Now, I’m not against veganism. I think it can be a good option for those looking to live more kindly towards animals and more sustainably. However, veganism doesn’t address the full range of ethical issues facing our current food system. When you focus on what kinds of food you eat instead of where your food comes from, you neglect the workers and communities affected by your choices.
In addition, veganism requires privilege. To say that everyone should go vegan ignores the reality of many peoples’ lives. Ingredients for vegan meals tend to be more expensive, so they’re inaccessible for low income persons. And for the 19 million Americans who live in food deserts, which can be defined as communities where over one third of the population lives either over one mile, for urban areas, or ten miles, for rural areas, from a supermarket, vegan ingredients aren’t even possible to buy. Additionally, for the working poor, vegan meals are often too time consuming to prepare.
To address the shortcomings of our food system in a way that considers and includes all parties involved, we should instead focus on food sovereignty. The concept was first introduced by La Via Campesina, an international community of peasant farming organizations. The movement works to protect the rights of the people and land involved in food systems by putting the means of food production and distribution back into the hands of communities. By localizing food systems, food sovereignty works to ensure that all individuals have access to enough healthy foods, that individual food providers (farmers, fishermen, etc.) can properly support themselves, that communities have control over how their natural resources are used, and that food systems are overall maintained sustainably.
Food sovereignty is an important part of intersectional environmentalism because not only does it concern the environmental resources involved in food systems, but it concerns the marginalized peoples who are often abused by food systems. These include migrant farmers whom corporations exploit for the sake of productivity, predominantly low-income and POC communities who are disproportionately harmed by pollution from loosely regulated factory farms, indigenous communities whose food systems have been destroyed by environmental exploitation, and many more.
While comparing food sovereignty and veganism may seem like comparing apples and oranges, these movements are ultimately working towards the same thing. When we localize food systems, and the gap between consumers, producers, and distributors is bridged, priorities will shift from profit to wellbeing. We will begin to see the revival of traditional farming practices, often based on cultural/communal ideals. This means that food systems will treat workers, environmental resources, and farm animals like important members of a community instead of commodities they can exploit. All of this will contribute to the creation of sustainable and cruelty-free food systems, which both supporters of veganism and food sovereignty strive towards.
This isn’t all to say that veganism is bad. In fact, it is something that I have in the past chosen to practice. However, I believe that the central conversation surrounding the ethics of our food system should be centered around food sovereignty. To learn more about the food sovereignty movement and how you can support it, I have created a list of resources below.
Purchase food items from farms and businesses with a Food Justice Certification to support ethical labor and trade practices.
Join the Citizen-Consumer Community at Equal Exchange to participate in a collective working to engage issues surrounding the treatment of farmers.
For youth activists in the US: join the Rooted in Community National Network to learn how to become a leader in the food sovereignty movement in your community.
The National Black Food and Justice Alliance to support food sovereignty for black farmers and communities in the US.
The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance to support food sovereignty in Indigenous communities around the US.
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United to support restaurant workers across the US.
Other Master-posts of Actionable Resources
Advocate for the rights of food workers by completing the actions listed by the Food Chain Workers Alliance here.
Work to combat the racism in US food systems by completing the actions listed here.
Fight for food sovereignty by completing the actions discussed on this document by the Soul Fire Farm.
Learn about the Seven Principles of Food Sovereignty here.
Read the sources on the food sovereignty reading list put together by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance here.
Read about the Global Justice Now organizations’ food campaign here.
Read the Guide to Food Sovereignty from La Via Campesina here.
Read about the food sovereignty movement from Grassroots International here.