Vegans of Color

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

The Complex Issues Behind Obesity and Children of Color April 7, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alicia @ 1:53 pm
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Below is a recent article by the Associate Press. I think it is one of the rare articles that points out the unique set of problems that are facing children of color in the United States and how this is affecting their overall health. I thought this article to be especially important because, although we often discuss the disparities between Hispanic and African-American children and adults  versus our white counterpart in terms of obesity rates, rates of heart disease, type II diabetes, cancer, etc.  a group that is often overlooked is the Native American population which is highlighted in this article.

As a nutritionist and cultural anthropologist I am horrified at the growing number of obese and overweight children of all colors but especially that of “minority” children because it points to so much more than just poor food choices it points to the social and political barriers that are keeping our children from succeeding at the very basics of life – health.  I’m interested to hear/read your thoughts.

Study finds 1 in 5 obese among 4-year-olds
Apr 6, 2009  11:29 PM EST
CHICAGO – A striking new study says almost 1 in 5 American 4-year-olds is obese, and the rate is alarmingly higher among American Indian children, with nearly a third of them obese. Researchers were surprised to see differences by race at so early an age.

Overall, more than half a million 4-year-olds are obese, the study suggests. Obesity is more common in Hispanic and black youngsters, too, but the disparity is most startling in American Indians, whose rate is almost double that of whites.

The lead author said that rate is worrisome among children so young, even in a population at higher risk for obesity because of other health problems and economic disadvantages.

“The magnitude of these differences was larger than we expected, and it is surprising to see differences by racial groups present so early in childhood,” said Sarah Anderson, an Ohio State University public health researcher. She conducted the research with Temple University’s Dr. Robert Whitaker.

Dr. Glenn Flores, a pediatrics and public health professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, said the research is an important contribution to studies documenting racial and ethnic disparities in children’s weight.

“The cumulative evidence is alarming because within just a few decades, America will become a ‘minority majority’ nation,” he said. Without interventions, the next generation “will be at very high risk” for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancers, joint diseases and other problems connected with obesity, said Flores, who was not involved in the new research.

The study is an analysis of nationally representative height and weight data on 8,550 preschoolers born in 2001. Children were measured in their homes and were part of a study conducted by the government’s National Center for Education Statistics. The results appear in Monday’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Almost 13 percent of Asian children were obese, along with 16 percent of whites, almost 21 percent of blacks, 22 percent of Hispanics, and 31 percent of American Indians.

Children were considered obese if their body-mass index, a height-weight ratio, was in the 95th percentile or higher based on government BMI growth charts. For 4-year-olds, that would be a BMI of about 18.

For example, a girl who is 4 1/2 years old, 40 inches tall and 42 pounds would have a BMI of about 18, weighing 4 pounds more than the government’s upper limit for that age, height and gender.

Some previous studies of young children did not distinguish between kids who were merely overweight versus obese, or they examined fewer racial groups.

The current study looked only at obesity and a specific age group. Anderson called it the first analysis of national obesity rates in preschool kids in the five ethnic or racial groups.

The researchers did not examine reasons for the disparities, but others offered several theories.

Flores cited higher rates of diabetes in American Indians, and also Hispanics, which scientists believe may be due to genetic differences.

Also, other factors that can increase obesity risks tend to be more common among minorities, including poverty, less educated parents, and diets high in fat and calories, Flores said.

Jessica Burger, a member of the Little River Ottawa tribe and health director of a tribal clinic in Manistee, Mich., said many children at her clinic are overweight or obese, including preschoolers.

Burger, a nurse, said one culprit is gestational diabetes, which occurs during a mother’s pregnancy. That increases children’s chances of becoming overweight and is almost twice as common in American Indian women, compared with whites.

She also blamed the federal commodity program for low-income people that many American Indian families receive. The offerings include lots of pastas, rice and other high-carbohydrate foods that contribute to what Burger said is often called a “commod bod.”

“When that’s the predominant dietary base in a household without access to fresh fruits and vegetables, that really creates a better chance of a person becoming obese,” she said.

Also, Burger noted that exercise is not a priority in many American Indian families struggling to make ends meet, with parents feeling stressed just to provide basic necessities.

To address the problem, her clinic has created activities for young Indian children, including summer camps and a winter break “outdoor day” that had kids braving 8-degree temperatures to play games including “snowsnake.” That’s a traditional American Indian contest in which players throw long, carved wooden “snakes” along a snow or ice trail to see whose lands the farthest.

