Recently, I was re-subjected on Hathor to a popular but not universal vegan position: that the only reasons anyone eats meat are tradition and pleasure. That no one eats meat because they must. We can just eat rice, beans and grains in lieu of meat.
That assertion is rolling in privilege. Specifically, the privilege of not having a health condition for which doctors advise a special, non-vegan diet.
Let’s get one thing clear: the debate about whether or not some vegan diet somewhere would work for people with insulin-resistance, Crohn’s disease or failing kidneys or a medical requirement for more protein than the typical human needs is not the issue. In fact, let’s just take it as a given that there is a vegan diet for everyone, somewhere. But at this point, it’s a matter of fact that a functioning vegan diet for some of these conditions remains unknown. Vegans complain online of being told by doctors they have a condition that requires them to eat red meat or eggs or whatever. Some of this may be ignorance or prejudice on the part of the doctors.
That’s not the issue. The issue is: people are being told by their doctors they have conditions which require a low-carb diet, or require more protein than most people, or that keep their systems from digesting half the foods available on a vegan diet. For a vegan to say “humans only eat meat for pleasure or tradition” is absurd, insulting and privileged. And untrue. People often eat meat and animal by-products because they are being advised by the experts in healthcare that they must.
Take me, for example. I ‘ve never liked beef. I’d rather never eat it. But I get anemic. I take iron pills every day and eat quite a lot of veggies and dark leafy greens per week. And when the anemia happens, I take extra iron pills and eat even more greens. No help. I have on multiple occasions systematically tried every food but beef known to help with anemia, to no avail. I’ve tried herbs. I’ve tried everything anyone at health care stores can think of. Nothing but beef gets me going again. I languish in fatigue until I break down and eat beef I don’t like or enjoy. Then I’m fine.
That’s a really mild example. There are people with immediately life-threatening problems who are being advised by well-informed doctors that they need to eat animal by-products or meat, at least for a certain period during their illness. When a vegan says no one eats meat except for pleasure/tradition – read “selfish purposes” – they are callously erasing that person and his concerns. How does that fit in with the vegan philosophy – deleting people who don’t fit your scenario?
There are people halting the progress of their diabetes by eating a non-vegan diet. Could there possibly be a vegan diet that would do them even more good? Sure, anything’s possible. But like I said, go subject yourself to medical experiments. How does advising others to be the vegan movement’s guinea pigs fit in with the vegan philosophy?
Additionally, there’s something very classist about asserting that everyone could just go vegan right now if only they’d stop making excuses. The US is full of people who don’t know how to eat properly by any standard. We don’t teach nutrition in schools anymore, and many parents just don’t have a clue. Fortunately, a vegan diet doesn’t have to be expensive, so it may be possible for them to eat vegan for the same or less money. But what about families where all the adults work very long hours just to make ends meet, and no one has time to do food prep and cooking? The answer I usually hear is: “They just need to buy a slow cooker and there are tons of vegan recipes that’ll be quick and easy to fix that way.” Yeah? Because everyone has an extra $24 or whatever it costs to buy a slow cooker? Check your privilege – not everyone does.
Saying the only reason people don’t go vegan is they don’t want to erases a lot of people who have legitimate reasons to believe they can’t.