For the past week, I have been following discussions in different spaces where white vegans are arguing about what I suppose is their inherent ‘right’ to appropriate slavery in order to further the narrative of animal rights. And yes, the vegans in question are almost ALWAYS white. That alone should tell us a lot. But unfortunately it doesn’t.
Let me share an experience from my own life that might explain why this is problematic. This past summer, I was with a very progressive white vegan and his family. An opportunity arose for him to bring up veganism again in front of his mother. I can’t remember what it was. A news story perhaps where she expressed some empathy for an individual animal or something like that.
Anyway, seizing upon that opportunity, the slavery comparison came out of his mouth. For a brief moment, nobody said anything. None of the three of us. We just sat there in his mother’s kitchen. And then she suddenly started falling all over herself. Handling objects, moving things around, cleaning furiously, with a worried frown on her face. She just kept muttering over and over about slavery. “What does slavery have to do with anything? Why would he even say that? What kind of a person does he think I am? I would never support slavery!”
And it eventually dawned on me that all of her fretfulness had to do with me. Me. As author Claudia Rankine would say, I was a black object immediately thrown against a stark white background. I was a prop in a discussion between two white people–one white person who was looking to use a history of blackness to make another white person understand a point he wanted to drive home and another white person who was deeply invested in not seeming racist.
In truth, this discussion stopped being about the animals. In fact, it might never have been about animals at all. It was about whiteness. Neo-liberal white guilt on the part of my friend. And white fears on the part of his mother. They had centered their white feelings to the detriment of the animal victims involved. And there, for all the world, sat me. With my own history laid bare and a voyeur to a scene where everyone was desperatey uncomfortable with my presence.
And this isn’t an isolated incident. This is what it often means to use slavery in the context of animal rights. His mother didn’t have his foundational comprehension of critical race theory. She didn’t share any knowledge of intersectional feminism or have a context of power, oppression, and privilege. She’s a homemaker. A woman who was raised in the bosom of capitalist patriarchy in the United States and who worshiped at the altar of American exceptionalism. She had no understanding about the reality of animal slavery whatsoever. All she knew in that moment was that she didn’t want to be racist. And in dealing with her white fragility, this conversation threatened her self perception.
Yes, there are times when the slavery discussion is productive. I don’t disagree with that. But overall, this is what we’re looking at. This is the reality of introducing slavery. It can help. It can be useful. But the dangers of letting the discussion center whiteness are very real. And don’t even get me started on how whiteness invokes slavery when having this discussion with black nonvegans. It’s nothing short of emotional blackmail. And emotional blackmail is one of “the master’s tools” as Audre Lorde is famously quoted as saying.
For the record, I also keep hearing white vegans say that the animal rights community is unfairly singled out when making comparisons to human rights. But that criticism is also untrue. In the past decade, we’ve watched queer activists fetishize American blackness to win human rights for the queer community. Some people here might even recall The Advocate magazine famously ran a cover with the headline “Gay Is The New Black?” and black Americans everywhere doubled over with laughter.
This isn’t to say that queer persons don’t experience discrimination or are not meaningfully oppressed. We are! But to compare queerness to blackness is (bluntly stated) insulting. And I say this AS a queer black U.S. American. The ways in which I am oppressed based on my queer identity compared to how I am oppressed based on my black identity aren’t even in the same ballpark. And as with animal rights issues, blackness was (and is) left once again worse off than before (see: police violence). Meanwhile, white (and largely male) gays are victoriously picking out China patterns for their weddings.
And we see this reproduced over and over again in white feminism when celebrities like Patricia Arquette and Nancy Lee Grahn behave as if black people either owe white women something or opportunities for black people are equal across racial lines.
Basically what we’re looking at is a pattern whereby blackness is used and commodified at different times and by different groups to further an agenda without offering any type of real solidarity on black issues. And if animal rights doesn’t address this, our activism will be no different.
I have said repeatedly (and still maintain) that I don’t think the language of slavery should be entirely abandoned or that certain people are forbidden to use it. Some resources like Marjorie Spiegel’s classic The Dreaded Comparison make these connections respectfully and forcefully without compounding racial aggressions. Three tips for how to be a good ally against racism and speciesism:
1.) Stop being too liberal with how we apply such incendiary language, and learn to employ better sensitivity and discernment when approaching these discussions.
