Sigh, back to reality... I had such a wonderful time meeting old and new friends and, most importantly, building the groundwork for the future of the vegan movement. I'll be waiting with bated breath for the next one!
One last post from Vida Vegan Con 2013! This is of my lovely ladynails which I did in VVC colors for the event. These lasted about one day before I had to try out Kittee's new shade of Zoya. Plus these nails didn't go with my sparkly gold Galarama dress!
Sigh, back to reality... I had such a wonderful time meeting old and new friends and, most importantly, building the groundwork for the future of the vegan movement. I'll be waiting with bated breath for the next one!
Disclaimer time! This panel/discussion actually arose from the proposal I submitted to VVC 2013 way back last year. Since I wasn't exactly able to sit in and take notes, what I can put up right now is the text of my brief address to the audience as well as the handout we passed out (and ran out of- how flattering!).
But wait, there's more! My co-presenters Maeve Connor and Jamie J. Hagen and I are committed to expanding the dialogue initiated yesterday into a semi-permanent blog/web project that addresses the intersectionality of veganism and AR with other social justice movements. And we want participants and contributors! We haven't nailed down any firm details yet, but we will be updating the Vida Vegan Con Facebook page as well as maintaining an e-mailing list of interested contributors and readers. If you weren't able to attend but are interested in participating in this project, please drop me a line and I'll make sure you are in the loop! My email address is:
Veganism and Social Justice: May 26, 2013, 2:45 p.m.
Download/View Handout (pdf)
Food is an emotionally and politically charged issue- it’s hard to think of any element necessary to human survival as fraught with meaning and currency as that of obtaining, preparing, and eating food. Whether we like it or not, we as vegans are making an enormous political statement via our diet- one that, as we all know, can be interpreted very differently by different people. As the politics of food are interwoven with all aspects of life on this planet, we as vegans inevitably find ourselves in stories like the ones truncated on your handouts. However, like these stories, our perspective is just one facet- our goal in moving veganism forward is to inspect the other facets of those stories.
Despite the unavoidable reality that our ethical choices are inevitably political ones, there are a distressing number of those who would use the cause of ethical veganism or vegetarianism as an imperative to say and do things that insult, demean, or exclude other vegans, future vegans, and vegan allies [handout]. It’s our imperative as vegan activists to be cognizant of intersectionalities between our movement and other social justice movements, and to check that kind of exclusionist thinking in our own community through constructive and mature dialogue.
But why? Even though we’ve embraced a lifestyle that, through its political nature, often thrusts us into situations with various minority or so-called “outlier” communities, why is it our responsibility to validate or connect to those other communities? There are two very simple reasons, and they’re same two reasons why many of us went vegan in the first place: Firstly, the ethical belief that it’s the right thing to do. Secondly, the strategic belief that it’s the most sensible thing to do.
Speaking ethically, it is my personal firm belief that the fundamental conceit behind most forms of oppression is the institutionalized belief that an aspect or attribute of one form of life is inherently superior to that of another—be that aspect gender, race, sexuality, wealth, or species. Therefore, it is our moral imperative as able and ethical people to say “No” to that conceit, and to challenge it at every opportunity. As vegans, we can recognize the ethical approach- many of us are here today because we examined our own ethics and adjusted our lifestyles accordingly. As vegans we recognize the dignity and autonomy of sentient life- and this includes our fellow humans.
But in addition to just plain being the right thing to do, integrating veganism with social justice movements is a winning strategy. The best that a movement in complete isolation can hope to achieve is to sustain itself. When movements are open to all, including and especially allies, we can be more successful together. For example, Betty Friedan is known for being instrumental in kick-starting third wave feminism- but she is unfortunately also known for being dismissive of or downright hostile to queer women, working class women, and women of color. Third wave feminism could not grow, develop, or affect real change in society until it was propelled by a true spectrum of women and male allies. Similarly, veganism can only go so far if we insinuate that all other struggles are secondary to those which our ethics have deemed important to us.
