Vegan Isn’t REALLY Cruelty-Free (at least not yet!)

dnbcch-nipomo11.jpg NIPOMO, CA - 24JUNE06 - A crew of strawberry pickers is made up of indigenous Mixtec immigrants from Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. Pictured: Salomon Sarita Sanchez Copyright David Bacon
Pictured: Salomon Sarita Sanchez Copyright: David Bacon

Being vegan has really helped me to continue to move toward a life that speaks to my values. But as a Latina, I know that just being vegan doesn’t make my life cruelty-free or fully compassionate. Now, I may get some shit from some vegans and that’s ok. I want people to understand that the animal agriculture business is horrible and I’m not saying that being vegan isn’t a good place to start but it isn’t a magic bullet. The reason is because of those who pick the veggies, fruits and nuts that I so enjoy everyday as part of my vegan diet. Their stories and lives are forgotten by the community that is so urgent that people eat vegan to live a life full of compassion and free of cruelty.

When I started researching this topic I was surprised at how many articles that I found about it. Unfortunately, many of the articles were not written by vegans but by meat-eaters trying to find some flaw in veganism. And though I think this constant need for meat-eaters to try and trip up a vegan is really annoying, I think that these articles made good points. What about the migrants who pick our veggies? Do they not deserve the same compassion that we give animals; the same thought when we go to the grocery store? The same outcry when they are mistreated?

As I started looking for more and more information on the intersection of veganism and migrant workers, I found that there were hardly any resources for vegans that could help us build solidarity with migrants workers and their struggle. I looked for farms that were ethical, that treated their workers with humanity and paid them a living wage, that gave them water on hot days and that let them have bathroom breaks. But unfortunately, those things are not really listed on their websites, though it should be.

And yes, just in case you are reading this and didn’t know how migrant workers are treated, the very tip of the iceberg is this: some farmhands don’t let farm workers use the bathroom! Something that is supposed to separate us from the animals is our humanity and yet, we continue to show our barbarity by not giving other living beings the basic necessity of using the bathroom. We can be, at times, the most inhumane of all animals. We make the choice to be cruel to others, both human and non-human animals.

I was going to make this post about the treatment of farm workers on the farms that grow the majority of what’s on my plate every day but I’m going to link to an amazing organization that is working to connect the two topics that I’m connecting in the post and can speak more eloquently about the connection. Food Empowerment Project is a non-profit here in Northern California that works with vegan consumers to educate and empower themselves to make good food choices that are as ethical as possible. It was started by a fellow Latina vegan named Lauren that was kind enough to answer my questions when I emailed them for more information about some ethical farms in the area. Unfortunately, there aren’t many, like one or two, but she did give a suggestion that helps us start moving in a more ethical direction: buy organic!

Buying organic isn’t just good for our bodies and our environment but it is also good for those that pick the veggies we eat. The reason for this is that when pesticides are being sprayed on crops, they are usually sprayed from above. This makes sure that is covers every inch of the plant. It does the job amazingly, too well actually, because it also covers the people in the fields tending and harvesting the products. Usually, workers are not given proper attire to wear so that they don’t breathe in the pesticides or they are forced to enter fields that have been freshly sprayed earlier than recommended. Workers, and their families, get sick from the pesticides. There has been connections to everything from reproductive issues to Alzheimer’s. But at least if you buy organic, you’ll be kept from ingesting the pesticide and so will the worker that picked that delicious fruit or veggie you’re about to eat.

My suggestion, besides eating organic, is that we as vegans stand in solidarity with huelgas when they’re happening. I must admit that I don’t always do this because of the inconvenience but to consider myself a compassionate person and someone who wants to live out my values and live cruelty-free, I have to. The most recent huelga was against Driscoll’s, which is one of the largest berry companies with farms in both the US and Mexico. There was a strike in Baja California because of the unfair and unethical practices of the owners. And yet, I bought Driscoll’s strawberries because I wanted cut strawberries on my yogurt. It’s so absurd and cruel to think about how I ate those strawberries without guilt and yet, felt guilt when eating dairy-based yogurt because of the treatment of dairy cows. This is where the idea that vegans don’t care about humans comes from, I think. Because even someone like me who sees the intersections between movements and the need to stand in solidarity with those movements could buy the strawberries! It’s ridiculous! But I know that I will do and be better.

Standing in solidarity with worker strikes is an essential part of living a compassionate and cruelty-free life if we’re trying to make ethical choices through our eating habits as most vegans are. Now, of course most things we have are made at the hands of the suffering of others. That’s the course that we’re on now, a capitalistic agenda that makes everything into commodities so that it can make that extra buck. But knowing that I’ll be a walking contradiction, that I’ll never be fully cruelty-free, isn’t going to deter me from making the choices that will help me make what little impact I can on the world. I urge you to do the same.

For more info on migrant workers, visit the Food Empowerment Project or Coalition for Immokalee Workers websites. They have some great resources and are experts on this topic.