The hope is that giving kids used to modern sedentary ways a taste of a more active traditional American Indian lifestyle will help them adopt healthier habits, she said.

By LINDSEY TANNER     AP Medical Writer


If you click yr heels 3 times, you too can stop being brown July 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noemi M @ 5:37 pm
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A post on veg*ns of color and a shout out to the vegans of color blog on feministing has turned into the old vegetarian debate-fish, can it be on the vegetarian buffet table or not?

Another common argument I hear all to often in different circles is the “I don’t like labels” cover. You’ve heard it before. Someone who says “I’m part of the human race” or someone who says “I don’t see colors, I see people.” I have to admit, I always vomit a little in my mouth when I hear something shoveling this. Other variations might include something like I’m not a feminist because I like men or I don’t believe in feminism because I beleive in equal rights for men AND women.

Take this one for example:

In the meantime people should be less concerned about labels. Even though it can be frustrating when the lables get clouded, people will always have their opinions and ideas.

Sure, it’s safe to use this line when you can’t remove the label that others use for you. See, I’ll always be a “Hispanic” (sic) person to any one that looks at me. I can’t hide behind the “don’t label me” excuse because I am brown, and you know I’m brown by looking at me. Some even say they can sense my brownness over the phone (I worked billing at a call center-was called wet back and spic countless times without them even knowing my first name). You can think I’m Mexican, “exotic”, Carribean, Indian-but rest assured that I am automatically labeled as being non-white.

Another thing that irks me the wrong way appears in the comments section. Comparing isms to other isms. In this case, being bisexual and being a faux-vegetarian. It just doesn’t fly.

Yet, another thing that comes up in the comments in the opinion that I’ve heard many times: if I lived in poverty, I would be forced to eat meat because poor folks can’t tell the difference between meat and a potato. Furthermore, poor folks throw all moral convictions to the wind (if they do not eat meat for moral reasons, lets say) because, well, they are poor and therefore have no moral compass. ( Yes that was sarcasm folks). I suppose this idea comes from the belief that poor folk have to be appreciative of any food that comes their way and no poor person would turn away meat. I guess only self-respecting non-poor folks can decide what they do not want to eat.

*note on post title: I in no way want to be nonbrown. But I wonder if that’s what folks want to happen to us so we can avoid using icky labels such as “Mexican.”


The Real Cost of Earth Balance June 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:24 pm
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Deb over at Invisible Voices wrote recently about what really goes into those tubs of Earth Balance margarine that many of us vegans swear by. Here’s what a representative from Rainforest Action Network told her:

If killing orangutans were the only problem that existed with palm oil [used in Earth Balance], then maybe Earth Balance could get off the hook. But it simply is not. Every where that palm is grown — very much including Peninsular Malaysia — involves clear cutting rainforest and planting massive monoculture plantations — with serious consequences for both endangered species (the tapir lives in Peninsular Malaysia.. does it deserve to go extinct?) and the climate. It also involves displacing communities off their traditionally owned land, which regularly occurs in Peninsular Malaysia. Particularly in Peninsular Malaysia, migrant workers from Indonesia and India are forced into modern day slavery, forced to work for minuscule wages while paying back the companies for their their transportation from their country of origin. It’s a wreck. (emphasis mine)


crosses June 12, 2008

I come out of my writing hole to write a response to La Chola’s most recent post on veganism and cruelty towards farm workers and the hands that feed us. I can relate to alot of what she is saying (more on this later), but what mostly prompted me was this:

Is a vegan lifestyle really a “cruelty free” lifestyle? Why is it so easy to prioritize cruelty inflicted on animals over cruelty inflicted on brown people? Why can people list a whole litany of wrongs committed against animals by the food industry–but at the same time those people “never really thought” about what happens to the workers?

As a person of color, a Mexican, a Mexican who virtually all my relatives built their houses and everything else they have by working in the fields and bodegas, and most recently a vegan, I have worked/lived/loved  with farm workers. Some of then are vegetarian or vegan. And it’s not easy to prioritize cruetly against animals over brown people-but there shouldn’t be a reason to prioritize, to say one is more important than the other. Many many of the activists I know who work for social justice, work for immigrations rights, work for worker’s rights, are against the border wall; are veg*ns. Yes I do agree, like a friend once told me when I was complaining about an awards ceremony to look at gorillas at a zoo that was part of a human trafficking conference, everyone does not see the connections like I do.  But  I will not continue to inflect pain and shed blood on animals because I cannot stop the cruelty against workers.  I gave up  meat, simply enough, because I felt it was violent. A few years ago, I took an oath to live a non-violent life as part of the 100 days of fasting: a response to the Minutemen’s presence in the Rio Grande Valley, organized by LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1989.  I often thought of what that meant, being a survivor of domestic violence, in an overly oppressive culture where even being a feminist or calling oneself a Chicana gave you dirty looks. And I also thought of Cesar Chavez, his commitment to workers, to the people, and his decision to become a vegetarian which lasted the last 25 years of his life. He saw the connections between violence against animals and violence against people, he saw the cruelty in both the  animals he chose not to kill to eat and the treatment of farmworkers.  (Take that people who say I’m not a real Mexican because I’m veg*n)

