While there are some excellent exceptions to the rule of factory farming … (selling ethically raised meats, eggs, and dairy), being a veg*n in Virginia is an important way to avoid benefiting from the suffering of animals–directly or indirectly.*1
This is a terrible thing to say about animal agriculture. Not only dangerous and harmful, but just blatantly wrong as well.
Now, you are probably anticipating, perhaps almost reflexively at this point, one of my cutting assaults on the myriad problems contained, both explicitly and implicitly, in this quotation–a mildly abusive disabusing of any notion that there can be any such thing as “ethically raised” animal products, based on biology, history, and my experiences rescuing animals from any number of farming situations.
And you are right. But there’s a catch:
I wrote this.
This utterly shameful utterance is mine, and not from distant times before I was vegan and while I still held fanciful notions that animals and animal products were ours to eat. No, I was vegan when I wrote this in 2010…
One of the problems with writing is that at some future point you may find yourself performing a retrospective, either by will or by force. Sometimes that can be illuminating, sometimes it can be a foray into the warmth and fuzziness of nostalgia, and sometimes that can instigate a moment of growth. Sometimes it can also be fucking painful, filled with embarrassment and dismay that you could ever have believed–let alone stated–such nonsense.
I had occasion recently to look back at some old blog posts and articles of mine dealing with animal agriculture, and I found myself thoroughly appalled at sentiments like these, which betrayed not only a lack of consistency with my own then-professed vegan ethics, and not merely an easy acceptance of animal exploitation and consumption as societal givens, but also a pervasively ridiculous lack of understanding of the very animals I was attempting, so I thought, to defend.
All of this, while still forcing me to shake my head in disbelief (I’m doing so as I type, mind you), is in a certain degree explicable. Don’t get me wrong: my viscera scream out at the inexplicable attempt by anyone to talk about “ethical” animal products in earnest, and it makes this entire trip down memory lane rather agonizing. Still, it is by no means an aberration of how we, generally, both vegans and non-vegans, deal with basically every instance in which the interests of non-humans and the whimsies of humans collide: we get what we want and find ways to make ourselves feel better about hurting others in the process.
I don’t mean that as a cop out. I don’t want to walk down this lane, but I believe it is both instructive and illustrative of just how easy it is to be vegan without also committing to an anti-speciesist fight for liberation and the end of oppression, and thus not really getting at the root causes of why we oppress other animals.
In other words, there is no lack of examples of vegans hedging their bets when discussing veganism and animal rights, wanting to “stop cruelty to animals” and to “choose compassion” whilst simultaneously being terrified of offending, angering, or otherwise disturbing their interlocutors–or, even worse, not actually believing that animals deserve autonomy, not nicer management. This is one reason why “factory farming” is such a useful bogey in the realm of debate: vegans can avoid stepping over the “extremist” line by allowing all sorts of exploitation, as long as the meat (or milk or eggs or whatever) isn’t from a “factory farm”; and, without having to stop enjoying meat (or milk or eggs and so on), a non-vegan can list the many reasons why and methods by which they DO NOT support “factory farming.” Isn’t that great? We all get to enjoy the low-hanging fruit!
Because I’m feeling masochistic (when aren’t I?), let’s consider another example of my mistaken prior arguments:
The lack of widespread, reliable protection for farmed animals makes it an ethical imperative that we become conscientious consumers of animal products. Unless we buy direct from the farmer, how can we be sure we are not paying for factory-farmed animals. Even if we don’t opt for the most humane step of going vegan, and so refusing to turn animals into mere commodities, we can become vegetarian. Or if we do use animal products, we can shop compassionately, researching the producers of them.*2
There’s a lot to unpack here, but the central issue is a mindset that feeds the Humane Myth–and shows how vegans perpetuate the Humane Myth constantly. There’s almost a grudgingly fleeting effort to broach the possibility of veganism as the only acceptable response to animal exploitation, and it gets lost in the distracting gesticulations that seek to steer people away from “factory farming” rather than from what matters: the systemic oppression of non-human beings.
This example is so useful, and damning, because of how visibly ethics–which demand considerations of justice and autonomy of other beings, regardless of species–are buried under the miasma of “humane” exploitation. Indeed, “humane” is a particularly revealing device in this case because it is so clear that it’s all about us, about humans, and not about other animals. The fact that “humane” elicits a spontaneous overflow of feeling that something is approximating humanness is exactly why it’s so problematic: calling exploitation “humane” is only possible when it’s really about us, and what we want, and what serves our ends. In fact, “human” plus “e” does not equal “happy animals.”
Thus, it is irrelevant how much we know about a farmer or a farm, just as it is irrelevant where, how, and by what methods or with what intentions a non-human animal was born, raised, used, and killed. These are all trappings of human solipsism, a speciesist selfishness that allows us to believe that treating another being, who isn’t like us, sort of like us, means we can pretend they aren’t being meaningfully harmed by our actions. Because of our privilege as humans who benefit from a system of domination, we are able to pick and choose what aspects of their experience we want to trouble ourselves with…a mental prestidigitation that is absolutely necessary for us to perform in order to even conceptualize the word “humane” in regards to animal agriculture.
And that’s exactly what I was doing, which I see so clearly now provided more than enough material for anyone to believe they can find a way to eat animals and still be a swell human(e).
In the ensuing eight years since I wrote those terrible things, a lot has happened. Marriage, animal rescues, a move, and being battered about by the tide of public awareness. Also many new family members have come, and gone–so many individuals who have made me understand what it means to care enough for someone else that your own self-interest seems less of a scream and more of a whisper.
And loss. So much loss.
I feel very little for the person I was back then, with that mindset: no anger, no sympathy, nothing really beyond shame at what I said. If I’m to be honest, I think it best he is a thing of the past, and I don’t have to deal with him much anymore. Perhaps you’re thinking that I should extend some compassion to the him who was me. Perhaps you’re right. I won’t, however, though you are welcome to.
Reading my own words, I feel as if I’ve betrayed every animal who is living and has lived with us here, as family…the time and context of that other person-I-was don’t matter. All that matters is how seriously wrong I was.
So what I needed then is not compassion but a good talking to, a firm nudge towards the fact that all forms of animal exploitation are inherently unethical and irrevocably harmful because they happen most significantly in the biology of these beings, not just on the farm or in the slaughterhouse. Even more, I needed to meet those individuals who actually endure the violence of domestication and exploitation, to experience for myself who they are and what their lives are like and how trivial the supposed distinctions are between one method of animal farming and another, between one species and another. Even more still, I needed to feel how priceless they are in order to understand the absurd offensiveness of how little we value them. For therein lies the strongest rebuttal to all my bullshit about ethically raised this and conscientiously consumed that. All my human(e) hot air is revealed to be nonsense in the face of their fates as beings bred to be consumed by us.
My wife and I have rescued hundreds of animals in the ensuing years, and every one of them has meant something deeply to us. Every time we lose someone, I get another peek behind the curtain of the Humane Myth, and I see yet another way human actions have harmed these beings under human oppression. I see all the things we could not save them from: reproductive diseases, compromised immune systems and pathogens waiting to pounce, hormonal imbalances, muscular and skeletal abnormalities, injuries, negligence, cruelty, apathy…all for the convenience and pleasure of humans. I also see all the ways in which “sanctuary” is as much about giving dignity to them in death as it is about giving them an opportunity to experience life, and letting loss inform how you live with the ones you still have: the loss of loved ones brings with it the cruelest and most unforgiving insights into what they suffer at human hands.
What I wish for my then-self is not a vague and coddling compassion, no, but that I had been able to know before opening my mouth the individuals whom I have known since then. How they live both under and despite human domination is more than sufficient an argument for us to stop harming them, and really all we need to do to see this is to shift our focus from ourselves and onto them.
The vegan and animal rights movements have failed at many, many things. Despite what large corporate organizations are saying, the evidence that “we are winning” is pretty damn sparse. Veganism is slipping more and more quickly down a slope of consumerism, while the many ethics-based activists try desperately to cling to principles and strategies that are part of an actual ethical framework rather than on (slightly) altering consumption habits.
“The movement” has also done an outrageously horrible job of ridding itself of most of the privilege-based biases that allow oppression(s) to persist in human culture: racism, sexism, nationalism/xenophobia, anti-gay and anti-trans heteronormativity, sizeism, ageism, ableism, and a disturbing amount of speciesism as well.
This is all quite evident in most online vegan/AR discussion forums, as well as in mainstream vegan marketing. The appeal is almost always to an audience that is presumed to be fully capable of accessing and purchasing an endless array of “cruelty-free” consumables. In the activism and advocacy arenas, the expectation is that “anything for the animals” is available to everyone equally.
I am a perfect example of how problematic these biased assumptions can be. I went for twelve years as a white male vegan before I encountered, purely by chance and my own curiosity in researching, any real challenge to my assumptions as a privileged person in society and in veganism.
That challenge was intersectionality, and its emphasis on the interconnected nature of oppressions made instant sense. “Intersectionality” as a term had been around since Kimberlé Crenshaw coined it back in 1989, but it (and the associated awareness of other experiences and perspective than my own that it required) had played no part in my conceptions or advocacy as a vegan.
My experience also reflects well the general arc of theory and praxis in mainstream veganism. You see the effects in a variety of ways, from tokenizing of non-whites in marketing materials and prototypical “progressive” liberal efforts to be “inclusive” that reek of corporatized diversity plans, to outright racist (et al.) microaggressions that either downplay or overlook the truly remarkable work being done outside of the mainstream by activists of all makes and models.
Thankfully, intersectionality is gaining traction in veganism and animal rights, and more and more powerful voices are speaking up about the need for intersectional discussion and activism. Of course, and not surprisingly, there is an equally vigorous backlash burgeoning amongst many vegans–predominantly white, male vegans, I should add.
Two recent examples: Aph Ko’s groundbreaking article “#BlackVegansRock: 100 Black Vegans to Check Out” suddenly became an occasion for beating of the racist vegan bushes when The Vegan Society shared it on their Facebook page. The chants of “we are all vegan” and “it’s all about the animals” and “why you being so RACIST?” had that dreadful echo of “All Lives Matter” that exemplifies the failure of vegans to understand why intersectionality is so essential for actual long-term gains for the non-human AND the human animals.
Another recent article likens intersectionality to a “cult” because, well…cults do not have acceptable editorial standards among other things. While the rise of intersectionality is also a good occasion for all of us to remain extremely intentional and reflective in how we do theory and practice, there are some real persistent problems with (white) (male) vegan privilege being used to respond to intersectionality with any number of conversation-ending laments and tears.
Generally speaking, whatever points are being made in these and other similar criticisms about pro-intersectional advocates forgetting the non-humans rely not just on privilege. They also function by de-contextualizing what intersectionality is and addressing it as if it is like a camp of the movement. Doing so is a fundamental failure because of the impact that a pro-intersectional approach has on the real lives of non-white, non-male activists. Even if lip service is paid to the interconnection of oppressions, it is damn touchy as a classically privileged person/activist to wag your finger and mutter, “Animals tho.”
