Vegans of Color

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

Fair Trade & Eastern Allure in England November 20, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 11:40 am
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Last week I spent in England — my partner is contemplating grad school there, so we went to visit some campuses. I myself spent some time at university in York, & it was wonderful to be back there after 10 (!) years.

In Sheffield, we ate at the Blue Moon Cafe, where I was delighted to find vegan pasties. I used to grab pasties on the run all the time when I lived in York, & one of the things that made me sad about returning as a vegan was anticipating not being able to indulge. I guess pasties count as English ethnic food, huh? I meant to take a picture of my glorious pasty, but was too busy eating it, alas.

One thing I noticed when we were there was that some veg*n restaurants do the same thing they do over here: pour on the “mystical Eastern” stuff. Like Cafe Maitreya (whose food is amazing, don’t get me wrong; they weren’t twice-named the best veg restaurant in the UK for nothing), whose name is apparently Sanskrit for “universal love” or “loving kindness.” Now, thematically, that makes sense for a veg restaurant (although really, it’s not like vegetarianism is actually cruelty-free either). But what’s w/the fetish for “Eastern”/Asian/”Oriental” naming? Especially when, in many cases, the owners & patrons of veg restaurants are white? But even if they’re not, what does it mean that the mysterious East gets trotted out as something that’s going to pull in the customers (extra-suspicious when the cuisine isn’t even particularly Asian)?

I’ve read a lot of reviews of Hangawi here in New York, for example, that rave about how going there is like being transported into a Korean temple, & it’s all so enticingly exotic. Now Hangawi does serve Korean food, & I’m guessing it’s owned by Koreans (but I don’t know) — & yes, the calm, beautiful atmosphere definitely serves to highlight the wonderful food. It’s still creepy to see folks drooling over how it’s just like taking a trip to Asia, but you’re right in NYC! (subtext: & you can return to your comfortable American lifestyle immediately afterwards, without experiencing any of the hassles of actually traveling to those weirdo countries.)

Returning to a positive note, there was fair trade stuff everywhere in England. Okay, we stayed in two veg B&Bs, & so it’s perhaps not surprising there, although the non-veg B&B also had fair trade coffee & tea in the room. But we kept seeing cafes that had fair trade drinks, saw shops frequently that sold fair trade goods (I was able to get vegan fair trade truffles in a mall in the Bristol city center!), & on the York campus, the student cafeterias appeared to have lots of fair trade stuff as well.

Breeze Harper wrote recently (also here, near the end) about how important fair trade is, & how vegans drooling over vegan chocolate need to step up & demand fair trade goods as well. It is encouraging that this appears to be happening over there. I’ve heard that the UK not only has more vegans per capita than the US, but more vegans, period — which if true, is astounding given the population difference. I’ll have to dig up a cite behind that, but anyway, I’m hoping that this is a sign that perhaps vegans there are starting more broadly to understand multiple -isms. (Not that avowed “anti-racists” can’t be screwed up on race, too, of course…)

 

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