Vegans of Color

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

Veganism and Cultures of Origin June 13, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 11:51 am
Tags: , , , ,

This is a topic that never gets old, but I’d like to talk about how veganism can make vegans of color feel dis/connected to their culture(s) of origin. I’d like to talk about this with vegans of color.

As a mixed-race Filipina, I have often felt like I was being implicitly judged by Filipin@s & found wanting: I don’t speak Tagalog (much)? I don’t go to church? I don’t… eat adobo??? To me, veganism is just one other thing to add to the list of things that make me feel awkward at times. It’s not enough to make me forsake the way I eat, of course, but I can sense the pressure, & can imagine how it could be even more intense for people who are more culturally connected than I.

It’s been a long, hard trip on the road to accepting myself, from a racial standpoint, & so I love stuff like “Children of the Sun” by Deep Foundation. Much love to those guys (I even wrote a zine article about how much that song means to me), but… the lyrics mention chicken tocino & the video features cock fighting, two things (of a few, some non-vegan related) that bug me. And I know those two things are seen by a lot of people as quintessentially Filipino.

This is why the Tsinay Vegan blog rules: check out that list of veganized Filipino recipes in the sidebar. There’s also veganized soul food, & of course loads of other cultures’ foods have been veganized by people of those cultures (& other people, of course, some of whom clearly can’t resist the exotic). I’ve also seen people talking about decolonizing diets that were not originally chock full of animal products.

I am interested here in hearing from vegans of color: what has your experience been, regarding veganism & whatever culture you may feel is your home culture/culture of origin (if any)? Have you gotten resistance to your diet? Or are family foods easily veganizable, or perhaps even inherently vegan? Is it even an issue?

(Again: I want to focus this conversation around the experiences of people of color who are vegan. Thank you for respecting the conversational space.)

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38 Responses to “Veganism and Cultures of Origin”

  1. Meep Says:

    The nice part about being in Portland is that there is a Mexican taco cart that serves vegan food, but I don’t want to eat at a taco card. I want to smell the familiar smells of food I grew up with. My family eats a lot of meat which is unappealing to me, but I do want fajitas and carne guisada sin carne :o

    but if you’re poor you don’t eat meat, que lastima. Guuuh.

  2. prof susurro Says:

    My nickname for several years was “tofu.” Every time I tried to bring up animal cruelty or even healthy food, I would be dismissed with “ok tofu.” And if we were in a grocery story, my mother would get fried chicken, but her hand up in my face and run to the tofu isle and dump the entire contents of the fridge (they usually only had a few packs back then) into the cart and say “see tofu, I’m thinking of you.” And yes, it most assuredly was seen as a sign I was not black enough. The good news is, now the whole family eats tofu. So patience and the strength of belief in yourself and your right to be included in your culture do pay off in the end sometimes.

    (And yes, I too got the “can’t you afford meat” look from my grandparents when they visited as well . . .)

  3. Vita Says:

    Yep. However, my family is surprisingly accepting of my vegetarianism. Other people in my culture (Russian/Ukrainian) stare uncomprehendingly at me as I try to explain that there are always vegetarian versions of borscht, russian casserole/salads, etc. My mother started cooking vegetarian versions for me (I’m learning to cook like her although I probably will never cook as well as she!) and when people come over, they are surprised how much they like the vegetarian version. Recently, there has been an incident when a know-it-all guy tried to lecture me about the importance of meat and how vegetables are pesticide-filled and genetically modified. I told him I mostly consume organic food, he just shook his head and proceeded to lecture me (a sad, misinformed vegetarian and woman). Sometimes it can get irritating but I know what works for me and the fact that my family supports me is the most important thing of all.

    • Brownie Says:

      Eastern European is not a person of color, you may have a cultural disconnect from the dominant US but culture is not the same as race. just wanted to point it out, Black, brown, yellow, red, and mixed race…

  4. EL CHAVO! Says:

    Uh, I hope you wanting only vegans of color to post comments doesn’t mean a vegetarian of color can’t post. I’m going to assume you are cool with that, let me know if you feel otherwise.

