The vegan industrial complex: the political ecology of not eating animals



Many political ecologists and geographers study ethical diets but most are curiously silent on the topic of death in the food system, specifically what or who is allowed to live and what is let die in the "doing of good." This article aims to show how the practice of eating produces the socio-ecological harm most ethical consumers set out to avoid with their dietary choices. I examine the food systems that produce ethical products for 1) the hierarchical ordering of consumer health in the Global North over the health and well-being of workers in the Global South and 2) how vegetarianism involves the implicit privileging of some animals over others. The article takes take a genealogical approach to the political ecology of food ethics using Black and Indigenous studies in conversation with animal geographies. I draw on Mbembe's (2016) necropolitics, Weheliye's (2014) "not quite human" and Lowe's (2015) critique of humanism to develop a conceptual framework for what lives or dies as a result of ethical dietary choices. I use this framework to examine commodities for the socio-ecological harm that their production extends into the world under the guise of "doing good" or "being ethical." Taking a harm reduction and food sovereignty approach, I advocate for a new ethical framework that includes a limited case for consuming animals.

Keywords: ethics, animals, food, environment, political ecology

How to Cite: Trauger, A. (2022) “The vegan industrial complex: the political ecology of not eating animals”, Journal of Political Ecology. 29(1). doi: