I have beef with the vegan community: Throughout the past five years, a string of friends, family and social media influencers have all tried to shame me into becoming vegan. Frankly, I am tired of the judgment that the community places on those who practice different diets. Nobody, including vegans, should have the right to police or shame the meat consumption of others.
One of my largest concerns about this judgmental vegan rhetoric is its blatant disregard for the socioeconomic barriers to healthy food. Not everyone has the privilege of choosing not to eat meat and animal products. Low-income communities frequently experience food insecurity and hunger. If someone is worried about where their next meal will come from, it likely does not matter whether that meal contains animal products.
Living in a food desert is also a barrier to following the vegan lifestyle. When people live miles from the nearest grocery store, it becomes difficult to make the trip to purchase healthy, fresh produce when there are cheaper options closer to home. Eating at nearby bodegas and fast-food restaurants may be the only convenient way for residents of food deserts to find a meal. Even before the cost of vegan food, the transportation costs of getting to a grocery store begin to pile up.
Vegan products in grocery stores often carry a hefty price tag. For example, non-dairy milk costs around twice as much as cow’s milk. Meatless protein options also cost more than their counterparts. Beyond Beef, a meatless beef alternative, is upwards of $12 per pound, whereas ground beef costs around $5 per pound. The high prices of these alternatives make them exclusionary. Vegans neglect the high price of their diet when they preach to people with limited budgets.
Veganism is only healthy when people have access to fresh fruits and vegetables at a reasonable price. There are a lot of processed, sugary and high-fat products that are considered vegan, including cereal, Oreos and potato chips. At fast-food restaurants, french fries remain one of the few vegan menu items. In low-income communities, these products may be the only accessible vegan foods. Are these low-cost vegan items good for one’s health and good for the planet? Probably not. It’s unfair to assume that the privilege of healthy eating is available to everyone. Yet, I still see vegans shaming others for their diet choices.
The vegan diet can be prone to undernutrition. Many vegans require vitamin B12 and iron supplements, which are easily obtained through the consumption of animal products. Biologically, the human body was designed to be omnivorous. This can be seen in our teeth and in enzymes that our bodies produce for the digestion of meat and animal products. Animal products, in moderation, are beneficial for people to eat.
Additionally, many vegans cite climate change as an impetus for their diet. On the surface, this argument makes sense: The mass production of cows, chickens and pigs for meat consumes an incredible amount of water. It also produces alarmingly high levels of solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Even if vegans in America may reduce their individual water consumption and carbon footprint, the meat they would have eaten is being shipped to international markets.
Even in recent years, as meat consumption in the United States has been decreasing, corporations have begun to ship meat to countries like Brazil and Mexico where the middle class is growing. As Americans are making the switch to consume less meat, producers are continuing to rear animals on factory farms, consume massive amounts of water and pollute greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
I do appreciate the altruism of the vegan community: wanting to reduce climate change is a noble goal. Their climate advocacy, unfortunately, is quite misguided. The solution to climate change is not through small, individual actions, but rather through systemic change — the emphasis that vegans place on individual actions undermines necessary climate activism for corporate regulations. We should be focusing on regulating the meat industry through law rather than individual action, such as consuming less meat. Ultimately, large-scale regulations on fossil fuel emissions seem to be the only way to effectively combat climate change.
Veganism is convenient for only those who can afford to pay high prices for specialty vegan items or shop at Whole Foods. Humiliating non-vegans for their diets essentially blames low-income communities, who will bear the brunt of climate change, for the disenfranchisement that they experience.
ELAINE LOUDEN is an MPH candidate at the School of Public Health. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.