2.) Amplify the voices of marginalized people who talk about these issues themselves instead of appropriating their histories or experiences to further our agendas. Noble though your intentions may be, what does it say about your activism if you need to say incendiary things when you don’t have those experiences?
3.) Make an attempt to understand how layered oppressions impact different groups to maximize our impact and build a broader, more inclusive community.
The memory of picking up Orion and Hikaru, our first rescued roosters, from the shelter is still vivid, albeit with the fuzzy edges of most past memories. In contrast with Hikaru’s vibrant reds and oranges and blacks, Orion was essentially white. His personality was a similar study in contrasts: whereas Hikaru was often ferociously forward and likely to peck you if you got too close, Orion was just scared. We could not get within ten feet of him for months.
Both of these roosters had their own medical issues that needed tending to: Hikaru had a horrid case of scaly leg mites, and Orion had a nasty bumblefoot on each foot. The foot issues never slowed Orion down as he ran, for many long minutes at a time, away from us as we tried to catch him to take him inside for bed every evening. (Getting him out for the day was a less-extended process, simply because his makeshift pen in the basement was smaller—making it easier to catch the flashing white roo.)
Memory is tricky not just for being fuzzy—especially fuzzy in places where you want it to be sharpest. It also tends to be infuriating for its proficiency in adding much later the proper emotional significance to moments, to events, to routines, that we would be all the better for if we could catch them in that moment of time when they are most relevant.
It was only after days of watching Orion nearly constantly as he weakened, sickened, showed his age, and eventually died that memory imbued those moments—now long gone, fading as quickly as they gained greater significance—with the sort of heart-breaking weight they suddenly had for me. And still have, now, several months since Orion died.
In my head, which is as damaged as my heart after losing too many dear companions, the year-plus that slowly-yet-quickly unfolded after my first ride home with Orion is not strictly linear. The X-axis has twists, crinkles, folds in upon itself. Early moments ripple forwards and touch upon later ones, yet always remaining past, further back along the unforgiving, unrelenting X. It becomes unbearable at times.
You see, no longer is Orion just the fleeing, fleeting white feathered biped who squawked and screamed if we got too close. As he learned to trust us, and as he took his rightful place as the great grand alpha rooster of our homeplace, he started to recognize us as belonging along with him here, in this place, with the other hens and roosters over whom he cast such a watchful eye.
I never really realized the impact of this evolution until the edges became far too fuzzy. I could not have known in the moment how much it would mean to me that, for weeks before he became too sick to walk steadily, or be on his own in his yard as normal, he would walk up to me when I came around to pick him up and carry him in for the evening. Perhaps I am just a failure at this whole chronology thing, but the evolution of our mutual trust over time seemed to be just a simple fact of the present. It simply was, alive in all its momentousness much as Orion was bigger than life in his roosterly presence.
His waning was too much. His death was impossible to process. His burial was more than enough to break me in places I did not know remained to be broken. His absence is a void that memory tries desperately, blindly and haphazardly, to fill with something approaching the reality of what he was.
Always, it fails.
The death of Orion the rooster takes place within a larger matrix of chicken care, of course, that makes his experience (and ours) so much more tragic. This past summer, we lost a number of chickens over a period of a few weeks, in what were (are) without doubt the most difficult times of my life.
After thousands of years of domestication for food and entertainment purposes, chickens have only recently started to receive any sort of moderately adequate medical care. And after thousands of years of domestication for these human ends, much as with purebred dogs they are born with a whole host of inherited health problems. Modern hens breach their shells already “programmed” to lay 250-300 eggs each year, and the males who make it out of hatcheries alive are born from that same mutated, hijacked gene pool as hens. To put it bluntly: modern chickens are bred to live fast, lay lots, and die young.
This is all worth mentioning because it throws into relief the sickness, attempts at treatment, and death of Orion the rooster—and so many chickens like him who are fortunate (and rare) enough to receive some level of reliable veterinary care.
When you take your dog or cat into the vet’s office with some ailment, you assume that you will be given a reasonable diagnosis, a treatment plan, and a potential outcome. We take this as a given; we believe, with the sort of faith most gods would envy, that our medical caregivers will offer us something accurate to work with.
Not so with chickens. There is almost nothing like that with chickens.
