Vegans of Color

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

Against Cultural Day-Tripping February 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 3:40 pm

(I was going to start this post with some vaguely sarcastic line about how it’s all exotic all the time around here lately, but… it’s blatantly clear that some readers DO just come here to gawk at the weirdo non-white vegans & their weirdo ways. Which, by the way, fuck you.)

Ida over at The Vegan Ideal posts about vegan cultural tourism, something I, & many of the bloggers here, have witnessed countless times:

A few months ago I got an email announcing a vegetarian get together at a Cambodian restaurant. Eating food associated with Cambodian culture is a perfectly valid basis for a vegetarian gathering, and I’m totally in favor of having an event at a place like a Cambodian restaurant. But what struck me was how the event was advertised as a “foray” into the food of Cambodian culture.

She describes why this terminology is offensive & potentially alienating to those who are not white/Anglo/Western, & also notes that the very idea of a “foray” into another culture presumes that “after the evening out, attendees are expected to go back to eating “normal” (Western) vegetarian food.”

In other words, it’s fun to see how wacky brown people live for a meal (because you can really tell from one meal, of course!), & then everyone (again, an assumed white/Western/Anglo “everyone”) goes back to their “normal” lives.


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

    Moderated comments, activate! August 11, 2008

    Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:33 pm
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    Due to recent asshattery & unchecked privilege, we’re going to all-moderated comments, at least for now.

    In the meantime, some of you all might want to unpack that knapsack (& take a look at this too, as well as checking out the Privilege 101, Race Relations 101, & Privilege Checklists links on Shrub’s sidebar).


    Whitening Veg*n History August 2, 2008

    Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 10:15 pm
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    The July/August issue of VegNews contains the following letter to the editor:

    I just finished reading “From Hippie to Hip” [a history of veg*nism in the March/April 2008 issue] and was appalled to find that virtually everyone mentioned and interviewed was white. A passing mention of “civil rights advocates” and “the segregated South” doesn’t even qualify as tokenism. Have you really never heard of human-rights activist and vegetarian Dick Gregory and his pioneering 1973 book, Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature? And have you honestly never heard of Soul Vegetarian restaurants, started in 1983, with 14 locations around the world? I guess the vegetarian movement hasn’t come as far as you thought after all. – Tracye McQuirter, Washington DC

    I’m not familiar with the article being critiqued, but I would add that there are numerous traditions of veg*nism within other communities of color as well, which could have also been included in the article.


    Two Quick Links July 26, 2008

    Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:59 pm
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    I have two or three posts that have been bubbling away in my brain for a while — hopefully I’ll get to writing up at least one of them soon — but I just wanted to pass on these links:

    Via Noah, Dani at the Vegan Ideal has a sharp critique for the recent call for proposals about queers & AR. They bring up some really important points about the ties between the AR movement & the prison-industrial complex — probably not the ties you might expect — & how this impacts POCs & the poor.

    Via Joselle, a post on Feministing about being a veg*n of color (which links here — thanks, Grace!), which also talks a little about Seoul in particular.


    Explaining Racism to White Veg*ns & Speciesism to Non-Veg*n POCs July 5, 2008

    Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 7:54 pm
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    I’m seeking links to useful resources of two types, basically the two main intersections from which this blog was born: firstly, resources on racism geared towards getting white people to recognize their own privilege, which could be used by white vegans; & secondly, resources on speciesism/veg*nism that speak to people of color, meaning that they come at speciesism from a racialized perspective. It’d be great to have a compilation of resources available on this blog.

    For the former, I’ve found useful Peggy McIntosh’s essay “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. In my experience & the experience of many, many others, sometimes white people just won’t listen to what people of color (POCs) have to say about racism — because we’re biased or have an agenda or something, har har — & in those cases, sometimes I’ve had good results with McIntosh. My other favorite recommendation is “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, a woman of color. It is an amazing book, & highly recommended.

    Of course there are dozens of blogs & websites that folks could look at (the myriad posts for International Blog Against Racism Week, for starters, not to mention the blogroll of this site), but occasionally it is helpful to be able to recommend one article or book as a place to begin.

    For the veganism/AR thing, I must say that I’ve never read anything about why I should be a vegan or why I should be in favor of AR that spoke to me as a POC. Quite the opposite, in fact; a lot of writing on veganism I’ve found alienating when it comes to issues of race (some of these instances are written up on this blog). The closest I’ve come is a conversation with a Chicana friend several years ago, where she noted that in some countries, the indigenous, pre-colonial culture was much, much more plant-based, & it was only when the white colonialists came in that this began to change. I know that some POCs have been moved by the comparisons to the enslavement of African Americans; I also know that many POCs have been alienated from vegan issues by such comparisons.

    So. Thoughts? I am particularly interested in hearing from POCs on what has worked for them on both counts, although hearing from white folks on specific pieces that woke them up to racism would be useful. But I especially don’t want this to turn into a bunch of comments from white vegans on what “should” persuade POCs to become vegan. On the other hand, well, that would be a timely demonstration of white privilege, wouldn’t it?


