I was recently contacted by a student at the University of Connecticut taking a class on food and race. She mentioned that this week they were discussing veganism in a sociocultural context and how racism has created a skewed perception of veganism as a strictly “white” thing.
I can not say that I agree that modern day racism has caused the lack of veganism in the African American community. If you are referencing the race of people typically featured in vegan advertisement, I think they are simply marketing to their broadest customer base. Maybe it has a cyclical affect on who buys the products, maybe not, but I would not call it racism.
There may be a connection between past racism and socioeconomic condition of the African American community today. And since education and income is a factor in a person’s likelihood to be health conscious or vegan, that may have more to do with it.
I was well into college before a met my former roommate. She was the first person I met who made healthy eating choices. I grew up knowing fatty foods were bad for you, but she actually ate whole grains, lean meats, avoided processed foods, read nutrition labels, and exercised for pure leisure. At the income and education level of my community, those examples simply didn’t exist.
After that experience I started to notice more people at my predominantly white University who took food and health seriously. That is when I started to seek information about alternative lifestyles.
Which is an extra layer of circumstances to consider. Being from the south and from an African American community, food is a religious experience. You wouldn’t turn down your Grandmother’s deep fried chicken the same way you wouldn’t deny her blessing over your saved soul.
And when you add on lack of income or the attitude of lack, you eat what you can, and be happy about it. There is no picking and choosing when you are lucky to be eating or when your parents have sacrificed to provide for you because they grew up just being luck to eat.
So the non-white and lower-income communities have extra hurdles to jump to achieve a plant based lifestyle that go beyond simply “not wanting to give up meat”. It is my opinion that access to the vegan lifestyle is linked to socioeconomic status, which may be results of a communities history in the United States. I think there can be more done to attract African Americans to the lifestyle which is why I do my show and why I am glad authors Tracye McQuiter, Bryant Terry, and publicist Stephanie Redcross exist, but I do not think current race relations is the fundamental barrier.