Vegans of Color

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

What Does “Veggie Pride” Look Like? May 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 3:43 pm
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A little while ago I just returned from the Veggie Pride Parade, about which I was a little dubious previously. Comments on that post expressed concern about the concept of “pride” being appropriated from queer culture.

That honestly hadn’t occurred to me (even as a queer person) earlier, but I was reminded of it now partly because of the issue of whether or not vegans themselves are oppressed — discussed recently on this blog here & here, & also from VoC readers on their own blogs here & here. I come down more on the side that vegans are not oppressed, for the reasons delineated in some of those links.

Anyway, given that, my unease with the idea of veggie “pride” grew. I actually think the idea of the parade is really neat, & a fabulous way to get a lot of people thinking about these issues. I saw numerous people actually looking at the literature being handed out, & I witnessed at least one conversation about veg*nism — although the person was defending her use of happy meat. (I did, also, see some guy walking by sort of chanting, “Meat! Meat! Meat!” — so I called him an asshole, because clearly I am a Mean Vegan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

But “pride”? The concept of GLBT pride grew out of years of cultural & historical violence & repression, not to mention religious & cultural hatred. Like, hey, I’m gay & it’s okay, or even better, something to be proud of! The concept of ethnic pride (& you know I’m not talking about “white pride”) runs along similar lines.

The concept doesn’t work for me for veg*ns, though. Hey, call the parade New York Goes Veg Parade or New York Veggie Day Parade or something. But, yeah, I’m not on the “veggie pride” bandwagon. This doesn’t mean that I’m not, actually, proud of being vegan; I am. But culturally & politically, the idea of pride parades & that history being appropriated for a group such as veg*ns does not sit right with me.

Anyway — the actual parade. I was at the corner of 8th Street & Sixth Avenue, & when the parade (finally) came into view, all I could hear was “Go veg! Go veg! Go veg!” over & over. I’m glad they switched in some other chants later on, because it was a little silly to be chanting that for a minute straight. Another thing I thought of was that, sheesh, in future marches they really need some music. There was one guy shaking maracas but that seemed to be it. I know, from dealing with the NYC Pride Parade bureaucracy, that getting a permit for a car or truck (that could support a sound system) is costly, but with all the corporate sponsors they got, surely a few hundred bucks could’ve been spared? Or recruit folks for a veg*n marching band or something! Every parade needs music!

All this sounds very cranky, I know. But I was actually touched as the parade went by. I think they took about 10 minutes to walk by, which was pretty impressive in my view. I was expecting a lot of the stereotypical tattooed hipster veg*ns (because, hey, NYC & especially Greenwich Village has been known to have a lot of them), & there was a contingent.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to see more POCs than I expected (not that the tattooed hipsters weren’t sometimes POCs of course!) — although to be frank, my expectations were, of course, low. But there was one quite large group that was predominantly (East) Asian (I think, based on a conversation I had with one of their members, mostly Chinese). Although it turns out they were from Supreme Master TV. Which seems a bit, er, confusing & odd to me. Their group did have a ton of neat pro-veg signs, though, & I can’t tell you how excited I was to suddenly see a big bunch of Asians in the parade!

Here’s a photo:

Supreme Master TV contingent

There were also a lot of kids in the parade, including these folks:

POC veg*n kids at Veggie Pride Parade

Yay for POC veg*n kids! Even though I still despise the whole “Miso ___!” thing.

I followed the parade to its end in Washington Square Park, made a quick tour of the exhibitors in order to score requisite free stuff, & managed to come home before it really started raining. And thus ends my combo report/critique. I’ll leave you with a shot of the Meat Eater’s Colon, as seen in the parade (love the colostomy bag, don’t you?):

Meat Eater\'s Colon


18 Responses to “What Does “Veggie Pride” Look Like?”

  1. Kim Says:

    Hey! Thanks for the picture of my vegetarian POC children! We are proud to be vegetarian and enjoyed the parade! Thanks! .. even though we liked MISO Happy and we are!

  2. johanna Says:

    Hi Kim — thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the parade. I hope you read the linked post above, as to why I find the “miso ___” construction offensive. It may sound cute, but the phrase stems from racist ideas about how Asians talk & a racist movie.

