Eco-Friendly Menstrual Solutions– Period.

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve been wanting to write about my period for quite some time. The ups, the downs, and everything in-between. So, here it goes– my journey to trying to make my period more eco-friendly.

But, before I begin, I’ll start with a disclaimer:

I won’t cover absolutely everything about the history of my period in this post. Honestly, I could write an entire thesis on what I’ve been through with my cycle— but I will touch on most of the major stuff that’s happened in the past several years. I also included a random af but pretty encompassing summary in the last paragraph in case you don’t want to read an entire blog post about my menstrual cycle. Feel free to email me through this blog or message me on Instagram if you’d like more info about my period.

Whoa… that sounded kinda creepy, but you know what I mean 🙂

A (not so) Brief Period History.

I’ll start by acknowledging that all these issues may have been condensed into a smaller time-frame if it weren’t for my overall laziness and lack of taking immediate action whenever something happens with my health. For the most part, I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to this, but in the past, I was definitely the type to “wait and see what happens”, no matter what happened.

For years I had really heavy periods that slowly got progressively heavier, accompanied by really crappy pain — as in, picture really horrible cramps, then, turn the dial up another notch or two. I would go through overnight pads in a matter of hours — not overnight. When I finally did see a gynecologist, I ended up on birth control and was diagnosed with menorrhagia — a fancy name for bleeding waaay too much when you’re on your period. I was also informed that I had both ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids.

You can imagine how much fun I was having at this appointment.

Ovarian cysts are common among many child-bearing aged woman, but the fibroids— which are actually benign tumors (that also appear during child-bearing years), are way more common among African-American women. I have no idea why and I don’t think the medical community does either. But I digress.

In the land of birth control, all was well. I had really clear skin and much lighter periods. I had to set about 100 alarms to remind myself to take it at the same time everyday, but once I got the hang of that, it was all good. Or so I thought…

… One day a few years ago, around the time I started trying to take control of my health, I was on my period and I decided to look up the side effects of birth control. It was horrifying. Now, the internet has the power to make anyone think they’re dying for any reason, but the stuff I was reading just wasn’t sitting well with me, especially not at this point in my life and health journey. Something inside just told me that I didn’t wanna be on birth control anymore.

Also, at this point in the aforementioned journey, I’d already decided that if one takes control of their diet and lifestyle, they have more control over certain health issues than they may think. So, although I wasn’t vegan yet, I felt I could maybe deal with a heavy period sans medication. 

Not so coincidentally, at my next gyno visit, the results of my ultrasound showed something amazing: my fibroids had shrunk significantly and my cysts were now completely gone.

You may be thinking … “Wtf?” Or “that’s amazing!” Either one would be applicable and totally understandable.

I definitely believe that my changes in lifestyle and diet played a role in here somewhere— I ate horribly before getting healthy, and who knows what kinds of hormones and chemicals were affecting my poor uterus. But personally, I also believe in higher powers, so I gave a heartfelt shoutout to the universe on this miraculous occurrence as well. From there, I listened to my intuition and told my gyno I wanted off birth control for good. She obliged, but my heavy period journey was far from over.

No More Meds, and I Went Vegan… but the Heavy Bleeding Continued

As time went on, my periods were still heavy. I no longer experienced horrible cramps and pain as badly as I did before, but I was still going through pads more often than I felt I should. My thoughts were “oh crap, nothing has changed– what do I do now?” Even after going vegan, I didn’t notice immediate changes in my cycle.

Navigating period products has been an
interesting and thought-filled journey to say the least.*

Making My Period Eco-Friendly (and Later, Low-Waste)

Nonetheless, I started slowly trying to change everything I used for health, beauty and otherwise over to more eco-friendly options (hence the existence of this section of my blog). I think part of my thought process with my period products was that I really had to try everything I could think of to fix the heavy bleeding issue. If I had already changed my diet and was more physically active, I guess now I had to focus on the products I was using. I started buying eco-friendly pads and tampons around last winter. I was amazed to see that the price was the same as regular sanitary products– which frankly, contain stuff I do not want in my vagina. 

