By Grace Manning ’21
Veganism, in my experience, is something that is very much understood, accepted, and discussed in the Western world, but not as much outside of it. This could be due to a few things: the relative facility with which we can access vegan alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs or the way in which we think about animals in relation to ourselves, as just a few examples. But I would argue that some of the main reasons the vegan movement hasn’t spread into every continent are economic disparity and variance between the quantities of animal products consumed. While travelling around Cameroon, it quickly became clear to me that meat, and really any animal products, are highly valued and sought after. It was the wealthier population who would serve meat as part of a meal, otherwise it was potatoes, vegetables, and rice, and to refuse the meat presented was taken as an insult. At events such as weddings or funerals, women pile their plates high with the meat offered and then slip pieces into their handbags over the course of the meal, hoping to be able to feed their families for the next few days on something heartier than the usual.
I brought up the concept of veganism with my host parents who were more confused than outraged. For them, to refuse meat is to deny your body of the sustenance it needs—nourishment you may not know when you will be able to get again. For many families in countries across the African continent, meat is something rare that, when presented, must be taken advantage of. This for me presents a key point in understanding why veganism exists almost solely in the Western world: meat simply isn’t consumed to the same excessive level in a country like Cameroon as it is here in the United States. It is important for us to limit and eventually decrease our consumption of meat because it has gotten out of control in terms of how much is being produced. However, I don’t think that this is an entirely worldwide issue, nor do I believe that it is acceptable to assume that veganism across the globe is an ideal situation. To insist upon this idea is to presume access to a certain kind of lifestyle that veganism supports, in which meat isn’t a necessary part of one’s diet because one has access both physically and economically to alternatives.
I would argue that veganism is a movement that grew out of an unhealthy way of looking at animal products here in the United States. It stemmed from a chain reaction where companies were racing to keep up with the enormous quantities of meat being eaten, and since so much was being produced, more was being offered and ultimately consumed and those same companies then had to keep up with the mass consumption. Veganism is undoubtedly a way of life that is important for us to consider in our country. However, I don’t believe it is something that should be promoted in an equal and identical way to people from all walks of life across the globe.