Allow me to start by offering a disclaimer: I am writing this as a white, incredibly privileged vegetarian.
That being said, many (both white and non-white) people go vegetarian or vegan due to the cruelty towards and the killing of animals-a perfectly valid reason and one I can sympathize with. Another perfectly valid reason people go vegan (and to a lesser extent, vegetarian, considering vegetarians still consume animal products and therefore fuel animal agriculture) is because of the effects animal agriculture has on the planet. Neither of these reasons are inherently problematic or trivial.
Spreading information about the animal agricultural industry is important because it’s not something everyone is educated on. (This is not one of those articles, if you’re looking for one, try here.) The problem is when vegans and vegetarians employ these reasons and these reasons alone to encourage people to change their diets. Something white vegans and vegetarians in particular are notorious for is unjustly comparing slaughterhouses to human tragedies like the Holocaust or slavery. If white vegans and vegetarians want to use the abuse and exploitation of humans to appeal to non vegan and vegetarians, then, you think they would discuss the real human tragedies happening within animal agriculture instead of grossly misrepresenting other ones.
The industry of animal agriculture is an unpleasant, dangerous, and exploitative one. One a day-to-day basis workers face machinery and contaminants that pose serious life-long health risks. Tyson, VPP Group, and Maple Leaf Farms are all companies involved in animal agriculture that have been fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for serious and numerous violations.
As if putting their employees at risk isn’t bad enough, a large number of the employees they’re putting at risk are children. Yes, child labor still exists in the United States. In 2008, an Iowa meatpacking plant was found to be employing 57 underage workers (defined as under the age of 18 in Iowa). In 2015, a seventeen year old boy was injured while working at an Ohio chicken plant, resulting in his lower left leg being amputated. So why isn’t it talked about? The majority of the 57 underage workers were Guatemalan immigrants. The seventeen year old boy was an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant named Osiel Lopez Perez. Undocumented and underaged immigrants are employed in the masses by animal agriculture because their labor is cheap, easy to find, and it means injuries and violations at the workplace go unreported.
The exploitation of people of color and immigrants (regardless of their immigration status) just doesn’t fit a white vegan’s narrative. Broaching the topic of immigration, not to mention undocumented immigration, is too controversial, too divisive. Instead, white “activists” choose to yet again alienate people of color and ignore their oppression. By doing so, it is impossible to not see white vegans and vegetarians as oppressors, deciding which injustices are allowed to continue and which ones need to be stopped. It’s something that is said far too often, but needs to be said nonetheless: white activists need to do better.