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 had a fantastic time during my book talk tour in Oregon this past week (May 6-10 2015). I read from and analyzed my new novel Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England . I read the food object in my novel and explained how they can tell us about current racial power dynamics in the USA. Highlights to share include ending my University of Oregon-Eugene talk at the podium while nursing my 1 year old, Kira Satya, on my right boob while answering questions. Kira Satya came with me on my 5 day trip throughout Oregon. The adventure included 2 talks, 1 workshop I led, and 1 panel discussion. If you’ve been following my work for awhile, you know that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to ‘hide’ nursing my baby– or even argue that I can take her with me since I nurse on demand (like every other mammal on the planet). I am glad that PSU and UO Eugene supported me. And duh, I’m a food justice activist and scholar. Being able to nurse on demand (if one can) is a food justice issue; a social justice issue; a reproductive rights issue; a public health issue. If you watch the end of the video, you can see Kira’s arm wiggling above the podium as I nurse her and answer questions. After I placed her down, she even made a big loud poop in her diaper and the audience heard since she was next to the mic. Plenty of folk laughed (while I’m sure plenty were disgusted, but hey, better than being constipated!) LOL. Below is the UO Eugene talk.
On Saturday at the Eugene Public Library, I was on a panel with Novella Carpenter, Diane Abu-Jaber, and Donna Henderson for the 4th annual Women’s Writers Symposium and the theme for this year was food and women’s stories of resilience. During the panel, us authors answered questions thrown at us by the moderator and we were also asked to read passages from our work. I selected excerpts from an interview I gave about the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. Also, I centered anti-racism and critical race feminism whenever I’d answer most of the questions or give a comment, making it clear that I don’t think ‘post-racial’ response makes any sense and to remember that for many (especially since it’s largely white Eugene OR where the mainstream may not think about race), ‘whiteness’ is NOT the norm for everyone and can be very violent (discursively, overtly, and systemically). The audience was 90+% white. Each panelist was supposed to read something, so I read my interview from my most recent TheFeminist Wire interview about the Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. The first person who rushed up to me after us panelists were done was a white person whose answer to my critical race vegan oriented scholarship was that Sarah Palin is the only person that they will listen to. They said something like, “Sarah Palin goes out and shoots animals and eats them and would be the best president for the USA. I believe anything she says over anyone else.” It was an obvious reactive racial-microaggressive response to how I had explained to the audience that my writing and critical food studies inquiries interrogate neoliberal whiteness, speciesism, as ways to dismantle systemic racism and support Black Lives Matter. I didn’t feel like taking the bait and simply responded, “Well, thank you for sharing your opinion.” They promptly turned around and walked away. However, plenty of white folk did some up and thanked me for providing introductory knowledge to this timely issue of systemic racism and how to be allies to Black Lives Matter movement. After participating on that panel, I learned that 6 extra people who attended that panel discussion signed up for my workshop in the afternoon. Several told me that they had originally signed up for another one but then wanted to challenge themselves as white people to take the plunge and learn about whiteness and Black Lives Matter. So, I gave my a workshop called “Narrating Racial [In]Justice Through Critical Food Writing” that afternoon. It went quite well I think since it was my first time doing it.
Before Kira and I arrived in Eugene, I had given a talk in Portland at Portland State University. Kira and I ate our way through vegan cafes and restaurants of the area and ended in Eugene, after we took the bus there, at Cornbread Cafe. Here are some lovely picts after the written portion below. The first photo is a doll given to my baby on the plane from SFO to PDX. Kira wasn’t feeling well and vomited, so the woman next to us gave her a doll from a conference she had gone to. It was an OB/GYN conference and she got ‘the clap’ in the form of a doll. I learned that ‘the clap’ was short for the French ‘clapier’ where people contracted the ‘the clap’. So, she gave the doll to Kira.
I gave my talk on May 8 2015 in Portland at the Walk of Heroines event. Kira and I had been sick for the past 36 hours with non-stop stomach issues which resulted in the baby vomiting a billion times and giving me the same disease. I couldn’t hold anything down and was wondering how I’d have the strength to give a talk– especially since the baby just wanted to nurse non-stop (which is hard to do when mama can’t hold anything down and the body eats itself to make breastmilk). Kira finally passed out and took a long nap in the afternoon (about 4 hours) and woke up as if she had never had the stomach virus. I somehow made it through the talk (see below) despite me feeling very weak throughout the talk. I think the energy probably came from the audience’s energy and enthusiasm to have me there :-)
On Friday in Portland, we tasted many vegan treats including a vegan bratwurst made from chickpeas (yummy!) as well, a strawberry sorbet popsicle, vegan gluten free cupcake, and a green smoothie. Kira seemed happy. On our way back to the airport from Eugene, I was on a shuttle service. A white guy going to the airport also asked what I did, once he found out I was going to SFO and that I lived in Berkeley. I said critical food studies looking at race and whiteness . 9/10 times, this is the response I’ll get “Oh, so you must know Michael Pollan’s work. He teaches in Berkeley. Have you ever take any of his classes?” And yes, I got this response from this guy as well….
