The Sistah Vegan Project

Sistah Vegan Anthology

 

Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society (Lantern Books 2010) explores food politics, identity, sexuality, health, womanism, feminism, decolonization, anti-racism, eco-sustainability, and animal rights through the lens of the black female vegan experience in the USA.

It is the first volume of its kind to address the racial and gender vegan experience in the USA.

 

Click on Book to purchase a signed copy

Sistah Vegan Project is centered around the lives of black female vegans. Going beyond ‘just veganism’,  this project focuses on veganism as well as other holistic health practices… and intersections of race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, etc. 

 

What it’s all about

 

Nourishing our bodies, minds, and spirits at all levels— but from a philosophy that is driven by veganism, human rights, non-human animal rights, compassion for all, alternative ways to combat health disparities and eco-sustainable practices. 

Think black feminism, meets whole foods veganism, meets eco-sustainable philosophy meets anti-racist philosophy meets decolonial theory meets health and nutrition activism. 

Influence & Background of the Project Idea:

During  one evening in summer of 2005, I trudged through the latest discussion boards on BlackPlanet.com and found a discussion forum that centered on a controversial ad that PETA had created.

As I read the content of the forum, I learned that the NAACP had been pushing to censor a PETA ad because of the ‚offensive‚ content they felt it contained.  Within seconds, I had found the PETA site and began to watch this “offensive” campaign video advertisement.  It appears that PETA was trying to be captivating and induce “critical consciousness” engagement in viewers to question their own normative practices. This, of course is my interpretation of the set of images.

 

My eyes stayed glued onto the usage of images of human suffering juxtaposed to animal suffering: A painting of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears positioned next to a photo of herds of non-human animals being led to their demise; the atrocity of a Black man’s lynched and burned body next to a picture of an animal that had been burned; a black and white Jewish Holocaust photo next to animals in confined crammed structures on a meat production farm. As I watched, I realized that most images were of Blacks, drawn from America’s sordid past of African American slavery and Jim Crow.

 

I navigated my web browser back to the BlackPlanet.com forum, and read all the contributions from the PETA forum discussion. 28 Black-identified people had voiced their opinion about the ad. Curiously, out of 28, only 1 participant agreed with intention of what PETA was trying to achieve with the new campaign ad. Everyone else had the consensus that PETA was an organization filled with “White racists who think that Blacks are on the “same level as animals.”

 

Because of my background in having read literature about the connections human rights has to non-human animal right (Dreaded Comparison by Marjorie Spiegel, Eternal Treblinka, by Charles Patterson), I understood that PETA’s intention was not to equate black slavery to non-human animals in a derogatory manner. Within the context of Spiegel and Patterson‚s work, I analyzed PETA as implying that the exploitation and torture of non-human animals comes from the same master/oppressor ideology that has created atrocities like African Slavery, Native American genocide and the Jewish Holocaust. Marjorie Spiegel, author of The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, notes:

“Comparing the suffering of animals to that of blacks (or any other oppressed group) is offensive only to the speciesist: one who has embraced the false notions of what animals are like. Those who are offended by comparison to a fellow sufferer have unquestioningly accepted the biased worldview presented by the masters. To deny our similarities to animals is to deny and undermine out own power. It is to continue actively struggling to prove to our masters, past or present, that we are similar to those who have abused us, rather than to our fellow victims, those whom our masters have also victimized.

This is not intended to oversimplify matters and to imply that the oppressions experienced by blacks and animals have taken identical forms- but, as divergent as the cruelties and the supporting systems of oppression may be, there are commonalities between them. They share the same basic relationship- that between oppressor and oppressed.” 4

When I looked at the profile of the one participant who supported PETA’s ad, I realized that she identified as a Black lesbian. My first question: Do women of color who are marginalized within their community sympathize with ethical eating more frequently then those minorities who are not marginalized? Are the responses from the BlackPlanet forum members representative of how most Blacks in America view PETA?  Are there less culturally offensive educational models that communicate veganism and animal rights to Black Americans?

However, it has been over two years since I have posed these questions. I have been thinking more in depth about this and have raised more questions about the Westernized (mostly White) middle-class foundations of mainstream veganism and ethical eating philosophy that have been birthed in the U.S.A. I have begun to re-examine the mainstream U.S. veganism, alternative health and healing, and eco-sustainability movements from a black feminist, decolonial, and Critical Race Theory perspective:

How are black female vegans using veganism and other holistic health practices to decolonize their bodies and engage in health activism that resists institutionalized and systemic racism?

