Vegans of Color

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

Skinny Bitch, Pregnancy, and White Heteronormativity October 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. A. Breeze Harper @ 11:23 am
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I wanted to share my review of the book, “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven”. It was “interesting” to pick up because there are NO current “mainstream” books out there that focus on veganism and pregnancy. I say “mainstream” because this “franchise” is a New York Times bestseller and I guess that is how I’m defining “mainstream” in this sense. I know there are “underground” voices producing such literature, but was simply interested in seeing what “mainstream” (i.e.: for white middle class USA demographic) vegan pregnancy book would look like.

I also understand the authors “style” of writing, so their cursing and “in your face” approach didn’t really bother me because I knew what to expect: lots of swearing and phrases like, “Get off you fat ass and stop being lazy!” I tried to not let it “bother” me.

Here are my 3 major critiques below:

1) that this book’s audience is most likely middle class people who live in locations where a whole foods vegan diet is “easy”. I question how feasible any whole foods diet is (vegan or omnivorous) for people who are the working poor in this country and located in areas such as certain “inner city” locations, in which there have been a plethora of public health reports indicating that there are no farmer’s markets, natural grocers, or health options available.

2) this book kind of assumes all pregnant women reading this book are straight and married to a man. If you are lesbian identified woman, the heterosexual oriented nature of the book may irk you. If you are a single woman looking to become pregnant or are already pregnant, it may irk you a bit.

3) Every picture that starts the chapter is ALWAYS a white skinny bodied pregnant woman. Yes, I know the intended audience is not “us” (Us being women of color and women who are not a size 2), but this irked me as well. Are the marketers and authors of the book “scared” to put pictures of women of color in there as well, in fear that “white” audience won’t purchase it? I don’t think I’m looking too much into this, as the images of female vegans on most vegan oriented products are young white thin females. And yet I hear so many folk (mostly white identified) telling me that veganism is “colorblind” and there is no need for anti-racist education and critical thinking engagement around systemic whiteness as the norm in the USA! We need to start writing our own book that speak to women of color experiences with veganism. I know I have already started with “Sistah Vegan” anthology, but let’s keep this up :-) !!!

Anyone else read the book?

Best,

Breezie

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20 Responses to “Skinny Bitch, Pregnancy, and White Heteronormativity”

  1. I haven’t read the book, but 2 and 3 would bother me, too, and I’m white and hetero. Assumptions about sexuality and race don’t just bother the people who are left out of the assumption, they bother people who notice the assumption.

    Regarding item 1: Americans spend a smaller portion of their income on food than any other nation. We take for granted the notion that food can be gotten for cheap. IMO, that problem stems from the laws that allow McDonald’s and KFC to call the stuff they sell “food” and not from Whole Foods’ prices.

    Moreover, a vegan diet IS easy if you have access to any real grocery store, not just a Whole Foods. I tend to buy most of my groceries from the Smiths around the corner and I only go to Whole Foods for the special, luxury items – the ones that I’d forgo if I were on a tighter budget.

  2. Sara Says:

    I know you can’t get vegan convenience foods in the inner city–but I used to work in a cruddy Hispanic neighborhood and had no problems when I forgot lunch–I just bought some (non-organic, low quality, but cheaper than I was used to) fruits and veggies. Convenience stores would often have a banana, flavorless apples/oranges, and overly salted nuts (that’s what I ate when I got stuck in Harlem without dinner one night). So you can get by eating a pretty whole foods diet, even if you don’t plan. Not to mention that beans and rice are as cheap as it gets. —Yes, it is of limited variety and socially unacceptable. But do-able, yes, especially if there is an immigrant community (in my experience).

    And yes, I’m sure they’re afraid to show a queer WOC. The point is that it’s cool and hip and upper middle-class, right? :)

  3. Adam Says:

    I’m totally with you, Elaine. The more aware I become of white/heterosexual/male/middle-class/etc. privilege, the more irritating it becomes to see so much literature representing veganism via pandering to a white middle-class audience.

    Not only is it irritating because it is oppressive within the grand scheme of things, but also because it makes invisible all the vegan “Others.” By making invisible “Others,” it silences their voices (as with the article on the history of vegetarianism in VegNews) AND alienates non-whites, working class, queer people from the movement because it is *represented* as white etc. (Please correct me if I’m wrong about this). These representations only seem to reinforce the racism within the AR and vegan movements.

    I agree with Breeze. More books on veganism need to be written from non-white, middle-class and straight perspectives. But I also think it would help to increase awareness among white folk on Dick Gregory and other veg*ns of color who played a role in the history of veg*nism to dismantle the assumption that it is solely an Anglo-American phenomenon.

  4. supernovadiva Says:

    yeah can’t get into the skinny bitch phenom. it’s funny though my white, female, meat eating co workers love the first book and quote it…. but they continue to eat meat. they seem to see it as a tough talk diet book. it speaks to them i guess and i guess the tone of the books are revolutionary. it kinda how i see some people are fans of dr. phil- ‘he tells it like it is!’
    the books reeks of entitlement. that’s been the problem with a lot of pregnancy books out there for me. NOW I’m finding the ‘underground’ books I wish I had while pregnant.

  5. johanna Says:

    Breeze, I am sadly not surprised by your review, sigh.