    When I first turned vegetarian my family thought it was a joke thus they would mock me about my new diet. But they also laughed at my punk rock hairdo, and were terrified that I had become an atheist. Culture that doesn’t change at all and can’t adapt to new situations are dead cultures. I made my peace with my role of “ni de aqui, ni de alla” which is the experience of growing up Chicano in Los Angeles. But I’ve also been able to influence aspects of Mexican culture by engaging it, appreciating it, using what I can, and ignoring that which doesn’t work for me. I’ve turned many a restaurant onto the idea of vegetarian food, which usually leads to cooks laughing at my face but after a few times requesting specific items, they get used to it and I pave the way for others. And once a place will accommodate, many more follow.

    http://chanfles.com/blog/?p=902

    Ultimately, you can’t worry about if you are Filipino or Mexican or whatever enough, leave that useless and irrelevant waste of time for others to contemplate. For me doing what I think is right, despite what’s been done before, is the more important issue.

    BTW, I’ve also started posting some of my own veggie-ized Mexican food recipes over at http://chanfles.com/photoessay.html and they’re mostly vegan-friendly.

  5. steph Says:

    I’ve really struggled with this, mostly the way it distanced me for the first year or so from the togetherness/sharing of festivals. All of our celebrations are shared table events, and until my mum got used to the substitution it was quite disconnecting to only eat one or two things, to not be involved in the constant passing around the table.

    In this way I’m glad that we have fake meat alternatives and that, due to their original purpose (as substitute during the religious festivals where no meat is eaten), they are easy to substitute in and tasty without even trying, because it helps bridge that distance, and I think simplified the transition for me in festivals, and for my family. And in Australia at least, vegetarian Chinese restaurants are very common, and that has helped, too.

    Similarly to you, Johanna, as a mixed-race Chinese person, particularly one who has grown up in Australia, I have often felt not-Chinese enough, or judged as not-Chinese enough, and not being able to immediately consume all of these things has definitely emphasised that.

  6. Athonwy Says:

    Just to put in the perspective of a person of another color (namely pinkish-white), I have certainly been disconnected from my culture by my Veganism. I am of mixed Celtic and Italian descent, and my parent cultures pride themselves on meat eating. Who hasn’t heard the whole Irish “Meat and Potatoes” thing? If you don’t eat corned beef in my family you are considered very strange by the Irish side of the family. And the Italians also look down upon anyone who doesn’t eat veal, fish, Italian sausage, and a number of other things. Then there’s the Scottish with their Haggis. And don’t even get me started on the American culture during the holidays. “What do you mean you don’t eat turkey? Are you even part of this family?”

    Being Vegan his disconnected me from a lot of my heritage, but I consider it a negligible sacrifice considering all I have gained.

  7. johanna Says:

    I am fascinated (if by fascinated you mean annoyed) by the fact that I said THREE TIMES in the post that I wanted to speak with vegans of color & yet several of these comments are by people who, by their own admission, don’t fit these descriptions.

    You know what? I get that white people sometimes have cultures that don’t click w/veganism. I’m half-white w/a distinct cultural background on that side, & believe you me, I get it. That doesn’t negate the fact that a) I asked white people & non-vegans to respect the conversational space I wanted to set up for vegans of color in this post & b) just because white people may have similar issues doesn’t mean negate the issues for people of color or mean that the issues work the same way for whites & POCs.

    Not to mention how much vegan space is default white or assumed to be white — I am very much aware of the standard things that are said to white vegans. I don’t want to have a conversation about white people here.

    And I wanted to focus this conversation around vegans because it is often seen as “more extreme” & even less accepted. (that & the fact that, yeah, this is a vegan blog…)

    • Athonwy Says:

      So, wait a minute, Chinese people are “of color”?

      Because most Chinese people I have met are whiter than me.

      And aren’t they literally the most populous race on earth?

      Maybe you could clarify what “of color” means? Last I checked I had a color.