The movement has done a pretty shitty job for the animals in general, but it has perhaps done even worse for non-white non-males. I personally find intersectionality to be a powerful and long-overdue corrective, and it offers what is a truly revolutionary imperative, all because it challenges the hegemonic privilege of most of the vegans who currently hog the mainstream’s spotlight.
I am treating this piece as a performance art piece, not a blog post. Each time someone from the animal rights/vegan community wants to write an article about how white the animal rights/vegan movement is, I hope that they choose one person from this list to write an article about instead.
This list is not in any particular order, and it is not meant to be completely exhaustive. Additionally, I can’t guarantee that everyone on this list is still vegan, though they were at the time of my research. I acquired this information simply by researching online and asking around. Also, I must note that I personally don’t think eating a plant-based diet automatically means that you’re a political activist or animal rights activist. As I said in a previous post “Veganism without politicization only yields de-contexualized diets.”
Nevertheless, this list is meant to serve as a statement for anyone who says “veganism is white.”
If you know of other black vegans that are not listed, please comment with their name and bio. If you’re frustrated with the routine exclusion of black folks from these spaces, then share, share, share.
[If you see an error in your bio, or you want something corrected, email me at email@example.com and I’ll fix it. I only want the comments section to be filled with more black vegan names.]
Christopher-Sebastian is a well-known activist who is currently a staff writer at Vegan Publishers. He also organizes events and discussions relative to exploring the intersectionality of veganism and other movements for social justice including women, the LGBT community, and people of color. McJetters participated in the 2015 Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matters conference. McJetters is also a collaborator for Striving with Systems.
3. Kimberly Elise
As a famous actress, Elise is known for playing in films like For Colored Girls, Diary of A Mad Black Woman, and The Manchurian Candidate, but she is also an enthusiastic vegan. Elise runs her own site called Kimberly Elise Natural Livingwhere she posts vegan recipes as well as health and beauty advice. She has also written a post about why she became vegan in the first place saying:
“With the deletion of meat and animal products from my diet came a physical blossoming I never planned on. My skin cleared up, my hair grew in thicker and stronger, my moods became more peaceful and more joyful.”
4. Angela Davis
Dr. Angela Davis is a famous scholar, activist, and writer. She is perhaps best known for being a political prisoner in the 1970s. Dr. Davis ran for Vice President of the United States in 1980 and 1984 on the Communist Party ticket. Davis is very outspoken about the prison-industrial complex and has recently become more vocal about her vegan politics. At the 27th Empowering Women of Color Conference, Davis stated:
“I think it’s the right moment to talk about it because it is part of a revolutionary perspective – how can we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how can we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet and that would mean challenging the whole capitalist industrial form of food production.”
Bryant Terry is a chef, educator, and author known for his activist mission to make a healthy, just, and sustainable food system. Bryant’s fourth book, Afro Vegan, was published in April 2014. In December it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Literary Work category.
He is currently the Chef in Residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, All Things Considered, O: The Oprah Magazine, Colorlines, Vegetarian Times, and CNN.com among many other publications.
7. Syl Ko
Syl Ko is a vegan counter-culture activist and graduate student in philosophy. Her primary interest is in critical animal studies but she also focuses on black feminism, the history of philosophy and (increasingly) decolonial theory. In between research and teaching, Syl volunteers for local organizations that promote community engagement with social justice issues. Syl is known for co-writing the article “5 Reasons for Why Animal Rights are a Feminist Issue” on Everyday Feminism. She also plays the voice of “Marie” in the web-series Black Feminist Blogger.
8. Aph Ko
Aph is a social justice activist, feminist, writer, and indie digital media producer. She is known for making fictional comedy web-series that tackle social justice issues. Tales from the Kraka Tower satirizes diversity in academia [and features a vegan black character], and Black Feminist Blogger highlights the massive amount of invisible labor in blogging. Her work has been featured on theDaily Beast, Ebony, Slate, the Feminist Wire, Afropunk, Black Girl Nerds, and more. She is known for co-writing the article with her sister Syl “5 Reasons for Why Animal Rights are a Feminist Issue.” She was awarded the 2015 Anti-Racist Change-Maker of the Year Award by the Sistah Vegan Project & the Pollination Project.
9. Venus Williams
Known for her athletic achievements, Venus Williams is one of the most famous tennis players of all time. In February 2002, she became the first black woman to ever win world #1 in singles. She has won 4 Olympic gold medals. She became a raw food vegan after she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that caused fatigue and pain.
10. Serena Williams
As a younger sister to Venus, Serena is also a tennis powerhouse. She is currently ranked No. 1 in Women’s Single Tennis. She became vegan to help accommodate Venus saying, “I don’t want her to come home and see a piece of chicken and be like, ‘Oh, I want it,’ and she can’t have it. It would be like a stumbling block for her.” While eating raw vegan food, Serena won the 2013 U.S. Open as well as the 2015 French Open.
11. Erykah Badu
Erykah Badu is a famous singer-songwriter, artist, and activist known for her eclectic style and smooth soulful vocals. Known as the “Queen of Neo-Soul,” Badu is also very vocal about her vegan diet, making connections between animal abuse as well as the systemic food injustices towards people of color. In an interview with VegNews in 2008, Badu said, “[What farmed animals] endure is just terrible. It’s horrible…black people, poor people-we’ve not really been introduced to the injustices behind what we eat…Vegan food is soul food in its truest form. Soul food means to feed the soul. And, to me, your soul is your intent. If your intent is pure, you are pure.”
12. Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis is a former Olympic athlete, famous for being a dominant sprinter and long-jumper. Lewis won 10 Olympic gold medals and was named “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. He became vegan for health reasons and wrote, “Keep in mind that eating vegan does require a commitment to being good to your body and to acting responsibly toward the world around you. Most of us are not aware of how much damage we do to our bodies and to our world by the way we eat.”
13. Tracye McQuirter
Tracye is a vegan trailblazer, public health nutritionist, author, lecturer, and 30-year vegan. She has a master’s in public health and is the author of By Any Greens Necessary, which was the #1 recommended vegan book on The Huffington Post.
Tracye served as program director of the nation’s first federally funded vegan nutrition program, the Vegetarian Society of DC Eat Smart Program, and has been teaching vegan nutrition seminars for more than 25 years.
Tracye also served as a policy advisor for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, helping to create the strategy for a groundbreaking lawsuit proving food industry bias in the formation of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.
14. Marya McQuirter, Ph.D.
Sister to Tracye McQuirter, Marya is a sustainability consultant, scholar, and blogger based in Washington, DC. She works with universities, businesses, and non-profits on researching, writing, and marketing their sustainability portfolios. She also lectures widely on sustainability and writes about sustainability on her blog, chocolate & arugula. Marya and her sister started one of the first ever vegan websites for African Americans.
15. Afya Ibomu
Afya Ibomu is a Holistic Nutritionist, Author, the CEO of NATTRAL.com, and has been a living plant based since 1990. Her third book, The Vegan Soul Food Guide to the Galaxy, was nominated for an African American Literary Award for cookbook of the year. Afya is certified in Holistic Health and holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. Afya is a celebrity nutritionist and crochet designer working with hip hop artists such as Erykah Badu, Common, Dead Prez, and Talib Kweli. Afya currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, stic.man of dead prez, and their thirteen year-old son, Itwela.
16. Monique Koch
Monique is a writer, speaker, and YouTuber. After having a hard time finding vegans of color, she started to journey into entrepreneurship. Her goal is to show that you can live a vegan lifestyle that is fun, accessible, and delicious with your family.
Monique runs the Brown Vegan website where she offers a down-to-earth approach to vegan life for families.
17. Lucas & Kenya
Kenya and Lucas are a vegan married couple with two identical twin boys. They run Our Vegan Pregnancy, a website dedicated to tracking their pregnancy and subsequent upbringing of their two boys. They also detail their children’s journey through veganism.
18. Kevin Tillman
Kevin Tillman is becoming a household name in the field of food justice, activism, and veganism. Founder of the Vegan Hip Hop Movement, Kevin is a public speaker, animal rights activist, and feminist. The Vegan Hip Hop movement is about food justice with a plant-based/decolonial diet perspective meeting hip hop. They explore the intersections of other animal/human/earth liberation. The fusion of veganism and hip hop is designed to promote holistic activism.
In an interview with Vegan Straight Edge, he said:
“… Hip Hop has historically served as the mouthpiece for oppressed groups in society (i.e. the poor and people of color). Veganism applied to this level of activism only expands the circle for other oppressed beings, other animals. We are all animals and the sooner folks make the connection the better off we all are.”
Gregory was also a civil rights activist and outspoken feminist. In 1978 he marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the United States Capitol with a crowd of over 100,000 on Women’s Equality Day in 1978 to demonstrate for a ratification deadline extension for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
20. Queen Afua
Queen Afua is the founder of Queen Afua Wellness Center and is an internationally renowned best-selling author, holistic wellness entrepreneur, and natural health practitioner.
With more than 40 years of experience, Queen Afua has built a wellness empire that also includes the Global City of Wellness Institute, the Phenomenal Woman of Wellness School, and the Heal Thyself School.
Queen Afua has lectured at UNESCO, NASA, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Tuskegee University, the University of the Virgin Islands, as well as many other universities and institutions throughout the country.
21. Makini Howell
Makini Howell is the owner of Plum Bistro, a vegan restaurant in Seattle, Washington and she’s also the author of the popular cookbook Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro. Howell is a lifelong vegan and self-trained chef. She earned a degree in fashion design and spent eight years making men’s clothing before successfully becoming a chef.
Latham is a graduate of Columbia University, where she earned a degree in Visual arts and Environmental science, as well as the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is a certified holistic health counselor, who mixes her passions of plant physiology, botany, holistic nutrition, fitness, yoga, and green cuisine into a lifestyle program that supports the various needs of her clients. She is the co-founder of Panela Productions, a company that educates parents and children about food, through cooking classes, and events.
Ashel Eldridge aka Seasunz, originally from Chicago, is a frontman emcee, vocalist, producer, and the founder of Earth Amplified. Based in Oakland, he performs and presents his conscious music, poetry and spiritual activism nationally.
Seasunz is a co-founder of United Roots – Oakland’s Green Youth Arts and Media Center, where he serves as the Health and Sustainability Coordinator. He is also the founder of SOS Juice, a solar-powered, revenue-generating nonprofit that sells juice and smoothies at farmers markets, promotes health, supports sustainable agriculture, and creates green career paths for low-income youth and theformerly incarcerated.
26. Stic Man
Stic Man [Khnum Muata Ibomu] is a rapper, activist, and author. He is known for being in the political hip-hop duo Dead Prez. In an article he wrote titled “7 Ways to Eat Good on a Hood Budget” he says, “We can eat healthy on a hood budget. We deserve the best and we can start living like we understand our value by choosing to adopt healthier habits. When the hood is strong, we are truly unstoppable.”
