Food cultures | Brazil

It’s time to rethink veganism

Going vegan seems to be an answer to many problems – from health to climate change. But who can even afford a vegan lifestyle? Barbara Miranda discusses indigenous perspectives
In a crocheted shopping net is a bunch of carrots, two oranges and three apples.

Fruits and vegetables for a vegan lifestyle

People go vegan for different reasons: because of animals, their health or the environment. Six years ago, I saw a documentary film about the direct connection between meat production and climate change. From then on, I saw veganism as the solution to the biggest problem we face.

“Veganism (…) is a way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty, to animals.” This definition, as given by the Vegan Society in London, founded in 1944, became my mantra. It made sense, not just for me but for others too.

Almost eighty years after the Vegan Society was established, veganism is widespread, not only among animal-rights activists but even among the biggest global food producers. The promise to consumers is as follows: “We sell you products that change your life, save animals and even protect the planet from the climate crisis.”

In my home country of Brazil, the impact of meat production is devastating. The agricultural industry is steadily encroaching on indigenous land, deforesting the Amazonas region and burning savannah to make way for soybean plantations, which are needed to satisfy the demand for animal feed.

At the moment, more than forty percent of the Brazilian population are affected by food insecurity and hunger. Can veganism solve all these problems? Part of me wants to say that it can. But what happens when people do not have a choice what to eat? Is the discourse on veganism just half the picture? Does it just apply to half the world – the Western half?

“The availability of healthy nutrition must be taken into consideration” 

There are other perspectives too, such as the one held by activist Caroline Costa who lives on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. She has a different view of the animal activism movement, the view from the global South. In combination with local resistance movements, a different type of veganism has emerged.

It tries to revitalise practices and cultures that have used the diverse range of plant-based foods for centuries and promote their food sovereignty. These practices were common among the indigenous populations of South America and Africa.

However, native cultures have been destroyed by the slow creep of colonisation that began with the arrival of Europeans in their territories and continues today through cultural colonisation. This propagates highly processed foodstuffs and a lifestyle based on unrestricted consumption.

But the downside is that the production of animal- and plant-based food leads to deplorable conditions, such as those created by the excessive use of pesticides that affect not just the lives of consumers but also those of farm workers. All these things confirm the idea that veganism is just one of the struggles for social justice.

The availability of healthy nutrition must be taken into consideration. For example, there are “food deserts” almost everywhere in the USA – areas where the population has limited or no access to healthy, fresh and affordable food. Here too in Europe, terrible conditions govern the meat industry, which employs many workers from Eastern Europe.

Writer Amie Breeze Harper says: “Where food comes from, how it reaches the market and what’s in the food we eat is as important as access to living space, health, work and elections.”

I believe that all animals deserve respect and empathy, but I don’t believe that the decision to consume vegan products will save human beings from exploitation. As long as we look for quick solutions to complex problems without understanding the connections to other forms of suppression like toxic masculinity and racism, we will always remain stuck in the logic of capitalism that claims that everything can be bought and sold, including life, whether it is animal, human or plant.

Translated by Jess Smee