I want to first say thanks to all who read and subscribe to my blog! I love you and think you’re awesome and amazing for being vegan or being interested in the vegan lifestyle, or an eco-friendly lifestyle or even just my personal vegan journey!
That being said, I’m nominated in a vegan awards this year that’s been put together by One Bite Vegan! I’m nominated in the category of “Best New Vegan Food Blogger”. I’m excited because I truly love blogging and it’s even better that I get to blog about topics I’m really passionate about. I love writing also and being able to entertain and/or inform through my writing is what I think my gift to the world really is!
I would love and appreciate it so much if you could go vote for me in that category! To vote, simply go here:
You DO NOT have to vote in every category! Voting ends on APRIL 30, 2019!! Once you vote, you’ll be automatically entered to win a brand new Vitamix Ascent Series A2500!!! Talk about incentive! So go! Go vote for me now! Best new vegan blog category! Gooooo!
Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate. Well, my mom has actually always hated chocolate. And if you’re allergic you probably aren’t a fan of it either. Oh, and it’s also toxic to cats and can even be fatal if they ingest a bunch of it. But the point is, most people do enjoy chocolate, myself included.
Even though I’ve been a chocolate fan my whole life, I’ve always been picky about the types of chocolate I consumed. For some reason, I never liked chocolate cake, and I also don’t like chocolate ice cream. Growing up (and still to this day) my favorite forms of chocolate were brownies, muffins (which do not taste the same as cake!) and candies of all sorts– chocolate bars filled with practically whatever, truffles, and pretty much anything that was covered in chocolate, especially pretzels.
Going down this chocolate memory lane is indeed nostalgic, and makes it even more obvious as to why I was extremely proud of myself when, after going vegan, I managed to cut out chocolate just like that. I guess I didn’t necessarily have to do this because I live in one of the vegan capitals of the world, where practically any food that exists can be found in vegan form. But the first several months of being vegan was filled with me trying to navigate this new world of eating and my thoughts really weren’t “where can I find vegan chocolate?”. And anyway, before I officially went vegan and I was still in my “vegan trial period”, I actually did have a decadent, giant chocolate muffin from a vegan bakery– and like most omni’s trying vegan junk food for the first time, I was shocked that something that good was vegan.
But as time went on, I eventually tried vegan chocolate in all its glory– not only chocolate treats but I’d had several types of granola bars featuring chocolate that were made by some of the big names in vegan snacks.
However, a few months ago, I started following an organization on Instagram called the Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P). Their goal is to bring awareness to food accessibility throughout the world, and they also shine a light on food injustices in the form of child labor and/or slavery in food production, and how the food choices we make affect the environment, animals and people.
I loved what they were about because it aligned with what I was about and what I wanted to learn about and spread awareness of in the vegan community and perhaps more importantly, outside of the vegan community. One day, a specific post on their Instagram page caught my eye and it prompted me to download the associated app that the F.E.P had created– it had to do with none other than: chocolate.
According to the F.E.P, chocolate, or more specifically, cocoa production, was an industry that had a huge hand in utilizing child and/or slave labor. As a person of color, this was disturbing to me on a personal level, especially being that my Instagram and blog were built on a premise of intersectional veganism, where the injustices of one group are intertwined with the injustices of many groups. I couldn’t continue to fight for the rights of animals and not do something to show that I was also against the exploitation of children and others who were being utilized as slaves in many African countries.
The app that the F.E.P created, called the Chocolate List was meant to be used as a resource to discover which brands of chocolate are sourced ethically and which brands are not. The below screenshot is an example– there are three sections on the app; “R” stands for recommended, “NR” stands for not recommended, and “M” stands for mixed meaning that the brand uses ethically sourced cocoa for some of its products but not all of them. Even with this powerhouse list available to me, I was a little perplexed about some things, which prompted me to start doing my own research.
I’d go to a store and decide I wasn’t gonna buy chocolate from brands that weren’t recommended, but at the same time I’d see some of those not recommended brands with labels slapped across them like “fair trade certified”.
It was confusing to say the least.
I wondered why these brands were not on the recommended list when I’d read so much information that stated that fair trade farms did not use slave labor. In addition to that, some of these brands stated directly on their website that their chocolate was, in fact, sourced ethically via fair trade farms.
So what was going on? Why was the information from the brands conflicting with the information from the F.E.P?
I decided I had to go straight to the source to uncover where the disconnect was. I emailed the F.E.P and anxiously awaited their response as to why some brands that publicly stated they used ethically sourced cocoa were being place on the not recommended list by the F.E.P. When I received a response to my email, the result was quite unfortunate but it opened my eyes further to the lies we are told everyday by the people who run the largest companies and corporations in the world.
An employee and rep for the F.E.P explained that the companies on the “NR” list are there because they source their cocoa from countries and regions “…where the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, is most prevalent.”
You see, the F.E.P creates their ethically sourced cocoa list “…based on the country of origin… and not “…on certifications based on how problematic they have been found to be.”
Apparently, some fair trade certified farms still utilize child slave labor even with the fair trade certification. How is that possible? I wondered the same thing. I presume it all goes back to politics and the bottom line which is money and production of the product. An unfortunate truth. Sure, the farmers in Africa may have a small say in the use of this illegal labor– but most of that weight should come upon the huge corporations that are using these farms– it is they who have the resources to ensure that the cocoa they need is produced under ethical standards. These companies absolutely have the manpower and money to ensure that proper wages and working conditions are in place, and that child slave labor is not used on these farms, especially if those farms have already undergone the process of declaring themselves “fair trade”.
In the same response email, the F.E.P employee suggested that I watch Shady Chocolate, a documentary that showcases the ills of cocoa production within the industry. I was also given another resource to seek out; a report that was released last May: The Global Business of Forced Labour Report of Findings— this report showcases how prevalent child and slave labor, human trafficking and even kidnapping have been in West African countries that are key players in the cocoa industry. In the report, linked above, the cocoa industry findings begin on page 26.
I watched the documentary, eager to learn more. I had already committed to not eating chocolate from brands on the NR list, but the documentary sealed the deal for me. It was sickening to see the normalization of child and slave labor, and to see footage of a child crying after being trafficked to a neighboring country via bus, dropped off and left there to eventually be exploited for slave labor.
Please watch the documentary. I truly believe that it may spark something in you to want to purchase your chocolate more responsibly. This issue goes to the very heart of everything I believe in and am fighting for. When we have so many options available to us in 2019 when it comes to purchasing and enjoying products that contain cocoa responsibly, why would we pay people to use child and slave labor just so we can enjoy something sweet for a few moments?
I also urge you to download the app and use it as a resource when buying chocolate products. I feel the need to mention that this is completely unsponsored, but instead is stemming from my own journey and experience as I learn more about everything we buy and take into our bodies.
If you’re reading this, then you are likely blessed to have many resources available to you to that allow you to live, survive and even thrive in your life, such as a place to live, a phone, and food to eat. But chocolate is not a necessity in life– it is a luxury. That is all the more reason why you should try to purchase it responsibly. Don’t pay to support child labor and slavery. Once I understood that this is what I was doing, I knew I could no longer continue to do it with a clear conscious, especially not for a luxury food item.
Thank you for reading this blog post and please use your time and energy to seek out more responsible ways to get your food. Visit the links in the above paragraphs as a start to learn more. It all begins with us and as previously mentioned, we have a wealth of options available in this world to cause the least harm possible when it comes to what’s on our plates, so why not give it a shot?
Close-up chocolate image courtesy of Pixabay via Pexels.com.
So, I finally tried the Impossible Burger. I say that with a tinge of guilt because there is some debate within the vegan community as to whether or not this burger is a legit plant-based meat substitute. Not because of the way it tastes, but because of how it’s been created.
So, before I get to the review, let’s start from the beginning…
Impossible Foods launched back in 2016, revolutionizing the vegan food market with the Impossible Burger— a plant-based burger made with their exclusive, primary ingredient, soy leghemoglobin. Supposedly, this burger looked, tasted and felt like the “real” thing — or what omnivores know to be a burger when it is comprised of beef derived from cows. It was a hit– all over vegan Instagram were pictures of the vegan bleeding burger. What was responsible for that redness that made it look like you had a medium to medium-well burger on your plate? You guessed it; that key ingredient of soy leghemoglobin.
Sound great so far?
Well, it almost was until it was revealed that Impossible Foods had conducted animal testing using lab rats to create this phenomenal new burger.
Why would they need to conduct animal testing to create a vegan burger? And doesn’t that go against the values of the vegan community? Like not harming animals? And being cruelty-free?
Good point. Yes. Yes. And yes.
To answer everything inquiring minds wanted to know (myself included), the CEO of Impossible Foods released an official statement for the company entitled The Agonizing Dilemma of Animal Testing. The statement explained (in part) that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specific requirements when it comes to “uncommon ingredients” getting the stamp of approval for human consumption. Impossible Foods’ exclusive heme protein, soy leghemoglobin, was indeed considered an uncommon ingredient. To meet the rigorous requirements of the FDA, Impossible Foods decided that they would conduct experiments using animal testing to ensure the FDA that the protein was safe for humans to eat.
“The billions of people around the world who love meat and fish and dairy foods will not be persuaded to stop consuming these foods by pleading or arguing or encouraging them to try a plant-based diet.”
