No one in college is poor or oppressed, ever.

February 24, 2008 at 10:59 am (stupidity) (, , )

By way of introduction: Elaine Vigneault wrote a post claiming that since some people of color are vegans/vegetarians, there is no element of privilege whatsoever to veg*nism, and it’s offensive to claim there is. I responded by saying that, since it is a lot easier for some people to afford fresh, healthy produce than others, there is an element of privilege. She responded that there are cheap veg*an options — PB&J, lentils — therefore there is nothing privileged whatsoever about it. I responded to that with a story about our friend Brenden:

My best friend is at school at the big public university in our state. Even though he’s got an excellent deal on his tuition, he’s busting his ass to pay room and board. Since he has absolutely no extra money and lives on campus, eating in the cafeteria is his only option. And, having eaten there myself while visiting him, I can tell you that being a vegetarian there would be incredibly difficult (it was difficult for me to pull off for a weekend), and being a vegan definitely impossible (unless we expect him to only eat the very limited selection of fruit they provide, which would not be healthy). So, no one’s got any business tell him his situation isn’t an excuse to eat meat; he would love to have other options, but for the moments, he doesn’t. He’s white, but his family is poor. My other best friend and I are both students too, but because our families have more money, neither of us has any kind of problem being vegetarians.

. . . I think the only thing I’m trying to say is: it is one thing to ask someone who can easily access a healthy veg*n diet to do so. Asking someone for whom that would be incredibly difficult or impossible is a different kind of question. Not that we shouldn’t ask and encourage those people, but it’s not the same thing.

To which she responded:

I disagree that your friend’s lack of funds trumps his moral duty to avoid meat. Even in a cafeteria like that, there are options.

There are always some vegans at any college. I was vegetarian throughout college without trouble. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are damn cheap. Baked potatoes = cheap. Spaghetti with tomato sauce = cheap. Bean burrito = cheap. Vegetable soup = cheap. Oatmeal = cheap…

Before college, I was in the Conservation Corps. It was a similar situation to your friend’s. I lived on campus and had to eat at the cafeteria and had no extra money for anything. So I told the head chef I was vegetarian. It took a few weeks but finally they made me special meals.(in he meantime I ate PB&J sandwiches). I ate a lot of the same things over and over because the chef wouldn’t get creative, but I survived. And other people often chose the veg option, too, all because I asked for it.

To which I responded that he has literally no extra money (no PB&J for him), and that, while it’s possible the university would listen and change their menu, there is no guarantee, and anyway, asking him to do that is asking a lot more of him than asking be to just not buy meat.

Okay, here’s where I decided I want to post that. She than said, verbatim, emphasis hers:

Really, he’s in college. College. He can’t use excuses like ‘I’m not privileged enough’. He’s in college.

He’s not a good example of the poor people you’re talking about. And those poor people? To go veg, they need education more than money. (They need money for other things, but not veganism). Veganism is NOT a money thing. It’s an education thing.

Mother. Of. God.

I can’t wait till Brenden finds out he’s actually not poor. He will be so excited.

And, an update, in which she said:

He obviously simply places a low priority on ethical eating and a higher priority on convenience.

Like I said before, there are always some veg students at any college. If he just asked the cafeteria, they will likely provide him with a veg option. His excuse is just that, an excuse. He’s just not ready to do what it takes to live a more ethical lifestyle. There are certainly social barriers, but the choice is ultimately his to make.

I’m just reprinting this here so I can figure out whether she’s insane or I am, by the way. I’m pretty sure it’s not me, but it’s good to get a second opinion.

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22 Comments

  1. Jamelle said,

    I disagree that your friend’s lack of funds trumps his moral duty to avoid meat.

    You know, I’d be a lot more amenable to vegetarian movements or the slow food movement if they weren’t filled with this sort of self-righteousness and moral absolutism.

  2. Elaine Vigneault said,

    You said I claimed, “there is no element of privilege whatsoever to veg*nism”.
    I never, ever said that. In fact, I wrote these statements in the article you linked to:
    “The real privilege is in education.”
    “There are certainly cultural barriers, but they are not adequate justifications for not going veg.”
    “There are various types of privilege, including education, access to opportunities, freedom from racism, etc. It’s not just about money.”
    “Money is not a barrier against boycotting meat products.”