Dr. Rachel Slocum asks, ” What racial geography does whiteness in community food produce? How does community food politics create a racialized landscape or inscribe race into the food system and alternative food systems [such as veganism] ?” 6  For the Sistah Vegan Project, what does this mean for Black identified female vegans?

How does white racialized consciousness shape mainstream veganism as a concept and practice? What does this mean for Black identified females? :

♣ For example, depictions of bodies on vegetarian/vegan food advertisements, within the USA, are mostly white and thin showing an underlying theme of veganism equals whiteness which equals perfect vegetarian/vegan thin body “. How does this affect Black females’ willingness to explore vegetarianism/veganism when the full size body is typically accepted as healthy and beautiful in the Black Community?

♣ How does lack of acknowledgment of white racialized consciousness, within the mainstream Vegan AR and Dietary movement, affect the experiences of Black female vegans?

♣ As indicated in the BlackPlanet.com forum, is it that most Black Americans do not want to embrace Westernized middle-class based ethical eating philosophy because they “do not care,” or is it that they perceive it as only being part of Systemic Whiteness and classism? Systems which have historically betrayed them and ridiculed/invalidated their, values, speech-patterns and dietary beliefs as being “inferior” and “imperfect” .  For example:”

o There have been the rare occasions in which I have witnessed animal rights vegans convey what I perceive as prejudiced beliefs towards certain groups of non-white human beings. Such an interesting case can be found here on my Sistah Vegan Community Forum that sites this example: http://breezeharper.tripod.com/sistahveganblog/index.blog?topic_id=1062287

o If a majority of Blacks have a negative perception of Whiteness , because of racism/classism that they have experienced for 400 years, and they have come to believe that veganism or ethical eating philosophy is a “White thing” and in no way connected to deconstructing systemic racism/classism, how can one create and present a model that presents veg-[etari]anism as a tool that simultaneously resists 1) legacies of slavery such as institutionalized racism/classism 2) environmental degradation and 3) high rates of health dis-eases plaguing the Black community?

Alka Chandna, a woman of color from Canada and a research associate with PETA wrote a commentary about NAACP’s reaction to the advertisement. She reflected on acts of racism that were directed towards her family’s house. One of her recollections is of eggs being thrown at their house because her family was not welcomed there. However, she is perplexed by the NAACP attacks on the PETA campaign:

“Here in the United States, the NAACP and others are now painting animal rights activists as white racists in order to marginalize and dismiss us. I can’t help but think that this sort of “analysis” that persists in painting our movement with a broad brush is the same disparagement that people engage in when the truth makes them uncomfortable. Racists dismissed Martin Luther King as a womanizer. Colonists dismissed Gandhi as a short brown man in a loincloth. Sexists dismiss feminists as ugly, angry women.

Yet many people of color work every day to change attitudes toward animals. My own beliefs, and those of many of my colleagues, sprang from an understanding of right versus wrong. It is not racism that inspires us, but justice. I ask other people of color who have had eggs thrown at their windows or experienced other forms of racism to stop condemning for a moment and to consider that what they are now saying about animals- that animals are lesser beings whose suffering can be dismissed- was once said about them and was used as an excuse to keep them in bondage [Intentionally emphasized].

It is Dr. Chandna’s last sentence that also intrigues me and is one of the many focal points of the Sistah Vegan anthology project. I hope that the Sistah Vegan  anthology will be an effective literary model for teaching alternative health and anti-racist strategies that benefit personal health, the environment/ecology while simultaneously resisting institutionalized racism, environmental pollution, and other effects of colonialism.

 

Why the Sistah Vegan Project Only Requests Black Identified Female Voices

 

I can honestly say that my transition into veganism was not a sudden “overnight decision.” It initially evolved from my childhood experiences with institutionalized racism, heterosexism, and sexism. Many people who have transitioned into veganism reference animal rights as the most important reason for their initial transition. I honor all life and respect and practice compassion and Ahimsa based philosophy for human as well as non-human animals. However, experiencing life as a “working class non-heterosexual Black identified female” led me to eventually practicing Ahimsa based veganism from a different point of entry that didn’t initially involve animal rights as the catalyst to my “awakening.”

When I was 12 and entered the halls of Lyman Memorial Junior High School during the first day of 7th grade, the first greeting I heard was, “Look at that skinny little nigger. Run skinny little nigger, run.” From this point on in my consciousness, I became very aware of my historically and socially constructed position in USA through the unique fusion of black and girl; racially socialized and gendered through Euro-Anglo centric heteropatriarchal and capitalistic based society.

Several years later, I began engaging in readings to understand the roots of these types of oppressive acts I encountered throughout high school and college. I moved into Black Feminist writers such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins, then expanded into Ahimsa based philosophy by authors such as Jiddu Krishnamurti.