    When is the anthology coming out again? :)

  6. Melissa Says:

    As a white queer woman, I would feel incredibly alienated by the book. I don’t mean to get overly upset about representations, but books supposedly written by progressives who fail to acknowledge that not every woman is married to some dude, feels like they think gayness shouldn’t even exist. I’m not sure if I’m right about this, but in VegNews’ vegan weddings feature I’ve yet to see a queer couple at all, and they come from SF!
    I imagine the authors are trying to appeal to a certain mainstream demographic, trying to convert women to veganism using any means possible. Like all ruthless political calculations, they must assume that non-“normal” (read non-white, non-skinny, non-straight) images of women would be less attractive to the female readership they hope to acquire. Which is insulting to their readers, really. If Palin invokes Joe Six-Pack, then Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin are playing to the dumb LA Blonde Barbie, All-American stereotype.
    The graphic on the cover scares me, too. She looks so dangerously skinny, her lack of weight might be a detriment to both herself and the fetus.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting article, but the incorrect and superfluous use of quotation marks was even more irritating than I imagine the content of the book to be. If you’re trying not to let it bother you, there’s no need to try not to let it “bother” you.

    Since we all seem interested in learning and expanding our minds, perhaps you might add learning about appropriate use of quotation marks to your list. :)

  8. Noemi Says:

    seriously, yr critiquing the use of quotation marks?

  9. Noemi, I’m not even going to engage with what Anonymous wrote. Seems like it’s purposefully written to “bother” me. :-)

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Honestly, I didn’t write it with the intention of being inflammatory. It’s just that you seem to be writing with a serious intent – and the hope of being taken seriously. Like spelling and grammar errors, it’s hard to take an article seriously when it’s full of punctuation errors. It was just a little constructive criticism. It wasn’t hateful or condemning; I even began by saying “interesting article”. It’s just my opinion, so rather than ignore it, I’d encourage you to “engage” (as you said), and chew on it. If you still don’t like what I’ve said, that’s entirely ok – you can spit it out and leave it where it lands. But maybe… just maybe… you can learn from it. That’s why I’m here, reading your article – to learn.

    And, for what it’s worth, pointing out that your use of quotation marks is wrong is not a reflection of your character, or even the content of your article. I was just pointing out an area of weakness in your writing. If you don’t know it’s wrong, you can’t know that it’s something to work on. That’s all. I honestly wasn’t trying to get anything started, and hope you weren’t offended. Good luck with your future articles.

  11. derarchimedischepunkt Says:

    I can’t believe this, this is a blog entry, why should it not be written lively and that means using “interesting” punctuations, etc. @Anonymous, I find what you are saying sounds patronizing.

  12. Joselle Says:

    Anonymous, comment on the topic at hand or let it die. You’re not our 7th grade English teacher, okay? And anytime someone says, “No offense but,” well, then the intention is to be offensive.

    I’m more than sure that Breeze could dance circles around your writing. She’s a brainiac. The use of quotations wasn’t ungrammatical. She was highlighting the problems of and assumptions made by the book Skinny Bitch.

    Like I said, either talk about the topics brought up by this very old post or take it elsewhere.

  13. sherry lee short Says:

    I realize that this is an old topic on this blog, but I have just read Skinny Bitch, the first in the author’s series. I found the book extremely problematic on many levels. It not only is heterosexist, but it also embraces every other oppressive “ism.” Very troubling, the book is enthusiastically promoted by every major vegan organization (eg. PETA and PCRM). Young, white vegans in particular love this book…

  14. Molly Says:

    My little sister just found out she is pregnant; I’m planning to send her a small care package and wanted to include a book on eating healthy, plant- based foods while pregnant. The only book I’ve been able to come across is the Skinny Bitch book. While I’m a vegan, my sister is not. And that isn’t really a book I want to recommend for her – for many of the reasons already been stated above. I’m just searching for a good resource for her to learn about keeping her body and baby healthy while incorporating more plant based foods into her daily life. If anyone out there knows of any great resources I’d be super grateful. Thanks to everyone!

  15. Cortney Says:

    The simple fact that the white people on the book bother you bothers me. Should their be more books about having a vegan pregnancy? Absolutely! The fact that Skinny Bitch is practically the only one out there does shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of the book… but my major issue with the book (and why I have not purchased it) is it has a lot of the exact same information from the first Skinny Bitch book and I’m looking for nutritional advice, not a recap of something I’ve already read. I’m already vegan, I don’t need to read about how torturous factory farms are when I’m trying to learn the best ways to get all the nutrients my pregnant body needs. Nothing is stopping another “type” of person from writing a similarly themed book, but because they haven’t somehow the Skinny Bitch writers (two white vegan females) are racist for writing what they know? In the original Skinny Bitch book black women are represented, maybe not to the degree that everyone here believes they should be but it wasn’t only “young white skinny women” in the illustrations (again, I have not ready all of Bun in the Oven so I cannot comment on those illustrations). And sorry… the book is titled “SKINNY Bitch” of COURSE the illustrations are going to have only skinny women… otherwise it’d be titled “Bitches of Every Size”. Maybe this book is TOO targeted at white hetero women, maybe Kim & Rory are total racist hags. Who knows? But again that doesn’t stop someone else from another race, creed, sexual preference or other background from writing their own take on a vegan pregnancy and I think the comparison of this book to that issue is ridiculous. But hey, I’m a vegan white woman, what do I know? Sorry, I didn’t get a choice in the matter.. born this way and all.

  16. Cortney Says:

    FURTHERMORE!!! If a white woman wrote a book called “Veganism for the White Woman” the writers would be sued and publically stoned. I find it just as racist to do or say things that you would never allow another race to do or say.

  17. Cortney Says:

    Delete those who do not agree with you and leave only a PIECE of what was said. That’s the way to create understanding.

  18. Suzanne Says:

    Why can’t “women of color” just assume that the chapter heading images were “white” because the authors are? Does this really detract from the book’s content and overall message? (No.)

    Get over your black self and just be human for one day.


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