Vegans of Color

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

soul veg east September 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — mama @ 5:49 am

last night we, my partner, my baby, and i, went to soul vegetarian east, a vegan restaurant on chicago’s southside that specializes in ‘soul food’. it was delicious. family friendly. and comfortable. unlike other vegan restaurants we have been to, they had high chairs available, the conversational noise of pleasure and community and jokes. i was so happy to be in a place that was serving healthy, tasty comfort food to black folks. serving our community and all that.

but soul veg east has an interesting history. a history that i, as one who has lived in the west bank, palestine, find contradictory. as the black hebrews who own soul veg east are serving my community good food and vibes, they are also living in dimona, israel.

in israel, dimona, is known as the haven for black hebrews. dimona is a town in the negev of israel. land that was taken, and is continually being taken, from the bedouin who have lived their for millenia. and dimona is the site of where the israeli government keeps their nuclear weapons. nuclear weapons that are threat to anyone who disagrees with their colonialist agenda. nuclear weapons that the israeli government refuses to acknowledge that they possess but they will lock up anyone who publishes information that proves that these weapons exist. to paraphrase an israeli government official: even if we had these weapons we would not say that we had them…
furthermore, the black hebrews, who migrated to dimona from chicago and now has 3000 folks in its community, are not israeli citizens. in 1969, they were offered full citizenship, but then the israeli government rescinded that offer israeli citizenship is only for jews. a few years back the israeli government granted them permanent residency and in 1990, work permits, but refuse to grant them full citizenship unless they convert to state-authenticated judaism.
they have struggled for full citizenship for 40 years.

but what concerns me most is that they live next to/on top of nuclear weapons and that they are living on land that belongs to another people of color also struggling: the bedouins. that the black hebrews are used as a foil in a dangerous game of hide the genocide and the violence.

if they do someday gain the right to full citizenship, they will not only have the right to vote, but also the obligation to serve in the occupying israeli army. and be stationed for two years in the west bank or gaza. to participate even more in the genocide of a people, the palestinians.

so here is a group who advocates strongly for healthy black communities and liberation, that refuses to use animal products in their clothes. their food. their homes. that experiences the usa as a place of enslavement of black folk. that rescinded their us citizenship even though they have not been granted israeli citizenship and thus are not citizens anywhere. and that struggles to be allowed to take more land from palestinians in order to further their own liberation.

did i mention that their lasagna is kickin? and their fried tofu? and i was licking the bowl of their bbq sauce?

and that the us govt paid for the black hebrews school in dimona? and that the israeli govt subsidizes some of their housing?

and thus the contradiction…what is liberation? how can one advocate for the liberation of ‘our’ folks without advocating for the liberation of all beings? what does it mean to be a citizen? and where do i stand in the midst of these questions, since i know very little of the illinois, the miami and other indigenous folks who lived here in ‘chicago’ before the city of chicago was ever here.


11 Responses to “soul veg east”

  1. […] mama medicine {September 6, 2008}   soul veg east just blogged over at vegans of color about our yummy time at soul veg east restaurant in south chicago and the questions that the black […]

  2. johanna Says:

    Maia — thanks for this post! Contradictions indeed… thank you for talking about something that I, at least, haven’t seen discussed in mainstream vegan forums.

  3. ThoughtCriminal Says:

    Great post. I’ve had many questions about the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem for some time now too. I’m glad to see it addressed here.
    I’ve been to two of their Soul Veg locations (Atlanta and DC) and, in my opinion, it’s the best food in either city, hands down.
    However, they do actually use animal products in their clothes. According to their website they only wear “natural fabrics” –cotten, linen, wool, and silk.
    Their plant-based diet (which includes honey) is not as much about liberation as it is about what they see as strictly following Biblical laws. Perhaps that explains the patriarchy also.

  4. Adam Says:

    This is a really thought provocative post. Thanks for sharing! The next time I eat at Soul Veg I’ll have something to ruminate on besides the BBQ seitan!

    At the same time, we here in America are living off the land of a group of people who are almost extinct because of government policy and expansion, as you note. In order to be truly free, one has to be independent of all else. While we are confined to our physical limitations, we are also confined to our geographical and ecological ones. What place can truly be made free when life exists at the destruction of other life? In general, the more freedom we are permitted, the more others are instrumentalized for that freedom. For the wealthy to be free to do whatever they desire, they depend upon an entire class of agriculturists and workers to make such an existence possible, while those people depend upon the plants, rocks, and animals of the earth to be objectified into resources. This I think is the central dilemma those of us who care for the nonhuman world must deal with. How can we promote existential freedom without unnecessarily destroying our planet in the process?

    If you think about it, the American values of freedom and equality are somewhat opposed. Hypothetically, adopting a free market policy would create the most freedom, but the least amount of equality. A communist policy may create the most equality, but the least freedom. Yet, when there is inequality the freedom of most are trumped by the freedom of the few; and likewise, when there is little freedom, it is unlikely there will be an authentic equality, as the will of the individual is always trumped by the will of the majority. So there ends up being a very fragile balance between freedom and equality that will serve the ends of both values. the question becomes how do we live freely without subordinating, undermining the equality of, human and nonhuman Others

    hmm…seems like people like hiding nuclear weapons and waste in anyone’s neighborhood as long as they aren’t white or rich

  5. supernovadiva Says:

    you just made me homesick. i watched the show check please and i ate at the restaurant. they come out with cookbooks now and then in limited numbers. it’s worth buying if you ever some across it. i remember the black israelites. people refuse to take them seriously. they’re called a cult by some. mass media didn’t become aware of them until whitney and bobby visited dimona. i bought this book called ‘the vegetarian baby ‘and became offended when they said that the black israelites are malnorished and suffered- totally different from the black israelites i’ve came across on a weekly basis. they basically said they’re doing vegetarianism wrong. every other ‘outside’ prodom. white groups did it right. hmm

  6. penelope Says:

    does anyone know where the black hebrews stand on gender and sexuality? i’ve heard that they’re not so fond of lgbtq families.

  7. miwome Says:

    Wow. I wandered over here via a link from Latoya (of Racialicious), fyi.

    I live on the South Side too, and the bbq wheat gluten from Soul Vegetarian is a great love of mine. I had no idea, however, about the background of the owners. I don’t have anything substantive to add, but you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks.

  8. nosnowhere Says:

    thanks for posting your thoughts. i’ve had this same conversation with friends before but never seen it discussed on a blog or public forum.

  9. Beth Says:

    I LOVE this restaurant. I think the food is amazing. Whatever the opinion about the religious idealogies that drive their culinary decisions, they present vegan options in a wonderful and tasty way.

  10. Lauren Says:

    Amazing post. I’m planning on going to Soul Veg East tomorrow evening for dinner. I’m looking forward to trying some great veg food!

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