Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

crosses June 12, 2008

I come out of my writing hole to write a response to La Chola’s most recent post on veganism and cruelty towards farm workers and the hands that feed us. I can relate to alot of what she is saying (more on this later), but what mostly prompted me was this:

Is a vegan lifestyle really a “cruelty free” lifestyle? Why is it so easy to prioritize cruelty inflicted on animals over cruelty inflicted on brown people? Why can people list a whole litany of wrongs committed against animals by the food industry–but at the same time those people “never really thought” about what happens to the workers?

As a person of color, a Mexican, a Mexican who virtually all my relatives built their houses and everything else they have by working in the fields and bodegas, and most recently a vegan, I have worked/lived/loved  with farm workers. Some of then are vegetarian or vegan. And it’s not easy to prioritize cruetly against animals over brown people-but there shouldn’t be a reason to prioritize, to say one is more important than the other. Many many of the activists I know who work for social justice, work for immigrations rights, work for worker’s rights, are against the border wall; are veg*ns. Yes I do agree, like a friend once told me when I was complaining about an awards ceremony to look at gorillas at a zoo that was part of a human trafficking conference, everyone does not see the connections like I do.  But  I will not continue to inflect pain and shed blood on animals because I cannot stop the cruelty against workers.  I gave up  meat, simply enough, because I felt it was violent. A few years ago, I took an oath to live a non-violent life as part of the 100 days of fasting: a response to the Minutemen’s presence in the Rio Grande Valley, organized by LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1989.  I often thought of what that meant, being a survivor of domestic violence, in an overly oppressive culture where even being a feminist or calling oneself a Chicana gave you dirty looks. And I also thought of Cesar Chavez, his commitment to workers, to the people, and his decision to become a vegetarian which lasted the last 25 years of his life. He saw the connections between violence against animals and violence against people, he saw the cruelty in both the  animals he chose not to kill to eat and the treatment of farmworkers.  (Take that people who say I’m not a real Mexican because I’m veg*n)

But I don’t have to name famous activists who see the intersection, Vicki “Hasta La Vicktoria”, radical childcare extraordinary xicana activist & friend, is an ethical vegan, volunteer for  the CIW and along with alot of radial cool feminist vegans (how many adjectives can I use?) have taken part in the local boycotts along with CIW. Most, if not all, of the events I have organized or helped organize (Mujerfest, Voices Against Violence Vigil, Homenaje a Nuestras Muertas, RGV Zine/DIY fest) provide cruelty free food.

BFP asks:

Can I bring myself to say with a straight face that I no longer eat meat because I care about ending violence against animals?

I can say with a straight face that I do not eat meat because I an non-violent, because I truly care about ending violence-I can say in society, I can say in my community, but I’ll say that I want to end violence within my own family.

How do I make eating vegan/vegetarian a political choice about liberation without making the sacrifice one set of beings make with their bodies more important than another set of beings?

I don’t think we have to make that choice.

**

I never wanted to call myself a vegan because I didn’t want to be labeled, didn’t want to be seen as “hardcore”, didn’t want to be compared/aligned with hardcore vegans I have known and because I thought it would be difficult being working poor/being Mexican and being a single parent with no time ever ever to eat veg*n. I gave up cheese after being vegetarian for a while (being lactose intolerant I had already stopped eating anything diary) like Joselle did at Mutual Menu, because of the feeling of revulsion. And for the longest time I simply said, I don’t eat meat, then I don’t eat meat or any meat by products then I don’t eat meat, byproducts or dairy, and yes that includes butter (I honestly didn’t know butter was a dairy).

I’ve talked before on how growing up meat was a luxury. Meat was for special occasions. At family gatherings, the fajitas, cabrito was for the men. At birthday parties, you knew the family had money if they were serving carne guisada or fajitas. If they served chicken, or heaven forbid, tuna sandwiches, you knew they were working it. My mom would buy those 5 pound tubes of ground beef and would work that baby for two weeks for a family of six, using smallest possible amount and still have meat for dinner because it was a status-we have meat to eat for dinner, we are not starving. We are making the food stamps last. We are working it. If lunch or dinner was rice and beans, it was because we couldn’t afford meat, because it was all we had. If we were having rice or arroz con leche three times a day, it was because we were running low on food and back then the government still gave out these big boxes of powdered milk that lasted forever. And thank the heavens for those big blocks of cheese that feed us for weeks.