      • johanna Says:

        Go read about white privilege & educate yourself. We’re not going to do it here. That’s not the point of this blog. Further comments from you along these lines will be deleted.

    • Delux Says:

      There’s a reason the Black vegans I knew growing up were separatists.

  8. steph Says:

    Also I riffed off into my own post here.

    I can’t even begin to express how not-surprised I am that white vegans are trying to make this discussion all about their pinky-white pain. You are awesome for trying to have this discussion, Johanna.

  9. EL CHAVO! Says:

    Johanna,
    Your response is messed up. Please delete my comment then, I assumed I contributed something to the discussion, but I guess being veggie isn’t “extreme” enough, whatever that means. I see with 7 comments this “space” is getting really crowded, but whatever, it’s your site.

    I had no idea this site was for those sorts of vegans. The ones I was hoping you all wouldn’t be. I’d elaborate but you’d be offended.

  10. johanna Says:

    EL CHAVO! – There are literally hundreds of other posts on this blog where people who are non-vegans have been able to reply & have conversation. Who knew that it was so threatening & offensive to have one single post which is for vegans of color only??

  11. EL CHAVO! Says:

    Please delete my comment. This is BS.

  12. [...] Vegans of Color Blog – Veganism and Cultures of Origin "As a mixed-race Filipina, I have often felt like I was being implicitly judged by Filipin@s & found wanting: I don’t speak Tagalog (much)? I don’t go to church? I don’t… eat adobo??? To me, veganism is just one other thing to add to the list of things that make me feel awkward at times. It’s not enough to make me forsake the way I eat, of course, but I can sense the pressure, & can imagine how it could be even more intense for people who are more culturally connected than I." (tags: culture ethnicity veganism food) [...]

  13. brenstar Says:

    I can totally relate to johanna. I’m vegan and Chinese American and my family were horrified when I went vegan at 15. They assume anyone who eschews meat is a crazy buddhist monk.
    I was already a crazy rebel in their eyes – I can barely speak Chinese, listen to punk rock/hardcore, proud atheist, and have piercings and tattoos.
    But the vegan diet was what drove them over the edge.

    However, they’re SLOWWWWLY becoming more accepting. ugh.
    They’ll only eat at a vegan restaurant if 1) its Chinese food and 2) I’m paying.

  14. Noemi Says:

    I am not surprised by person of another color (?) interjecting their thoughts here. El Chavo, begin vegan and vegetarian in Chicano households is very very different. You could have brought up your vegetarianism in other posts like Johanna said so I don’t understand why your angry. You ask if it was okay, you got a reply and then you get angry. And its not Johanna’s site, its a VEGANS of color blog.
    so anyways,at http://tsinayvegan.blogspot.com must try this recipe: http://tsinayvegan.blogspot.com/2009/03/cooking-up-storm.html

  15. johanna Says:

    Steph — that’s a really good point about fake meat! I know a lot of the time meat substitutes are disparaged by vegans, & I admit I get tired of them sometimes myself. But as a way to be able to participate in cultural activities they are awesome (& often taste awesome too of course).

    I think what folks have said about their families sometimes slowly coming around to more acceptance is important — I feel like with social change generally, a lot can happen through interpersonal connections, conversations with people you love, etc. I know it’s something I struggle w/, how to challenge people or stand up for your beliefs while still keeping the conversational door open.

    Any VOCs out there who’ve had no problems relating to this whatsoever? It’s interesting that so far all of us seem to have experienced some friction around this.

  16. Noemi Says:

    I was/am able to customize some of the foods and introduced them to my family. I think its important to cook for my family and show them how things are similar or taste the same and I stress this is the path I’ve chosen, its not a diet but a “way”. They often chalk it up to another of my activist things but hey, baby steps.

  17. Joselle Says:

    I’ve had little trouble reconciling my veganism with my culture of origin because I never really felt very connected to my culture of origin to begin with.

