The Sistah Vegan Project

Archive for the category “Farming”

Watching Slaughterhouse vs. Strawberry Harvest Videos: How Plant Harvesting is Often Romanticized as Cruelty-Free

I was on one of my FB sites dedicated to anti-speciesism. Someone posted this photo below.


Source: Facebook

I do understand why they posted this.  But…

…I felt compelled to mention that strawberry harvesting, though not nearly as visually ‘gruesome’ and as directly ‘cruel’ as slaughtering non-human animals, does not mean that the harvesting of strawberries is cruelty-free (as applied to those of us who buy strawberries vs. those of us who have the ‘privilege’ of growing our own to pick). Thousands of human laborers, mostly brown people from what is considered Latin America, harvest strawberries (and many other vegetables and fruits) in cruel conditions. Being sprayed with pesticides, not having access to clean water and toilets, working for poverty level wages, etc are what a significant number of what these folk must go through. I don’t mean to throw a wrench in this image and text’s meanings, but I really think this is something I often see being elided within talks about how one’s conscious is more ‘clean’ by eating vegan diets of fruits and veggies in North America. Once again, I am not saying or equating the slaughter of non-human animals as the SAME as exploited and abused human farm laborers; both practices are disgusting and cause a lot of pain and suffering. However, I just want to point out that the former (non human animal slaughter) is always made visible amongst the vegan mainstream in the USA, while the latter (harvesting strawberries or other plants for human consumption under horrible and insufferable conditions) is painted as something one need not think deeply about [since non-human animals weren't directly harmed].

Here is a book that can help us think more about not getting swept up in what looks like an ‘easy’ binary to make. The cover has a laborer picking strawberries. Click on the title to learn more:

The Food Empowerment Project, a pro-vegan organization, also advocates more awareness around the human cruelty endured by farm laborers.   Lauren Ornelas, ED of the Food Empowerment Project,  discusses these issues in this video below:

Enjoy this article? See what Dr. Harper is doing for her next book project and how you help fund it. Click below.


Romanticization of picking your own strawberries: How I came full circle with agricultural labor and black rural identity

I drove through Gaviota, CA last recently with the kids. We stopped at Classic Organic farm and picked our own strawberries and raspberries. In this video I talk about how picking your own fruit is not always a ‘fun’ hobby, depending on how your grew up (for example, if you are working as a harvester under poor conditions).

bell hooks on black farmers and racial politics

Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks.

I just finished bell hooks’s book, Belonging: A Culture of Place. It was released in October 2008. It is her reflection on black farmers in Kentucky, intersections of race and class, and how uneven power relations and white racism contributed to the loss of black farming land. One of the most important premises of this book is the connection between black self-recovery and ecology, with issues around land and land ownership. As a Black American, she wants to set the record straight: black folks past and present are committed to local food production and organic living; however, the mainstream organic and ecosustainable movement makes it appear that black folks have never known how to live sustainably, appreciate nature, or eat healthy. hooks wrote her book while residing in her home state of Kentucky, contemplating deeply on the politics of regionalism and class, and remembering how she received a rude awakening when she arrived at Stanford University for her undergraduate education. She was met with ridicule from peers who had never met people from Kentucky- but only had stereotypes in mind.
Throughout the book, hooks continuously focused on how place shaped her identity and her relationship to the natural world. Being raised in rural Kentucky during Jim Crow era, she never knew that being “rural” and from the South had a negative connotation, until she met her peers at Stanford University. Experiencing her childhood in the rural hills, she writes, “What we had learned in the hills was how to care for ourselves by growing crops, raising animals, living deep in the earth. What we had learned in the hills was how to be self-reliant” (hooks 2008: 8). She continues to explain that this self-reliance was vital in an era in which a white supremacist Jim Crow state did not care for Black Americans. Ultimately, she reflects on how Black Americans in her community could feel powerful, knowing that nature will always be more powerful than the white supremacist system that had institutionalized racial segregation.
What is a culture of belonging? hooks refers to Carol Lee Fliners’s definition: “an intimate connection with the land to which one belongs, empathic relationship to animals, self-restraint, custodial conservation, deliberateness, balance, expressiveness, generosity, egalitarianism, mutuality, affinity for alternative modes of knowing, playfulness, inclusiveness, nonviolent conflict resolution, and openness to spirit” (hooks 2008: 13).
One of the most moving parts of the book is when hooks reflects on how a significant number of Black Americans in the USA fear rural nature, often equating it with “white racist hillbillies” they perceive as wanting to harm black people.  She recalls a conversation she had with her sister, who lives in an urban neighborhood. When telling her sister that she is buying a home in a rural Kentucky, her sister is fearful for bell’s life, asking her if she is afraid of being attacked. hooks felt this was a strange question, particularly since her sister lived in an urban area in which crime and violence were more likely to occur than where bell’s new home would be located.
Her sister, like many Black Americans who were living in the south, migrated north during Jim Crow and left behind a rich agrarian past to pursue “freedom” within urban areas. However, when they arrived to the northern cities of the USA, they were startled to find that it was nearly impossible to purchase land. Losing ownership of land meant that most lost their traditional ways to healthy home grown food, along with the physical exercise it took to produce one’s own foods. She writes, “certainly it must have been a profound blow to the collective psyche of black people to find themselves struggling to make a living in the industrial north away from land. Industrial capitalism was not simply changing the nature of black work life, it altered the communal practices that were so central to survival in the agrarian south. And it fundamentally altered black people’s relationship to the body…Without the space to grow food, to commune with nature, or to mediate the starkness of poverty with the splendor of nature, black people experienced profound depression.” (hooks 2008: 37-38). It is within the context of this unique history that hooks proposes a collective black self-recovery that is intertwined with the current USA ecological sustainable movement. Ultimately, she feels that healing from racism and exploitative practices of industrial capitalism can only take place if Black Americans can reclaim the philosophies of their agrarian past. She writes, “healing begins with self-determination in relation to the body that is the earth and the body that is our flesh. Most black people live in ways that threaten to shorten our life, eating fast foods, suffering from illnesses that could be prevented with proper nutrition and exercise” (hooks 2008: 47).
However, there are two major weakness of this book, and it’s most likely the fault of the press, Routledge. There are very many typos in this book and I was surprised that such a prominent academic publishing company would let this book go to print with so many obvious typos in it. Second, there are no citations of any kind for the numerous quotes that hooks uses in her text. I found this disappointing, simply because I wanted to read many of the texts she was using quotes from.
Overall, this book was very enjoyable, as there really isn’t much being written about black identity, agrarian roots, and racial politics. hooks’s book adds this gap within an eco-sustainable movement that needs more ethnically diverse histories brought to the table.

hooks, bell. (2008). Belonging : a culture of place. New York, Routledge.

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