But I don’t have to name famous activists who see the intersection, Vicki “Hasta La Vicktoria”, radical childcare extraordinary xicana activist & friend, is an ethical vegan, volunteer for  the CIW and along with alot of radial cool feminist vegans (how many adjectives can I use?) have taken part in the local boycotts along with CIW. Most, if not all, of the events I have organized or helped organize (Mujerfest, Voices Against Violence Vigil, Homenaje a Nuestras Muertas, RGV Zine/DIY fest) provide cruelty free food.

BFP asks:

Can I bring myself to say with a straight face that I no longer eat meat because I care about ending violence against animals?

I can say with a straight face that I do not eat meat because I an non-violent, because I truly care about ending violence-I can say in society, I can say in my community, but I’ll say that I want to end violence within my own family.

How do I make eating vegan/vegetarian a political choice about liberation without making the sacrifice one set of beings make with their bodies more important than another set of beings?

I don’t think we have to make that choice.


I never wanted to call myself a vegan because I didn’t want to be labeled, didn’t want to be seen as “hardcore”, didn’t want to be compared/aligned with hardcore vegans I have known and because I thought it would be difficult being working poor/being Mexican and being a single parent with no time ever ever to eat veg*n. I gave up cheese after being vegetarian for a while (being lactose intolerant I had already stopped eating anything diary) like Joselle did at Mutual Menu, because of the feeling of revulsion. And for the longest time I simply said, I don’t eat meat, then I don’t eat meat or any meat by products then I don’t eat meat, byproducts or dairy, and yes that includes butter (I honestly didn’t know butter was a dairy).

I’ve talked before on how growing up meat was a luxury. Meat was for special occasions. At family gatherings, the fajitas, cabrito was for the men. At birthday parties, you knew the family had money if they were serving carne guisada or fajitas. If they served chicken, or heaven forbid, tuna sandwiches, you knew they were working it. My mom would buy those 5 pound tubes of ground beef and would work that baby for two weeks for a family of six, using smallest possible amount and still have meat for dinner because it was a status-we have meat to eat for dinner, we are not starving. We are making the food stamps last. We are working it. If lunch or dinner was rice and beans, it was because we couldn’t afford meat, because it was all we had. If we were having rice or arroz con leche three times a day, it was because we were running low on food and back then the government still gave out these big boxes of powdered milk that lasted forever. And thank the heavens for those big blocks of cheese that feed us for weeks.

So it only follows that it was a hard decision to say I will no longer eat meat.  Was I crazy? How many years did we wish to eat meat, to have that “status” to only go back to eating poor? When the meat was given to the older brothers/cousins/uncles already setting up the connections in my mind at 12, how could I go along with it willingly at 25?? I was met with crazy stares from family; coworkers said I had gone “radical” and “hardcore.” My son’s father told me, and continues to tell me, that I “better not be turning his son vegetarian*” because he is Mexican and has to eat meat to be big and strong. (*I note that it sounds almost homophobic in nature).


I promise this post has an end.

As many women probably do, I had an eating disorder for most of my teen and adult life. Food was the enemy I could not get away from. Friends have told me that veganism is just another eating disorder, or a way to frame an eating disorder to appear acceptable.  I can honestly say that for me, it’s not a form of e.d. While being a vegetarian/vegan I have never binged and/or purged on meat products. I do realize that this can be true for others, or to slip means to eat meat or meat by-products being part of their e.d. and I understand that this is part of living w/ an e.d. I cannot say I haven’t slipped since I became veg*n, but not on meat products and that it, for me, is not used to mask an eating disorder.  What I’m trying to say also is that it was  difficult on the level of food being central to my emotional stability, mental health and depression. What I am NOT trying to say is that veg*nism “cured” me or that I no longer think I suffer from e.d. since I stopped eating meat, because that is simply not true. These choices are not easy ones. They are built on one another, and I understand the difficulty in working out all the sides. And yes yes yes veg*nism and vegetarianism was only one layer of the long (life long?) healing process for me.

