T-shirt with the phrase "vegan because all lives matter" written

Image of EVOLVE! Campaign’s t-shirt depicting several types of animals, with the caption, “Vegan because all lives matter”.

This post’s title, “Vegan Because Black Lives Matter,” is my response to the t-shirt design promoted by the vegan group, EVOLVE! campaign, shown on the left. (It has since been removed from their group). The t-shirt depicts 8 different farmed animals surrounding the text “Vegan because all lives matter.” Before I explain what the title means (I know you’re curious), let me provide some context.

I’ve written before about why veganism is relevant to the discussion of sustainability. In that post, I laid out ethical, empathetic, and utilitarian reasons for why avoiding animal exploitation is necessary for a sustainable future. I implied, but didn’t say explicitly, that “animal” includes both human and non-human animals (we usually try to forget that we are part of the animal kingdom). As such, a truly vegan life avoids exploitation of human and non-human animals (e.g., no dairy milk from repeatedly impregnated cows; no strawberries picked from undocumented, brutalized farm workers; no chocolate picked by enslaved children).

Which gets me to the second half of this post’s title. #BlackLivesMatter is the justice movement started by three queer Black women after the killer of 17 year old Trayvon Martin walked free. In the words of one of the founders, it is “a response to the anti-Black racism that permeates [U.S.] society,” and has since become a rallying call across the nation for communities to organize against the killings of Black people with impunity. Black Lives Matter does not mean that only Black lives matter, as some ill-informed people have complained—just like having a walk for breast cancer doesn’t mean that other diseases aren’t important. Black Lives Matter is meant to call attention and energy to the state-sanctioned violence against Black Americans. Asserting that #AllLivesMatter in response is insensitive at best and (intentionally or not) promotes a dangerous “colorblind” rhetoric, which itself promotes racism. Dr. A. Breeze Harper, a social scientist who writes about animal rights, critical race theory, and gender, has written about the problematic use of All Lives Matter by mainstream/white vegan groups, which I encourage you to read.

Vegan because black lives matter shirt design

My response to EVOLVE’s t-shirt, blocky, stylized text which reads, “Vegan because Black lives matter.” T-shirt coming soon.

Vegan Because Black Lives Matter reconciles these two seemingly disparate concepts. Although I came up with the phrase and the graphic (on the left) as a direct response to the EVOLVE! t-shirt, the phrase can explain why veganism is a particularly effective framework for understanding challenges facing Black Americans in the U.S.

1) Vegan Because Black Lives Matter is a reassertion that Black Lives Matter within the mainstream, (mostly) white-led animal rights and vegan movements. Mainstream/white vegans such as PeTA, will use Blackness to promote their agenda in ways that undermine Black people and perpetuate discrimination. Additionally, too often the obstacles that Black people face in living a vegan life (which I discuss in point 3) are dismissed by white, middle-class activists as “excuses”, because they assume everyone has the same access to healthy, plant-based foods that they do.

Stray Cat Alliance appropriates #BlackLivesMatter to fund raise for cats with hashtag #CatsLivesMatter

Stray Cat Alliance appropriates #BlackLivesMatter to raise money for cats with hashtag #CatsLivesMatter

Tweets by @Mickyyy_ read "Cops in Omaha shot & killed a mt. lion who was just sleeping up next to a building for shelter.. Like wtf HE WAS SLEEPING #CATSlivesmatter" and "Paws up! Don't shoot! #CatsLivesMatter 🐱", the latter of which evokes the chant, "Hand up, don't shoot!" used during protests of the killing of Black teen Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO.

Tweets by @Mickyyy_ read “Cops in Omaha shot & killed a mt. lion who was just sleeping up next to a building for shelter.. Like wtf HE WAS SLEEPING #CATSlivesmatter” and “Paws up! Don’t shoot! #CatsLivesMatter 🐱”, the latter of which evokes the chant, “Hand up, don’t shoot!” used during protests of the killing of Black teen Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO.

2) Vegan Because Black Lives Matter wrests the power away from vegan/animal rights activists who misuse #BlackLivesMatter for their own, unrelated projects, without any attempt at solidarity with Black communities. The problem of using a play on #BlackLivesMatter for other causes—such as fundraising to save the lives of stray cats (see #CatsLivesMatters above)—is that it co-opts the struggles of Black people fighting for justice in the face of violence and discrimination. #BlackLivesMatter is not a cool, new trend; it is the voice of an ethnic group struggling for justice and should be respected as such. Imagine the uproar if animal rights activists appropriated the phrase “Never Again” when talking about why they pledge to remain vegan.

3) Vegan Because Black Lives Matter connects the negative impact that animal agriculture industry has on Black communities. For example, Black communities face environmental racism when animal industries intentionally seek to put their polluting CAFOs (i.e., intensive animal farms) in poor rural communities with large Black populations. The powerful animal food industry also pressures the U.S. government to give it tax dollars (through the form of corn and soybean subsidies to feed animals) to flood the marketplace with cheap, unhealthy animal-based and processed food. Because Black people are disproportionately impacted by poverty and live in constructed food deserts, this food is all that many Black people can afford, which leads to numerous health problems. When people lament that a burger costs less than a salad, it is because beef gets subsidized by U.S. tax payers.

#VeganBecauseBlackLivesMatter is an intersectional approach to understanding the  effects of race, politics, poverty, the animal food industry, and many other issues which are not unique to Black Americans, but intersect and are compounded in the lives of Black people. Just as #BlackLivesMatter is a response to the violent, anti-Black racism in society, #VeganBecauseBlackLivesMatter is a response to the anti-Black racism facing Black people on the path to a healthy, sustainable, liberated life.