Pat Brown, The Agonizing Dilemma of Animal Testing
I highly suggest reading the statement (linked in the previous paragraph) because if you read it with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart, you may see the bigger picture that Pat Brown, the CEO of Impossible Foods, likely has. According to Brown, heme, an iron-containing compound that gives beef that distinct taste and flavor is essential to creating meat substitutes because omnivores crave that taste and flavor. This is an argument I am totally here for because one of my motivating factors as a plant-based recipe developer is that flavors and seasoning and texture are what we are really looking for when we eat our food — we don’t need animal flesh to get that stuff! In addition to their mission to recreate beef flavors in plant-based burgers, Impossible Foods does purposely and specifically seek to change the way omnivores look at vegan food. According to a rep for the company at the recent Natural Foods Expo West convention in California, Impossible Foods’ audience is a “meat-eater” and so they “target first and foremost” just that… meat-eaters.1
Initially, when I discovered the animal testing scandal, I was totally anti-Impossible. I hadn’t tried the burger yet and I didn’t plan on doing so. I even messaged a popular vegan chef when I saw him partaking of an Impossible burger in one of his stories, essentially asking him if he thought it was an ethically okay choice to consume that burger given the animal testing. He ignored me. And I’m glad he did. And by the way, if that vegan chef ever happens to read this and you remember me messaging you about your burger, I’m sorry I bothered you but I was very much in my feelings about that lab testing. I’ve since reconciled our relationship, and at this point, my views on the matter have shifted– quite a bit actually.
Similar to a point I made in my last blog post about boycotting businesses that don’t meet many of our ethical and moral vegan standards, the same idea applies here. I now feel we have to look at the bigger picture and fight for the greater good. Sometimes we have to make small sacrifices to achieve astronomical results. Losing the life of a few to save the lives of hundreds of thousands is still a difficult choice, but it’s one that does show hope and progress toward a place that is so much better than the one we are in now. Impossible Foods is working toward a vegan revolution, and I think all vegans can agree that this is definitely something we can get behind. This may not be everyone’s view but it’s where I stand, and judging by the success of the Impossible Burger, it’s the mindset of many other vegans as well.
With that, let’s get on to the review part! First, let me say that I’m a BIG burger fan. I’ve been obsessed with burgers since I was a kid, so trying the many vegan versions that exist has been intriguing but in the back of my mind, I always knew these burgers had large buns– I mean shoes, to fill. I know, I know– insert corny joke here.
I tried the Impossible Burger via the slider version that is being sold at White Castle. Wow. It’s good. It’s really good. Everything they promise is there: “meaty flavor” and texture are on point for sure. It would taste a lot better with some vegan cheese, but then again, what doesn’t taste better with cheese? But even without the cheese, it stands up to the challenge of recreating a great, flavorful burger that is cruelty-free. It’s also filling — I had my sliders with fries but tried to focus on eating the sliders first to get the flavor profile and see how it went down in my tummy. The pieces were grinding apart in my mouth the same way I remember ground beef doing, and it’s weird because while chewing, some parts reminded me of meat but then other times I could tell it wasn’t meat– but I’m unsure if the latter part was psychological and simply a byproduct of me knowing that I was, in fact, eating plants.
Honestly speaking, I believe this burger would hands down fool a hungry omnivore, however, it isn’t a doppelganger for beef. Upon closer inspection, you can definitely tell it’s a plant-based substitute. Personally, that doesn’t bother me one bit, and I know a lot of vegans actually prefer that, as a reminder of the dead and likely tortured animals they used to consume is not something they want on their plates. But again, the goal is to convert as many omnis as possible– and we have to bring them in with what they know to be familiar already.
I really want to try this in a bigger burger form, so I might even do a second part to this review when I get a chance to have another Impossible Burger. And now is the perfect time to do so, because in January of this year, Impossible Foods released the Impossible Burger 2.0— an updated, gluten-free version of the patty. I’m excited to try it and I’m looking forward to seeing what Impossible Foods will come up with next. Have you already tried the Impossible Burger? What did you think? Do you have an opinion on Impossible Foods conducting animal testing to get the green light on the burger? Let me know in the comments below!
With spring just a few weeks away, many of you are probably starting the “spring cleaning” process of your wardrobes— getting rid of some things that haven’t seen the light of day or been warn in years, and buying new pieces to prepare for the warmer weather.
I, on the other hand, will not be making any warm-weather purchases. What I will be doing is getting rid of more clothes that I don’t need or don’t wear. Don’t get me wrong, I love clothes. But my views on them have changed a bit as my vegan lifestyle continues to evolve. As a newbie to the world of eco-conscious living, I decided about a year ago (just a lil’ while after I went vegan) that I wouldn’t make anymore clothing purchases because I’d made a commitment to living a more minimal lifestyle. This vow spread to all parts of my life, wardrobe included. Luckily, I had a decently curated closet, and although my personal style is kind of ever-evolving (but has pretty much found its most comfortable place at this point), I was really happy with the clothing I already owned and was excited to mix and match the pieces I had in fun ways.
So, that brings me to the topic of this lovely blog post: fashion— well, a very specific type of fashion; fast fashion. “What’s that?” you might be asking. This is one of the best cases of a name being truly self-explanatory. It’s fashion that is produced quickly. Very quickly. The fashion industry is a billion dollar giant that has grown massively over the past several decades. Even if you’re a person who could truly care less about any of the clothing that goes on your body, the fashion industry likely has had some sort of affect on your life in one way or another.
