White and Vegan:

Check Your Privilege

By Diana-Teodora Gaitan | May 15, 2021

Cover Illustration: Locally grown produce can often be found at markets, like the Dappermarkt in Amsterdam Oost. Kira Guehring / The Amsterdammer

 

Magazine Reporter Diana explores and critiques the wave of veganism and how it impacts the environment and people in places like South America, people who used to rely on “superfoods” as their main source of nutrition.

I grew up in an Orthodox Christian family in Eastern Europe. While I rarely eat meat, simply because I do not like it as much as I like my ratatouille, my father suffers greatly when I cook a vegetarian lasagna: “Isn’t this also made with meat?”. Few Romanians are vegan. Our culinary culture revolves around pork and lamb: the essentials for Christmas and Easter. Some Romanians search for vegan recipes in desperation only during Lent, a fasting period when we are supposed to give up all animal products. Most of these people mistake “giving up” with “replacing with soy”.

Other cultures have been practicing veganism for centuries or have vast vegetarian populations: India, Brazil, Taiwan, Jamaica, Mexico and Vietnam are places where veganism is well established. Vegans originating from these countries are rarely featured in the media’s health and diet scene. A search for the vegan hashtag on Instagram leads you to thousands of pictures posted by white people. “So?” you’ll ask, “What’s wrong with a bunch of white people choosing a healthy lifestyle and preaching it on social media?” The problem isn’t that being vegan is popular; more people giving up animal products is good for both the environment and our health. The main issue lies in the fact that most of the white people who preach veganism fail to recognize and raise awareness about how some populations suffer from the mass production of popular vegan foods. 

Take quinoa, for instance. It was originally cultivated on a small-scale in Peru and Bolivia, but as it began to be recognized as a superfood, the entire world grew an insatiable hunger for it. This meant that the price for quinoa soared and the populations that initially enjoyed its benefits could no longer afford it. The locals turned to cheaper, imported food instead of the precious grain photographed by influencers at brunch. 

“The way to stop these environmental impacts is not by turning back to animal products but rather by adopting a more conscious way of consumption.”

You might have heard a similar story about avocados, and how the significant amount of water required for their growth (2,000 liters for a kilo of avocados) has led to droughts in Chile. Or how forests are razed to the ground in Brazil in order to plant soy. The way to stop these environmental impacts is not by turning back to animal products but rather by adopting a more conscious way of consumption. 

With this in mind, I also aspire to be vegan. So I think about what Romanian-grown products I can eat that won’t cause droughts in another country or require a tank of fuel to arrive on my plate. When I go back to the Netherlands, I’ll have a lot of potatoes, wheat, and locally cultivated corn at my disposal to cook with. And when I browse through vegan-themed content on Instagram, I’ll check whether influencers raise awareness on more than just animal cruelty. 

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