    I’m Puerto Rican, grew up in NYC and NJ in the US. I spoke Spanish as a very young child and then lost my ability to speak it once I started school. My parents and grandparents always spoke to me in English so I never needed to speak Spanish. Once I started having more awareness of race and culture, I was in high school. I went to a predominantly black high school but I was the weird, fat, “Spanish” girl (that’s what I was called; every Latino was just Spanish) who listened to Hole. My friends were all over the map in terms of ethnicity–best friends were black and agnostic, Pakistani and Muslim, Eastern European and Jewish. We frequently joked that we looked like a Benetton ad.

    At this time, I felt very connected to being a girl. Very much into feminism and riot grrl and being friends with other girls. I didn’t think much about being Puerto Rican or brown. Why I didn’t connect my race with feminism may have been because the feminism I was into was of a very whitewashed brand.

    Now, when I go to vegan events with my white boyfriend (I mean fiancé because I’m like engaged!!!!!!), I always tell him, “God, I hope I’m not the only person of color!” We joke about it but I always hate being the only nonwhite person in a room. Ugh. That’s how it was when I went to Let Live last year (I wasn’t the only but I was one of a few) and I felt REALLY uncomfortable. Like, it almost ruined my day and I don’t know exactly why. Because my fiancé is white and I relate to a lot of white American indie subcultureness (I don’t know how else to describe listening to Neko Case and dying to go see Away We Go. Yay MAYA RUDOLPH!). I even joked with him, “I can take y’all one on one but when there’s a whole gang of you, god help me!”

    When I went to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary with him this weekend, I was happy to see more than a few faces of color. I always look for them. Because it makes me feel like I’m not passing. That I’m really being me.

    I don’t know if this is wholly articulate. But it’s what’s coming out for me now.

    Additionally, in terms of my family, I went vegan as an adult, not a teen. By that point, my mother was well beyond controlling my diet! She accepts it and likes all the vegan goodies I bake for her. Plus, the Puerto Rican diet is abundant in root vegetables and delicious fruits and I eat vegan arroz con gandules all the time. So, I don’t feel like I miss out on anything just because I don’t eat pernil (roasted pig) anymore.

    Awesome post, Johanna. And I loved your comment. “Wah, wah, wah. I’m just going to ignore your request and then whine when you call me on it. Wah!”

  18. Monica Says:

    This is a really interesting convo. I am not a vegan of color (or even a vegetarian of color now, alas) but my father is. I grew up vegetarian and my father has been vegan for over 30 years. We come from a southern black Baptist family where soul food abides (we live in the north but our roots are there). My dad has always been “jokingly” harassed at family gatherings for not eating anything…not even the vegetable dishes. I only recently found out that this was because years ago an aunt assured my dad that there was no meat in a dish and after he ate it, she told him the truth (there was meat). I don’t that he has forgiven her to this day. I have tried to go at least vegetarian a number of times as an adult and to raise my son the same way. It is difficult, but as my extended family gets more health conscious (rampant diabetes and heart disease has forced change, thankfully) they have come to respect and appreciate the lifestyle that my fitness buff father lives. I have as well, and see veganism as the ultimate goal as I evolve and mature (not saying that veganism is the end all be all, but just for me in my life goals…I wanna be like daddy)….

  19. xmabaitx Says:

    As a vegan Filipino who was born in the United States and who has only ventured to the Philippines only twice in his life I can identify with the feelings and experiences of disconnect and in some cases outright alienation due to my dietary and lifestyle choices. I won’t get into too many of the specifics (I’m saving that particular narrative for a nice long blog post), but I can empathize with the experience of being made to feel “less-than-Filipino” because I respectfully decline the platter of dinuguan (pork intestine and blood stew for you non-Pin@ys out there) and reserve a section of the Thanksgiving table for my tofurkey and various side dishes. Luckily my lola (grandmother) has been incredibly supportive and in her infinite awesomeness has developed a bang-bang vegan lumpia recipe. And if my lola wasn’t awesome enough I also am fortunate to live in the bay area where there are plenty of vegan options to eat out and to get vegan products. Galing!