    And I wrote this in another article (http://www.elainevigneault.com/veganism-is-just-another-white-privilege.html):
    “Prejudice and racism exist everywhere and there are no doubt some cultural, financial and other pressures in regards to food and clothing choices. But we can all make some choices to end or reduce animal suffering and animal consumption.”
    “There are certainly intersections of race, class, and education regarding veganism. But to attack veganism and to simplify the conversation about those intersections to “veganism is white privilege” is truly offensive.”

    Besides, if you want to discuss my bias against called college students poor, you should leave veganism out of it and stick to this blog post I wrote:
    http://www.elainevigneault.com/class-2.html
    It’s a hard-earned bias. I worked my way through college so I don’t really have sympathy for anyone who calls themselves a “poor college student” and doesn’t have a job.

    Lastly, about asking the cafeteria: seriously!? How the hell do you think social change happens? Do you think it was too much of a burden for women to ask for the vote? Too much burden for slaves to ask to be free? Too much of a burden to tell bus drivers not to discriminate? Too much of a burden to ask schools to integrate?

    If you can justify inaction based on your assertion that it’s too much burden to act morally in immoral situations, then there’s really no hope for the future, is there? None of us ought to do anything to further social change. Jesus. Think about it for a second, please.

  3. Elaine Vigneault said,

    “I’d be a lot more amenable to vegetarian movements or the slow food movement if they weren’t filled with this sort of self-righteousness and moral absolutism.”

    That’s just an excuse immoral eaters give themselves to not think too deeply about the issue. It’s an ad hominem attack and it says nothing about the actual issues.

  4. Daisy said,

    Elaine, why do you think my friend doesn’t have a job? When and where did you decide that?

    If you can justify inaction based on your assertion that it’s too much burden to act morally in immoral situations, then there’s really no hope for the future, is there? None of us ought to do anything to further social change. Jesus. Think about it for a second, please.

    Oh please, that’s not what I said. I just want you to acknowledge that it’s extremely fucking hard for some people to make those changes, and it’s not the same for them to exert that giant effort as it is for me to exert minimal effort.

    “There are certainly intersections of race, class, and education regarding veganism. But to attack veganism and to simplify the conversation about those intersections to “veganism is white privilege” is truly offensive.”

    I’ve never attacked veganism, by the way. I just want you to acknowledge that those of us who can easily go vegan are in a privileged position, and I want you to stop acting like you understand people’s lives better than they do. That’s the real problem here. That was the problem with the crazy shit you were saying about mental illness and meds, and it’s the problem now. You have to believe people’s words about their own personal lives, for fuck’s sake. If someone says “I need meds” or “I can’t afford food, so this is what I have to eat right now” all decent people have to honor that.

  5. Jamelle said,

    Elaine,

    It may be an ad hominem attack, but it’s certainly the case that your self-righteousness/moral absolutism is a product of your refusal to think about the issues.

    If you were actually aware of the economics regarding food production and distribution, the politics of agriculture, and the constraints most Americans face you probably wouldn’t be so quick to condemn anyone who wasn’t able to become a vegetarian.

    If you actually had a healthy respect for moral complexity, then you’d realize that there is more than one way to eat ethically, and you wouldn’t be so eager to demonize anyone who didn’t buy into your “moral duty.”

    The greatest thing about people like you, is that you’re part and parcel of the system you decry. The system that treats animals like shit, is the same system that makes possible the ability to have a robust vegetarian lifestyle, without the risk of malnutrition. I frankly have no time for moral lightweights like yourself, who hide their stunning ignorance in absolutism and self-righteousness.

  6. Elaine Vigneault said,

    “why do you think my friend doesn’t have a job? When and where did you decide that?”

    When I asked if he had a job and you ignored the question.
    And since you don’t say he does have a job now, I’m keeping the assumption.
    But I’m sorry if I made the wrong assumption.

    “I just want you to acknowledge that it’s extremely fucking hard for some people to make those changes”

    I have.

    But your friend is not a good example of people who have it hard. College probably has a higher percentage of vegans than almost any other situation in your friend’s life. NOW is the time for him to change. Now, when he has more support from other vegans and the college culture. Now, when the cafeteria has likely already been asked what is and what is not vegan. Now, when he has the intellectual capacity and the time to think deeply about these issues. Now, when veganism is the most socially acceptable it’s ever been in society. Now, when his body is more able to adjust to drastic change. Now, not later, when he has more money. Now.