I felt content that I’d made an eco-friendly switch, but I wanted to do more. So, several months ago, as I was scrolling through vegan Instagram, I came across an ad for a free menstrual cup. I thought “this is it! This is my chance to try a menstrual cup!”

Using a menstrual cup was a great experience– although it wasn’t right for me, I’m happy I tried it.

I’d heard about the cup years ago when the famous Diva brand made the menstrual cup a household normality, but I had all sorts of reservations about using one— but still, I got the cup and tried it out on my next period. I chronicled the journey in my Instagram stories and highlights. The first cycle using it wasn’t too bad. Aside from the annoyance of getting used to putting the actual cup inside of me— and taking it out for that matter, when it was in place, it worked well. But sometimes it would move around, and that was a little uncomfortable.

Then, one day… it flipped. Both literally and figuratively.

The cup turned sideways inside of me. I was home when it happened which was a huge relief— I also had a pad on as a safety net. This very inconvenient occurrence shook me a bit. I envisioned every possible worse case scenario:

What if this had happened while I was on the train?

Or at work and on my feet?

Or I was nowhere near a bathroom?

What if I hadn’t been wearing a pad? (highly unlikely but still within the realm of possibility)

It freaked me out so much that I didn’t use the cup for the rest of that day. Or the rest of that cycle. I finished out that period with my eco-friendly pads and tampons. By the time my next cycle arrived, I tried the cup once more. I used it on my heaviest day, hoping for the best. But I could tell the spark was gone. I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. I used it for a few hours at most that day and that was the end of the cup and I’s short-lived relationship. I know there are tons of shapes and sizes available for menstrual cups, but I just didn’t feel enough motivation to try cup after cup.

However, this mishap contributed to zero discouragement in my period journey. I knew there was a chance I might not like the cup, and the fact that I got to try it for free calmed my nerves even more.

What was more concerning was wondering what my next step was. I really wanted to conquer having a low-waste, eco-friendly period; yes, I was using non-chemically treated, cotton products — but I felt like that just wasn’t enough, mainly because it was far from low-waste.

More time passed, and a page I follow on Instagram that makes reusable pads ended up having a huge flash sale.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern of me trying to acquire products for cheap and/or free? 😀

This was yet another option I’d been aware of, but had been waiting for the right time to try it. Or maybe more like, had been too lazy to getting around to try it? Either way, a 50% off flash sale definitely seemed like the right time.

Too cute for words. Some of my favorite reusable, cotton-based pads.

I was eager to see how the reusable pads would go over— I had a bunch of questions like: how would I store a soiled pad when I was in public and needed to change it? Were they truly absorbent? How long could I wear one before I had to change it? And so many more…

When they finally arrived, I was immediately obsessed. Mainly because I was in love with the prints! But I didn’t buy them to have cute pads… okay, having cute pads did factor in a bit, but the point was low-waste, eco-friendly periods… period.

Too Many Variables— but they Happened at the Right Time.

Now, I’ve gotta back track a bit, because this part is kinda crucial to the story. In May of this year, I turned 32. Why is that relevant? Well, as you may (or may not) know, as women get older, their periods will often get lighter. You may not (or may) notice drastically lighter periods overnight, but this is relevant for my story because as mentioned, I had a history of ridiculously heavy periods. But a couple of months before I turned 32, my periods were noticeably lighter. I couldn’t say with 100% certainty that it was only the age factor because there were just way too many variables:

  • I’d been eating about an 80% whole foods, plant-based diet for several months at this point (so very little processed foods and practically no mock meat at all… like, I stopped buying it completely)
  • I had become very physically active— I even took up running before I suffered an injury last winter.
  • I’d been vegan for a year and a half, so for all I knew, my body could have decided to just start adjusting to my new vegan lifestyle via my cycle (this one is actually very plausible because I know and have read stories from so many women who claim their periods got lighter after going vegan).

