Updated: Mar 15
With veganism, as with most things, there is a stereotype; the pale, skinny, weak, long haired hippy. They're probably twirling a flower and shouting to the world that meat is murder. I don't know about you, but this certainly is not me. The other stereotype when it come to vegans is that they are all white.
It is well known that the vast majority of vegans in western countries are female, roughly 3 out of 10 vegans are male and they come in all ages and sizes. The number of companies making vegan baby food has increased as the number of sales go up, care homes are having to adapt their menus as they look after more elderly vegans, and everyone else in between is buying beans, tofu and vegan cheese by the bucket load. But, what about race, are all vegans white, middle classed and driving their hybrid cars or cycling through the countryside?
The Media Face Of Veganism
If you search for celebrity vegans on the internet most of the faces that you will see will be white. This isn't a good or a bad thing, it's just a fact; these people are famous, they're vegan and they are white, it's not racism or discrimination. There are famous black vegans and vegans of all races, but the list for them is a lot shorter in western countries.
Around the world, on almost all continents, you will find people that live in a vegan or plant based way. In many countries plant based diets are the common diet, meat is scarce so people eat plants and they thrive, having some of the longest life spans of all people on the planet.
On social media the balance of representation is more even as the accounts are controlled by the users themselves. They do not have to worry about appealing to companies that will pay to advertise on their channels or businesses that would sponsor them as, for most people, using social media is a hobby. It is not their paid work, it's not how they pay their bills. Because of this they are free to express themselves as they wish, as long as they're not being offensive or spreading misinformation or lies. This increases the diversity that you will see, with black vegan channels being some of the most popular of all vegan channels on YouTube.
So, Who Is Vegan?
In the USA a poll was carried out by The Vegetarian Resource Group of 2,030 adults aged 18 and over. They found that 4% of Americans say that they are vegetarian or vegan, with 1% being wholly vegan. This means that, roughly, 9 million people are vegetarian and around 2 million of those are vegan. Within this their statistics showed that 6% of black people polled were vegetarian or vegan, with 3% being wholly vegan. So, per population group, black people are three times as likely to be vegan compared to white people. When these polls are conducted they can literally be very black and white with everyone that identifies as being white in one group and everyone that doesn't being labelled black. This can make it hard to make good deductions from the information, but it is still interesting.
Why Are More Vegans White, Then?
So, the numbers show that a greater percentage of vegans are "black", but the number of white vegans is higher, how does that work? In America this is because the black population only account for around 13.4% of people, 60.1% are white, 18.5% are Hispanic. The rest of the population consists of people from many different cultures including Asian and Native American. In the UK 86% of the population are white, 2.9% are black and 4.5% are Indian or Pakistani, with the rest of the population being a mix of people from ethnicities including Chinese, Bangladeshi, Arab and mixed race. The thing is, this is just what's going on in two countries, in the rest of the world there is less mixing of ethnicities, but also there are a lot more vegans.
In some countries veganism is more of a religious than a dietary or animal cruelty matter. In Africa there are religions that demand that people don't eat meat on certain days of the week. Others dictate that certain animal products are to be avoided. In countries like Morocco and Tunisia the diet is mainly vegetarian with little meat being eaten, although this is changing as tastes change. It is well known that India is a predominantly vegetarian country with a higher percentage of vegans than many other place in the world. In these countries you don't have a lot of mixing of different races, so the idea of veganism being white doesn't exist there.
There also seems to be this idea, in the west, that less black people are vegan because they are fighting issues of racism.
"How can we ask a black teen to fight for animal rights when she’s still getting followed through department stores? And isn’t it reasonable for someone to care more about systematic imprisonment of males in their community than the welfare of circus animals?"
The Huffington Post
Attitudes like this give the impression that being vegan is about constant protesting, it also suggests that "a black teen" only has the capacity to care about, or fight for, one cause at the time. I think black teenagers, teenagers in general, need to be given more credit. There is a the very real issue of food deserts where the opportunity to buy healthy food is seriously restricted; if your nearest supermarket is a two hour drive away and you don't have a car what do you do? You go to the local shop that has little to offer you in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables, and most food products are processed. People also have the idea that veganism is expensive, meat substitutes are expensive, ready meals, vegan or not, are expensive, a bag of dried beans is not expensive and neither is a bag of rice in comparison.
Veganism isn't an issue of race, it is an issue of animal cruelty, it is an issue of damage to the environment, it is an issue of restoring peoples' health and it is an issue of kindness. There's no place for race in these issues, we should all stand together.