It's been one year since I became vegan. For a while now, I've been ruminating on what kind of veganism I strive to represent. In a lot of ways, mainstream veganism fails to represent the reality of what this lifestyle looks like for people who live in the Bronx and other communities like it. It is for that reason that I’ve created a structure for my activism, which focuses largely on the consumption aspect of veganism. While food isn’t the only part of veganism, it is a very important element. I hope this outline creates an opportunity for more people like me to take up space in this culture and thrive in it.
A popular reason why people tend to avoid veganism is that it’s expensive. There are a lot of vegans out there who will come up with a lot of “solutions” to living a cheap vegan lifestyle, but most of the time, it’s unrealistic shopping hauls that hardly provide enough for one person, let alone a family, let alone a poor family.
My veganism strives to be affordable in that I advocate for products and services to offer low-cost solutions to their vegan innovations so that they may cater to low-income communities who want to enjoy vegan alternatives just as much. We saw this happen with the Impossible Burger when White Castle started selling it for $2 per slider. This was an incredible difference when considering these burgers were first only (and still are) available for about $15, depending on where you go.
Beyond just enjoyment, it takes a substantial amount of effort to fully rid oneself of traditional meals that include animal product without slowly transitioning into it. Having access to these alternatives might make it easier for someone who wants to try veganism, but doesn’t have the time to rethink their meal strategies altogether, amongst other things.
When new vegan products are introduced, it is seemingly first stocked in the shelves of expensive natural food stores before it makes its way into smaller grocery store chains. The expensive shops are obviously not positioned in the neighborhoods where people can’t afford it. When considering food accessibility, it’s impossible not to consider affordability at the same time. As mentioned prior, it’s so crucial for vegan products and resources to make its way into these communities in ways that aren’t negative for the community itself (see: gentrification).
My veganism strives to be accessible in that I seek to find resources available in my community as a priority to other more affluent communities. By focusing on different non-vegan restaurants located in the Bronx for my segment "Everybody Eats!" with Veggie Mijas, I am allowing the exclusivity of veganism to stay within my community and other communities like it, creating opportunities and opening doors for veganism in familiar places.
It goes without saying that the mainstream depiction of vegan culture is very one-sided. It’s luxurious, aesthetically satisfying, and incredibly healthy. It’s doing yoga every day, cruelty-free skincare two times a day: It’s all perfect. Social media itself doesn’t help create a very honest and realistic version of life in general, but veganism is such a prime example of that.
My veganism strives to be representative of my reality. If my meals look aesthetically pleasing, it’s only because I took (way too much) time to make it look like that for the sake of generating positive social engagement. For the most part, it’s ugly. Still yummy, but ugly. It’s working full time and not having enough time to eat. It’s being unemployed and not having enough to contribute. It’s messing up and forgiving myself for it. Veganism is not always pretty and by acknowledging that, it lessens the pressure of taking up veganism tenfold.
Organic food and veganism seem to go hand in hand, even though I’m not sure why. Just like cruelty-free isn’t always cruelty-free, there is no such thing as 100% organic. I’m not even sure why and how organic products exist, but what I do know is that it is much more expensive than non-organic produce. After spending not even five minutes googling organic produce in relation to veganism, the best alternative I can find to determining whether organic is worth it is to grow your own food. That’s a great option if you do have the land to grow everything you need, but that’s not always the case.
Not 100% Vegan
As I pointed out, cruelty-free does not always mean cruelty-free. Until the food production process can become completely transparent about how my food gets to my plate, I can not claim myself as 100% vegan. Until veganism can be realistic, accessible, and affordable for all, I cannot claim myself as 100% vegan.
When someone tells you they cannot afford to become vegan, your response should not be some quick money saving solution to help them because being poor goes beyond just being without money. There’s an incredible amount of time involved with transitioning into veganism. It’s taking the time to figure out alternatives that work best, getting the right supplements, determining who sells food options for you now that most fast food options are out, and so much more. Veganism is expensive.
Fat people belong in this culture. As a fat person thriving in veganism, I’m here to let you know this. Veganism was never about weight loss but is often presented as a solution for it. Veganism might be introduced to some in the context of weight-loss and that is OK. It is also OK to pursue veganism without the end goal being weight-loss. When policing the healthiness of what people eat and how much they weigh, veganism can easily be associated with the toxic ways of diet culture. I will never sell veganism as another weight-loss method.
And Always Trying Its Best
I will make mistakes in my veganism and that is OK. There's a lot of pressure on vegans to be perfect all the time. In the first few months of being vegan, I was scared to make mistakes because I sincerely thought that if I did, I could no longer claim to be a vegan. It took me a while to forgive myself when I would slip up, but now it’s easier because I know that I’m always trying my best to upkeep this lifestyle within my means.
Veganism is not the picturesque lifestyle we see on social media, it is a very real struggle. Don’t be hard on yourselves, because in the end, your actions are changing the world, even if it’s not always perfect.
The Bronx Vegan is a blog run by Puerto Rican and Peruvian Bronxite, Alexis Montoya. This blog aims to highlight vegan resources in and around The Bronx through recipes, reviews and more. If you like what you read, please consider tipping below! All tips will be put towards vegan efforts to share with the world.