For Stic Man, promoting a healthy lifestyle through veganism is political social justice activism. He became vegan after he was diagnosed with gout in his 20’s and was introduced to veganism through his wife. His album, The Workout, promotes themes of health and wellness with songs titled “Runners High”; “Let it Burn”; “Yoga Mat”‘ and “Sober Soldier.” Check out this interview with Stic Man on the Huffington Post.
27. Brandie Skorker
Brandie was recently awarded with one of the 2015 Anti-Racist Change-Maker of the Year Awards given out by the Sistah Vegan Project and the Pollination Project. Brandie is a queer femme living in Boston, Ma., smashing patriarchy, standing up for animals, loving her body unconditionaly, fighting against racism, homophobia, transphobia, and street harassment. Brandie is a Community Engagement Coordinator for VINE Sanctuary. She runs the Feministfists website
28. Jim Morris
Jim Morris is a body-builder who has competed for over 30 years. He has won titles like Mr. USA and Mr. Olympia Masters Over 60.
He has been a bold game-changer in the world of bodybuilding because of his identity as a gay black vegan man.
After experiencing some health issues, Morris transitioned from vegetarianism to veganism. He says,“The western civilization culture is anti-health in that it is designed to produce profit not health.”
29. Isis Kane
Isis Kane is an Exotic Pole Dancer, Video Artist, and Writer.
Originally beginning her career as a filmmaker, Isis sought a new outlet of expression through dance. After finishing her first documentary, she has since dedicated herself to the art of Pole Dance, and currently travels as a performer and Erotic Dance workshop instructor around the U.S. and beyond.
A passionate animal rights advocate, Isis has also spoken at the 2015 Sistah Vegan Conference, and created several videos highlighting various social issues. She is also the author of VeganFeministripper.com, a blog which highlights her personal journey and experiences as a Radical Earthling Goddess.
Isis believes that women’s connection to their bodies, authentic sexuality, and orgasm is an essential part of our global revolution.
To see more of her work, check out her website at isiskane.com.
30. Keith Tucker
Keith Tucker is a health activist, film maker, radio host, journalist, and speaker. For over 20 years, Tucker has been a social justice activist and he was the host of the radio program The Keith Tucker Show. He is the producer of the film, Pursuit of a Green Planet.
He received the 2015 Martin Luther King County Executives Award for Community service, the MLK County Executives award for Hip Hop Excellence and the 2015 Jefferson Award and is responsible for the first ever Hip Hop Health day.
Supa Nova Slom, the son of Queen Afua, is a dynamic musical artist, established author, wellness advocate, and community advocate dedicated to the well-being of young people. His name means: “Shining with the brilliance of a hundred million stars.”
Dexter Scott King is president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change in Atlanta, and has been a vegan since the 1980s. Dexter became vegan after being introduced to the concept by Dick Gregory. King famously said, “If you’re violent to yourself by putting things into your body that violate its spirit, it will be difficult not to perpetuate that onto someone else.” Additionally, he introduced his mother Coretta Scott King to vegansim.
33. Brenda Sanders
Brenda Sanders is a community health advocate and the Executive Director of the Better Health, Better Life organization. Better Health, Better Life brings healthy living to people in underserved Baltimore communities. She’s conducted workshops at senior centers and afterschool programs as well as a six-week intensive series of healthy living classes that was completely free and open to the public.
34. Vanessa Williams
Vanessa A. Williams [who shares her name with another famous actress] is an actress, dancer, and poet. Though she acted in the series Soul Food, Williams has a different articulation of what soul food is. In an interview with Yogi Times, Williams said “I’ve been vegan for over 16 years, my husband for 20. My husband became vegan after having a life-threatening illness… So we met after he had become a vegan. I had a vegan pregnancy. My children are completely vegan. “
35. Dr. Alvenia Fulton
Dr. Alvenia Fulton was a world-renowned nutritionist. As a naturopathic physician, Dr. Fulton opened the first health food establishment in the south side of Chicago called Fultonia Health and Fasting Institute. She authored several books, including The Fasting Primer and a collaborative effort with Gregory called Vegetarianism: Fact or Myth.
36. Anusha Amen-Ra
Anusha Amen-Ra is a Nutrition Consultant specializing in internal cleansing and detoxification. He owns the first black owned vegan recovery detox and healing center. Mr. Amen-Ra has personal clients worldwide and his organizational clients include 24-Hour Fitness, the AIDS Project of the East Bay, Walden House Adolescent Residential Facility, and Breast Cancer Awareness Planning Committee of Bayview-Hunters Point. He holds two B.A. degrees from the University of South Florida and his travels include the Philippines, Europe, Egypt and India. Anusha has been in private practice for 15 years and is the Director of Sacred Space Healing Center.
37. Koya Webb
Koya Webb is an internationally recognized holistic health coach and wellness coach, a certified yoga instructor, author, motivational speaker, and professional fitness model who is helping revolutionize raw/vegan cuisine, yoga, and the holistic living landscape. She is the author of Koya’s Kuisine: “Foods You Love That Love You Back!“
Her holistic health, detox and lifestyle tips have been featured in Essence, Oxygen, Vegan Health and Fitness, Max Sport and Fitness, and Muscle and Performance among others.
38. Lezlie Mitchell
Lezlie Mitchell is a model, vegan, writer, and creator of the site Love Lezliewhere she documents her thoughts on life, beauty, religion, and food. Lezlie also holds a B.A. in English and runs her own YouTube channel.
She started blogging about wellness and health after she discovered she was allergic to many of the foods she was consuming. She ended up creating a website called Skinny Decaf Lattewith new recipes and is currently writing her first book.
39. Valerie McGown
Valerie has been vegan for 8 years after being a vegetarian since 1990. Her awareness of the vegan message of compassion and nonviolence began around 2006 when she came across the works of people like Dr. Amie Breeze Harper, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, and Erik Marcus. As a person of faith, Valerie found this message of not using animals for food, clothing, or any other exploitation to be consistent with her desire to live out her beliefs of compassion and nonviolence.
Five years ago, at the advice of an atheist vegan friend, she started a blog called black. female. christian. vegan. where she occasionally shares her thoughts on issues relating to the seemingly contradictory parts of who she is and the way she sees the world. For the last three years, Valerie has been the director of the Humboldt Vegetarian Society, in Humboldt County, California. They plan monthly vegan potlucks, film screenings, etc.
Valerie has also dabbled in writing and in the last year began writing a story about a young, biracial vegan girl who becomes drawn to and acquires spiritual powers in order to combat the mistreatment and abuse perpetrated against her by family members and others.
40. Persia White
Persia White is an actress known for playing in the popular show Girlfriends. She also co-produced the popular documentary film Earthlings, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.
Persia is a vegan and an animal welfare and environmental activist. She was honored by PETA as a 2005 Humanitarian of the Year. She is an active member of the Humane Society of the United States, Global Green, Farm Sanctuary, PETA, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
41. Leona Lewis
Leona Lewis is a famous British singer and songwriter. In 2006, she won the X Factor competition show, as well as a recording contract. She has been a vegetarian since she was 12 and transitioned to veganism in 2012.
She is an animal rights activist and refused to accept a financial offer from a department store that sold fur, saying, “I don’t have clothes, shoes or bags made from any animal products.”
42. Robin Quivers
Robin Quivers is known for being the side-kick to Howard Stern on his radio program. What many people don’t know about her is that she has been vegan since 2007 because of several health ailments.
Coral Smith is a television personality, known for being in MTV’s the Real World. She’s vocal about veganism and animal rights, and also participates in campaigns to support LGBT populations.
44. Salim Stoudamire
Salim Stoudamire is a professional basketball player and vegan. In an interview with ESPN about why he chose veganism, he said, “I’ve always wanted to be one because of health, but I never wanted to go eat by myself or have people talk about me. But I finally reached a point where I just didn’t care what other people thought, and I didn’t have a problem with eating alone…I don’t think you should eat something that had a mother. I don’t think that’s right.”
45. Candace Laughinghouse
After receiving a M.Div (Masters of Divinity), she completed her ThM (Masters of Theology) at Duke Divinity school. She applied to Regent Divinity School to initially work with Dr. Estrelda Alexander and changed her focus within one year. Her focus shifted to animal theology. While pursuing her doctoral degree, she is beginning to get involved with political issues that effect women and children through a local organization called Women AdvaNCe NC. Candace blogs over at curvyveganmommy [which will soon be curvyveganmommyPhD].
Her site states, “My life’s passion is contributing to the discussion of animal rights by shoring up animal theology by constructing a pneumatology of animals – with a womanist perspective. “
46. Toi Scott
A native Texan, currently living in Puerto Rico, they are a gender non-conforming author, playwright, spoken word artist, filmmaker, journalist, medicine-maker, health advocate, food justice activist, anti-racist and anti-oppression organizer/diversity and gender workshop facilitator, and curriculum developer. Toi is also a QPOC/POC (queer/people of color) community builder/organizer.
They have published writings on race, gender, healing, and illness and have been published in People of Color Organize!, Racialicious, Black Girl Dangerous, Wild Gender.com, Decolonizing Yoga, the Scavenger, Examiner.com, the Dallas Voice, BlaqOut Dallas, and various other media outlets and online publications.
They run the Afro-Genderqueerwebsite and have also participated in the 2015 Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter Conference with the presentation titled “ALL Black Lives Matter: Exposing and Dismantling Transphobia and Heteronormativity in Mainstream Black ‘Conscious’ Plant-Based Dietary Movement.”
47. Ama Opare
Ama Opare is a gourmet raw vegan chef, a lifelong educator, and an experienced program director. She earned a BS in Education at Central Michigan University, a MS in Early Childhood Education and an MS in Educational Leadership at Eastern Michigan University.
Anastasia Yarbrough is a consultant, musician, and community educator. She is a social change consultant at Inner Activism Services, LLC. She works with organizations and activists to be more sustainable, effective, and life-affirming. For the last ten years she has been involved in animal rights, community development, women of color’s empowerment and wellness, and ecological justice. She has also served on the board of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies and regularly facilitates anti-oppression workshops on language and communication tactics. She earned her B.S. in Integrated Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. She is currently on the advisory board for the Food Empowerment Project. In 2013, she presented at the first ever Sistah Vegan Conference with a presentation titled “White Supremacy and Patriarchy Hurt Animals.”
49. Odochi Ibe
Known as “The Baby Vegan,” Odochi made the switch to a plant-based life after graduating from Howard University and moving back to New York in 2012. She is a journalist and writer for ieatgrass.com, and wrote a ground-breaking piece for Quartz titled, “It’s Not Easy Being Young, Black, and Vegan.”
Former radio host and motivational speaker, Aiya Abrihet embarked on a journey into the world of all things healthy almost a decade ago. Learning about the effects of food on the body and the dark side of the pharmaceutical companies, Aiya began healing through herbs and a raw vegan diet, curing herself of severe asthma and allergies.
An herbalist, naturopath-in-training, holistic mentor, and vegan chef, Aiya holds a Master of Science in Herbal Medicine and continues to reach out to the people with the message that your body can in fact heal itself naturally from a variety of persistent conditions, once perceived to be permanent.
