Vegans of Color

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

VegNews: Making The “Exotic” Safe For Privileged Western Vegans February 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 12:55 pm
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VegNews is offering a “Great Adventure” to “exotic India.” Let’s take a look at the itinerary.

You’ll start off in Delhi, which they describe as “[r]uled by Hindus, Muslims and eventually the British” — & oh yeah, now India is actually an independent country, but the badly-written sentence doesn’t mention what happened after the British. Who cares, right?

Also scheduled is a visit to Jaipur, which “has intrigued and seduced travelers, wanderers, caravans and traders throughout history.” Yes, OOOOH EXOTIC. There you’ll “have dinner with a local family” for that oh-so-authentic touch of “traditional warm Rajasthani hospitality”. (I am reminded of how Thailand’s tourist industry bills it as the “Land of Smiles,” & how the Philippines is often referred to as full of friendly, helpful people. Shall we examine what might incentivize such behavior? Shall we look at what might motivate the West to view certain nations in these terms?)

You’ll also do yoga, by the way — I suppose you might be familiar with it since it’s such the rage in the West among health-conscious types like vegans. But I bet it’ll be even more enlightening when you do it in India!

Journeying to a “rustic yet charming” village, you’ll also enjoy traditional folk dancing & even stay with a Raja & his family in their palace! Because they’re the “long time friends” of the tour operators — I am sure the lure of commerce has nothing to do with why they might be hosting you!

In case you were possibly feeling a bit conflicted about your role as a rich Western tourist, never fear; after enjoying the Raja’s hospitality you’ll then head “to a local village school to donate, on behalf of the group, much needed school supplies and books and where [you’ll] be welcomed as honored guests of the students and teachers who have a special surprise waiting.” Phew! Nothing like a bit of band-aid charity to soothe the tourist soul (but make them earn it! Sure hope that surprise is a good one!). Then your conscience will be clear before that night’s attendance at an “auspicious Hindu ceremony.”

To continue with the extra-special-authentic nature of the trip, you’ll also visit a Bishnoi village. Bishnois are vegetarians & “many of their villages, like the one [you’ll] be visiting today – look quite similar to the way they have looked for hundreds of years.” Yay! Western tourists love to see earthy primitive brown people living like they have for hundreds of years! It’s so quaint! You’ll get to visit a village girls’ school & then enjoy a farewell party that the Raja’s family will throw in your honor — purely out of his affection for you, no doubt.

Next stop Udaipur, where you’ll traipse through “one of the five holiest sites in the Jain religion.” Don’t worry, I’m sure the temple is completely as it was before hordes of tourists started coming through! It will all still be totally authentic!

After some time at an animal sanctuary (that part does sound good), you’ll be off for a cooking class — so even after you return home, you can still have a bit of the Other with you whenever you want to cook an exotic dinner! Then yet more yoga & authentic folk music & dance as your trip winds down.

What’s that? Your luggage has exceeded the weight restriction for the airline? Well, yeah. Your Western cultural & financial privilege makes for a pretty heavy load.

(… & if anyone is going to comment suggesting that the point of this post is that no one should travel anywhere, then you’ve vastly missed the actual point of this post, so don’t bother.)


Gender policing has no place in AR/vegan movements December 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 3:34 pm
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A couple of weeks ago I read this post by Nathan Winograd, about why single-issue thinking is not appropriate for animal rescue advocates. Nathan Twittered about this New York Times article about teens who dress in gender nonconformative ways at school. He then received comments stating that he shouldn’t write about such things, as “it dilutes the support [he] receive[s] for the No Kill message.”

I have huge respect for Nathan; I think his book, Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation & The No Kill Revolution in America, is incredibly important (& unlike many in the animal rescue movement, he puts his money where his mouth is & is vegan). And people listen to him — so I am hoping his eloquent words will get more people to think:

I believe in No Kill. But I also believe in animal rights, human rights, gay rights, gender equality, and racial equality….

I believe that you must embrace compassion wherever and however it presents itself. That is who I am. And that is what I will promote publicly and privately. Compassion, compassion, compassion, compassion. For animals, for cross dressing kids, for that fly that President Obama should have left alone rather than killed. It is the unending drumbeat I will play until my time on this Earth is finished.

I know we can do better; that we can construct our communities in a way that is truly kind, fair, and compassionate to everyone—regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or species; that we can bring to our society the fullest expression of our common pledge to promote the general welfare for ourselves and our posterity, and I do not doubt that ultimately that pledge will be interpreted in ways which we—trapped in our own time—cannot even begin to imagine. History reveals this to be the case…. the arc of history not only bends toward greater compassion, but for greater compassion to a wider circle of groups; indeed, to include the planet itself. From that perspective, the No Kill movement is an extension of all that historical progress that has come before it, and will be an extension—and a part—of those movements yet to come that will push the envelope even further. Taking the long view, the issues are the same. I am not “off topic.”

On a related note, there is a very important series on Vegan Ideal about transphobia & cisgender privilege in our movements (part one, part two, & part three). I highly recommend these posts; please read them, because these issues are often handled in really problematic & oppressive ways.


Temporary Omnivores July 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Royce @ 5:57 pm
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I remember, what feels like forever ago, but was really 2003 or 2004, my vegetarian friend and I were talking about how we would eat meat if/when  we ever traveled to other places outside the US. Not to make excuses but I was only 14 or 15 when this happened. I understand now that this sort of position is both selfish, and based on exotifying fantasies that reduce entire cultures to their food. And since high school I’ve broken vedge (a word of mine– comes from hanging out with sxe kids in high school) 3 times. Thats what happens when one is vegan to be fashionable or loses track of why.

I’m surprised by this Temporary Omnivore who was feature in a NYT blog
. She was a vegetarian to protest the industrial process that creates meat, but it seems to reflect a sort of privilege and convenience more. She talks about how it is easier to be a vegetarian in the States than in Paris.

That statement just didn’t sit well with me. After thinking about it for a bit I remembered the story I relayed at the beginning of this post. She was exotifying the French and reducing an entire culture to their cuisine. Lets not forget that there are French vegetarian and vegans as well.

(Just to say the defense that the French have fewer factory farms seems weak to me– I doubt that makes the rabbits, chickens, hoses, cows etc. feel any better about being consumed.)

But another thought hit me– she seemed to be saying no one questioned her being vegetarian in the States since elementary school. That statement reveals a lot of racial and class-based privileges. See, growing up working class and black in the South meant a hell of a lot of awkward social situations (not to mention a slightly increased economic burden on my accommodating mother, for real keeping a 6’3″ teenage vegan full had to be hard). Family functions were slightly disastrous for me. Dishes consisted of meat, or vegetables cooked with animal broth. My vegetarianism and then veganism have faced challenges consistently. It wasn’t till I got to Vassar, where I have the privileges of being a student was my veganism not questioned as often.

So I have problems with temporary omnivore-ism because it reflects a hell of a lot of issues: exotification, cultural reductionism, laziness, etc. And it reminds me that I, at least, need to maintain a politicized veganism, after all its about the animals, and it also re-reminds me that all of our vegan experiences are affected by our differing subject positions and privileges that come from them.