Vegan Myths: Vegans are all rich
Written by Keira Edwards-Huolohan
Created Monday, 10 March 2014
This is a point that comes up a lot in conversation. People seem to use the 'vegans are rich' argument as a way to dismiss all ethical, environmental and human rights arguments to do with veganism. If vegans are all rich, it's obviously a bad thing because poor people cannot do it, right? The ability to be vegan does rely on things like access to money, education, shopping centres, travel options and more. People can, however, be vegan and poor. There are rich, poor, middle class, lower class, etc. vegans. We're a diverse bunch. There are poor people out there who care about animals and who do their gosh-darned best not to exploit them. Not all poor people are the same, just as not all vegans are the same. I'll first show you some demographic studies that have been done on animal rights and welfare supporters. Then I'll talk about organisations and groups like Vegfam, Food Not Bombs and Hare Krishna Food For Life, who provide free vegan/vegetarian food to those in need. Then we'll look at freeganism. Then I'm going to wrap it up with a little bit about myself, plus a fun little poll. I hope you're ready for this.
There are a few studies that have looked at who vegans and animal rights supporters are and how much money they have. Two older studies seem to point to the idea that they are generally better off financially (Lowe & Ginsberg 2002; Jamison & Lunch 1992). Lowe & Ginsberg's study (2002) was done on people at an animal rights conference, which is something I don't see many poor people attending. Of the people at this conference, 12% had incomes less than USD$20,000 a year. Jamison & Lunch's (1992) study found that American animal rights activists have an average income of USD$37,400 a year. Another older study indicated the opposite; that people with a lower socio-economic status were more likely to support animal rights (Peek, Bell & Dunham 1996). Two more recent studies have shown more support for animal rights and welfare amongst low income and high economic hardship groups (Franklin, Tranter & White 2001; Kendall, Lobao & Sharp 2006). Another found no difference between income groups (Jerolmack 2003). Even within the studies that say it is a mainly affluent/rich/upper-class movement, there are still vegans with lower incomes present. So it seems like it's possible to be poor and support animal rights, animal welfare and maybe, be vegan.
Vegfam, Food Not Bombs, and the Hare Krishna Food For Life are three organisations that I know of that provide vegan and vegetarian food to people in need. Vegfam is sort of like a vegan Oxfam; they provide food in emergencies, fund clean water and environmental farming projects all while not exploiting animals. Food Not Bombs is a group with loosely organised independent 'branches' all over the world, organised around a philosophy. They recover and share “free vegan or vegetarian food with the public without restriction in over 1,000 cities around the world to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.” Hare Krishna Food For Life provides 'pure vegetarian' meals to people all around the world. Some soup kitchens and similar food provision organisations offer vegetarian and vegan options to their clients in order to empower them through being able to choose, as well as stick to ethical or religious considerations surrounding animal products and provide a healthy option (e.g. Vital Connection). Thus, there are some options for people who are poor and struggling. These options are limited however, and are only in specific locations at specific times, not everywhere.
Freeganism is a lifestyle that some people engage in. It involves a way of living that is outside of the current system of consumption and over-consumption. Some people live this way not because they are poor, but because they dislike the current system of waste and are seeking a different way of living. Some of the things that freegans do to get by include dumpster diving, squatting, sharing, growing their own food, swapping, restoring and more. These are all things that people in poverty can also engage in to minimise costs. Again, location, accessibility, community and more limit what activities people are able to engage in when poor.
Personally, I am living under the poverty line in Australia. As a full-time student I was given (and I am grateful for it) about $12,000 to live off in the last financial year. About $5,800 of this went to rent, leaving me with $6,200 to feed myself, pay the bills, medical expenses, vet bills and bus fares, buy new things when they break, and look after two cats and three goldfish. The poverty line for a single person not in the workforce is about $20,600, 1.7 times what I lived off (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics 2013). Don't get me wrong here, I think I'm very lucky to have gotten this much money to keep me alive while I pursued a degree doing something that I love. I know that I am a lot better off than billions of other people. The point of this is that I am poor and I am vegan. It can be hard sometimes, and I don't have the luxury of always choosing things that are fair-trade, organic, palm-oil free and other such things, but I do what I can.
Obviously there are different levels of poverty and the experiences that people have are all different; poverty effects people differently based on location, age, gender identity, sexuality, mental health, race and more. My idea of poverty is based on living in Australia and having to eat toast for dinner sometimes, or not being able to fix things when they break, which is very different from not being able to afford food at all or living on the streets. Yes, there are rich vegans. It is certainly easier to be vegan the more privileges that you have. The rich may be able to publicise themselves more due to their money, and may be in a position do so without fear, thus creating the impression that they are the only types of vegans out there. There are also poor vegans. You may not hear about them because they're busy staying alive, looking for jobs, working two-three jobs, cooking, not paying for internet, etc. They're here, they exist, and I don't think that their existence should be dismissed just so that people can try to discredit veganism. The real problems are, in my opinion, food access, food availability, poverty itself, information about nutrition and animal rights, education about healthy eating and other similar things that we need to focus on. This way, we will be able to provide everyone with the opportunity and choice to access healthy vegan food options.
This article originally appeared on Keira's website.
Keira Edwards-Huolohan is a recent Sociology graduate. In 2013, Keira completed their Honours thesis, titled "Consumption ethics and poverty: What do vegans do to maintain a commitment to veganism when financially challenged?". They've been vegan since January 2010.
- Franklin, A, Tranter, B & White, R 2001, “Explaining Support for Animal Rights: A Comparison of Two Recent Approaches to Humans, Nonhuman Animals and Postmodernity”, Society and Animals, vol. 9, no. 2, pp 127 – 144.
- Jamison, W & Lunch, W 1992, “Rights of Animals, Perceptions of Science and Political Activism: A Profile of American Animal Rights Activists”, Science, Technology and Human Values, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 438 – 458.
- Jerolmack, C 2003, “Tracing the Profile of Animal Rights Supporters: A Preliminary Investigation”, Society and Animals, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 245 – 263.
- Kendall, H, Lobao, L & Sharp, J 2006, “Public Concern with Animal Well-Being: Place, Social Structural Location and Individual Experience”, Rural Sociology, vol. 71, no. 3, pp. 399 – 428.
- Lowe, B & Ginsberg, C 2002, “Animal Rights as a Post-citizenship Movement”, Society & Animals, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 203 – 215.
- Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Research 2013, “Poverty Lines: Australia, March 2013 Quarter”, The University of Melbourne, viewed 12th August 2013, <http://melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/publications/Poverty%20Lines/Poverty-lines-Australia-March-2013.pdf>.
- Peek, C, Bell, N & Dunham, C 1996, “Gender, Gender Ideology, and Animal Rights Advocacy”, Gender and Society, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 464 – 478.
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