Princess Dixon is owner of Healthful Essence, a black-owned Atlanta restaurant which specializes in Caribbean style vegan cuisine. The site states, “Our mission is to be a positive force on the planet, providing a higher form of food and lifestyle. Our aim is to educate and enhance the lives of those who are seeking a vegan lifestyle.”
52. Cory Booker
Cory Booker served as mayor of Newark, NJ, from 2006 to 2013 and is currently a United States Senator from New Jersey. Booker was also featured in the documentary Miss Representation, which focused on the ways in which women were represented in the media.
Cory became vegan in 2014 after being vegetarian since 1992. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Cory said “I want to try to live my own values as consciously and purposefully as I can. Being vegan for me is a cleaner way of not participating in practices that don’t align with my values.”
53. Demetrius Bagley
Demetrius produced the award-winning documentary Vegucated, and public television cooking show Vegan Mashup. He’s godfathered projects like Vegan Street Fair, Veggie Conquest, plus a good many successful crowdfunding campaigns.
Demetrius has led one of the world’s largest vegan Meetups, NYC Vegan EatUP, since 2004. He recently reflected on his 20+ years of being vegan in Letters to a New Vegan.
54. Kenneth G. Williams
Kenneth made sports history at the 2004 Natural Olympia in Las Vegas, the most prestigious natural bodybuilding competition in the world. He finished third out of more than 200 competitors from 37 nations and became America’s first vegan bodybuilding champion.
In 2000, Williams became vegan for spiritual reasons. He was aware that being vegan was better for the animals, the environment, and his own health. He also works for In Defense of Animals.
Janyce is a writer, illustrator, feminist, aspiring amateurish vegan cook who loves good food, beauty, natural hair, fashion, traveling, and all sorts of crafty oriented parts of life!
She is a graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati with a BFA emphasis in Drawing. She runs the Afro Vegan Chickwebsite where she chronicles her journeys into cooking experimentation, reviewing eating out options, and vegan products as well as creating homemade beauty products.
57. Tamerra Dyson
Tamearra Dyson, owner of Souley Vegan, has been cooking her signature vegan dishes since the age of 18. Chef Dyson, a vegan from an early age, believes in cruelty-free eating.
In an interview with Black Enterprise, Dyson said, “I became vegan before it was a trend so I [initially] got laughed at. In fact, I don’t even think we called it vegan. I do hope that it will help to permanently convert people to a vegan lifestyle that is free of animal cruelty.”
58. Brenda Beener
Chef Brenda has spent the last 30 years researching, cooking, and perfecting the balance between diet and decadence. With her leadership, Seasoned Vegan is committed to fusing soulful, culinary expression with the benefits of veganism. Seasoned Vegan is Harlem’s first full-service vegan soul food restaurant with the “food you love-veganized.”
59. Aaron Beener
Aaron is Chef Brenda’s son and manager of Seasoned Vegan. In an interview with Rolling Out, Aaron said, “Being able to help my mom’s dream become a reality is really amazing… And being able to do that with food that can help our community, and to be able to provide jobs for our friends and family — it’s just all positive.”
60. Brandi Rollins
Released in 2011, Raw Foods on a Budget was the first comprehensive guide to eating raw foods while living on a limited budget. The book was designed by Brandi and a team of readers to provide raw food newcomers and long-term enthusiasts with all the materials they need to enjoy a raw foods lifestyle while successfully staying on a tight budget. The book takes a holistic approach to budgeting by showing readers how small changes can help reduce and keep their food bills low.
Ray Stone is a vegan, author, and educator. He is the author of Eat Like You Give a Damn, which helps readers transition over to a healthier lifestyle. The book is predominantly geared towards people who live in urban areas.
62. Shadé Ibe
Shadé Ibe, better known as One Vegan Fatty, is a native New Yorker who set out on a mission to convince the world that plant-based foods could, and should, still be decadent and delicious…healthiness optional! Shadé is currently working on a Master’s in Public Health, and she hopes to one day spark some positive changes in the area of school nutrition. She is a contributor to ieatgrass.comand a member of the Junior Council of the Coalition for Healthy School Food. Follow Shadé on Instagram (@oneveganfatty) and Facebook (One Vegan Fatty).
63. Matti Merrell
Matti is the owner of the Green Seed Vegan food truck in Houston, TX. What’s unique about this particular food truck is that they don’t serve tofu or processed foods. They make everything from scratch. Check out an interview Matti did with the Houston Press to learn more.
64. Rodney Perry
Rodney is married to Matti Merrell and is the co-owner of the Green Seed Vegan food truck. He went vegan after having an issue with gall stones which was a product of eating fried and processed foods. In an interview, he says, “I didn’t have the problems anymore with digestion…it’s a lifestyle change, and it’s just good. I feel lighter, like you could jump up higher than anyone. It’s a weird feeling but it’s awesome.”
She worked in food service businesses in high school and throughout college and operated her own business serving coffee at festivals for a year after moving to Detroit.
Kirsten earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a Masters in Education from Wayne State University. She has over ten years’ experience as a Communications professional.
66. Erika Boyd
Erika Boyd is the co-owner and head chef of Detroit Vegan Soul. Kirsten Ussery is her partner.
Born and raised on Detroit’s northwest side, her early cooking influences were from her mother, grandmother, and father.
A multi-talented entrepreneur, Erika is also a handbag designer, a barber, and a natural hair stylist. For the last seven years, she has owned and operated a natural hair care business which continues to grow year over year. She graduated from Henry Ford High School and attended Wayne State University.
67. John Salley
Salley’s label, The Vegan Vine, produces four wines: a cabernet sauvignon, a sauvignon blanc, a chardonnay, and a red blend. The wines not only use non-animal based fining agents; they are completely vegan-made and sustainably grown at Clos LaChance Winery near San Jose, Calif.
A proud native of Brooklyn, New York, John found a love for basketball at an early age. Salley was a 15-year NBA veteran and was the first NBA player to win four championships with three different teams. After his retirement from the NBA in 2000, Salley explored several opportunities in both television and film. John has served as host for numerous award shows and recently hosted the Reunion Shows of VH-1’s #1 rated show, Basketball Wives.
68. Karyn Calabrese
Karyn Calabrese is a raw foodist vegan who has a complete line of products that support health living. Karyn’s Fresh Corner is considered the oldest raw food restaurant in Chicago. In an interview with Black Enterprise, Karyn states, “As a teenager and young adult I had every allergy known to man, had terrible skin, and was tired all the time. I saw myself going down a bad road. Changing my diet, learning about raw foods, and detoxification changed my life.”
Dr. Bretta King is a chemist and educator who has a strong nutrition background. Her mission is to help people to eat healthier and to have fun doing it – but without force or judgement. She has found through her own research and experiences that the vegan diet (one devoid of animal products) when practiced properly is very beneficial for one’s health and well-being. She runs the restaurant Two Vegan Sistas, which offers delicious, healthy, low fat vegan food at your fingertips!
70. Belinda King
Belinda is the sister to Dr. Bretta King and also runs the Two Vegan Sistas restaurant. Belinda is an artist, poet, and graphic designer who also uses her artistic ability to help to create some of their recipes. Eating an 80% raw vegan diet has helped to protect and shield these sisters from all of the diseases and illnesses that “run in their family,” including obesity.
Lattrice Folkes became vegan after she began acquiring allergies and low energy. Shortly after her transition to vegan living, she realized that she had a talent for preparing vegan food. She has been a vegan chef for over 14 years and worked her way up in a famous vegan restaurant from prep cook to head chef in a short period of time.
Latrice has owned a successful raw vegan deli and health food store in Atlanta, Georgia and also opened Lifeit Energy Café in Greenville, SC in 2007. Latrice has authored the Lifeit Detox 28 Days Raw Food Cleanse.
73. Dr. Aris LaTham
Dr. Aris LaTham is considered to be the father of gourmet ethical raw foods cuisine in America. Dr. LaTham debuted his raw food creations in 1979, when he started Sunfired Foods, a live food company in Harlem, New York. In the years since, he has trained thousands of raw food chefs.
Dr. Aris LaTham was born in Gatun, Panama Canal Zone. He is a direct descendant of an African-Caribbean family of Culinary Griots, as well as vegetarian legacy bestowed by way of his Indian ancestry, who has become a world renown crusader in the area of wholesome foods.
74. Ron Finley
Ron Finley is a famous guerrilla gardener who gained notoriety after a Ted Talk about planting gardens in urban areas, stating that “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”
Ivy D. Collier is an animal advocate guided by the belief that no animal should be abused or neglected. She is currently employed with the Delaware SPCA as the Director of Development, Communications & Marketing and has a history of volunteering for animal shelters and animal advocacy organizations. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Social Psychology and her Master of Public Affairs focusing on fundraising and nonprofit management. As an independent researcher, her interests focus on Human-Animal studies with a specific lens on companion animals and popular culture, canine selfhood, companion animals and public policy, puppy mills, No Kill Movement, shelter management, and the fur trade.
76. John Lewis
John Lewis is a nationally certified fitness trainer and he has spent over 8 years in the health and fitness industry. John is highly passionate about not only his own health and fitness, but that of others as well.
He runs the Bad Ass Vegan website, which discusses health, wellness, and veganism. In an interview with Frugivore Magazine he said, “Not only am I just a vegan in what I eat, I do not wear leather, nor do I have leather furniture. I believe that all living creatures have a purpose and furniture and clothing is not one of them.”
77. Vanya Francis
Vanya Francis, RYT, CHHC, M.A. is a yoga instructor and co-owner of Om Point Yoga, wellness coach, mompreneur, and mostly raw vegan. She is a 15-year yoga practitioner and certified yoga instructor specializing in Prenatal Yoga. Vanya holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Spelman College and a Master of Arts in Communication Management from the University of Southern California.
78. Stephanie Williams
Stephanie is an actress and a writer for Vegan, What? In an article she wrote for Eat Like An Actress she said, “…by eating meat and dairy, I wasn’t just affecting my health, I was also contributing to the pain and suffering of animals and their children.” Check out her Facebook page and Instagram.
79. Nana Kwaku Opare, MD
Dr. Nana Kwaku Opare, MD, MPH, CA is a pioneer in the natural integrative medicine field. He is co-owner and founder of Opare Integrative Health Care, LLCin Atlanta GA, dedicated to the healing of the Afrikan community through medical practice and educational programs in food, nutrition, body movement, and spiritual growth. He is a long-term vegan and more recent living food lifestyle practitioner and advocate. He has practiced Eastern and Western Medicine for more than a quarter century.
Dr. Opare graduated from UC Berkeley, earning both a BS degree studying Food, Nutrition and Dietetics and a Master’s of Public Health degree. He earned his Medical Degree at UC San Francisco and his Certificate in Acupuncture at the San Francisco College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
80. Dr. Kirt Tyson
Dr. Kirt Tyson is the author of the book The Raw Truth: The Recipe for Reversing Diabetes, which is a guide that helps people with diabetes to regain control of their health. He also starred in the documentary film Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days. Dr. Tyson attended Morehouse College and earned his Naturopathic Medical Doctorate from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, AZ. He received a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from the T. Collin Campbell Foundation at Cornell University.
