When you Google “vegan” or turn to social media to learn more about veganism, representation of people of color is scarce. This trend carries over into documentary and film projects, social media influencers selected for partnerships, and how veganism is represented in education, environmental movements, and media. The lack of representation is concerning and doesn’t reflect reality; communities of color have practiced plant-based lifestyles for centuries, and in the modern day have actually adopted plant-based lifestyles at higher than average rates. A Pew Research Center study found that 8% of Black Americans identify as strict vegans or vegetarians, as opposed to 3% of the general population. A 2020 Gallup poll found that people of color in the U.S. reported reducing their meat consumption at a much higher rate than white Americans (31% versus 19%).
When we look globally, the countries with the largest increase of vegetarian populations between 2016 and ’17 are (ranked from highest growth to lowest) Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Kenya, Thailand, and Italy. Many of these countries are in the global south, although mainstream representation of plant-based diets is largely centered around perspectives from the Global North.
By some estimates, these countries have the most vegetarians overall per capita: India (31 to 42%), Mexico (19%), Brazil (14%), Taiwan (14%), Switzerland (13%), Israel (10.3%), New Zealand (10%), Sweden (10%), Canada (9.4%), the U.S. (5 to 8%), and Russia (3 to 4%). Three out of the top five countries are concentrated in the global south, and while the U.S.’s vegan population is growing, it has a significantly smaller vegan population per capita than the top countries.
This isn’t a competition, but it’s important to take the facts into account when considering which narratives around plant-based lifestyles, reduction of meat consumption, and veganism and vegetarianism are amplified and given a platform.