When most people hear the word “vegan”, they associate it with food. The choice to not consume animal-derived products. Depending on why one goes vegan, the knowledge that is accrued after that can come in bits and pieces. That is kind of what happened for me. But its actually a lot more complicated than that. Read on to find out how my vegan journey, one that did indeed start with a basis of just food, expanded into a world of activism and intersectional veganism.
Why I Went Vegan – A Recap
The beginning of my vegan journey started out as many vegan journeys start out. For health reasons. Outside of my nature, I didn’t think much further than that, and I’d finally come to realize that this wasn’t a bad thing. It’s usually best to take major changes one day at a time so as to not become overwhelmed. I became obsessed with being vegan not long after making the change. I wanted to know more about this lifestyle and everything it entailed — more than just the food. Shortly after going vegan, my reasons for doing so quickly expanded to more than just health. I was now living this lifestyle for the health of the planet and to save animal lives.
The Vegan Girl Becomes an Activist
I could say I never imagined myself as an activist — and that would be a half-truth. I’ve always been a talker (for the most part) and talking is usually a big part of activism. After all, how can you spread a message about something without speaking about it? Yet I never had the drive or confidence to be a full-fledged, outright activist. But it’s funny how life works. Once you get the ball rolling on one or two things, if you can maintain that momentum, both you and the powers that be can help everything work together to create the very things you either wanted or thought you could never accomplish, maybe even both. So, there I was. I went from being an anonymous food blogger to being the public face of “The Vegan Girl”, a platform I was now using to spread awareness of the harm that consuming animal products had on health, the environment and the animals. In a complete 180 degree turn, I could now never imagine not being an activist. The more I learn about the horrors of animal agriculture and how the body reacts to a plant-based diet versus an omnivore diet, I am so happy that I have found my voice — and in finding my voice, I am now able to be a voice for the voiceless.
Then, I Realized there were More Voiceless
As I continued growing my knowledge of veganism and activism and vegan activism, this began to expand into even more areas. I discovered the Instagram accounts of vegans and vegan groups that were specifically run by and focused on vegans of color (VOC). They were often comprised of Latino and Black persons. Veganism was still kind of new to me. But I had already been a Black female for a few decades. Discovering the connections that these groups were making between veganism and the struggles of these marginalized groups was enlightening and it felt right within my heart that this is where my vegan journey was gravitating toward.
And when it came to the diet part of things, I was a very “Americanized” person who ate a very “Americanized” diet. I was born and raised in New York City, and although I did consume a lot of food specific to (one of) my culture(s), most of the food I ate was the unhealthy junk most folks in this country consume. And when I first went vegan, I totally subscribed to the ideology that it was a hip way to eat, and for me, the word “hip” had a dual meaning. Veganism was the lifestyle of either hippies (of both old generations and new) and hipsters.
However, as I said, finding these VOC groups enlightened me to a new ideology. I was now enthralled by the idea of dismantling the notion of “white veganism”.
Now let me make this clear. Yes, I have brown skin. Yes, I identify as a Women of Color (WOC), as a Person of Color (POC) and now, as a VOC. And I am also very aware of my Blackness in society. Although I didn’t grow up in an environment that lends itself toward a lot of racism (growing up in a major, densely populated city in the time that I did equals a lot of diversity, although it isn’t void of racism and discrimination), I have had my own experiences and have most certainly seen others have theirs. But I wasn’t aware of how those injustices interacted with the world of veganism.
What’s “White Veganism”?
So, here I was now trying to understand what this “white veganism” was. Well, simply put, its the ideology that veganism is a diet and lifestyle for privileged people with money — this usually equates to people who are white. This ideology completely ignores many factors including but not limited to:
- The fact that most whole, plant-based [vegan] foods (including a bunch of fruits, veggies, and legumes) are grown abundantly in places that are inhabited by POC and therefore have been the basis of the diets of POC for centuries.
- Veganism, as a lifestyle, aims to eliminate speciesism, the belief that one species (humans) are superior to another species (amimals), thereby making veganism inherently linked to the many other “isms”, for example racism, which also exists as a mechanism to exploit some groups and have other groups claim superiority over the former groups — as has been the case for some time now, these methodologies must be fought against as well.
- Veganism naturally lends to intersectionality as the fight for animal equality spans other areas, specifically feminism as the bodies of female animals are often raped, forcibly impregnated, and taken away from their children.
Basically, what brown vegan folks are trying to say is get off your high horse to our white vegan counterparts. We want them to understand that veganism in not a privileged lifestyle or one that should be touted as a way of life only for those who can afford to buy acai bowls everyday. We want people to understand that “build-your-own quinoa bowls” should not be priced at $10 while there are tons of poor brown children forced to eat a family-sized pack of beef with questionable coloring from their local supermarket because it’s all their family can afford. And furthermore, a bulk box of quinoa should cost less if not equal to that container of beef so that a family of 3-5 people can thrive on it for at least a week by adding veggies and fruit and other vegan protein sources such as legumes and beans to it. And again, many POC have already been eating meals like the ones I just described, and to this day many households of color still do (albeit usually with animal protein). So why is the notion of these types of meals and a vegan lifestyle only portrayed in a “white light”?
