Vegans of Color

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

Colonial Fruits August 1, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Royce @ 2:16 pm
Tags: , ,

So my last post, and the comments in it, got me thinking about how my veggies and things come to me. It’s pretty convenient to be a vegan nowadays– I can’t gauge how hard it was years ago, I haven’t been buying my own food long enough, but it is really easy to be vegan right now. Part of that is the fact that in most of this country there is a huge variety of produce, and produce that is available year round.

This is a post with a lot of questions.

And of course part of this variety is due to our ever globalizing world, which also means a world with a history (and present) of colonialism. I don’t know how much neo/colonial trade routes have to do with the production of my vegetables (at least during some parts of the year), but I know there is some major colonial undertones to the production of my fruit. Most of my favorite fruits are of the tropical variety, which of course means they come from the Global South.

See, in my ideal world, where these colonial relationships don’t exist, and capitalism is dead there is no way I could get my favorite fruits. So I’m wondering– how should I interpret my consumption of, what I now think of as colonial fruits. Outside of Southern California and Hawai’i (definitely colonial type relationships there) there is really nowhere that someone could grow coconuts and mangoes and banana and papaya and all those other fruits I love. I know colonialism isn’t exactly dead either, so how do I know that the fruit I purchased is even fair to the brown and black folks that grow them (curses to Late Capitalism btw). Also considering what I now know about some palm oil, I also can’t ignore the ecological effects of what I eat, and I have no clue how my favorite fruits are produced.

Also this means that historical colonialism, and most probably contemporary colonialism, make my being vegan easier. Another privilege of being a vegan in the Global North seems to be this privilege of trade.

So what is a vegan who takes a stand against racism and colonialism to do?

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15 Responses to “Colonial Fruits”

  1. Meep Says:

    This is the problem I struggle with – even if I did become veg*n, I find myself wondering whose blood was on my fruits and vegetables, and how much oil did it take to get them here. On one hand, I want to eat foods from Mexico because I want to show my solidarity with Mexico (though NAFTA screws that up). But a while back, I was staring at blueberries wondering who picked those. Maybe it was the farmers themselves, but I doubt it.

    Basically, I want to see accountability, both in myself and by the people who provide my food.

  2. Royce Drake Says:

    Yeah. Accountability and fairness are definitely what I want. I buy fair trade when I can, but I know fair trade isn’t ideal, it’s just better than other methods.

  3. mel Says:

    Most of my produce comes from a local, organic CSA, but I too love my mangoes, pineapple, and bananas. I can wean myself of Earth Balance and use alternative items, but there are some things you just can’t replace. I have resigned myself to buying them rarely and with fair trade labeling, though who knows what labels even mean nowadays.

    And what of my beloved ong choy? I like to think I’m supporting small business owners in Chinatown, but at the same time, how far did it travel? Even if it is local, who had to pick it and how are they compensated for their work? What sort of chemicals were those folks subjected to while growing it?

  4. Royce,

    What a great topic to bring up. I have been exploring your concerns as a PhD student, taking the mainstream USA vegan and AR movement to task on how they are defining “cruelty-free”. I strongly feel that a lot of folk who practice veganism only consider something “cruelty-free” if a non-human animal was not directly exploited, maimed, killed, etc.

    I have begun to wonder much about the raw foods vegan items, available here in Berkeley, CA area. Acai, Goji berries, raw cocoa beans seem to be the “rave”. These products sell at a very high price… but, I don’t see if they are free of “human cruelty” practices of neocolonialism (slave labor and what not). I wonder how many people realize that there are children enslaved in the Ivory Coast to harvest the cocoa of the first world, for example.

    I also think that the questions and concerns you raise are yet another reason why veganism is not a “colorbind” issue (as many white identified vegans seem to be convinced of this in the USA). In my current paper (soon to be dissertation), I speak of how the production of “our” vegan foods is contingent upon a racialized global labor force in which the people of color “do the harvesting” of the “healthiest” vegan/raw foods while the consumption of these foods is disproportionately higher amongst [white] middle/upper class of the Global West.

    It is quite unsettling that many who seek to pursue veganism as a way to “end cruelty”, are quite blinded by their white, and/or WESTERN/FIRST WORLD privilege in which so many of us are “trained” to not really think where our vegan (or non-vegan food) comes from, and how colonialism really never ended.

    I am not perfect, of course :-) Being born and raised in the USA, as a black working class female, I never had “white middle class ” privileged- However, I do/did have USAmerican privileged perspective of social justice and “cruelty” free, as well. It was not until I met my husband (not born and raised here), that he pointed out how I had not been cognizant of where my food and non-food items came from.

    I’m still learning and trying to figure out the best way to get everything I need with the least amount of harm possible. I know not everyone lives in the Easy Bay of california, but this location, for me, has made it easier for me to do this.

    Breeze

  5. There’s also the environmental issue of the miles flown by the fruit. So, I find myself shunning not only bloody bananas but also apples from Australia. And it’s hard. Very hard. Because I really love fruit of all kinds. But how can I ask a meat lover to pass up the steak if I can’t walk past those imported fruits?

    All the more reason for all of us to remember that our long term strategy has to include not only calls to go vegan and fully cruelty-free but also concerted local and global strategic action to reform farming and food trade policies and practices. This step — the question of exactly *how* we get from globalized agribusiness (including factory farming) to sustainable local production of healthy, ecologically and culturally appropriate food for everybody — too often falls out of vegan discussions focused on our individual consumer choices. But, living as I do in a rural region dominated by the poultry industry, I can’t ever forget it.

