I speak about the tweet that Vegan Revolution sent out that dismissed the relevancy of Black Lives Matters in terms of the importance of non-human animal lives. I also talk about the Sacramento Hip Hop Youth vegan dinner as an example of ‘vegan praxis of Black Lives Matter’ , featuring many artists such as Dj Cavem and Alkemia Earth doing their culinary concerts. Sacramento dinner was part of the Hip Hop Green Dinner tour for 2015, organized by Keith Tucker. Below is the same video I show at the end of my talk above, but this is far better to hear and see because it is directly from youtube while the one I show is a video recording of the Youtube video and it’s difficult to hear for many.
After the talk, I was on a panel with Jacqueline Morr (Project Intersect) & Lauren Ornelas (Food Empowerment Project) to discuss privilege in terms of animal liberation and vegan spaces. I learned a lot. I thank not just the speakers but the audience for engaging with us and asking really necessary but difficult questions. One woman spoke about a vegan and animal rights author who just published a book and is on tour. She said that he has committed sexual harassment against a woman (maybe more than one). She informed us that DXE tried to shut his talk down and she was disappointed that there was no support for DXE; that there seemed to be this excuse from his supporters that despite sexual harassing behavior, there was the notion that “He has helped so many animals, so we shouldn’t focus on things like him sexually harassing one woman.” She noted that there were a lot of women who still wanted to support him with these types of excuses. I thought that I don’t know much about the accusations towards this author but overall, the dialogue got me thinking about the many women who have privately emailed me telling me certain well known men in vegan or AR movement that have harassed or assaulted them or someone they know… but they are scared to say something about it. What do I do when both sides claim to be ‘innocent’ and we can only rely on the ‘legal system’ to ‘prove’ that something ‘wrong’ did or did not happen? (sigh). The entire 80 minute panel with q&a is below.
On a different note, I was interviewed this past weekend during my travels… and at the end, the interviewer said I was very ‘articulate’. Interesting, huh? Am thinking about how to breath and meditate on it; and how I will communicate to him that he should be careful, as a white guy, complimenting a Black woman for sounding ‘articulate’… I have always been told by white friends and random white people that I don’t “sound Black” throughout my life. I think they think that’s a compliment (?)….Tis not, but thanks for trying….
Since watching it, so many questions and comments have popped into my head in terms of this huge boom in the food-techie startup world and the lack of critical race and critical whiteness scholarship around it within the mainstream media and academic publications. Actually, I have been thinking about writing about food-tech businesses for the last few years. It’s kind of hard not to, living in the San Francisco Bay area and living less than 90 minutes away from Silicon Valley. We are the foodie and techie capitals of the USA it would seem. As a food justice, racial justice, and environmental justice scholar and activist, I have been overwhelmed by the amazing surge in ‘foodie’ culture in the Bay area that continues to function as a microcosm of the USA.And by microcosm, I mean that foodie-tech culture represents how resources as well as systems of power and privilege are organized along racial, class, and gender lines in a current era of neoliberal capitalism. Food and technology, of course, are not untouched by these. I’m not just interested in food-tech businesses… I’m interested in how ‘foodie’ culture meets tech companies that are creating social media apps and other smartphone and tablet technology for a’foodie’ culture that loves ‘healthy’, ‘local’, ‘organic’, and/or ‘good’ food.
So, here are my thoughts as a critical race feminist researcher within the disciplines of critical food studies and critical pedagogies of consumption living in the SF Bay area and after watching the CNN video about Blue Apron…
…What role do foodie-tech app companies worth tens of millions of dollars have in dismantling (or colluding with) a neoliberal racist capitalist [food] system? Like all these foodie-tech startups, yes, foodie-tech startups like Blue Apron and similarly highly successful foodie-tech start-ups will change the way of eating and ‘your’ relationship to your grocery store-
-But wait, who is ‘you’ and ‘your’?
Unpacking ‘You’ and ‘Your’ in a Neoliberal Era
What is neoliberalism and how do racism and other forms of oppression operate within its logic?
Neoliberal practices pull into its orbit a market of ideas about a lot of things including the family, gender, and racial ideology. It is, as Lisa Duggan (2003) notes, “saturated with race” (xvi) using capitalism to hide racial (and other) inequalities by relocating racially coded economic disadvantage and reassigning identity-based biases to the private and personal spheres…
Specifically, it has meant the establishment of a market orientation to this relationship. Ideally, within a neoliberal theorization of society, the success of the individual is directly related to his/her work output. Modalities of difference, such as race, do not predetermine one’s success as each individual is evaluated solely in terms of his or her economic contribution to society.What becomes clear is that this ideal relationship is not equally realized by all members in society.
(Source: David J. Roberts and Minelle Mahtani of “Neoliberalizing Race, Racing Neoliberalism: Placing ‘Race’ in Neoliberal Discourse.” Antipode Vol 42 No. 2. Pp 248-257. Pages 252-253.)
Within the context of neoliberalism, I’d like to know who ‘you’ and ‘your’ are when so many foodie-tech startups promote their products and services to you.
True to ‘foodie’ culture, Blue Apron company is focused on ‘locally’ sourced ingredients. However, would like to know what hands have made these ingredients possible. On their website, there is no transparency about this, other than the fact that we are shown the partners they have (small family farms); however small family farms don’t mean that those working there are treated ethically. Blue Apron answers the question about food being organic or not. I know this is not necessarily their goal, but it is interesting to note that I do not see an open commitment or dialogue about farm-worker rights; nor do I see a commitment to making sure racial-sexual-class hierarchies of power are not maintained through how their supply chain is possible. I often wonder what foodie-tech startups would look like (or how profitable they could be) if not just ‘organic’ and ‘local’ were central, but also if the ideologies of folks like Dolores Huerta and Cezar Chavez were central. Once again, I know it is not Blue Apron’s goal, but the absence is quite telling and also has me thinking about the limits to what one can ask for, from venture capitalists that don’t seem ‘too political’. Concerns about farmworker rights and exploitation, restaurant worker rights, racial or sexual abuse of workers, etc., would most likely not be mentioned in the business plans of foodie-tech startups searching for funding.