I hope that this starts a conversation about ways that vegans can continue to grow as a community beyond what others think we care about and be outwardly vocal about all the intersections that our identities cross, whehter it be about human or non-human animals.

In solidarity with all sentient beings,

Ivy

“¿Pero Que Vas a Comer?”

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“Pero que vas a comer?” was my mom’s first question when I told her what “being vegan” meant. It was the same question she asked me when I became a vegetarian. Being vegan is about as foreign to my mom as the US was when she first arrived in the 70s from Nicaragua. Actually, veganism is probably more foreign. There’s a lot of US-centric culture in Nicaragua, but that’s another story to tell in a future blog post. Some folks get the protein question: “Where are you going to get your protein?” but I got, “Well, what are you going to eat?”.

When I told my mom about going vegan and she asked what I was going to eat, it reminded me how veganism is something new to not just my mom, but for the folks around me. Even when I became vegetarian 10 years ago, this was new territory for everyone I knew, including myself! Meat is the main dish of every Latino meal while everything else is just a side dish; a dish that adds to the flavor of the meat on the plate.

So when I told my mom what “being vegan” means and she asked me what I was going to eat, it was great in being able to know and say “so many things! fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, beans!” She laughed after I listed everything I could eat and said, “Ah pues, muchas cosas. Me vas a tener que explicar mas de lo que es.”

With this post, I wanted to explain to my mom and other folks about what a vegan can eat because I think a lot of the discussion is focused on what we don’t eat. I loosely kept track of what I ate this last week and can I just say, YUM! I’m not going to list out everything but I will list my favorite meals and my favorite products.

The first thing that people say to me when they find out that I’m vegan is “how do you not eat cheese!?!” and it’s funny because I used to think the same thing before I stopped. Now I don’t miss it, even on the one thing that cheese rightfully belongs on: pizza! I love pizza but the last couple of times that I’ve had pizza, I had no cheese on one and then I had non-dairy cheese on the other. Both were equally delicious! My favorite non-dairy cheese for everyday use is Daiya. They make different flavors, including mozzarella and cheddar, and they also sell it in shreds and blocks. It’s pretty amazing. I just bought their non-dairy cream cheese and can I say that it was delicious. I topped a bagel with it and scarfed it down as I wrote this post.

Another favorite for me is yogurt! There are some delicious non-diary yogurts, though I’m still looking for a good non-dairy Greek yogurt. I have tried quite a few and the best so far is So Delicious coconut milk yogurt. I have a serving of that with some berries or other cut fruit and some homemade granola. It’s the best quick and easy breakfast before a full day of work. Another option is oatmeal which is vegan if you use water or non-dairy milk (I like Califia unsweetened Almond Milk), top with some fruit and agave syrup and you’re ready to face the world!

For lunch, I eat everything from a salad to tofu buffalo bites with some sweet potato fries. I’ll eat anything. But I’ll usually eat leftovers from dinner the night before. It just makes packing my lunch in the morning a lot faster, plus when you made something delicious for dinner the night before, you get to dream about the delicious lunch you’ll be having! My favorite quick meal is stuffed sweet potatoes. I like stuffing them with black beans, corn, avocado and any other leftover veggies that I might have in the fridge. It’s a really quick, delicious and filling meal.

For dinner, I love making something more time-intensive like Daal and brown rice. Daal is an Indian dish made of lentils and spices. I usually add spinach to add some color and a different flavor. Another go-to favorite, especially on a cool evening is roasted veggies. Roasted veggies are one of my favorite foods and you can add them to anything: pasta, polenta, salad or a burrito!

Because I’m a runner, I have to make sure that I take in enough calories throughout the day, especially if I went on a run or plan on going on one later. But, one of the downsides of being vegan is that I am hungry ALL. THE. TIME. But I guess that’s not really a downside. You just have to plan ahead and make sure that you have enough snacks. This could be anything from almonds to chips! Earth Balance White Cheddar puffs are my favorite snack. They are so good and they’re vegan! If you’ve never had them, you should do yourself a favor and pick up a bag! But when I’m trying to be healthy, I munch on fruits, particularly apples with peanut butter and I always love a good smoothie to sip on while I’m typing away at my desk.

But even with all these delicious foods, my favorite foods are beans and rice, gallo pinto more specifically! and platanos! and corn tortillas! and salsa! These are all vegan foods! There are already so many Latino foods that we eat that are vegan or can easily be made vegan just by not adding cheese, sour cream or any other animal products. I can eat taquitos, enchiladas, quesadillas made with non-dairy cheese, fried yucca!

No matter if you’re vegan or not, you already eat foods that are technically vegan everyday but we don’t call it vegan, we call it fruits, veggies, nuts, beans and so on.

So Mom, no me voy a morir de hambre. As you can see, I’m eating more than ever!

