#Vegandale So White

Toronto’s newly dubbed ‘Vegandale’ and all of mainstream veganism is not helping humanity — not enough, at least. Before I get into it, I want to acknowledge that making the personal decision to live a vegan lifestyle is amazing for you, and I sincerely admire everyone who makes that choice. On the other hand, I do not admire when that lifestyle is constantly promoted or shoved in our faces, either in the form of public protests downtown, or in the form of a new jarring documentary, or a family member, or even just some random on social media flooding your news feed with disturbing images and stats about our (Western) meat and dairy industries. I (shamefully) admit that I was once this type of person, and in hindsight, I not only see how damn annoying I must have been, but I am now aware of all the other overlapping and more urgent issues I was ignorant to at the time. I bought into the Peta statements, signed up for their Newsletters, and made it my mission to make sure all those around me heard their message. So, that brings me to my title — Vegandale (and the rest of mainstream veganism) is so white; and I mean white in the sense that it solely places us, as individuals, at the centre of everything, and our individual relationships to the environment. This completely overlooks the large impacts that our decision to go vegan really has on other populations around the globe. It promotes health for you, as a single being, and that is an amazing goal to strive towards, surely not one to be overlooked when living in a society surrounded by junk food ads. And then there are those documentaries. When those types of documentaries are released, they do a great job at highlighting the ways our current factory farms have contributed to our planet’s suffering, and they always feature the tear-jerking, chills-down-your-spine, footage of the absolute disgusting and inhumane treatment of animals by these industries. Honestly, that was what got me more than anything; I instantly became a vegetarian afterwards, and flirted with veganism for the next four years. I mean, all the reasons I listed do seem like more than enough to make the switch to a healthier, more sustainable, and more ethical lifestyle. But, I feel that it’s much more complex than that, as life always is, and I feel it is only absolutely true when we are just concerning ourselves. The reason I say this is because every single move that we make — every action — creates an equal and opposite reaction, one of the principal laws of physics; and that applies to our consumption habits as well. Everything we choose to spend our money on, including what foods we buy and how much of it we’re buying, creates a reaction somewhere else. Sometimes that reaction is felt here, sometimes it’s felt back where the food was sourced from, and sometimes it is felt entirely by Mother Earth. I feel that the reactions that are caused by mainstream veganism, and trends like #Vegandale creates more harm than good for some of the most vulnerable communities in our cities and in our world right now.

Vegandale, if you’re lucky enough to not know this yet, is a recent nickname for the Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto, which came as a results of one of the most aggressive forms of gentrification in our city. Families were forcefully evicted from their homes so they could be teared down and replaced with condos and whatever else the hipsters desire. I’m not exaggerating either, look at their website; topped with the image of a token service-industry-working minority in an attempt to exemplify diversity (*whispers* but only if they’re there to service them and their needs, of course).

The way that veganism is advertised is done in way that perpetuates an ‘out of site, out of mind’ mentality. Where we only focus on the problems that we can see. This is how those types of documentaries gain so much attention and cause viewers to act on it — because we cannot ignore what we have already seen with our own eyes. Western societies heavily prioritizes visuals; when we see something, we do something. Maybe this comes from all the propaganda and over-consumption, I don’t know — but I do know that not all societies and cultures behave this way. In many Eastern communities, story telling and sharing through the sense of listening is the primary call-to-action — when you hear about something, like someone in need of help, you will be called to do something. We, in Western cultures, also cannot ignore something that has been ‘scientifically proven’ by the traditional, Euro-centric practices that have been developed upon here in the Americas. We need to see the statistics, hear the percentages, and know what the results will be before accepting something as factual. But, there are countless existing civilizations in modern and ancient history that have already known for centuries what science has only recently managed to ‘prove’ as true. I think in today’s day and age with all the ~fake news~ spreading like wildfire, that may be a factor to why we need to see something in order to believe it. We need to see for ourselves the videos of animals being tortured to stop buying the products that are resulted from it, we need to see the before and after photos of the icecaps melting in order to change our dangerous consumption patterns. This is what I mean when I say that mainstream veganism is so white, and promotes an out of site out of mind reality, because we are only concerning ourselves with what we are doing. By simply changing your habits, that means you are doing your part and everyone else just needs to simply do the same — and that is not true.

