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Veganism and Poverty: Identifying the Issues

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The issues of veganism as an obligation and income inequality/poverty as ”impossibility” to going vegan are often conflated. They are two separate issues. Only one of them requires real structural change.

The first is related to whether anyone can be vegan. The answer is yes. There is nothing stopping one’s mind and heart from concluding that killing someone for one’s pleasure or convenience is wrong. If it is wrong, then it is wrong under all circumstances, not just some. If it is not wrong, then we need to come up with a good reason. Whatever good reason we come up with must focus primarily on the victim of that wrong.

Veganism is a matter of fairness and a baseline for good, whether to the animals, our health or the environment, and we owe it to the animals to be fair (that is, to not be speciesist and not being speciesist means going vegan), just like we owe people of colour to not be racist, the LGBTIQ to not be phobic, to women to not be sexist, the differently abled to not be ableist, the aged to not be ageist and so on.

Let’s go through an exercise. We can replace the word “speciesist” with another: racist, sexist, classist, ageist, ableist, homophobic.

I’ll use the word “sexist”.

  • Can someone be sexist and poor? Yes.
  • Is sexism always wrong? Yes.
  • Do we have an obligation to others not to be sexist? Yes.
  • Does that mean that it is okay for someone to be sexist and poor? No.
  • Are individuals who are subjected to sexism still harmed, whether at the hands of a rich or poor person? Yes.
  • Is there something else to mitigate or explain the sexism? Yes.
  • Does that reason give the sexist person a pass to continue being sexist? No.
  • Do we have any right to judge the person who is being sexist? No. However, we do not have to like or condone the sexist person’s behaviour. We can speak up, educate and respectfully engage with that person or we can choose to walk away. And NO, we do not get to judge whether as a whole they are a good person – we have no basis upon which to do that. We can only engage them as best we can to shine the light on their sexism.

The same logic applies to speciesism. Therefore, if anyone can be poor and not sexist, then anyone can be poor and not speciesist and go vegan.

The second issue, that of income inequality/poverty can be directly related to access and affordability of non-animal foods – fresh or otherwise. Places where it is difficult or impossible to obtain affordable nutritious and non-animal food are called food deserts. Whether food deserts exist is disputed, but we assume that they do.

The issues that give rise to food deserts are serious and important. These require addressing on their own terms because of their importance and for the sake of all those who are affected. However, the existence of food deserts is not related to whether a rich or poor person can be vegan.

It is not acceptable that a segment of society, a vulnerable and exploited segment of society, only has access to foods that also physically represent and are connected to the most vulnerable and exploited members of the planet (that is, the animals and the humans who work in animal farming and slaughterhouses). And it is also not acceptable that this segment of society also bears a markedly greater health burden that limited food choices can bring about.

It is this structure that must be challenged and taken down – the structure that makes it so easy for non-vegan foods to be, arguably, the “only” available choice; the subsidised choice; the only choice because there is no transport; the only choice because there is no knowledge of a better choice; the only choice because it is not cool to discuss veganism as something that we owe others – that which we owe to animals.

Let us discuss veganism for what it is: an obligation we owe to others. And let us also address income inequality/poverty and find solutions to food deserts. But let us not conflate the two. Doing that betrays the animals and the humans.

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  • Vuchko

    I’m vegan from eastern Europe, very poor, living on less than 1€ a day for food. Poverty is no excuse. I’ve been vegan for sixt year now on same food budget, so I need no proof and no one can tell me that it isn’t possible. Buy ingredientas and prepare your own meals. Being lazy is no excuse. Do it for the animals, forget buying already made meals and special vegan food that costs several times more in specialized vegan stores or restaurants, than what would cost you’d make it on your own.

    • Morgan Alexandra Dryden

      The problem in many places in the US is that poor neighborhoods often don’t have grocery stores, and will only have fast food establishments and deli/convenience stores that sell sliced meat and cheese along with dairy and snack foods like potato chips, nuts, and candy. Many poor people do not have cars or other ways to get to a grocery store (especially when there is no [reliable] public transit). It’s technically possible to live on vegan chips, candy, and nuts, but you’d likely get very sick.

      I’m vegan but, having lived in poor neighborhoods without access to food other than a deli, I understand how difficult (impossible) it can be for people who simply do not have access to the food we need to be vegan without harming themselves.

      • Elizabeth Collins

        There were no canned or frozen vegetables at all of any kind, nothing, in the delis or convenience stores? No canned beans/chickpeas at all of any kind, nothing? No rice at all of any kind in the entire neighborhood? No potatoes and onions? I ask because I genuinely want to know. Thanks.

