Not Centering Social Justice In Vegan Activism Misses the Point

12 Black Vegan Women Discuss Social Justice and Change

This article was originally published on April 15, 2021.

Last summer, following the police killings of Black men and women like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in the U.S., an uprising for racial justice emerged, as communities across the country and the world rose up to confront persistent, violent anti-Blackness. The tragic events of then, and the most recent killing of Duante Wright in Minneapolis, have brought pain, confusion, and a demand for justice. People came together in solidarity, using their voices and platforms to demand change, including 12 Black, vegan women who share a vision for uniting their activism for Black lives with their advocacy for animal rights and sustainability. 

12 Black Vegan Women Discuss Social Justice and Change
These 12 Black, vegan women who a vision for uniting their activism for Black lives with their advocacy for animal rights and sustainability. | Courtesy Malinda Simpson

Last year, Malinda Simpson, a Dallas-based attorney and vegan lifestyle blogger behind Kindred Vegan Souls, came up with an idea for a campaign to lift up the Black Lives Matter movement from the perspective of Black vegan women working at the intersections of racial justice, environmental justice, and animal welfare. She reached out to her community of food bloggers, nutritionists, creators, and activists and launched, Black Vegans for Black Lives Matter, a social media campaign drawing attention to these intersecting issues. The activists and foodies refer to their partnership as a “sisterhood” that’s sustained them through the many challenges of the pandemic. They joined LIVEKINDLY for a roundtable discussion on Black veganism; the crucial connections between racial justice, sustainability, and animal welfare; racial stereotypes of veganism; and ensuring vegan spaces are more inclusive of Black experiences. 

LIVEKINDLY: Being Black, women, and vegan puts you at the intersection of social justice causes. Why was it important to you to speak up for Black Lives Matter and unite your advocacy for sustainability with racial justice?

Erika Hazel, Bizerkeley Vegan: I first spoke out publicly about Black Lives Matter when I realized how many vegan organizations, companies and brands did not seem to care about BLM. We don’t live in a vacuum or bubble — you should care about all your consumers. When it comes to sustainability and racial justice, I think it’s about a humanistic approach — I deserve the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and so do all other people of color.

Cara Thibodeux, The Great Full Girl: All oppression is interconnected. We can’t just address one form of oppression but ignore the other. When I first went vegan, I didn’t really see many people who looked like me. It wasn’t until I saw more Black vegan women sharing their stories and using their platforms to fight against all forms of oppression that I truly felt that I belonged in this community.

Afia Amoako, The Canadian African: I personally do not identify as an activist — I am just a vegan food blogger who was forced to talk about being Black and vegan because Black vegans were not as seen, heard or listened to in the vegan space. Ideally, I’d love to just talk about my food but I’m not afforded that privilege like my white counterparts, because there are a lot of barriers that impact me in the food space that I have to contend with, and that white vegan food bloggers don’t have to deal with. 

 Being an ethical vegan means caring about the mistreatment of people, knowing inequality for anyone is a danger for everyone.

Malinda Simpson, attorney and blogger: With the killing of George Floyd, we had to speak out, especially in the vegan community. Being an ethical vegan means caring about the mistreatment of people, knowing inequality for anyone is a danger for everyone. Racial justice and animal justice have similarities, though of course, seeing comparisons to slavery is just misguided and discounts what’s been done to Black people over centuries. It’s important to speak up about inequality in the world, and even if your work focuses on animals, you can still speak up about racial justice.

LK: What do you see as the connections between racial justice and environmental justice, and white supremacy and the climate crisis?

Genesis Butler, activist: My uncle is the late social justice advocate, Cesar Chavez, who saw the connection between various movements and believed we should speak up for everyone who’s treated unjustly, including animals. There’s definitely a connection between them all, and I felt I had to speak up for not just animal rights, but also for humans and the planet because it’s all connected.

Emani, chef and founder, Black and Vegan: There is a huge connection between racial justice and environmental justice. For starters, they are both fighting to be seen although there is clear factual evidence that injustice exists. On top of that, there is only a subgroup of people truly fighting for justice although the entire world contributes to injustice. It can seem daunting at times, but I am proud to be an advocate for the environment and race through my veganism. 

And truthfully, white supremacy is the root of capitalism that is the baseline for industries that have torn down our environment. I wish that one day, we will put the value of our Earth and our safety as a human-kind over the value of a dollar. I believe through being a living example, we can show that there are things we can do as ” regular people” that can create a massive impact if we band together!

