If you google the word “vegan” right now, you’ll probably see images consisting of vegetables, animals, before-and-after diet photographs, and random sexualized white women in thongs from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) demonstrations.
There’s a real reason why a lot of black folks don’t usually connect to the mainstream vegan message. For one, veganism is advertised as a privileged tool to get “thin” and “sexy” rather than a political, social justice movement to end white supremacy and animal exploitation.
On top of that, add market pressure from giant meat-centric companies like McDonald’s that strategically plant themselves in black communities to establish brand loyalty. They superficially try to connect with black people to make their company seem committed to improving black lives.
For example, have you ever heard of the 365Black McDonald’s website? Yes, it’s a real website created by McDonald’s to celebrate black culture 365 days a year. They offer scholarships to black students going to historically black colleges and universities, they put on gospel tours, and they even hold “Black Awards” ceremonies where they honor famous black folks who have done incredible work in the black community. This past September, Ava DuVernay won a “Black Award’ from McDonalds for her film Selma. (It’s a bit ironic considering the McDonald’s fast-food chain is ruining black health and Selma is a civil rights film that seeks to fight for black life).
Now imagine how hard the struggle is out there for us black vegan folks who want to fight anti-racism AND animal exploitation but the mainstream representation of veganism is white, privileged, and absolutely disconnected from the mainstream black experience. Add to that unhealthy meat-centric companies trying to fill that gap by superficially showing “concern” for black people to ensure they buy from their brand.
Veganism is a political, social justice movement that more black folks need to be getting into. Police violence isn’t the only form of systemic violence being committed on black bodies! The racist food system is worthy of our attention as well.
As Black Vegan Guerilla Gardener Ron Finley notes, “The drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-by’s.”
In order to participate in the Black Lives Matter struggle, we also need to focus on the foods we consume to fuel and sustain our bodies as we fight white supremacy. Eating tortured, oppressed animal carcasses specially prepared by white supremacy isn’t a celebration of black life.
As Black vegan feminist theorist Dr. Amie Breeze Harper once wrote:
“I simply cannot look at food as an ‘everyday mundane object.’ I understand the meanings applied to food as something that represents an entire culture’s ideologies around everything. For example, food can tell me a society’s expectations about sexuality, gender roles, racial hierarchies of power and ability.”
Back in June, I wrote the first list that spotlighted 100 Black Vegans called “#BlackVegansRock: 100 Black Vegans to Check Out.” It took me three weeks to compile the list, however, I realized *just* how many black people were vegan. For example, did you know that Dr. Angela Davis, Kimberly Elise, and the Williams sisters are vegan?
Have you ever heard of Pax Ahimsa Gethen, Tracye McQuirter, Toi Scott, Christopher-Sebastian McJetters or JoVonna Johnson-Cooke?
After I wrote the 100 Black Vegans article, I received emails from black folks all over the world who wanted to be included on the list. I was both thrilled and saddened by the realization that there so many black vegans who were doing important vegan/animal rights work, but they weren’t getting recognized in the mainstream vegan marketplace.
Instead of adding names onto the 100 Black Vegans list, I decided to create a new digital platform that will function to spotlight incredible black vegans every day. It’s called, “Black Vegans Rock.”
“Black Vegans Rock” is set to launch in January 2016. If you’re a black vegan and you want to be featured on the website, send your information to email@example.com.
The goal of the website is to provide visibility to black vegan projects, restaurants, books, lectures, academics, entrepreneurs, activists, etc.
Representation is extremely important, especially for minoritized individuals. Representation is a life or death situation in the sense that if you’re not reflected in a particular space, you might not think that space is for you. If black folks who eat meat only see veganism as a white thing, and meat as part of the “black experience,” it’s a symbolic form of violence.
It’s important that we change the mainstream narrative about veganism. There is an intersectional, de-colonial vegan movement happening that is anchored on black consciousness and I aim to bring this movement to the mainstream.
Aph Ko is a feminist, blogger, and indie digital media producer. She has been featured on The Daily Beast, Slate, Ebony, Mic, and IndieWire, and she’s on the Editorial Board for the F Bomb (a branch of the Women’s Media Center). In her free time, Aph obsessively watches Scandal, cooks vegan food, and writes critical essays for Aphro-ism on the intersections between anti-racism, sexism, and speciesism.