Ok, I’m just going to say it: I’m so amazed by the gazillion white people I meet whenever they find out what my field of studies and then they talk about Michael Pollan. Why is Michael Pollan the [white] face of food studies all the time!? Even after I’ll tell people that I am looking at how race and whiteness shape ethical food consumption culture, I’ll get, “Oh, so you must like Michael Pollan’s work?” My internal monologue is screaming inside, “When did Michael Pollan ever critically engage with systemic racism or even question his own neoliberal whiteness and male privilege? Oh yea, that was in his latest bestselling book that came out in the fall of—NEVER!!!!” (Breeze falls off her soap box). Ok y’all, enjoy the photos below.
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About an hour ago, I was looking through the work of Emory Douglas (see image below and click on it to go to the link to the book).
I started reading through his book again today because his work, though over 40 years old, is applicable today. His images show Black people resisting the white supremacist militarized police state. The images are powerful, breathtaking, and heartbreaking. As I sifted through the pages of this genius work, I couldn’t believe that this mess was still happening today; but also felt inspired that this work is a continuum that we see in the Black Lives Matter Movement, founded by Alicia Garza.
Eerily, at the same time I was looking through Emory’s book and thinking about how to implement it into my own work, I was on Facebook looking through Vegans of Color group posts. Someone had posted a current image depicting the Black Lives Matter movement in which there is a carton of young Black person fighting against the militarized police state. The police officers depicted in the cartoon are drawn as pigs. The person who posted the image said, “word to her and the energy/people/movement she represents! but to the system she/we oppose–let’s not disparage actual pigs in the process, yeah? (smile)”. Perfect timing that he would write this while I was looking through the Emory Douglas book because I had been thinking the same thing since I received the book as a wonderful gift for my birthday, about 5 years ago, signed by him by way of my friend Frank. He even referred to me as “Sistah Vegan” in the inscription. I briefly talked to him at one of Frank’s birthday parties. (I admit it: I was too shy to talk more to him, just like I was too shy to talk more to Angela Davis and give her a copy of my book. Yup, I’m still shaking my head over that one…and then I learn she’s vegan and probably would have appreciated Sistah Vegan. LOL. Oh well, live an learn.)
First of all, I cannot reiterate enough that Emory Douglas’s book is genius, amazing, and inspiring. The work he has done as a Black Liberationist and Black Panther is truly remarkable and has deeply influenced the direction of my own work. In addition, Emory Douglas eats a vegan diet. However, what is striking to me as someone who is a critical race , black feminist, and critical vegan scholar, I noticed throughout his work that Douglas depicts cops as ‘bacon’ and ‘pigs’.
I know that everyone changes throughout life and what we ate or believed in at 30 may differ drastically at 40, then 50, etc. So, I’ve been wondering about Emory Douglas’ vegan dietary practice and if this practice has changed his thoughts on he having used pigs as a way to demonize and depict the police state of the USA in the 1960s and 1970s. I wonder what he’d say about it; if he still agrees with his use of pig images to protest racialized state violence against Black people. (See a few of many images depicting cops as pigs, in the book below).
I’ve also been thinking a lot how the consumption of pigs, among ‘conscious’ Black people who no longer eat animals, has long been associated as being a ‘filthy’ and ‘low’ animal; that many ‘conscious’ Black people working hard to decolonize and liberate Black people have chosen to not eat pigs because they believe they are ‘dirty animals’…. as opposed to the belief that eating pigs is cruel because of the suffering that pigs go through as a commodity in the mainstream food system of the USA. There seems to be a speciesist vegan dietary element to this logic; quite a contradiction in many ways. But, I want to dig deeper and I don’t want to dismiss the brilliant work of Black liberationist who think this way about pigs and human consumption.
I hope to continue to think through Emory’s work and figure out a way to talk about the significance of his work through a vegan praxis of Black Lives Matters… Emory, if you are reading this, please let me know if you’d be interested in talking about this for the Sistah Vegan Conference, which is online in April: The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter.