    And my two cents…
    for you white people :

    http://www.costofprivilege.com/Reviews.html

    For the vegetarians:

    http://veganfreak.com/

  20. Catherine M. Says:

    My story is actually quite similar to Joselle. I went Veg as an adult, and have been very happy to be able to continue eating Puerto Rican food with minimal changes. My family has always thought of me as “too american”, so going Veg just confirmed what they have always suspected of me, that I’m weird LOL….

    But just like Joselle, I do tend to look for other Vegans/Vegetarians of colors, and slowly but surely I’m seeing more and more of them.

  21. Lisa Says:

    I am not a strict vegan, but anytime I do anything “radical” in my diet, I am endlessly mocked by my siblings. It’s not seen as anything but a “trend.” Never mind my attempt to live a more holistic lifestyle, or trying to reverse my addiction to salt and processed food, or just trying to be more healthy and in sync with natural foods.

    It means giving up many Filipino dishes my mother makes. Denying food is denying culture. Denying culture is denying family.

    It’s a complex jungle.

    Thanks for this post.

  22. Noemi Says:

    I don’t understand the not respecting of what Johanna has asked of this thread.

  23. xmabaitx Says:

    “It means giving up many Filipino dishes my mother makes. Denying food is denying culture. Denying culture is denying family.”

    Although this sentiment may reflect a reality which many vegans of color experience, it is too often used as a excuse to not acknowledge specieism as an actual oppressive social structure. To be absolutely blunt about the matter, it is at best a cop-out and at worst an apologist standpoint towards the exploitation of animals.

    It is not too far back to remember for some of us vegans when vegan substitutes were not available ANYWHERE and the existence of a vegan restaurant was a cruel joke we made at our own expense. Albeit I live in the SF Bay Area where I can actually ask supermarket staff or restaurant servers for vegan options without giving them the impression that I come from some other planet, but the point I’m trying to get across is that readily available vegan options were not always… readily available. Some vegans out there had to come together and either advocate for vegan options or CREATE THEM.

    As a Filipino I know that it is quite possible to be vegan AND maintain your cultural identity with respect to ethnic cuisine, but it takes some creativity, patience, and hard work. I literally went grocery shopping with my grandmother and froze my behind off as I combed through the frozen section of the local Asian grocery store looking for lumpia wrappers. I read each and every single ingredient on the back of each and every single different brand of packaged egg roll wrapper to try and find one which was suitable for vegans. Eureka. Now at family gatherings my folks are always trying to eat significant amounts of my lola’s vegan lumpia and after they eat half of it I have to tell them to leave it the hell alone so that my partner (who is always a vegan person of color) and I can get something to eat. During my birthday party I asked my mom to see if she would be willing to cook her pancit with a vegetable stock and a creative mix of spices rather than a chicken stock. Galing! My friends, including my Filipino folks, left me with only a 10 inch tupperware of leftovers. Whenever there’s a family gathering I try my best to bring something to share, which is usually the best vegan dessert I can find. And yeah… One of these days some Filipino vegan genius is going to create a vegan Leche Flan and drive down our rates of heart disease exponentially (I won’t guarantee a drop in diabetes though).

    I’m not going to say that any of this is an easy process, but the phenomena of being a vegan and the phenomena of being able to embrace your ethnic culture is not a dichotomy which saddles us with a depressing dilemna of choosing one thing we care about or the other. Being a vegan person of color is about using our creative powers and our feelings of compassion, both for animals and the people we call family, to meet the challenge of expanding the relevance of veganism within the context of our ethnic identities.

    If white folks created the tofurkey fancy feast I’m sure that Filipinos can create a vegan lechon complete with crunchy ears and skin (haha, eww). So, if anyone wants to help with figuring out a vegan dinuguan, sisig, or mais con hielo, pinakbet, whatever… let’s do it.