Most people who are into mainstream ‘foodie’ culture care more about their food being ‘local’, ‘fresh’, and ‘organic’ than if the food came to them through the abuse and exploitation of farm workers and other marginalized human workers in the food system. This makes sense because that is what is marketed to and narrated to the general foodie population. Many foodies actually think organic and sustainable mean the treatment of human beings and non-human animals is ‘humane,’ which is false. What would be great to have from Blue Apron is a statement that acknowledges the need to be more critical about horrible treatment of human workers. So far, such statements are no where on their site, however, once again, it could very well be that investors do not want to appear to be ‘too political’ and prefer to be ‘post-racial’ and ‘post-class’. Yes, their focus is not farm-workers or other food industry worker rights. However, the silence around this is quite compelling because the fact is, foodie-tech start-ups could not exist without the human laborers in the food system.
What could all this mean?
Let’s face it: Foodie+Tech start-up folk live in an isolated utopian world in which their technology will only ‘solve’ the problems of the privileged neoliberal [white] socio-economically stable demographic. Notable in the video link above from the CNN interview with Blue Apron, is that theco-founder Salzberg states that their model isn’t for the entire world’s population, just a specific demographics [who seem to find going to a grocery story to get local and organic fresh foods a ‘burden’ (?)]. He does say that there is a place for the grocery store and doesn’t think that the companies like Blue Apron will ‘kill’ the grocery store. However….
…analyze websites such as Blue Apron, Plated, Instacart that are THRIVING and you’ll find their rhetoric to be the following: food+tech+’post-racial’+buying power with our dollars will ‘change the world’+ being socio-economically privileged is the optimal approach to creating a ‘better’ food system (well, maybe just a better ‘foodie’ experience). I will give the benefit of the doubt that the founders aren’t directly conscious about their approach or the consequences….I will just assume that they really had ‘good intentions’ (though often, the road to hell is paved that way, no?). However, I’m still always fascinated by the fact that millions of dollars can be poured into foodie-tech apps by venture capitalists when food justice activists working in/for the poor and communities of color, with hardly any resources, struggle like hell to create food security and/or sovereignty for themselves.
Would venture capitalists for foodie+tech startups ever consider investing in structural and systemic change to dismantle not just an unequal food system, but the entire corrupt neoliberal racist capitalist system itself; a system that makes food insecurity and the loss of land a reality for most of the world’s people. Let’s remember that most of the people of the world do not include the Silicon Valley elite and alike. Let’s remember that Santa Clara region, where Silicon Valley is born out of, feeds the tech elite in a disturbing way: a majority of the exploited non-white immigrant farm labor force cannot even afford access to the produce they grow and harvest that end up on the plates of the tech elite (You can read more about this through Food Empowerment Project’s latest reports).
This leads me to conclude that subscribers of foodie+ neoliberal racism + technocracy create the illusion that they are invested in making the food system ‘better’ and ‘easier for all to access’… but it seems that they really just want to be the 1%. (Some people refer to neoliberal racism as racial neoliberalism. I like the term ‘neoliberal racism’ and am using it in the way Goldberg defines it and write about it. Goldberg uses the term racial neoliberalism but I decided to just be upfront and write ‘racism’ versus ‘racial’ to not hide that fact that what is going on is racism at the systemic level. ‘Racial’ seems a little to sanitized for me.) And please understand, when I speak of neoliberal racism, I am speaking about processes of racial inequality and racial injustice that are systemic and often promoted and maintained in very unconscious ways by individuals. Many people with good intentions but are ignorant about how racial, gender, and class injustice/inequality operate at the systemic level, end up engaging in food entrepreneurship that may unknowingly have negatively racialized, gendered, and classed outcomes.
Tens of millions of dollars are invested in foodie+tech each year so folk can do things like click on a button to have someone deliver to them something from Whole Foods; or to have a gourmet healthy food chef make you a meal out of organic chard and artisanal cheese. Speaking of Whole Foods, did you know that Whole Foods benefits from the Prison Industrial Complex? In “From Our Prison to Your Dinner Table”, readers learn that Whole Foods actually contracts with Colorado Correctional Industries for food products such as tilapia; Whole Foods is one of their biggest clients!Essentially, if one uses apps like Instacart, they could order tilapia from Whole Foods produced by inmates! (Check out Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: An Era of Mass Incarceration to learn more about labor exploitation of inmates.)
The site Food + Tech Connect reports the weekly trends in food-tech business world. Food + Tech Connect constantly remind readers the endless amounts of wealth and resources are available for foodie-tech startup businesses (and don’t get me wrong. I love Food + Tech Connect as a rich source for my own work in food justice and racial justice. It’s a comprehensive– though unintentional– map that shows me the ‘gaps’ in systemic justice and how neoliberalism works). Recently, I learned that Munchery, a company similar to Blue Apron ($58 million in funding), just ended their funding round with $85 million dollars valuing them at $300 million dollars. Instatcart ($274.8 million in funding), Sprig ($56.7 millions in funding), SpoonRocket ($13.5 million in funding), and DoorDash ($59.7 million in funding)are also ‘good food’ delivery services similar to Blue Apron worth tens of millions of dollars as well. It is remarkable that the same type of capital is not put back into the marginalized communities that have no food security, live under racialized police surveillance, are prey to the Prison Industrial Complex as ‘free labor’ , and/or who have lost land and community space due to gentrification from Silicon Valley and alike, or land grabbing etc.
