….and photos of one of the dishes at an 8+ course dinner of Shanghai foods I cooked recently: Stinky tofu (take tofu, marinate it in [homemade! or, not homemade] miso for three weeks. You’ve just made something that will change your life.) with wild watercress; dry-fried green beans with smoked ramps; strange flavor eggplant with ginger foam (foam not pictured.). It was good.
A commenter named Daniela wrote the following comment the other day:
This is totally not related to your post, but would love to read your thoughts on this thing that has been going around in my mind for several years now. I am reaching out to you because, after reading your blog for some years now, well I like how you think.I have been wondering throughout the years why it is that the highest rates of vegans exist only in economically developed countries. My first answer to this was, once a human being has not only fulfilled its basic needs, but has an exceeding of commodities, only then we can focus on other things, like human o animal rights. I don’t know if we agree with this, but here comes my big issue, hence veganism is profoundly linked to capitalism. Although I truly believe that all animals are here for their own reasons, and not for us to use. I don’t know what to do with this. The gap between a person from the Montaña de Guerrero, Mexico, where they are literally dying of hunger, being almost vegetarian, not because they have a choice, but because meat is just a luxury for them, and I a vegetarian because I believe that eating animals is wrong. What can I tell those people when I am at field work, when I tell them that I don’t eat that precious meat, when deep inside me, I know that what allows this dietary choice is the system we live in, the same one, that makes them live in poverty. Here in Mexico almost all the vegans I know are in a privileged position, except for one, and I see how her mother struggles because she wants to support her child, but doesn’t have enough money.
I hope I have made my self clear, being English my second language it’s difficult for me to structure my thoughts.
I would like to hear your thoughts on this.
“I like how you think.” Thanks!
“I have been wondering throughout the years why it is that the highest rates of vegans exist only in economically developed countries.”
I think about this a lot too.
And I agree with everything you’ve said, and feel for ya. My grandmother, a deeply working-class person, could never understand how I couldn’t eat meat when she could proudly afford to feed me meat. This rejection of the symbol of how she’d scraped herself up to a middle-class existence meant so much to her. She had cans and cans full of beef ravioli, split pea soup with ham, beef chili—these cans of hearty, meaty food were to her food security and pride in a life that was short on both. In time she respected my choices, but I always felt a twinge when she sadly fed me iceberg salad, knowing she’d spent the day making a precious meat thing for us.
A lot of people around the world, as you’ve said, are vegan or almost-vegan by default. Meat and dairy are still luxuries, so in undeveloped (what’s the more P.C. term for this? I know there is one, because “undeveloped” or “developing” are both patently awful, sorry to use em) countries they are status symbols. On the other hand, in more (over)developed economies, it can be a luxury to flaunt how little one needs the traditional status symbols of meat and dairy.
I also know that there are most likely thousands of people around the world without blogs, Instagrams, or Twitter accounts who are vegan simply because they see that animal suffering is wrong and we just don’t know about them because they’re not in our weird insular little community and we’re so busy Instagramming our #veganfoodshare photos that we stop being able to imagine, after a while, that other “kinds” of vegans exist. This is what really breaks my heart. It’s great to know what my tattooed Portlandia besties made for their homeschooled children for dinner with their heirloom zukes, but what is that girl in a tiny Chinese village who one day decided she didn’t want to eat animals because it felt wrong and has no vegan cookbooks making for dinner? (Not like I think in tiny Chinese villages there’s no internet or anything—I’m just saying.)
Anyway, this is not so related to Daniela’s question.
Here’s my answer to what to do about the fact that pretty much 99.99% of vegans around the world are in a ridiculously privileged position:
I don’t have an answer at all, and I want someone to tell me the answer.
But I know what a bad solution to this problem would be:
to not be vegan.
It can be hard to tell people who don’t have as much privilege as you do that you’re vegan, but what are you gonna do, not be vegan? Of course not. That reminds me of when I used to do a lot of animal rights demonstrations and people would yell at you to care about people more. I always thought: I can care about people suffering while simultaneously not eating a hamburger, how can they not realize that? Happily, veganism is inclusive in that way. It leaves a lot of time to be a good person in other ways too, since everyone eats and in time it becomes just as easy (with the aforementioned access to vegan food at all, of course) to eat vegan food.
Anyway, in the situations Daniela describes where people can’t conceive of how you couldn’t eat meat, I always do the same thing: just try to tell people politely that if I can live without hurting animals, I do. I think it’s a gentle way to not make a big deal of it.
So maybe what is helpful is what I was talking about in the last post: to recognize that veganism is not everything. It doesn’t solve everything, though it helps. But it doesn’t absolve us from having to work on alllllll the other issues too.
Veganism is profoundly linked to capitalism, like Daniela said, and this is what we need to work on, too (see last post: foraging! Aka, “how people in all other periods of time except for this period of time have always eaten”). How can we de-capitalize our movement, make it more accessible for people of all classes, and less focused on processed food?
I think we need to steal it back from these damn nose-to-tail people, for starters. I think we need to infiltrate Alice Waters-type Edible Schoolyards—we need to go into urban schools and make gardens and teach kids how to cook their homegrown zucchini in olive oil instead of butter. (Get a good sear, kids!)
And then we need to teach people how veganism can be CHEAP. Like: cook with the Mexican Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash, and you won’t go wrong. Look at the traditional diet of Mediterranean people: vegetables and olive oil. Some bread.
This is what gets me: veganism is a traditional diet of peoples all around the world, and we need to do a better job explaining that and celebrating it. American veganism, with the exception of Terry Hope Romero‘s books and a damn few others, is a celebration of bland white people’s food. Mac & cheese and burgers and whatnot. Ridiculous.
Is any of this helpful?
Let’s talk more in the comments. Tell me how you’ve veganized the foods of your heritage people, please. I’d love to know about that.