The Infamous ‘Vegan Influencer’: What They Aren’t Telling You


Ellie Sung ‘27
Guest Writer 

At the age of 14, I got swept up in the world of vegan propaganda. After consuming far too much content on social media, I was shocked to learn about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and was disturbed by the treatment of animals. While I was initially inspired and moved by the content I saw, I’ve since realized the deeply problematic themes woven throughout conversations about veganism on social media.

Discussions are dominated by affluent, white individuals who accept nothing short of perfection. While I remain vegan today, it’s not just because I don’t want to support an industry that harms animals and the environment, but also because I’ve increasingly become aware of something that I never saw on social media – the exploitation and suffering of workers in factory farms. 

One of the most prominent forms of exploitation in the industry is the expectations put on workers to sacrifice their bodies and health to maximize processing times and profits. 

Workers in the animal agriculture industry endure inhumane working conditions as they are forced to work at rapid speeds, are subject to high risk of injury, and often face losing their jobs if injured. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, meatpacking and poultry industries have among the highest rates of work-related injuries and illnesses in the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic, factory farms gained attention as they became a hotspot where the virus spread rapidly due to insufficient sanitation practices, and people tightly packed together. Daily hazards in these factories include exposure to high noise levels, dangerous equipment, hazardous chemicals, biological hazards associated with handling animals, and musculoskeletal disorders. Not to mention, the psychological burden workers experience from killing and processing hundreds of animals each day. 

The exploitation of individuals working in factory farms should be getting just as much attention as the exploitation of animals, yet never on social media have I seen the working conditions discussed.

These inhumane working conditions are not easily improved, as companies often employ individuals they can depend on for cheap labor, who are less likely to protest against the harsh working conditions. Immigrant workers are an increasing percentage of the workforce, and often face language barriers, putting them at greater risk by preventing them from understanding their rights and hazards in the workplace. Furthermore, many workers are undocumented which employers use to maintain abusive conditions by exploiting workers’ fear of deportation. 

The meatpacking industry has also deliberately broken child labor laws. In 2023, the U.S. Department of Labor found that over 100 children between 13 and 17 years old were working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing plants across the United States. They worked long hours using hazardous chemicals and cleaned dangerous equipment. For one 14-year-old, this resulted in his arm getting caught and mangled in a piece of machinery. 

Some may argue that the workers in these factory farms aren’t being exploited, because they are choosing to work there. While there may be the illusion of choice, in reality, labor is being exploited and is not free. Employers torment workers through a variety of intimidation tactics, dismiss workers’ concerns, and instill constant threats of deportation or termination of work. For many, there is no choice but to endure the hazardous and exploitative conditions to not risk losing their only means of income. 

Social media has the power to promote ethical alternatives to supporting the meat industry, however, many people are missing a huge, and vital part of the equation. Conversations often lack nuance and intersectionality, as there are endless discussions of the cruelty animals endure, and the inhumane exploitation of animals’ lives, yet discussions of the exploitation of factory farm workers are few and far between. 

Valid claims about the environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry and concern for animals are undermined by a lack of intersectional activism and some horribly misguided takes. The most egregious and disturbing claim I’ve seen online is the comparison between factory farming and slavery. Comparing animals to enslaved individuals to highlight the unethical practices of animal agriculture while still overlooking the exploitation of workers in factory farms is not the brilliant activism that those at PETA think. 

The vegan community neglecting to discuss the inhumane working conditions while overwhelmingly highlighting animal exploitation displays a direct disregard for human life. If your “ethical reasoning” does not include the exploitation of human life, then maybe it is time to reconsider. To be more effective and inclusive, critiques of the animal agriculture industry must discuss the labor exploitation of workers. As plant-based eating continues to become more widespread and mainstream, it is time that we bring the inhumane, exploitative working conditions that individuals employed at factory farms undergo into the conversation.

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