Simone Venner, RHN: Protesting is one of the best, most powerful ways to come together with others, and social media has really helped with that. It’s been under a year since George Floyd was murdered, and that was a wake-up call for many people about the racial injustice we still see so strongly in day-to-day life. We don’t want this to just be a monument or particular moment in time, but a movement. Racial injustice is still very apparent every day, and we need to keep raising our voices, for those who have voices, and also for animals, who don’t. The connection here is that in both these huge issues, we need change, and we need to come together with allies, and not have to be the only ones doing the work and the education.

Babette Davis, chef and health coach: Communities of color don’t have access to the same stores as other communities — as a result, diseases like diabetes and heart disease affect these communities at greater levels. This is deep! Lands have been ripped apart in search of gold, fossil fuels and other natural resources. This has ultimately had an effect on our environment, leading to our current climate crisis and environmental issues that disproportionately affect lower-income communities and people of color.

Dymetra Pernell, Plantbasedprincess: Short answer, they’re all connected. Poor people, usually Black people, are residents of neighborhoods where factory farming is prevalent. Unfortunately, the people who run these factory farms are rich white people, who have no interest in how their practices are affecting the surrounding communities. This, in turn, is a form of white supremacy. 

LK: In your advocacy for racial and environmental justice, have you ever faced stereotypes that falsely equate the vegan lifestyle with whiteness? What do you want people to know about veganism in communities of color?

Charlise Rookwood, Vegansoulicious: A huge problem we’re faced with which I come up against all the time is Black influencers getting paid less than white influencers — marketers are literally underpaying Black influencers whilst pushing Black Lives Matter. The majority still think that veganism is a young movement full of white millennials, but the roots of plant-based eating are in Asian, African, Caribbean, and Indigenous cultures. My father is Jamaican and my mother Mauritian, and they grew up eating from the land. Cruelty-free eating is nothing new. Many of my family members are Rastafarians and know no other way. Rastafarianism emphasizes the empowerment of the individual and an understanding of one’s relationship with the environment. The diet, encouraging plant-based unprocessed meals, was developed in the 1930s in Jamaica.

Thibodeux: I think the most frustrating rhetoric I hear within the vegan community is that it’s so easy and cheap to switch to a plant-based diet, but that’s not always the case for many people of color who live in food desserts and face food insecurity. While beans and rice may be a cheap option to live the vegan lifestyle, communities of color don’t want to just eat beans and rice. They want to eat foods that are reflective of their culture, heritage, and traditions.

Gabrielle Reyes, One Great Vegan: I’ve had a unique experience, being biracial, feeling a lot of kindness from my white family and communities, and my Caribbean side. Much of my vegan audience is white, and Black, and Caribbean. Sometimes I’ve struggled with feeling like I have to “prove” my Blackness, as a vegan, or “prove” my place in different cultures, being a vegan. The truth is we’re all learning, all the time, how to celebrate cultures and not appropriate, and we’re all learning together the vibrancy and flavor and richness of all food cultures.

Butler: When I meet people and they find out I’m vegan, they’re surprised because I’m Black, Mexican and Native (Apache). They ask me if it’s hard to be vegan because I’m a person of color and I let them know I’m able to still eat all my favorite foods from my culture, but just in a vegan version.

LK: Due to systemic racism, what are some of the barriers communities of color face that make healthy and sustainable living more inaccessible? How do you address these barriers in your activism?

Shakayla Houston, Sweet Greens Vegan: Communities of color face significant challenges when it comes to having access to healthy and nutritious food and sustainable living opportunities. Specifically Black communities are flooded with fast food restaurants, grocery stores that lack fresh produce, and chemical plants and factories. These all significantly impact the health of many community members which have long-lasting impacts. Through my platform, I work to provide easy and simple recipes that include accessible ingredients. I also work to educate through my platform and share the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years.

Thibodeux: Although food deserts and food insecurity are huge factors in the barriers that prevent communities of color from adopting a healthy plant-based lifestyle, I think another huge factor not a lot of people talk about is time. It takes time to cook, to meal prep, to plan your grocery store list. Many people of color in low-income communities don’t always have time. I always try to keep this in mind when I’m creating recipes. I focus on how to make vegan meals you can make in 30 minutes or less. 

Rookwood: For several Black vegans, following a plant-based diet is a tool of resistance that can fight the health problems caused by this industrial food system saturated in unhealthy foods. It takes courage to unlearn these destructive habits that have been taught by our families and also centuries of oppression. Social media has given me the platform to reach, share, gather and learn. We need to find ways to become more self-sufficient — community gardens should be available everywhere, placement of more community fridges, offer free workshops, and more. Black vegans and animal rights activists are calling on their white counterparts to embrace intersectionality and create long-term, structural change.