Speciesism is the belief that humans have a primary universal significance giving them the right and power to dominate other species for their own ends. There are many ways in which speciesism dictates and shapes our everyday experience; human society as we know it would not exist without an unquestioned belief in the predominant glory of humankind. Even amongst those who fight for “the animals,” the ascendancy of humanity is a nauseating “of course” that is as impossible to challenge as it is to uproot—even rhetorically. It permeates us, and all we build, because it is at the foundations of everything we know. Even a glimpse at that foundation from above is enough to induce a vertigo that none of us can handle.
Beyond blatant anthropocentrism, of course, is an extension of valuation based upon what is more or less worthwhile for humans. This can be most clearly seen in the (horribly arbitrary, yet indelibly pernicious) division between “companion” and “food” animals. Culturally, we value and accept certain species of non-human as members of our family, as outside the realm of consumable (though even they get “consumed” in various ways—but I digress). In contrast, a culture’s “food” animals remain forever beyond that horizon of simple companionship. They cannot shake the ascription of consumable, even for humans who choose not to consume them.
This is why you would think it pretty typical to adopt a dog or cat for your household; if you mention adopting a chicken for a new family member instead, you will surely encounter raised eyebrows, even amongst other vegans.
Through speciesism, our culture’s food animals remain consumables, others, inextricably intertwined with the notions of slaughter, disassembly, preparation, and consumption. A part of what defines our culture is what beings we consume—for example, we do eat cows, but we do not eat dogs. Doing the latter will reveal you to be as problematic a part of Western society as will not doing the former.
Thus the sheer paucity of reliable veterinary care and medical expertise for chickens (and other farmed/food animals). Imagine the horror of the rare vegan who rescues a farmed animal and finds that every book, veterinarian, and online forum is devoted to a level of care warranted only by the ends of exploitation.
This is what we faced in trying to treat Orion. Our vets could find and show us instances of his decline—failing kidneys, neurological problems, labored breathing—and point to whatever pathogens their diagnostics might show.
But because of a millennia-old, speciesist approach to chicken “care,” our context for treating Orion felt limited at best, medieval at worst. We had no fucking idea what was going on, what we could do, and how we could keep this dear member of our family alive. Indeed, attempting to get veterinary care may have done more harm than good, in Orion’s case and in the cases of others, thanks to the limitations in knowledge about chickens and the relative inexperience with extended treatments.
Needless to say, the irony of this situation never escaped our attention: one of the oldest domesticated species is still one of the most enigmatic, and most difficult to treat, precisely because of humanity’s pathological effort to create a bigger, better chicken.
As hard as the limitations of medical care were, even more challenging and insulting were the regulated restrictions in potential care that we encountered while trying to treat our chicken family members.
Imagine going to your veterinarian when your cat is sick. The vet runs some tests, drawing blood and doing a fecal culture and possibly pursuing an ultrasound or radiograph, and discovers the cause of your companion’s ailments. Voilà—thanks to the tests, your vet gives a diagnosis for your cat and knows the specific medications that can successfully treat her.
Now imagine that your vet stops you short after the diagnosis, explaining that while there is a medication available to treat your cat’s condition, federal and/or state regulations prohibit her prescribing that medication for your cat. Essentially, the well-being and SURVIVAL of your cat must defer to a mandate on what drugs can be administered for X, Y, and Z reason.
Surely you would be whipped into a frothing fury over such utterly absurd nonsense. When your companion, your family member, is sick, the only thing that matters is getting them well.
Unfortunately, applied speciesism carries the companion animal/food animal divide into the realm of what drugs are available for treatment. The “Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank,” or FARAD (not linked here because FUCK YOU), is the Food & Drug Administration’s effort to protect human consumers from possibly harmful chemicals entering the sacred human food supply.
Or, put in slightly less speciesist terms, the FARAD exemplifies how U.S. consumers prioritize their own health concerns over the well-being of the animals they pay others to needlessly breed, raise, fatten up, slaughter, process, and serve by withholding certain drugs (chemicals) that could possibly impact human health.
The frenzy over drugs in animal products does mean something: antibiotic-resistant organisms are not things you want to fuck around with, and in large part we have the agricultural industry to thank for an ever-increasing resistance in bacteria and viruses. You might as well see most modern animal farms as infernal cauldrons from which Orcs are born…because they ARE.
However, applied speciesism relegates forever certain species such as chickens to the “food animal” category, thus dumping them into the buckets that FARAD (i.e., the FDA and USDA) determines cannot receive certain drugs. No matter what.
