Joaquin Phoenix and the Problems with White Veganism

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Iñigo De la Maza on Unsplash

I’m going to preface this by saying: No, I do not have a problem with people who choose to avoid or minimize the use of animal products and animal labor in their lives. I spent quite a bit of energy pushing a convention I go to to move away from the hotel which was 2 miles from the nearest other place to get food and offered precisely zero vegetarian entrees (even their salads have meat).

The people I have a problem with are a specific, noisy subset of white vegans who’s veganism appears to be more about superiority than care for animals. I also have a problem with evangelical vegans in the same way I have a problem with evangelical anythings.

What do I Mean by “White” Veganism?

You’ll notice I called out a particular person in the title of this article. That’s because Mr. Phoenix, in his Oscar speech, decided to make this point in his speech:

“I think whether we’re talking about gender and equality, or racism, or queer rights, or indigenous rights, or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice,”

This is the kind of thing these people say all the time. From their perspective they’re arguing that all fights against injustice are equal.

From the perspective of a member of a minority? He’s comparing people to animals. For African-Americans in particular, who’s ancestors were treated as animals, this is tone-deaf to say the least. Even from the perspective of a white woman, knowing how women have been treated as livestock in the past.

White veganism, in other words, is white people using language to convince others to become vegan that denigrates other human beings. It’s placing animals above people who aren’t white, especially black people.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Signs you are Talking to a White Vegan?

So, how can you identify a “white vegan” as opposed to a regular, decent person who just wants to stop factory farming or whatever? Here are a few symptoms:

  1. Saying everyone on the planet needs to be vegan or we’re all going to die. In other words, environmental hyperbolism as a way to guilt people into not eating meat.
  2. Comparing the use of animal labor with slavery. Yup, right back to comparing black people to animals (they always mean the Peculiar Institution, not some other brand of slavery).
  3. Comparing animal slaughter with the Holocaust. (Pro tip: If you compare anything to the Holocaust you are going to come over as anti-Semitic and anti-ziganist).
  4. “Animal rights trump indigenous culture.” Need I go further. Usually this is an objection to sustainable hunting practices used by people who’s environment doesn’t allow a plant-based diet. I’ve even seen “An ethical Inuit would starve to death.” Yup, somebody actually said that. I won’t say where because I don’t want to give the site any traffic.
  5. Comparing animal breeding to rape. I don’t feel I need to explain this one either.
  6. “Everyone is healthier on a vegan diet.” Fact is, some people can’t handle a plant-based diet, either because their bodies don’t produce enough taurine (this can be fixed with supplementation, but white vegans will insist this problem doesn’t exist), or because they’re not neurotypical and can only handle some foods. This is called ARFID or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and people with it need to eat what their body will let them. (I have minor avoidance issues myself, but because it’s only a few things it doesn’t fit the diagnosis, but don’t ever try to get me to eat rice pudding…)
  7. “There are no excuses not to be vegan.” This overlaps with 6, but also shows a lack of understanding that many people can’t actually afford to be vegan. Go look at fast food menus, just for starters.

See the picture? They claim to care about animals, but they don’t care about black people, about Jews, about Roma, about sexual assault survivors, disabled people, indigenous people, or poor people.

And I suspect in at least some cases, by taking a moral stance, they can place themselves above those people and claim not to be white supremacists.

Again, I’m not talking about all vegans here. As a personal choice I respect it and I’ll help you find out which restaurants in my hometown cater to you.

But those who act in the ways described above are not being moral and ethical. They’re being bigots.

Written by

Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store