I was called out on being privileged today for being Vegan and being able to “choose what I eat”, and I have a few things to say.
And before I begin my argument, because I discuss the potential problems with white privilege, I want to begin by recognizing my privilege. As a white female I am aware of the distinct gap in discrimination, particularly in America. And though I think it is important for all people to understand and recognize their privilege, I also think there are very important problems to note about how the idea of privilege affects groups of individuals, society, etc. Please keep this in mind while reading my assessment of the Vegan Privilege argument. And please also keep in mind that this argument is from a class based and hierarchical outlook on the structure of society, particularly a Socialist based view point. Keep this in mind when I discuss similar but different groups and structural problems of racism and capitalism.
One: I hate the idea of Vegan privilege for the same reason I hate the idea of white privilege. It keeps two similar but obviously different groups from uniting under the basis that one of those groups has a privilege that keeps them from empathizing with the other. I am not saying that white privilege does not exist. Its obvious in our systematically racist, sexist, capitalist world that I-as a white person- will never feel the amount of discrimination as a black, Latino or any other person of color. But the problem is that that is NOT what whipping out the white privilege argument does. It doesn’t put white people in their place by forcing them to recognize that they are inherently in a position of privilege in society. What it DOES DO, however is tell white people that it is wrong to empathize with a group that is different than them. It tells white people that they cannot hold a sign stating “I am Troy Davis” or “I am Trayvon Martin” or “we are all Palestinian” because there is no possible way that a white person could identify with someone that has been affected so differently in our white privileged society. It keeps the structure in place by reaffirming that Blacks, Mexicans, etc are lower than whites. And, in turn, keeps people (an in the case of Veganism: animals) from uniting under the very important fact that they are fundamentally the same. And that is exactly what the Vegan Privilege argument does. It asserts that I cannot possibly empathize with a nonhuman animal and choose a healthy, compassionate, environmentally friendly diet and lifestyle without putting myself in a place of privilege because not all human animals can choose what they eat (or IF they eat at all).
Which leads me into my second point: the fact that you, as an omnivore, have the choice to eat and ravage ANYTHING you would like is privileged. Simply because my lifestyle keeps me from engaging in many free food events on campus does not make me privileged, it makes me selfless. The fact that YOU eat everything and anything that is in your path without considering for a moment the health and environmental implications of your actions puts you in a VERY privileged position. One that I, as a Vegan, attempt to eliminate through education and personal action.
Thirdly: Saying that a Vegan is privileged because its costs a considerable amount of money to be Vegan. All I have to say to that is SHUT UP. A Vegan diet is not only one of the most healthy and environmentally friendly food choices but it is also the CHEAPEST. Ever notice that only developing countries eat meat, while underdeveloped countries tend to have a diet consisting of rice, beans and vegetables? That’s because the amount of money that it costs to grow, feed, and care for a livestock animal is INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE, especially when you consider the ratio of water and food used to the amount of food produced (which is amount 19737 liters of water and 16 pounds of grain to one pound of beef). And much more expensive than they Vegan counterpart of water needed to produce grain and vegetables. This, of course, applies less to today as we have globalized, assembly line factories that produce everything from toys to automobiles to food that allow it to be produced in mass for a lower price, but the fact still holds true.
I understand that one is choice (Veganism) and one is not (structural Racism)- though to a Vegan the choice of not exploiting animals is not really a choice at all- but I feel as though the use of them as arguments against people have very similar affects. Both assert that is the obligation and problem of the individual, letting the true beneficiaries off the hook. With white privilege the whites in power, the ruling class who actually put the structure in place are let off the hook by accusing all white’s of benefiting from racism when, in fact, the majority of middle and lower class white people have no say in the structure or the oppression that occurs beyond individual agency. And as individual agency is good, it does very little when battling a large structural problem like racism projected by the ruling class. And similarly with Vegan privilege, those who own the factory farms, etc who are ACTUALLY benefiting from price of cattle at the expense of the exploitation of the animal are ignored and the heat is put on individual Vegans who are privileged because they have the choice to eat and choose what they eat when so many can’t. Again, ignoring the large structure that is in place. And ignoring facts like if the structure that exploits animals was abolished, we would have enough food to solve the world hunger problem fourteen times over.
Saying that you personally cannot be Vegan because it is too privileged is ridiculous. That is like pointing out that I am privileged because I live in a developed country or that I am white or that I am Vegan. Rather than focusing on the fact that that may put me in a privileged position, why don’t you funnel your efforts into implementing change in out systematically corrupt society in order that those things are no longer considered privileged because their opposites will no longer be discriminated against!
(P.S. For all of you who will think I am perpetuating the ignorant “I’m not privileged” bullshit: I am a Socialist. Here’s an article for reads: https://sherrytalksback.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/the-paralysis-of-white-privilege/)