81. Queen Vida
Queen Vida is an International Vegan Chef with over 30 years of experience. Her food is inspired with flavors of Africa and American Soul. She has traveled extensively preparing delicious cuisine for many near and far. Her Food Preparation experience began in Ghana. She then traveled to Israel where she learned more about Vegan Food Preparation.
Michelle Johnson is a vegan home cook with a Masters in School Counseling. Although she no longer works as a teacher, she teaches thousands of people how to cook vegan food on her YouTube channel, Vegan Cooking with Love, which has over 11,000 subscribers.
She became vegan after learning about the horrors of factory farming. Read an interview about her vegan journey on Brown Vegan.
84. Stacey Dougan
With roots in Atlanta, GA, Chef Stacey Dougan has been featured internationally in media as an expert gourmet vegan and raw foods chef and nutritionist. Her passion for teaching stems from her own life-changing experience overcoming numerous health issues.
Tassili Maat is the owner of Tassili’s Raw Reality, a raw food restaurant in Atlanta, GA. Her mother was involved in the civil rights movements in the 1960s, and she became vegetarian after hearing about animal cruelties in the food system. She transitioned to veganism soon after. Read her interview with Natural Awakenings.
She became vegan because she thinks it’s “wrong to exploit animals for their meat and reproductive processes.”
87. Chef Ahki
Chef Ahki is a celebrity chef, Natural foods activist, and pro-blogger. She transitioned to a plant-based diet when she was 18. Though she doesn’t necessarily label herself “vegan” she advocates for a plant-based diet. She received her bachelors in naturopathic science and holistic theology.
Check out Chef Ahki’s website here. You can learn more about her vegan journey in this interview with Bad Ass Vegan.
88. Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons is known for co-founding the hip hop music label Def Jam as well as creating the fashion clothing line Phat Farm. He has been vegan since 1999 because of animal rights reasons as well as environmental/health reasons. He is also a practitioner of transcendental meditation.
89. Anette Larkins
Anette Larkins is a raw foods vegan who has captured headline news media attention because of her youthful appearance while being in her 70s. She became vegetarian in 1963 and then transitioned over to veganism. In an interview with Transitioning Movement she said, “I contend that I am not defying age; at my age I should be experiencing exactly what I am experiencing—agility, vibrancy, the fruitfulness of life, and the wisdom of age. I hope to greet each chronological age that I am able to receive with preparedness to carry on in good standing (being psychologically, physiologically, and spiritually sound) for as long as I can.”
Dr. Darrell Butler is President of Butler Consulting Group, a company which specializes in work environment productivity through personal empowerment and inclusion. He became vegan after realizing that most of the diseases the pharmaceutical industry he was treating were attributed to diet. You can read an interview about his transition to veganism on Blacks Going Vegan.
91. Dr. Timothy Moore
Dr. Timothy K. Moore is a plant-based chef who is a certified raw vegan expert in diabetes and the facilitation of wellness and nutrition. He has developed international awareness programs that provide both nutritional education and culinary training for personal and professional use. His program designs clearly show how food plays a major role in diabetes, weight gain, high blood pressure and cancer.
Chef Dr. Moore is a traditional naturopath doctor, a certified nutrition specialist, a certified Raw Vegan chef, and a food consultant in the development of diabetic menus and friendly meals plans.
92. Ihsan Bey
Ihsan Bey has was introduced to cooking vegan food in 2003 and currently prepares vegan food that nourishes the body. Chef Bey offers monthly brunches at Grind House Juice Bar that attracts people from all over the Baltimore area. You can read more about the vegan chef here.
93. Dr. Ruby Lathon
Dr. Ruby Lathon is a certified holistic nutrition consultant, holistic health and wellness expert, and advocate for plant-based nutrition. Dr. Lathon inspires with a powerful story of recovering from thyroid cancer through alternative treatment focused on a whole foods, plant-based diet. Having worked for years as a researcher and an award winning engineer, Dr. Lathon teaches others how to take charge of their health and live disease free.
Dr. Lathon is host of The Veggie Chest, a plant-based cooking show. She is also a health and wellness contributing writer for African American Lifestyle Magazine, and author of the upcoming book, Above the Clouds.
94. Tasha Edwards
Tasha’s vegan journey started in the summer of 2009 after she read the book Skinny Bitch. In2010, Edwards launched her web show The Sweetest Vegan.She has an audience of over 60,000. You can read more about Tasha in this interview with the Brown Vegan.
95. Njide Kotiel Bey
Rawk N’ Vegan™ is owned and operated by Njide Kotiel Bey, who has a love of vegan and raw foods. Everything is made from scratch in small batches.
NJide has spent years assisting, cooking, and interning at various top raw food establishments in Chicago. She has been cooking raw vegan food for over 15 years.
96. Aba Bailey
In an interview with Food for the Soul, Aba details her journey towards veganism. She says, “I find that when you do it for the health reasons you rationalize it away. So I do it more for the ethics of it, of not supporting certain industries like the dairy industry.”
She was a founding member of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia [started by Traci Thomas] and had a cooking show called Cooking with Aba.
Jasmine is a multidisciplinary creative born and raised in Los Angeles. She is a photographer, filmmaker, graphic designer, dancer, fashion designer, writer, and creative director. In 2013 she realized that not only was she surrounded by toxins in her immediate environment but also that she was contributing to the pollution of her own body via poor eating habits. For health as well as spiritual reasons, she took a leap of faith by adopting an all vegan diet and hasn’t looked back since! As a member of the Raw Girlteam, Jazzy photographs, records, and edits all of Raw Girl’s video content. Check out her website.
99. Naki Aya
After suffering with depression, anxiety, and suicidal attempts for years, she changed her eating habits from the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) to a plant based one and increased her intake of raw live fruits and veggies. She has a website detailing her journey through veganism.
100. Chef Rain Truth
Rain Truth is vegan chef, vegan lifestyle educator, caterer,and proud mother of two vegetarian children. She runs The Cultured Vegan and has been a vegan for over a decade. She is also a nationally certified ServSafe® Allergens Specialist as well as a nationally certified ServSafe® Food Protection Manager.
Chef Rain Truth also has a program called Seeds of Truth. Her slogan is: “Cultivating the Minds of our Future.” It is a 6-week hands-on culinary certification course for children. They learn about veganism, food allergens, healthy breakfast options, lunch box ideas, after-school snacks, smoothies, salads and desserts. Her goal is to bring creative expression back into the lives of our youth through culinary arts. She specializes in cultural food and takes pride in exposing the youth to foods from other cultures that they wouldn’t typically be exposed to.
She has two vegan children’s books coming out. One is titled Mama, I’m Be-Gan and the other is co-authored with her children. They’re currently working on a title for it.
The genesis of this interview is a long and winding one, starting a few years back when a friend told me and my wife about this amazing vegan grad student named Syl. Fast forward a few years to where Syl is a good friend, and her sister, Aph Ko, publishes an article addressing reasons why animal rights is a feminist issue…
Little wormholes like these open up all the time in cyberspace, and where they lead can sometimes be both informative and important for oneself. As both a writer and participant in the world of online advocacy, I am both fascinated and appalled by so much of what goes on there. After reading Aph’s article and binge-watching season 1 of her web series Black Feminist Blogger, I went down the wormhole.
Aph’s is a crisply articulate critical voice, and her perspective on interconnected oppressions and the activist movements that counter them is wonderful in its wit and precision. I tossed a few dense questions at her to learn more about her work and some of her conclusions from her time in the blogosphere…
Can you talk about your process of going vegan? When was it, and what factors played into your decision to stop participating in the exploitation of animals?
I became a vegetarian when I was about 16 or 17 in high school after my friends showed me some PETA brochures (I wasn’t aware of their “sexy” campaigns at this point!). I worked at a vegan restaurant in Irvine, CA called “Veggie Grill” (it was the first one ever; now it’s a successful chain). At that point, though, I didn’t have an ideological connection to veganism. I didn’t take it seriously. My sister Syl introduced me to the concept of veganism as a political concept when I was about 20. She sent me the book Sistah Vegan, and I immediately saw how racism, sexism, and speciesism connected and I was hooked. (I am still obsessed with Dr. A. Breeze Harper!)
For a while, it was difficult for me to keep the vegan diet consistent, despite the fact that I understood the political ideology because I had been addicted to animal-bodies-as-consumptive-units for so long. I realized that un-learning scripts about food consumption was super difficult, but necessary and possible.
Your series Black Feminist Blogger is a hilarious and yet disturbing account of the realities faced by a black feminist writer in the blogosphere. I am curious to hear your feelings about the current state of feminist discussion in cyberspace and society at large. For example, I was struck by your fictional editor, Marie, in the series—especially her comment, “I took out inflammatory words like racism and white supremacy. … in this magazine we’re trying to talk about women’s issues.” Do you feel like actual progress (in terms of changing cultural mores and connecting movements) is being made on key feminist issues thanks to the web? What benefits and costs do you think come through engaging in online advocacy?
This is an awesome question. Yes- I do think a type of progress is being made online. It allows certain minoritized people access to platforms that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to if it weren’t for the internet. Most importantly, it allows us to connect with each other. Also, I have learned so much about social justice movements online. So in one instance, I would state that yes, progress is definitely being made because the internet offers a unique space for organizing and movement building.
Beyond that, though, I am skeptical of the idea that the internet alone will advance political issues. Part of my show Black Feminist Blogger exposes how blogging is a business based upon some of my own real experiences blogging online full time. Because people are making money off of their websites (which isn’t always a bad thing—especially if you’re doing good, important work), there’s a pressure to publish quickly and to regurgitate the same popular topics over and over (in the same ways) to achieve those clicks. Perhaps this is why you might see 300,000 articles about Iggy Azalea talking about cellulite on her ass…and whether or not her acceptance of her cellulite is a feminist stance…like what the fuck.
In fact, you will see the business side of blogging through freelance writing work. I’ve worked for feminist sites that hire a large amount of writers that they pay per article. In fact, some of these successful websites will send out emails to their freelance writers every week with “popular topic ideas” that they can choose from. Sometimes, you have to choose a topic from their list because they know they will achieve the most page clicks (which translates to money). Therefore, the focus is on PRODUCING articles, not necessarily writing awesome content that’s needed. I’ve even worked for spaces that tried to get writers from overseas because they could pay them less per article.
I think that’s the scariest part about the online space. The corporatization of online feminism is silencing radical, independent feminist voices that can’t compete with corporations, or websites that are making thousands of dollars. (Some feminist writers even have agents!) Because of this, certain feminist websites have the monopoly on feminist thought, and that annoys me. You can also expect that the same feminist spaces are going to be writing about the exact same popular cultural moments over and over again, not because they’re adding anything new to the conversation, but because they HAVE to write about it to stay relevant, and I don’t know how that translates to anything other than journalism.