        • Morgan Alexandra Dryden

          No groceries at all really. Some sell eggs and milk, but mostly it’s snacks, lunch meats, cigarettes and lottery tickets, and it was the only store within walking distance.

          • Elizabeth Collins

            OK thanks but ‘no groceries at all really’ – can you be more definitive? Zero canned vegetables or beans? Zero frozen vegetables even potato products? Zero? If I understand correctly you are essentially saying that people lived *only* on sliced meat and sliced cheese, for breakfast lunch and dinner. Nothing else. At all. Unless they wanted potato chips or candy. Am I correct? Can you tell me where exactly this is if you don’t mind?

          • Elizabeth Collins

            I am not trying to be combative it’s just that I have no way of finding out definitively unless by someone who is actually there or who actually was there and remembers for sure, which unless they wanted to be vegan at the time might not be so easy to remember since they weren’t looking with a vegan lens, so to speak. I lived in NYC for 10 years, in Harlem, the Bronx, Ridgewood Queens, and Brooklyn, but I never lived where there weren’t beans and rice, at the very least. But I also am sure I never lived in a bonafide food desert, hence my ignorance. Even Barker Avenue the Bronx, which looked like a desert, I think there was an actual supermarket within the few blocks, which would disqualify it. Also, I worked in Manhattan so brought my stuff home on the train at the end of the day, so again doesn’t count as same experience for those stuck in food deserts

          • Morgan Alexandra Dryden

            I lived in a small city in NJ. It was poor enough that all the kids received free breakfast at school or something. Yhe water was unsafe to drink but the city was too broke to fix it so the hardware store distributed free water on Sundays. There were three places in town that sold food. A pizzeria, an ice cream and burger place, and a corner store/deli that sold primarily lunch meats/sandwiches, tobacco and lottery tickets. You could also get soft drinks, milk, and snack foods like chips and salted nuts. There were no fresh vegetables, no canned vegetables, (the only frozen product they had was bagged ice) no fruit at all other than the sliced tomatoes you could get on a sandwich. This is where people got their food if they couldn’t get a ride to the grocery store, which, for about half of my neighbors, was most of the time. If you’re on benefits, you can’t get hot foods, so that excludes all the pizzeria food except their salads, with heavy alterations, and without the meat, eggs, and cheese their salads are little more than iceberg lettuce with dressing, except none of their dressings are vegan now that I think of it so it’s really just iceberg lettuce and maybe some sliced tomatoes or onions.

          • Elizabeth Collins

            Terrible. Just terrible

          • Elizabeth Collins

            Given the information you gave me I am trying to think what I would do, if I found myself there as a vegan who wants to stay vegan and never could get to the grocery store. So far I have come up with: I would eat a lot of tomato sandwiches, and iceberg lettuce & onion salads with oil and vinegar. I would eat pizzas (if I could get the pizzas like you said if I was using food stamps it may be prohibited?) with only tomato sauce and vegetables (that’s what I do anyway). What else. I would eat the nuts and chips. I would probably eat the french fries from the burger joint if they weren’t flavored with beef stock or whatever (unless again I didn’t qualify for the hot food ever and never had money for that). I wish I knew what “primarily” meant though, so I could see the rest of the options omitted, but anyway it sounds unbelievably bad. It would be an incredibly unbalanced diet severely lacking in nutrition, but I still think that would be healthier than eating any meat or dairy, knowing what I know now.

            Of course, in order to even consider doing that in that situation, the person would have to take animal rights seriously, and also know that animal products are not necessary for health and are in fact, most likely totally bad for you all of the time, without exception (I know that some people argue that, I am not an expert, but I am pretty sure they are pretty much always bad for you, but especially the processed meats and cheeses that you must be taking about.) But yeah, you would have to be an animal rights activist, and know that meat and dairy are not necessary for the human body before you could even begin to try to figure out how to survive under those horribly deprived circumstances. That is why animal rights needs to get to these areas along with other social justice and equality, and nutrition and right to healthy fresh produce.

          • Elizabeth Collins

            When we lived in Rotorua on the benefit when I was about 19 years old, we only ate once a day. We ate sandwiches of french fries with tomato sauce on white bread. It sure tasted good by the time we got it, but was a terrible diet long term, and I only lived like that for a few months. I can’t imagine having to live like that for years and the nutritional deficiencies that would develop.