What I am trying to get us all to think about is what and where the equal and opposite reactions of our actions are and who they are felt by. Like, where exactly did our sudden influx of avocados come from and how? What about our quinoa supply? As Westerners, we are so used to this rare luxury of having access to everything we want when we want them. When we demand, there is supply. Some of us have lived this way all our lives; some for generations. But, I think we can all remember a time when avocados were not this accessible; and when we didn’t even know how to pronounce the word ‘quinoa.’ Where were these supplies being sourced to before we wanted them? How have we, as a society, changed that? Quinoa, the resilient crop filled with some of Earth’s greatest nutrients can now barely be eaten by locals in Bolivia and Peru, the places where quinoa originates, because the prices have more than tripled due to recent Western demands. It’s unfortunately also true for my beloved fruit, avocados. Because of the massive amounts of water it takes to grow a field of avocado trees, Chilean farmers and their families endured a terrible drought last year, for our ability to have access to guacamole all season-round.

What I’m here to share is that our attention and our concern is needed in areas that go beyond what we put on our plates; we cannot stop thinking there. We need to think about humanity and the salvation of all living beings on our planet, and it is about more than what we put inside of or on our bodies.

What does it even mean to eat clean? And who is else is it clean for?

Besides drunkenly breaking my four year vegetarian streak with a Junior Chicken on my 21st birthday, and various forms of cheating on my vegan phases — like having a taste of my cousin’s chocolate-dipped cone from the ice-cream truck at a community BBQ in July — I was not being healthy, and I just couldn’t afford to maintain a healthy vegan lifestyle at that point in my life. My doctors had even told me. So, now I just try my best. I practice using more vitamin and nutrient packed foods in my diet, with a balance of what I enjoy and what works with my budget. I make an effort to ensure my consumption habits are reflective of my values in the areas that I am able to control. I know that I’m not perfect, and there are areas I can still improve in, and I do plan on doing so, but at my own pace. I stumbled upon a wellness article by Nia Calloway, where she shared her experience with veganism with such eloquence. It resonated with me, because I know that I want to live a healthy vegan lifestyle one day, and I know it won’t look like the way I was doing it five years ago. I can only do what works for me, and the same goes for everyone else. There isn’t one single correct way to live, and there never can be, because each of us is so unique. We all come from an array of cultures, each with deep-rooted wisdom and philosophies of life, forms of traditional medicine and holistic diets that hold equal value.

Is your vision of a perfect world inclusive of all humanity? When giving support to your community, where do ‘your’ communities start? Where do they end? And within said communities, who is included and who is not? More importantly, why are they not?

I do not believe geography is a valid reason.

Millions of people do not have enough food to eat right now; here within Canada and within each and every man-made border that separates us from one another. Too many people do not have access clean drinking or bathing water; too many people do not have a place to call home. These are the very basic necessities every human being needs to stay alive. I have to say, that I feel the mainstream promotion of veganism is not where humanity needs our energy right now. I am sorry to say, but the priorities there are simply misaligned and have to be revisited — for the sake of humanity. And I know that a vegan lifestyle is one solid step towards saving our precious environment. I know how important it is to save our Mother Earth, I live to protect Her too, but I also live to protect and serve all of Her people. I say this with the utmost humility, but what point is it saving the earth if we all won’t make it? If all the disadvantaged and marginalized folks are left to fend for themselves, or die off, then y’all can keep it. If the purpose of saving our planet is to only keep wealthy people living North America and Western Europe alive and well, then I don’t want to be a part of that world.

Is your vision of a perfect world inclusive and protective of people who are similar to you, or all of humanity? It’s a question I constantly ask myself, and it is one that I believe is worth all of our time to consider.

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