The problems with speciesism’s influences on available medical treatment arise when those of us who rescue chickens, take them out of the food chain, and refuse to use them or any of their parts for human benefit run headlong into the wall of FARAD. Even if we know what particular pathogen or condition a particular chicken has, and we know what particular medication would successfully treat it, we very well might not be able to administer said drug because some humans somewhere are eating others like our particular family member.
Because of speciesism, because of human consumption habits, every member of a particular species is condemned to “food animal” status and the correspondingly circumscribed options for care we give to beings we intend to ingest.
The idea that someone might have ever eaten Orion or one of our other companion chickens is enough to induce a fugue state. The inescapable fact that we are forced to treat chickens like Orion as if they were to/could be eaten is only insult piled on to injury.
The perniciousness of speciesism becomes clearer when we see some of the (many) ways in which it grinds up the bodies of individual beings within the cogs of human culture. Abuse, murder, and consumption are only the more obvious ways in which speciesism gets applied through, and onto, the bodies of non-human animals.
We likely will never know what exactly happened, biologically and pathologically, with Orion the rooster. But it is still painfully clear that the ignorance we encountered, and the restricted care options we were forced to navigate, had their roots in the sickened soil of our speciesist culture.
And perhaps even more painful is my recognition that, cast in this light, the many months during which Orion came to shape me, teach me, and trust me are nearly meaningless because he was little more than a throwaway and a commodity to so many other humans.
With my last breath, I will refuse, resist, and refute this self-serving sickness of the human species. Orion’s life was worth more than that, as is the life of every “farmed” animal we selfish humans have forced into existence.
Their worth shall not be measured by the paltry marks of human myopia.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
I was recently interviewed by Kathryn Ashworth, a Producer at Yoga International, for a story she was doing on veganism and animal sanctuaries. Because of space limitations, only a portion of the interview made it into the final article, so Kathryn and I agreed to post the full text here for interested readers… ~ Justin
1. What is The Microsanctuary Movement? How is a sanctuary a state of mind?
The Microsanctuary Movement is an effort we started based on our work with Triangle Chance for All to help empower others to rescue farmed animals and self-identify as being part of a sanctuary, both through information and resources and through support networks. We are working on our website right now, but in the meantime we have been trying to share helpful tidbits through The Microsanctuary Movement’s Facebook page and our Facebook group, Vegans with Chickens. Through these and future means, we hope that the movement will inspire many vegans to rescue farmed animals, whether that be a rooster and some hens, or a few goats, or whatever species they can accommodate. To us, this is truly revolutionary because relying on large sanctuaries exclusively means limited ability to rescue farmed animals. Large sanctuaries can usually take in a few hundred animals at most, and so much of their income goes to administrative and other non-care costs. Comparatively, a few thousand vegans each rescuing a handful of animals would open up so much more space and (this is important) resources for care.
To answer the question about sanctuary being a state of mind, we have to first recognize that “sanctuary” is about how one cares for rescued animals and sees them as beings worthy of the utmost respect. Thus a microsanctuary centers on a space that is home to rescued animals and emphasizes their health and happiness. So someone with a rescued house rooster is just as much a sanctuary (by virtue of being a microsanctuary) as a million-dollar non-profit with hundreds of acres and hundreds of animals. I am frustrated by how self-limiting we all tend to be when it comes to our views of sanctuaries. I so often hear people say that they want to start their own sanctuary one day if they win the lottery, but without any clear idea of what “sanctuary” really means to them and how to get there. I was there once, and the notion of a typical sanctuary was so daunting that I did not even know where to start to make it happen. By throwing out the ideal, I was able to really think about what sanctuary means for the residents and the caregivers. It is a very powerful relationship and way of living, as well as a perspective on the world and our role as caregivers.
This sense of dedication to the service of rescued farmed animals, as a way to end (and help ameliorate in some way) their exploitation, is what lies at the heart of sanctuary—and on an individual level truly defines a microsanctuary. This is all about how we approach rescuing animals and accommodating them within our lives where we are now, not where we might be at some undetermined future time.
2. Can you give us an example of one animal you rescued and sheltered recently? How did you find them? What’s their story?