The entire paragraph above was written for the purpose of me saying this:

I don’t know if I would be as happy as I am with reusable pads if my period were still as heavy as it was in the past. But I love them now. They’re absorbent af and they work amazingly. So, my period journey has a happy ending. I’m still working out a few kinks like: changing and storing the reusables in public and washing and drying them as soon as possible, but overall they’re great. I’m thrilled that I found a low-waste solution for my period. I’m supplementing the use of the cotton pads with tampons, but cutting my waste in half makes me very proud, and I am constantly reminding myself that this is a baby-step journey, as it should be.

Here’s a Final Recap — or a Summary for the Slackers…

  1. Super heavy periods > Menorrhagia nightmare > birth control saved me, but the chemicals had to go > I started trying to find natural ways to lighten my period and eventually I ended up also trying to make my period more eco-friendly and low-waste.
  2. My first route was changing over to chemical-free, natural, cotton sanitary products > I felt great because I knew I was immediately eliminating placing chemicals inside my body, which I had apparently been doing for almost two decades— ew.
  3. Next, I focused on low-waste > I tried the menstrual cup and it was unsuccessful for me; there were too many grey areas.
  4. Then, I tried reusable pads and I loved them > I settled on a combo of the reusable pads and chemical-free, cotton tampons.

And that’s it! That’s my journey so far. Oh, and PS – full disclosure: I’m a visual person, so going in to change my pad and seeing a bloody Jaws kinda gives me a much needed chuckle when I have cramps and am bleeding from my uterus.

* Menstrual products image courtesy of Vanessa Ramirez via Pexels.com

Lazy Scalloped Potatoes

My recipes are meant to be simple and quick, so when I thought to myself: how can I make scalloped potatoes easier and vegan? this lil’ recipe came to mind. No baking, quick prep and process, and best of all, it tasted extremely decadent. I’ve raved about potatoes many times. They’re a really versatile food and they can be transformed into practically anything. I mean, you start out with a big, round and hard potato, and end up with golden, crisp and soft fries. What kind of magical sorcery is that? And fries are just one of the foods these babies can transform into… tater tots, pancakes, hash browns, I could go on and on, but I won’t because I’m getting hungry. Also, this recipes incorporates my super easy thick and cheezy sauce recipe, which I also use to make mac ‘n’ cheeze.

What You’ll Need:

For the Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (x3) plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)

For the Potato Dish:

  • 1 large potato
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp essential seasoning blend*
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
Seasoned potato slices all lined up and ready to go.

What to Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice the potato into thin slices ( I was able to yield about 20 slices from my potato –not potato chip thin, but thin).
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, olive oil and essential seasoning blend and toss until well mixed.
  4. Place potato slices evenly about 1/2 an inch apart on a large sheet tray lined with aluminum foil.
  5. Place tray of potatoes in oven for approximately 10-13 minutes, making sure not to burn them.
  6. While potatoes are cooking in the oven, start the cheeze sauce.
  7. Heat a medium to large sized skillet over low heat.
  8. Add butter and melt over low heat.
  9. Very slowly, begin to add the flour, about 1/3 of the whole 1/4 cup at a time; Use a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) to stir flour into the butter as you add it to the skillet. Stir continuously until all flour has been thoroughly mixed into butter and the entire 1/4 cup has been added.
  10. Reduce heat to a very low simmer– almost as low as you can get the flame without turning it off.
  11. Add the first 1/4 of almond milk and stir slowly into the roux until completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  12. Add the second 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step, stirring slowly until the milk is completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  13. Add the third 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step.
  14. The sauce will start to form now and should be nice and thick.
  15. Return the heat to low.
  16. Add the nutritional yeast and salt and stir into the cheeze sauce until fully blended. Continue stirring sauce for approximately 1 minute, then, remove from heat but keep the sauce in the skillet and on the stove burner.
  17. Remove potato slices from oven and let cool on the side while you finish prepping the sauce. Remove the aluminum foil with the potato slices from the sheet tray to cool faster or place the potato slices on a wire rack.
  18. You have two options here: 1) you can remove half the sauce from the skillet now and store it for later use**, or 2) you can follow the next step with all the cheeze sauce still inside the skillet, although this basic recipe yields more sauce than you will need for the amount of potatoes used***
  19. Add the spinach to the skillet and stir into the cheeze sauce until thoroughly mixed.
  20. Place the potato slices into the cheeze sauce and fold the potatoes into the sauce carefully so you don’t break the slices.
  21. Transfer cheezy potatoes to a serving dish and enjoy. Have fun with the toppings! I added jalapeño and a side of ketchup to mine 🙂

