living underground in the real world

White Middle Class Person Muses on how Veganism is too White and Middle Class; Writes Blog About It Illustrated with Cat Photos

Eileen says the deer are extra crazy right now because they’re starving.

 

All their food is hidden under this snow and they don’t know what to do with themselves. Eileen knows about these sort of things.

I sit next to her at Planning Board meetings so I can whisper to her when I don’t understand something, like once when we had an entire hour-long meeting about a SWPPP and I just played along until finally the chair asked if anyone had any questions, and I said “Yeah, just a quickie: what’s a SWPPP?” And then Eileen explained about Stormwater Pollution Protection Plans asked if I wanted to come to her office ever and discuss stuff like how to read the architectural renderings we’re given, and then we spent a few hours with her showing me that you can tell how steep a site is by how wiggly the lines are on the maps and stuff. I like Eileen.

I hit a deer the other night. My car did. Jacob was driving. The deer hit me, really. My car. But the part of the car closest to my body. Deer body / car body / my body all in a tiny three-foot proximity. We were going slow on a wiggly road and a deer crashed right into us, huge body perpendicular to the car, everything at the wrong angle all of the sudden. We weren’t hurt, the car needs major bodywork, probably a new hood, but what happened to the deer? We went back and looked for him, but he disappeared. A slow death, then. Caused by my car. My fault, as a human. The deer are wild this time of year. Desperate. We’ve taken over their entire ecosystem, so they have no choice but to do the same to us. They’re everywhere, everyone I know has hit one. Lucy, Kate, and I all hit the first deer of our lives this year. Huge traumas, all of them. It takes days to come down. Country life. Back in the car, shaky, we talked about the strangeness. Two vegans, having such a violent interaction with an animal. Some people go out of their way to inflict violence on animals. Most, really. We go out of our way to do the opposite, but it still happens. I thought I was OK, but right before Jacob started the car again intense nausea hit me hard and I said, “wait,” and got out and threw up.


The whole thing made me think about my veganism practice.
photo 1
That’s how I think about it, like some people think about their yoga practice: practice of veganism. I don’t think you’re ever really vegan, you just practice at it. I’ve been practicing for 21 years this year. I got an email from a blog reader a few months ago, and thought instead of answering it I’d write a blog post about it. I guess tonight’s the night for that, here in my bed with my tea and a snack. There are deer outside in my backyard, they’re there every night. I just fed my cats dead animals, they’re settled all around me. I wore a wool sweater from the ’60s today. Veganism is a practice. I try real hard not to judge vegans and of course I fail most of the time—which shouldn’t be confused with not trying.
At least vegans are practicing. That’s how I think about it.

That’s what I liked about this email: just a good vegan, trying to do better. My kind of woman.