Honestly, I think the internet is helping people become stronger business owners and journalists, but not necessarily better activists. The act of promoting oneself and one’s writing becomes conflated with activism.
As a black feminist, what are some of the main issues that you want to see getting more attention than they currently are? What has your experience been when trying to raise these issues in light of the narratives constructed by “mainstream” media?
Overall, I think we’re experiencing a giant theoretical rut today. Most of the conversations that are occurring in the mainstream take critical subjects and distill them. We refuse to talk about women and sexuality in a dynamic way because MALE GAZE/RAPE CULTURE. Light-skinned and dark-skinned black women can’t talk together today because COLORISM. Every minute there’s a new article about a celebrity “celebrating” their curves, or embracing their make-up free face, and at this point, the basic-ness of these events are profound. I feel fatigued with how uncritical and boring our discussions are today. The discussions in the mainstream are very safe and sanitized. We need a new framework for talking about these issues because currently they’re unproductive and produce sloppy, uninspiring, predictable conversations that don’t go anywhere.
For one, I wish that we could stop focusing so much on celebrities. I think our culture has a sick fixation with what celebrities are doing. I think feminism has been so unpalatable and unfavorable for so long that we are now trying to re-brand it in a way where it’s not threatening, and in doing that, I think we’re distilling it and unfairly slapping the feminist label onto any celebrity who denounces Photoshopping.
I think the huge focus on celebrity culture in feminism has something to do with the fact that a lot of feminism online is turning into sell-out journalism. Because of this journalistic turn in feminism, more and more feminists are “reporting” cultural events and giving their analyses.
As a black feminist, I wish we could start talking more about animal rights and veganism in our feminist circles without viewing animal rights as a “separate” field. Our social justice movements are so compartmentalized despite the fact that “intersectionality” is the trendiest word of our generation. I also wish that feminists focused more on indie digital media, indie music, art, etc. I love the grassroots feeling of the indie space and I think there’s power in the grungy, indie circuit. The act of creating is revolutionary, so I think we need to start talking some more about that. Overall, I think we need some new theory to account for the different political, racial, sexual landscape today.
Your recent article for Everyday Feminism discussed some of the reasons why animal rights is a feminist issue. Why do you think this argument still needs to be made in feminist circles (i.e., what do you think lies behind the disconnect between human feminists and other animals)?
I think many social justice movements today thrive on empty buzzwords and mantras, rather than actual praxis. So, it’s trendier to learn the language of the movement so that you “look” like you get it, rather than actually getting it. If you actually understood the movements you’ve been participating in, your behavior would start changing, not just the phrases written on your shirt.
You have some people screaming #blacklivesmatter for Mike Brown, but they can’t name one black author, black philosopher, black indie media product, black artist, etc. It’s empty.
Ironically, you have feminists screaming “the personal is political” but they don’t think about the food they consume which is wrapped up in giant systems of oppression.
Intersectionality falls flat today in many circles because it’s attached to empty praxis.
I think some feminists’ inability to fight for animal rights demonstrates how ingrained problematic hierarchies are, even in oppressed subjects’ psyches. Some oppressed folks have a hard time accepting that they might be oppressive agents to others. Unfortunately, when some groups are oppressed, they are incapable of understanding that they’re not the only bodies being oppressed, and any attention that goes to another group is immediately met with anger and frustration. This reaction is proof for my assertion that people don’t really GET intersectionality…or maybe haven’t really read about it.
I also think that because of the online space where everyone can have their own blog, and write their own critiques, everyone thinks they’re an expert at feminism. People want to critique, but they aren’t necessarily as inclined to learn (I was quite a stubborn asshole as well when I started blogging). As I said in my Daily Beast interview, I think people are experts at critiquing and pointing out problems in everything, but they don’t want to be reflexive because it means they might actually have to change, and since our culture thrives on comfort, “change” merely becomes a tie-dye colored word on a John Lennon poster that might be hanging from your wall, not a politic that you live your life by.
Along with the WHY, can you talk about the HOW? How does feminism start to take the oppression of other animals more seriously and create a comprehensive, intersectional strategy for fighting oppression?
Ironically we have the theory there that supports animal rights and veganism; we just need to practice it. Every feminist knows “intersectionality,” but they have to apply it to bodies that don’t necessarily look like their own.
I think it’s about just doing it. Oftentimes, in social justice circles, we fetishize activism, or assume it’s about changing someone else. However, it can start with you. Feminists (especially in the mainstream) definitely understand the body as a political entity, so there’s no excuse. I mean—we exist in a culture where everyone and their sister is talking about “body-positivity,” so it seems like some feminists are willing to talk about their bodies as long as it’s attached to a superficial beauty rhetoric; however, when it’s attached to changing their diets to accommodate animal bodies, suddenly they start to have a problem with that. (They will often shout scripts like “well….some people can’t go vegan because they live in poverty or because of cultural reasons,” and I’m like “okay…some people don’t have the option to go vegan…but don’t you?” Silence and crickets.)
(I just want to make a note that I’m aware that not every community has the option to go vegan. However, I’m predominantly talking to the thousands of people who *do* have the option to go vegan, but don’t .)
I mean, after my article about animal rights in Everyday Feminism, I can’t tell you how many feminists were pissed off with me and sent me really mean messages telling me that I was a joke or that I wasn’t a real feminist because animal lives weren’t as important as women’s lives. Some people were so hostile that I started re-reading my article to see if I said anything that extreme. I had no idea animal rights (within a feminist context) was this controversial. The automatic assumption that animal bodies are just “less than” reifies the exact same hierarchical systems that feminists are trying to fight to get their own rights. It’s the epitome of irony and while frustrating, it’s great fodder for another comedy web-series, LOL. This negative response reveals how misguided some attempts are in feminism to reach “liberation.”
You have to actually ACT to be an activist. It’s a struggle. So, giving up your meat and cheese might seem like the end of the world, but that feeling of personal struggle is necessary for the movement. People know animals are being tortured and slaughtered, but they can’t give up meat because it “tastes good.” How committed are you to social justice if your taste buds rank higher than another being’s existence
Activism isn’t necessarily supposed to be comfortable. We need empathy in our social justice movements. To have the expectation that dominant groups should understand your plight, while you have another being’s flesh stuck in your teeth, just feels awkward, LOL.
To focus on veganism/animal rights more specifically, what in your opinion are some of the biggest failings of the movement(s) in reaching non-white, non-affluent individuals? What concrete steps need to be taken to make veganism more inclusive—both in terms of rhetoric but also in terms of outreach and support?
I think there’s a foundational issue with inclusivity rhetoric. In fact, many folks argue (myself included) that diversity and inclusivity rhetoric serves to reify and empower white supremacy.
Your question presupposes that there aren’t people of color in the movement already, so the question discursively excludes us (brown people) which must be noted. What “animal rights movement” are you talking about? Your question naturalizes whiteness as the norm which I think is problematic, LOL. I’m going to assume that you’re referring to animal rights organizations that are predominantly made up of white people considering “whiteness” is commonly implied, but rarely called out. By using the white-centered, ambiguous term “animal rights movement,” you’re ironically erasing brown people and our work, but I will however answer the question I think you’re asking.
I don’t view the white animal rights movement as “failing” to include brown folks because that would presuppose that they set out to accommodate brown people in the first place, which they haven’t. I don’t view my exclusion as accidental.
We can look to the ways that black feminists recently called out “white feminism” as a thing, to solve some of these issues in “mainstream” animal rights spaces because I think this is more of a rhetorical issue.
For too long, “mainstream feminism” seemed to only focus on white women, and completely ignored the ways in which women of color were impacted by patriarchy differently. Mainstream feminism also seemed to ignore the activist efforts of non-white women. Therefore, when black feminist Mikki Kendall came out with hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen, she brilliantly pointed to the ways that these “mainstream” movements only recognized white activism, while excluding and ignoring the struggles and labor of people of color. In other words, “mainstream” seemed to have a color attached to it: white.
Dr. Brittney Cooper wrote a BRILLIANT article titled, “Feminism’s Ugly Internal Clash: Why Its Future Isn’t Up to White Women,” to clearly draw the lines between white and black feminism, and to make a point that black women don’t need white feminism in order to validate their activism. Before this, “white” feminism was felt, but was never actually called out. This was a significant rhetorical move. Dr. Cooper noted how white feminism (or mainstream feminism) centered on equality, and black feminism centered on justice. These are two different projects and they need two different names or else all of the work black feminists are doing will unfairly be erased or eclipsed by white women’s organizing efforts.
I think we need a similar rhetorical strategy for the current “mainstream” animal rights movement that excludes non-white activists. Part of the activism is labeling the current “mainstream” animal rights movement a white movement so that the rest of us can move on and continue doing our own activism without fighting for a seat at the white table. Fighting for animal rights and then fighting for representation in a white space are two very different projects.
If minoritized people aren’t joining your movements, it could be that we already have our own movement that you just don’t know about, OR, your space is exclusionary. The activism shouldn’t center on how to reach out to non-white people… you should use that energy to look to the foundation of your movement or project because your answers might be there. We pathologize minoritized people by questioning their motives for not joining movements and organizations that purposefully exclude them. Instead of spotlighting the activist efforts of non-white people (because there’s a lot of us), the attention gets turned to why these folks aren’t joining white organizations.
If the white folks actually understood the issues they were so passionately fighting for, they would already be inclusive, so their exclusion is quite intentional.
Just because the white animal rights movement doesn’t recognize us, doesn’t mean that we don’t exist. We’ve been organizing for a while.
There are many black/brown vegans who are doing awesome projects and we need to allow these organic movements to thrive as they are. Perhaps white folks can help by providing resources and financial assistance to some minoritized vegan activist movements that don’t get as much exposure as white organizations, rather than trying to get these minoritized folks to join their organizations. That feels like a completely different, appropriative project.
Just remember that there are vegans of color who are doing work, and that’s the animal rights movement that I know and focus on.
Wow…so many important points there. Thanks for making the best of my poorly worded question! 🙂 So, what projects will you be working on in the near future, and what issues do you see being (continuing or immediate) priorities for you?
I’m currently working on season 2 of Black Feminist Blogger, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to film another episode of my web-series “Tales from the Kraka Tower.” For me, right now, self-care is the most important thing. In order to continue my activism, I need to re-charge, which is what I’m doing now. J
I want to keep championing for independent smart media, and I’m trying to finish an EP with my band!
Food is a complicated affair. As vegans know, getting other humans to examine their food choices and (more importantly) change them can feel like trying to pick up the Earth and move it a few planets farther out.
Part of the urgency we feel with food arises from the reality that it has so many ramifications on our planet, beyond whether or not we are eating other animals. This means every choice counts…and that achieving justice involves much more than going vegan. Factors ranging from treatment of workers, to environmental impact, to access to food, and much more are all crucial considerations we have to make if we truly care about just food.
