The last week and half since my first post has been full of both positive affirmations and humbling reminders of my own blind-spots regarding the very topics I want to discuss. On that account, before I begin, I want to thank all who shared feedback in a constructive manner — I have taken your words to heart and am illuminated by your awareness, insight, and care.
While the denigrating effects of animal agriculture on our precious planet are undeniable, it is important to understand the intricacies of the problem and how a complex modern culture with a spectrum of advantages and disadvantages might consciously respond. So, with the next few posts, I hope to acknowledge a collection of truths that arose this past week in conversation with family and friends.
“Food choices are influenced and constrained by cultural values and are an important part of the construction and maintenance of social identity. In that sense, food has never merely been about the simple act of pleasurable consumption—food is history, it is culturally transmitted, it is identity. Food is power.”
Excerpt taken from: http://www.foodispower.org/colonization-food-and-the-practice-of-eating/
As a white American male, I need to be highly aware of my personal privilege in a world crippled by severe social, racial, gender, and sexual inequality. The systemic injustices that pervade modern civilization are corrosive to the unity of humanity as a species of life, and I perpetuate this division by not recognizing my own privilege and by not speaking the whole truth about, in this case, food. The freedom, or lack there of, regarding food options can be either empowering or dis-empowering — a reality that is often ignored in modern society.
The truth is that veganism — or a plant-based diet — is not possible (or at least incredibly difficult) for a large portion of not just the U.S. but the entire world. Touting an “ism” in such a way can be dangerous, further polarizing an already disjointed culture of food and hindering the cultivation of a paradigm of conscious eating — the very thing I want to support!
For those who are oppressed based on race and socio-economic status often live in areas with very few options for food or proper education that might help residents make better choices. The economic system perpetuates this mass inequality, contributing to concentrations of food accessibility in affluent areas and vast “food deserts” in impoverished ones. In fact, some studies report that only 8% of African Americans live near one or more grocery stores compared to 31% of White Americans. Aside from obvious health-related consequences, this statistic quantitatively reflects who is valued in society and who is not. In other words, quality and availability of food contributes to the constitution of one’s social identity.
Yesterday, a friend of mine shared his experience of life in rural Michigan. For many in these areas, the local fried chicken joint and liquor store are the primary sources of sustenance… In fact, for First Nations citizens living on reservations throughout the United States, this is all too often the case. I have witnessed first hand the abysmal reality of food in the reservations of Northern Wisconsin: convenience stores allocating the equivalent of a refrigerator shelf to rotting produce. The effects of colonialism remain like hardened ripples from the original shockwave— a force that stripped peoples of their land, subsequently damaging their relationship to and knowledge about food in their bio-region(s), their homes. In turn, the identity of indigenous humans has suffered in accordance with this severance from sustenance. When one’s relationship to food is taken away, their power and identity go with it.
All of this suggests that the “responsibility” of healthy eating does not rest solely on the individual, despite what our governments and medical institutions promulgate on the daily. How can one make an educated decision regarding food, taking into account other humans, animals, and the planet when these institutions evade responsibility and deny any accountability to the subjugated reality of so many under-served citizens? It becomes insensitive and careless to suggest that these citizens follow a vegan diet. A dearth in available food choices coupled with a lack of education maintained by a system of greed and power does not support a lifestyle of healthy eating, let alone full conversion to a plant-based diet.
Veganism is supposed to be a philosophy of care and compassion. But if the existing structures of power are not acknowledged, questioned, and engaged, then spreading an ideal of conscious, plant-based eating that requires a special context (i.e. wealth, accessibility of options, and food education) likely available to the privileged alone is simply another embodiment of the same dominating force that it pretends to subvert.
Considering the global impact of our food choices, I do strongly support the drastic reduction, and perhaps near elimination, of meat, dairy, and eggs for the benefit of our bodies and the planet; however, the influence of systemic injustice on the availability of making this decision cannot be ignored. I hope to address this serious issue in future posts, bringing to light both the benefits of a plant-based diet as well as the hurdles standing in the way of this option being made available to those who are interested but live in under-resourced, underprivileged areas. If food is power, than it is about time that food be returned to the people…