    Daisy wrote, “If someone says “I need meds” or “I can’t afford food, so this is what I have to eat right now” all decent people have to honor that.”
    This is where we have a difference of opinion. I can listen to someone and I can abstain from taking their food or meds away, but you’re telling me I can’t criticize people’s immoral actions. You’re telling me I can’t educate someone. You’re essentially telling me to STFU. There’s a BIG difference.

    Besides, WE’RE the ones talking here. I’m not talking to your friend about moral duty to boycott meat. I’m talking to YOU. Furthermore, we’re talking on blogs. You have to choose to read my blog to even know what my opinion is. (And I choose to read your blog to know what you’re opinion is). I am not foisting my opinion on anyone by publishing my personal thoughts in my blog.

    Jamelle, Do you read my blog? If not, please don’t make untrue accusations about me. And please don’t ever criticize anyone using the phrase “people like you.” It’s deeply insulting to anyone who’s experienced any marginalization.

    “The system that treats animals like shit, is the same system that makes possible the ability to have a robust vegetarian lifestyle, without the risk of malnutrition.”
    That’s just flat-out untrue. The food industry did not invent veganism. A man named Donald Watson did. He went vegan in 1944 and invented the word. He created the Vegan Society, a group of vegetarians who wanted to exclude all animal products, not just meat, and began the modern vegan revolution. He and his colleagues did not have the modern-day conveniences we have and they led perfectly normal, healthy lives.

    The vast majority of poor people in the world live on primarily plant-based diets. They do not NEED meat to survive. You’ve been brainwashed by the meat industry into thinking you need special education about vegan foods in order to be healthy as a vegan. It’s simply not true.

    And Daisy, “crazy shit you were saying about mental illness”!?! Is this what this is REALLY about? Be honest.

  7. On Veganism And Privilege : Elaine Vigneault said,

    […] Daisy claims it’s too much to expect someone in college to ask their cafeteria to provide vegan options. That’s just too much of a burden on poor college students, says Daisy: “while it’s possible the university would listen and change their menu, there is no guarantee, and anyway, asking him to do that is asking a lot more of him than asking [him] to just not buy meat.” […]

  8. Betsy said,

    I avoid eating meat and it is not easy. Many many places don’t have vegetarian options. Try finding anything at all to eat in a HS cafeteria? Perhaps an apple, not much more. The list that Elaine provided includes great foods, but not much that would create a healthy and balanced diet.

  9. Justin said,

    I don’t think Elaine’s absolutism comes from her veganism. Instead, Elaine’s writing shows a consistent absolutism that comes through in her writing on veganism and mental health, to take two instances. And moments like this comment on people like Brenden show exactly how unreasonable that absolutism is.

    This isn’t a direct quote (it’s from memory), but I believe one of Elaine’s statements was: “it’s as simple as this. Either you’re against hurting animals, or you’re not.” We should beware of that kind of simplistic thinking.

  10. Jamelle said,

    Jamelle, Do you read my blog? If not, please don’t make untrue accusations about me. And please don’t ever criticize anyone using the phrase “people like you.” It’s deeply insulting to anyone who’s experienced any marginalization.

    “People like you” = absolutists and extremists. I don’t feel bad describing you as such at all.

    The vast majority of poor people in the world live on primarily plant-based diets. They do not NEED meat to survive. You’ve been brainwashed by the meat industry into thinking you need special education about vegan foods in order to be healthy as a vegan. It’s simply not true.

    Ignoring that I’ve said nothing about education, let’s think a bit about the comparison you’re making. You are aggregating the food “choices” of the world’s poor, pointing out that a majority of them have mainly plant-based diets, and from there, are arguing that it is possible for everyone to have a plant based diet.

    False.

    In aggregating the world’s poor, you’re ignoring a number of crucial differences. Mainly, that a poor person in the United States does not live under the same conditions as a poor person in Nigeria or India. For the latter person, their diet is made up mostly of food that they grow, which is plant-based out of economic necessity.

    A poor person in the western world does not live an agrarian lifestyle, but is instead dependent on industrial agriculture. Largely because of the immense production of corn in the United States, most of industrial agriculture is focused around methods of distributing and using said corn. One of the most effective ways of doing this is simply to feed it to livestock, since it the corn-based feed is absurdly cheap.

