[Is Veganism For Everyone? is a new Best of Vegan column in which our editor Sabrina Yates explores how accessible and inclusive the vegan lifestyle really is.]
The Stereotypical Vegan
When I was little, I ate fried chicken. There shouldn’t be anything remarkable about that sentence, but to my closest friends, and even my own 22 year old tastebuds, it comes as a shock. Fried chicken and other “soul food” like mac & cheese and cornbread no longer have a place in my diet. For the past 8 years, I’ve had an on and off relationship with vegetarianism, and lately I eat a plant-based diet.
Thanks to veganism and other personality traits, my friends and I have a running joke that “I’m just a really tan white girl!” When that joke started, it was just that—a joke. But the more involved I became in the vegan community through social media, the more I realized a real problem at the core of that statement.
The stereotypical vegan—the one you see on your Instagram explore page or in Hollywood movies— is a white, middle class woman, probably named Jessica and addicted to SoulCycle. While I personally love the Jessicas of the world, this stereotype becomes a problem when people associate veganism with a certain class, race, gender, and even personality type.
“Veganism, in my mind, should be for everyone. (…) The issue isn’t that there’s some wealthy, white, female gatekeeper standing outside of vegan restaurants, only welcoming vegans who look like her. Rather, people who don’t fit into the vegan archetype often feel like veganism isn’t for them.”
Veganism, in my mind, should be for everyone. Depending on your health needs, plant-based eating might not be the best option for you, but it should at least be an option. In an ideal world, the vegan community would be open to anyone who is willing to try out veganism (or just eat vegan food). The issue isn’t that there’s some wealthy, white, female gatekeeper standing outside of vegan restaurants, only welcoming vegans who look like her. Rather, people who don’t fit into the vegan archetype often feel like veganism isn’t for them.
Before Veganism was Veganism
Before we dive into the modern ways in which Veganism can be for everyone, regardless of their gender, cultural, or class identity, let’s consider veganism’s roots. Veganism’s most direct predecessor is Ital, a way of living practiced by Rastafarians. In Rastafarianism, a religion that originated in 1930s Jamaica, Ital (or I-tal) is a means of increasing one’s vitality by avoiding certain behaviors like drinking large quantities of alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and, you guessed it, eating animal products.
Around the same time, before veganism was veganism, vegans called themselves “dairy-free vegetarians.” Men like Leslie J. Cross and Donald Watson promoted dairy-free vegetarianism in the 1940s, and Watson eventually christened the diet as “vegan” in 1944. Still earlier, some of America’s most famous vegetarians were men such as John Kellogg, (as in Kellogg cereal) Sylvester Graham (as in Graham crackers), and Benjamin Franklin (as in—well, you know). The earliest origins of vegetarianism can be traced back to ancient times, in the Mediterranean, Far East, and Southeast Asia. Ancient followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism practiced vegetarianism or animal product restriction.
So when plant-based eating began as a diet and lifestyle, it was very much not dominated by the 2019 poster girl for veganism. Many men and POC, regardless of their socioeconomic status, have been participating in plant-focused and plant-based diets for hundreds of years.
So, is veganism for everyone?
There are a lot of reasons someone might decide not to be vegan. Depending on your ethnicity, you might feel disconnected from your family or your roots if you swear of animal products. In a world that labels empathy and environmental conscientiousness as feminine, you might feel emasculated to call yourself a vegan. And you might not have $15 to spare on a salad or faux hamburger every day. While these concerns are all valid, very real concerns that the vegan community collectively needs to work on, there are already solutions to each of these issues.
Ethnic vegan cuisines mean you can be connected to your roots and enjoy the taste of home without sacrificing your personal ethics or taste. #Vegangains, representing exercise enthusiasts of all genders, has shown people that being masculine and vegan are not mutually incompatible. Plus, with more and more cheap vegan restaurants are popping up, fast food chains incorporating vegan dishes, and simple homemade meals, being vegan nowadays can be just as cheap being an omnivore.
My mission with this column is to assure you that veganism is for everyone, by reviewing vegan restaurants that reflect New York City’s diversity and testing out affordable, delicious recipes from around the world.
Text: Sabrina Yates | Featured Image: Kim-Julie Hansen, taken at Seasoned Vegan in NYC.