    • Nico Says:

      I’m really glad you posted this. Too often I feel that our veganism and our cultures are thrust upon us by others as irreconcilable dichotomies, and to be honest, for years I felt like this was true. I’m Salvadoran, but my mom’s white and I’ve been living in the U.S. for ten years. My Latino friends and relatives love to give me shit about how American I’ve become with my fashion, music, and of course, food choices. Veganism, which I had originally thought of as a compassionate, mindful step towards animal liberation, became yet another wall between me and my culture. I look white enough already. Having to refuse pupusas con loroco, quesillo, and coctel de camarones only compounded my gruinguita status in the family. “These fanciful ideas are such ridiculous yanqui bullshit,” according to my extended fams, “but we’ll put up with it ’cause we love you.”

      So I struggled with these thoughts for awhile. It got to the point where my only comfort was the idea that “Well, at least my family loves me regardless of my weirdnesnes.” And then I thought, wait. Weirdness? Really? Did I just relegate my ethics to the same category as a quirk just to feel less like I’m losing my culture? Oi, I gotta do some more thinking. So I did. I defined what veganism and what being Salvadoran meant to me, and I realized that there was a lot of overlap. Being Salvadoran, to me, entails a deeper understanding of struggle and suffering than most people I’m surrounded by in this country can fathom. El Salvador was at the end of its civil war when I was born, and both of my parents were involved in the conflict. Therefore, much of my cultural understanding is influenced by a revolution that worked towards a world where no one makes a living off of exploiting anyone else. That’s what my family fought for, and in an infinitesimally smaller way, my choice to be vegan tries to do the same. Yay, reconciliation! Though this might be too heady of a discussion to have the next time my grandmother tries to make me sopa de gallina :)

      P.S. My dream is to someday open a vegan Salvadoran place, with vegan quesillo and everything. I’m gonna get my hands on my aunt’s cookbook the next time I visit home and get on trying to veganize all her recipes. Seitan en chicha, anyone? Also, xmabaitx good luck on yer veganizing projects. I would love to be able to eat Filipino food again.

  24. cheryl Says:

    Okay, jumping in on this, and sorry, it’s a bit rushed and scatterbrained. As a fellow Filipina-American weirdo, I feel your sentiment about the veganism just being one more addition to the list of things that seem to separate me from most Filipinos. Amongst my family, including extended, eating different food isn’t really a big deal anymore, and my family all does a wonderfully sweet job of trying to take care of me, veganizing home cooking, and pointing out the already “accidentally vegan” stuff.

    And in general, of course there are a lot of cultural/family associations with food, but there are so many other ways to participate in the culture. Yet people seem to focus so much on the food. My parents still make jabs sometimes about me not eating all Filipino food, yet have never tried to acculturate me in any other way– forced me to unlearn Tagalog at age 4, have never educated me about other aspects of Filipino culture, have wanted me to assimilate to American culture in so many other ways, so there’s always been a major disconnect from the culture. I still feel like I know nothing, and have been so turned off, have difficulties drawing the lines of my cultural identity.

    Now that I live in South Korea, it’s almost worse. Back to the food thing, people give me shit about not eating all the Korean food, and consequently not experiencing the culture, basically telling me that I’m pretending I don’t live here– I’m studying the language, I’m studying a traditional Korean instrument, I’m not holed up in my apartment… teeth-gnashing. I get this from a lot of fellow-expats who barely speak a word of Korean. So the diet is used as an accusation of cultural insensitivity. Ugh, do I even want to get started on being a person of color here?

    BLAH BLAH BLAH. Anyway, thanks for this.

  25. Joselle Says:

    Noemi, I think many people just don’t read things completely. Or they just think they are Very Special.

  26. Joanna Says:

    I’m vegan and Chinese American. Honestly, my parents and family view it more as…”Oh, that’s great that you don’t want to eat meat/eggs/dairy because there are great health benefits… but here, have some of this dish, it’s OK to eat just a little bit.” They also don’t understand checking ingredient listings to make sure that there isn’t any dairy or egg in something – they figure as long as you can’t see it, it’s fine if it’s used as a flavoring agent or binder. For example, my mom made me “veggie” dumplings a few months ago…with beef stock.