    As such, in the United States at least, meat is very, very cheap, and more importantly, it provides more calories per dollar than say vegetables or fruit does. For a poor family, it makes the most since to purchase food that is both cheap and filling and meat falls into that category.

    Poor people in the developing world have plant-based diets because it is the most economically feasible diet available, and poor people in the United States have a meat-centric diet because it is the most economically feasible. In the United States, a heavily plant-based diet is both expensive and out of reach for many Americans (the urban poor don’t have much access to fresh fruits and vegetables).

    Now, as far as veganism being a product of the system you decry, as much as you choose to ignore it, that’s the truth. If you are a vegan, there is a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and refined products you can choose from in order to maintain your diet. The only reason why you’re able to have asparagus in the winter for example, is industrial agriculture. Without the “food regime” as it exists, you would be forced to eat whatever is available in a particular season, and when plants aren’t readily available, that becomes meat. Veganism is not a product of the food industry, but it is a byproduct of industrial agriculture in the sense that IA gives individuals (economically well-off ones) the option of removing meat and animal products from the diet. A choice which hasn’t always been around.

  11. Jamelle said,

    P.S. You would know this if you weren’t painfully ignorant about the forces which surround your little moral crusade.

  12. Daisy said,

    Elaine: my friend does have a job (not to mention more than 20 hours a week practicing in addition to a normal course load with its homework), and the situation you’re describing — a community of vegans who can support one another, a cafeteria willing to cooperate — is not the situation in 2008 at the University of New Mexico. He actually did meet a vegetarian this week… Which was such a big deal he called me up to tell me. She’s the first environmentalist he’s met. In his geology class, more than half the kids don’t believe in global warming (the professor took a poll). You’re seriously overestimating how welcoming an atmosphere it is for vegetarianism.

    This is where we have a difference of opinion. I can listen to someone and I can abstain from taking their food or meds away, but you’re telling me I can’t criticize people’s immoral actions. You’re telling me I can’t educate someone. You’re essentially telling me to STFU. There’s a BIG difference.

    No, I’m not. If you’ve read my posts, you know that I moralize all the time — it’s great to stand up for what you believe in, to try to change minds. What I object to is your habit of claiming to have total knowledge of other people’s lives. I wholeheartedly support you talking about being a vegan, offering ideas for how to go vegan, criticizing people for not being vegans, etc. What I disagree with is your habit of flat-out denying other people’s lives as false.

    An example: I’m very passionate about queer rights. I think all queer people should come out of the closet, all straight people should be allies, etc… But when someone tells me they can’t come out, for whatever reason (even if it sounds like bullshit), I believe them. I trust people to be authorities about their own lives. That’s what the problem is.

    I think all people should do whatever they can to reduce their carbon footprint (a better analogue), but if someone says they can’t buy CFLs, can’t bike to work, can’t buy local, or can’t afford the extra two cents a kilowatt hour to get wind-power, I believe them.

  13. Daisy said,

    Elaine,

    And Daisy, “crazy shit you were saying about mental illness”!?! Is this what this is REALLY about? Be honest.

    No. It reminded me of that, because I think it’s the same kind of thinking rubbing me the wrong way. I’m sorry for using such a rude phrase there; that was uncalled for.

    I continued reading your blog after all that because I still value your opinions (and share many of them). I’m not holding a grudge, but I do suspect it’s the same underlying issue here.

  14. Brenden said,

    Elaine,

    Hi, this is the moral fornicator Brenden, I would like to inform you that I think you should take a class on poverty awareness. Unfortunately, I do not think that temporary vegetarianism triumphs over nutrition, survival or education. If you feel so strongly about helping me help the planet and myself, please, send me the proper funds to refuse cruelty to animals, my carbon footprint and the capitalist puritanarchy. If not, get off my back man. I haven’t been eating meat any who for the past couple of days because of the re-calls, and let me tell you, your face is sounding pretty tasty right now.

    Brenden

  15. T-shirts - London said,

    Whilst I can understand a lot of reasons why people don’t eat meat I think its important that cafeterias always try and accomodate for them.

