Vegans of Color

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

The Exotifying Gaze August 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 3:02 pm
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During IBARW, I came across this great post from a Chinese-Anglo woman living in Australia about “ethnic” food, & the misuse of the word “ethnic,” which I also happen to hate:

I read Jay Rayner’s attempt at a week of veganism, where he suggests that “ethnic is the default position for the vegan.” I bet he uses ‘exotic’ ingredients in his cooking, too. I have an ethnicity; we all have ethnicities: the fact that the food I grew up with is easier to veganise than the stuff he ate as a child doesn’t make me ‘ethnic,’ it makes me Chinese. Using these words trivializes the decision I have made to be vegan, and it others my family and my whole freaking life, because using words like that aren’t just saying that I’m ‘different,’ they’re saying that I’m ‘other.’ And he is not alone in this, many people are guilty of this all the time. That you’re trying something you’ve never before heard of doesn’t make it ‘exotic,’ it makes it new to you. And you definitely don’t get to describe it as exotic if you’re talking about it on the internet – there’s a good chance it’s not new to your readers. Just because the things I did as a child are different doesn’t make me special, and I certainly don’t want to feel like a freak. And I realise it’s just semantics but semantics are important, because they indicate attitudes – so really, it’s not that I have a problem with the word ‘exotic,’ it’s that I have a problem with the attitude that leads to its use, that the food I eat is ‘not normal,’ that it is other, that I am other. (emphasis mine)

I am really uncomfortable with how a lot of vegan cooking is described as “exotic” (to whom?). It assumes so much about the audience racially & culturally, & as well is loaded with really creepy connotations — the exotic is there to be conquered, mastered; it’s there purely to titillate your (white/Western/etc.) self (which also implies that white people have no culture — a convenient excuse used by people participating in cultural appropriation, but not actually true). It’s a “safe” way to imagine you’re experiencing other cultures without, you know, having to do that pesky thing known as actually engaging with the people whose cultures you’re attempting to eat via their food.

Today I was listening to an interview with a vegan cookbook author (whose cookbook has the word “exotic” in the subtitle). One of the “exotic” recipes she mentioned was mofongo… which I’m guessing probably isn’t exotic, oh, if you’re Puerto Rican.

I also was killing time browsing vegan cookbooks in a bookstore & flipped through Skinny Bitch in the Kitch out of a morbid curiosity. What kind of audience are they catering to, with bits like this, from a chapter called International Bitch, I wonder:

You can totally pretend to be cooler and worldlier than you actually are. Just make one of these global goodies:

  • Falafel
  • Japanese Soba Noodles with Steamed Vegetables and Tofu
  • Potato and Pumpkin Curry with Brown Basmati Rice
  • Pad Thai
  • Veggie Enchiladas