Vegans of Color

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

Whitening Veg*n History August 2, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 10:15 pm
Tags: , ,

The July/August issue of VegNews contains the following letter to the editor:

I just finished reading “From Hippie to Hip” [a history of veg*nism in the March/April 2008 issue] and was appalled to find that virtually everyone mentioned and interviewed was white. A passing mention of “civil rights advocates” and “the segregated South” doesn’t even qualify as tokenism. Have you really never heard of human-rights activist and vegetarian Dick Gregory and his pioneering 1973 book, Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature? And have you honestly never heard of Soul Vegetarian restaurants, started in 1983, with 14 locations around the world? I guess the vegetarian movement hasn’t come as far as you thought after all. – Tracye McQuirter, Washington DC

I’m not familiar with the article being critiqued, but I would add that there are numerous traditions of veg*nism within other communities of color as well, which could have also been included in the article.

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8 Responses to “Whitening Veg*n History”

  1. Kanika A. Hodges Says:

    I subscribe to VegNews and still have the issue with the article in question…It basically outlined the history of veg*nism in the US and as Ms. McQuirter mentioned, everyone featured in the article was white. I wasn’t really appalled, however, I did wonder why the article didn’t mention how certain non-western cultures played a major part in the popularity of veg*nism in North America.

    In that same issue, there was an article titled “Privilege or Necessity”, which discussed the subject of vegetarianism being labeled an “elitist, white lifestyle”, and what is being done to make vegetarianism a lifestyle for everyone. The article also gave these interesting statistics:

    6% of white Americans are veg
    7% of black Americans are veg
    8% of Latino Americans are veg

    I’m interested in guest blogging, may I email you? I am also on lj if you’d like to check out my writing style there.

    Hope all is well,
    ~K.

    • hexalm Says:

      late comment here, but I’m wondering if that’s based on a lower number of latin@ and black respondents? That would make the data step in bigger ”chunks” of %

  2. johanna Says:

    “I did wonder why the article didn’t mention how certain non-western cultures played a major part in the popularity of veg*nism in North America.”

    I’d like to hear more about that too. I also wonder how much of veg*nism’s popularity through those channels (non-Western cultures) started off w/tinges of cultural appropriation — I mean, think of your stereotypical hippie veg*n (hey, they do exist, even if not as the totality of veg*n communities as some people think); sometimes there’s some fetishizing of Asian cultures there that is pretty gross (think of the marketing of anything “yoga” or “zen” or whatever).

    Kanika, what’s your LJ handle? Also I’m going to e-mail you, thanks!

  3. Dani Says:

    I subscribe to VegNews and still have the issue with the article in question…It basically outlined the history of veg*nism in the US and as Ms. McQuirter mentioned, everyone featured in the article was white.

    That’s really messed up! One of the most influential vegetarian and vegan advocates in US history was a person of color: H. Jay Dinshah, a second generation South Asian American. Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society in 1960. He was a founder of the North American Vegetarian Society in 1974. He published Ahimsa magazine and numerous books on veganism and vegetarianism. Dinshah was also a vice-president for The Vegan Society (UK) and the International Vegetarian Union. From the founding of AVS until his untimely death in June 2000, he traveled the US and internationally promoting veganism and vegetarianism and wrote hundreds of articles.

    While I haven’t read the article, I doubt any one person has done as more for the modern vegetarian or vegan movement in the US as Jay Dinshah. I’d be appalled by his exclusion from any history on vegetarianism and veganism in the US.

    Also, on the subject of “how certain non-western cultures played a major part in the popularity of veg*nism in North America.” Jay Dinshah did a lot to bring the non-western concept of ahimsa into the modern vegetarian and vegan movement. However, if Dinshah is excluded it’s no a shock that concepts like ahimsa would also be excluded.

  4. Kanika A. Hodges Says:

    Johanna- I am definitely curious as well, especially since it seems that so many veg*ns I meet tend to infuse aspects of Asian culture into their own identity. (Two examples that come to mind are those who constantly quote Eastern philosophy of “harm none” or get tattoos of Hindu/Buddhist deities). The inspiration is definitely there, even if it’s not addressed.

    Dani- The Dinshah passage greatly focused on his wife, Freya…Jay Dinshah and the AVS was briefly mentioned in the article, but it didn’t mention his accomplishments in detail as your post did.

  5. johanna Says:

    Huh. So does that mean McQuirter didn’t realize Dinshah was not white? I myself thought, when I read her letter, that I’d find it hard to ascertain who was & wasn’t white in reading such an article if I didn’t already know — sometimes such info is readily available, sometimes not, & I know personally as a mixed-race person (whose mother & sister-in-law, due to patriarchal naming traditions, have a last name that marks them incorrectly to some people as non-white) that I am wary of assigning identities unless I’m really sure.

  6. Kanika A. Hodges Says:

    Could be, due to the fact that he was sparsely mentioned in the passage. Though one could’ve easily guessed that he was South Asian, imo…

  7. [...] figure this relates to the way veg*n history gets told. As was noted a while back on VoC, Vegan histories are often suspiciously White. People of color get relegated to a sort of vegan [...]


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