There are so, so many beautiful but poignant stories here at the TCA Microsanctuary, because each resident’s story reflects upon both their unique personality but also the exploitation by humans that they were rescued from. One of the dearest to our hearts is that of Bibi, a tiny little hen who came to us after her three flock-mates were killed by a raccoon who broke into the “chicken tractor” they all lived in in someone’s backyard. Bibi barely survived and was maimed in the attack: her top beak was partially bitten off, a hole was punched into her bottom beak, and she also lost part of a wattle. When she arrived, she was clearly suffering from PTSD; she spent several weeks just sitting in a bathroom like a lump. She started to come out of her shell when we put a mirror in with her, and then she really regained some of her spark when we brought in one of our other hens, Hypatia, to be a companion for her. Now she is a real fireball, with plenty of spunk and attitude. She has had to have several surgeries on her beak since then, and will likely always have trouble eating and require special attention, but she really rolls with the punches.
Bibi’s story highlights so many of the problems with backyard chicken-keeping (for example, she was part of a hatching project in which eight of the twelve chicks who were roosters and so were sent back to the farmer and most likely killed). We feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to give her a better life.
Another story is that of Plutarch the piglet. Plutarch fell off a transport truck in transit and was taken to a rural animal shelter while still a tiny little guy. When one of our board members, Linda James, discovered him at the shelter, we started scrambling to find placement for him (because we knew we could not accommodate an 800-pound farm pig at our microsanctuary). Richard Hoyle at The Pig Preserve, an amazing sanctuary in Tennessee, stepped up and agreed to take Plutarch. TCA board members Linda and Alan Nelson fostered Plutarch for nearly a month, allowing him to grow bigger and stronger in a loving space, and then several board members transported Plutarch to The Pig Preserve in late December—where he is now the most rambunctious, joyful pig you will ever meet.
His story is sad for so many reasons—not just recognizing that he would have been killed in a matter of months for his flesh, but also realizing that he was stolen from his mother at such a young age and never got to know that nurturing parental love as he grew. Animal agriculture is a story of broken families as well as torture and death, and Plutarch’s experience makes that abundantly clear.
3. What do you mean when you say, “veganism is the only satisfactory response to the suffering of non-human animals”? What about humanely raised animals?
There is no “humane” way to eat or use a living being or the things that come from her body. There is a persistent effort in our society to assuage our discomfort with harming other animals by coming up with slightly less bad ways to do the things that make us uneasy. There is no longer any doubt that, as a species, humans can thrive on a plant-based diet and have no need to exploit other beings for our benefit. That recognition of our ability to live without directly harming other animals has to frame this entire discussion about whether or not it is possible to exploit those beings “nicely.”
It takes little time researching the practices of every agricultural industry to see that animals are commodities, not individuals. You cannot justify killing a living being who is not in pain many, many years before he or she would naturally die. But that very thing happens with cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits…any animal used for food, really. There is a vast difference between when an animal is at “market weight” (i.e., when they are old/large enough to slaughter for prime profits) and when an animal is at the end of their natural lifespan. Chickens can live up to 13 or 14 years, for example, yet “broiler” chickens raised for meat are slaughtered after six weeks. Even dairy cows, who are supposedly given a better life because they are not raised for meat, still end up as hamburger after their milk production declines after a few years. It makes no sense for a farmer or corporation to keep feeding, vetting, and otherwise dealing with an animal who is not at peak production. If you want proof of this, research what happens to “spent” laying hens, whether they are in battery cages or so-called “free-range” farms, once their egg production declines after a couple of years—if they even make it that far.
As for chickens naturally producing eggs, which is a common misconception, it is helpful to understand the biology of a modern domesticated hen. The wild ancestors of domesticated chickens, which are wild jungle fowl from South Asia, lay at most ten to fifteen eggs per year strictly for reproduction. In contrast, domesticated hens have been selectively bred and genetically altered by humans to produce 250-300 eggs per year. This genetic manipulation has turned hens into victims of their own biology, leaving them trapped in their own bodies, and it is directly responsible for the fact that most hens die before age five because of reproductive system complications (especially cancer). So to say a hen “naturally” produces the eggs humans eat is to utterly twist what “natural” actually means. There is nothing natural about a domesticated hens’ eggs, just as there is nothing ethical about eating them. Whenever a human eats a hens’ egg, whether it came from a battery cage or a backyard flock, they are perpetuating this inescapable suffering that hens endure.
Veganism is the only answer to this situation because there is no good way, no ethically defensible method or process, to exploit other beings for our benefit. Period. Once you accept the fact that animals exist for their own reasons, and have as much right to live as individuals with their own autonomy, then the question of how they are exploited is a moot one. One cannot exploit another being and pretend that one is being nice about it. One cannot justify using other animals when the only reason for doing so is personal tastes and habits and a refusal to look past the traditions and corporatized narratives telling us we need animal products to be healthy. To do otherwise is to turn individuals into objects, and that can never be justified.