Unlike other movements, veganism has an unusual advantage in that our allies have the opportunity to actively join us by adopting an ethical diet and compassionate lifestyle. Which is why it’s that much more important that we are good ‘ambassadors’ of veganism. And as we all know by now, we are de facto ambassadors of veganism to most of the omnivores who meet us, whether we like it or not. If we act our ethics- and our ethics are compassion- we will demonstrate that veganism is a natural extension of the social justice that our allies and ourselves seek. If, however, we make derogatory statements or take actions which “other” and alienate those around us, we paint all of veganism in a negative light.
You may not personally espouse all the beliefs that each of your allies do, and that’s okay- just as there are many reasons to be vegan, there are many reasons to join or support another movement. As long as you find the one that works for you, then the only thing that matters is your consideration and support. You may also make mistakes- although you may never say something like our ‘bad vegan ambassadors’ did, you may make a faux pas and insult an ally. That’s okay, too- just like veganism, being an ally is a journey, not a destination. What’s important is that you apologize, learn from your mistakes, and move forward. Being an ally is not just about giving support, it’s about acknowledging that you are there to learn from others, and showing humility accordingly.
Ultimately, when in doubt, you can always ask yourself: is this helping the animals? It’s kind of a vegan joke, I know, but it’s also a pretty good way to gauge whether you’re taking yourself too seriously and whether your open-mindedness can spark an interest in veganism in your new friends.
_"The great thing about veganism is you barely have to lift a finger to offend people!"
_"Just because you can't do everything doesn't mean you should do nothing."Ryan Patey (R), of T.O.F.U. magazine.
Yet another discussion I was eagerly anticipating, Biting Off More Than You Can Chew was a free-form dialogue between audience members and moderator Ryan Patey of T.O.F.U. Magazine, who incidentally lost his 2011 title of Furthest Distance Traveled to this year's smattering of British and Australian attendees.
Working from his Very Official list scrawled on an Air Canada cocktail napkin (I like his style!), Ryan threw out a few topics for us to muse upon and explore with each other. Let's review some notes, shall we?
The first topic of discussion was the "cruelty-free" label and descriptor: we all know that a product described as cruelty-free does not involve the murder or exploitation of non-human animals, but what about our fellow humans? Is cruelty-free chocolate really "cruelty-free" if it contains no animal products but contains cocoa harvested by slaves? Thankfully, there are a lot of great companies out there (as least with chocolate) creating truly compassionate alternatives- if we support and thank those companies, we can encourage ethical commerce. The companies who aren't truly "cruelty-free" can be encouraged to change and find alternatives. Vegans are a passionate, considerable online presence, and by using that presence patiently and kindly, we can really influence how companies work.
Another hot topic was the recent lawsuit filed by Eden Foods founder/CEO Michael Potter to avoid paying for birth control and erectile dysfunction drugs for Eden employees. I may or may not have uttered a too-loud "ugh" when this topic came up, so I was the one who got to explain what was going on to those who were out of the loop (and in case you're out of the loop, too, here ya go). The only concession I'll give Potter is that at least he's unilaterally consistent in describing both birth control and Viagra as "lifestyle drugs," but as you can imagine, many of the women in the room expressed quite firm feelings in the opposite direction. Above and beyond the established basic premise that the decision if and when to have a child is a personal choice, many women take hormonal birth control for a host of other medical reasons, including to mitigate excessively painful or irregular menstruation. Because Potter's stance allegedly comes from his aversion to putting "chemicals" in the body, the discussion moved further to envelope the use of other medications and how to balance one's ethical impetus to improve the world with the obligation to keep oneself healthy and, most importantly, happy.
Ultimately, one audience member said, not everyone can afford organic chocolate or American-made clothing. It's awesome when you can, but the focus should be on reduction, not elimination. Jumping right in can be alienating or intimidating to new vegans- why would anyone take that first step when it's actually 100 steps?
I'm well aware that every time I step outside the door, I affect someone else, said another observer. It's important to differentiate between animal cruelty and human cruelty, as we ultimately can't try to incorporate everything under a Vegan umbrella. At the same time, however, we must recognize that it's all one fight.
It's easy, when you're in a community, to assume everyone shares the same values as you, but really, it's only one value you share. We can feel angry or disappointed when we hear another vegan express something sexist or racist, especially because their eyes have already been "opened." But remain open to the idea that they just "don't know," and take the opportunity use it as a learning experience. It can be difficult for us as vegans to find humility and admit we don't know something.