Instead of this broken ideology of what veganism is, we want them [white people] to realize that Black, Hispanic and many indigenous people across the globe have indeed been eating this way since, well, forever— and that painting an exclusive picture of the aforementioned vegan lifestyle not only marginalizes those groups of POC from all over the globe but also the POC who live right here in America– the poor and middle-class brown people who could greatly benefit from embracing a vegan lifestyle.
Where the Intersectionality Comes In
With veganism being my primary concern, as I educated myself I began to expand my activism to include these aspects of intersectionality that I was becoming more aware of. In the summer of 2018 I went to the first annual BlackVegFest. This was even more of an eye-opening experience. I discovered groups like Veggie Mijas and La Raza for Liberation, and began to learn more about terms like decolonizing your diet, and how veganism also trickled over into the LGBTQ community. It all started making sense. You know the saying “call a spade a spade”? Well I realized that a marginalized group was a marginalized group no matter the reason of why they were marginalized.
Pioneer activist and feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced the theory of intersectionality, and for many, it has grown to include (although not formally) this idea of veganism. Intersectional theory attempts to understand how the social identities of minority groups such as women, minorites (POC) and those within the LGBTQ community overlap and how these overlapping identities interact within an oppressive society and oppressive social and structural systems. The following chart beautifully expresses how the struggles of these many identities and groups overlap:
With the help of this graphic, it should be easier to understand how all discriminatory processes are manifested within various groups and how they overlap. As touched on earlier, when referring specifically to veganism, the notion of “white veganism” creates that systemic and social barrier which excludes other groups such as those who are poor, and those falling into this latter group more often than not tend to be communities comprised of predominantly POC. This exclusion takes place in various ways. It spins the story, changes the value and lessens the accessibility of veganism to marginalized groups.
This discrimination also manifests itself in other ways such as environmental racism. Environmental racism occurs as a result of hazardous waste being exposed primarily to persons who live in and around areas where massive animal agriculture takes place. The location of these factory farms are predominantly found next to areas that house minorities and poor people, and the waste that is expelled from them has caused sickness and illness to many. Another major concern is the exploitation of slaughterhouse and factory farm workers, who are largely Hispanic and oftentimes immigrants. They are subject to poor working conditions and must work in an environment in which they must carry out gruesome procedures to kill and
subdue animals. All these things and more come together to make a complex web of interconnected people and groups who must fight oppression– but imagine how much harder it is for those who can’t even speak in a language that any human understands?
But You’re Black– Don’t you have more Important Issues you Could be Fighting For?
For a brief moment (okay, maybe a few brief moments) in my short-lived vegan history, I thought the same thing. That was until I continued to realize what I’ve already stated. A marginalized group is a marginalized group. I’ve lived my life as a Black female for my entire time on this Earth. And that will never change. So including others in the fight will not lessen the plight of the two groups (well, three groups, as I’ve now come to openly acknowledge my queerness on the spectrum of sexuality) I already belong to, but strengthen it because there is strength in numbers. I’ve been blessed to be born at a time in this world where so many of the generations before me have fought tirelessly to give myself and those other Black and brown persons who share this time with me the abilities and privileges to live as freely as we do. There is still and will like be for some time progress and change to be made. But in being blessed in that way I have also been blessed with a choice. I can join those freedom fighters and continue the work that has been going on for decades and even centuries. Or, I can take the blessings I’ve been given and pass the torch to another area that is admittedly newer– veganism and it’s intersectionality. Now, some do scoff at Black vegans fighting for animal rights when our people are still shot by police officers when they are unarmed, thrown into prisons for minor offenses, and discriminated against on a daily basis. However, as stated, these areas all interconnect if we really think about it. And so, fighting for the freedom of ALL living beings, including animals is truly the future of freedom fighting and activism. Why should we wait for a world where being Black or brown has no discrimination attached to it to start helping our brothers and sisters of another species when they so often suffer similar plights as we do as humans? Why are their voices deemed less important?
My belief is that their voices shouldn’t be less important. We are all fighting the same fight and therefore we must help each other whenever and however we can. Each new generation will be tasked with taking on the problems, issues and fights of the last generation. Yes, this time animal liberation is at the forefront, more so now than it has been in the past. And as veganism continues to grow, it will become an even bigger force just as the issues of all the marginalized groups before them have become. All I know is that I want to be able to say that I listened to both my heart and my brain and tried to help and live as compassionately as I could during my no doubt brief time on this planet. I make it a point to showcase my activism through veganism as much as possible. On my Instagram page and here on this blog, I create recipes that include many of the whole foods that many Black and brown people may already be familiar with, making the recipes easier to create for vegans and making it an easier transition for non-vegans. I also try to follow Black and brown vegans who are doing their thing and/or are living an upper middle class or upper class lifestyle. I see this as a form of activism as well, as it shows us all that POC can also live a “luxe (vegan) life” that is often only attached to white vegans– and those POC are usually including some form of activism in their own vegan lifestyles, which also goes to show that no matter one’s station in life, there is always an opportunity to pay it forward when living a vegan lifestyle whether it be through humanitarian work, animal activism, or showing others the beauty of veganism. I will continue to try and leave a mark in this lifestyle and I hope it will be seen as a hugely inclusive mark; one that aimed to help as many people, and species as possible.
* Animal figures cover image courtesy of pexels.com
Updated September 14, 2019