  6. johanna Says:

    Royce — thank you for this awesome post. I hear you… I love love love stuff like coconuts & mangoes (& plus, after the Earth Balance discussion, coconut oil was brought up as a possible alternative for cooking — the word seems to be that chances are it’s more ethical than palm oil, but no guarantees, of course…). But, yeah… the fruits (har har) of colonialism are not exactly something I feel good about eating.

    I am surprised that there hasn’t been anyone commenting so far about how we’re all ridiculous to be concerned about this & OMG WE’RE MAKING VEGANISM TOO HARD & why are we starting trouble? Because a little bit of that came up w/the Earth Balance discussion (especially on Deb’s blog). & in the past I’ve seen folks online do the whole “Well, if you’re so smart, what do you think we should eat?” thing — as if we’re not allowed to talk about the contradictions & complications & poor ethics of what we eat & think about eating… Well, yay that it hasn’t (yet?) come up here.

    It’s really depressing to contemplate how so much of what we do is tied into a system based in cruelty (to humans, nonhumans, the earth).

    Meep — Yeah, there’s definitely ethical issues w/fruit as well. As others mentioned, I try to minimize that as much as possible by buying locally from small farmers (which, as pattrice mentioned, is better ecologically anyway due to less fuel costs; to me, living in the Northeast, it’s absurd to buy apples from Australia, when there are so many apple farmers here!). I don’t think eating more fruit/veg that may have not come from more ethical sources is in & of itself a reason to keep eating meat, though (even if we are talking “happy meat” & not meat from the brutal & dangerous slaughterhouses mostly staffed by poor immigrants of color, there is still the ecological impact).

    Mel — are there any farmers at farmers markets near you growing their own ong choy? I’ve seen a lot of Asian greens grown locally around here & we get quite a variety, including ones I’ve never heard of, through our CSA. If you talk to farmers & build a relationship w/them, maybe you could even persuade them to grow some. :) (assuming it’s able to be grown where you are — I don’t know the details)

    Breeze — OMG I totally want to read your dissertation! I’ve also really appreciated the posts you’ve made on your blog questioning why vegans, for example, may not be eating fair trade chocolate.

    pattrice — Yeah, I am a fan of locavorism (sans the animal flesh, of course!). I’ve heard vegans say that there’s no reason for anyone anywhere to have to eat animal products, because vegan food can be shipped anywhere nowadays, but… that’s not a comforting or useful answer to me for the reasons you mentioned.

  7. johanna Says:

    (& holy crap, sorry for the long-ass comment!!!)

  8. Kanika A. Hodges Says:

    I also struggle with this dilemma.

    With the economy being as it is at the present moment, I do find myself having to cut corners, and often times that means buying products that may not always come from ethical sources. It bothers me that so many goods sold here in the US come from the exploitation and blood of other lives and that so many people have to make the choice between their wallets and their ethics…

  9. Meep Says:

    So here’s a question – is there a way to get food that doesn’t grow in your region without having to resort to the “traditional” trade methods (ie with local farmers and low/zero emission transportation)?

  10. Lydia Says:

    “Also this means that historical colonialism, and most probably contemporary colonialism, make my being vegan easier. Another privilege of being a vegan in the Global North seems to be this privilege of trade.”

    YES. Great writing here! I agree with you completely. Sometimes I think that it would be a little more true to my principals (which caused me to go vegan) to eat a totally local diet. I have some friends who are doing just that starting next semester (we go to school in the farmland of Massachusetts), and will be farming and canning and doing all their own work. However, they aren’t vegan. And for some reason, as much as local food appeals to me, knowing how difficult it would be to start drinking milk or eating eggs makes me reconsider. Which is a privilege.

    “It is quite unsettling that many who seek to pursue veganism as a way to “end cruelty”, are quite blinded…”

    Wow, strong words. This is why I love this blog- veganism can’t just be about eating a vegan diet to end cruelty, it has to be more encompassing than that. More intersectional. I largely became vegan because of its ties to feminism. As a white girl, this blog is showing me even more how it ties to anti-racism. Eating NAFTA oranges and thinking of myself as a healthy, happy vegan isn’t going to cut it anymore..

  11. Royce Drake Says:

    Lydia–

    I have the same problems with local eating. I live in a co-op during the semester, and many of my vegan house mates began drinking local milk. Their argument was that local milk is better for the environment, and mine was that soy milk was better for the animals.

    Of course I should start making my own soy milk– which I’m going to be looking into for this coming semester.

    But I guess the reason’s people become vegans vary, and they were mostly worried about the environment (to the point of not acknowledging speciesism, colonialism, sexism, and racism).

  12. [...] Vegans of Color – Colonial Fruits It’s pretty convenient to be a vegan nowadays– I can’t gauge how hard it was years ago, I haven’t been buying my own food long enough, but it is really easy to be vegan right now. Part of that is the fact that in most of this country there is a huge variety of produce, and produce that is available year round. [...]

  13. Phrone Says:

    I remember reading something by BrownFemiPower on this (http://brownfemipower.com/archives/2672) and thinking it was definitely interesting. There the focus was more on what ‘cruelty’ means, but I think the root cause is the same.

    I know, from my experience, my father buys a lot of local food, but because we live in a northern climate (Alas, Michigan weather), there’s limited options. That makes it extremely hard to balance worrying about nutrients, etc. for a vegan lifestyle with what is actually available locally :| It just seems like there’s no good solution…short of moving to a different climate xD

  14. Phrone Says:

    Oh crap, I don’t want to boggle down the moderators or anything, but I got the link wrong D: (Note to self: check more carefully before linking!)

    http://brownfemipower.com/archives/2647

    Sorry about that >>

  15. [...] 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 so many [...]


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