Another significant issue addressed was body image and fat-shaming: the vegan movement is frankly doing a terrible job with body image. Individual vegans, celebrity vegans, and vegan advocacy organizations are all using a lot of triggering words and images. Obviously, that can be very alienating to people. Sadly, a lot of people come to veganism through disordered eating or to disguise or justify disordered eating. One woman's experience writing a nurition blog was very upsetting- she ended up having to resign from that blogging community because people were posting calorie counts, before & after body pictures, and so on. "It's an unusual situation where the people who are turning you on to that aspect of the community are simultaneously isolating you from it," she said. Some people, however are empowered by fitness blogs to make healthy and informed choices about food and exercise. Ultimately, if you are a blogger, be clear and honest about what you are putting out there, and create a comfortable space for all readers. Celebration of food culture is such a huge aspect of veganism- but that is not appealing to all of us, and we should remember that.
The Final Word: Sometimes it can feel stifling, like you will offend someone no matter what you say. Be confident in what you say, but be cognizant of how it affects others and be open to discuss how it might offend others.
Recommended reading from Barb Troyer of All Things Vegan Radio: Privilege, Power, and Difference by Allan G. Johnson.
I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE CANDY.
I have a secret: I can't resist Laura Beck. So when I saw that not only she would be on this panel, but she would be doing it with my fellow co-presenters Leigh-Chantelle, Maeve Connor, and Jason Das, I was in. Then I read the class description and saw that there MIGHT be candy thrown into the audience, and I knew I would have to attend this class even if it meant running over a little old lady to do it (thankfully it didn't come to that).
Jason, who founded Vegan Drinks in New York, started the popular event as a way to build vegan community. Since its inception, it has evolved from drinks alone to having food trucks and vendors show up, and there is an opportunity during "vegan shout-outs" to find vegan roommates, hire for vegan restaurants, or make other announcements relevant to the vegan community. Vegan Drinks was open-sourced so that it could be reproduced in other cities, which it has, with the help of some basic FAQs provided by the original founders.
Maeve described her experience going vegan as a teenager in the small community of Idaho Falls. "Sometimes our potlucks were just the four of us." However, the tiny community is what helped Maeve go vegan in the first place- it can be hard to be vegan in a small town, and having a community, no matter how small, can help you through the rough patches. Now that Maeve lives in Portland, she's finding new challenges that arise from having such a large vegan community. There's a lot more to do, but that results in shorter attention spans, so events have to be more inventive and compelling to get vegans (and future vegans!) to attend. "We decided to have a 'fakin' fest opposite the Portland bacon fest... We have joked about doing a sausage fest!" It doesn't just have to be about being vegan- make it fun and engaging, like when the fakin' fest had a haiku contest. Likewise, Maeve's Heartichoke vegan supper club started out as a quick way to earn money, but turned into community building. Most importantly, though, you must have an event that is open to new people, otherwise you're just hanging out with your friends and not helping the animals.
Laura concurred that inclusion is really important, as community can solidify your conviction as a vegan. Laura engages others in the vegan community and simultaneously reaches out to non-vegans by writing about vegan food on non-vegan food blogs. "You can do vegan community building that is inclusive and not just talking about mock meat for 5 hours." Laura also emphasizes that patience is a virtue- in community building, you may plant a seed that takes years to germinate.
Leigh-Chantelle was sick of preaching to the converted, while simultaneously recognizing that vegans still stand to learn things and educate ourselves. She engages both vegans and non-vegans through Green Earth Group, an environmental group with a focus on veganism and sustainable food. Kids' activities at the festivals were very popular, and educating kids on their choices has been very beneficial- the kids bring their parents and get the whole family more interested in a compassionate lifestyle. Leigh-Chantelle has also been working with local businesses to create spaces for vegan meetings, video screenings, talks, and more. Ultimately, she says, those looking to build vegan community should lead by example, inspire all they can. Whatever you're passionate about, share it with others!
One pertinent question raised by the audience was how to make community events successful. Laura gave an example close to my heart- Vegan Drinks kind of fizzled in San Francisco, and yet our vegan bake sales were hugely successful. There are tons of people in the bay area who love animals but aren't necessarily vegans or AR activists. Rebranding the bake sale as a "bake sale for the animals" got a lot more people involved and showing up while simultaneously promoting vegan baked goods and opening others' minds, hearts, and mouths to a vegan lifestyle.
