The vegan community is clearly diverse—which may help explain why younger generations are shying away from animal products in droves. 60% of the United States is white and non-Hispanic… but when you break that down by age, a stark pattern emerges: the younger the generation, the more racially diverse it is.1 Only 52% of Gen Z identify as white.2 With racial justice and climate justice fueling their purchases and their activism, Gen Z is playing an important role in food justice, helping flip cultural norms in order to build a more inclusive world.
Are you “lactose normal”?
Your ability to digest milk after infancy depends on your genetics—and because the gene for lactose tolerance originated with Northern Europeans, lactose intolerance is strongly correlated with race. An estimated 80% of African Americans and Native Americans, 90% of Asian Americans3, and 70% of Jewish Americans are lactose intolerant.4 In practical terms, that means one out of every three Americans struggles to digest lactose.
For humans, lactose intolerance is the norm. We agree with Food Empowerment Project that it’s time to flip the script on how we talk about the global majority—the approximately 70% of the world’s population with lactose malabsorption.5
Wait, food policies can be racist? Yep.
Despite the fact that BIPOC communities have high rates of lactose intolerance, the government still demands that dairy be included in school lunches, often without a plant-based option. This means that minority students are often pressured to consume a product that makes them ill. Policies like this that make dairy the default harm communities of color. They amount to dietary racism, just like building a polluting factory in a Black neighborhood amounts to environmental racism.
Beyond dairy defaults, our food and farming system is fraught with systemic racism. The majority of factory farm and slaughterhouse workers are people of color or undocumented immigrants, working extremely dangerous, low-paying jobs.6 It’s not just the workers who are exploited but the neighbors too: The intentional location of factory farms in low-income communities is environmental racism, and these massive farm operations harm residents every time they pollute land, water, and airways.
Flipping our plates and minds so we don’t use our dollars to support these industries is anti-racism in practice.
Plants are the most inclusive foods
There are lots of different reasons people don’t eat animal products—religion, health, personal ethics—but there’s no reason why someone who eats meat can’t eat a plant-based meal once in a while. So when you’re serving food in a group or at a conference, the way to make sure everyone can eat is to serve plant-based foods.
Serving plant-based food by default includes everybody. With no pork, kosher and halal are moot. With no dairy, lactose tolerance is irrelevant. With no beef, cardiac patients and environmentalists don’t have to worry. With no eggs, Jains and vegans can breathe easy.
Serve plant-based food by default, and everyone can have a seat at the table.