    The Cult of Veganism; or, Sit Down & Shut Up, Little Brown Girl May 7, 2008

    Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 9:08 pm
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    In the last post, Nadia questioned why some white male vegans harp on their suffering, as vegans, when actually, veganism & animal rights rightfully center the animals.

    In response, Dave Warwak (the teacher canned recently for forceful advocacy of veganism to students in his junior high school art class) left this comment, saying in part:

    How about we prioritize our time and energy by bashing factory farming instead of bashing our own kind for speaking out against injustice? I am all for pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and part of that is speaking out. Many silent vegans struggle with oppression – we all feel it, but to ponder about “why white guys feel discriminated against” does the animals a great disservice in these extremely urgent times when we could be focusing our energies on real good.

    The essence of this comment is that those of us concerned with anything else rather than the suffering of non-human animals are divisive, are weakening the vegan cause, are traitors. And we should just stop complaining & hew to the vegan party line.

    It sounds remarkably like white feminists castigating women of color for calling out the racism of mainstream US feminism.

    Instead of critiquing white male privilege within vegan circles, let’s go do some “real good,” right? Because heaven knows opposing racism & sexism, especially if we — gasp — critique other vegans, is a time-waster, a distraction from the REAL issues.

    We’re being asked to identify as vegans over any other aspect of our identities & our lives. Again, the parallels with the feminist movement are just astounding. Women of color get punished for speaking up about racism in feminism. Vegans of color questioning whitecentric vegans also are penalized for such heretic thoughts. Color me surprised (pun intentional).

    Do (white, male) vegans see themselves as my ally automatically when they learn that I, too, am vegan? Do they assume we’re on the same side? (Is it even a conscious thought?) Such vegans divide the world into two parts: people who are vegan, & thus allies, & those who are not vegan.

    Some of us don’t have the luxury of seeing things that simply. Some of us will never, ever have the privilege of ignoring, if we want to, the rest of who we are in favor of focusing solely on our diets. Why? Oh yeah, because the world won’t let us. Because being who we are — completely aside from veganism — can be very dangerous sometimes. Some of us are getting raped or fired for being gay or pulled over for Driving While Black or losing our homes due to gentrification or being harassed on the street or getting deported or being tortured or having the franchise taken away from us or struggling to get health care or…

    Oh yeah, & how about how race & class affect who has access to affordable vegan food (among, you know, the many ways discussed on this blog that these issues intersect with veg*n ones)? Oh, wait, I’m being divisive again, aren’t I?

    Warwak also says, “Veganism is for all animals. ‘All animals’ includes humans.” Yes. Then why should vegans pretend that the only oppression that matters is non-human?

    The very idea that one should ignore the impact of markers such as class, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. is completely repugnant. Clearly this viewpoint is steeped in deep, unthinking privilege. It is no secret that a lot of people of color, for instance, are put off animal rights issues because of racism & colonialism in the movement. Women are put off when they see veganism used to encourage women to hate their bodies.

    None of these critical issues are going to go away. They are all interconnected. To claim to be able to pull one strand, one lone form of oppression, away from the whole tangle, & to hold it up as the One Thing Worth Fighting For? Naive at best, & damned offensive & dangerous at worst.

    And stifling dissent, as Warwak would have us do, is the mark of a cult. That’s no movement I want to be part of, & people who think that way are not my allies.


    More on Veg*nism & Economic Privilege, & Non-Exotifying Veg Writing April 10, 2008

    Filed under: Uncategorized — johanna @ 6:18 pm
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    In the comments of Noemi’s post here about veganism & white privilege, reader Hortencia mentioned her experiences in Mexico, where folks told her that they were vegan because they couldn’t afford meat.

    Today, via The Animals Voice*, I came across this article about veg*nism in Russia, which says the following:

    With the largest part of the population living in the countryside until 1917, the Russian cuisine is based on the cooking of peasants. Syrnikov notes that meat was a rare ingredient in rural meals. “Peasants would eat meat only on holidays. It was hard to get, hard to store, and also there was a lot of fasting to do. They would cook it to store and eat very little of it.”

    I realize generally Russians tend to the whiteness. But obviously race/ethnicity, nationality, class, immigrant status, etc. all intersect with each other. I just wanted to point out another instance where someone is talking about veg*nism not as a sign of privilege, but as a result of lack of privilege.

    I admit I clicked on the link because the article is called “Mastering Russian Veggies,” & I thought it might be some gross exoticization/fetish-y/stereotype-y thing.

    On a related note, I just got the most recent issue of Vegetarian Journal (which, despite the name, is vegan as far as I can tell). There’s an article on African cuisines, & while I was guarded reading it, I thought it did a fair job of not exotifying. No mystical African spices or anything.

    * Shouldn’t it be “Animals’ Voice” with an apostrophe? Yes, yes, I know: I’m a smitty (for those of you who remember that term from the heyday of Sassy).


    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.


    “veganism is just another white privilege” December 1, 2007

    Filed under: Uncategorized — Noemi M @ 4:23 pm
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    Discussion on veganism and white and class privilege on livejournal.