So it only follows that it was a hard decision to say I will no longer eat meat.  Was I crazy? How many years did we wish to eat meat, to have that “status” to only go back to eating poor? When the meat was given to the older brothers/cousins/uncles already setting up the connections in my mind at 12, how could I go along with it willingly at 25?? I was met with crazy stares from family; coworkers said I had gone “radical” and “hardcore.” My son’s father told me, and continues to tell me, that I “better not be turning his son vegetarian*” because he is Mexican and has to eat meat to be big and strong. (*I note that it sounds almost homophobic in nature).

**

I promise this post has an end.

As many women probably do, I had an eating disorder for most of my teen and adult life. Food was the enemy I could not get away from. Friends have told me that veganism is just another eating disorder, or a way to frame an eating disorder to appear acceptable.  I can honestly say that for me, it’s not a form of e.d. While being a vegetarian/vegan I have never binged and/or purged on meat products. I do realize that this can be true for others, or to slip means to eat meat or meat by-products being part of their e.d. and I understand that this is part of living w/ an e.d. I cannot say I haven’t slipped since I became veg*n, but not on meat products and that it, for me, is not used to mask an eating disorder.  What I’m trying to say also is that it was  difficult on the level of food being central to my emotional stability, mental health and depression. What I am NOT trying to say is that veg*nism “cured” me or that I no longer think I suffer from e.d. since I stopped eating meat, because that is simply not true. These choices are not easy ones. They are built on one another, and I understand the difficulty in working out all the sides. And yes yes yes veg*nism and vegetarianism was only one layer of the long (life long?) healing process for me.

*I feel like I am exposing alot of myself in this post and I retain the right to take this post off, or delete it. You can contact me at noemi.mtz at gmail. I will not respond to hate emails.

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17 Responses to “crosses”

  1. johanna Says:

    Noemi — thanks for this beautiful & brave post. I’ll totally understand if you end up taking it down, but I hope stupid comments & trolls won’t drive you to it.

    I don’t think we have to make that choice.

    Yeah, I agree exactly.

    While I agree w/BFP that there are obviously a lot of vegans out there who are super-concerned w/how animals are treated & never stop to think about the human issues (er, kind of why we started this blog…), conversely there are a lot of (for example) human rights activists who never stop to think about the rights of nonhuman animals. It’s not just veg*ns lacking the analysis here, y’know?

    I have to run to work but there’s so much more your post brings up worth talking about — I hope it sparks a real good & thoughtful & respectful discussion. Thanks again for writing this, it is great.

  2. Megan Says:

    Beautiful post. Truly from the heart.

  3. Hi Noemi,

    What you’ve shared is really important and it takes courage to do it. Thank you. I especially related to your discussion of eating disorders and veganism. I’ve struggled with eating disorders for most of my life and to now say I’m not going to eat something EVER, when I think about it that way, it scares me. I try to reframe it by thinking, “I choose not to eat this right now because I don’t like how it has to come into being.” That makes it so much less scary to me and much less like the deprivation and obsession I’ve struggled with and more like me being generous with myself and the others I’m trying to do this for (animals, the farm workers, our planet).

    What I love about this blog and what you, Neomi, have done in this post is that you all realize that life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s really powerful and feels good to know y’all are out there!

  4. leftofemma Says:

    Thanks for the post. I think that this is an issue a lot of POCs have to deal with in the activist community. I’ve been called elitist and classist because I’m vegan, but I work just as hard for women and POC in my community.

    The way I see it, not eating meat only helps people who have to work in slaughter houses who have higher rates of illnesses and injuries in addition to those who work in the fields. Working in a slaughterhouse is a dangerous occupation with few benefits. I can’t even imagine what frame of mind you have to put yourself in to kill an animal each and every day, but knowing that if you don’t you can’t feed your own family.

  5. I have two points:

    1. How does eating animal products help people of color?
    It doesn’t. Being vegan isn’t about prioritizing some cruelty over other cruelty.

    2. Veganism is not an eating disorder and anyone who says it is only views animals and their secretions as food. To a true vegan, animals are inedible. The thought of eating an animal repulses me in the same way as the thought of eating a human – it’s not about food, it’s about respect for life.

    OK, I have two more points. I can’t help it.
    3. Sustainable, fair trade, organic food can GO ALONG WITH veganism. There is no either/or. It’s not vegan OR fair trade.
    4. I wish she’d open up comments. I want to write about it, but I’m really trying to cut back on blogging and I’d rather just write in comments more often nowadays. Oh well. It’s her choice and it’s probably a good one for her.