Sure, some of us may scoff at an industry that is largely based on looks, status and elitism, but remember that scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestly tells Anne Hathaway’s character that her bargain basement sweater choice may seem like it was an independent decision made by her and her fashion-oblivious mind, when in reality, it was actually chosen for her by the very people in that room? Well yeah, that’s kinda true. You see, that’s how fast fashion is born— it’s all based off current trends, and these trends change annually, even seasonally. Giant retailers like Forever 21, H&M, and the biggest of them all, Zara, design and produce clothing that matches these seasonal, high-end trends so that everyday people like you and I can partake of the colors and styles of the season at a deeply discounted price than the high-end garments we see on the runway.
But there’s a downside. There are many problems within this seedy world of trendy clothing production. Here’s why fast-fashion is toxic for both people and the environment:
Horrible Labor Conditions
To make clothing for the masses at such a quick rate and at really low prices, cheap labor is required– and lots of it. The fast-fashion industry is notorious for using overseas labor to keep costs down. And the industry is also full of complaints of less than satisfactory working-conditions ranging from long hours in packed factories with no air-conditioning or regulated breaks, to horribly low and unlivable wages, to mistreatment of workers and even the use of child and slave labor. Many of these factories are located in countries like China and Bangladesh where the workers rights are very minimal or hardly enforced1. The 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh is just one extreme example of the poor conditions that garment and factory workers must endure. Over 1,100 people, including many garment workers died in the building collapse amid many warning signs of imminent structural failure of the building that went ignored by the building’s owners2.
Bangladeshi people protest in the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse.
It’s the knowledge of instances such as this one that make me think twice about this industry. Personally, I don’t like the idea of essentially paying for atrocities like this one to take place. After all, it kinda aligns with the reason I’m vegan. In the same way that I don’t want to pay someone to slaughter animals for me, I also don’t want to pay someone to force a child to sew my sweater for me or to have someone working in unsafe conditions for minimal wages.
They Use Animal Skin and Fur in Production
Another byproduct of the fast fashion industry is less than stellar animal welfare standards. Over the years, companies like PETA have done their part to call out the big players in the world of fast fashion. Because of this, some of them have changed their standards and policies when it comes to using products like leather, wool, and animal skins. For example, PETA came down hard on Forever 21 for using mohair, and as a result, Forever 21 joined the ranks of H&M and Zara in banning the use of the hair, stating that the company would be mohair-free by 20203. I know, I thought the same thing — by 2020? But hey, it’s a start. Zara and H&M have stopped using exotic animal skins but all three companies still utilize leather and wool, although some claim to source their wool in a humane way. The site good on you is a sick resource for seeing how a ton of companies, including the fast fashion Gods are doing ethically, giving them report cards that rate their impact on people (labor conditions), the environment and animals.
The Environmental Impact is Bad; Like, Really Bad
This one makes a ton of sense but really break it down for a sec to understand. If fast fashion retailers are producing a massive amount of clothes every season, and people are buying these clothes every season, what happens after that? Because of the quick production and cheap prices, the quality is often questionable as well. So, we have clothes that are falling apart after just a few years (and some after just a few washes… I mean, hellooo Forever 21 basic tees, ugh.) coupled with clothes that are “out of style” within a year. That leads to hundreds of thousands of pounds of clothing going into our landfills every year. In fact, the amount of clothing that Americans throw out is crippling, clocking in at well over 14 million tons annually4. It only makes matters worse that the majority of these clothes contain synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic and nylon, all of which are derived from petroleum. Therefore, similar to plastic, those pieces of clothing will take hundreds of decades to decompose. This is horrible news for the environment. Another disgusting byproduct is water pollution. With the massive amounts of chemicals and dyes used on these clothes, the fashion industry is by far one of the biggest contributors to toxic H2O, producing over 20% of industrial water pollution5.
But I have to Wear Clothes, so What Can I do?
That’s a great question. And honestly, I’m probably not the best person to ask. I’ll explain why that’s the case in a little bit, but it isn’t because I don’t have a few suggestions on how you can cut down on the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry. I actually do have a few tips for that:
Buy American-made clothes: One way to ensure that you aren’t contributing to horrible working conditions is to buy from companies that make there clothes right here in the good ol’ U.S.A. Companies like American Apparel, Hackwith Design House, Todd Sheltonand Khloe Kardashian’s denim line Good American are all made in America. There are also plenty of designers, such as Pangaia that produce clothing overseas but ensure that working conditions are impeccable — just do a bit of research before shopping. If you’re not American but live in a thriving, Western country, purchase locally-made clothing from designers where you live.