Venture capitalist invest a huge amount of money into foodie-tech start-ups. However, I wonder if the same investors would ever consider providing political, legal, and monetary resources for example, the Black folk like those fighting to keep Afrika Town community garden alive in Oakland CA. Probably not. Why? It’s simply not lucrative to create food and land sovereignty for non-white and working class USA population. It is better to not fund those endeavors because it doesn’t keep neoliberal capitalism and white privileged access to ‘good food’ alive through cool smartphone apps that deliver food right to your door and masks how systemic racism, sexism, poverty, neocolonialism have made that ‘option’ available for the beneficiaries of Silicon Valley and alike. Food and Geography scholar Nick Heynen writes
The power relations that manifest under the tyranny of hunger relate explicitly to how capitalist societies, and the proliferation of free market forces, rely on access to food as a negotiating chip to maintain domination and coercion. As Engels (1881) suggested, “The Capitalist, if he cannot agree with the Labourer, can afford to wait, and live upon his capital. . . . The workman has no fair start. He is fearfully handicapped by hunger. Yet, according to the political economy of the Capitalist class, that is the very pink of fairness.” This contradictory notion of capitalist fairness, that is, that so many should go hungry amidst such material abundance, is hard to imagine as a result of its brutality. The spatial contradictions within this notion of fairness and justice are vital for articulating the interrelated and interconnected processes inherent in urban poverty and hunger, and how both impede social reproduction.
(Source: 409-410. “Bending the Bars of Empire from Every Ghetto for Survival: The Black Panther Party’s Radical Antihunger Politics of Social Reproduction and Scale” in Annal of the Association of American Geographers, 99 (2) 2009,pp. 406-422.)
I would argue that the lack of investment into food security projects like Afrika Town, is violence; the collateral damage of neoliberal capitalist oriented investments focused on spaces such as the [white] elite of Silicon Valley. It also resonates with the very real fact that Oakland’s Afrika Town’s struggle echoes the food security politics of the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast Program for Children from over 40 years ago (also Oakland based). There is a reason why the U.S. government and white business elite saw the BPP’s morning breakfast programs as the central threat to their white supremacist state and subjugation of Black communities. Food justice initiatives such as the BPP Breakfast Party and Afrika Town continue to be direct threats to the notion of empire. Why? Empire— even the new ‘post-empire’ neoliberal [empire] era– rely on hunger and food insecurity of the planet’s majority.
Henry Giroux talks about the limits and violence of neoliberalism. Notable is how he places emphasis on the big wigs, including Silicon Valley elite in unveiling what is really occurring in the larger scheme of things:
Moreover, in the face of massive inequality, increasing poverty, the rise of the punishing state, and the attack on all public spheres, neoliberalism can no longer pass itself off as synonymous with democracy. The capitalist elite, whether they are hedge fund managers, the new billionaires from Silicon Valley, or the heads of banks and corporations, is no longer interested in ideology as their chief mode of legitimation. Force is now the arbiter of their power and ability to maintain control over the commanding institutions of American society. Finally, I think it is fair to say that they are too arrogant and indifferent to how the public feels.Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy and this has become more and more evident among people, especially youth all over the globe. As Zizek has observed, “the link between democracy and capitalism has been broken.” The important question of justice has been subordinated to the violence of unreason, to a market logic that divorces itself from social costs, and a ruling elite that has an allegiance to nothing but profit and will do anything to protect their interests.
Source: Truth Dig http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_militarization_of_racism_and_neoliberal_violence_20140821
Also, see below the interesting comment from Glassdoor. Of course, it’s just one out of 3 reviews on that Glassdoor site about working at Blue Apron. However, the reference to whiteness of management in terms of food spaces and institutionalized racism is nothing new in the world of food. The groundbreaking book Behind the Kitchen Door explores this power dynamic.
The social science research book Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape also deeply analyzes the limits of neoliberalism and the popularity of being ‘non-political’ when it comes to ‘the good food movement’ supporters (i.e., “let’s not talk about class or race because it means we are being racist and classist…and anyway, ‘good food’ is neutral and has nothing to do with racial or class politics”). Blue Apron’s neoliberal approach to making ‘good food’ more ‘accessible’ and ‘affordable’ (which the founders talk about as reasons why the company was created) aligns with this interview below with Salzberg, the founder of Blue Apron. Salzberg gives advice on how to find entrepreneurial success the way he did with Blue Apron:
Do it at the right time
Changing careers or starting a company is a stressful experience. Your professional life will be chaos. Your future role will be uncertain and so will your compensation. Who knows if you will even be good at what you’ve set out to do? And I’ve always believed that you can only have chaos in one sphere of your life at a time. So, if you’re thinking about a professional transition, try to do it during a time when your personal life is stable. Making a career change right as you’re about to have your first child, breakup from a serious relationship, or move to a different city can make the transition even tougher. When I started Blue Apron, I was based in New York City, had a strong network of friends and family, and I was in a long-term committed relationship. Thissecure environment gave me the confidence to take the professional risk I needed to successfully start a business.
Seek out experts and mentors When you change careers you’ll have a lot to learn – and quickly. The best way to ease this transition is to seek out people who can advise and coach you along the way with perspectives that are different than your own. One of the reasons I went into venture capital before starting a company was because I wanted to build a network of other CEOs and start-up experts who I could lean on for different perspectives and advice when necessary. Similarly, when starting Blue Apron, I deliberately sought to work with people who had come from different backgrounds and could bring another level of expertise to the table. As a result, my co-founding team members all had skills that complemented one another, which have played an important role in the success of Blue Apron.
