After nearly six months of eating a plant-based diet that had lessened the severity of my health issues I decided to attempt veganism in earnest. I failed a lot. I would be vegan for a week, sometimes two or three before having a slip up. I would be vegan during the week and not on the weekends, for a few months I ditched veganism completely. I continued falling off the wagon and pulling myself back on, sometimes with one foot on board while the other dragged along the pavement for a year and a half.
Then, in early January after a weekend of eating pork loin at a friend’s birthday celebration, folding slices of greasy pizza into my mouth, and eating Popeyes I sat on my grandmother’s couch reading a book of essays called Sistah Vegan. As I read, I found myself intrigued by the varying perspectives, but it was the essay “Social Justice Beliefs and Addiction to Uncompassionate Consumption” by Sistah Vegan editor, A. Breeze Harper, that changed me.
I never believed I needed a cause greater than health to be vegan. I spent hours mining YouTube for practical vegan inspiration, but with little exception, the faces were of middle class white people fighting for animal rights while not advocating visibly for the rights of Black and Brown human beings. At the time I cared about animals, I did, but not enough not to eat them, and certainly not enough to preserve an environment for them that I may not live to enjoy.
Harper detailed a similar experience while attending university. For both of us, Black liberation was the more immediate cause. Veganism had forgotten us, but we were not alone in that feeling. Studies have shown that “white, liberal, social-justice initiatives from community food organizing and anti-globalization, to veganism, to dismantling the prison-industrial complex—are often entrenched in covert whiteness and white privilege that are collectively unacknowledged by white-identified people engaged in them” (Harper 35).
Harper and I were justified in our feelings of alienation but wrong in believing that animal rights, environmental preservation, and Black liberation were separate issues.
As Harper points out in her essay, because of institutionalized racism and the slave health deficit, statistically Black folks are sicker than White Americans and struggle to find healthy food and nutritional information in their neighborhoods (29). The same junk food that contributes to our poor health is filled with animal products, processed sugar, and corn syrup that exploits and enslaves people of color across the world (Harper 23).
As I read these words thoughts of the corner store at the end of my mother’s block in Lakeview with its bright, fresh produce crossed my mind. Thoughts of the corner store at the end of my block in West Pullman where the only color resided on the labels wrapped around pop cans and potato chip packets invaded my thoughts next.
I continued to read about our ability to feed all of the world’s starving people on a plant-based diet and about the 3.5 billion people struggling to find clean water because of the animal food industry’s effect on the water supply (Harper 26). I thought of a television journalist whose name I can’t recall proclaiming that environmental devastation effects its lesser contributors first.
As I read my scope extended beyond my own view and expanded across the world. I’d found my purpose as a vegan. I am a vegan to protest the animal industry’s effect on Black people across the world; I am vegan for Black liberation.