*I feel like I am exposing alot of myself in this post and I retain the right to take this post off, or delete it. You can contact me at noemi.mtz at gmail. I will not respond to hate emails.


Understanding Intersectionality & Food: How to Get It Wrong June 3, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:55 pm
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My recent post about Breeze Harper’s anthology on race & class in sustainability/ethical consumption movements is being discussed at Alas, A Blog, & by someone blogging at the Atlantic. The latter post is particularly textbook. It’s short, so I’ll quote it in its entirety:

I genuinely don’t understand this. I’m pretty comfortable with the concept of privilege, but I fail to see how my choices in foodstuffs contribute to it. I’d order the book to find out, except that it sounds very, very silly.

Yeah, because race & class issues are “very, very silly.” To some folks more than others; more often those who don’t have to deal with them personally, I’ve found.

I’m also bemused that supposedly Erik Marcus commented to say, “The book might sound a good deal less silly if only every sentence at the website you’ve linked to wasn’t so poorly written.” I’m assuming it’s a troll hoping to stir up some vegan infighting, although who knows? Maybe Erik Marcus really has nothing better to do than critique our writing styles.

Several comments on both posts seem to be expressing some disbelief that food & diet could be in any way tied to class or race. They also seem to focus mostly on consumption (ie. what access do certain groups have to fresh, local food?). But as posts on this blog have demonstrated over & over again, there’s much more to the story than that. Like any movement, veg*nism, animal rights, & sustainability movements are affected by the biases of the societies they spring from. And that plays out in who is encouraged to join, what tactics & rhetoric get used, etc. Focusing solely on food security/access — which is very important, don’t get me wrong — ignores so much. It’s a little bewildering to see all these people stubbornly refusing to see this, but then I guess that’s what privilege is all about, huh?


Making Connections… or Not February 22, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 8:41 pm
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I’ve just discovered the Pittsburgh group Animal Freedom, which does animal rights work that seeks to incorporate a broader understanding of other social justice issues too.

Check out the syllabus of their Animal Rights Study Group. Lots of good stuff in there!

One linked reading that particularly drew my attention was a letter from a Korean person objecting to the way a campaign against the Korean dog meat trade (carried out by Westerners) was run.

I am afraid those pictures [of dogs destined to be eaten] make viewers hate all Korean people because I saw a lot of comments on the internet with racial hate toward Koreans…. However I don’t believe those Koreans, who see dogs and cats as food, will listen to others (especially westerners) who have also two morals in their way of living. For example, Western people are eating much more meat in daily life than Korean people….

I find this quote particularly interesting, given that the president of Kinship Circle, Brenda Shoss, recently commented on my post in November criticizing their own campaign to stop the cat & dog meat trade in Korea & the Philippines. Shoss seems to think that I missed Kinship Circle’s point, but I feel that the points I made about the colonialist nature of such campaigns still stand, & were not addressed.


Wacky Brown People Food, Again February 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 9:50 pm
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Back near the beginning of this blog, I wrote about how Vegetarian Journal exotified Asian foods & seemed, in doing so, to be writing from a viewpoint that centered non-Asian — probably white — American experience & culture.

I was excited to look at the most recent issue & find an article called “Vegan Fare from India” that was an exception to this attitude. While describing common ingredients & modes of preparation in Indian food, nothing was said about how “exotic” anything was. We didn’t get the ooh-ing & ahh-ing (Those funny brown folks! Whatever will they come up with to eat next?) that makes me wanna claw someone.

So I was irked to see, elsewhere in the magazine, a blurb called “Practically Perfect Pakoras.” The frozen pakoras reviewed will appeal to “even the most culinarily timid” & serve to introduce them “to this seemingly exotic cuisine.” In fact, “[e]ven people who normally find Indian food intimidating” will like them.

Again, I ask, exotic to whom? (I noticed that the article on Indian food was written by someone whose bio & name leads me to believe she is Indian, which may explain why it lacked the annoyance factor of the pakora review.)

Look, I get that many people have never eaten Indian (or fill-in-the-blank with whatever cuisine) food. But there’s a difference between acknowledging that, & assuming that your audience has uniformly come from such a background — & that such a background is the norm.