What truly MOVED ME into practicing veganism was reading about Dick Gregory (in Doris Witt’s Black Hunger ) and seeing the connections he made to institutionalized racism/classism/sexism, Black liberation, Black community “health crisis” and dietary beliefs/practice. Dick Gregory, in Black Hunger, notes:

I have experienced personally over the past few years how a purity of diet and thought are interrelated. And when Americans become truly concerned with the purity of the food that enters their own personal systems, when they learn to eat properly, we can expect to see profound changes effected in the social and political system of this nation. The two systems are inseparable

I personally would say that the quickest way to wipe out a group of people is to put them on a soul food diet. One of the tragedies is that the very folks in the black community who are most sophisticated in terms of the political realities in this country are nonetheless advocates of “soul food.” They will lay down a heavy rap on genocide in America with regard to black folks, then walk into a soul food restaurant and help the genocide along. 7

While being introduced to Dick Gregory’s philosophies, I had also been reading Queen Afua, a raw foodist who advocates womb health and harmony through veganism.  It was with the help of these two crucial thinkers that I finally saw the interconnectedness to my own  “out of harmony reproductive health” (I had been diagnosed with a uterine fibroid and was seeking non-Western medicine to address it) as a symptom of structural racism, sexism, non-human animal exploitation (which I would later learn as “Speciesism”), etc. Immediately, I made the transition into Ahimsa based veganism.

After that introduction to Queen Afua and Dick Gregory, literature such as Dreaded Comparison:Human and Animal Slavery by Marjorie Spiegel and Eternal Treblinka:Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust by Charles Patterson further expanded my understanding of the roots of systematic racism, nationalism and sexism as well as my more mindful awareness of the mistreatment of non-human animals and the planet’s natural resources. Eventually, since the start of my path (that first day of 7th grade) I made the connections that institutionalized oppression and consumption had to what it means to be “socially constructed” as a “black female” in a society that is still battling through legacies of slavery. It is this type of unique experience- the social implications and historical context of being both black and female in neocolonialistic global society- that has led me to request voices from females of the African Diaspora.

 

What the Sistah Vegans are Fighting Against

When I do research about health on the Harvard online library catalog, I am inundated with a plethora of articles that continue to depict how horrible the state of health is among the Black female population; that we continue to eat too much junk food and not enough fruits and vegetables; that we are addicted to the point of killing ourselves through junk food and soul food. Articles and essays paint a grim picture: that Black females do not know how to combat these health disparities or do we? This book anthology will be a collection of narratives, poetry, critical essay and reflections of a very powerful group of Black females who have engaged in resisting the popular culture of American junk food and flesh food diets. These females decolonize their bodies and minds via whole foods veganism and/or raw foodism, resist becoming a statistic by kicking the junk food habit, question the soulfulness of mainstream soul food and have eliminated flesh food products from their diet.

Sistah Vegans are an example of Black females who resist and/or combat the systemic oppression that has manifested as diabetes, uterine fibroids, obesity, depression, environmental pollution, inhumane treatment of non-human animals, etc. Upon reading the submitted materials for this anthology, I have found that Sistah Vegans collectively know that understanding optimal health (for themselves and the planet) and liberation must be achieved through a) decolonization of the diet b) careful scrutiny of mainstream Westernized-industrialized based food and health industry and/or c) embracing the food, nutrition and healing systems that have a more Afrikan and Afro-centric basis to them.

Sistah Vegan Project is not about preaching veganism. It is about looking at how a specific group of Black females are practicing radical dietary and healing philosophies. How do these Sistah Vegan anthology pieces contribute to a broader understanding of health, food, and global activism? How can the project add more diversity and understanding to research in public health, health policy, health education curriculum development, anti-racism model building, animal rights philosophy, food studies, whiteness studies, Women’s Studies, and African  Diasporic studies?

I hope that Sistah Vegan will be a “critical consciousness” inducing source for all people who have a sincere motivation in ending human suffering by actively questioning their dietary habits and the connection food production has to either deconstructing or maintaining, environmental racism, homophobia, racism, sexism, ecological devastation, classism, war, etc.