4. What about people who say that they can’t afford to not eat meat due to health issues?
In almost all cases, health arguments for eating meat or other arguments are based on ignorance of actual human nutrition, an attempt to excuse away a desire to eat animal products, or a combination of similar factors. I recognize that some humans may have such severe health issues that eating a plant-based diet is extremely difficult, just as I recognize that many humans live in food deserts and have a huge challenge just finding adequate food to feed themselves and their families. But the majority of us have the capabilities, both in our physical needs and our resources, to stop eating animal products. This is even true for athletes who put their bodies in much more rigorous and demanding physical conditions. There are vegan ultra-marathoners, bodybuilders, mixed martial arts fighters, NFL football players… It is abundantly clear, looking at living breathing humans, that being athletic does not prohibit being vegan.
5. How do animals, particularly the ones we classify (culturally) as less important (pigs, chickens, cows… etc.) give your life meaning? Why do you connect with them as individuals when so many see them as food?
Being vegan for us is centered on the idea that other animals deserve as much respect and consideration as our fellow humans. Living with and rescuing animals (in particular farmed animals), however, reflects the fruition of our ethical principles put into practice. This is especially true for farmed animals because all of us, even vegans, have accepted the idea that they are somehow different than dogs, cats, and the other species we classify as “companions.” They live on farms somewhere out in the country and are owned by farmers … unless they are lucky and go to a big farm sanctuary that is also out in the country and run by a different sort of farmers.
It would be hard for us to pinpoint a reason why we connect with farmed animals as individuals, except to say that it is an entirely impossible task for us to do otherwise. Humans have desensitized themselves to violence and exploitation, in particular by compartmentalizing them so as to ignore or forget them. We, and other ethical vegans, are not able to do that any longer. Taking that to the next level, we are committed to helping as many animals as we can get the respect that they deserve by getting them out of the exploitative systems they are trapped in. Getting involved with farmed animal rescue and care has led to a profound shift in how we see ourselves as vegans. It is no longer so much a negative orientation, in the sense that we are trying to not cause harm or not be part of exploitation. It feels so much more positive to have a direct role in and responsibility for the care of the very individuals for whom we went vegan. All of us at Triangle Chance for All are and always have been vegan for the animals; saving and sustaining the lives of as many of them as we can has given our veganism so much more depth, meaning, and relevance.
6. What do you think it will take to finally convince people that this is a social crisis? Is the solution simply a matter of leading by example?
We have to do the work and reach the humans we can but not wait on others to make change happen. This means focusing on helping the victims of human greed as much as possible while also advocating on their behalf. It often seems that no one ever listens, and that we are losing the battle to make a society that is kind to all beings. But whether or not we achieve our goals, we have to do the work and strive as hard as we can. Otherwise we can be sure we will lose.
I do not think leading by example is enough, though it is important. We have to feel within ourselves the urgency of non-human animal liberation because it is far too easy to deprioritize or forget their suffering. Empathy is important, but it is not the same as experiencing what they do, and I think this is a large part of why so little has actually changed with how humans treat other animals. So I think “what it will take” is some sort of crisis that makes consuming animals immediately harmful or impossible. Even with as many vegan products and resources as we have available now, vegans are still a tiny minority (about 2.5% or so) of the American population, and this is true globally as well. It is not a matter of practicalities.
I try hard not to be a pessimist with this whole issue. Humans have a hard time acknowledging crises until they significantly affect the humans (especially the humans with the most power and privilege) themselves. That is why it is so crucial for those of us who do get it to both advocate to other humans and act to make change happen for the individuals who suffer—whether that means helping others go vegan or rescuing animals from exploitation. Advocacy and leading by example are not enough; activism, whatever that means for you (be it protests, disruptions, leafleting, rescuing animals…), has to be a key part of how we live in the world as vegans.
7. Do you practice yoga? If so, how does your practice influence your activism?
That depends on how you define yoga, I suppose. If you mean mat work, Rosemary and I, as well as board member Linda Nelson, practiced yoga for years before starting TCA. We all saw yoga as a practice while also taking seriously the principles behind it. For example, ahimsa is a principle of not harming that (we feel) provides an imperative for being vegan. This is why Jivamukti Yoga, for example, includes veganism as a component of the practice. It is a shame that more modern yoga traditions and practitioners do not recognize this.