  6. Dani Says:

    I wish I saw this post earlier today. I think the following are very important questions, and, unfortunately, questions that are too rarely asked:

    Is a vegan lifestyle really a “cruelty free” lifestyle? Why is it so easy to prioritize cruelty inflicted on animals over cruelty inflicted on brown people? Why can people list a whole litany of wrongs committed against animals by the food industry–but at the same time those people “never really thought” about what happens to the workers?

    Over the last decade, self-styled “vegan” advocates have in fact prioritized cruelty inflicted on other animals over cruelty inflicted on brown people. For instance, the organization Vegan (sic) Outreach has specifically justified disregarding the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (see, Setting Priorities and Building Bridges?) for “the importance of convenience.”

    I agree with Elaine that, “Being vegan isn’t about prioritizing some cruelty over other cruelty.” But the organization mentioned above disagrees. If an organization with “vegan” in its name is promoting this type of white/class privilege, then people asking the questions above they are going to come to a different conclusion – and justifiably so.

  7. johanna Says:

    Dani — thanks for that comment; I didn’t know that about Vegan Outreach, augh. (That’s additionally saddening & frustrating to me because I like their brochures about veganism & would suggest them to people in lieu of PETA’s, since I hate PETA & obviously their stance on race & gender is tainted!)

    Speaking of prioritizing cruelty of one sort over another, I hate when I feel like people are trying to make me choose between being vegan & being a WOC. Most often I have felt it from white privileged-vegans, but I do feel it from POCs in the racial justice movement as well.

    Noemi — thank you again for this post; I think it shows so well the different ways in which food IS raced & classed (take that, clueless blogger for the Atlantic!), & how veg*nism & gender also come into play.

    Elaine — given how much fucked-up garbage the blogosphere (& even people outside it) has given BFP, I am not surprised at all she’s turned off comments; I would not blame her at all if she wanted to quit blogging again permanently.

  8. Stentor Says:

    Awesome post.

  9. [...] Also, Vegans of Color have a great response to a related post of hers as well. Good stuff.   [...]

  10. Thank you for sharing this.

  11. Thank you for sharing this.

  12. Desert Rose Says:

    Hi Noemi,

    Came across your post by chance. I just wanted to share with you and tell you not to feel so guilty. It is a tough decision to buck the trends. I became a vegetarian, and eventually more vegan, a couple of years ago. Now, I am glad I did. I am a WOC also.

    Hope that these links help you since vegetarianism is definitely the “in” thing with respect to saving our planet. You are in noble company.

    http://al.godsdirectcontact.org/
    http://suprememasterchinghai.net/sos.htm

    Take care and God Bless.

  13. [...] wrote some really beautiful reflections that spoke to me, mujer a mujer. Girl, I was in the same world you were, macho meat eating hombres and [...]

  14. iorek14 Says:

    Elaine, i’m tired of your one-track, inflexible mind. Have you ever considered actually listening?

    “1. How does eating animal products help people of color?
    It doesn’t. Being vegan isn’t about prioritizing some cruelty over other cruelty.”

    Bfp was critiquing the way many vegans don’t think about workers and immigrants. Many of them DO prioritize some cruelty over other cruelty.

    “OK, I have two more points. I can’t help it.
    3. Sustainable, fair trade, organic food can GO ALONG WITH veganism. There is no either/or. It’s not vegan OR fair trade.”

    You’re missing the point by a mile – “fair trade” and equitable farming operations are not the reality for MOST migrant farm workers. It would be nice if more political vegans/vegetarians concerned themselves with labor and immigration issues, which I believe Bfp was arguing. She frequently blogs about the need for intersectional analyses in many different movements. Now that’s she’s critiqued your particular one, you’re up in arms and totally defensive. Which is ridiculous considering that Bfp is pro-veganism and has been struggling to change her family’s diet. Have fun dooming yourself to continued irrelevance.

  15. nosnowhere Says:

    noemi, thank u so much for writing so truthfully and not being too scared to say these things. i especially appreciate your reflections on what it means to pledge to live a non-violent life as a survivor of domestic violence; in the way u frame it here veganism becomes a way for us to heal ourselves and our families through our food choices (vs. the way eating disorders cause us to use food/eating as attempts at control).

    xoxo

  16. Robin Says:

    Thank you for your honest, insightful post. I agree that we do not have to choose only one cause to the exclusion of all others.

  17. [...] blog will see that the bloggers here share many of the same concerns as Renee: the treatment of farm workers (as well as slaughterhouse workers); the sustainability of veganism; PETA (there have been [...]


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