If you can speak with animals, why are you eating them? February 10, 2008

It’s a long, boring story why, but I’m on a couple of mailing lists that have a lot of animal communicators on them — that is, people who say that they can speak with animals mind-to-mind, having conversations. I tend towards skepticism in most things, although I do think that there are more things in heaven & earth, Horatio, blah blah. We know that animals are capable of communicating with each other, & to some degree with humans, of course. To me it seems just as likely (or more, really) that there are some folks who can communicate on a deeper level with animals as it is that a guy could die & then come back to life 3 days later. But the latter belief is a respected & established one in American society, whereas the former gets you branded as a lunatic.

Anyway — that’s neither here nor there. The relevant bit is that there are people who believe they can communicate with animals. So, my question is, how the hell do they go on eating them? I can tell from the e-mails to the lists that many of the communicators are not veg*n: people have scorned the idea of animal rights & sent around those crazy right-wing links “debunking” the animal welfare groups, like HSUS, as being actually deluded enough to be for animal rights (ironic since most AR folks put HSUS firmly on the welfare side).

I am so tempted to ask them all if anyone has ever communicated with a pig on a factory farm. How about a cow on a rape rack? Or a free-range, organically-fed animal on a small family farm, right as it realizes it’s about to be killed at the whim of the farmer who treated it so nicely?

I suspect, if I got any serious answer & not just flamed, they would parrot something about the circle of life. Once there was a discussion about euthanizing animals at shelters, & someone said they used to have that job, & would communicate with the animals at the end. And that, apparently, the animals understood that they had to die, & it was okay, & they would still exist as Spirit & blah blah.

Okay, that has me skeptical. I could see an animal saying, “I hate living in a cage in this shelter where I’m giving almost no care or attention; I suppose death would be better.” But I feel like the person may be projecting zir own beliefs about the “necessity” of killing animals because there supposedly aren’t homes & we have no choice. To that, I’d say read Nathan Winograd‘s amazing book Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & the No Kill Revolution in America (my review is here). And then check out the No Kill Advocacy Center.

Anyway — I know that my relationship with my cats was part of the final push that made me become vegan (after 14 years of vegetarianism & 7+ years of near-veganism, due to lactose intolerance). So I’m finding it unfathomable that someone claiming to speak with animals — in pretty much the same manner humans speak to each other; I mean, people post transcripts! — could feel okay about the entirely unnecessary act of eating them. Talk about cognitive dissonance.


vegan soul food February 1, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 2:31 pm
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I saw this article from the Washington Post a while ago & forgot to post it: “Vegan Soul Grows in Anacostia”. It’s about Levita Mondie-Sapp, a black schoolteacher who became vegan after her mother got cancer. She now has a catering business, Vita’s Eatery, & has won multiple awards for her chili in the local farmer’s market cook-off.

“People say it wouldn’t fly in Anacostia,” she says. “But the bottom line is that black people want their food to taste good. And I can make that happen.”

Awesome. Let’s keep showing folks that vegan food can be fabulous & doesn’t mean exclusion from cultural traditions either.

In my previous post, I mentioned that it seems like vegans motivated predominantly by health were more likely to fall off the wagon. It would appear that Mondie-Sapp could be an exception (neither the article nor her website makes mention of animal cruelty issues, although of course that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any stance on them).


Sharing Meals January 28, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — nosnowhere @ 3:41 pm
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In a post about Asian Americans and Palestine, Rage speaks briefly about food, and I think it’s relevant to a lot of stuff we talk about here:

I’ve mentioned before (I think, and if not, it’s a pending post that I will definitely get to soon), that while the narrative of Asian American (and broader) cultural studies sometimes suggests that traditions and sharing around food are one of the ways that different communities build solidarity, there’s often a gap for people who observe dietary restrictions. So where the whole “we all eat with chopsticks” or “rice is central” themes are nice, it makes it hard to break bread with APA compatriots when the bread has lard and there’s pork or meat in every other dish.

Not understanding how a simple issue like poor menu planning can immediately alienate and make folks less open to collaboration when it excludes consideration of vegetarian and halal diets is a fundamental failing of a lot of pan-Asian American efforts. You want to think that the community and political stuff should take precedence, but I’ve heard time and again that when something so simple is completely not considered, people lose faith that there’s any point in trying for the bigger issues. I’ve seen this change gradually in cities on the East Coast, perhaps because South Asians and others are still more active in pan-Asian spaces, but it’s pretty terrible on the West coast and other places. If I’m going to end up at a “community” dinner where I can’t order something, I might as well be part of the NRA.