You could also see what we do as a form of karma yoga, of course. As someone who studied and practiced Buddhist meditation for many years, as well as yoga, I feel very strongly that our “practice” is most important when it is actualized through our ways of living in the world. What we do in private on our mats or our cushions should be a foundation for how we live in and influence the world around us. We should also do more to acknowledge how intentional acts of service, compassion, and justice are essential components of a practice of ahimsa.
Autumn (foreground) and Salem of Triangle Chance for All came into the Microsanctuary at different times, from different places, but when both were adolescents. After a few weeks of socialization, they became best friends. Now they are almost never apart.
Every evening when we bring people inside for bed, we typically take Autumn in first. Inevitably Autumn makes a fuss until we bring his buddy inside, and Salem runs up to us when we go to get him, expectantly waiting to be picked up and carried back in to see his friend.
The bond between these roosters is absolutely charming, just as the larger rooster flock they are a part of is delightful to behold. Our cultural assumptions and notions about roosters are sadly shallow reflections of their true personalities. Living with them as we do, as vegans, we cannot but appreciate their beauty … and feel dismay over the fact that so many see them as merely unwanted “byproducts” of the eggs they eat.
Autumn and Salem are individuals, and they are a pair. They are not, and never were, mere byproducts.
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.
The NYT story is utterly horrifying in what it reveals about the callous treatment of individual animals–from hormone injections that spur faster, bigger growth, to selective breeding for greater litter sizes. to abandoning unwanted babies and allowing them to die. And much, much more. As the article states:
Pigs are having many more piglets — up to 14, instead of the usual eight — but hundreds of those newborns, too frail or crowded to move, are being crushed each year when their mothers roll over. Cows, which normally bear one calf at a time, have been retooled to have twins and triplets, which often emerge weakened or deformed, dying in such numbers that even meat producers have been repulsed.
Then there are the lambs. In an effort to develop “easy care” sheep that can survive without costly shelters or shepherds, ewes are giving birth, unaided, in open fields where newborns are killed by predators, harsh weather and starvation.
This pathological abuse is horrible and cannot be justified. Period. Yet the reality of the situation is that these obvious tortures are not restricted to “factory” farming; they are inextricably connected to every farmed animal, no matter where they are living or how they are treated. Practically all farmed animals today grow at certain rates (like the “broiler” chickens raised for meat who are killed at six weeks old, long after they have become crippled by their own bulk), have certain numbers of babies, lay a certain number of eggs–all as a result of human manipulation–through selective breeding and more invasive genetic tinkering.
The resident hens at Triangle Chance for All are perfect examples. Almost all of them came from backyard flocks (not battery cages or “free-range/cage-free” farms), and each will lay between 250 and 300 eggs per year, unlike her wild ancestors, who lays between 10 and 15 eggs per year. All domesticated hens are victims of their own hijacked biology, and most will die well before their time because of this. In the case of other animals, their premature deaths typically come at the hands of a human–either because their flesh is desired, or their productivity (and thus their usefulness) has waned.
We can try to stave off this death, but there is only so much we can do. The only true way to stop the suffering of future generations is to go vegan and end the demand for ALL animal products, and if possible we can liberate animals from the oppression in which they live. But by going vegan, we take a huge step away from this endless torture by ending the demand for the altered, exploited bodies of the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.
One of the most significant changes for me in my evolution as an advocate against exploitation has come about through providing sanctuary to farmed animals. In the past, advocacy and activism were important to me but always impersonal and to a large degree abstract. They could be matters of convenience, picked up and put down whenever I chose.
Now, as Rosemary and I spend the majority of our days caring for and fretting over the well-being of individuals whom most humans see as mere objects, as simple and insignificant things, the impersonal has transformed into an imperative.
You see, animal liberation can never again be anything but personal. Our work towards the end of exploitation is no longer abstract; it is individuated. It is not just about food; it is a matter of FAMILY.
Perhaps there is a great untapped force for all of us in our advocacy and our activism, should we undertake the radical, revolutionary act of caregiving. If liberation is to happen, the struggle has to be personal for all of us. It has to be about family members, not abstractions. Liberation must be lived by us, enacted in our daily relationships, for anything less will fall short of the goal.