Be humble When you’re making a career transition, you should focus on what really matters—how to set yourself up for long-term success. In most cases this means getting your foot in the door, so you can be in a position where you can learn and grow. However, I’ve seen too many people coming from success in a different industry fixate on getting the perfect role, compensation, or an important title. If you can find a position at a great company, or with a great boss who will help you grow — ultimately positioning yourself for future success — jump at it and don’t sweat the details. When I left private equity, I took a pay cut to get the experience I needed in venture capital— and I’m glad I did. The experience I got was critical to successfully starting a company, which was a long-standing career goal for me.Before starting Blue Apron I had no previous CEO experience, and it hasn’t been easy growing the company to over 1,200 employees in just two and a half years. We deliver recipes and ingredients for millions of meals across the country, and making that happen at scale requires us to reinvent the way things are done every day. The ability to embrace new challenges has been critical not only for myself, but also for business.
Though well intentioned, I’m always intrigued by the numerous articles and books in the mainstream that take this sanitized approach to business success. It’s as if it assumes that everyone starts off as a a highly educated (in the formal sense) white man with no impediments from systemic racism or systemic sexism. Salzberg’s advice is post-racial and post-sexist. There is no mention that those who are most likely to get venture funds to invest in a big career change to starting their own company are white men (due to implicit bias of most venture capitalists and supporters of neoliberalism who are cultured and mis-educated in the USA to accept [white] men as ‘naturally’ successful in any business venture or leadership role they want to pursue). One can argue that it’s ‘normal’ not to need to mention these things to make the message ‘universal’. However, the logic of universal has the implicit bias that the audience are white able-bodied heteronormative cisgender men. Maybe Salzberg he did mention impediments based on racial and gender inequality but it was edited out? Perhaps Salzberg is aware of these, but when you’re doing an interview with Fortune magazine and your investors may be reading it, perhaps it’s safe to not mention impediments to career changes that implicate systems of racism, white supremacy, sexism, and even nepotism; such a bold move would jeopardize funding. Basically, we may never know what was edited out during the interview.
Here is some food for thought. Silicon Valley venture capitalists were found to be overwhelmingly male and white. From Emory University Law School, Dorothy A. Brown reported on diversity in the high tech industry. She writes:
Throughout Silicon Valley, start-ups tend to have all-male boards of directors, because board members are generally the venture capitalists who invested in the start-up. According to National Venture Capital Association, 89 percent of venture capitalists are men. Regarding race and ethnicity, 87 percent are White, nine (9) percent are Asian, two (2) percent were AfricanAmerican or Latino, and two (2) percent were of mixed race. Venture capital professionals who had been in the industry less than five years were more racially and ethnically diverse – although not true for gender diversity. Seventy-seven percent were White, 17 percent were Asian, three (3) percent were African American or Latino and three (3) percent were of mixed race.
(Source: Brown, Dorothy A., Diversity and the High Tech Industry (2014). 6 Ala. Civ. Rts. & Civ. Lib. L. Rev. (2014 ); Emory Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-296. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2485458)
One of the biggest impediments for people of color– especially women of color, is finding a mentor who is ‘networked in’ already and as well as a mentor who has the confidence to support their life’s goals, period– and with the acknowledgment that systemic racism and sexism position us women of color very differently in terms of opportunities and how the mainstream view our purpose as human beings. There is a significant number of women of color who simply do not get the mentoring support they need to make big shifts. Beyond the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley, this disparity starts within K-12 education in the USA and goes into college and graduate school. There is an obvious need of mentorship that is VERY different from the cookie-cutter [white able-bodied male] mentorship logic.
Essentially, my final thoughts are that foodie-tech app companies worth millions of dollars may kill some of your grocery stores, but they certainly won’t kill the neoliberal. racist, and capitalist [food] system that creates their wealth in the first place. The mainstream image of ‘successful’ foodie-tech entrepreneurs are almost always [white] men. There is basically a non-existent consciousness around the technology they ‘created’ and how likely it would have been made possible without racialized and gendered inequality in tech industry. It must be noted that [white] men are most likely to be the ‘intellectual’ creators and owners of the start-up. However, someone has to actually put the technology devices together through the supposedly ‘not so intellectual’ (i.e. ‘unskilled manual labor’) process of manual labor:
Race is built into the tech industry[…]The industry, like the region, carries with it the inequalities of race, class, and gender of the broader social context in which it resides. The tech firms in Silicon Valley are predominantly led by White men and a few White women; yet the manual labor of assembling circuit boards is done by immigrants and outsourced labor, often women living in the global South.
(Source: Daniels Jessie. “My Brain Database Doesn’t See Skin Color”: Color-Blind Racism in the Technology Industry and in Theorizing the Web.” American Behavioral Scientist. March 31, 2015)
Under the new system, immigration policy would select immigrants on the basis of their skills or their existing family ties in the U.S. It kicked off a “brain drain” from the world’s most populous countries, India and China, which both had governments that were less than 20 years old at the time. A shaky sense of political stability combined with poor economic growth and disastrous projects like The Great Leap Forward encouraged the crème de la crème of these countries to seek better fortunes abroad.
Many of the most technically educated migrants favored by the new U.S. immigration policy ended up in Silicon Valley. Reforms and explosive economic growth have since tilted the balance back with the emergence of new tech hubs in Bangalore and Beijing.
But if the 1965 law had one effect on the Asian-American population, it had an entirely different impact on the Latino community.