Laura also pushed us to challenge our perception of what defines "successful." Do one hundred people show up to your event, but all stand in the corner staring into their drinks? Or do only three people show up, but have an engaging, productive conversation?
Jason's answer was simple: Free food. "It's a great way to get people in the door," he said, but cautioned, "but it's not always the best way to get the 'best quality' people out there."
Terry Hope Romero and Mo Martin
Now this is one of the panels that got me instantly excited when the VVC 2013 schedule was released so many months ago. Not only is it a long-overdue dialogue addressing multiculturalism in the vegan movement, but it was moderated by Terry Hope Romero and Mo Martin! Plus Terry and Mo brought VVC into the late 20th century with 'virtual panelist' Doris Lin, who sadly could not attend VVC but still shared her experiences and wisdom with us via video.
So, why a Vegans of Color panel? As we all know, veganism is a multicultural thing- there are vegans all over the world, just as there are vegan foods in just about every culture. However, there is only one face of veganism that many people see in mass media, and, as Mo remarked, "it's not necessarily a face that looks like mine or Terry's." Listening to these three talented women talk, it became evident that they often straddle two communities, that of their familial or cultural background, and that of compassionate veganism.
How is veganism interpreted in your ethnic/racial/cultural communities?
For Terry's family, her ethical vegetarianism and subsequent veganism could be alienating and baffling. Her father, who grew up in Venezuela with very little, interpreted her ethical choices as a refusal of the opportunities he had worked so hard to give her, and which he would had greatly desired as a young man himself. With meat holding high status in Latin American cultures ("Pork is who we are," a Dominican woman once told Terry), the decision of a Latina to abstain can cause others in her family and community to feel offended and defensive. "Food is very much tied to cultures. How do we do the dance of asserting who we are and being understood by the people we care about most?" Ultimately, Terry says, the people she cares about upsetting through her ethical choices aren't "some troll on the internet," but her family. "Be compassionate to them- they're the ones who are being challenged."
Mo, too, experienced how her ethical choices were interpreted as a blatant denial of her racial identity. Once, after turning down fried fish at a family barbeque, her uncle told her 'you don't eat fish? You're not Black!' "[My] veganism made people in my community want to deny me my Blackness," Mo says.
Doris, presenting an alternate experience, described how her Chinese heritage facilitated her transition to veganism. Chinese cooking tends to use less meat than the standard American diet, and, as many of us know, there is a long tradition of Buddhist vegetarianism in China. A person in mourning traditionally eats vegetarian for a year after the death of a loved one, and tofu and seitan are common ingredients in Chinese cooking, whether the final dish is vegetarian or not.
_How has your cultural/racial/ethnic identity affected or informed your veganism?
Terry wanted to emphasize that there is a lot of veganism available in other cultures- just because it doesn't appear in Whole Foods doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Believe it or not, Terry's first experience with a completely vegetarian restaurant was in Venezeula! It's not just us in "the global north" or at Vida Vegan Con who are involved in veganism. Speaking further to that experience, an audience member recollected his own story of finding a nondescript, humble vegan restaurant in Mexico. Speaking with the owners, he learned that they were reviving pre-European, traditional Mexican food as way of reclaiming their cultural heritage and identity. Although they were often accused of not being "proper Mexicans" by others in their community, they stuck to the ideal that beef and dairy were forced upon the native cultures of Mexico by the Spanish invaders, and that running the restaurant was a way of reclaiming their native heritage.
Mo's experience as a vegan of color arises from the phenomenon of "bad hair" and "good hair" in the African American community. What is commonly referred to as "good hair" is chemically straightened, whereas "bad hair" is natural and kinky. At 16, Mo made the conscious decision to no longer relax her hair with harsh chemicals and grew an afro. As a vegetarian looking to go vegan, Mo was frustrated by the dearth of vegan products available for Black women. "I devoured vegan magazines, and I could never find any makeup darker than an olive skin tone. I had to scour the internet for vegan hair products when dreading my hair." These experiences inspired Mo to blog about the issue on Vegan Pop and Loc.