In solidarity with all living beings,

Ivy

My (vegan) Story

  
I thought I should make my first blog post about my transformation into being a vegan. I’m not trying to romanticize or glamorize being vegan. It’s just a choice. A choice that I made for myself so that I can live a life of joy. I also don’t think that I have all the answers to living a vegan life. I haven’t been vegan that long, like a week up to this point, but this blog is to share my journey as I find out what it means to be a Latina vegan and if it means anything different than the life I was living before as a vegetarian Latina. But before I get ahead of myself, here’s a little bit about my journey.

I was born to a wonderful and independent mother and a 2 year old brother. I had a pretty typical Latino upbringing: big super loud family, think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, always coming together for holidays and after church. And I think just like any other family, there was always food involved! I remember thinking just how abundant the food was; a table full of Gallo Pinto, Queso Frito, Platano Frito and of course any number of meat dishes.

When I was little, I never really enjoyed eating red meat and I never liked eating meat off the bone. My mom always has to desmenuzar the chicken so that I could eat it. I think even back then, it felt weird for me to eat meat but I didn’t think that not eating it was even an option. I didn’t know any vegetarians or vegans though I’m sure they existed somewhere. But they definitely didn’t exist in my El Monte neighborhood or even my Fontana neighborhood, which I moved to at 11.

What I have always enjoyed and loved was, and is, the presence of animals. Having a dog or cat has always been a big joy in my life. When I was really little, I had a habit of wanting to bring home stray animals, and I still do, but one time I did. I can’t remember how old I was, maybe 4 or 5 and I brought home a little black kitten appropriately named “Blacky”. After like 25 years, I still think of this little kitten fondly. I don’t think I had him, or her I can’t remember, for very long maybe like a week but it had been the best week of my life thus far. And then one day, he was gone. My mom said he ran away, though that could totally be a lie.

I think back and see that my love for animals came from deep inside and that I think it has always been there. I’m also a hyper-sensitive person and get overwhelmed by emotion, both my own and of others around me. My boyfriend says that my heart is just too big and soft for this world sometimes. The suffering of others is something that I carry within me. It’s not always the best but it’s a part of who I am. I cry at happy commercials, sad commercials, when I get angry, or sad, or happy. Pretty much any emotion that is overwhelming tends to make me cry. I cry at the happiness of others but also at the pain.

For me, when I finally decided to be a vegetarian, this part of me was a big driving force. Seeing the treatment and slaughter of countless animals all so I could eat overwhelmed me. I think I still carry that suffering with me, after a decade of not eating meat. But I didn’t think that Latinos could be vegetarian. Meat was such a big part of our culture but there was also a class issue to it as well.

In my family, there’s a sense of pride about being able to serve meat at every meal and I think this is similar to a lot of Latino families, and maybe other immigrant folks as well. The pride comes from the fact that in my family’s home country, meat was scarce and expensive. You were lucky to have meat once a day. But then you come to the “Land of Plenty” and meat is so abundant and affordable that the thought to choose not to eat it doesn’t even cross your mind. I don’t consider my family as being heartless or not compassionate, actually quite the opposite. My mother is the most compassionate person I know. She came here to give my brother and I the life the she couldn’t have and that includes the choice to consume meat or not, to follow my heart and to speak my truth, which is to consider the lives of all sentient and living beings when living my life and how my decisions affect those around me.

I became vegetarian about 10 years ago. That’s not to say that I didn’t have slip ups, stupid Fried Chicken, or that I’ve been perfect along the way, I still had sushi every once and a while.  And it doesn’t mean that I am any less a vegetarian and that I care any less for the animals. I am just human and I fail probably more than I succeed. But it doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trying. The great thing about becoming vegetarian, is that I learned about so many other movements and forms of oppression that may not be directly connected to animal cruelty but led me to find out more. It made me open to changing my life, no matter how many people told me I was wrong. It made me different and in that, it made me able to stand up for myself, some times not in the most productive and compassionate way, but stand up none the less. It has made me stronger.

I made the decision a while ago that I wanted to become vegan after learning and opening my eyes to the ugliness of the dairy industry but it never lasted more than a week. I thought it to be too extreme, too hard and to be honest, I didn’t want to get tied into what people thought were the extreme, evangelical vegans who couldn’t even have meat-eating friends. And honestly, even living in the Bay Area, it was hard for me to find Latinas who were vegans. I wanted to find community in women who look like me, had experiences like mine and who also fight for social justice. But I knew that I couldn’t be the only one, especially not in the Bay!

So I decided to write this blog to share my own experiences of being a vegan Latina and hopefully to find other Latina vegans that want to connect and learn from each other. But also I wanted to write and share the connections between animal cruelty and oppressions of other communities. I think a big misconception about vegans, in general, is that we only care about the lives of animals. But it’s not true! Like my boyfriend said, I have a big heart and so can hold the pain and happiness of many communities. I want to share that to care about ending the suffering of one community can lead to care about the suffering of every community.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you through photos, recipes and research. And thank you for your interest in my story and the stories that I will share in future. I hope to continue to write, learn and share.

In solidarity with all living beings,

Ivy