I would like to know more about how foodie-tech businesses worth millions of dollars, with largely male and white leadership, are actively making sure the manual labor behind their ‘intellectual property’ and the ‘good’ food on their plates, does not also come at the expense of non-whites, women, or at the expense of less human-rights oriented immigration policy. However, perhaps my interrogations are fruitless; highly successful foodie-tech startups rely on neoliberal models embedded in competitive markets within a capitalist logos; and I need to remind people that capitalism– yes, even neoliberal capitalism supposedly designed to create an even playing field in a supposed post-colonial era– cannot exist without producing and reproducing systemic racial, gender, and class oppression as well as ecocidal views of the Earth’s resources. At first glance, I would argue that a lot of foodie-tech startups give the image that they are left neoliberals which they think is a ‘good’ thing to be. However,
The differentiation between left and right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that “left neoliberals” are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.
Is it possible to not have a commitment ‘precisely to those things’? If so, what would it look like?
I do not expect foodie-tech companies to be perfect. In the USA (where my scholarship is focused on), we are living in and under systems of oppression that have conditioned most of us to accept that racial injustice is ‘normal’; that hetero-normativity is ‘natural’; that cis-sexism is acceptable; that ableism is ‘okay’; that neoliberal economic policies and practices are the answer to creating justice in a now post-colonial world. What I am asking is to acknowledge that most of us are starting within a system of logic that makes exploitation and abuse of people the ‘norm’– but if you’re part of a privileged demographic (i.e. heterosexual, able-bodied, cisgender identified, middle to upper class, etc) you may never know that your privilege comes at the expense of those not in social and geographical locations of privilege. All I’m asking foodie+tech companies to do is to acknowledge these systems of oppression and to start making sure your business model (and other things) is not in collusion with these oppressive systems.
Thus far, a neoliberal, racist, and capitalist, [food] system has made it possible for foodie-tech companies to receive tens of millions of dollars in venture funding that benefit new foodie and technology projects that overall do not question or work to dismantle systemic racism, poverty, and hetero-patriarchy. We’re not just talking about ‘from seed to table’ here; with foodie-tech startups on the rise who bank on their potential clientele’s use of iPhones, iPads, and Nexus tablets, we need to consider if it is possible for foodie+tech to operate in a way that does not maintain systemic inequality ‘from seed to table[t].’
My questions for foodie-tech companies:
What is your commitment to creating a food system that acknowledges that systemic racism, whiteness, and poverty need to be dismantled?
What is your action plan in creating transparency or conversations around how systems of racism, xenophobia, and sexism basically uphold the food commodity chain?
How are you supporting a thriving wage for food workers? Do you actively vote for laws and support policies to ensure a living wage for food workers? (See Mark Bittman’s NYT article Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly?)
Did you build your space or business as a beneficiary of gentrification? What is your commitment to making sure that your foodie-oriented start-up isn’t at the expense of kicking out working class and/or marginalized communities of color that have a long history of food insecurity and being victims of gentrification?
What is your commitment to not reproducing the racial and gender power dynamics found and reported in books like Behind the Kitchen Door and by organizations like Restaurant Workers United?
What is your commitment to abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex? Are you aware of how the food and agricultural industries rely on the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people to create food commodities as nearly enslaved prison laborers? (Starbucks is one of them, and so are Wendy’s and McDonalds) .
These questions are a good start and I don’t expect anyone to have all the answers over night.
There also are plenty of resources out there that address how structural racism operates in the U.S. food system if you want to learn more about this. Two scholars at Michigan State University just put together an annotated bibliography about how racism in the US food system that you can access at: Structural Racism in the US Food System (2015) .
Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper has 15 years of experience in Social Justice Activism and Research. Her training and award winning Masters thesis from Harvard University employed critical race feminist methodology to understand how and why women of color use educational technologies to organize, learn about, and mobilize around ethical consumption practices such as veganism. She earned a PhD in Critical Food Geographies (with an emphasis in ethical consumption and Critical Race Feminism) from the University of California-Davis. Dr. Harper recently created and organized the conference, “The Praxis of Black Lives Matter” that took place April 24-25, 2015 (www.sistahveganconference.com). The central theme focused on how ethical consumptionand Black Lives Matter are not separate.
For the past eight years, she has been the senior research analyst and trainer for Critical Diversity Solutions (CDS). Founded in 2007, Critical Diversity Solutions is a social justice oriented consulting and training organization that seeks to teach people about social impact through food, technology, and wellness. CDS uses the creative platform of ethical consumption and ‘good food’ movement to address timely social justice issues.
Recently, Dr. Harper gave a book talk and workshop at University of Oregon Eugene (May 2015). She read from and analyzed her new book Scars and explained how food objects in the book can tell us about racial and socio-economic power dynamics in the U.S.A. View video of lecture here.
I gave a talk at Occidental College Sept 30 2013, 430-6pm. It was called Diversity Rhetoric as Healing or Hurting? Decolonial Politics, Self-Care, and Structural Change in a ‘Post-Racial’ Era. I video recorded it and it’s been uploaded to this blog in 3 segments (see below).
I am giving a keynote talk at 330pm in Toronto on Sept 8 , 2013 at 330 pm for the 29th Annual Vegetarian Food Festival in Toronto.
I will be using vegan recipes as a possible method to help ‘heal’ from racial trauma. Apparently, it’s the first talk of it’s kind for this festival. It’s called “Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: Why Vegan Healing is Crucial for Racial [Trauma] Healing.” This won’t be vegan proselytizing, but rather, a way to use critical race, critical animal, and critical food studies as ways to talk about how systemic racism and white supremacy affects health and wellness. http://festival.veg.ca/portfolio/keynote-lectures-sunday/
The San Francisco Greens Workshop that Dianna is referring to can be seen here
Dianna’s letter is all to real for many of us. In addition to having received her letter, for many of non-white minorities in the USA, the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial left us deeply troubled, traumatized, and angry. It was a direct reminder that racist narratives about Black people– particularly young Black males– seem to greatly influence many non-Black people’s understanding of whose lives are of value, and whose lives are not. It’s so deeply part of the USA’s moral fabric, I am convinced that most people hold these beliefs about Black people to be true, whether it is conscious or unconscious. As a mother to a 4 year old boy of African descent and during this past week, I have had to curb my own fears and anxieties about what the future in the USA holds for him, my daughter, and other young children in this country who do not “pass as white.”