I’ve been up late at night the past couple of days worrying about veganism and privilege and how I may or may not be unintentionally contributing to that stereotype. I’m so stuck inside my head and I wonder if you have anything to say on the subject. I know you are a busy busy busy lady but you are one of the smartest people I know and I respect your opinion quite a lot.
Basically I’ve been worrying about how veganism has unintentionally become inaccessible to people who think they can’t afford stuff like organic cashews or kale. I wish there was a way to celebrate the world’s rich plant-based history, to show people that you can cook hearty vegan meals with very simple ingredients- you know, the dishes people cooked when animal products were still major luxuries. But I’m so frightened by the fact that out of all the vegan cookbooks I own, only two of them are authored by non-white vegans (Terry Hope Romero & Miyoko Schinner). Where are all the vegans of color?! I want so badly to try to fix that but I feel like it would be appropriative- like who am I to write a cookbook about vegan Malaysian or vegan Ethiopian food? I’m a punk-ass 20 year old white girl from New Jersey who goes to an overpriced liberal arts school. My scope of the world is very limited.
Well first of all. I like that you guys send me such thoughtful emails! This one has some commonalities with this one, so this post will be a lot like that post, but that’s OK.
So. It’s stupid and cliché to say, “hey at least you’re thinking about these things,” but hey, at least you’re thinking about these things! That’s not nothing. I think about these things all the time too. I see little glimmers of hope, but so often not much more than glimmers. Like, Bryant Terry & Miyoko & Terry are super great but why aren’t there 50,000 more people veganizing the foods of their culture?
And I don’t want to deter myself from doing what I want to do with my life either, which is cook amazing vegan food and show people how fucking cool and awesome and easy veganism is, but I don’t want to be another one of those overly-cheerful white women with perfect hair and ten different recipes for vegan mac & cheese, and I definitely don’t want to become a ‘white vegan savior’ (ie. “I’m a privileged, healthy, upper-middle class white woman! You can be just like me if you go vegan!) It’s not even about that anyway; it’s about saving animals, and of course the more people who go vegan the more animals we can save. But because veganism has become so quote unquote “trendy” in the past few years, it seems like the face of public veganism is now that of a skinny white woman yoga-ing her way down the street in Williamsburg while drinking a green juice. Of course, these people should be commended for helping begin to lift veganism out of obscurity and actually make it appealing and accessible to some people– it just breaks my heart that the only people it seems accessible to are the ones who can ‘afford’ to do it.
What do you think? I’d love to hear if you have anything to say.
I guess we can only stand where we are, and go from there.
photo 3
I think also she’s hit on the most annoying thing about veganism today, to my mind: so many of us have convinced ourselves that instagramming what we had for breakfast is vegan activism. The vegan lifestyle activism crap thing is getting out of control. I think. Is it? What do you think?
Here’s where I’m at (this post gets sort of yell-y and swear-y from here on in, beware):
Once I had to listen to a friend tell me that having a vegan baby was the best sort of activism she could imagine for the vegan movement. Really? Because it’s about the worst fucking sort of activism I can imagine, for any movement. But that’s me! And she’s she. (She also refused to teach her children the words for any kind of non-vegan food, instead telling her kids that the name for everything from bologna to string cheese was “poison.”)
Obviously right about here you’re calling me on my bullshit, right?
You’d be right to be, of course. I’m a skinny-ass white woman who splurges on high-end food treats like you would not believe, makes fancy chocolates for a living and does absolutely nothing that could be called real activism (‘cept donations), and hasn’t for years now. I don’t usually IG my breakfast, but that’s not to say I don’t write blog posts about it.
What can I say? I’ve made my choices. I’m happy with them, but I recognize that I’m not solving the problems I’m mentioning. I’m solving other problems, problems involving a lack of vegan Snickers bars.
Just like I try not to judge vegans as whole, I don’t judge this vegan, this vegan who happens to be me, as much as I used to. I’m not making vgf wraps for Food Not Bombs, I’m making truffles that sell for $2.16 each and bossing around eight people. If all vegans took my path veganism would be a terrible movement, but if I went undercover at a slaughterhouse in order to film footage for PETA I would surely fall apart.
I am a small brick in the new world the vegan movement is building. There are millions more bricks to lay.
Obviously, my total immersion in the world of beautifully-instagrammed vegan lifestyle activism (to which I spend a significant portion of every day contributing) is what’s made me so bitter about all of us vegan business owners thinking we can save the world through vegan t-shirts with better slogans + fonts than the ones we bought when we were teenagers, or veganised versions of more upscale desserts than the vegan world is used to, or or or or. This whole rant could be way off since I spend my life in the trenches of owning a vegan business and eyeing other vegan businesses. Maybe things aren’t as capitalistic as they seem in our darling little movement. Let me know? I’ve lost all perspective.
From where I stand: we’re great, good for us, we’re doing activism, sure whatever. But veganism needs millions more people doing a million kinds of activism, and lately it seems like the balance is getting awfully weird, with on the one hand 500 million vegan cupcakes and on the other two people at demos against circuses.
So. VEGAN PRIVILEGE. I keep wanting to write about, like, how come no vegans are doing more activism to bring good food to food deserts & how come no vegans are devoting themselves to reforming school lunches but I know there are people doing this stuff, for sure, but…I sure don’t hear about them as much as I hear about cupcakes.Thus, as an attempt to tidy up my own sometimes overly consumerist-overly privileged veganism practice, here are some ideas I’ve come up with over the past few days of discussing this question with friends on how we can all be better vegans.1) Recognize what is not activism: i.e. the internet. Fuck your fucking Facebook petitions, your #vegansofig, your Pinterest pins of vegan French toast, Get off the internet / I’ll meet you in the streets, because we need to force ourselves to do traditional activism too. Because if we all forgo freezing Fur Free Friday protests (it’s in November for a reason, it doesn’t mean you can skip it just because you’re cold) in favor of “celebrating” Meatless Monday the same way we celebrate every day (not eating dead things), we’re not doing much more than shit for animals. 2) At the very least, and as a small start, we need to find ways (god knows I am not helping) to convince people that, as my pal mentions above, you can be vegan when you’re poor. I was pretty poor in high school, but I wasn’t a good vegan. I lived on potatoes and margarine and cereal.Veganism is seen as a real uppity movement, because it’s become a real uppity movement. Why would working class people, who are even more exhausted at the end of the day than us middle-class people, if you can even imagine that, bother with veganism, when it can be so time-consuming and expensive? In a world in which 30 minutes is  seen as an indulgent, luxuriously relaxed timeframe in which to prepare dinner, telling people they can save money by buying dried beans doesn’t always cut it. These problems are obviously bigger than veganism. And I am definitely more guilty than the average vegan of perpetrating this stereotype. I have no concrete solutions for this problem at this time, but smashing the corporate state seems, somehow, to always be a good start, eh? Lobbying to remove subsidies to cattle ranchers and transfer them to veganic CSAs certainly seems a worthy goal—and of course one that won’t happen in my lifetime, but maybe you are younger than me.

