Is veganism inherently ableist? No, but often, the ways that vegans tend to express their feelings and beliefs do come with bias and carelessness about the realities of other people's lives. As any Disabled vegan will tell you, working for full access AND working for animal liberation sometimes feels like running into the same blank looks and minimization. Disability justice and veganism don't have to be in tension, but vegans can't ignore accessibility if we want to move forward in solidarity.
For example, some people are allergic or intolerant of proteins that don't come from animal bodies. While it's rare, it's not nobody. And if we're trying to communicate with non-vegans, anyone who does have a serious allergy is going to feel turned off if you refuse to think or care about those people who aren't currently able to consume any plant proteins. Accessibility means making space for everybody and we need to work hard to make that clear
and make it happen. For example, should we be working harder to develop lab-grown animal proteins? Are there ways we can provide menus now that don’t rely on nuts, wheat, or soy?
Some people can't prepare their meals from scratch, for various reasons. Making claims about the healthiness of veganism that depend on having the resources to cook a whole-food plant-based diet is ableist. What can we do to make being vegan as minimally invasive as possible for people who have disabilities with things like reading comprehension, executive function, sensory processing, fine motor skills, etc? Telling them "it's easy" isn't going to help them or us. How can we create support systems that provide practical help for people who struggle with food, so that they can act on their values safely, to the fullest extent possible?
The emotional cost of veganism is significant. Becoming vegan can come with a sense of despair and a loss of culture that is deeply hurtful. Vegans are often isolated from others and ridiculed, to the extent that many of us only feel fully able to relax around other vegans. For people who depend very literally on others for their life and health, like people who work with personal care assistance for daily tasks or have a mental health support worker, becoming vegan is a risk to those bonds. Vegans need to be able to step into these gaps, both practically through providing mutual aid, and through helping new vegans navigate the changes in their relationships.
Vegans should be better placed than most people to understand that we have a moral obligation to care about every individual, and that the things that we can do should not determine whether our lives have value — what matters is having a life that is meaningful and valuable to the individual experiencing it.
If you can understand why speciesism is wrong and believe that we should change the world to make it fairer and kinder for animals, you can understand why ableism is wrong and we should change the world to make it more just and accessible for every human. Animal liberation cannot come at the cost of human liberation. None of us is free until all of us are free.
Not everyone is going to be able to become vegan today, even if we could convince everyone that they should. Every one of us is still enmeshed in the carnist-industrial complex — vegans try as hard as we can to get out of it, and try to bring it to light, but we are not transcendent beings who can survive without buying or consuming anything. And if we buy or consume anything, we have contributed to animal oppression and murder. It is arrogant to think
We have to recognize that veganism means “as far as possible” refusing to benefit from or contribute to animal ownership, torture, and murder. It doesn’t mean moral purity. If we can communicate this to non-vegans who refuse to engage with veganism because they see it as ableist, we can work together to make “as far as possible” mean something for them. Some people, right now, cannot become fully vegan. That doesn’t mean that nobody should make any changes. It doesn’t mean that caring about Disability justice means you don’t have to care about animal liberation. But it does mean having hard conversations about what both groups of activists can be doing to support each other.