Shop second-hand: One of the biggest things you can do is to shop second-hand. It’s basically buying recycled clothing. The idea is that by purchasing you clothing second-hand, you aren’t spending your money on more mass produced pieces, thereby supporting the fast-fashion industry. If you live in a major city, shopping second-hand is supa dupa easy. There are usually thrift shops and second-hand stores all over big cities. You’re also likely to find something that will suit your taste because they usually have a wide variety of clothing. And don’t worry about wearing clothing that’s old or used because a) all hail the hipster movement of Gen X and Gen Y that has made dressing like you’re from decades past insanely cool again, and b) personal style is exactly that — personal. Fashion has at least done a few things right– that coupled with good timing because there really is no such thing as not looking stylish anymore. Thanks to creative designers, everything has practically been done in the world of fashion (although designers will continue to try their hardest to innovate and I say go for it) and so long as you rock it with confidence, you’ll always be stylish. My favorite decade is the 90s and I actually grew up during that decade so it’s very fitting. But the point is that I’d be able to find an abundance of cool 90s digs in any thrift shop and so can you.
Don’t, I repeat DO NOT buy fur or leather: or wool, or angora, or snakeskin… you get the point. I specify this because just shopping second-hand doesn’t equal cruelty-free (if that’s what you’re aiming for). Many second-hand shops sell clothing that is made from animal products, skins and furs. If you want to look out for the environment and the animals, try not to purchase clothes in which animals have been killed or harmed in order to make them.
Do a clothing swap: I know someone who participates in these and although I have yet to do so, it’s a great way to recycle clothing. Basically, a group of folks gets together with all the clothing they don’t want, and you swap out your pieces for other pieces– sort of like an intimate thrift store among friends. There are two benefits; the clothes are being continuously recycled as you swap them with others, and it’s also a fun way to go “shopping” as you get rid of clothing you don’t want anymore. Let’s say you got a sweater at a previous swap and by the time it’s spring (kinda like now) you already aren’t feeling the sweater or it didn’t look as great as you thought it would look no matter how you styled it. Well, now you can pass it on at a clothing swap guilt-free and get something else in return. Voila, wardrobe crisis solved.
Make your own clothes: Okay, I know this may not be for everyone, myself included because I’m not really into making clothes and sewing. But you may discover you have a hidden talent or love for making your own clothing. All you need is a sewing machine and some patterns. You can also try going to a workshop or class to discover how to create your own fashions. One of my cousins knows how to make clothes (and just about anything for that matter) and seeing some of her creations solidifies that it’s completely possible to make your entire wardrobe. If you decide to go this route, don’t forget to use sustainable and, if possible, organic fabrics for your creations! The added benefit here is that you’ll have entirely custom pieces, created specifically for your body — kinda like how they used to do in the old days way before fast fashion was even a thing (sighs nostalgically).
Where I Stand
Remember when I said I’m probably not the best person to ask about how to shop ethically? That may have been a little self-critical but I said it because I can’t guarantee that I’ll never purchase anything from a fast fashion retailer again. I also really love contemporary and modern pieces that I feel are sometimes harder to come across in second-hand stores. But I haven’t given up on major retailers yet, especially as they continue to make improvements and move toward more sustainable and ethical practices. It’s similar to the dilemma many vegans face when eating at non-vegan establishments — do we not eat there in protest? Or do we order the one vegan option they have so they don’t take it off the menu and so they realize that people want to order it? If H&M has an amazing organic cotton, chunky knit, over-sized sweater (wow, I started drooling just writing that) that is part of a line they created of American-made pieces, why wouldn’t I buy it? I want to show them that I as a consumer will gladly spend my money on that organic cotton ya know? The same goes for any other brand. My minimalist lifestyle will keep me from decking out my closet with unnecessary clothing anyhow, so now all that’s left is to make sure that the clothes that are in there are as ethical– and cute as possible.
Here’s another website I found that features a few designers and design houses that make ethical, sustainable and/or eco-friendly clothing:
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 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 are well off. I see this as a form of activism as well, as it shows us all that POC can also live this “luxe vegan life” that is only being 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
When I first went vegan, I thought it would make me invincible. I envisioned myself being thinner, stronger and a whole lot healthier. Armed with the menial amount of knowledge I’d picked up when first researching a vegan lifestyle (after I’d already made the decision to go vegan), it seemed like a cure all for practically any and everything. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that I was heavily idealizing veganism. Yes, I still believe it is by far one of the healthiest diets that most humans can thrive on, but I was taking an unrealistic approach to what veganism was truly about. I was met with a rude awakening after a couple of events that caused me to realize that being vegan, in fact did not make me a superhero.
The closer I got to my one year #veganniversary, the closer I got to the realism of veganism and the fact that it was indeed an entire change of lifestyle, but it was not something that could change everything that was capable of occurring in life. In early fall of 2018, I injured my leg. The injury wasn’t life-threatening, and because of that, I continued to live my life with the same gusto I had been for the past several months. The same gusto that had allowed me to become physically, mentally and spiritually stronger. After all, a positive by-product that came out of me going vegan was that I was able to not only lose weight, but prove to myself that I had the discipline to stick with something that took work– an entire overhaul of how I approached eating but also how I approached many other aspects of my life. Losing weight was tangible evidence that I could make a change in my lifestyle and achieve my fitness goals.