    While I am not actively made to feel excluded because of my vegan diet, I *do* feel very isolated during family gatherings and celebrations. I grew up in NYC, and while there are a number of great vegan Chinese restaurants there – I never went to them growing up. Whenever we went out to eat, we would always get certain dishes – a whole fish or chicken for example – and my family still orders these dishes when we go out which makes me feel very bittersweet about the memories – the feeling of community, and the sense of following tradition…contrasting with my disgust at seeing my relatives dig in with such gusto. My parents usually just order me a tofu and/or an eggplant dish, which while great…is just not the same. And then there are mooncakes during the harvest moon festival…sigh.

  27. Tania Says:

    Black gurl from S. Central Los Angeles checkin in to say I have had ZERO problems with my family regarding my vegetarianism or veganism. I’m the “baby” in my family (which at my age is a fairly hilarious statement) and the brother next to me in age (4 years older) is a lacto-ovo veggie. Everyone else in my family ate/eats meat.

    I don’t know why it wasn’t an issue for my parents when first me then my older brother stopped eating meat but it just wasn’t. Both my parents were out the box thinkers – particularly my mom – and moms did most of the cooking. Looking back vegetables were always a big part of the meal anyway, we didn’t do the canned/frozen/tv dinner thing, my mom was a stay-at-home wife so we had the luxury of freshly cooked meals everyday. I actually didn’t like any dead animal early on except for fish so my mom was already used to me with that and when I said I was dropping it altogether I guess it wasn’t a big deal. My brother was probably more of a shock cos he was the kind who was livin’ at the Hamburger shack in HS and then early on when he started college he just *stopped*. Just like that. And neither one of us have gone back since, and I have ultimately gone on to be vegan. Add to that the fact that I started cooking at a very early age because I have always loved to cook so that probably helped a lot as well cos from about mid-teens my mom wasn’t cooking for me most of the time anyway, I was already cooking for myself. and then I moved out. Now as far as extended family… you know my part of the family was already the “Freaks On The Hill” as far as they were concerned. We all (including my parents) went to college and we’re all (incl parents) artistic in some way and beatnick-y etc. etc. They always thought we were weird and we always thought they were weird and it was fine. lol The closest I came to having some issues were at each of my parents funerals, because then you’re dealing with extended relatives, co-workers, etc. who were just more mainstream folk and at Black funerals anyway, folks expect to eat. I don’t remember how we dealt with it at my mom’s funeral cos I was relatively young, but my dad just died a couple of years ago and I’m completely grown now so I had no problems putting my foot down that I was not all of a sudden gonna start serving a bunch of this that the other at the reception. Turned out other people brought those items and I was using rented plates and silverware, etc. so that was fine too. I think if you articulate your needs/position clearly then people will respect that (for the most part). Yeah, the more I think about it the more I think the fact that I grew up in a pretty middle class-ish, bohemian-ish, tradition-less, loose-y goose-y West Coast lifestyle probably has a lot to do with why it wasn’t a particular issue. I think if I’d been around my extended family more – Texas and Oklahoma farmers/ranchers/’of the land’ folks – I’d have heard more guff, but that’s why my parents stayed away from those folks. lol. Anyway, there’s my little ramble.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading some of the other posters stories and I sympathize because that must be rough. It’s interesting that a lot of the posters with various war stories have been asian because many of my asian veggie friends have said the same thing and some still to this day dread going to family functions, etc.

  28. Been vegan since ’99 at age 15; now 25 and raw vegan, I’ve been at least vegan 40% of my life. I would say veganism was never an issue in terms of “distance” from my native culture, that being Nigerian (tho born in NJ, raised in NYC and NJ and still living in the NJ/NYC area today). In fact I think my diet in a way brings me closer to a certain sort of ‘positive’ blackness in the end (at least that’s how I’m starting to imagine things).