Doris has noted that whenever an entire nationality or ethnic group is unilaterally condemned for animal cruelty, it's most often people of color who are being condemned. "So many will condemn an entire culture for eating whale, cats, and dogs, but it reeks of speciesism and cultural imperialism as well as racism; I see this [cultural condemnation] directed only at people of color. When I call it out for being racist, the response I often receive is 'people really do those things; you're only offended because you're Asian.'"
So how do we move forward to address these issues in a positive, constructive, sustainable way?
What does it mean to navigate our own cultures as a vegan? Food is such a centerpoint of cultural identity, and the choice to be vegan can be interpreted as elitist. But everyone has the potential to be better off than someone else- once we recognize that, we can move forward with the discussion, and recognize that other people have had different experiences than you have.
Naturally I found all this very edifying, and was happy that these issues were, at long last, being discussed in a large arena. So what are the next steps? And, more importantly, I wanted to know what I could do, as an ally who is not a person of color, to ensure that veganism remains welcoming and accessible to as many as possible? As Mo and Terry advised, pretending we live in a post-racial society is the worst thing we can do. If you hear or witness something unacceptable, say something. Recognize that there are racial issues, contexts, and experiences, and honor them.
Thank you, Terry, Mo, and Doris!
VVC 2011's smash hit game show, Vegan Battle Royale, returned bigger, badder, and brasher in 2013. Reprising their roles as hosts, Amey, Kittey, and Mo doled out trivia and swag like you would not even believe!
Every attendee at VVC got yet another gift bag filled with Vegan Battle Royale treats. Can you believe it? I certainly can, I helped pack all 300 of them. There were additional prizes for random audience members who correctly answered trivia questions, as well as a few "lucky vegans," chosen at random, who got to come up and collect a fabulous prize simply for showing up!
Of course, the most intense action was happening between the two teams recruited from randomly selected audience members. Contestants were pummeled by merciless bouts of trivia, point thievery, dares, and blind taste tests before a triumphant champion emerged: The MotherForking Destroyers, with 1,100 points. Naturally, both first and second place teams got enormous bags of prizes.
Are you starting to see some of the reasons why Vida Vegan Con is THE BEST?
OK, I snuck into this one a little late because I was helping Kittee, Mo, and Amey clean up after Vegan Battle Royale. That said, I was looking forward to learning how to write a descriptive and helpful review of a restaurant. Who better to instruct us than Grant Butler, a food writer for The Oregonian and MIX magazine, who has been reviewing Oregon restaurants for almost 20 years!
The first thing Grant wants you to remember (well, the first thing I was around for!) is that you are reviewing for the benefit of your readers and not for the benefit of the restaurant. The vegan community can be very insular. As a result, it's tempting to give a restaurant a glowing recommendation simply because it's vegan. But what's at stake is your readers' trust in you as a writer- as a result, it's more important to be honest than to be unilaterally supportive.
And telling it like it is can be hard. As Grant reminds us, words can be very powerful tools. Be choosy with the words you use to convey the truth of what you experience at that restaurant.
Here are some other tips from Grant:
So, what does Grant look for in a restaurant?
"Championing vegan food at mainstream restaurants is the most important thing we do... in terms of moving veganism forward, I think it's essential that we challenge restaurants to take vegan food and vegan customers seriously.... When the vegan dish is more appealing than the roast chicken on a menu, more people are going to order it. The more people go in and don't order chicken, that's an indirect act of compassion."
Mo, Kittee, Amey: a Trifecta of Awesome.
OK, I'll admit it: I had zero interest in participating in Vegan MoFo, aka the Vegan Month of Food, when I attended the Vegan MoFo workshop this afternoon. I was honestly going just to support and enjoy my friends Mo, Kittee, and Amey, who were co-presenters on this panel. But it was so engaging, inspiring, and fun, that by the end, I found myself looking forward to actively participating in this year's MoFo myself!
Vegan MoFo, for the uninitiated, is a spin on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that originated on Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Post Punk Kitchen forums. For one month, vegan bloggers commit to blogging about vegan food at least twenty times. Started in 2007, last year's Vegan MoFo boasted the participation of more than 750 bloggers, all organized through a central Vegan MoFo website.
