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.

 

16 Responses to “Are Oreos Vegan and Other Questions About Fried Chik’n”

  1. Derek Says:

    Wow, thanks for this great article. I think most of the articles are really great here, but this one really stood out to me. I’m Metis and I’ve been vegan for just a year, so a lot of these ideas are still relatively new to me.

    Anyway, I really don’t have anything insightful to add to this. It was extremely well-written, and I’m glad you shared it. Thanks.

  2. Cathleen Says:

    This is an amazing article! There are still so many “types” of people that Americans have to put in a special box to understand. Vegans are a great example of that sterotyping.

    I find sometimes that being a white vegan who doesn’t look especially like a hippie (though I am one at heart) is hard as well. Yes, you can have pretty hair and wear makeup and still be a vegan! For the most part, I think people who are in the vegan community are very accepting and open to having new and different members. It’s more the people outside of the community who like to paint pictures of what vegans look like.

    I think it will take many years before what we eat can just be accepted for what it is, and where it won’t necessarily mean that we should look a certain way.

  3. johanna Says:

    Cathleen — That’s great that you feel that the vegan community is accepting of difference. Unfortunately, as is discussed throughout this blog, that is often not the case for POCs. I have not noticed a lack of white privilege among vegans, alas. I would gladly be assumed a hippie for being a vegan if it meant in exchange that vegans who make stupid & offensive assumptions about race would cease.

    Royce — You are on fire w/all these great posts lately, yay!! Do you mind if I post the link to this to the IBARW roundups?

  4. Royce Drake Says:

    Johanna– Totally submit it. And I’ve suddenly been hit with the writing bug; though I think it has something to do with my having things I should be writing, like my major proposal, and avoiding them.

  5. johanna Says:

    Awesome, I’ll do that. Thanks! I’m glad that the blog is getting some of the fruits of your procrastination.🙂 But good luck w/the major proposal!!

  6. Delux Says:

    There is a long tradition of African Americans eating vegetarian, and vegan; lots of radical activists in the 1970s drew a connection early on between food, nutrition and health, and acted accordingly. I knew vegans in Bed Stuy 25 years ago. I am disappointed (but not at all surprised) that so little of that history has carried over to mainstream vegetarian history.

  7. supernovadiva Says:

    co sign with Delux. i was surrounded by people who knew of veg*ns. there was still this “what do you eat? why you so weird?” attitude. but obviously we exist. if it wasn’t the case, why can i go to any black neighborhood and find a healthfood store? every one of them have veg options.

  8. Arcee Says:

    You may want to look up Dick Gregory who’s been a vegan, and activist, for a long time. Also, there is a tradition of vegetarian food with Rastas.

  9. “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”

    I absolutely agree!

    I’ve been vegetarian nearly my entire life, but 7th and 8th grade were the absolute most difficult for me – even more difficult than the times when I was confined in a hospital, the times when I had to rely on work cafeteria chefs, or the times when my father basically kidnapped me and refused to feed me vegetarian foods. 7th and 8th grades were the worst! The other children were sooooooo cruel and I would have given virtually anything to stick to my morals while eating at the same places they ate, feeling like I was part of “normal” society.

    Little Royce and little Elaine would have liked the KFC chik’n, even if it tasted gross, because it’s an option for veg*n kids who might not have real options otherwise.

  10. Gary Says:

    A vegan main course at KFC is potentially huge. There’s hardly anything – unfortunately – more mainstream than KFC, so – like it or not – they could practically single-handedly mainstream vegan chicken.

    As long as KFC doesn’t pull a BK Veggie and never mention the vegan option, and instead advertises the product, at least occasionally: a) perhaps millions of chickens each year may be spared from human-imposed suffering, exploitation, and brutal death, b) vegan chicken could be mainstreamed like never before.

    No love for KFC, of course, but OTOH, the benefits could be great if such a large, well-known company sells and (I hope) promotes vegan chicken. 9 out of 10 animals killed for food are chickens, so anything that could bring down that number has my attention. If it sells in Canada, KFCs in the US might follow suit. That could be huge. but again, it depends on whether KFC promotes the option.

  11. Royce Drake Says:

    In my opinion, KFC isn’t going to mainstream vegan chik’n anymore than BK mainstreamed the veggie burger (which isn’t vegan btw). I don’t know many omnis who would go to KFC and choose a vegan option. I really think the amount of time spent, and the fact that PETA has done most of the advertising for this vegan option, has been a waste of energy. But that’s just my opinion.

  12. Gary Says:

    KFC vegan chicken could end up like the BK veggie – forgotten – or it could be the next Silk and push veggie chicken into the mainstream. It depends on promotion.

    Lots of omnis order veggie options (e.g., bean burritos, veggie burgers); otherwise those products would not be in mainstream establishments. Advertise vegan options, make them tasty, available, and affordable, market them as mainstream, and eventually the masses buy them. (IMHO, one of the big voids that prevents further acceptance of vegan alternatives to animal products is lack of advertising. What I wouldn’t give for nightly prime-time TV commercials for Tofurky or Smart Bacon or…KFC vegan chicken.)

    When the BK Veggie came out, veggie burgers were already well-known and fairly widespread. But most omnis don’t buy or order veggie chicken because a) they don’t know about it, b) it’s not widely available, c) it’s not mainstream. If vegan chicken appears on the menu at hundreds of KFCs, and it’s included at least occasionally in circulars and print advertising, all that could change.

    It’s possible that KFC merely added this option to appease PETA. OTOH, the KFC execs may have crunched the numbers and decided that there’s a big enough market (or potential market) to make a large-scale trial run and add the option to most of its stores in Canada.

    Other possible benefits: With such a large distribution channel, it may bring down the costs of production of vegan chicken as well as provide valuable funds for vegan chicken suppliers. There could be a trickle-down effect.

    And again, this has the potential to save millions of chickens from suffering and untimely, brutal death. That’s reason enough for me to support it and promote it.

  13. Royce Drake Says:

    Gary–

    I personally have a problem with vegan chicken in general, something about pretending to be flesh weirds me out more than vegan burgers or hot dogs or any other food that isn’t necessarily meat.

    I don’t see advertising as activism, no matter how its painted. I have no faith in advertising, consumption, or capitalism to save animals. I also have trouble believing that KFC offering a vegan chik’n option is going to save millions of chickens. Also I really don’t think trickle-down economics is an appropriate model for this (or really anything ever).

    I think most omnis, and herbivores (that I know at least) for that matter don’t buy veg*n chik’n because its not all that great. In fact I think that promoting things like veg*n chik’n helps strengthens the idea that a diet without flesh is empty– after all, why else would all these veg*ns need these fake meats?

  14. Hi, great post. But do you really want to be part of the jokes in the above-mentioned movies? Where you’re considered “confused” at the minimum by family members? I dunno.

    I never saw, or even heard of, The Salon. I may have to check it out, to see what the “non-normative” folks look like, LOL.

  15. breezeharper Says:

    If anyone is interested, I have on digital file a recent dissertation called, “The Sexual Politics of Meat Substitutes”. Email me at breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com if you want to read this file.

    Best,
    Breeze

  16. Royce Drake Says:

    @brownstocking

    Its not that I particularly want to be in these jokes per say, but that I hate being ignored by media supposedly made about Black folks by Black folks.


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