  3. noemi Says:

    as a parent, I like it when kids are involved in animal and human rights in their communities along side their parent(S), but MISO happy is ikky (to put it mildy).
    and I had the same thoughts as you did Johanna, when I heard the whole “veggie pride” parade. because, do they know where the whole pride parades they are borrowing from? I don’t know why they don’t have parades alongside National Meat Out or something like that.

  4. There’s a large contingent of queer vegans so I’m pretty sure many of the organizers understood the pride context. And I think they chose to run with it because it gets attention. I think the bigger problem was that they organized the parade on the same day as the AIDS walk, which is huge (and utterly corporate and gross). So they might have had a better turn out if they’d chosen another day.

    Check out the ‘hate’ email the parade organizers received:

    It’s funny that you thought the chants were monotonous. They weren’t! The people running the chants couldn’t get it together and kept changing the chants too frequently. And they were silly, ridiculous chants. So the only time most people chanted was when it was a simple chant like “go veg.” It’s just funny how the experiences differ from someone watching the parade versus someone in the parade 🙂

    There was one chant that I think demonstrated the primary way vegans are discriminated against: “What do we want? Vegan options in our schools. When do we want it? Now!” Denying children food is pretty serious. No, it’s not fueled by hate or fear, it’s fueled by politics and money, but the result is the same – kids who grow up vegan or vegetarian face their social isolation every day at lunch time, their differentness is instilled in them by teachers, classmates, and much of society.

    No, it’s not the same thing as being queer or being a person of color, but as you know, vegans are NOT in the majority, the center, the mainstream and nor are vegans powerful. The notion of veg*n pride isn’t about appropriation; it’s about cultivating a cultural identity for veg*ns, many of whom don’t know a single other veg*n in person. Veg*ns are isolated by a culture that refuses to accommodate them. There are real similarities to the isolation and discrimination felt by vegans to that felt by other ‘othered’ groups.

    It was the first veggie pride parade ever in the US (there was one in France first, that’s where it started), so overall they did a good job. I had fun and I look forward to seeing this event grow over the years. Next year they should have more food, better chants, and music 🙂 I can see this parade being HUGE in ten years. That’s exciting.

  5. Kim Says:

    I did read your post and can see your point now about the Miso ___ being offensive, we will refrain from using the term. I do agree another day would have been better instead of the same day as the AIDS walk, there were alot of people on the train ride going back to NJ that were coming from the walk. We look forward to the parade for years to come also, and walking in the parade next year. Definitely needed more food. Namaste..

  6. noemi Says:

    There’s a large contingent of queer vegans
    interestingly, three of this blog’s contributors are queer women of color vegans.

    There are real similarities to the isolation and discrimination felt by vegans to that felt by other ‘othered’ groups.
    I don’t agree with this. But you’ve stated your feelings on this many times and I don’t want to argue with you.

    it’s about cultivating a cultural identity for veg*ns

    I don’t see how veganism is or can be part of my cultural identity. It just does not fit. I would like a person of color to talk/explain this more.

  7. GNewvegan Says:

    I agree that all in all the parade was a nice one.. It was a great experience to march in the first veggie pride parade.. You never know, maybe it just might make some people think. But, what ever the result I am glad I was able to be a part of it. I have some pics on my blog.

  8. Jenna Says:

    This is an awesome blog! I don’t have anything more specific to say about it right now other than that I love that you use an internal truncation symbol to mean both vegan and vegetarian.

    I’ve corresponded with Noemi and bought zines from her and also have zines of Nadia’s. Is Royce a zinester, too?

  9. Um, I might be the one who raised the pride problem in the comments of the first post about the parade so lemme see if I can elaborate now that the parade has passed by and I’ve had the chance to hear what other people think.

    Pride is the antithesis of shame. Shame separates people from the social group. Healthy pride is the feeling of being affiliated with others. When social groups are not healthy, as almost no social groups are today, prideful national/ethnic/etc affiliation steps in to fill the void.

