Vegans of Color

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

Sistah Vegan: a bunch of inarticulate black women vegans? November 11, 2010

Filed under: vegan — Dr. A. Breeze Harper @ 12:04 am

I found this new review of Sistah Vegan quite interesting: URL: http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com/

Apparently, the reviewer didn’t like the “unprofessional” writing style of the contributors and feels that it makes sense that the writers aren’t writing professionally because they are only “vegans” and not “professional writers.” And what an interesting conclusion, given that this reviewer has no idea that many of these contributors consider themselves “professional” writers (and well, some don’t) The reviewer writes:

That being said, I found the collection to incredibly uneven. I think to a certain extent all anthologies suffer from this, but it’s heightened here by the fact that none of the contributors are professional writers. They’re vegans in all kinds of work, which is great from a well-rounded background perspective, but not so great from a reading one. While some of the essays inspired me, and even brought me to tears, with their lyrical writing, some of the other ones made me want to break out my red pen and edit like there was no tomorrow. Most fell in the middle of the continuum, but the very middle of the book felt especially weak, and after a couple back-to-back essays I briefly considered giving up. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, since the final few essays were some of the best! Anyway, my point is that this is a book you read for the ideas, not for the writing. Source: http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com/

It’s amazing how such a comment is not objective, but actually reflects the “writing education” of a white middle class American who doesn’t realize the there are a plethora of different styles of writing and that just because it doesn’t parallel hers, shouldn’t be dismissed. And notice how she tells her audience that they SHOULD read Food Matters instead of Sistah Vegan if they want to learn more about food issues and conscious eating. Sistah Vegan project is about how race-conscious approach affects eating and relationships to eating (in this case, vegan eating).

I also have explained the Sistah Vegan Project thousands of times now these past 5 years: it’s not about if one SHOULD be a vegan or not. I have explained numerous times that the project is an example of how racialized-gender experience in the USA affects how one understands and comes to their food practice. In the case of Sistah Vegan, I’m looking at how vegan philosophy is affected by the racial-gender experience of Black women in the USA who are ‘race-conscious’ in a way that is absent from popular vegan books such as Kind Diet, Quantum Wellness, and Skinny Bitch, as well as omnivorous books such as Omnivore’s Dilemma and movies like Food Inc.


However, the reviewer’s reading of Sistah Vegan is reduced to (and this is my interpretation of the covert message of her analysis): a bunch of inarticulate black women who don’t know how to write and need a good editor and that you’re better off reading a “professional” [post-racial and class-neutral] approach to food such as Food Matters. And she is completely dismissive of the spiritual and religious roots that many of these contributors have had for transitioning into veganism; much of these women speak of spiritual roots in a more Afrikan spiritual understanding. But, it’s dismissed as “New Age”– this tells me the reviewer has no understanding of how significant spirituality has been for Black women as a way to find strength in this most difficult situations (including living in an ongoing racist America).

For people who are already contemplating cutting out animal products, especially for African American women who might worry about appearing ‘white,’ I think this is a great book. But it’s a bit too confrontational and extreme to convert the masses. Also, there are a couple essays that are very New Age, which might confirm the stereotypes that non-vegan readers have about ‘those crazy vegan people.’Source: http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com/

Sistah Vegan is not perfect and I welcome constructive criticism, but I feel like this reviewer completely missed how her own racial, class, and gender experience informed her perception of who should write about veganism, who is considered “professional”, and what is worth reading for YOU to know about “conscious eating.”

Usually I have sat on the sidelines for the past 5 years, listening to a significant number of mostly white middle class post-racial or race-unconscious vegans misinterpret my work. But today, I do not feel like sitting on the sidelines. This review completely dismisses the intellectual contributions that these 27 black vegan women have made to a very race-neutral and class-neutral white middle class dominated movement in the USA.

And notice how she says that the audience of the book isn’t her (a white woman vegetarian), but for Black women. Well, to clarify, my book is for everyone and not for only Black Americans. She’s implying that her non-black blog readership would not enjoy reading a book about Black female vegan experiences because it’s not their experience? So, just read “Food Matters” because it’s your [race-neutral and class-neutral] experience with food reading and it’s professionally written (without all that Black vernacular).:

So! I’m delighted to have this on my shelves, but it won’t replace Food Matters as my go-to recommend book for non-vegans curious about ethical eating. If you’re already a vegan, or already interested in social justice, you’ll find much to think about in these pages. But otherwise, I’d highly recommend reading Mark Bittman’s book instead. (If I could magically make everyone in the world read one book, Food Matters would be the one.) Source: http://astripedarmchair.wordpress.com/

And exactly who has the privilege to read about food books like Food Matters if they aren’t really interested in the links social justice has to food? How is it that ethical eating is not connected to social justice anyway? (That’s how I read her take when she suggests reading Food Matters). The reviewer does not deeply engage with the implications of how racialized consciousness inform these women’s vegan experiences, writing styles, or belief systems around food choices… and neither does she engage with the implications of how her own white racialized experience is the filter through which she analyzes Sistah Vegan.

P.S. No one is calling Eva a racist. I am trying to point out ‘raced-classed’ consciousness. If you say “I am white,” I believe (as a critical race theorist) that you are saying a lot. To become a ‘race’ (white, black, etc) in the USA atleast, means that you have gone through socialization and processes of racial formation that affect your CONSCIOUSNESS. When I say I am a black female, I know that it means I have gone through socialization, racial formation, certain embodied experiences that have brought me to where I am now with my consciousness. I have no issue with admitting up front that my discursive analysis of Eva’s review of Sistah Vegan is directly affected by my black-female working-class consciousness; race is not simply a ‘color’. Race is a psychological process; it is a socio-spatial-epistemic process. When one says they are a white woman, or a Black man and “this is my take on this or that”, that SAYS A LOT. Once again, this critique is not saying anyone is RACIST, but saying how racial formation, socialization in a country (at least the USA) built on racialized hierarchies of power, racialized spaces, etc., will literally create raced-classed-regional relationships with how one views the writing style of a book and what is considered “professional.” That lack of acknowledgment around the concept of “professional”, as well as the socio-historical context of black women being called inarticulate, unprofessional, illiterate, etc is what is under critique. The reviewer seems to be unaware of the social and historical connotation of calling a particular black writing style as unprofessional. My dialogue about this is trying to bring this to light.

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13 Responses to “Sistah Vegan: a bunch of inarticulate black women vegans?”

  1. Doris Says:

    I was just reading somewhere (can’t find it now) about how black authors’ books always end up in the African-American section of the book store, regardless of whether the book is a mystery, thriller, romance, etc.

    I’m sorry to hear that this reviewer put the book in the back of the bus.

  2. Like the blog content. Have a good knowledge more, Thank you.

  3. Natasha Says:

    I’m new to both you (you’ve been in my feed reader for a few weeks) and now this reviewer you mentioned. It’s gotten me interested in the book, though!

    That said, what you’d like the author to do is a tall order because privilege is a great, invisible screen. You know it’s there but the privileged – even the educated ones – are often like like “Hun?” It’s a very fuzzy line every one is walking around.

    Now, the blogosphere is a great place and I’m starting to get this gist in terms of conversation “levels”. A private email to the person – with a link to Racialicious, perhaps – is suggested. No expectation of a reply but to get your thoughts about the review out there.

    Err, after reading the comments in the reviewers blog, perhaps a brief comment is in order there too? After all, she did say she liked it (with a whole bunch of odd caveats…but she liked it).

    From one vegan to another, I look forward to enjoying the book!

    • Yes, she did say she liked it and I am working on a response today. It’s not about “liking” the book. It’s about being completely unaware of African American writing traditions and the socio-historical context of telling black women they sound unprofessional (which is synonymous with “inarticulate” , “ignorant”, “poorly educated,” etc). The reviewer simply doesn’t know this and why her critique on that aspect is incredibly offensive to many people of color. I am not ‘nit-picking’ but pointing out how “small” things for the status quo are “big things” for non-white racialized minorities. Hope this makes sense.

      I ended up writing my Harvard Master’s thesis about the responses white vegans had to the original call for papers for the Sistah Vegan project and their negative responses to my use of “Black English” to convey my message, back in 2005. So, I know for sure that I am not ‘looking too much into things’ :-). I received the Dean’s Award for this master’s thesis. I wanted to point this out in case people are interested in why this particular review is problematic to me. IT is called “Cyberterritories of Whiteness and Sistah Vegan Consciousness.” http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/cyber-territories-of-whiteness-sistah-vegan-consciousness/5593429?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/5
      http://www.lulu.com/product/file-download/cyber-territories-of-whiteness-sistah-vegan-consciousness/5593429?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/5

      • Natasha Says:

        You’re definitely not being nit-picky and I hope that’s not what came across in my initial post. Your reply will be met with controversy (or be ignored :sigh:) but anything that’s worth debating – like this review – requires responsible action. You’re doing it and that’s laudable, Breeze!

