The vegan food movement is diverse – why isn’t it represented?

When you Google “vegan” or turn to social media to learn more about veganism, the representation of people of color is rare. This trend carries over to documentary and film projects, which social media influencers are selected for partnerships, and how veganism is portrayed in education, environmental movements and the media. The lack of representation is concerning and does not reflect reality; communities of color have practiced plant-based lifestyles for centuries, and today have in fact adopted plant-based lifestyles at above-average rates. A Pew Research Center study found that 8% of black Americans identify as strict vegans or vegetarians, compared to 3% of the general population. A Gallup Poll 2020 found that people of color in the United States reported reducing their meat consumption at a much higher rate than white Americans (31% vs. 19%).

When looking globally, the countries with the highest increase in vegetarian population between 2016 and ’17 are (ranked from highest to lowest growth) Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Kenya, Thailand and Italy. Many of these countries are in the Southern Hemisphere, although the mainstream representation of plant-based diets is largely centered on Northern Hemisphere perspectives.

According to some estimates, these countries overall have the most vegetarians per capita: India (31 to 42%), Mexico (19%), Brazil (14%), Taiwan (14%), Switzerland (13%), Israel (10.3% ), New Zealand Zealand (10%), Sweden (10%), Canada (9.4%), USA (5-8%) and Russia (3-4%). Three of the top five countries are concentrated in the global south, and while the United States’ vegan population is growing, it has a significantly lower per capita vegan population than major countries.

This is not a competition, but it is important to consider the facts when considering which narratives around plant-based lifestyles, reduced meat consumption, veganism and vegetarianism are amplified and given a platform.

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Tanya S. Norvell