The more I focused on my physical activity, the stronger I became. I was sooo diggin’ that feeling! I actually felt my body changing and felt myself being able to do things I couldn’t do before. But too much of a good thing too soon is the best way I can describe the series of events that happened next. I suffered a mild leg injury from what I eventually determined had to have been overuse of my muscles and ligaments. In my mind, I had to push myself to the limit to keep feeling and being stronger. And pushing oneself is not a bad thing, but it depends on the circumstances and the person. In my case, I was starting to push too much, too soon, not giving my body enough time to rest throughout the week.
So, I’d come to terms with the fact that I’d sprang a ligament in my hip/thigh area. And you would think that I learned my lesson. But almost two months after the initial injury, I re-injured the same spot. However, this time, it was worse. Self-diagnosing, I felt really strongly that I knew what happened. The initial injured area never fully healed and I either tore or pressured that same area even more. The first sprang wasn’t debilitating, but it was definitely painful. But this time, I was literally stopped in my tracks for almost 48 hours, limping around with a wrapped up leg in agony. My body was telling me it had had enough.
This sent me into a depressing tailspin. I knew I couldn’t work with this injury but I also couldn’t afford not to work. I wasn’t sure what to do and the thought of not working for awhile terrified me. Then, I had an epiphany. I was seriously considering possibly permanently injuring myself for the sake of a job and some money. It was true that I couldn’t afford to be out of work for long, but I could afford to let myself heal for a bit. In fact, I had to do that.
I made the decision to leave where I was working. Eventually the pain started lessening in intensity but it was far from healed. I was back at work within a couple of weeks and I continued to really hone in on my homeopathic routine to help with healing. The pain is about 90% gone as of the publishing of this blog post. It just goes to show that letting “food be thy medicine” has really showed value in my life, in spite of my initial anger that being vegan didn’t make me invincible.
A more recent occurrence happened within months of me going off birth control. I decided to make the switch before going vegan actually, because remember, I had already decided to do a health overhaul — going vegan ended up being the last step. Supposedly, the body adjusts within a month after going off the pill. Hormones should be back to normal and all should be well. But for me, it didn’t happen that way. I had lived for a few years with the crystal clear skin and light periods that come as a result of birth control. I had actually forgotten what my body was like pre-pill. Well, I stopped taking the pill in late 2017. It wasn’t until almost a year later that that I experienced a full comeback of my pre-pill self. Really heavy periods and acne. A decent amount of acne. So much so that I was ashamed of myself for being so vain in my hatred of it and also surprised that I had gotten so used to having no acne so quickly, completing forgetting that this was all part of my normal before I ever started the pill. But after several long months, it was as if the birth control had finally flushed out me, taking all the lingering hormones out and now I was really me again. This was a blessing I was happy about, but I kept thinking “how can this be! Everyone on vegan Instagram has beautifully light periods and no pimples!”
But that wasn’t true. The more I explored, the more I saw many vegans with skin problems and period issues. I wasn’t alone and that was comforting. But it was another wake up call that simply being vegan doesn’t fix everything. It was also a motivator to try to find out how I could use food as medicine for these issues. Maybe I hadn’t been vegan long enough yet to notice a change in these areas. Maybe I had to wait for my body to fully detox from the hormones. Maybe I was still eating too much processed food and not enough fresh produce. Maybe I wasn’t eating the right types of produce. There were so many variables to think about. The body is essentially a giant science experiment, and I was and still am determined to figure it all out.
After I come back from Europe, I plan to start a regime with more produce to combat the severity of my menstrual cycle, along with the acne that comes along with it. I’ve heard some things about celery juice and how it can help fight acne (among many other things). It will also serve as a nice detox post decadent euro-vegan eats so I’m trying to reap all the benefits. I’ve already started using a menstrual cup and honestly, I noticed a slight difference during my first cycle using it. That may sound weird, but we as women and humans don’t give ourselves enough credit for making small changes. Bad things happening shouldn’t be considered “normal”. If you notice a positive difference after making a small change, keep going! I’m still amazed that I was able to cure a ligament sprang that felt so severe with herbs! But I shouldn’t be so surprised because people have been doing things like this for centuries. The longer I’m vegan, the longer I eat raw and fresh, the longer I stop putting man-made and chemical-filled things in and on my body, I’m certain that I’ll see amazing changes, probably beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Please stay tuned for more updates on my path to actually becoming an invincible vegan!
Edit**: As of March 21, 2019, I feel very comfortable saying that my leg is at 90%-95% when it comes to being healed. I’ve continued to do all that I can to help it get better, including using it more– something I was initially afraid to do until I recently read an article stating that the ligament will actually become stronger once it’s in use again. I plan on upping my physical activity even more soon, hopefully being back in the gym by summer. I don’t think I’ll start running again, but I will continue to listen to my body and maybe running will be something I can enjoy again by next year. I don’t want to over exert the ligament being that it’s freshly healed.