    When I originally went vegan the motivations were equal parts health and ethical/ economic, with some further persuasion from the exploration of Buddhism/ Taoism I was undertaking at that time. When I was in my early 20s and began exploring Pan-Africanism, revolutionary theory from the third world, and African history and experience across the diaspora, I learned about Ital and Kemetic tendencies in Rastafari and Afrocentric communities that endorse, practice and promote veganism and raw veganism. These manifestations also have a relationship with the black ‘health movement’ away from fast food, junk food, and ‘soul’ food towards especially vegetarianism and veganism, motivated by the numerous and notorious health reports from black communities and the feeling of fatigue with the unhealthy norm.

    Thus at that stage my veganism became more associated in my mind with an ‘ideal’ mode of blackness, a way of performing or practicing blackness deeply intertwined with the fitness and discipline that the most desirable and informed black man could exercise. So in that sense, veganism left me in closer affinity with blackness, at least the sort of blackness I aspire to and would hope more Afrikan people would aim for.

    Of course, mine has been a solitary journey. I’ve learned to distance and separate my social life from eating. My family is small and I’m only really close to my mother, who has always supported my dietary moves. I’ve also tended to keep a very low profile about my diet, never bringing it up unless asked (at this time I’m not an animal rights activist and am much more prompt to discuss human rights, revolution, black and third-world issues, and ecological/ sustainability with people long before even thinking about bringing up animal rights – I support animal rights but first thing’s first). So confrontations with black folk among friends and family around my diet have been relatively rare.

    Even when I lived in Ghana and Nigeria, friends and family were generally supportive, some even thinking it was a positively good idea, straight up. It was a bit of a hassle preparing everything for myself but I’m a militant, so I did it successfully.

    Overall, not much of a huge problem with the ‘distancing’ veganism could have placed between myself and Afrikans, whether here in the US or in Afrika. I’ve never rolled with white vegans so was never pulled into those sorts of potentially alienating circles.

    For me it’s so far been pretty good, being young, vegan and black!

  29. Taniq Says:

    Elements of this thread really disappointed me. We should be more inclusive and welcoming — so what if an Italian American or a vegetarian posted. I am a vegan with Japanese and Morroccan parents and my partner, an Italian-American woman, faces many of the same biases I do — for being vegan, for being queer, for having olive skin. We should be linking arms with other vegans and extending a hand in understanding to non-vegans.

    We can and should do better on this site.

    • johanna Says:

      Taniq, there are many, MANY places online where white Americans can talk about how alienated they feel from their families & cultures. Just because there’s some overlap doesn’t mean that there aren’t distinct issues or that wanting to have separate conversations is somehow invalid. Not to mention, many of these white-by-default vegan spaces are hostile to vegans of color! They are the ones who can & should do better.

  30. [...] http://vegansofcolor.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/veganism-and-cultures-of-origin/ As a mixed-race Filipina, I have often felt like I was being implicitly judged by Filipin@s & found wanting: I don’t speak Tagalog (much)? I don’t go to church? I don’t… eat adobo??? To me, veganism is just one other thing to add to the list of things that make me feel awkward at times. It’s not enough to make me forsake the way I eat, of course, but I can sense the pressure, & can imagine how it could be even more intense for people who are more culturally connected than I. [...]

  31. Nathan Says:

    Wow. I recently found this blog via vegan friends on Facebook, and I’ve been going through the back posts. I’m a vegan, half-white, half-Sri Lankan, and was born and raised in Pakistan. Both Sri Lankan (my mum is Tamil) and Pakistani cultural factors are still very much in play, even though I live in the States now. I often wonder how I’d manage if I ever went back. It was pretty easy going vegan, but I wonder if that’s because I did it here in America. It really does add a new level of alienation, especially when a particular culture is very food-centric (such as Sri Lanka); refusing non-vegan food in that cultural context is social suicide.

    I’m darn lucky in that I have (mostly) supportive parents, but when they do put up a fight, it’s very culturally-based: veganism is “something that white liberal atheists do”, and so completely inappropriate for me as a member of a Christian multicultural family to engage in.
    On the other hand, the fact that we as a family eat mostly Asian style rice, curry and vegetables as opposed to the SAD has saved me thousands of headaches on a more practical level.


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