Racism-induced stress, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, digestive problems, etc., are all too real for many of us, including myself. This past week, I had to be diligent about taking care of my emotional distress about the meaning of the George Zimmerman verdict. I reached for foods and herbs that can help the body and mind not become depleted during times of stress. For example, when I want to reach for a pint of vegan ice cream before going to bed, I tell myself, “If you’re already having insomnia problems trying to deal with the verdict and thinking about Sun (my son’s name), how is a food packed with SUGAR going to help you sleep or calm down?” I must lovingly remind myself to make my lemon balm tea and skullcap tea. They are nurturing and will help me continue with my anti-racism and decolonial work. After all, it’s hard to do much of anything when you cannot sleep.
In light of Dianna’s letter to me, and the trauma and stress that the Zimmerman verdict has caused for tens of thousands of people, I have decided to post again that I am offering a comprehensive webinar that more deeply addresses nutritional recipes (and other anti racism/decolonizing ‘health’ regiments) that can be part of self-care and empowerment for people whose health have been greatly affected by racism-induced trauma(s). I will offer suggestion for:
Alleviating anxiety and stress induced insomnia with 4 simple herbal teas and remedies
Using this one aromatic popular tea to reduce hypertension
Making this special dairy-free whole foods ice cream in place of less nutritionally healthy ‘junk’ comfort ice cream treats during stressful times.
Technology requirements: a computer with a fast internet connection and a free Anymeeting.com (my webinars are hosted through Anymeeting.com so if you don’t want to call a regular phone number to access it ,you can join the webinar with a password via a free Anymeeting.com account). You should have speakers or headphone to hear. I will be using video and audio so participants will be able to hear me present while viewing Powerpoint slides. The webinar will be recorded and available to access for free for you who have registered, to refer to as long as you desire. Lecture will be 60 minutes long followed by a 30 minute Q and A.
About the Instructor: Dr. A. Breeze Harper is the director and founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, a organization dedicated to critical race feminist perspectives on veganism, as seen through the collective experiences of Black North American females. Dr. Harper started the project in 2005. She holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and University of California-Davis. Her innovative ability to integrate the use of educational technologies to analyze Black female vegans food and health philosophies earned her the Dean’s Award from Harvard University in 2007 for her Master Thesis work: this is an honor only bestowed upon one candidate per program.
Dr. Harper’s knowledge about diversity within the field of food and wellness has marked her as a highly sought after paid consultant and speaker for many American universities. She has given many keynote addresses including at Boston University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Oregon, and Southwestern University. She teaches students, faculty, and staff how and why people have unique relationships to food and wellness and how these relationships are impacted by race, socio-economic class, gender, sexuality, and ability. She has published extensively, including Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society(Lantern Books 2010). She graduated summa cum-laude from University of California-Davis with a PhD in critical geographies of race and food.
If you enjoy the work I have done, if it has helped you, your organization, your students, your family, etc, and you want to see it go to the next level of a non-profit social justice organization, please contribute what you can by clicking on the GOFUNDME Link below. When Sistah Vegan becomes a well supported non-profit, I hope to offer a diversity of educational material (webinars, workshops, books, articles) that guide people through ways to raise pre-school aged children on a fun and healthy plant-based diet. If you do not want to use this method, but prefer paypal, click on the link on the right upper corner of this blog page to donate via PAYPAL.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified practitioner or medical doctor. Please consult with your practitioner before trying any of the foods or herbs that I recommend
Well, to try to answer this question, let’s visit the fundamental definition of USA racism, which, for some reason, is greatly mis-understood by a majority of white people in the USA who have expressed that they were a recipient of racism from a Black or Brown person. They use the word ‘racism’ when actually they are describing a situation in which the Black or Brown person was expressing something, or doing something, that is different than the fundamental concept of USA racism. (Updated June 1 2013, 22:44 PST)
What USA Racism Is
Being ‘racist’ means that your behavior or attitude towards people will favor an outcome that privileges white racialized people; that privileges a white supremacist value system in the USA. USA racism means that USA society has built, and continues to organize, hierarchies of power around a white supremacist value system. Such a system means white racialized people end up collectively benefiting from this structural/systemic/institutional arrangement of power, privilege, and resources. This is how the USA canon of critical race studies and critical whiteness studies fundamentally define ‘racism’ in terms of systems and institutions within the USA (Crenshaw 1995; Allen 2001; Flagg 2005; Lipsitz 2006; Sullivan and Tuana 2007; Chapman 2010; Martinot 2010; Razack et. al 2010)
Within the context of the USA’s history of a racial caste system/racism in which white supremacy is center, if a Black person were ‘racist’ towards a white person or white people, their actions would help to create more favorable outcomes for white people than non-white people. For example, to be ‘racist’ towards a white person who is is being interviewed for a job by a Black person, this would mean that the Black person would desire to hire this White candidate because they are white; because they fundamentally believe in the white supremacist notion that White people are superior to non-white candidates. This would be the true definition of USA racism which derived from and is still shaped by a racial caste system in which white supremacy is center. I think it is important to understand that how I am articulating racism is not exactly the same as ‘racial discrimination.’ If a Black person does not like a person who white because they are of the ‘white race’, this is racial discrimination but not ‘racism’. It is nuanced. I’d argue that neither is okay, but wanted to really flesh out how ‘racism’ is often used by white people in the USA when they experience prejudice against their racial group by a non-white person.
