Disclaimer: Images of dead bodies in a violent context
Veganism can be an incredibly misunderstood and misrepresented movement. You’ve probably seen a video, a photograph or a documentary exposing the mistreatment of animals within the dairy, meat and fishing industries, and if you’re not Vegan you may have thought: so what? They’re just animals, they’re there to be eaten.
Some argue that this footage is radical, extreme even. But for me, what is more extreme is that people are happy to live in blissful ignorance while continuing to consume hormone-induced and disease-ridden flesh alongside other miscellaneous animal byproducts. People are often repulsed by both the images they see and veganism itself, and when confronted with the reality of the journey that the animal took to find their way onto the dinner plate, they feel uncomfortable, become defensive. The concept of veganism is too far-fetched, too radical and too displaced from the familiarity and comfort of what they know. Why should you have to change the way you eat when it’s been this way for thousands of years?
For a long time, the representation of mainstream veganism has been heavily white-washed and often presented as something inaccessible and unobtainable to Black people and their communities. However, I believe that veganism is a quintessential part of reimagining and redefining black liberation.
What is Black Veganism? Black Veganism is a direct challenge, both to white supremacy and the nuanced mechanisms of racialised oppression. It is a rejection of the white western concept of the consumption of meat and bodies. It celebrates unity, activism and cruelty free living amongst black people. Going vegan allows black people to embark on the path to reclaiming power while investing directly in the the welfare and prosperity of the community.
“Black liberation is rooted in anti-capitalism as you have the chance to reclaim control of what you consume”.
The legacy of colonisation has limited the socio-economic prosperity of the black community which is inextricably bound to physio-psychological health complications. In the UK, Black African and Caribbean communities have the lowest engagement in health services. It should therefore come as no surprise that we have accumulated some of the highest statistics when it comes to suffering from mental health conditions, type 2 Diabetes, circulatory and respiratory diseases, poor sexual health and cancer. The historical context of medical and scientific advancement has involved the dismemberment and dehumanisation of black women in particular, hence a predisposed distrust in the very services that can be a lifeline to us.
In 2017, the government conducted an Annual Population Survey of unemployment amongst the most prominent ethnic communities across the UK. The Black community had unemployment rates of 9% in contrast with our white counterparts who sat comfortably at 4%. Given the reality of socio-economic deprivation and poor health across the black community, it would be fair to say that the healthcare industry and the job market have been weaponised as a mechanism of a white supremacist capitalist society and has ultimately led to the disenfranchisement of black people. There is no coincidence that fast food shops and ”affordable” supermarkets are located in areas with high social deprivation and poverty rates which in urban areas are often home to ethnic minorities. The food industry is riddled with corruption and cruelty with little to no regard for human and nonhuman mammals – one could even go as far to say that the food industry thrives on anti-blackness.
Corporations have successfully aligned the concept of veganism with whiteness, and visual culture in the digital age reinforces it. This is unsurprisingly reminiscent of misplaced and misdocumented ”facts” of colonial history. For example, veganism has flourished within the Rastafarian community, pre-dating the 1930’s through following the ‘ital’ diet. Veganism has existed within black communities and other communities of colour for centuries.
Black liberation is rooted in anti-capitalism as you have the chance to reclaim control of what you consume. You don’t have to do a weekly shop at Wholefoods (I onced had to cough up £17 for a salad… who charges for salad by weight!?) as the diet itself is perfectly sustainable on a budget and doesn’t have to cost the Earth (quite literally). It is a choice that you can make as we take one step further towards dismantling the oppressive mechanisms of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society in which we live while reclaiming power, one block of tofu at a time. (But be sure to season tofu beforehand or you may be put off veganism for life).
“Veganism has existed within black communities and other communities of colour for centuries”.
There’s a whole labyrinth of black owned vegan eateries to try in London alone. You’ll find vegan alternatives to your favourite Afro-Caribbean cuisines with all of the flavour and none of the cruelty – what’s not to like? Here’s a few of my favourites;
instagram handles: @pattybynaturelondon // @itiseats // @blackmilqicecream // @dapaahchocolates // @Deserted_Cactus // @london_afro_vegan // @UKVegansOfColour
Instead of pouring your hard earned cash into the hands of white supremacist fat cat businesses that do not care for our well-being or existence, support a UK black owned business while giving veganism a go. This would allow smaller businesses to establish themselves whilst reinvigorating our sense of community and unity.
As Black vegans we should unite and strengthen our agenda and embrace the familiar role of being a minority within a minority and continue our journey towards liberation and justice. Interestingly, the industrialisation of the meat and dairy industries have been paralleled with the trans-atlantic slave trade and the holocaust by prominent members of the mainstream vegan movement across social media.
Here’s an insight into some art work and posts which have likened some of the most dehumanising and sensitive periods of history. (Images sourced from Twitter)
Contrary to popular belief, veganism transcends more than what is on your plate. It is about how you view and protect the world you live in and its inhabitants. It’s about using, supporting and consuming products that are sustainable and cruelty free. This can include clothes, footwear, toiletries, skin and hair products. You won’t be surprised to discover that most vegan hair-care items on the market are not entirely suitable for afro hair. But ‘Afrocenchix’ are a vegan haircare brand and a black owned business you’ll be able to find in Wholefoods. Just be sure to keep away from the salad counter that you need to take out a small mortgage for.
If you haven’t managed to give #Veganuary a go, fear not. There are still eleven months of the year left. Don’t put pressure on yourself to transform into some sort of vegan demigod overnight. This will be a gradual process and it can be as slow as it needs to be in order for you to unlearn what has been socially instilled into us and to most importantly enjoy it.
The concept of mass consumption and the consumption of meat or bodies in particular has been used to preserve anti-black structures and colonial legacies which have been weaponised against black people. The trajectory of the consumption of meat is demonstrative of how colonial discourse can enable us to understand the ill treatment of nonhuman mammals whilst focusing a lens on how this has contributed towards the colonially derived dehumanisation of black people through systemic oppression, pseudo science and capitalism.
If you do decide to give veganism a go – do it for the right reasons, do it for you. Do it for the animals, for health, for the planet in which we live, or for a personal challenge. If you’re up for dismantling white supremacy and embarking on the journey to black liberation and empowerment, give veganism a go. It gives you food for thought.