          • Emilia Leese

            Hi Morgan. I’m from NJ (and have lived in several different parts of the state). Where was this? I’m very curious.

    • Vuchko

      From some of the replies I conclude that many people have become so boxed in urban society, that they claim that it is impossible to buy basic groceries in the US in 21st century?! No store in walking distance, so what? What is a walking distance anyway? Instead of buying food daily or weekly, buy or order twice or once a month large packs of rice, beans, flour, salt, vegetble oil, canned vegetables, pasta, potatoes, onions, carrots, mashed tomato in jars, spices etc. Combine from what you can buy locally, and always target seasonal fresh vegetables because than they are cheap (don’t buy fresh peppers or tomato in the middle of winter). If you have the will to be vegan, than what you spend on junk food in near-by stores will provide you with more than sufficient quality vegan groceris for home made meals. 1.5 to 2$ a day is enough. Just put some effort in what you believe .

      • Emilia Leese

        Vuchko, good on you and you make some great points. And you are living your beliefs. It is hard to comprehend, but as I say in the piece, in certain parts of the world there are places that are called “food deserts.” Google it and you’ll see. How these food deserts are defined, whether it’s just lack of fresh fruit/vegetables or other foods, whether they exist at all and in what ways these may exist, varies greatly, can be subjective and there are several definitions and lots of debate. I assume they exist. And if they do, then this is an urgent problem that we should be addressing.

  • Simon James

    Do you think ableism is always wrong? How can you say you oppose ableism but are perfectly happy to follow Francione who uses mental illness as an insult with his “moral schizophrenia” term?

    • Elizabeth Collins

      It doesn’t ‘use mental illness as an insult’. You, however, did just that. Nice.

      The phrase ‘moral schizophrenia’ has nothing to do with schizophrenic people any more than the phrase ‘moral blindness’ has anything to do with blind people, or the phrase ‘drugs are a cancer on society’ has anything to do with victims of actual cancer. It uses *immorality* as an ‘insult’ if that’s how you want to put it, although I personally wouldn’t put it that way myself.

      • Simon James

        You think that is the same thing? Some nice copy and pasting of Franciones argument there too. Tell me Schizophrenia is complex disorder defined by the presence of schneider’s first rank symptoms. One of which is auditory hallucinations. So what hallucinations does he think people with moral schizophrenia have? Would you use autism in the same context? or how about moral parkinsons?

        One should not use any of these ableist terms though, they all use disability as an insult. Using schizophrenia in that way is worse though because “moral schizophrenia” is not a term that is commonly used, it hasn’t entered into everyday use, and its within a wider context we have to judge if a term is ableist. Rather we associate schizophrenia with all the insults people have made against those with mental illness. You and Francione just perpetuate the idea that schizophrenia is a bad thing, you even admit to associating with it in this context with immorality. Its wrong.

        • Elizabeth Collins

          You are the one perpetuating that schizophrenia as an insult. You are the one associating schizophrenic people with moral schizophrenia. You are the one stigmatizing schizophrenic people, that is truly how I see it. If you had even bothered to read about the phrase moral schizophrenia as explained by Francione and why he coined the term, he doesn’t claim there are auditory hallucinations just that it is delusional thinking about morality. There is not any relative comparison in autism that is apt, the spectrum is extremely broad and still being discovered really, so no there is no ‘moral autism’ phrase as it just isn’t applicable. ‘Moral parkinson’ makes literally no sense either. However moral blindness does, a cancer on society does—not to do with bind people or victims of cancer though. I note you made no mention of them in your answer.

          If you genuinely think that the terms ‘moral blindness’ or ‘drugs are a cancer on society’ etc are ableist, then say so. I disagree, but it would make your comments about the phrase moral schizophrenia at least seemingly more sincere, or more consistent, but you didn’t. As for “you even admit to associating with it in this context with immorality” – I think it is apparent in my comment that I did not. We not associating people who have clinical schizophrenia with immorality. You are. I am sorry that you feel that this is what we are doing, but again, we are no more associating people with clinical schizophrenia with immorality than saying someone is morally blind associates blind people with immorality. Hope that makes sense.