  16. daisydeadhead said,

    Well, it’s weird. You go out to the country (where it should be noted, many people ARE poor), veganism is easy, people eat beans and bread and green beans and make creative potato salads and whatnot. They have open farmer’s markets all over the place. My daughter (in Texas, out in the middle of nowhere) buys cheap fresh vegetables from her own neighbors! The cabbages don’t even taste like store-bought cabbages! (I realized, one reason veggies seem like a boring option to many people is because all the flavor has been leeched out.)

    In the cities, where there are restaurants and cafeterias (as you describe), it is far more difficult.

    I don’t think that’s about all about class, but also regional, and the rural/urban divide.

  17. Daisy said,

    Hey, welcome, daisydeadhead! It’s good to see you.

    That’s an excellent point about the differing circumstances of rural and urban people. That’s why, although Elaine is right that most poor people around the world have diets that are very low in animal products, veganism is still incredibly difficult to pull off for poor people in cities.

  18. Betsy said,

    I agree that it is much harder in an urban area.

  19. Elaine Vigneault said,

    “You’re seriously overestimating how welcoming an atmosphere it is for vegetarianism.”

    Maybe that’s because I’ve been vegetarian for 25 years so I’ve seen the dramatic change from people asking me, “what do you eat, just salads?” to “Oh, yeah, I know a great vegetarian restaurant on XYZ street.”
    We’re still in the minority. I get that, duh.
    But it’s just SOOO much easier today than it was 25 years ago.

    Veganism is not harder to pull off in urban areas. If anything, its easier. There are more vegans to support you, more restaurants and health food stores, more variety in the normal grocery stores… The mere fact that urban areas often have more diversity ethnically allows for more variety of foods in markets and restaurants, which makes it easier to be vegan.

    I was vegetarian for 24 years before going vegan. And what was the impetus to go vegan – the fact that I moved to NYC. It was just such a nice change to see vegan foods available all over the place.
    Cost-wise, my food expenses have only increased due to transportation and oil costs. That affects everyone, not just vegans.

  20. Daisy said,

    Elaine, last night my friend had soy milk for dinner. He’s eliminated beef and is lactose intolerant, so there was literally nothing he could eat (the options, IIRC, were lasagna, cheese enchiladas, hot dogs, and something called “beef fingers”). So that’s where I’m coming from when I say it’s hard.

    Also: it’s harder to pull off for the urban poor. You’re right that it’s very easy for a lot of people, but for those who can’t afford to to go restaurants or health food stores, it is significantly harder to eat veg (or healthy at all) living in a city, as opposed to an agricultural area.

  21. Elaine Vigneault said,

    “it is significantly harder to eat veg (or healthy at all) living in a city, as opposed to an agricultural area.”

    Why do you say that? Have you tried both? I really don’t understand where you’re coming from on that. In general, poor people tend to have more cheap food options in cities than in rural areas. For crying out loud, there are plenty of places in NYC to get free vegan food (union square on Friday and Sunday afternoons for starters).

    I think maybe some of you don’t realize I grew up in a trailer park in a relatively rural area???
    I am experienced in poverty. I understand many of the challenges because I’ve experienced them myself.

    Please don’t be so quick to judge about things you don’t know.

  22. Daisy said,

    I think maybe some of you don’t realize I grew up in a trailer park in a relatively rural area???
    I am experienced in poverty. I understand many of the challenges because I’ve experienced them myself.

    I did know that, actually. I do read your blog.

    I say that because of articles I’ve seen (which I can’t find now, though I’ve been looking, blah) showing that in inner cities, a lot of poor people actually don’t have access to proper supermarkets, because they don’t go up in their neighborhoods, and as a result can almost never buy fresh (or even fresh-ish) produce. Another component is the education one you’ve mentioned, which I would imagine affects the urban poor more than people who grow vegetables for a living.

    For crying out loud, there are plenty of places in NYC to get free vegan food (union square on Friday and Sunday afternoons for starters).

    That’s awesome, and it’s even more awesome if it is taken advantage of by the people who need it most. Is it, in your experience?

    Please don’t be so quick to judge about things you don’t know.

    It is taking all my will-power not to remind you of your responses to me about a university cafeteria that I have eaten in several times, and where my best friend eats every day, but which you have never seen, yet felt very comfortable informing me what the options were there, and even how the workers would respond to suggestions…

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