Veganism: A “Playground for the Elite”?
February 10, 2012 6 Comments
I spoke to about 40 Wesleyan students tonight and it was an excellent experience. They were fantastic kids. I delivered a version of the talk that’s featured in my last post. The Q&A is always the wild card at these kind of events, and tonight was no different. Several students caught me off guard and took me to task for being “elitist.” Veganism? Elitist? Wha? Not everyone can afford veganism, they said. Not everyone has access to a wide enough diversity of plant-based foods to eat a vegan diet, they insisted. Who was I to tell the world to eat plants, they wondered? Hmm.
Is this the Occupy Wall Street generation or what? In any case, good for them for asking these questions.
References were initially to the underprivileged (I was gently reprimanded for referring to “poor people”) and Africans who were still hunter-gatherers. But, interestingly, they were also to students at Wesleyan, who it was said do not have access to the array of foods that would make veganism feasible. My initial response was perhaps a bit glib: I said everyone in the room was, by virtue of being in the room, an elitist; I said I wasn’t speaking to African hunters but privileged Wesleyan undergraduates (all white, if I recall); and I said that I had visited two grocery stores in town before coming to my talk–both of them in walking distance of campus–and found a wide array of affordable produce. Still, one especially articulate student referred to veganism as “a playground for the elite.”
I drove to Boston after my talk and all I could think about was how to turn veganism from a playground for the elite into a central park for the masses. I fired back hard at these students, and am afraid I came off as too confrontational, but these kids were confirming something important: there really is a common perception among people who understand the benefits of veganism that the pragmatics of this way of life are difficult to negotiate. I told the story about how, on a recent cross country road trip, the best meal I had–corn tortillas with avocado, spinach, pepitas, and salsa–was sourced at a Walmart. This didn’t persuade. These students–or at least several outspoken ones–were committed to the belief that veganism is not only elitist, but logistically hard to sustain.
I don’t believe this. I think veganism is easy, humble, and delightful. But it was good to be jarred from my complacent Austin-Texas-Boston-Massachusetts comfort zone and reminded–even if by those in the Middletown-Connecticut zone–that there is so much work to do when it comes to vegan education.