Date Posted on Instagram: 5/1/2019

* essential seasoning blend can be found here.

** transfer the excess sauce to an airtight container (preferably glass) and store it in the refrigerator; it will keep for several days but I don’t recommend saving it for more than 5 to 6 days. To reheat: place sauce in a skillet on low heat. Once heat start to melt the sauce, add about 1 to 3 tbsp. of plain, unsweetened almond milk (add the milk one tbsp at a time) to the skillet and stir the sauce with a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) continuously and slowly until sauce becomes “saucy” again. This should return the sauce to it’s thick consistency, but you can add more milk if you want to thin it out even more.
*** so really, you have 3 options. You can also bake more potato slices using another large potato if you want to use all the cheeze sauce in one sitting.

Super Thick & Cheezy Mac ‘n’ Cheeze

I love mac ‘n’ cheeze. I’ve decided that I would try my hardest in life to avoid any stereotypes about anyone, even the seemingly harmless ones (but, I’m not perfect, so don’t “@” me!). And so, I wasn’t gonna say that I’m pretty much obligated to like this side dish staple because I’m Black– but heck, it’s kinda true. I don’t know a single Black person that doesn’t like mac ‘n’ cheese. But there is one thing that most Black people frown upon in the sacred world of this classic food, and I’ve ventured into that territory with this recipe. Out of a box, stove top mac is a no-no. In fact, it’s almost sacrilege. But, when I can up with this cheeze sauce recipe, I knew I was on to something. Sure, it doesn’t have that baked in the oven taste exactly. And sure, it’s not made with real cheese, or even a vegan cheese substitute. And sure, I threw a bunch of seasonings in the recipe that are not at all reminiscent of traditional African-American mac ‘n’ cheese recipes– okay, I see I’m not really making a strong, positive case for my mac. But regardless, when I tried it, I felt like it tasted like something my family would prefer if they had to have the mac ‘n’ cheese made on the stove in like 15 minutes, instead of baked in the oven. Not only that, I made this with all my fellow humans of all ethnicities and cultures in mind, because who doesn’t love a thick and cheezy sauce? There are a lot of vegan cheeze sauce recipes out there, but mine differs in that the goal is for it to be a thick sauce from the start. It’s best when used right away, in it’s thick form. You’re more than welcome to thin it out by adding more almond milk to the mixture, but that defeats the purpose of this being a “super thick and cheezy” mac ‘n’ cheeze — and I know the point of my recipes is to “make them your own”, but I really like this recipe title, so pretty please keep this sauce thick af.

What You’ll Need:

For the Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (x3) plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)

For the Noods and Mac ‘n’ Cheeze Dish:

  • 4-7 cups cooked small pasta shells*
  • Crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • dried parsley (to taste)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)

What to Do:

