Eating animals is wrong, vegans say. But so is eating slave-made chocolate, or wearing sweatshop clothing. Guess which one vegans of the Global North care about?

Not that one issue is more important than another, but it is more than frustrating when I see vegans (mostly vegans of the global north) say “this is cruelty-free” about products made from human suffering. Vegan chocolate cake made with trafficked child labor? Mmm, delicious

I wish vegans would demand fair trade/ethical goods, protest the prison-industrial-complex, or fight against food deserts as much as they put effort into getting vegan Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

What prompted me to write this was a series of exchanges I saw on Twitter, where white vegans from western nations were admonishing people of color for eating animals as part of their cultural identity.

As someone who is vegan but also a person of color, I understand both sides.

On the one hand, if your culture has very problematic practices, you might want to to reconsider whether those practices are really integral to maintaining your sense of identity, especially if you identify as someone who is particularly invested in social justice. For example, I’d be hard pressed to take a cultural relativist position towards someone who says, “my culture is incompatible with feminism/womanism. For better or for worse, misogyny is part of my identity”, because I believe the equitable treatment of all sexes and genders is imperative, not just as my personal opinion, but as an ethical and moral issue.

On the other hand, vegans of the Global North are in no place to claim “sustainability” when their lifestyles disproportionately consume massive resources. The wildlife destroyed and indigenous communities displaced to grow their mono crops, the wars waged to secure their cheap oil, the CO2 they outsource to poorer nations to appear more “eco-friendly”—none of that is sustainable. This isn’t even taking into account the negative human impacts that their lifestyle perpetuates, just the environmental harms. But the animals

In fact, the culture of Global North vegans is quite problematic, even if they don’t eating animals, but they would rather point fingers at people who their cultures have exploited. US culture, for example, values low prices at any cost, which means prison labor, child labor, and slavery are inherent in their lifestyles unless they intentionally go out of their way to seek ethically created products.

I currently live in the Global North, far removed from the direct impacts of conspicuous consumption. I understand the logic these vegans employ. They probably live in neighborhoods with plentiful food options, among equally privileged peers for whom being vegan is merely an inconvenience. For them, not being vegan is about “making excuses”, because the global-scale suffering and exploitation that undergirds their privileges have been hidden under a price tag. Money has a funny way of making whatever (or whoever) went into the final product sanitized and justified.

Yet for each vegan in the Global North, there are a dozen people of the Global South who survive off of animal products and still have a smaller environmental footprint and exploit far fewer people.