Is Veganism Classist?

The vegan movement is one of the most rapidly growing lifestyle movements, moving from a small niche market to a growing segment of the mainstream population. The reason for the shift is based on consumers’ changing perception that veganism offers a healthier, cleaner food option. Consumers have begun to associate veganism with more than just animal welfare. It’s now associated with healthy eating, weight loss, and environmental and social responsibility.  It is no longer considered as fanatical as before and has thus become more attainable, with vegan cookbooks, restaurants, bakeries, and even vegan options added to non-vegan kitchens. However, as the movement has continued to expand, it has become more and more apparent that people of the upper and upper-middle class have adopted this lifestyle, begging the question: Is veganism classist?    

graphic by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Michelle/" title="View all of this person's work">"Michelle</a></span>

graphic by Michelle Wang

As vegan diets become more accepted in society, awareness is growing through positive messaging and advertising. Central to this shift are changing demographics as young people make the connection between veganism, health, and the environment. Add to that the proliferation of delicious online recipes and top vegan celebrities and athletes who tout its many health and fitness benefits. Nevertheless, questions remain as to whether or not veganism is an “elitist” diet, with a high cost and appealing mainly to those in upper social circles.  

When veganism is brought up in casual conversation, the stereotypical image that comes to mind is that of a wealthy, white, posh, stay-at-home wife sipping an organic green juice on the way back from her aerial yoga class. This isn’t the only way to go about maintaining a plant-based diet. When executed healthily, any human diet is carb-based, meaning rice and grains are staples. Especially when bought in bulk, such food products are, more often than not, cheaper than meat or dairy products. Veganism has nothing to do with health benefits—its purpose is to advocate for animal rights, so most vegans are able to eat junk food such as Oreos, Poptarts, and marshmallows. Most people associate veganism with a picture of health, so they find that lifestyle less affordable since healthy food in America is much more expensive than processed food. People with a plant-based diet usually strive for a healthier lifestyle and choose healthier, and thus more expensive, food products. Since the two diets are essentially the same but differ in reason, most tend to think of veganism as a healthier, more expensive diet.

In America, the cost of a healthy diet continues to grow; at the moment, it costs about $1.50 more per day. The price gap has continued to grow significantly over the past ten years. Maybe the problem isn’t that healthy food is so expensive, but that hyper-processed, sugary, salty, additive-laden food is so cheap. With the prolonged recession, which forced millions of Americans into poverty, about 15 percent of the population live below the line of poverty, forcing them to keep their spending in check. Although the unhealthy option isn’t the better option, for many in America, it’s the only option.

However, food prices continue to rise. The price of meat and fish is increasing, and the price of eggs is ever-changing, thanks to the avian flu. So now, many believe that perhaps the plant-based diet is the more attainable diet. With the growing number of plant-based dieters and vegans, there is a growing number of vegan options and products, which allows for greater accessibility.

That’s what this all boils down to: options. A healthy or ethical lifestyle—however someone defines that—should not be shut off through barriers of wealth or social status. We all deserve an equal opportunity to lead the life we want; all Americans deserve the right to self determination, even when it comes to snacks.

Although I’m not a vegan because I don’t believe in the ethics involved, having friends who are vegans and exposing myself to the diet has made me realize how accessible and easy the vegan lifestyle is.

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