Far too few vegans and “animal rights” activists venture outside of the ethics of eating (and otherwise using) animal products, but lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project, is an outspoken advocate for true food justice and against exploitation in all its forms. I first corresponded with lauren after writing about the influence growing up poor had on me as a vegan, and I have been awed by her work and Food Empowerment Project’s growing presence since then…
Can you talk about your process of going vegan? When was it, and what factors played into your decision to stop participating in the exploitation of animals?
I went vegetarian when I was about five years old when my mom told me that the chicken I was eating was, well, a chicken. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I was able to stick with that decision (for a variety of reasons), but I had already stopping buying leather products. However, when I was 17 I was connected with an animal rights group in my area and learned about factory farming—it was then that I went vegan. I think, overall, the biggest factor for me when I was five was not wanting to break up families or being responsible for their separation. This April will be my 27-year vegan anniversary.
What motivated you to start Food Empowerment Project, and how did you build it up into the organization it is today?
One of my motivations for starting Food Empowerment Project was my frustration with animal rights activists who did not like me talking about the suffering of human animals in various industries, including chocolate, when I was asked by interviewers if animal rights people only cared about the suffering of non-human animals.
My passions were also stirred when I went to speak at the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, and realized so many issues that I also cared about, such as workers, the environment, indigenous rights, immigration, etc., were all related to food.
I wanted to have an organization that strove for justice in all of these areas.
What have been some of your biggest victories so far? What issues are a priority for you moving forward?
To me the biggest victory has been the evolution of people understanding our work. Not that all vegans understand it, but many seem to be understanding (or at least being less hostile) to our desire to connect these issues. Food Empowerment Project has been around since 2007, but only recently does it seem as if our work is being sincerely recognized.
Getting people to understand the connections of oppression and our ability to work together (and not be separated by specific focus or being an expert) is a huge victory in my eyes. Although in a more tangible form, our work over several years to get Clif Bar to disclose the country of origin for their chocolate was a big victory.
Our priorities continue to be hindered by our slow rate of growth in funding (an area which shows that people are only just now starting to understand the importance of our work, but funding is not pouring in).
Fortunately, with a great group of volunteers we will continue to work promoting the issues of ethical veganism, fight for justice for farm workers, discourage people from buying chocolate from areas where the worst forms of child labor are taking place and get companies to be transparent on their sourcing, and continue our work with communities on the lack of access to healthy foods.
There is some criticism in the vegan movement of “single-issue campaigns.” Would you consider FEP’s actions—e.g., targeting Clif Bar for their chocolate sourcing—to be single-issue campaigns? How do you respond to that sort of criticism, if you encounter it?
Campaigns have to be single issue in a sense if you want concrete change versus general outreach. For example, you can have a long-term goal to get all animals out of marine parks, to abolish marine parks, but perhaps your smaller goal is to shut one of them down. I am a campaigner, and I like concrete goals in order to know if I am having an impact versus just hoping or assuming I am.
When it comes to Clif Bar, I don’t find it to be a single issue as we were targeting a company that makes primarily vegan products. Our goal was to get them to be transparent. We want all companies that make vegan products to be transparent, but we can’t just tell them all that and think we can get somewhere. In an ideal world, sure. But the reality is that corporations aren’t going to make changes for the good unless we demand it from them and we’re specific about what we are asking of them.
Along with your work with FEP, you do a lot of speaking about activism and intersectionality. What are some of your priorities as an activist?
Yes, I do talk about how issues are connected. My priorities as an activist change and they evolve. Currently, I would say they are in a constant struggle to block out the noise of those who are not doing strategic work and to make sure that F.E.P. works in a way that is consistent with our ethics. It is tough to juggle, but we do our best. And also as an individual I want to be sure to keep active with strategic campaigns and outreach efforts for both animal liberation and human justice.
More importantly, what do you feel the vegan movement needs to do in the context of other social justice movements? What have we done well, and what do we need to do better?
I think the vegan movement should not sell out other social justice issues that are also advocating for those who are being exploited, marginalized, abused, and killed. I don’t ask for vegans to give up their good, just, and necessary fight for non-human animals, but to work to be consistent by not supporting chocolate that comes from child labor and to be educated about using incorrect statements such as, “Anyone can be vegan if they really want to be.”
We need to do better about truly connecting the issues. Connecting issues does not mean you only talk about other social justice issues as a pretext for getting others to go vegan. It means truly understanding how these issues are connected and work with others to stop them. It’s important to remind yourself that you might be an expert when it comes to animal issues, but perhaps you’re not with other issues, so there is a time to lead and a time to follow.
I am particularly interested to get your perspective on how to make (ethical) veganism less of a phenomenon of the privileged—despite the historic associations between animal rights and white supremacy—and more about enabling everyone be able to make healthy, sustainable, just food and lifestyle choices. What can individual vegans do, and what has to be changed on a larger socio-economic scale?
I think vegans can and need to be honest. If they are creating recipes, let’s not pretend that anyone can make it because it is made from scratch and from whole foods. That is great for many, many people, but not everyone. Be honest and acknowledge that your meal ideas and recipes are very important and can help people go vegan, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it is easy for everyone. It won’t work for people who only have access to tomato sauce, and for whom fresh produce is a potato and onion on an irregular basis, or for people who live in shelters or motels. They might care, but they might not have an option right now.
We all need to work for living wages. Living wages for everyone will mean they will have more access to healthy foods—including fruits and vegetables.
Are you optimistic that the vegan movement can grow out of its largely consumerist phase and actually make a difference in the lives of humans and non-humans everywhere? Why or why not? Do you have any suggestions for making veganism a real force for social justice?
I do think we can as long as we keep the issue at heart as the focal point. Look, unfortunately, capitalism is to blame for much of the ills in the world. And by using consumer campaigns we have to work to force corporations to make changes. But if we are dishonest about our goals, I believe we lose credibility. It’s important to keep the focus on the animals, and the reason why many of us do the work we do is because we do not want non-human animals to suffer, be abused, exploited, and killed. This way we keep the heart of the matter front and center and do not allow the dollar to be the focus.
It is important to remember that with a diet based primarily of fruits and vegetables, what we eat (and encourage others to eat) also comes from an abusive and exploitative industry. Farm workers in the US face some of the worst abuses in the food industry. They are not paid living wages (many get paid based on how much they pick), do not get benefits, they work in extreme environments (some collapse from heat exhaustion and die in the fields), are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and many of the women are victims of sexual abuse. These are issues vegans need to address.
Eating a cruelty-free diet will require that the rights of the farm workers are also met.
It is fairly easy for veganism to be seen as a monolithic thing. Non-vegans especially seem to have a hard time recognizing that vegans eat different types of foods, live different types of vegan lives, and see (and react to) the world in very different ways.
Given the fact that my glass is virtually always half-empty, I notice a lot of times that the idea of the “joyful vegan” clashes with the reality of my experience as an ethical vegan of over 15 years. It can be jarring (to say the least) to watch as other vegans have babies, obsess over the latest vegan products on the market, and trumpet the apparent signals that the world is “almost there” to becoming a more compassionate place.
For many of us, none of that makes sense. Indeed, to look at the world in a different way means seeing how much pain exists and how little is actually being done to stop it. Since getting into animal rescue and sanctuary-building in recent times, all of this suffering and inertia are growing more and more apparent.
That is why I feel a great kinship with people like Jewel Johnson and Jason Kero, the unstoppable forces behind the Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost. I appreciate brutal honesty, a sharp edge, and an uncompromising dedication to giving animals better lives. Jewel and Jason have provided us with countless instances of inspiration, insight, and support as we create a microsanctuary of our own for rescued farmed animals …
Can each of you share your story of going vegan? How long ago was it, and what made you realize that you could no longer exploit animals?
Jewel: November 11, 2003 I went vegan. I ordered Meet Your Meat from PeTA. I sat down and watched that VHS tape. I’ve been hearing the machines and the blood curdling screams since. I’ve wanted to fight to put an end to such needless horrors from that point on. My experiences on our family cattle ranch, combined with my experiences helping raise chickens as a kid, and my relationship with my rescued parrot, all led up to me being willing to watch that video, which changed my life and the lives of many non-human animals since. The footage of slaughter, the act of slaughter, is brutal and unnecessary. Why should another life die because someone wants to taste salt, fat, and boiled blood? It’s disgusting and the heights of selfishness to demand these atrocities be committed on behalf of selfish people. I want absolutely no part in such outrageously unnecessary cruelty, suffering, and death. I’m not selfish enough to fool myself into believing that it’s not that bad. It is that bad. They scream that loud. They bleed that much, they kick that much, feel as much fear as anyone would at their own slaughter.
Jason: Back in 1998 I found a flyer talking about the cruelty of the circus, and it had me remember the one and only time I went to one as a child. My brother and I were in tears because we couldn’t understand why the elephants looked so sad and why they were being whipped. Our parents took us home ten minutes into the show, and we were both scarred for life. Finding that flyer almost two decades later made me rethink how people treated all animals, and I began to search out more information. I discovered the truth behind so many things, and being so disgusted I promptly stopped eating and wearing animals altogether, but I was a vegetarian fooling myself. No matter how long it was between shameful indulgences, it didn’t truly click in my heart until 2008. That is an important thing to consider: the guilt one feels, or doesn’t feel, when they say, “Fuck it.” I’m not talking about “what your friends might think” because I never had any vegan friends; I’m talking about looking at oneself in the mirror and justifying the selfishness, the greed, the entitlement… I never felt relief, just pure disgust at myself for bearing witness and then turning my back. I know in my heart that I would now resign myself to death rather than eat the flesh or discharge of an innocent ever again. To the death.
I know that you each have varying musical tastes with more (Jason) or less (Jewel) interest in heavy metal and similar forms of music. When did you get into heavier music? How far over to the dark side have you gone?
Jewel: I really started liking heavier music after I went vegan. What I want is action, not a hippie drum circle filled with losers, listening to jam bands and eating free-range jerky.
Jason: I’ve been into metal and punk since 9th grade. Before that I was listening to whatever was on the radio—oldies, mostly Motown, which I still like.
I got very excited when I discovered Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost, as I had a hunch that the name “Danzig” was a metal reference. Can you tell us about Danzig the rooster, including how he became a member of your family and the origin of his name?
Jewel: Danzig and Moe came to me as chicks back in 2005, I believe. The details of how they arrived are hazy. I had no idea what I was doing at first. I thought maybe they could live in the house, whatever. At the time I had a boyfriend who said he would shoot them if they grew up to be roosters. That story didn’t have a good ending for that man, but it did have a good ending for Danzig and Moe, the hen. Danzig the rooster looked and strutted like Danzig the singer. Basically, you knew that was his name by looking at him. It’s like Danzig the rooster told me his name. He was hatched with that name. Moe also looked like a Moe. The name suited her partly because she resembled one of my best friends in high school, Moe … the prettiest little metalhead girl ever.
