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Colonization and Diet: Why Plant-Based Diets are Nothing New

September 2, 2020

Due to the widespread colonization, animal products are considered “essential” to the human diet, when in reality, many cultures and communities are not genetically adapted to eat them.

Veganism and other forms of plant based diets are often associated with white, western, and privileged lifestyles, and are frequently thought of as new concepts. However, European colonization leading to the spread and normalization of meat and dairy consumption has hid the fact that individuals of the global majority have been following a plant-based diet for centuries. Due to the widespread colonization, animal products are considered “essential” to the human diet, when in reality, many cultures and communities are not genetically adapted to eat them.

In the United States specifically, we have been taught to consume large quantities of meat and dairy because Europeans colonized this land. In fact, we lead the world with meat consumption at an average of 124 kilograms of meat per person per year, versus Africa at less than 20 kilograms of meat per person.

Colonization has forced diets heavy in animal products in cultures not necessarily needing it.

Even as the majority of people are lactose intolerant, communities are being encouraged to consume products that literally make them sick. If you compare the United States’ and European countries’ lactose intolerance to those of other countries, it is evident that dairy is not a product humans are genetically adapted to be consuming. When “milking countries” colonized other regions of the world, the difference in lactose tolerance is evident, as between 63 and 98% of Asians, African, and Indigenous communities have high rates of lactose intolerance. Colonization has forced diets heavy in animal products in cultures not necessarily needing it.

These impacts of colonization are evident and exacerbated by the western history of plant-based eating. British woodworker, Donald Watson, is often credited with coining the term, ‘vegan’ in 1944 and referred to as the ‘father of veganism’. This patriarchal perspective fails to recognize a long history of plant-based eating in communities of color centuries earlier. Specifically, many religions including Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism as well as Indigenous communities have followed vegetarian or vegan diets. Many Hindus and Buddhists follow a lacto-vegetarian diet, meaning no animal products are eaten except dairy products. There are even scheduled periods of time where only plant-based foods are allowed. Jainism also has a strong focus on peaceful and nonviolent eating, and no animal products whatsoever are eaten by strict Jains. According to ChewFo, “they may avoid eating root vegetables as the whole plant is killed when the root is dug up.”

These practices can be easily observed in various authentic cuisine restaurants where plant-based or vegan options are readily available. Most Thai, Indian, Chinese, or Ethiopian restaurants have a plethora of plant-based options while restaurants that may be classified as ‘American’ frequently lack even basic vegetarian options.

To recognize the true history of veganism and plant-based cuisine, FFAC is launching a traditional food campaign. Our staff, mentees, interns, and community members have shared recipes from their families and cultures to document this narrative.

Follow our social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok to see these recipes and learn more about the true history of veganism!

Cora Gertjejanssen and Jennifer Bass were both summer college interns and are currently fall college fellows for FFAC.

Sharing this article helps raise awareness about the impact of factory farming on humans, animals, and the environment.

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