So this is it. In my first update post, I had made it to the six-month mark and was so excited about it. As with most joyful events that occur in my life, I celebrated with food. I went to get some grub with a pal. My plan for this year-one anniversary was to go get some food with a pal again– but this time, I wanted to up the ante and go to a nicer, swankier spot. One where a server comes to the table and brings us all our vegan goodies. But life had different plans. I was a little disappointed at first, but instead of wallowing, I decided to hit up a slew of vegan spots and focus on my triumph of making it through the first year.
So, here are a few things I’ve done over the past year along with the emotions, revelations, realizations, and successes that have occurred.
I Went Vegan? Yes! I Went Vegan!
Only after spending countless hours (maybe more than I should) on vegan Instagram did I realize that doing week-long vegan challenges before going vegan was more of a common thing than I thought. Well, that’s how my vegan journey started. I randomly decided to do a vegan challenge but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would
actually become a vegan. I was one of those people. You know, those people: “But bacon!” “Oh my goodness, I loooove cheese!” But I made it through most of that week okay. And along the way, something inside changed a bit. I wasn’t vegan for the trilogy of reasons yet (health, the environment and the animals) — it started out solely as a way to improve my health. When I told my then only vegan pal that I went vegan she sounded excited and happy for me, but also a bit skeptical. Maybe she sounded skeptical subconsciously, and at the time it didn’t feel great but now I totally understand it. I decided to go vegan pretty much overnight and that vegan pal is well aware that I originally wasn’t even thinking about going vegan. When we got in contact with each other, I wanted to do yoga not change my entire lifestyle. But the universe and the powers that be take us in the direction that’s best for us, so there I was– a new vegan!
To Food Blog or Not to Food Blog?
Next came the idea to take food blogging more seriously– but this idea was not without some… okay a lot of hesitation. The blog I currently have was born out of two things. The vegan Instagram page I had already been operating, but really my love of blogging. I had started a blog in the past and didn’t keep up with it because I wasn’t passionate about what I was blogging about. When I started my Instagram page, I wasn’t yet sure if blogging was in the future. I had thought about it, but as with most new ventures in my life, I
was terrified of actually starting it (even though things are never really that scary after the fact). But eventually I decided to take the leap and start blogging about this new passion of mine– living a vegan lifestyle. And of course, once I started blogging, it wasn’t that bad. As a matter of fact, it was amazing. And even though I was a blogging novice, I realized that wouldn’t hinder me because I loved writing and I loved being vegan. And those that saw my blog would be able to feel that genuine emotion of a new vegan fumbling and figuring it all out along the way. Also, being able to look back at the collection of photos on my Insta page and my recipe posts and writings on my blog make me feel great about the progression of my vegan journey. And even better is knowing that I’m actually able to reach people, whether through Instagram or the blog, helping to spread the vegan message even more. I never imagined that I could inspire anyone by way of my own vegan journey, and to be honest, it’s still a little intimidating. But It’s a good sort of intimidation because everyone on the planet is meant to inspire everyone else in some way. When we use our talents and focus on our passions, those actions will serve as inspiration for others to do the same and that’s exactly how it should be. And I’ll admit that it feels even greater to have a passion that can lead to inspiring others to focus on bettering their health, being a voice for animals and all living creatures, and protecting the planet we all share.
I Made Vegan Food, I Bought Vegan Food — I ate A LOT of Vegan Food.
Real talk. I didn’t know how to cook before going vegan. I knew how to make basic things like spaghetti with some pasta sauce, or how to scramble eggs (pre-vegan of course). The most labor intensive thing I could make was lasagna and my specialty was actually veggie lasagna, because I preferred veggie lasagna to meat lasagna even before going vegan. But being vegan forced me to learn how to start cooking more to sustain myself and get the nutrients I needed on a vegan diet. And so I did that. And again, being able to look at my Instagram collection of photos with all the food I’ve made over the past year, it makes me really proud that I started appreciating the kitchen and what I could do in it. And yeah, a lot of my recipes included those basic ingredients I’ve always used, because I wasn’t a pro yet. I’ve even written about that. But I am slowly starting to expand my cooking repertoire, learning how to make more intricate things and cooking from scratch and it’s been so fun and such an amazing learning experience. And then there’s going out to eat. I won’t lie, if I could afford to, I would probably go out to eat everyday because I enjoy the experience of dining out. And what do ya know, I happen to live in one of the vegan food restaurant capitals of the world, having tons of vegan spots at my disposal. Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton of money at my disposal. But that didn’t stop me. I created a food budget and used that to go out so I could have the opportunity to start experiencing the vegan food scene of NYC. Everyone has their vices. For some, it’s shopping for clothes and shoes. Others enjoy going out to clubs and partaking of the nightlife. While even more others spend their money on things like traveling or collecting special things. For me, it’s food. I love buying food and I’m not ashamed to say it. So I was determined to start exploring all the NYC vegan food scene had to offer. I tried mostly fast-causal spots and that’s still where I’m at, with the latest spots I’ve hit up being Hartbreakers in Bushwick, and Rip’s Malt Shop in Fort Greene, also in Brooklyn. I enjoyed those meals for my one-year vegan anniversary, along with a trip to Dunwell Donuts in Brooklyn for some delicious doughnuts. I’ve tried some scrumptious food and have been amazed at what is being done with vegan fare. It’s insane and innovative and I know I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait to see and experience so much more vegan goodness.
