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Western animal rights activists need to put our own house in order and avoid racist tropes



Cute lambs in Yorkshire. Of course doomed to be murdered for their meat. Don't be fooled by rural idyllism - If you are from my own sort of background; white, middle-class, western (British), and especially if you’re also a vegan like me, take note:


In almost every culture in the world (including the west) meat consumption, up until the the 20th century, was normal, but exceptional. There are some exceptions; in arctic regions were there’s bugger all vegetation so meat is all there is; or coastal regions where fish stocks were once so abundant is just made sense to use them.


The very reason that animal product heavy diets are environmentally problematic is the cause of this. It takes a lot more land, water, and energy (human power or machine) to raise animals. In a self sustaining community you’re not going to waste your energy growing crops to feed to animals when you could just eat the crops (and get a lot more food out of it). And there’s only so many animals you can hunt within range of your settlements, or at a sustainable rate to keep them as an ongoing viable food source. So in most cultures eating meat was a fairly minor part of the diet, because it simply took too much effort for it to be any other way.


Then industrialisation and colonialism hit like a double edged sword. Wealthy elites conquered the world, and the idea of a middle class started to develop - Excess consumption of animal products once restricted to the very richest suddenly became widespread and indeed aspirational, and that was the basis of chain of supply and demand that spread to agribusinesses that control much of the global food system to this day.


I can read that change just in the life time of my family. My parents can recount growing up and enjoying that staple of British food, the Sunday roast - But then that supply of meat cooked on the Sunday would be the basis of several meals going into the week to follow. That was basically it though, spare the odd sausage or bit of ham here and there. Yet within their lifetimes it as become entirely normal for meat to the basis for two meals a day for many people in Britain. And within that lifetime, even though the earlier state can be remembered, the current state becomes the new normal, and a habit difficult to challenge.


That new normal is only possible because of the different food systems that have grown in just the last few decades; massive mechanised monocultures feeding massive cramped factory farms, and indeed only marginally less cramped farms claiming to be better for animals when they are barely any different. Oh, and out at sea, massive trawlers denuding the ocean of anything that can be found.


This is the system of food we try and force down the throats of the rest of the world through a system of business and media which is basically continued colonialism, just with a different locus of power.


And yet in predominantly white middle class vegan communities I have encountered there is all to often there is this weird fixation on minor examples of animal exploitation in other cultures. Something I struggle to interpret than anything other than racism (consciously or not). People get obsessed with one-off festivals or particular animals that are exploited. And yes if you’re sensitive to animal exploitation these things are horrible. But are they more horrible than what is going on every single day to feed your neighbours, or most hypocritically, if you’re not vegan, to feed yourself!?


I am very much of the mindset that every little does help, and individual choices add up. But you also need to choose your fights and understand the effect of your actions. Are people in other parts of the world holding on to the last vestiges of their cultures that have survived colonialism and western cultural dominance really the biggest issue when it comes to animal welfare or environmentalism? And even if they were, is ranting about them with your mostly white friends from afar in the west actually going to change anything? Or maybe it just makes you appear to be culturally ignorant, and a little too fixated on finding flaws in cultures you don’t understand...


But you know what might change something, ranting at your western friends about how their diet is killing hundreds of animals after making them suffer horrible lives. And how those animals are fed on crops grown all over the world that directly contribute to deforestation, and force subsistence smallholders from their land. Or how their oh so clever farmed fish they feel better about eating are actually fed on the increasingly small fish that can still be wild caught. Oh yes, and how that entire system is one of the main causes of climate change. Yep, that’s worth a rant. That might change some habits. That might just shift the demand to the point where some animal exploiting business have to give up (see: Current state of dairy industry decline).


World population has just about quadrupled in the last century, and with that entire ecosystems have been destroyed, fish stokes globally decimated, and climate change is dramatically changing some parts of the world already. Thanks to that it’s almost impossible for the majority of people in the world to return to the previously sustainable models of occasional animal consumption - There are too many of us, and the damage we’ve done to the natural world will take a long time to undo. But that problem is not the fault of peoples who were indoctrinated into poor systems, and continue to be sold lies about those systems. We in the west need to take responsibility for what we have made, and we need to fix that creation.


Note: This was originally written in response to a Twitter thread about the hypocrisy of white vegans.

All content © James Grigg, 1992-2020, unless otherwise noted.