Society’s negative perception of vegans asserts that we are “privileged and ignorant rich kids who have nothing better to do but be picky about what they eat.” Although I do recognize that being vegan is certainly a privilege, I definitely am not rich, and I also advocate for plenty of other causes, such as the rights of people of color in America.
I constantly stand up for Black Lives Matter and stay aware of most of our country’s politics. However, I personally felt incredibly hypocritical yelling, “black lives matter” before I was vegan.
One of the reasons why I went vegan is because the meat, dairy, and pharmaceutical industries view people of color as walking sources of income. I learned that the diseases that have affected my black family members for generations are not inevitable –– our country’s medical services have just continuously failed to teach them how to actually improve their health.
I no longer felt comfortable supporting a system that continues to oppress and dehumanize people of color, and going vegan was my way of protesting against our country’s corrupt treatment of people of color.
David Williams, a professor of Public Health at Harvard University School of Public Health states that “the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S., blacks have higher death rates than whites in about 12 of them, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke,".
More statistics show that black people are: 30 percent more likely to die from all cancers than white people; more likely to suffer from obesity and hypertension; Latinos are twice as likely to die from diabetes; and compared to non-Hispanic whites, “the risk of having diabetes was 87 percent higher for Mexican Americans and 94 percent higher for Puerto Ricans.“
While many of these diseases are genetic and can affect healthy individuals, our country continues to fail to educate people on how they can break out of their family’s cycle of hereditary illness.
Evident in the difference of vulnerability to certain diseases, black people’s bodies are different from white people’s bodies.
Yet, we are not taught that the “healthy diet” that is commonly advertised is NOT one-size-fits-all. Living a lifestyle in which we constantly indulge in red meats and dairy which raise our bad cholesterol, clog our arteries, and give us autoimmune diseases is literally killing us.
Primarily minority communities are the hub of our country’s failures to end systemic racism. Many minority cities experience “food deserts”, or areas where healthy food is virtually inaccessible. We live in a country where it is vastly cheaper and more convenient to buy a Big Mac than it is to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
These lower income cities are congested with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeyes, McDonald’s.
The food that these fast food restaurants is poison to any human who walks in, especially people of color who have increased vulnerability to certain diseases.
And occasionally, a gentrified section of the city will house a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or other local produce stores.
These markets, however, are not created to give the residents of color access to healthy food; they are to attract more rich and white residents to the neighborhood. Contrastingly, higher income (and typically white) neighborhoods are completely filled with healthy food markets such as Whole Foods and trendy vegan restaurants.
The food access in these cities matches the income of its residents; similarly, the food access in lower income communities matches the average income. Our country’s economy, however, makes social and economic mobility incredibly difficult for people of color. Therefore, people of color are virtually stuck in the communities that have low income, and therefore food that is not healthy for them.
Our country makes little to no effort to even give people of color the choice to be healthy. Structural racism within our food industry within our country is real, and we need to fight against it as we fight against economic, legislative, and social oppression against people of color.
Eating consciously is certainly a privilege, but it should not have to be. In a first world country where we boast about our greatness, people should not be forced to adopt diets that ultimately kill them. Residents in Flint, Michigan still do not have access to clean water, let alone to food that will help them maintain a healthy body.
Some Americans have fair and equitable access to healthy foods, but many do not.
Just 20 minutes from a food desert is an affluent city where the residents have a choice of where they want to buy their next Acai bowl. The difference between access to healthy foods is heavily associated with race –– people of color, statistically, have less access to fresh foods. Pages 14 and 15 of this study reveal concrete facts of the systematic racism of food accessibility.
I did not go vegan because I believe that all people of color need to go vegan. Similar to how a typically “healthy” diet is not one-size-fits-all, I do not believe that adopting a vegan diet is a one-stop shop to a healthy diet. I, however, had the privilege of controlling my health. The fact that choosing to not let yourself die is a privilege astounds me, but there are many ways that our country can make health accessible for ALL.
First, we need to do a better job of raising awareness on the difference of dietary needs between races.
People of color are abiding by health advice, dietary tips, and lifestyles that only previously considered the health of white individuals. The food that communities of color have access to should reflect the dietary needs of that community, similar to how affluent communities have a surplus of matcha, spirulina, and flax seeds because of how much those foods can benefit their health.
By being vegan, I am attempting to raise awareness towards my family and friends of color that we need to take care of our bodies way more than the media advises us to; we have to be more careful about what we put into our bodies than our white friends and family have to.
Second, awareness of the danger of the food that we eat every day is pointless if we cannot take action against it.
Our country needs to have more convenient and cheap healthy food markets. $3 avocados from Whole Foods simply is not viable for someone on a normal budget (especially for college students and laborers. We should have “healthy fast food”) an option for those who are in a rush, but want to eat something that will nourish their bodies.
Fresh fruits and vegetables should be cheap and accessible –– not just canned veggies that are soaked in saltwater.
The FDA will not raise awareness of our country’s food racism because they economically benefit from the diseases that people of color are struck with. Therefore, it is on us to advocate for the right to make healthy decisions.
I am sick of financially indulging in a system that feeds off the illnesses and deaths of my people. I am sick of choosing to be ignorant of the truth of my food. I am sick of being passive towards a society that clearly does not provide the same opportunities throughout the races.
I had the privilege of going vegan –– I reside in an area that has access to healthy food and I am financially able to buy fresh foods and cook health-conscious meals without worrying about working 12-hour shifts.
Veganism, or healthy eating, should not be exclusive to people like me. Just because I was able to make a healthy choice does not mean that I should not advocate for those who cannot. As we fight for economic, criminal, and social justice, we also need to fight for the right to accessible health.