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The Need for Nuance and Systemic Change in Plant-Based Diet Culture

November 6, 2023

Green 2.0 Team

Michelle enjoying time outside in nature!

The Need for Nuance and Systemic Change in Plant-Based Diet Culture

By Michelle Gin

Green 2.0’s Fall Fellow Michelle Gin dissects White-dominated, plant-based diet culture and proposes flexitarianism as a more nuanced diet alternative and ideological framework to affect change at both an individual and systemic level.

Over the past decade, plant-based diets have surged in popularity as people seek to eat healthier and play a part in mitigating climate change. Though there are a plethora of benefits to consuming less meat and animal products, the mainstream version of plant-based diets is often referred to as White veganism because it centers on “White, wealthy, skinny, cisgender, and able-bodied poster children.” With the exclusion of others from this space who don’t fit this category, it’s no surprise that White veganism ignores intersectional issues about worker’s rights, accessibility, Indigenous rights, racism, and fatphobia

As I have worked to improve my understanding of these issues over the past decade of being vegetarian, I have found that regardless of the issues discussed, the general consensus throughout the plant-based community is that everyone should adopt a plant-based diet. However, I find this a flawed solution, since it not only fails to capture the nuances that exist surrounding what we eat, but also places responsibility solely on the individual. In attempts to address some of these issues with plant-based diets, I propose flexitarianism as both a diet option and ideological framework

As a flexitarian, the goal is to consume a majority of plant-based foods with the occasional meat and animal products. When possible, there should be a focus on organic, local, and sustainably sourced products that prioritize animal well-being and regenerative practices. Flexitarianism is by no means the end all be all solution to intersectional issues within the plant-based space, but it does offer a more nuanced approach.

To me, flexitarianism allows for individual differences in accessibility, socioeconomic status, and personal health requirements to inform decisions, and it recognizes the significance of food in different cultural and spiritual traditions.This is not to say people are absolved from doing what they can to change what they eat, but it does mean that people with more privilege carry an increased responsibility to adapt the way they eat to include less meat and more sustainable products.

Flexitarianism also means that people can exist along all spectrums of diet, including vegans, vegetarians, and people who eat meat. Regardless of the diet you choose, and especially if you are White, it is important to understand the intersectionality surrounding what we eat.

A delicious array of Asian-inspired vegan and vegetarian meals Michelle and her friends cooked for a Lunar New Year Potluck.
Michelle and her spouse, Evan, holding goats at a farm in North Carolina.

It is also essential to shift how we think about food and how we structure the farming industry. To start, we must eliminate factory farming and prioritize farm worker’s rights. We also need a systemic overhaul of practices and ideologies perpetuated by capitalism that dominate US culture and contribute to overconsumption. As long as our systems and culture prioritize profits and individualism over people and the collective good, we cannot structure our food systems in a way that is sustainable and just.

Finally, we must increase our respect for the natural world, something that many Indigenous communities have been advocating for well before the recent surge in plant-based popularity.

Though reducing meat consumption is definitely part of the solution, if we continue to consume goods at the rate we do now, everyone switching to a plant-based diet will not fully address climate change in the way this solution is often presented.

Ultimately, neither individual nor systemic action can create lasting change without the other. Flexitarianism does offer a more nuanced framework for plant-based diets and encourages us to rethink what we choose to eat now. However, we must prioritize systemic change alongside these individual decisions if we want to create lasting change that mitigates our food system’s impacts on climate change in a way that is good for people and animals.

Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn to follow along with her work!