From food justice to veganism

Katelyn Skye Bennett | July 13, 2020

Veganism and plant-based diets are often advertised as part of both a crunchy and upper class white lifestyle, but is this accurate? And is it even attainable if I want to eat more healthfully?

Welcome to Intersected! I, Skye, eat very plant-based, and while I cannot claim to be vegan at this point, I have an affinity with those who are and look fondly upon them for their ethics. But today I want to dig a little deeper, past animal rights and to the people eating plant-based for one reason or another. Is this lifestyle accessible?

Picture an American vegan in your imagination. Conjure up an image. What do they look like? What do you associate? In part, I associate privilege with veganism in this country. 

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My dear friend Jared, a passionate animal rights activist and friendly vegan. When I asked him if I could use this photo, he said, “You had me at veganism and race equity. Go for it.” ❤ PC: KSB

But is veganism only for the rich? Is it a snooty, upper class thing? Is it a white movement?

In reality, much of the world eats plant-based. In many places, meat is expensive and considered a luxury. There isn’t always a culture of meat being necessary in order for a meal to be complete. (See the map of global meat consumption here.) Globally, there seems to be a link between poverty and eating less meat as well as an impact from the nation’s values.

In the United States, the passion for meat and dairy have become entire industries that end up corrupting our earth in addition to harming our fellow creatures both in their lives and deaths. But you can watch documentaries or do your own research to learn more about that. We always try to link to data and resources regarding our weekly topic at Intersected.

In contrast to the adoration of meat, there’s an exoticism that Americans apply to many healthy, imported foods, while paradoxically ignoring their origins and disregarding the supply chain.

Foods like quinoa are commonplace in places like Peru, but here they’re hyped as these “new” superfoods here and sold at expensive rates, catering to the upper class rather than all Americans. (And you can be sure the farmers aren’t the ones profiting off the pricey products.) They remain expensive when new superfoods crop up on the American market, imported from somewhere else overseas.

This keeps many healthy foods out of reach for those with smaller budgets. 

Access to fresh and healthy foods alone, let alone vegan options, is restricted in food deserts across the country. A food desert is defined roughly as a neighborhood where there is no access to a major grocery store within a square mile in the city or within ten miles in rural areas, so access to produce is limited. Corner stores tend to be the main source of sustenance within those geographies, which means access to a lot of highly processed food and few alternatives. 

Food deserts also tend to coincide with the geographies where Black and Latino folks live. Here’s a case study from Birmingham.

When I lived in a certain neighborhood in Denver, the nearest grocery stores were about a mile away, either to the south or to the west. The neighborhood wasn’t titled a food desert because the neighborhood itself had access within a mile (I checked), but my apartment was located further inside the neighborhood, so I did not have ease of access. I had to either walk about a mile or potentially take a bus to get food, though that wasn’t always easier or faster due to the routes and schedules in that area, and walking a mile home with groceries for a week is pretty difficult to do. (Not much has changed, but I know more people with cars to borrow now! Thank you!) 

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PC: KSB

For a while I survived off of the leftovers my gracious Catholic friends shared with me from their weekly group dinners, but when I found work, I could afford to purchase produce from the aforementioned distant supermarket. However, it was a major time investment and hassle to transport, and I’m only a single woman. Imagine having a family to feed!

When I moved to Chicago, I experienced a period where I literally could not afford groceries if I wanted to pay rent and thus had to rely on a kind and generous food pantry. (You can find your local Chicago one here!) They actually had a lot of good food across every major food category, but you get what you get from whatever is available that week; you can’t choose what particular fruit or vegetables you want, find dairy free substitutes, or plan meals ahead. You have to create from whatever is available. 

All that to say, the food pantry was fantastic, and I recommend using one if you need to find or supplement your family’s groceries, but living in poverty doesn’t easily lend to a vegan lifestyle, at least not the most creative, yummy kind. You just hope for sustenance and dream of fresh produce.

Though my experience was notable and completely valid, I was in a period of poverty. I didn’t technically live in a food desert, but I couldn’t afford healthy food. So when someone is stuck in a cycle of poverty and lives in an area with even more limited access to healthy food, eating vegan is even less of a choice. Maintaining heart health and avoiding diabetes while dining on food from corner stores are difficult enough!

But everyone deserves the chance to be healthy, and saving the planet shouldn’t be for the rich alone. Efforts like Harlem Grown (NY) even bring the food process closer to kids so they can understand how food is grown and made. I had a friend who interned at the GrowHaus, addressing food justice through urban farming in Denver. Chicagoans can check out this urban farming resource.

Food justice is the low bar, something we can all cheer for. It’s human rights. Veganism is the higher goal once we reach that, for those who feel compelled based on ethics or health or who are passionate for animal rights as well.

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MaLaysia (Layla) Mitchell, Intersected Co-founder, harvesting a cabbage. PC: KSB

And in case this hasn’t already been made clear, veganism isn’t just for white folks. That may be the lifestyle portrayed in the U.S. of A, but that’s not the case globally, and there are Black vegan movements within the country. This nation-wide list of Black vegetarian societies looks a bit outdated but might be a good launching pad into more plant-based diets and community, for example! In fact, here are some steps you can take. 

Angela Davis and Erykah Badu can serve as additional inspo. Are you Indigenous, Latino, or Asian? Share your vegan inspiration down below too!

The people that were most influential on me came from my white community as a teen, and I respect and love them dearly. But who else can we add to the list? Tabitha Brown, America’s favorite mom, is helping to change the face of veganism in U.S. in 2020. Keep the list going in the comments.

Veganism is for everyone! And with expanded access to fresh food, it can become more attainable, more delicious, and less niche.

Today’s Intersected post was inspired by these slides by @sisoyvegan. I loved what they said and wanted to amplify it by sharing the message with you here at Intersected. In this project, we seek to address racial inequities across all of life by educating and sharing resources, and we encourage you to take the next step, whether that is further research or a particular action. We have links and suggestions to those ends.

In addition to those stated by @sisoyvegan, consider how you can address food deserts. Promote healthy lifestyles and diets in your own communities. And amplify BIPOC voices who are doing that already!

Everyone deserves healthy food and the chance to make a change. See you next week. ❤

Originally posted on katelynskyebennett.com.

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