          • Simon James

            I just said that I do indeed think moral blindness ect is ableist, its just not quite so bad because it has a long history of use in that context, whereas schizophrenia does not. Its still wrong though.
            As for your justification that schizophrenia when preceeded by the word “moral”, no longer has any connection to clinical schizophrenia, then why does he use it at all to refer to delusional thinking? Surely it is because delusions are a feature of schizophrenia. You cant deny etymology.Think what it feels like for people with schizophrenia to have their medical condition associated with immortality?
            As for moral autism, one could say that autism is a disorder that results in many people with the condition to have difficulty understanding others emotions. One could then easily make up some definition of a moral autism that does not understand other emotions. Is this ok? NO. it associated autism with immorality. Its wrong. And the same is true of moral schizophrenia. One could make a similar amalgam of moral Parkinson, by defining it as a morality that is rigid and in a state of acute confusion. Again it would be wrong. The point is one can always use such medical terms in ways that associate disability with immorality or inferiority. Image if one were to do the same with race? or gender? or sexuality. Its wrong.

          • Simon James

            Why has my reply not appeared here?

          • Elizabeth Collins

            Don’t ask me this isn’t my site. Good bye, Simon. I already blocked you on Facebook a while ago, and now I know why. Take care.

          • Simon James

            You blocked me without knowing why? Did Francione tell you to? Is that how Franciones cult works? Group blocking of those that disagree with him?

          • Simon James

            Did you not like posting of evidence that Francione is ableist, eg telling people they need to take medication?

            What I said was that the term moral schizophrenia is entymolically linked to the clinical condition. The whole reason why he uses it it is because schizophrenia is associated with delusions. Therefore it is linking clinical schizophrenia with immorality.

            Re blindness ect. I agree these are ableist terms, one should not use them. But one should also be aware of cultural context. These terms have been used so long in our language that they have become disassociated with the underlying conditions. Francione on the other hand is making up a whole new link between schizophrenia and using it in a context linking it to immorality.

            I am not associating schizophrenia with immorality at all. I am saying you shouldn’t, and these type of objections are exactly why the rest of the vegan community think that the Francionists are part of a cult.

          • Elizabeth Collins

            I am not a moderator on this site i have no idea what ‘evidence’ i am supposed to have not liked. If anything was deleted it was not by me. I disagree that those terms moral blindness etc are ableist. You say they are but then you imply they are not because they have been ‘disassociated from the underlying condition.’ Excuse me if I think it utter nonsense that people associated that term with actual blind people and took it to mean that blind people are immoral. Have you any evidence of that?

            I have already responded to your attempt at an accusation that we, rather than you, are linking *schizophrenic people* to immorality. You have not addressed that and instead continue *your* making of the association between immorality and *schizophrenic people*. However your ‘cult’ comment reveals the likely insincerity of your objection here, and quite frankly I can see that any further engagement in you will probably lead to more ad hominems and circular hostility, as people who accuse people of agreeing intellectually with someone’s ideas as being in a ‘cult’ tend not to be people with whom one can have reasoned discussion. So I am not interested. I made my case and i leave it up to the reader. You can come on and insist that schizophrenic people are said to be all immoral by this term, which is clearly vacuous, and then call us all cult members all you like, if that is your ‘argument’. But again, I have no control over what gets published here or not so if any of your future comments are deleted or whatever happened please make enquires with this site rather than expecting me to have the answer.

          • Simon James

            I said it had become dissociated, it was not simply dissociated by want of people adding moral before the word. It became dissociated over a long time of repeated use. But note, I still said it is ableist, because to those that are bling, it is using a term they identify with in a negative context. You can deny this but you essentially denying factual etymology. Words have meanings and you cant get away from their historical and cultural usages and what that effect that has now even when you make up neologisms.

            If I was in your position, and someone said they had evidence that the person they follow told people he disagreed with that they need to take medication, that they need to calm down, then I would ask them for that evidence. I think your readers would feel the same way. I am sorry you felt the need to block me, but the more people you block the more Frnaciones movement will just exist in its own little world, cut off from the rest of the vegan movement. I don’t think that is a bad thing.

            All the best to you regardless.

  • scott

    Ha, what a joke! “There is nothing stopping one’s mind and heart from concluding that killing someone for one’s pleasure or convenience is wrong. If it is wrong, then it is wrong under all circumstances, not just some”.

    But vegans support human abortion at any stage of pregnancy for any circumstance or convenience. Bunch of hypocrites.

    Also, yes it is wrong to be sexist, etc. But vegans demanding others to be vegan and discriminating against them for hunting and gathering or being poor and needing to eat meat to survive, is just RACIST and discrimination.

    Indigenous people all over the world survive without supermarkets and money. Not like you frikin idiots! Yet you want demonise their pure and balanced relationship with the land, because they fish or hunt!

    Your a bunch of loonies.

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