Vegans of Color

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

Are Oreos Vegan and Other Questions About Fried Chik’n August 5, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Royce @ 9:31 am
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Growing up I was an anomaly in my family: I was an extremely picky eater. By age 8 I refused to eat pork, and I never did like the vegetables that my mother cooked for family functions (might have been the smell of animal stock in them– they sure didn’t smell like normal vegetables), and when fried chicken was put in front of me I would pick at the skin (grease tastes good). My very anti-soul food diet blossomed when I became a vegetarian in the 7th grade. That was the point when I think my family decided I was sorta whitewashed.

I began to understand pretty early on that food is pretty important shit. Food isn’t just caloric and nutritional input, its a social construct loaded with meanings. And for a lot of my folks, my being veg*n was a white thing; it was a bougie thing. Those that tried to understand assumed it was for health reasons, or that I was trying to lose weight (I was a pretty big kid). Though I have never been veg*n for health reasons, I knew they were there. And health reasons were what I used to try and convince my family (but really, who listens to a 12 year old for health advice).

My school life wasn’t too different– being one of a handful of veg*ns in Middle and High School was difficult. With my family I learned that my veg*nisms made it more difficult to have those familial bonds one builds while eating and sharing culturally-loaded foods. At school was when I learned that White folks viewed Black veg*ns as trying to assimilate (or some such crap). When I told White folks that I was vegan or vegetarian soon after came some question about soul food, fried chicken, or chitlins (chitterlings to some). And soon after this question the person would reassess me– look at my Propagandhi cd, my tight jeans, my copy of Manifesta under my arm, and decide that either a) I was an uppity little negro, b) an oreo to be made fun of (in fact only White folks have ever called me an oreo), or c) one of the good ones (not really Black in their eyes is what they would say). These reactions came from both White veg*ns (usually option c) and White non-veg*ns (options a, b, and c).

And even now I get these reactions, just with grown folks. I realized that everyone thinks they know what a White vegan looks like– but no one seems to have a clue about what a Black (or Latin@, or Asian, or Native American, or any other racial/ethnic group that isn’t white) vegan looks like. The only times I had even seen vegans of color mentioned outside of blogs, was PETA’s celebrity list.

But I’ve gotten used to being either invisible or a neon sign towards White folks. What bothers me is being invisible to other folks of color. Sunday I watched several several hours of BET. See they have their Black Buster movies (their cleverness continues to astound me) and I watched The Salon, Baby Boy, and Medea’s Family Reunion all in one sitting. The one thing I noticed, besides all of these movies sucking a lot, was that food was important. Especially fried chicken– there were so many freaking references (as if it was some in joke between the Black movie and its presumed Black audience). My only question is why are there no veg*n folks of color in movies, even as an in-joke like all the other non-normative Black folks became in movies like The Salon.

And this brings me to the fried chik’n in the title. See KFC Canada has started offering a vegan chik’n option (why PETA thinks this is some added bonus for animals is beyond me ). And though I don’t know if this option will be available here in the US, I don’t actually really care (I figure it will help animals as much as the BK Veggie Burger, which is to say very little).

The only thing I know is little Royce, back in 7th grade, would have been overjoyed at vegan options at restaurants where his family ate at (which would have been far more than KFC). I imagine that those veg*n options at meaty restaurants are good for something. They would have made it easier for this vegan Oreo to bond with my family over a meal.