Why Your Veganism Must Be Intersectional


Let’s talk food. No matter which angle we come at it from: food is political. The way the food you eat is produced, controlled, regulated, inspected, distributed, and consumed has to do with systems of power and systems of oppression. Veganism claims to recognise this – but falls short.

Before we confuse being plant-based and being vegan, let’s start with semantics. Veganism and a plant-based diet are often used interchangeably but the two are very different. Veganism is a political choice, and a plant-based diet is a health choice.

Veganism, according to the Vegan Society is a lifestyle, “which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

A plant-based whole food diets, on the other hand, is more of a health choice: a focus on eating whole fruits and vegetables, lots of whole grains, and minimising the intake of animal products and processed foods. Vegans can follow a plant-based diet but the two terms are not interchangeable.

You don’t have to go vegan, but here are 5 reasons to consume less animal products

The vegan movement has not been that successful. For the most part, it has been whitewashed – and white vegan social media is teeming with racism. We see this in the disturbing comments made about Hindus – who are mostly Indian – and light firecrackers to celebrate Diwali or about the Chinese who, during the summer solstice, celebrate the Yulin Festival and eat dog meat and lychees. This is racist. It implies that white vegans are at the centre of morality when we know very well that they are not.

We can’t forget how vegan activists questioned whether black lives  “as in black, human lives” are as significant as the lives of cows and chickens. Or how these vegans used #AllLivesMatter to talk about veganism. It deliberately used language that excluded black people and disregarded the #BlackLivesMatter movement (and subsequently, the vegan movement) in one fell swoop.

We can save the movement if we make our veganism intersectional. Intersectionality means to acknowledge how various systems of oppression are entangled with each other. It insists that social justice cannot be single-issue because the experience of oppression cannot be understood using single-issue analysis. To be an intersectional vegan means that you acknowledge that oppression is multi-pronged and to dismantle it we have to attack it at its root. This means veganism would have to fight too against racism, sexism, ableism, and the other “isms”.

Many vegans have been critical of this, saying intersectionality displaces the centrality of nonhuman animal suffering in the vegan movement. They argue that it allows humans to claim victimhood and excuses them of their speciesism: assigning different values, rights, or consideration solely based on which species a creature belongs to.

Animal rights matter, no vegan disputes that. But where are the conversations about the treatment of the farm workers? Intersectional veganism means it’s not enough to end animal agriculture. We have to advocate for the farm workers who grow our foods in conditions that are far from but “cruelty free”.

There are people who pick our fruit and vegetable, who wash and and pack them for your supermarkets and food delivery boxes. This systematically abused workforce must be addressed within conversations about animal cruelty. It is crucial that conversations about plant-based diets being kinder to the environment and animals include discussions about farmworkers and the conditions they face in producing the food we eat. Their liberation matters as a part of what we eat and how.

At the same time, how can we stop buying leather goods but then wear clothes made in sweatshops? It says we think animal’s lives are more important than peoples, specifically Black people who often work in these sweatshops.

Are we saying that some people’s lives are less significant than the lives of animals? We say that animals are sentient beings too, meaning that they feel just like other humans. But for thousands of years, some humans have been relegated to animal-like/ subhuman treatment. Humans have been othered to the extent that their lives have had no value outside of how they can benefit the oppressor. This is in the same way animals are portrayed as soulless creatures, only here for human consumption. Look at colonisation, slavery, apartheid.

White vegans can so easily dismiss and ridicule intersectional veganism because their bodies are not the ones being oppressed.

Identifying as vegan should not just be about animal cruelty. This is a deficient understanding of oppression. If veganism is more inclusive movement, it can target more people and become more effective. At the very least it can be understood for the good work it is trying to do and not dismissed as racist.

Intersectional veganism is the revolution: let’s get on board.

Featured image via Flickr 


  1. In all honestly, food (like all essentials eg education, health care ect) should be outsourced to automation as much as possible. It will bring the cost down and result in wider access in the long term.

  2. This is a very important discussion. The Uhuru Solidarity Movement, the mass organization of the African People’s Socialist Party to build white solidarity with black power, is hosting a similar discussion for our next live streamed web show , Thurs. July 25 at 7 pm EST. “Beyond White Veganism: Vegans for Reparations.” Only 50 spots left, so be sure to register for the login info at VegansForReparations.eventbrite.com. This will also double as a fundraiser for the Black Power Blueprint, a black self-determination project based in North St. Louis. Learn more and donate at blackpowerblueprint.org


  3. Speaking as a long time vegan and member of a vegan movement, I can’t say I agree with this article at all. I feel this is an attempt to politicize and racialize the Vegan movement. I’m not sure what comments some vegans made about Indian Hindu’s and Chinese people who eat dog at the Yulin festival, maybe some of them were racist, however given how easily one is accused of racism today maybe they were not. I’ve looked into the Yulin festival and the treatment of animals at it (dogs in particular), and this deserves to be criticized – there are pictures of dogs being skinned alive and thrown into vats of boiling water, needless to say this deserves to be criticized and would deserve to be criticized regardless of where it was held and what nationality or people were holding and facilitating this event. I agree that the principles of justice and animal rights that veganism represents apply all the way from where food is produced right along the life cycle to where it is distributed and consumed, but the methods that are employed in accounting for this are important, however I feel like the ones you are advocating will not be sufficient, and will instead racialize and politicize veganism. This may take the form that many feminist movements take like blaming western culture or white people (I prefer not to talk in term of race but your article indicates that this is unavoidable) for all the problem of the world, including the consumption of animal’s and their products. This is quite obviously ridiculous but still needs to be stated as such.


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