A Month of Vegan Research: Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism


The following literature review is part of a series for World Vegan Month. Other essays can be accessed by visiting the essays catalog.


Harper, B.  2010.  “Race as a “Feeble Matter” in Veganism:  Interrogating Whiteness, Geopolitical Privilege, and Consumption Philosophy of ‘Cruelty-Free’ Products.”  Journal for Critical Animal Studies 8 (3):  5-27.

Within the context of feminist geography, racial politics, and consumption studies, I have observed that mainstream vegan outreach models and top selling vegan-oriented books rarely, if ever, acknowledge the differing socio-historically racialized epistemologies among non-white racial groups. There is an underlying assumption among the white middle class mainstream vegan media that racialization and the production of vegan spaces are disconnected. However, space, vegan or not, is raced and simultaneously sexualized and gendered directly affecting individuals and place identities. Racialized places and spaces are at the foundation of how we develop our socio-spatial epistemologies; hence, these epistemologies are racialized. This paper will explore examples of how epistemologies of whiteness manifest within vegan rhetoric in the USA, and explain why a “post-racial” approach to vegan activism must be replaced by an anti-racist and color-conscious praxis.

Chris Nino, 11, carries empty pepper bags across a Plainview, Texas, field Sept. 21, 1997. Workers like Chris may earn as little as $1.20 per full bag of chili peppers. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Breeze Harper’s research asks activists to reexamine the meaning of “cruelty-free” in vegan production and the white worldviews that direct vegan outreach.  When major organizations define cruelty in food production as a nonhuman-only experience, the suffering of third world persons, immigrants, poor persons, and people of color are rendered invisible.

Harper’s article explores the heavy resistance to racial issues in vegan spaces.  One of the major reasons that human suffering is excluded from “cruelty-free” and vegan outreach efforts is because the Nonhuman Animal rights movement is predominantly white.  White privilege (and class privilege) reinforce the elitism of the movement, making social change piecemeal and stunted.  Harper suggests a rejection of “post-racial” ideology (the belief that racism is no longer a major problem) and a conscious awareness of the specific challenges facing vulnerable humans as well as nonhumans. Human and nonhuman oppression are heavily entangled.  A single-issue approach to anti-oppression work is not likely to be very successful.


Cover for "A Rational Approach to Animal Rights." Shows a smiling piglet being held up by human hands.


Readers can learn more about racism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its consequences for anti-speciesism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.

This essay was originally published on The Academic Activist Vegan on November 5, 2013.