Who Can Afford To Be Vegan?

what can you afford?
I'm not a vegetarian. I eat fish and if I have the choice to eat vegetarian -- I do. I don't like red meat and chicken is almost out the window. But when I stand in line for my lunch at the cafeteria, I almost always grab the vegetarian box. And when I look around, it seems a lot of other people go for the vegetarian option as well. A few people go the extra mile and choose the vegan option.

I think that it is great to eat healthy and support animal rights and go as far as to implement those beliefs in your daily diet. Hey, I even participate myself to a certain extent. However, I find myself torn time and again over what I like to call the "privileged diet."

Let me explain. The whole idea behind eating vegetarian and vegan is awesome in theory. But my question is, who is privileged enough to participate in this phenomenon? Is it the poor African-American family living in the ghettos of Los Angeles? Is it the Mexican farmers in Mexico who farm for survival? Is it the under-privileged families in the South? No, it is those that are privileged enough to be able to CHOOSE where their food comes from as opposed to eating whatever is available. The vegan and vegetarian food market is too expensive for many people to afford.

The USDA recently reported that between 1996 and 1998, about 10 million American households did not have access to enough food to meet their basic needs. In fact, the Food Security Institute at the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University in Massachusetts recently released a national report ranking the state of Oregon as the number one state in hunger, with Washington pulling in at second hungriest. Researchers say that rural isolation and high cost of living are factors that contribute to the findings. When that much of the American population can barely afford to survive, who has time to think about buying overpriced vegan ice cream?

Studies have shown direct correlations between poverty and obesity or health problems. Is it fair that the impoverished continue to consume unhealthy foods that are affordable to them, while those who can afford health care -- and even a gym -- eat "healthy" vegan and vegetarian meals? That is not to say that poor people do not have the right to eat vegetarian or vegan, because they definitely do. And believe me, I know plenty of vegans that are poor and opt for no food over animal food. But in general, most people who swing to the veggie side can afford to fund their preferred diets.

In the San Francisco and Sacramento school districts, concerned parents petitioned to have healthier school meals for their children and the districts responded. This proves that at least some regions are beginning to realize that the processed foods in subsidized school lunches are harmful to children’s health.

Scientists have shown that milk consumption in children leads to so many infections and conditions like asthma. They have also shown that the human body was not built to consume any other milk than breast milk. Yet, we continue to enforce the idea that the more milk, the better. If we could get the government to subsidize veggie options to schools, we would have children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds benefiting from healthier meals. Unfortunately, this does not seem like something that will be happening any time soon.

So we will continue to allow this gap in resources to widen. Those who can eat well will continue to do so. And those who can't will continue to eat 49-cent cheeseburgers at McDonalds. I will grab many more veggie sandwiches in my life, because I have a choice, but I will always keep in mind the privileges that I enjoy over a child who gorges herself on unhealthy, processed foods because that is all she can afford.

Jennifer Contreras, 21, is a senior journalism student at University of La Verne in Southern California.

* Read a response to this article by a vegan. *

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