As awesome as that is, I am probably the last person you would want to consider a "food blogger." Although I enjoy cooking (and eating!), my laziness and full-time commuter work schedule often see me saying "aww, fuck it, I'll just have another Trader Joe's enchilada" around dinner time. Not compelling reading.
But thanks to my friends' enervating workshop, I learned I don't need to necessarily create an elaborate meal or recipe every for every single one of the twenty Vegan MoFo entries I'll be doing. Amey once blogged about her favorite kitchen linens. Katie did a whole series on awesome horror movies and then assembled the perfect menu to accompany each film. Erin created a series of dresses and dishes/recipes that complemented each other. Really, the possibilities are limitless.
Themes are a fun way to find inspiration- we voted as a group on some informal, semi-official themes for each day of the week to bring to Vegan MoFo 2013. Here are this year's alliterative daily themes (along with some of my favorite runners-up):
Mac-and-Cheese Mondays: Self-explanatory! (Mom Mondays, Metal Mondays)
TV Tuesday: Eating and watching. (Try Something New Tuesday, Taco Tuesday)
Work With it Wednesdays: focusing on a food you don't like and learning to love it! Or at least tolerate it. (Reader request Wednesdays, White Flour Wednesdays)
Thankful Thursdays: Focusing on the positive; giving to others (Thirsty Thursdays)
Freaky Friday: trade a blog with a fellow blogger for a day! (Fry Day Friday, Farty Friday)
Retro Saturdays: Dress up and veganize your favorite sardine aspic salad recipe from 1957! (Saucy Saturdays, Sausage Saturdays)
Sleepy Sundays: your favorite breakfast, brunch, and lazin' in bed snacks. (Soul Food Sundays, Spicy Sundays, Small Town Sundays)
Looks like this year's MoFo is going to be September- they're planning on switching it up every year so that the seasonal produce bloggers have to work with isn't always the same. I think I'm up to the challenge. Are you? See you then!
The Portland Art Museum/Twin Peaks Black Lodge
Greetings from drizzly Portland, Oregon! As I've been eagerly anticipating for several months now, I am attending the first day of the second ever Vida Vegan Conference at the beautiful and stylish Portland Art Museum. I will be blogging periodically to share updates and impressions of the conference; more importantly, I want to blog about some of the dialogues that have been opened at this year's VVC so that those dialogues can be expanded to a wider audience.
I just returned from a fantastic discussion, titled Attention Spans, Social Media, & The State of Blogging. Lead by Jess of Get Sconed, who is also one of the incredible, unbelievable VVC organizers/chairs/superladies, this session addressed the ever-evolving role of social media in vegan activism and blogging. Jess started things off by talking about her on-again, off-again relationship with Facebook. As discussion grew amongst the group, it became evident that what many of us see lacking in Facebook (as well as other forms of "microblogging," such as Twitter and Instagram) is an invitation to engage in deeper activism, dialogue, and consciousness-raising. "What's in a 'like'?" was the question of the day. What does it mean to you to have 'liked' something on social media? Alternately, what does it mean that someone has 'liked' something of yours? A 'like' has devolved into a sort of check-in, where further reading, commentary, or dialogue are not necessarily forthcoming. Joanna Vaught raised a question that especially struck a chord with me- "does it feel authentic to 'like' this?"
The discussion ultimately raised a lot of issues which I have personally been mulling over for quite some time. Veganism and social media are both expanding and evolving faster than ever before and it's only natural that the two become closely intertwined. I've touched upon this in the About section of my website, but increasingly it seems to be that in order to have an online presence, one must market oneself as a complete brand. One does not have a blog without also having a Twitter, a Facebook page, and an Instagram for that blog.
It's a much larger discussion than can be contained in one 45-minute session or one poxy blog post, frantically typed out before the next session begins, but I'm glad a dialogue was opened. As someone who doesn't quite 'get' and frankly fails horribly at this whole cross-promotional, strategic microblogging thing, I think Jess' Zen-like closing statement sums it up quite nicely: "if a vegan makes a coconut cream pie, will it still taste delicious without a hashtag?"
(the answer is yes)
Here's to enjoying actual life as much as, if not more, than virtual life! I'm off to go socialize with some more actual vegans who I only get to see every two years. More soon!