What USA Racism Isn’t
I have had white people tell me that they are angry that they cannot participate in a healing event for people of color that acknowledges the pain and trauma that racism have caused to people of color. The other summer, I participated in a healing retreat for women of African descent. I received quite a few rants from white Buddhists who said the event was ‘racist’ and I was too, for participating in it. Because the event focused on the healing needs of women of African descent who seek to resist the pains of racism-sexism ( due to white supremacist structuring of society) this event and my participation in it was not racist. If the event were racist, then it would have functioned in a way that would have allowed white people to participate and the two teachers would have taught everyone that a white supremacist value system is superior and that black women should know their ‘submissive’ place in it and not talk about their racism-induced suffering.
I have also been told that it is ‘racist’ to engage in research about how racialization and race affects people’s thoughts, actions, behaviors, etc. Sorry, but this is not racist. It is racist to deny that race is an organizing principle in the USA and claim that we live in a ‘post-racial’ society. Wanting to ignore or deny the reality of how resources, power, etc, are shaped by white supremacist value system (backed by a canon of social-science based research and legal studies that supports this) is racist; racist because this ignorance, dismissal, and/or denial does not dismantle a white racist value system, but simply upholds it.
Don’t get me wrong. It drives me nuts that I have had Black people come up to me an tell me they are angry, disgusted, annoyed, etc that my husband is white. This is not racism, but it is annoying as hell and something I also do not condone. Yes, it is prejudice and another form of hate, however, it is not racism (and like I mentioned before, I am speaking within the context of USA). And no, I do not support this prejudice or hate against white people from black people, as I don’t believe that the hate or prejudice against any group or people will every create a harmonious and loving world. I try to understand these strong hateful feelings within the context of a very messed up history of white colonialism, racism, racialized-capitalism, and imperialism that has produced what can be understood as “the hate that hate produced” amongst some Black people in the USA.
So, what are your thoughts about all of this?
(UPDATED January 12, 2014)
I was hoping that this piece would spark critical dialogues amongst people who would not be bullies, verbally violent, dismissive of everyone’s suffering. I was hoping that trolls would also not come on board. However, it seems that most of the people commenting here have either not read the goal of the Sistah Vegan Project, do not understand the goal, or have read it but don’t care to respect it. Furthermore, it appears that most have no fundamental understanding of what critical race/critical whiteness studies are. These two disciplines/canons are not ‘academic jargon’ or ‘masked racism against white people.’ These canons are not about judging people ‘because of the color of their skin.’ These canons represent a reality that does apply to our real world. My use of these canons to understand USA-Based racism/racialization/race relations, comes from decades of research from scholars and activists who have analyzed the lives of people in the USA (and beyond, but I’m focusing on the USA). Using social science methods/methodologies, as well as critical legal studies, the canons of critical race studies/critical whiteness studies employ testimonies, narrative research, surveys, ethnography, and discursive analysis to name a few, in order to create explanations and literacies around how white European colonialism/racism/imperialism have affected USA society from the micro to the macro scale; from individuals, to structures, systems, and institutions.
I also want to remind people of this: just because someone comments on a blog and claims to be a certain identity, doesn’t mean it is true. For example, anyone can come on here claiming to be a Black woman who doesn’t believe that racism exists when in reality, they could be a bored 12 year old boy using their spare time to troll.
FROM NOW ON, I WILL NOT APPROVE ANY COMMENTS THAT COME THROUGH IF THEY ARE CRUEL, NASTY, BULLYING, TROLLING, ETC. I RARELY CENSOR, BUT I WILL FOR THIS BLOG ARTICLE’S COMMENTS.
If you enjoy these types of dialogues and want to keep on supporting the Sistah Vegan Project, feel free to donate what you can by clicking below on gofundme. You can find out all about our goal to turn the Sistah Vegan Project into an official 501 c 3 non-profit organization!
Allen, Ricky Lee. 2001. The Globalization of White Supremacy: Toward a Critical Discourse on the Racialization of the World. Educational Theory 51 (4):467-485.
Chapman, Thandeka K. 2010. Critical Race Theory. In Handbook of research in the social foundations of education, edited by S. Tozer, B. P. Gallegos, A. Henry, M. B. Greiner and P. G. Price. New York: Routledge.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1995. Critical race theory : the key writings that formed the movement. New York: New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co.
Flagg, Barbara J. 2005. Whiteness as Metaprivilege. Washington University Journal of Law and Policy 18 (1):1-11.
Lipsitz, George. 2006. The possessive investment in whiteness : how white people profit from identity politics. Rev. and expanded ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Martinot, Steve. 2010. The machinery of whiteness : studies in the structure of racialization. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Razack, Sherene, Malinda Smith, and Sunera Thobani. 2010. States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century, Between the Lines. Toronto, Ontario: Between the Lines.
Sullivan, Shannon, and Nancy Tuana. 2007. Race and epistemologies of ignorance, SUNY series, philosophy and race. Albany: State University of New York Press.