Jason: I first met Danzig the rooster when I was looking for bands on Myspace a long time ago. A suggestion came up and I clicked on the page and there was this little fuzzy black rooster named Danzig with his own profile. I thought that was the coolest thing, how appropriate! I looked around on the page for a little bit and a song from Primus started playing (I think it was “Tommy the Cat”) and I was just cracking up. I got distracted and a few days later I told a couple buddies about it but then basically left Myspace. After Jewel and I had been together for about a year we got to talking and she had mentioned Danziggy’s Myspace. We jumped online to look and see if it was still there and I couldn’t believe the way it felt when Primus started playing and I remembered finding that page so long ago!
Was the resemblance to the punk/metal star purely physical, or did they share any personality traits?
Jewel: Oh yeah, the stout, proud little strut, black Mohawk, and black attire made Danzig the rooster the perfect little version of the human Danzig. I don’t know if the human Danzig is such a gentle and caring soul like Danzig the rooster was, but appearance wise, they matched as much as a human and a rooster can match.
Jason: I think most male rock stars are comparable to roosters … look at Mick Jagger or Bon Scott.
I have so much respect for vegans who do more than just stop consuming animal products, or even who do advocacy, but who also offer sanctuary to farmed and companion animals. How did the Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost get started? How did your veganism lead you to open a sanctuary for roosters, hens, and other farmed animals?
Jewel: Obviously Danzig the rooster was the inspiration to save more roosters. I didn’t have the opportunity to build a sanctuary in the mountains where I had been living since I was a kid. I lived in a small house in an old mining town in the Rocky Mountains, and I had Danzig the rooster living with me. I also had Lerr the rooster living there briefly. Lerr was jumping the fence and attacking people who walked by. I thought that was hilarious. My neighbors did not. Although I was zoned to have 12 roosters if I wanted, the neighbors threw a fit. This ugly little man started a petition to kick my roosters out of town. This guy made fiddles for a living … evil little, bad vibe fiddles. That guy would vibrate with anger any time he saw me. When he started calling the cops about the roosters and complaining about the crowing, I broke out Slayer and my Stihl chainsaw. How’s a chirping bird compared to that? Don’t ever buy a fiddle from an ugly little guy named Dennis.
Before anything could come out of the petition and the constant complaints, I started a search for another house to live where my birds were safe with me. My commitment is to these beings in my care above all else. I’d do anything for them, including rearranging my entire life and plans for the future. The safest place I could find that would keep me at a good distance from potential complaining neighbors was way out on the plains, east of Denver. That was the crossroads for me. Continue my desirable life in the mountains, or commit to the back-breaking work of building a sanctuary on the plains. Before we had a closing date on the property that is now Danzig’s Roost, Danzig the rooster passed away in my mountain home. It’s because of him that so many lives have been saved. While he was sick, I slept on the floor with him snuggled in blankets. He would scoot closer in the night and snuggle right up to my neck. It’s painful to think of that moment in time when I was losing him.
Jason: I was at a point in my life where I needed to make a decision. I remember talking with a friend, and he mentioned the vivisection dungeon at Wayne State (I’m from outside Detroit, Michigan) and that something needed to happen. I said that they would just move the lab. He said he would like get the animals out. But there would be no way to get in without a key, and I remembered Britches’ rescue. On that rescue video you see someone unlock the door for them. He was not afraid to be on camera and was risking his entire reality by letting them in, but you could tell that he had had enough of the abuse. This rattled me for a while and I considered going and getting another loan to go back to school there just to get into the program and get a key. Realizing that this was an unattainable scenario, I, having met Jewel online about a year earlier, asked her if she needed any help at her brand new sanctuary and that I felt like moving across the country.
How many residents do you have at the sanctuary now, and what species? Do you have any others named after musicians? Have you ever considered creating an avian version of a Misfits reunion at the sanctuary?
Jewel: Right now we have 54 roosters and about 120 hens. We have eight ducks and a pig, three goats and two horses. No, we do not ride these horses or any other horses. We are ethically opposed to horseback riding. The horses are named from some characters in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, King Arthur and Patsy. We have had some birds named after other musicians. We had a rooster named after Frank Zappa. There is Ziggy Startdust, a super cool looking Polish rooster who is mean as hell. Lerr, the white leghorn rooster was named after Larry from Primus. Lerr is hick pronunciation for Larry. There can’t be a true Misfits reunion without Danzig. It’d have to be a cover band with a new name.
Jason: Hey, don’t forget about Elvis! I agree, an avian reunion of the Misfits would be most excellent, but we must remember that no matter how good looking Doyle was, Bobby Steele was the superior guitarist. I also have to mention that Lerr’s namesake is Larry Lalonde who not only started Primus but was also the guitarist of one of the first death metal bands, Possessed. How coincidental!
What does a typical day at the sanctuary look like for you? Is music a big component of that day, and if so … what is a typical day’s soundtrack look like for you?
Jewel: Work. Running a sanctuary is work. Thankfully Jason has more focus than I do, because I get sidetracked with all the awesome critters to say hi to. Every morning we haul water to 18 coops, distribute feed, hand transfer non-integrated birds, and medicate any birds currently needing medical attention. After all are fed and watered, it’s always tea time with Pete the Duck. During daily chores like mucking and food mixing I put my headphones on and listen to what I call “chick rock,” which is mostly women-fronted bands like She Keeps Bees and Cat Power. I still like to muck the horse stall while listening to the Misfits and Minor Threat. I’ll throw in a little Led Zeppelin and who knows what else. I just like to stay energized, and a variety of music will do that for me. Too much of one type gets boring.
Jason: Sleeping in for me is 7:15 a.m. (if Jewel is home; if she’s not I get up at 6 a.m. at the latest). From there it’s nonstop chores until I go to work and then another three hours or so of chores after I get home. I like having a reason to be up to watch the sunrise. If I’m up that early I like to listen to somber doom metal. Out here on the plains the vast landscape can remind me of the ocean as the sun rises and Morgion or Pallbearer, or Russian Circles are great for that intensity, as well as Solstafir. Once the sun is up though, early morning thrash quickens the pace, and nothing’s better than Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains/Schizophrenia or King’s-Evil from Japan. Kreator also has a special place, as well as Slayer up until Live Decade. It depends on the time of year and the weather for me. During the winter, if there is fog and it’s very cloudy during the day Blut Aus Nord; if it begins to lightly rain Deathspell Omega … if it’s a brutally hot summer day Monstrosity, Vader, Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, old Carcass. Cold winter as the sun sets, Immortal, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Samael, early Naglfar, and Dissection. Clear night sky and intense stars, Blacklodge, Aborym, Void, Red Harvest, Lorn. I mix it up with classic Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath (Dio), AC/DC, The Doors, Alice in Chains, Pink Floyd, and neoclassical electronic music like Autechre and Aphex Twin.
I have a deaf dog who does not mind my listening to death and black metal, but no one else seems to appreciate it. Do any of the residents like to listen to heavy metal?
Jewel: Either way, music doesn’t seem to do much for the sanctuary residents. The chickens don’t seem to mind power tools or my trusty chainsaw. They’re pretty easy going no matter what after they realize how safe they are here.
Jason: I have a cat who likes Anaal Nathrakh.
A lot of heavy metal and other extreme music (at least the kind I listen to!) can foster a darker perspective on things, such as a misanthropic attitude or even the harsh criticism of popular culture that punk is notorious for. Do either of you see any ways in which your musical interests and your work as a vegan advocate are related? Does one reflect on and/or influence the other at all? How about your overall worldview?
Jewel: The energizing music I listen to absolutely reflects how I feel about activism and how I respond to the world. I want a change. I want a revolution. I’m angry and active. Listening to music that reflects that, like the Dead Kennedy’s, makes me feel empowered.
Jason: I think it’s important to consider that metal in itself is more of an outsider form of music than others and that this lends itself to a crowd that may actually be more open to a perspective not driven by populist attitude. Though you have ego-driven perspectives, just like with any sub-sect or culture, you would be surprised at how many metal people are willing to listen and learn more about animal rights than your average material-driven narcissist listening to the latest hit on the radio over and over. Look at a veganarchist band like Fall of Efrafa or even Wolves in the Throne Room and you can see that the attitude is having an effect. I used to listen to music with a message in my punk days with Rudimentary Peni, Crass, Conflict, and The Mob, among others, but I found that to me, once the door is open you can throw away the key. Sure I’ll still listen to them when the mood strikes, but I listen to things from other countries and with voices I cannot understand and the vocals become an instrument of their own, almost as if it’s instrumental music. I’m not all that interested in a “message” anymore when it comes to music. I’m more interested in what a person is doing in the world to actually help end the slaughter and get out there to help animals in need. Making records is not enough, and collecting them while eating veggieburgers talking shit is even worse. Make a sacrifice and help.
Jewel, you mentioned that you do not feel like you and Jason are a “typical” vegan couple. What makes you feel that way?
Jewel: Some vegans say “humans are animals; you have to love humans too.” No I don’t. I don’t have to love humans as a whole any more than someone has to love murderers and serial killers as a whole. They’re animals too, aren’t they? I also feel that I’m not the typical vegan because I don’t make this about me or food. I certainly don’t feel like I fit in very well with the cupcake crew. I have a bitter yet active response rather than being paralyzed by how I feel about the situation.
Jason: I think most people should be tied to trees outside the village gates and left for the wolves. Whatever annihilation that is inevitably coming to humanity is a fitting reward for the willful ignorance and pure stupidity that our species displays.
Do you see the diversity within veganism that you contribute to (from love & light optimists to morbidly misanthropic pessimists, from those focused on personal health to those concerned about animal welfare, and everything in between) as a sign of its health or the seed of its own destruction?
Jewel: Honestly, I don’t believe any of us really know what we’re doing. Some people in the “movement” have big enough egos to believe they have all the answers. Who knows what is going to work? I know what I do well, so that’s what I do. We have apologists who congratulate others for choosing “humane” meat and spew the most repulsive phrase, “Well, it’s a step in the right direction.” No it isn’t a step in the right direction. It’s a different way to exploit non-humans! We have sanctuaries adopting out hens to people who will eat eggs from those hens, further perpetuating the humane myth, and essentially transferring those hens from one egg operation to another. A lot of people also say that “we all want the same thing in the end.” That’s not true either. When it comes down to it, some of these people are okay with killing in the most ideal setting, whatever that may be. The end goal is total liberation of non-humans. No compromise. If that’s not the agreed upon goal, they’re not in the same movement I am a part of.
Jason: I like to see different people’s approaches. Some approaches work better than others. Some people don’t like my approach and say I shouldn’t have such contempt for humanity, but you know what…these are the people who look for excuses and will use anything to not look themselves in the mirror. It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says simply because they, like the old adage states, are debunkers disguised as skeptics. Skeptics have an open mind, will listen even (especially) when you’re angry, and they will never come out with some shit about plants having feelings. I’m more concerned with the victims than making it easier for the exploiters to wake up in the morning. Personally I’d rather not ever have to deal with humanity in all its egotistic superiority complexes, but since I’m here I’m going to do more than pretend eating out and shopping are going to change anything. No vegan dessert ever made, or kept, anyone vegan. Only the truth about humanity and the acceptance of its horrid selfishness will.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and for the wonderful work you are doing at the sanctuary!