Pad Thai: Loving Hut
Planet Earth ice cream: Van Leeuwen
Dynamite fries: Hartbreakers
Fried Sprouts: Champs Diner
Doughnuts: Dunwell Donuts
French Toast: Champs Diner
Quinoa Taco salad: By CHLOE.
I Went Raw Vegan for a Week!
I also tried going raw for a week. I already knew I was doing my health a tremendous service by going vegan, but raw veganism was like the epitome of veganism, so I thought I’d try it out. It was a fun and interesting week for sure. You can read about how it went here on my blog. I definitely want to try it again and for much longer than my original challenge which was only a week long. I had planned to do another raw vegan challenge before 2018 was finished but it didn’t pan out that way. So maybe early in the year or right before I leave for my vegan food tour I’ll do it again.
I Went to Not One, but Two Vegan Food Festivals!
I also had the amazing opportunity to go to two vegan food festivals this summer. First, I went to Black Vegfest. This was awesome for two reasons: 1) It was my first ever vegan food festival and 2) It was the first ever Black Vegfest, so it was great to be able to take part in the first installment of what would no doubt become a staple festival for vegans but particularly Black vegans and vegans of color (myself falling into both categories). The food was great and I even met some awesome folks that I kept in contact with after the festival.
Next, I went to Vegandale — based on a real location in Toronto. Tons of vegan food vendors from all over the country and even the world. I went in with a specific goal in mind: get food that wasn’t local to New York City because I could try that anytime. I wanted to try some nationwide and global fare. So I hit up those vendors, trying food all the way from Switzerland, to Chicago, to Texas, to right next door in Jersey and more. It was so fun and exciting. I could barely eat all the food I got which I chronicled over on my Instagram page, but one of my Insta-pals gave me a heads up that I should bring some takeout containers with me so that’s what I did. But even then I didn’t have food for a week like I thought I would– a couple of days was more like it because I ate continuously for both days of the festival and thereafter. I have a big appetite okay? Not that I’m apologizing for it, because my grande appetite was extremely helpful when it came to trying to eat so much food in one day. Both festivals were satisfying to say the least– for my soul, my belly and my happiness. I was thrilled to have been able to attend two major festivals in the vegan world on my first year out. Kudos to me!
I Improved My Health Drastically, But Wasn’t Invincible.
My health improved so much after going vegan. The biggest change was in my nasal passages, which previously had been constantly blocked. Not so much like when you’re sick and badly congested, but definitely at a constant level– and I thought that was my “normal”. It wasn’t until I went vegan and more specifically I believe until I cut out dairy that my breathing passages fully opened up. I also lost weight and experienced a major decrease in the chronic headaches I once had and the colds I always used to get. Whether it was the elimination of animal derived foods or my increased intake of vitamin rich and nutritious whole foods that caused these changes, I am not sure– honestly, it was probably a combination of both. But either way, I’m certain that going vegan is the reason I feel and actually am so much healthier. But even with these major health improvements, I wasn’t invincible like I thought I was or would be after going vegan. I didn’t get sick for a long while after going vegan. I had a history of getting sick and catching colds very easily. I also went vegan in the beginning of winter. And I didn’t get sick at all that winter. The immediate rise in fruits and veggies likely did have something to do with that fateful, illness-free winter, haha. But eventually, I became human again and experienced colds and headaches. However, the fact that they came in so few and far between was still evidence enough for me that veganism was indeed my route to becoming a semi-superhero.
The Learning Continues and I’m Ready for Another Year!
After this first year I’ve learned so much about myself, my personal health, the food I eat, the products I buy and the impact that I have on those around me, the planet I live on and other living beings. Growing in perspective has been life-changing — like, it has literally changed my life. I don’t dislike or judge anyone who isn’t vegan because I was there just a year ago, but I do view life from a different perspective that I wish everyone could see life from. Still, I know that the world is purposely an ever-evolving place; one where change is indeed a constant. I’ve spoken to so many vegans who are amazed at how far vegan options have come and that gives me hope that this lifestyle and movement will continue to grow because as we all know, supply must meet demand. And if we keep demanding products that will lead to a world that is more cruelty-free and better for our health and the environment, we’ll keep getting more options that will help us achieve those things.
I love being vegan and although saying that I’ve been vegan for a year is still a little surreal knowing my history with food, I can’t wait until I am fully at peace with my own personal transformation and don’t have that surreal feeling any longer, knowing that change can also be a constant for every individual on this planet, myself included. And that even for me, someone who once, at times, ate bacon derived from pigs everyday and survived on so much unhealthy crap– starting a new life full of fresh, whole foods, and decadent, cruelty-free eats is completely possible. I’m so looking forward to year two, and three and four and beyond!