On December 30, 2012, I went to one of the few cafes open on Sunday in Germany. The manager tried to speak to me in German, but I failed big time and answered in Spanish. I do this weird thing that when I’m spoken to in German, I respond in Spanish 50% of the time. Weird, no? Talk to me in Spanish and I will respond in English 50% of the time. Anyway, I digress…
…The manager ended up speaking to me in Spanish and English. After a few minutes of chatting about where I learned Spanish and what I am doing in Germany, he bluntly said, “How do you like Germany so far? I mean, [because] you’re Black.” I replied that I get stared at all the time, but I’m still enjoying myself. He folded his arms and shook his head, “Germany is full of Nazis once you leave the metropolitan [München] area. They are racists.” He shook his head, “I don’t really like it [here in Germany]. I don’t have a problem with anybody, black, white, whatever, but they do.” I have to admit that this is the first time I have encountered someone living in München, during my trip, who offered to share this particular interpretation of Germany with me. I couldn’t agree with him about Germany being ‘full of Nazis’, as I have only spent most of my time in the metropolitan area. I was wondering how he was even defining the word ‘Nazi’, or was that his way of explaining that he encountered a significant number of white Germans who are ‘xenophobic’?
I told him that I get stared at in the USA all the time, once I leave most cities and enter mostly white areas, so my Germany experience is not a surprise for me. I was unable to read his ethnicity, but he did not ‘pass’ as white– or, rather, how I have come to define ‘whiteness’, which is in the USA socio-historical context. He had an olive complexion and black hair.
The other day, someone commented on my post about my Tollwood experience, wishing that my in-laws move somewhere in which I would feel ‘at home’ versus a ‘racialized other.’ I appreciated their concern about me not feeling as comfortable or ‘at home’ as I should be in predominantly white spaces, but in my opinion, my in-laws shouldn’t have to move anywhere for me (or anyone else who doesn’t look like the ‘tribe’ of a particular region) to feel ‘at home.’ I would like to see that my in laws ‘stay’ and that Germany’s white collective consciousness continue to ‘move’ more forward, towards a creation of an unconditional love for all people who exist in these [socially constructed] borders of the German nation. Let’s remember: Germany has come a long way since the era of nationalized and institutionalized white supremacist Nazism. The mere fact that I can travel to here, get around the city, and be alive at the end of the day is an indication of a ‘move’ of national consciousness. But I am still really thinking about the cafe manager’s brief conversation with me and his strong use– maybe even inflammatory (?)– of the phrase, “Germany is full of Nazis….” Actually, in tandem with this, I think this about my own homeland: “USA is full of white supremacists who have no problem publicly displaying their enragement about the POTUS being non-white.” Fresh in my mind is the Facebook page that depicts Obama being lynched, with the caption “Rope”, instead of “Hope”with the sentence, “Hang the bastard.”
But, I am hopeful. The other day, while waiting for the S Bahn (subway train) at Rosenheimer platz , I saw an advertisement on one of the many widescreen monitors they have on the subway walls. Portrayed was a ‘brown’ man accidently bumping into someone at a biergarten. He trips and accidently touches the shoulder of a white woman sitting down. The white man across from her becomes very angry and violent that this ‘brown’ man touched her. He grabs the brown man and is about to beat him up. The image freezes and then pans out to show that all of Germany is watching and will NOT tolerate such racialized and violent responses/behaviors to this ‘brown’ man’s sincere mistake. I didn’t know this was going on until the captions were translated for me. Has anyone else seen these ads? I have been trying to search for them on the Internet all morning.
On New Year’s Eve, I visited a shopping center dedicated to edible yumminess. My end goal was the new vegan shoppe called Boonian. Not all the photos below are from Boonian.The first ones are from Boonian. I spoke with the founder and he is from South Dakota, USA. I ended up eating a seitan sandwich and broccoli salad for lunch.
This is the second part of the ongoing dialogue started from my August 2012 blogged observations. This blog was about my participation in San Francisco Zen Center’s 50th anniversary celebration. Below is a video of me sharing information about a book (see picture below) to help interested parties move forward in engaging with the implications of normative whiteness within predominantly white Buddhist sanghas. I recommended this book to Abbott Stucky of the San Francisco Zen Center at the end of August 2012 and they have ordered it for the sangha. Thanks SF Zen Center for meeting with me and hearing my take on mindful engagement about the implications of whiteness in predominantly white communities/institutions.
Hello my Sistah Vegan supporters. First, I wanted to thank those of you who have helped me towards my goal of finishing my PhD. The other week, I made a video that explained how my fellowship for my PhD work was not renewed. I was rather disappointed, as the fellowship helped me bring to you research and writing that applies critical race feminist analysis to the topic of veganism and health. It is incredibly difficult to do this type of work because critical vegan and critical race studies are often seen as ‘taboo’ and ‘too controversial’ within a country in which structural speciesism and structural racism continue to be the norm. I have reached $1000 of my $10,000 goal within about 10 days. I need $9000 more by September 2011 so I can register for school.
My essay is Chapter Four: “Connections: Racism, Speciesism, and Whiteness as The Norm”
I was able to write these types of pieces because of my fellowship. If you want to learn more about how you can help me continue to do this type of work and finish my PhD, please read/listen further below.
My birthday was on Monday, May 30. I have a wish and am hoping that you can make this possible. Please click on the video below.
In this video I am asking for your help. I would like to finish my PhD and need some help.
Paypal email donation: breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com or go to the right side top of the screen and click on donation link.
UPDATE: As of June 2, 2011:
Needed for completion of goal: $9,000
Deadline: September 2011 (so I Can register for 2011-2012 academic year)
Other creative ways to help would be to buy a personalized signed copy of Sistah Vegan book directly from me if you don’t already have a copy or want to give it as a gift. Click on the image of the book on the right if you want to do that.
I also had one person ask if they can pay me to speak to their social justice group, via video Skype, for an hour. They agreed to pay me to do that, so that is another possibility.
I’m also open to doing paid talks and lectures that are no more than a 2 hour drive from where I live. Could fly out if I were not in my 3rd trimester, but driving there is still an option.