Hey folk out here, if what I have written above has got your wheels turning, then I hope you will join us, support us, donate to us, and/or sponsor the upcoming Sistah Vegan hosted online conference, The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter. During the conference, I hope we can talk more about the meaning of Emory Douglas’ work (maybe even by way of Emory himself), the use of pig imagery in resisting racist police state, consuming a vegan diet, and the difficult contradictions we all often find ourselves in; after all, many of us as Black Lives Matter activists of color– vegan and non-vegan– are still practicing the decolonization of our minds around internalized racism as well as speciesist notions of ‘the place of the animal’; it is a continuum and I want to build on Douglas’ work, not dismiss or start honing in only on the images of ‘cops and pigs, pigs as cops.’ His work– and many of the Black Panthers who have written about Black Liberation (many who were not vegetarian or vegan) have deeply influenced the direction of my work in a positive manner. I’m about ‘building’ on this, acknowledging possible weaknesses or methods that may not apply now, and moving forward while not forgetting about the past!
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How to Get Dr. A. Breeze Harper to Speak at Your Institution or Organization
If you would like to invite Dr. A. Breeze Harper to speak at your institution or organization, please contact her by clicking here.
Dr. Harper’s most recent talk “ON FERGUSON, THUG KITCHEN &TRAYVON MARTIN: INTERSECTIONS OF [POST] RACE-CONSCIOUSNESS, FOOD JUSTICE AND HIP-HOP VEGANISM” took place at Middlebury College, Fall 2014. It can be viewed here.
If you like A. Breeze Harper’s work, click here to find out how you can support her latest book project (in which her Middlebury lecture is based on) and Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter conference.
And we are the only project working on a critical race and decolonial analytical book about veganism, ethical consumption, hip hop veganism, and alternative black masculinities. Find out more here.
As much as I love mainstream vegan recipe blogs, I’d love to see more critical and outspoken posts that question systemic oppression beyond non-human animal cruelty. It is possible to throw down a mad cool recipe about local ingredients to make sorbet and then talk about how systemic racism makes so many of us sick…and then offer some recipes for ‘racial tension headaches’ to start the conversation about what it’s like trying to eat vegan food in a USA in which the food system– well, ‘the system’ overall– maintains and perpetuates racism and justifies/normalizes anti-black violence as well as speciesist violence.
On a side note, several of you have asked about my hair. It’s big, fluffy, and voluminous. A lot of folk who have had more than one baby, have told me that their hair is thin or has and continues to fall out. I had the same problem until I figured out this secret.
We had waffles for dinner tonight. Very healthy! The kids loved this nutrient packed power house. We use olive oil for ‘butter’ and always have. They love it!
1 cup Spelt flour
1\2 c almond flour
1\2 c buckwheat flour
2.25 c of soy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking power
5 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 table spoon chia seeds (soak in soy milk for ten minutes first so it can gel up and become egg replacer). I prefer these over flax. Flax tastes bad to me when it is cooked.
Throw in blender on high for two minutes.
I use Duraceramic non Teflon Belgian waffle maker and Vita mix blender. I use a fair trade more sustainable coconut oil. I notice if I don’t add sugar and use coconut oil, the waffles never stick.
This weekend, I attended an amazing event in Oakland, CA. On January 3, 2015, I took my 1 , 3, and 5 year old children, with husband in tow, to a Black Lives Matter Story Time, Teach-in, and Protest event for 2-8 year olds and their families. We loved it. Below is my 3 year old daughter holding a Black Lives Matter poster, painted by the brilliant Daryl Wells. My daughter is too young, at this time, to thoroughly understand systemic racism, but there is no harm in bringing her to social justice events to plant those seeds. As I go through the process of raising my 3 children, I have reminded myself time and time again, how grateful I am that my own parents planted similar seeds of social justice, critical thinking, and compassion into my mind when I was a wee one…
The children read Dr. Seuss book, The Sneetches , to better understand concepts of discrimination, privilege, abuse of power, etc. They learned songs with social justice themes and made their own stars (an idea inspired by the Dr. Seuss book) to wear together while we marched toward the Lake Merritt Farmer’s market in song. The Colorful Mamas of the 99% group put the event together. I am very proud of them. I have been trying to creatively think of ways to talk about Black Lives Matter with my very young children since this past summer. Thankfully, this event gave me the tools I need to start building and producing age appropriate resources for preschool aged and elementary school aged youngsters.
