Veganism: Not a White Thing

After reading a recent interview of Bryant Terry, I was inspired to write a short post on the absence of knowledge about Black (and other people of color) vegetarian advocates in the mainstream (i.e. white) vegetarian community. My feeling is that this is no coincidence, but a product of white privilege whereby white authors and contributors receive more authority and interest. Although according to a 2006 nation-wide VRG poll, there are as many African- and Hispanic Americans as white ones practicing a vegetarian diet, veg*nism is still misrepresented as a thing “white people like“. Here is an excerpt from the recent interview on Terry’s third cook book (and second vegan one), The Inspired Vegan:

VN: Why do you think the belief persists that veganism is a privileged white person phenomenon?
BT: Most of the catalysts for my embracing vegetarianism—and then veganism—came from people of color. The first moment when I really thought about animal rights and a compassionate outlook was when I heard the song “Beef” by Boogie Down Productions and the rapper KRS-One. It was such a brilliant, articulate discussion of the horrors of factory farming and what animals have to endure. I also read this book by African-American activist and comedian Dick Gregory, Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet For Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature, in which he talks about his journey of going from an omnivore to a vegetarian and a vegan and a fruitarian, and that was deeply impactful. I started connecting with this community of folks in Memphis who were Rastafarians, who were Seventh-Day Adventists, who were people in the Nation of Islam, who all had vegan diets. Before that, I had been in the straight-edge punk community, which was made of conscious white folks who were thinking about these issues, but I pretty much always hung around vegans of color. So many things that people of color do aren’t illuminated in the media or shown to the wider culture. If you never go into an African-American community or go into an Afro-Caribbean community, how would you even know that they have five or six vegan restaurants? One of my missions as well as a cookbook author is to ensure that African American and Afro-Caribbean cuisine isn’t “ghetto-ized” or approached in a very patronizing way. I want to let people know that they can have a healthful meal of African-American cuisine, beyond stereotypes, beyond this very narrow perception.

Check out the rest of the interview at VEGNEWS. You can also watch Bryant Terry and other advocates discuss food justice at Sistah Vegan. For more on the white-washing of vegetarianism in the United States, refer to HEALTH. Below is KRS-One’s hit “Beef” from his 1990 album Edutainment.

Beef, what a relief
When will this poisonous product cease?
This is another public service announcement
You can believe it, or you can doubt it
Let us begin now with the cow
The way it gets to your plate and how
The cow doesn’t grow fast enough for man
So through his greed he makes a faster plan
He has drugs to make the cow grow quicker
Through the stress the cow gets sicker
Twenty-one different drugs are pumped
Into the cow in one big lump
So just before it dies, it cries
In the slaughterhouse full of germs and flies
Off with the head, they pack it, drain it, and cart it
And there it is, in your local supermarket
Red and bloody, a corpse, neatly packed
And you wonder about heart attacks?
Come on now man let’s be for real
You are what you eat is the way I feel
But, the Food and Drug Administration
Will tell you meat is the perfect combination
See cows live under fear and stress
Trying to think what’s gonna happen next
Fear and stress can become a part of you
In your cells and blood, this is true
So when the cow is killed, believe it
You preserve those cells, you freeze it
Thaw it out with the blood and season it
Then you sit down and begin eatin it
In your body, it’s structure becomes your structure
All the fear and stress of another
Any drug is addictive by any name
Even drugs in meat, they are the same
The FDA has America strung out
On drugs in beef no doubt
So if you think that what I say is a bunch of crock
Tell yourself you’re gonna try and stop
Eatin meat and you’ll see you can’t compete
It’s the number one drug on the street
Not crack, cause that was made for just black
But brown beef, for all American teeth
Life brings life and death brings death
Keep on eatin the dead and what’s left
Absolute disease and negative
Read the book ‘How to Eat to Live’
By Elijah Muhammad, it’s a brown paperback
For anybody, either white or black
See how many cows must be pumped up fatter
How many rats gotta fall in the batter
How many chickens that eat shit you eat
How much high blood pressure you get from pig feet
See you’ll consume, the FDA could care less
They’ll sell you donkey meat and say it’s
FRESH! For nineteen-ninety, you SUCKERS

*Also noteworthy is Marvin Gaye’s song “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” one of the first songs to address ecological degradation in the United States.

Categories: Race, Social Conciousness | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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