Oh god, we’re so fucked. Moving on!

3) Find some ways to free veganism from the stereotype of middle class kale-obsessed yoga moms. For example, leave your gentrified-ass neighborhood (or, in my case, county) and cross the river to Poughkeepsie and see how to work alongside food justice activists to bring vegan food to the working-class communities there, instead of blissfully rejoicing about another organic CSA with its $800 memberships opening up in your town. (Not to say CSAs aren’t the raddest, just that we need them + so much more, concurrently.)

4) FOR FUCK’S SAKE stop obsessing over veganizing bland American shit-food. Once I said something like “god I fucking hate white people’s food” on this blog and everyone got all huffy but you know what I mean. (What I mean is that I fucking hate white people’s food.) Like, how about a 10-year moratorium on mac & cheese recipes? CASHEWS AND NOOCH, WE FUCKING GET IT. Maybe let’s work on veganizing the dairy-rich kormas of India and Pakistan for a while, OK? Not Twinkies.

OK YES maybe I am extra angry about this because a few weeks ago I made this Turtle Bar thingie that yes I am mega-proud of and yes it’s fucking aaaaaammmmmaaazzziiinnng (it’s true!) but people are creaming their pants over it like there’s no tomorrow when no one loves the damn Hazelnut bar as much even though to my mind it’s twice as good. The same style but more classy, you know? More European.

The truth is that vegans want crap, and the market naturally complies. We (my biz, that is) sometimes indulge with high-end crap, and it’s fucking depressing how muc

h the high-end crap outsells the beautiful, typically more inclusively- & internationally-flavored (but not “ethnic” my god–oh heyyyy this post also talks about all the same stuff as I’m talking about here! What a great post.) chocolates.

5) Whitewashed vegan food markets—WTF with all the dedicated vegan markets and health food stores in this country selling like 50 kinds of soy and cashew cheese and no fucking chilies? Two kinds of rice, two kinds of noodles, but 870,000 types of chips? What is up is that vegans want soy curls, chips, GMO Tings, and cashew cheese, not anchos and pasillas and forbidden black rice and sticky rice and bean thread noodles and acorn noodles and rice flake noodles. Demand (and buy, and get your community to buy) better shit at your vegan/health food stores, and you’ll get it.

6) Vegan food businesses: Related to #4, ok, actually exactly the same point as #4: you need to make more foods from peoples all around the world. Seriously. Even us. We have the shivas, the yuzus, some more, but we could do more. The problem, of course, is that having to help people pronounce Vandana Shiva and even yuzu 80 times a day gets old, as does explaining that yuzu is alemonyJapanesecitrusahybridoflemonandorangeitsreallyniceoneofmyfavorites and listening to customers unaccountably pronounce it “yazu” for reasons that all of us LL shop slaves are real confused about all the time.

You can suffer though that, or you can sell peanut butter cups, which sell themselves. We do both, and the yuzu creams have won over so many followers that it makes the whole thing worthwhile, but my god it’s a headache for a while. Even still, we need to do better. Less S’mores Bars, more truffles made with Tunisian pepper pastes and coriander and beets. (jesus christ this post is becoming some sort of LL commercial, sorry for all the links!)

7) As eaters, we need to force ourselves to stop falling into the comfort food trap. Veganism is a food movement freaking o*b*s*e*s*s*e*d with comfort food. I know exactly why: being vegan means you have an open heart, and an open heart hurts. All the time. I get it. So you want your mac & yease & your peanut butter-chocolate cupcakes** and your tofu scramble because they remind you that even though you can’t eat out at any decent restaurants in most mid-sized cities STILL, at least at home you can make some tasties that perk you up. Yeah, ok fine. But let’s get over it. Make Ethiopian wat and Oaxacan mole your new daiya-pizza and TLT—just once in a while, OK? Just…try? Me too. I haven’t made wat since back when I was paid to make it, sigh.
8) Stop stealing foods from other cultures without an appreciation or at least basic understanding of how they fit into that culture’s diet. Hellooooooo quinoa.
9) Read more blogs and books that cover these issues. Vegans of Color is a good place to start.
OK now you go. What did I miss?
photo 4
_________________________
**My treat for finishing this post is a cinnamon roll I stole from work.
PS: the formatting on this blog is crazy & I’m too tired to care. Goodnight!