 

 

Endnotes

 

[1]  Whiteness is a social location of power, privilege, and prestige. It is a an invisible package of unearned assets. As an epistemological stance, it sometimes is an exercise in denial. Whiteness is an identity, a culture, and an often colonizing way of life that is largely invisible to Whites, though rarely to people of color. Whiteness also carries the authority within the larger culture it dominates to set the terms on which every aspect of race is discussed and understood. Whiteness thus is many-faceted and pervasive. [Systemic Whiteness] lies at the center of the problem of race in this society. Quoted from Barbara J. Flagg, Foreword: Whiteness as Metaprivilege, Washington University Journal of Law and Policy 1-11 (2005)

 

[2] Speciesism: a belief that different species of animals are significantly different from one another in their capacities to feel pleasure and pain and live an autonomous existence, usually involving the idea that one[2]s own species has the right to rule and use other. (From Spiegel, Marjorie. The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. New York: NY. Mirror Books. )

 

[3] Speciesism: a belief that different species of animals are significantly different from one another in their capacities to feel pleasure and pain and live an autonomous existence, usually involving the idea that one[3]s own species has the right to rule and use other. (From Spiegel, Marjorie. The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. New York: NY. Mirror Books. )

 

[4] Spiegel, Marjorie. The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery. New York: NY. Mirror Books. 1996. pages 27, 28 and 30.

 

[5] Ethical eating is the manifestation of one’s belief of moral justice through a dietary practice that causes the least amount of ecological and social suffering. For example, purchasing equal exchange coffee instead of regular coffee because it directly supports anti-poverty among Third World coffee growers is a form of ethical eating. Organic and fair-trade food consumption, eating free range organic chicken,  as well as veganism are types of “ethical eating.

 

[6] This phrasing of my interests in regards to Whiteness, food and geography comes from Rachel Slocum PhD. http://www.rslocum.com/

 

[7]Witt, Doris. Black Hunger: Soul Food and America. Minneapolis, MN. University of Minnesota Press. 2004. Pages 133-134.

 

28 thoughts on “Sistah Vegan Anthology

  1. Pingback: Call for Papers: “critical perspectives and arts coming from a black male vegan consciousness” | Our Hen House

  2. A lifestyle change. No meat. Big hair chop. Newly single mother. There were traumatic life events that propelled me to create these lifestyle change and finally decide to work on loving ME for me!

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  4. Dear Ms. Harper,

    I hope that this message finds you in good spirits. My name is Gerardo Tristan. First off, I want to congratulate you on your book and your other work on “The Sistah Vegan Project.” I read your blog and am enjoying it a great deal. I want to share this project with you: http://justicewithoutboundaries.com/

    We’re still looking for more team members to do training and presentations, and we have an opening on our Food/Research Unit in case you or someone you know is interested and might be a good fit. If so, I’d be very happy to answer any questions regarding the tour, and will accept queries about joining the team.

    I look forward to hear from you Breeze!

    –Gerardo Tristan

  5. I’ll right away snatch your rss as I can’t find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please let me realize so that I may subscribe. Thanks.

  6. You Rock!:) I’m working on starting up a meet up group for vegan mama’s in my community. I have a 14month old baby boy who is vegan and I it’s been so hard because sometimes I get paranoid about his weight and worry he’s not getting enough. But then I check myself because I realize it’s my old meat eating diet beliefs coming back to hunt me. I’ve only been vegan for three years ( my hubby for 28 yrs.) and I’m just now realizing I have to be mindful of non-gmo products so it’s every time I think I know what I’m doing then I find out I need to learn more. I feel like I’m kind of in a vegan rut not sure what I need to change at this point. Sometimes I feel stuck or confused. Not sure how I’m going to inspire others when I’m feeling a bit uninspired lately. Sorry this is so all over the map it’s late. Anyway maybe you have some advice for me! okay keep doing what your doing! thank you:) April:)
    P.S I’m familiar with a lot of the ingredients (mom use to sell sprualina in the 80’s) you use but I can’t afford them all at times
    what are some cheaper versions?

  7. You Rock!! Been admiring your blogs from a far. So though I would just leave a comment for a change. Need some advice I’m raising a vegan baby boy 14months old and kind of stuck in a vegan rut. I’ve been vegan for three years (hubby’s been for 28years). Sometimes I worry about his weight but it may just be paranoia and my old meat/dairy eating beliefs coming back to hunt me. He is still somewhat bald and I’m starting to freak out a bit. Where is his hair??? like what is he not getting?? I may just be me tripping. I’m trying to set up a meet up group for vegan ( also a singer/songwriter/x-cosmetologist) vegan mama’s but not really feeling as inspired these days! Also just realized I have to be more mindful of non-gmo foods which feels like a set back and has made my grocery bill go through the roof. Any suggestions? I’m very aware of some of the ingredients you use but they can be very costly on a regular basis any alternatives? (mom use to sling sprulina in the 80’s) Okay thanks for your blogs and keep doing what your doing! Amazing stuff here! Hope to hear back and I’m also on word press with a blog I’ve been neglecting somewhat but only because I’m in the mommy hood. excuses excuse i know:)

    April:)

  8. Hey Breeze, thanks so much for getting back to me! Sorry it took me so long to get back to you I didn’t see your reply until today! dah… Anyway I’m just uninspired at times because people are so negative about being Vegan. I find they show interest in it just so they can pick and poke at it later on. It’s not really because their planning on making it a lifestyle. But I’m feeling better about lately. My son is about 21 or 22 lbs I’ll find out this Thurs. at his doctors well care check. Yeah I didn’t think so on the Spirulina.

  9. April on said:

    Oh he’s 15 months now. But I think I may just be overreacting a bit. He’s my first child and the non-vegan babies just look so chubby compared to him so it makes me trip out a bit. He’s also been eating a bit less so I just start thinking something is wrong. I’ve only been vegan for three years so and it was hard for me before I had a baby. I can eat more casual but for him everything has to be more planned out.

    • All babies are different. Don’t panic. Has nothing to do with being vegan or omnivorous. As long as you and he are eating a holistic diet, he should be getting everything he needs. Do you have a high fat or does he? I give my kids avocado and I make homemade hempseed ice cream. High in fat, protein, and minerals. Lots of calories. I blend hempseed, water, and banana and dates and throw it in the ice cream machine.

  10. April Todd-Welsh on said:

    Okay thanks for reassuring me! I drive my husband crazy all the time because I worry about it often. He gets avocado a lot but I probably just need to get more creative like that. Hempseed ice cream sounds really good. I’ll have to try that some time think i can borrow my moms ice cream maker. Thanks so much just took down the recipe!

  11. Charlette Duckett on said:

    I feel elated that I found your site. A woman of color, who has chosen the vegan lifestyle. I have been vegan on and off for 12 years. In the past I ate a lot of fake meat created from soy products. I was never fully committed to the idea of eating food that was made to look and taste like meat. I wanted to enjoy the true taste of vegetables in their natural state. So I started eating a raw food diet. No animal products and no grains. 90% of what I eat is live. I grow a lot of my own vegetables (last night I ate some collard greens from my pea patch) and have raspberries growing in my front yard. Most people agree with the live food part of my lifestyle, but tend to roll their eyes at my vegan choices. I think they believe in the philosophy, but question their ability to execute the limitations of a vegan diet. I have systemic lupus and as a result my dietary needs differ from most of my peers. Even with the added conditions of my disease, I believe my vegan lifestyle has improved my physical, psychological and mental health. Thank you for opening up a forum for sistah’s like us.

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  13. Nikki Spigner on said:

    Hi, I have passed on the ABC/Awesome Blog Content Award to you. No pressure to accept, I’d just like you to know that I enjoy your blog! If you would like to accept and pass it on, see the post here:

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  14. Pingback: Die Sistah Vegan Anthologie 2010, wir stellen das Projekt vor | Nice Swine

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  18. just a reader on said:

    “This is not intended to oversimplify matters and to imply that the oppressions experienced by blacks and animals have taken identical forms- but, as divergent as the cruelties and the supporting systems of oppression may be, there are commonalities between them. ”

    I know a few white anti-speciesists who oversimplify it in the other direction – going all “EQUAL rights” this and “EQUALity” that while saying nothing about segregation in schools, juries, etc. or even going

    It makes me wonder, if they think it’s equal instead of anti-speciesist when schools don’t welcome both non-human and human children, and truancy laws don’t let both human and non-human parents off the hook…

    …do they think it was equal instead of racist when schools didn’t welcome both black and white children, and truancy laws didn’t let both white and black parents off the hook? Have they just dismissed all the ways racists do racism that aren’t identical to raising cattle and hunting game? :(

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  20. Pingback: Call for Papers: “critical perspectives and arts coming from a black male vegan consciousness” | Our Hen House

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  24. Yes. There is hope. Though America still has ways to go on racism and sexism, speciesism is a relatively new concept that — especially here in the deep south — is having a hard time gaining traction. I had no idea of the racial implication of being vegan (being “a white thing,” my being a skinny white girl). As I have many brown-skinned friends in my part, I will try to keep sensitive to that. I have insisted that oppression is oppression, whether it’s man-on-man or man-on-animal. No difference. There is no other animal on the planet that I know of that “oppresses,” save what may happen before a meal is killed. Factory-farming is more akin to Auschwitz than to subsistence hunting, in my mind. These animals who have no voice also have no say in the matter.

    Thank you for what you do and for your inspiration! I look forward to reading more of your blog as time permits. I enjoyed the anthology read to be sure. Came over from Meaty Vegan. Cheers, Sistah.

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