  1. Prepare noodles (boil water, add noodles, return to a rolling boil uncovered. Use approximately 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry pasta shells. Drain shells from boiling water and run cold water over pasta shells for approximately 10 seconds. Drain again).
  2. Place noodles in a large mixing bowl and set aside someplace near the stove to keep them warm.
  3. Heat a medium to large sized skillet over low heat.
  4. Add butter and melt over low heat.
  5. Very slowly, begin to add the flour, about 1/3 of the whole 1/4 cup at a time; Use a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) to stir flour into the butter as you add it to the skillet. Stir continuously until all flour has been thoroughly mixed into butter and the entire 1/4 cup has been added.**
  6. Reduce heat to a very low simmer– as low as you can get the flame without turning it off.
  7. Add the first 1/4 of almond milk and stir slowly into the roux until completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  8. Add the second 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step, stirring slowly until the milk is completely mixed-in to the mixture.
  9. Add the third 1/4 cup of almond milk and repeat the above step.
  10. The sauce will start to form now and should be nice and thick.
  11. Return the heat to low.
  12. Add the nutritional yeast and salt and stir into the cheeze sauce until fully blended. Continue stirring sauce for approximately 1 minute, then, remove from heat.***
  13. Add sauce to the bowl of noodles and stir until cheeze sauce is well blended into noodles.
  14. Transfer some of the mac ‘n’ cheeze to a serving dish and garnish with seasonings to taste.

Date Posted on Instagram: 4/28/2019

* 4 cups will yield a ridiculously cheezy mac, and 7 cups will still be very cheezy but maybe more manageable. You can also use any pasta shape or type you’d like, but I don’t know if the “cheeziness” ratio will change. Most likely, it won’t, but try it out on any pasta you want and play around with the amount of pasta that works for the sauce based on your preference.

** This flour and butter mixture is known as a roux, and it’s the basis for many sauces — particularly in French cuisine (which has a lot of sauce-based dishes), but nowadays, in any cuisine.

*** If you don’t use all the sauce, transfer the remaining sauce to an airtight container (preferably glass) and store it in the refrigerator; it will keep for several days but I don’t recommend saving it for more than 5 to 6 days. To reheat: place sauce in a skillet on low heat. Once heat start to melt the sauce, add about 1 to 3 tbsp. of plain, unsweetened almond milk (add the milk one tbsp at a time) to the skillet and stir the sauce with a flat utensil (preferably wooden or silicone) continuously and slowly until sauce becomes “saucy” again. This should return the sauce to it’s thick consistency, but you can add more milk if you want to thin it out even more.

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Best New Vegan Food Blogger? That Could be me!

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!

Follow me on Instagram at “thevegangirlnyc” and follow One Bite Vegan at “one_bite_vegan”.

I would love and appreciate it so much if you could go vote for me in that category! To vote, simply go here:

https://onebitevegan.com/one-bite-vegan-food-blogger-awards-2019/

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!

This beautiful new Vitamix (valued at over $500!) could be all yours— so go vote for me noooow!

Why I Ditched Chocolate (sort of)

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.

Huge, decadent and delicious vegan chocolate muffin — my first 100% vegan treat when I began my path toward veganism.

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.

Screenshot of the Chocolate List app for iOS, created by the Food Empowerment Project.

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”.

Chocolate is a sweet treat that most of us enjoy — but at what cost?

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.

What’s the Deal With Fast Fashion

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.


We have to take care of the planet we live on — that includes trying to minimize pollution in all forms.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
Why not have some fun and try your hand at making your own clothing?

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:

https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/ethical-workwear-for-women

References:

  1. https://borgenproject.org/facts-about-workers-rights-in-china/ and https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/employment-law/the-labor-rights-in-bangladesh-employment-law-essay.php
  2. https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/video/collapse-at-rana-plaza
  3. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/06/04/forever-21-h-m-zara-mohair-peta-animal-abuse/669487002/
  4. https://www.newsweek.com/2016/09/09/old-clothes-fashion-waste-crisis-494824.html
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/water-scarcity-fashion-industry

Images:

  1. Bangladeshi people protesting image courtesy of Getty images.
  2. Earth image courtesy of pixabay via Pexels.com.

Intersectional Veganism and Why it’s Important

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Instagram screenshot courtesy of vegan community via veggie_kittyy

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