Sunday, November 29, 2009

White, upper-middle-class assholes

It's really difficult to sound indifferent when asked why I became a strict vegetarian, or vegan. There is no soft answer. I don't want to contribute to factory farming and global warming. Sometimes it goes over just fine. People are supportive and congratulatory. Other times, not so much. I'm not trying to instigate conversation or change someone's views, but there are inevitably follow-up questions. There's one conversation in particular that had me thinking all weekend about it. I gave a somewhat extended answer to this person since it's a pretty good friend of mine. I quickly explained how I heard an interview on the radio with an author of a new book, and his argument was that being a vegetarian is the most an individual can do to fight global warming and factory farming. His first reaction was to say that he knew some vegans, friends of his, and veganism is basically a white, upper-middle-class phenomenon. He said it in a nice way, though. And after that he rattled off all the usual things to defend eating meat: What would I eat? I wouldn't feel full. Nature is brutal, as seen on the National Geographic channel. Humans are meant to eat meat, etc. These are the kinds of things I told myself if the thought of animal cruelty every crossed my mind while eating meat. We went back and forth a bit, and that was about it. He said that stuff, and I said factory farming was a new level of cruelty I couldn't support. It ended up with him admitting he wasn't sure about the whole thing, and I was very understanding.

The comment that really stuck with me was the one about veganism being a white, upper-middle-class phenomenon. Ohhhhhhhhhh, the irony. What group of people have been responsible primarily for the creation and expansion of factory farming? What group consumes the products of these farms more than any other group? What group increases demand for meat and its by-products exponentially? What group created the laws and tax incentives to encourage it? And resists any changes to the industry practices through lobbying? And buys the propaganda fed to them by the industry? Yes, white upper-middle-class people. And kinda the middle class. Ok, sorta all of America. But close enough. We have created a system and a subsequent demand for it's expansion through our lifestyles. That only strengthens the argument for veganism. Who better to change the status quo than those who created it? In fact, I think it's the only way things are going to change. Vegetarians and vegans number about 1.4% of the U.S. population. If that number were 50%, demand would be cut in half. And so on. The only thing is, I wish I thought of this irony in the moment. I think I kind of did actually. I just didn't want to point it out and come off combative, or like a white, upper-middle-class asshole. Maybe next time I won't be so reserved. Or I'll shut up a bit earlier. The choices, the choices, the choices.

4 comments:

  1. I read once that it's a mistake of the young to think that small changes aren't changing the world. PETA says I'll save 100 animals a year by eating this way. That feels pretty damned good...

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  2. Maybe your friend doesn't talk to colored people that's why he thinks vegans are all white upper middle class. I'm a Taiwanese immigrant and I'm vegan and I know tons of Asian vegans (from all different countries). Lots of vegan restaurants are owned by Asians because it's part of a traditional buddhist diet.

    Martin Lurther King Jr.'s son (Dexter) and wife (Coretta) are and was vegan. Carl Lewis is vegan. Russell Simmons is vegan. I think they are all black.

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  3. Hey, in NYC there are a lot of the Caribbean vegan joints. Usually, they blend Caribbean, Buddist and some African food.

    The bogus idea that vegan is white middle class is pure BS, another lame defense mechanism. The excessive consumption of meat is connected to colonilialism and capitalism. If anything it is connected to oppression, such as low-income dependence on McDonald's. But there is increasing awareness. This is changing across all the old color lines.

    Check out Dick Gregory and the movement "Vegans of Color." They have a kick-butt website too!

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  4. Nice irony :)

    I like what Joanne and La Bolt said about different traditional foods being naturally veg too.

    I can almost see what your friend might have meant though, in that veganism may be seen as requiring extra supplements or foods etc that a wealthier upper-middle-class person can easily buy. I can see that for many people who are struggling to make ends meet it may be very difficult to be vegan and also healthy. (Like Michael Pollan was saying in that Oprah interview clip, the subsidies in the system have made it cheaper to buy fast food than fresh produce) Perhaps that's what he meant, that it's easier for a more well-off person to eat vegan?

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