverse!), has led to the stereotype that veganism is a privileged diet for wealthy, white women.

In reality, the vegan movement has always been a diverse one. Plant-based eating has roots in non-white cultures across the world – From Buddhism to Hinduism, to Rastafarianism – and to give credit to white vegans for the movement when so many of the roots, cuisines, and beliefs associated with veganism come from non-white cultures is colonial thinking.

How did we get here?

The issue of lack of representation can be accredited too many reasons – from socialized racial bias when it comes to who we choose to listen to, to racist algorithms when it comes to seeing these creators on social media.

Making space for the fair and accurate representation that POC deserve in vegan spaces is the only way to represent the true roots and diversity within the movement.

Why does the vegan movement need to be intersectional?

As discussed, black vegans experience the world differently than non-black vegans do. For example, on top of facing racism from within the movement, they also experience the negative consequences from our non-vegan world more harshly. Below are some examples:

  • Communities of colour, particularly Black and Hispanic communities, are much more likely to live in ‘food deserts’ making choosing a healthy, whole-food, plant-based diet much more difficult
  • Due to decades of systemic racism in the Canadian workforce, Black and racialized people are much more likely to experience poverty than white people, making it more difficult to spend the time learning about nutrition, trying new recipes, or even purchasing meat and dairy alternatives to make a vegan transition easier
  • People of colour are also more likely to experience ‘environmental racism’, a form of systemic racism disproportionately burdening communities of colour with health hazards through policies and practices that force them to live in proximity to sources of toxic waste such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, and major roads.
  • Across Canada, toxic dumps, polluting projects, risky pipelines, and tainted drinking water disproportionately hurt Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities.
  • When it comes to veganism, this can harm can look like factory farms being overwhelmingly built next to communities of colour, lowering land value through the noise, air, and water pollution, and causing high rates of illness in nearby communities.

Taking an intersectional approach to both vegan advocacy and growing the vegan movement is key to respecting the contributions and integrity of the Black vegans in our communities, as well as fighting against internalized and systemic racism that affects Black vegans in uniquely damaging ways.

Our movement is stronger when everyone is given the tools and support they need to fully participate, and when everyone is given the respect they need to feel empowered to make the positive changes we all want to see in the world.

What can you do as an ally?

  • LISTEN to black people in the movement, but don’t expect them to educate you. It’s on you to do the work.
  • Support black businesses and creators in vegan spaces, not just this month, but year-round.
  • Realize black history is ongoing and every day.
  • Follow and support Black veg influencers to diversify your Instagram feed and combat the algorithm.

If you’re living in Toronto, you can also support the restaurants on our list of Black & Caribbean owned veg restaurants, newly updated for 2022!

Let’s celebrate the work of Black vegans in our communities!

If you live in Toronto and don’t already know about and support them, Black Vegans of Toronto is a local group supporting Black Canadians who are vegetarian, vegan, or raw foodies and those interested in changing to a plant-based vegan lifestyle.

The main motivation to start the group was to use healthy, plant-based diets to help combat the ongoing health crisis of Black Canadians, who are very high on the list of those suffering from food-related diseases like Cancer, Diabetes, and Heart Disease. They also cultivate a farm (Atiba Farm) to address food justice, food deserts, childhood obesity, and other food-related issues that affect Black Canadians and their families.

Black Vegans of Toronto also hosted the first annual Toronto Black Vegan Festival in 2019, featuring various black vendors selling vegan products, including food, clothes, and cosmetics. The festival aimed to not only bring together the black vegan community but also expose others to a new lifestyle!

Want to learn more? You can check out their Facebook page here!

It’s on us to do the work!

Making space for the fair and accurate representation that POC deserve in vegan spaces is the only way to represent the true roots and diversity within the movement. We hope you take this month and every month to celebrate the voices and work of Black vegans everywhere. We see you, and we are proud to be a part of this movement with you!

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