Ok, ABCnews7 and SFGate news media outlets were there to get the scoop on what was going on, taking photos, interviewing the organizers, and the kids participating. It was amazing (and also sad) to hear several young children actually say that they wanted to make sure their siblings, as well as non-white friends, are treated fairly and with love. There are children who DO know what is going on and have expressed their concerns about they themselves and/or family members being brutalized by the criminal justice system. So, I know one isn’t supposed to read comments, but afterABCnews7 andSFGate news posted the articles about the event, I eagerly went to their sites to read the stories. I foolishly thought that a majority of the comments would be supportive and that being in the SF Bay Area, which is supposedly the center of diversity and ‘but we aren’t racist like those southerners’ , I found the comments to be filled with vitriol, hate, and ignorance. Most of the commenters were disgusted that us parent were ‘brainwashing’ our children; we needed to simply teach our kids to abide by the law and not play the race card when we get into trouble. Huh? One commenter even cried ‘child abuse’ (Palm into face). Another commenter bashed the city of Oakland and expected that parents from Oakland would teach their children to become horrible citizens. Again, palm into face. Hello? When did teaching your kids to not be racist assholes become equated with brainwashing?
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, I recently decided to create and organize ”The Vegan Praxis of ‘Black Lives Matter'” conference. It is scheduled for April 24-25 2015 (http://www.sistahveganconference.com). Since attending the Oakland story-time and teach-in event, the wheels have been spinning in my head. I now want to figure out how to convey the message of Black Lives Matter (within the context of veganism) to a very young audience for the conference (and for adults who care for young children). Anyone out there interested in doing that for this conference?
I also began to think about how the mainstream ‘food revolution’ companies, gurus, service providers, etc., rarely, if ever, incorporate anti-racism into their goals. Nor do I ever see much needed critiques that question neoliberal whiteness rhetoric imbued in the current globalized capitalist economy that the vegan commodity chain is anchored in. Just recently, I contacted a white male vegan who seeks to revolutionize eating through holistic veganism. I explained that I look at how race and gender impact one’s concept of veganism, ethical eating, consciousness, etc. His response was, “Huh? What do race and gender have to do with veganism?” I directed him to my dissertation. Why repeat what has already been written? I get these comments and questions a lot and end up directing folk to my dissertation. After, I usually only hear crickets, as I did with him.
For most of us food justice and anti-racist activists of color (and allies), we know that there can be no revolution of the ‘way we eat’ until there is a sincere praxis of dismantling racism at the systemic, structural, and institutional levels. And who is ‘we’ anyway , other than the usual white post-racial economically stable consumer? You know, the ‘we’ who find it annoying that Black folk are invading their white brunch spaces to forcethem to think beyond the purity of their slow food, many times in a restaurant made possible through gentrification and the displacement of communities of color in the SF Bay area? For this collective demographic, they seem addicted to both food purity and the purity of neoliberal whiteness philosophies (i.e. ‘But aren’t we all postracial?’ ‘Doesn’t it mean you are racist if you bring in anything to do with skin color or race?’)
I am looking forward to the Sistah Vegan conference. If you enjoyed reading this, as well as other projects I have done, please consider becoming a monthly donor or making a one time pledge to support this work, my new book project, conference, etc.
(UPDATED DEC 31 2014, 950 AM PDT) CORRECTION: MARISSA’S 2 OLDER CHILDREN, TWINS, ARE FROM HER FIRST MARRIAGE AND OUR NOT RICO GRAY’S BIOLOGICAL CHILDREN
The group performs their social-justice teach in routine to educate folk about Marissa Alexander.
Below, Nell Myhand brilliantly gives the context of systemic racism, misogyny, and exploitative capitalist economy in understanding why and how Marissa’s situation happened the way it did.
Below, LaJuana gives an amazing performance of Rico Gray’s testimony. Gray is Marissa’s abusive husband.
Next we have a performance of Marissa’s Testimony:
Below, Xan Joi and others explain Marissa’s case, their caravan trip to do social justice teach-ins across the nation.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
If you want to be part of the caravan and live in the Easy Bay CA area, contact Xan Joi at firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you can fund this East Bay Caravan, then go here. Please be aware that this is funding for the CARAVAN to support these womyn’s trip. To support Marissa Alexander’s legal fees and other financial needs, go here to the Free Marissa Now national campaign.
To Learn more about the Sistah Vegan Project’s focus on “Vegan Praxis of ‘Black Lives Matter'”, you can find our more about our upcoming conference.