    Back in the day (I was at the big 1979 NYC gay pride parade that really got the pride parade bandwagon rolling), shame was the primary weapon aimed at LGBT folk. Being queer was something you were supposed to hide. Even supportive straight folks urged us not to be too “flamboyant.” (When I was routinely harassed in high school, the school counselor explicitly blamed my refusal to hide as the cause of the violence against me.) In that context, a “pride parade” makes sense, as both an antidote to shaming and an assertion of the right to walk down the street being yourself.

    While vegans are sometimes subjected to mockery, and young male veg*ns may face some homophobic jibes, I don’t really see shaming of vegans as a problem crying out for the antidote of a pride parade. Nor, I think, did the organizers of this event. They *appropriated* the pride motif as a catchy way to get attention. Since vegans are (mis)characterized as monolithically white and since white folks are known for misappropriating the symbols of other groups, I didn’t think that was a wise tactical choice, when it would have been just as easy to get the same kind of attention for the same parade without calling it a “pride parade.” Why possibly piss off potential allies if you don’t have to?

    That said, it looks like the event was harmless and fun. Many of my friends attended. I didn’t and still don’t have a substantial problem with it, I just couldn’t get with it myself. If I had been in NYC that day, I might have gone anyway.

    As to the question of whether it would be a good thing to inculcate some kind of vegan cultural identity, my own adventures in the often dangerous vagaries of identity politics leads me to be *very* dubious.

    (As it happens, thefreeslave [who I believe at least tries to be vegan] just posted a very interesting meditation on cultural identity here)

  10. noemi Says:

    Hi Jenna! don’t know if Royce is a zinester…and I’m not ready to take on a new project, but a zine from/about vegans of color would be awesome…ly good.

  11. esther Says:

    great pictures ans I think it really looks different from what we have overhere in France as a veggiepride….here it’s kinda sad I find, I always thought that it should be kinda partyish, showing we’re happy to be vegetariens, but it turns out every year to be a bit sad….

    any way, great blog!!!

  12. johanna Says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone (hi, I am the world’s slowest blogger to reply to comments, ack). Pattrice, thanks for your take on the pride issue. I agree that it’s not an earthshaking decision, but yeah, not really the smartest thing they could’ve done, & not something I’m really fond of.

    Kim — I appreciate your taking the time to listen so much. Thank you.

    Elaine, I’m not sure why you posted the link to the hate mail — to show that anti-veg people were scorning the idea of veg*ns as an oppressed minority & thus those of us veg*ns who do so as well are aligned w/such people? (or are thus wrong?) I also had a thought about the issue of vegan school options (which I do think are a good idea) — if their lack makes veg*n children oppressed, are, say, gluten-allergic children also oppressed by lunches that exclude them?

    As for a cultural identity for vegans, I like others in this thread am skeptical.

    (Also, hi Jenna! I don’t know if Royce is a zinester either, alas)

    And Esther — that’s sad that the French parade doesn’t sound as joyful.

    Gnewvegan — thanks for the link. Glad to hear you enjoyed the parade too.

  13. […] someone will write a piece about the appropriation of “pride” by veg*ns! […]

  14. […] still not excited about the use of “pride” by veg*n groups.   Comments […]

  15. […] Vegans of Color: What Does “Veggie Pride” Look Like? […]

  16. Alex Says:

    I understand the difficulties of applying the concept of “pride” here, which to me denotes, in this context, a situation where an oppressed Other proclaims their outrage or hope or lack of fear. With veganism however we are confronted with a situation where our reference point isn’t the group “vegans” but nonhuman animals. Nathan Schneider makes this point well.

    I do think Elaine makes some good points. We can illuminate veganism in an attempt to normalize it through these kinds of actions, which may have a dual effect: substantive improvements such as vegan lunch options and more latent messaging, perhaps saying that the oppression of nonhuman animals deserves to be challenged in the form of a “pride parade.” But we must always remember our reference point.

  17. glowsnake Says:

    “With veganism however we are confronted with a situation where our reference point isn’t the group “vegans” but nonhuman animals.”

    That MIGHT be a valid point if it were animals fighting for their rights, or if it were called “Farmed Animal Pride Parade” or something similar. But the term “Veggie Pride” pretty clearly refers to veg*ns themselves, not the animals we fight for. So your comparison fails at even the most basic level (not that this should be surprising, coming from someone who finds any reason at all in anything Elaine says).

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