Image description: a black cow with a white face in a grassy field with two trees near the camera.
CW: eating disorders, ableism, mentions of weight, mentions of death
The ‘debate’ around whether or not there are people who cannot become vegan has existed in the background for many years and occasionally things happen that bring it to the forefront of either vegan or disability discourse. Today one of those things happened, in the form of a viral tweet stating ““I can’t go vegan for health reasons” Is complete horseshit 99.99% of the time.”
Let me be very clear: there are an extensive number of health reasons that can prevent someone going vegan, and to not only outright reject them but also insult the people who have these health problems is extremely ableist. The twitter user @soy_milk_latte_ and those who responded in the thread by accusing disabled people of faking reasons or being unwilling to sacrifice their health of hating animals were today engaging in very blatant bigotry against disabled people.
I have already tweeted a thread about my own personal health reasons why I cannot go vegan, but I will summarise here: a combination of autism, ARFID and some weird still-unexplained effects on my immune system while extremely underweight mean that should I attempt to go vegan I would most likely die. Past experiences detailed in this linked thread mean that I would skip meals, feel dizzy and sick, and then either starve or die from an illness such as (but not definitely) covid-19.
There are a whole host of other health reasons why someone could not go vegan. Eating disorders are a common one – many eating disorders (including ARFID) lead to a dangerous restriction in diet and further restricting it could lead to severe health affects leading from serious weight loss to nutritional deficiency to (in the most severe cases) potential starvation. While there may be people with eating disorders who can go vegan, there are many who simply cannot.
Allergies, conditions like MCAS, IBS or food allergies can restrict someone’s diet to the point where any further reduction would lead to a lack of foods one can eat. This is not an extensive list of conditions; there are others which could prevent veganism from being healthy for someone but I’m not a medical professional so I can’t cover all bases.
In addition to conditions that mean the restriction in diet would be unhealthy, there are disabled people who are unable to cook vegan meals, prepare the food necessary to have nutritious vegan meals or plan the shopping and meal prep in a way that would make such a diet healthy. This can be because of executive dysfunction, chronic fatigue, or any condition or symptom of a condition that makes such things difficult.
Since this post is about the links between veganism and disability, I won’t bother going into any detail on other reasons why people can’t go vegan, but I’ll list a few for reference anyway: low income preventing purchase of vegan foods; cultural reasons; living in an area without sufficient supply of vegan foods; relying on others to purchase or cook foods (e.g. in the case of minors or people living in controlling situations who are unable to leave especially in the current pandemic situation).
Disabled people are people, as person-first language advocates are fond of reminding us, and deserve human rights. We have the right to live. Even taking a perspective that all living beings regardless of species or sapience have equal rights, in this case that produces a conflict as disabled people have the right to live just as animals do. Take also carnivorous animals: they must eat meat to survive. There are few vegans who would want to prevent wild animals from killing other wild animals: even if this was in any way feasible.
So, to the militant wing of the vegan movement, for I recognise this is not representative of the majority of vegans, I pose these questions: do you claim the right to decide who lives and who dies? If so, who gave you that right? Do you believe that disabled humans have less of a right to life than, say, chickens? Do you want to create a world where veganism is compulsory for humans? And, lastly, in such a world, are you going to be the one to explain to our families why we are dead?