        • Natasha, nope I didn’t read you saying I’m ‘nit picking’ at all, but commentators on my SV blog are reading it that way.
          I am getting most comments from people who don’t understand I’m not “Bashing” this woman but trying to have a deep intellectual dialogue about race, writing, consciousness, etc. However, I am being met with “You’re being mean and unfair” type of comments. I am trying to have a dialogue about why I see the review as a problem, but I am of course being written off as “unprofessional” . So much for trying to have a dialogue about why I found the initial use of the words “unprofessional” problematic. I wonder if it will ever be possible for people of color to have an effective dialogue about covert whiteness amongst the collectivity of white people (at least here in the USA) who really don’t see how they engage in covert whiteness and then become defensive. I am not calling anyone ‘racist’, but suggesting that how one writes and views the world (at least here in the USA) is filtered through a racialized-classed lens. Yes, even how you write, the words you choose, how you structure it, is impacted by this. See the comments on my blog you can go here: http://wp.me/pzDsy-dV

  4. Carolyn Says:

    Hello there!
    The intersection of race, gender and food choice/lifestyle choice is one that fascinates me. This collection of essays sounds thought-provoking and informative. Are you interested in having an additional reviewer? I’ve just released a memoir that deals with how traveling and living abroad (another lifestyle choice) have challenged my identity as a black woman, so I have a strong basis on which to be able to review your work. If you have extra review copies and want to connect, please email me! Congratulations, anyway, on your book.

  5. Adam Says:

    but anything the author of that review says is automatically validated, because her first two favorite authors are a woman and man of color, respectively. Look how awesome!
    (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sherman Alexie if you were wondering.)

  6. London Mabel Says:

    The issue you’re pointing out sounds similar to the idea that often comes up in online discussions–that people should make their points academically, without emotion, etc.

    As a white person I’m definitely well-trained in that school of thought and it was only through reading blogs like Racialicious, and through reading a lot of “racefail 09″ that I managed to see this thinking as part of my white privilege.

    All this to say, I’m sure you’re right. Her perspective on what constitutes proper academic communication is coming from A Place of Whiteness.

  7. Liz Says:

    Amazing post! You were right on! I did feel uncomfortable with the last part stating that you’re not calling anyone racist. In this “post-racial” America, seems black people have to deny racism in order to be taken seriously. The reviewer’s narrow-minded perspective was indeed racist and your commentary explains precisely why. Don’t be afraid to call it was it is :) Keep writing!

  8. Hazel Stone Says:

    Seriously, the reviewer dares to criticize someone’s writing after using “that being said,” a verbal atrocity that makes my eyes bleed?!

    Sheesh.

  9. Dude Says:

    Wow…fancy stumbling across this via Racialious…just when I’m in the middle of reading through your book! Nice.

    All I have to say (and forgive my poor, inarticulate, white-trash self *wink*) is what a crock of ^%#. I adore your book. The women who have come together here speak to so much of what’s always felt wrong to me about this movement. As a white transguy who’s spent most of my life trying to make a dollar out of 50 cents, I highly resented from the start the blanket assumption that of course everyone can afford to do this. And those who can’t are just choosing not to.

    Plus, I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but some of the hardcore white vegans here in Seattle are upper middle class folks who are just over the moon in love with themselves for their hip, downwardly mobile lifestyle. I have found n assumption that poot people and people of color don’t have much to contribute to vegan and other sustainable food related movements. Some sort of crap about us “having” to eat beans and rice or walk, bus, and bike places cause we’re poor, not because we love the planet.

    Sometimes I just wanna smack some people.

    Anyway, I love this book, and checked it out from the library. So the Seattle public library system has it. Most of the copies are in branches located in predominately POC neighborhoods. So your words are out there.

  10. Mz. Vegan White Womyn Says:

    Sistah Vegan is a fucking amazing book that every vegan should read no matter their ethnic background. It is an eye-opener to vegan issues not only related to race, but class and gender. Reading Sistah Vegan will make every vegan, and in my case and most vegans I know who are white, better able to communicate with people who do not fit into often insular social circles. Many of the vegan stories in the book brought tears to my eyes, and the conversational tone of the vegan stories added personal and intimate feelings that “professional” article writers lack. I will admit I do not care for religious or woo-woo type of stuff related to my own veganism, but it is still very important for all vegans to understand where other vegans are coming from, for example, I had no idea that ital even existed before reading this book, and I have been a vegan for years. Some of the stories are so refreshing and funny, and the solidarity between vegans of different backgrounds that is sorely needed could be better brought about if more privileged white vegans read this book.


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