Racism Isn’t Vegan
Humans are animals, too
As if he weren’t unlikeable enough already, Adolf Hitler was a preachy vegetarian. He subjected his guests to rambling lectures on the health benefits of a meatless lifestyle, and he berated his wife for using lipstick containing animal products. He forced his companions to hear his graphic descriptions of the violence in slaughterhouses, and then triumphantly accused them of moral cowardice for being unable to listen. Hitler, a man without an ounce of virtue, took great pleasure in virtue-signaling.
Linger, for a moment, on the obscenity of these scenes. This self-righteous vegetarian is one who has subjected humans to experiences that make factory farms look like playgrounds. This man is the ideological architect of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, Buchenwald, Sobibór, Bełżec and Majdanek. In Hitler’s view, the lines between races — pseudo-biological figments of the human imagination — were so broad as to warrant genocide. Yet, he could look past the far broader lines between species. A man who happily created abattoirs for Jews, Soviets, “impure” ethnicities, homosexuals, and the disabled, somehow drew the line at chickens. Hitler’s gross misplacement of moral priorities should make one fact crystal clear: Abstaining from meat does not make you a good person.
This is further exemplified by modern-day racists concerned with the welfare of nonhuman animals. To list only a few examples (without directly linking their content): There is a plant-based online cooking channel run by a pair of aspirant national socialists in balaclavas, a white supremacist magazine that regularly promotes vegetarian recipes, and a prominent raw vegan health guru who is an open holocaust denier and anti-semite. There is even an aryanist website that promotes veganism as a central tenet of aryanism, writing, “Our veganism is the direct result of the Aryan instinct of universal compassion.” (This is the drivel that spills onto the page when the writer is incapable of understanding the word “universal.”)
Though, mercifully, moral confusion of this order is a rarity, we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist. There are, evidently, racists who identify as vegan. However, they are wrong about themselves: Not one of them lives up to the basic tenets of veganism.
Hitler never claimed to be a vegan — and it’s worth noting that some sources dispute his vegetarianism — but even if Hitler didn’t eat meat, even if he never used animal products of any variety, even if he were a card-carrying member of PETA who wore nothing but recycled hemp clothing and lived on a diet made up only of fruit that fell from the tree of its own volition, Hitler would not be a vegan. Racism — indeed, hateful bigotry of any variety — is not merely inconsistent with the general ethos of veganism, it is a direct violation of veganism’s definition.
veganism /ˈviːɡənɪzəm/ A way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
There are few facts one must acknowledge to notice the direct incompatibility of veganism and racism. First, vegans are against all animal abuse and exploitation. In the same way that a feminist cannot support any forms of sexism, and an environmentalist cannot dump oil in the ocean, a vegan cannot accept any forms of animal exploitation. This is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of definition.
You can no more be a vegan racist than a feminist misogynist — the core principles of these terms stand in direct opposition to one another.
Second, humans are animals. (Perhaps you’ve noticed.) If you look at our place on the tree of life, we are not on some gilded bough of our own, but on a random twig, nestled among the other primates. Our divergence is neither ancient nor dramatic: We are more closely related to chimps than either of us are to gorillas. We share 80% of our DNA with cows, and we share more than half of our genome with chickens. Animals are our relatives — we didn’t evolve apart from them; we evolved as one of them. The idea that humans are somehow separate and apart from the rest of creation is vestigial philosophy from a pre-Darwinian era of thought.
Third, racism causes human abuse and exploitation. This premise is so starkly factual it almost insults history to defend it. If the holocaust referenced in the first paragraphs wasn’t enough support for this truth, read about the grotesque horrors of American slavery, or South African apartheid, or the various ethnocides that have polluted human history. The details of such atrocities will make “exploitation” and “cruelty” seem like insufficiently denunciatory words.
Racists who abstain from animal products aren’t vegan — they’re just bigoted morons who eat plants.
And so, in summary, we have our argument: Racism causes human exploitation, and humans are animals. Therefore, racism is an ideology of animal exploitation, and it is definitionally incompatible with veganism. This same argument can and should be made for analogous forms of hatred and intolerance such as sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and transphobia, to name only a few. You can no more be a vegan racist than a feminist misogynist— the core principles of these terms stand in direct opposition to one another.
Of course, racists will continue to call themselves vegan from time to time; but if I start calling myself a gastroenterologist tomorrow, that doesn’t mean I can help you with your crap; it just means I’m full of it. Racists who abstain from animal products aren’t vegan — they’re just bigoted morons who eat plants.
This essay isn’t an attempt at giving a veto to every vegan accused of racism. If you glean from this article that you can now say, “I can’t be racist, I’m vegan,” you have misread. Quite the opposite, this essay is a call for vegans to hold one another accountable. We should respond to hate and bigotry in our community with the same vigor with which we react to speciesism — by excising it immediately, automatically, and unapologetically. A vegan engaging in bigotry should be as much grounds for disqualification as a vegan eating meat — until they change their ways, they are not part of the movement. I am not arguing that self-proclaimed vegans can’t be racist, I’m arguing that racists can’t truly be vegan.
Some will worry that this broadens the definition of veganism to include an unrelated ideology. I understand this concern. I’m well aware of the dangers that come with attaching veganism to tangential agendas; we want the world to go vegan, and the more we complicate our ideology, the harder it will be to export it. I would hate for this article to inspire bad think-pieces about how you aren’t really for animal liberation unless you’re libertarian, or how you aren’t vegan unless you’re zero-waste, or how you can’t be vegan unless you’re voting for Bernie, or how atheism is incompatible with veganism, or some other such nonsense. Not all of your ideological commitments have to fall under one label, and one of the best parts about being in the vegan community is seeing people of dramatically different political, personal, and philosophical commitments converge on the same issue.
If you are not fighting for human liberation, you can not claim to fight for animal liberation. The vegan movement has no more room for racism than it does for speciesism. If we let such ideas through the door, our house collapses.
However, I am not complicating, modifying, or altering the definition of veganism. In fact, to reject this essay, you would need to edit veganism’s definition: You would need to add an asterisk noting that animal exploitation is acceptable if the animal is a human.
This is not a call to expand the definition of veganism — it is a call for us to live by it. Whenever hatred rears its head, we need to respond emphatically that such ideas have no home in our culture. If you are not fighting for human liberation, you can not claim to fight for animal liberation. Though we want veganism to be a “big tent” social movement, our tent has no space for bigots. The vegan movement has no more room for racism than it does for speciesism. If we let such ideas through the door, our house collapses.