This is part three in a series wherein I debunk the elitism criticism.
Veganism is NOT elitist. There are a few myths that make up the claim about elitism. Here they are, along with the facts below:
1. Myth: There are no vegan alternatives to animal products available to poor people.
Quote: “the failure to address elitism and/or classism in veganism means there will never be animal rights because there will always be poor people whose survival is reduced to engaging in animal exploitation because no one has bothered to create a world in which alternatives are available to them or the alternatives they already engage in are reconstructed as resistance and justice rather than necessity to overcome.” (source)
Fact: Everyone has access to the essential vegan options.
For starters, foods that offer similar nutritional value to meat, dairy, and eggs are available at every virtually grocery store, and are pretty inexpensive:
- rice: white, brown, basmati (plain bagged dry or pre-spiced boxed)
- beans: pinto, black, red, white, lima, soy, etc. (dry, canned, or frozen)
- other legumes: lentils, split peas (dry or canned)
Sure, you can buy the faux meats, cheeses, and the soy/rice/almond milks if you want and you can afford it. But we’re talking about regular, old fashioned, healthy vegan food, not foods that are labeled “vegan” in order to appeal to a new niche group of flexitarian consumers. Besides, the list above, flour or wheat gluten is also readily available at any grocery store and can be turned into “wheat meat” (aka seitan). The above list covers your protein food group easily and cheaply. Just make the effort.
Moreover, plenty of people have “been bothered to create a world in which [vegan] alternatives are available” to poor people. Here are some specific examples:
- The Food Empowerment Project – seeks to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices. The Food Empowerment Project seeks specifically to empower those with the fewest resources. They work to discourage negligent corporations from pushing unhealthy foods into low-income areas and empower people to make healthier choices by growing their own fruits and vegetables.
- Vegfam - helping people overseas by providing funds for self-supporting, sustainable food projects and the provision of safe drinking water. “Feeding the hungry without exploiting animals.”
- PETA’s campaigns to encourage fast food and chain restaurants to offer vegan options.
- Food Not Bombs – sharing free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world every week to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.
- PCRM’s campaign to reform the school lunch program to include vegan options. The school lunch program (which includes breakfast) subsidizes meals for low income children.
- Every single person who asks for more vegan options at restaurants and grocery stores, whether they do it for themselves or for others.
- Everyone who makes an effort to make the world just a little bit more vegan.
2. Myth: Veganism is the strict abstinence of animal products.
Fact: Veganism is the effort to abolish animal exploitation through attempts to abstain from animal product use.
This is why the header of Vegan Soapbox says: “vegan: person who seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” The phrase “seeks to exclude” is differentiated from the words “excludes,” “rejects,” or the press’s favorite, “eschews.” Someone who tries to avoid animal exploitation is vegan, even if/when they don’t always succeed.
They have to try in earnest; they can’t simply declare that “it’s too hard to avoid cheese.” But if, for example, they go out to eat and the bean burrito that they ordered without cheese was mistakenly delivered with cheese, it’s acceptable to scrape off the cheese and eat the rest of the burrito. Alternatively, they can send the burrito back and have the kitchen send out a new one without cheese. Or they could order another dish instead, take the cheesy burrito to-go, and give it to a hungry person (or a hungry dog).
All of those options are vegan. And there are more options, too. That is, there is more than one way to peel a mango. Vegans are varied and our expression of our attempts to abolish animal exploitation will vary too. They all make an effort.
3. Myth: Poor people cannot afford vegan options.
“fruit and veg for a family of 4 costs more than the $1 menu at any fast food restaurant which is mostly meat products” (same source as above quote)
Fact: There are vegan options for every budget.
If money is tight, Taco Bell’s fresco bean burrito is vegan and packs a high-protein meal into a dollar-sized budget. The bean burrito is more nutritionally similar to the rest of the fast food $1 menu.
Fruits and vegetables often cost more than meat. But it’s not fair to compare veggies to meats. They aren’t nutritionally similar. Replace meat with foods that are nutritionally similar to meat: high-protein vegan foods. Replace meat with rice and beans, tofu, lentils and potatoes. When we’re comparing proteins, let’s compare proteins. For someone with a larger food budget, they can use meat replacements (like the ones listed at meatalternatives.org) if they want. Still others will opt for a healthy, albeit pricey, raw foods lifestyle.
Everyone needs to eat fruits and veggies. Five a day, even if you eat meat! This isn’t a “vegan issue.” This is an everyone issue. The cost of fruits and veggies is no more an obstacle to healthy vegan eating than it is an obstacle to healthy nonvegan eating. Using the high cost of healthy foods as an argument against veganism is a red herring. It’s just as much an argument against healthy nonvegan eating as it is an argument against vegan eating.
Here’s a tip for anyone who wants to eat healthy on a tight budget: choose the lowest priced fresh fruits and veggies (the ones that cost less than a dollar per pound) and stock up on the cheapest frozen veggies (which contain more nutrients than the canned options). Make an effort.
4. Myth: Vegan food is prohibitively costly.
“vegan bread and other baked goods can cost up to 5 times more than bread made with eggs and milk” (same source)
Fact: If you make an effort – instead of making assumptions – you CAN go vegan.
Finding vegan bread is really not difficult or costly, but if you’re not used to doing it, you might assume vegan bread is five times more expensive than nonvegan bread. At my local mainstream grocery store, I choose to buy a simple sourdough bread that’s got no preservatives. It’s locally made and tastes fantastic, but it’s also cheap and readily available.
Every vegan has gone through a transition period where they decided that they were vegan and they sought to exclude animal products, but when they started realizing just how insidious animal exploiters’ byproducts are, they just drew a line where they felt comfortable. For example, most vegans never worry about things called “trace ingredients.” If the food item is 99.9% vegan, they eat it, understanding the big picture. (By the way, here is a list of commonly available baked goods that are 99.9 to 100% vegan.)
Furthermore, vegans who live in households with spouses, children, parents, or roommates understand that the transition requires a fair amount of compromise. This is the real world. And in the real world is where real vegans live. (Meet some real vegans at meetup.)
If you can’t find or can’t afford vegan bread and you can’t bake bread yourself and you simply have to have store-bought bread (don’t ask me why tortillas, pita or other options won’t work) then just go ahead and get the nonvegan bread. If the animal product usage is slight and if you’re committed to getting the vegan bread as soon as you can find it, afford it, or bake it yourself then don’t sweat it. Don’t use transition difficulties as an excuse to stop transitioning to veganism. Don’t just throw up your hands and say, “I can’t find vegan bread, so I may as well eat steak.” Don’t whine, “It’s too hard.” Just make the effort.