7 Responses to “White Middle Class Person Muses on how Veganism is too White and Middle Class; Writes Blog About It Illustrated with Cat Photos”

  1. bonniebrozik

    I like this! I can’t believe no one else posted! I’m guilty of all that up there but I AM “poor” (as in we meet the federal poverty guidelines) but we do not suffer and we are happy with what we have. Wait, I am white (as in I meet the definition of “Caucasian.”) So I don’t know how I’m perceived but I know how to be vegan and not buy all that fancy stuff.

    Reply
  2. serialrobots

    Thank you so much for this post. I am currently weighing my long-term employment options, and my partner and I are fantasizing about opening up a vegan grocery in our town. It’s nice to think to ourselves “Yes, and we can carry Beanfield’s! YES!” but we need to keep our minds on such a wider scope too. I know that I am very guilty of getting caught up in the excitement of “vegan versions” of crap food and I wouldn’t want my potential (total fantasy) business to perpetuate that. I need to be conscious about education, thank you for this reminder. I needed it.

    Reply
  3. Sarah

    Omg wut, the hazelnut sugarplum bar is so superior. hazelnut>turtle, not sorry! also, a, I hate “vegan versions”..I literally prefer making simple grain and veggie meals 80% of the time. b, I technically can’t afford any of the organic/luxury consumables I buy (thank you and thanks Karma Road for making New Paltz livable) except that I made a conscious decision to prioritize health/nutrition over my student loans and savings.

    just some comments. sorry I happen to also be skinny and white, though only rich in heart and taste for multicultural delicacies.

    Reply
  4. Pree

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post! As a vegan of color, who has been struggling to figure out vegan activism means to her, this post really struck a chord with me, so I apologize if this gets long and tedious. The hardest thing about being a vegan of color is being taken seriously. Most people who meet me initially assume that, because I’m Indian, I must be “vegetarian for religious reasons” and I am neither vegetarian nor religious. A lot of people, shockingly and infuriatingly, also believe that being a vegan is central to my attempts at being American. Because it is so asinine, I don’t even merit it with a response.
    I am constantly struggling to figure out an effective and non-trivial method of activism. The other day someone told me that they would remember me more for my feminist undertakings, than for my vegan activism. And it hurt because my activism basically involves making/buy vegan goodies for my students/friends/colleagues etc. I have had some success with that, but I know it’s not enough.
    While I understand that veganism might come across as “uppity” to some, that hasn’t been my personal experience. When I first went vegan, I was a student trying to work a zillion jobs to avoid taking any student loans, and I never thought that a vegan diet was expensive (clothes, cosmetics, household products, etc were a bigger issue for me). I think one reason for that might be because when we first moved to the U.S. and I decided to practice veganism over 5 years ago, my partner and I first worked on replicating the Indian meals that we grew up eating. I was raised lacto-vegetarian, but I didn’t care for almost all dairy products (except yogurt), so it was a fairly easy switch for me without relying on vegan “cheese”,”meats”, etc. One of the perks of living in the tri-state area is being introduced to different cuisines, so I’m even more in love with food now than ever before. What I find most challenging when I argue with others about the ease of maintaining a vegan diet, is convincing people to experiment with whole spices/spice blends/other condiments. We have 60+ of those that I’ve accumulated from ethic stores all over NJ at home and we’ve have never had a boring meal (except when I get really lazy and eat those awfully bland frozen vegan dinners, but even that taste better with some gochujang on it). I’ve found it hard to convince people that you spice rack doesn’t have to consist only of salt, pepper, cayenne, and (for fancy dinners) “curry powder”. Some extra cooking ingredients are essential “investments” and don’t necessarily have to be expensive (ethnic stores are great for these). This small step seems to scare a lot of people off, but it is not as much work as it seems.

    Reply
  5. narf77

    So how do I stuff your blog into my RSS Feed Reader? Just found you while looking for “stabalised coconut cream frosting” and would love to follow your blog fly on the wall style with the odd interjection where I spit up on your comments section but I needs me an RSS Feed Reader linkie ma’am or our relationship will be like 2 ships that pass in the night.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I wish I knew, I wish I knew….sorry! Frosting I’m good at, computers not so much.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: