Vegan Accessibility: healthy food for all

I did a survey recently with close friends and family about why they don’t make more vegan choices. Besides the usual fear of the mythical “protein deficiency” that they would face and the social aspects of food and eating meat, each of which I’ll discuss in future posts, the next big one was cost or accessibility. And since this was one that I could discuss without too much research, I thought I would write about this first.

There is this illusion that healthy food, particularly fruits and vegetables, are accessible to everyone. And to those of us who have the privilege to have that accessibility, we believe this, hence the word “privilege” because we don’t have to think about getting fruits and veggies because they might be everyone or accessible within walking or driving distance to where we live. But that’s not the case for everyone. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of a food desert is alive and well in the US.

But what is a food desert and what can we do about it?

FOOD DESERTS

I had a mentor tell me once that “food deserts” was a misnomer because deserts were natural and food deserts weren’t. I liked that perspective because food deserts are not natural. They were created by oppressive systems to keep people living in poverty, particularly people of color, sick and dependent on pharmaceuticals to keep themselves alive.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me first explain what a food desert is. Not to be confused with dessert, which is a sweet treat, a food desert is just what it sounds like: It is a desert that has little to no food resources. This means that within a certain geographical area, usually about a mile in urban areas and 10 miles in rural areas, where there is little to no access to food, particularly fresh food, like fruits and veggies.

Most cities have, if not one, multiple food deserts in their city limits and if you don’t live in those areas, you probably wouldn’t even notice that there isn’t a grocery store within certain neighborhoods or barrios. That is a privilege that I also have. I live within walking distance of TWO grocery stores, one of which is a health foods store with a ton of options for fresh fruits and veggies. That’s not including the local mercados that Latinx immigrants have started all down the main street in my neighborhood called Fruitvale Ave.

So, back to the systemic impact that have created food deserts.

SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION: FOOD EDITION

You’ll only find food deserts in working-class, working poor, majority communities of color neighborhoods. Big box stores will hardly be found in these neighborhoods. And that’s usually by design. To them, these neighborhoods are not worth investing in, not worth opening in. When researching a bit for this post, I literally typed into Google search ” Trader Joe’s and poor communities” and came up with pages of articles, going back to 2010 about why Trader Joe’s repeatedly avoids opening up stores in working-class neighborhoods. Someone even went so far as to collect data and map it out!

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Image from Food Empowerment Project
And even when they decide to open a store and then leave for whatever reason, they make it harder for other stores to open up in their place. Food Empowerment Project is working on a campaign like this with Safeway. Safeway puts a block in their contracts that prohibits other grocery stores from opening up in their previous locations FOR 15 YEARS. For some communities, this might have been the only grocery store within their neighborhood or close to a bus stop. With this block, there will be no other store within this neighborhood for 15 YEARS! That’s ridiculous! They are purposely keeping communities without fresh fruit and vegetables, all for profit. Unfortunately, this is not illegal. They can legally block other grocers from using their space. This is just another example of how systems play a role in keeping people unhealthy and without fresh produce. First, they can just decide not to open in places that need it most and/or block other grocery stores to open after they leave a neighborhood.

 

So to even talk to people about veganism, we have to first talk about the inaccessibility to fresh fruits and vegetables within certain communities of color and working-class, poor communities. Without meeting this first, immediate need, the cause of veganism will fall on closed ears, with good reason. I talk to people about veganism, not just to lessen the suffering of non-human animals but also to lessen the suffering of our planet and my community. I’ve seen people suffering from preventable diseases like diabetes and hypertension knowing that what we put in our bodies impacts the quality of life we lead not to mention that impact on our wallets taking all those medications will have.

But it’s not all bad news! There are some great ways to support and encourage more fruits and vegetable for all the people in your neighborhood or city to help animals, the planet and the health of our communities.

SHARE THE VEGGIE LOVE

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image from ct.gov
My first plan for action is SNAP. I don’t mean The Bend and Snap from Legally Blonde. Wow! I just showed my age on that one! SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It used to be called food stamps, which is what people still call it. But my advice for action on this is two-fold. One: if you can use food stamps, use them. I know and understand there is a lot of stigma around food stamps (my family and I were on food stamps for a while when I was younger and in my teens)  so I know its tough. But that money is meant to be used by people going through a hard time. It’s money put in by all of us to make sure that all communities have access to fresh fruits and vegetable. Its been stigmatized and demonized by politics so that they can cut it to make rich people richer. Please use it. I wish I had used it when I was on college. I totally could have qualified but was embarrassed that I needed it and instead took out more student loans to help pay my way through school. I look back now and wished that I had used it as I pay down y student loans. And, at least here in CA, there’s been moves to change some of the stigma with EBT cards so that it looks like a regular debit card. And though I see that as a bandaid for the real issue of shaming poor people when they are trying to get assistance TO LIVE AND SURVIVE, its a step in the right direction.

 

If your not eligible for food stamps, help enroll others who are and help destigmatize the issue. There are volunteer positions and jobs that are for helping people enroll in benefits like SNAP. And if you speak another language fluently, even better! People need your help. Enrolling for benefits is complicated and often a lengthy process. And on top of that, with the news of #45 leaking an Executive Order that if immigrants use federal and state benefits, that information will be used against them when trying to apply for residency or citizenship, who is going to want to use those benefits! As of the writing of this, this EO has not gone into effect so it will not impact your immigration process. There’s quite a bit of fear from all different places that block people from using these services. So, your community needs you! Be the example by applying if you’re eligible or by helping others apply, if you’re not.

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 Image by Greg Linhares from LonelyPlanet.com
My second action advice is farmer’s markets and community gardens! Organize farmer’s markets in different parts of your city. Right now, Oakland has 5 weekly farmer’s markets. Zero of those are in East Oakland, especially deep east where the need for fresh fruits and vegetable are needed. Contact your local organizers of the market and let them know that more farmer’s markets are needed in different areas of the city. And on top of that, ask them if they take SNAP or EBT cards. If they don’t, tell them they have to! I’ve linked the process for them to do that, no matter where you live here. If you live in a food desert, either get a farmer’s market in your neighborhood or start your own community garden. This is a little more involved but its a great way to get to know your neighbors if you don’t know them or to work on something together, if you already know them. Plus, with a quick search on the internet or at your local library, you can find tons of information on how to start one and probably an organization that can help you put it together. In Oakland, we’re lucky in that we have lots of resources for this, including an organization that gives you all the supplies you need and will mentor you in your garden. And the city has plots that you can rent through out the city, in case you live in an apartment like i do and don’t have a backyard or space to plant. Overall, connect with individuals, organizations and institutions to make your neighborhood fuller of fruits and veggies!

 

My last action advice: talk about it! Whether you live in a food desert or not, we aren’t talking about it enough. There is some great work going on in Oakland around food injustice, just google Oakland food justice and you’ll come up with dozens of organizations and communities working on this issue,  but it doesn’t seem to be out in public where everyone knows this is going on, especially those who are not connected with organizations or the food justice movement. There is a lot of privilege when it comes to food. We need to open people’s eyes to the lack of healthy food in some parts of our country. We need more people, particularly people of color, to talk about the need and want for healthy fruits and vegetable in your neighborhood. We know that these foods, along with grains nuts and seeds, are good for you and the planet but we’re not talking about it to people, out in the world, in public, every chance we get. We need to start asking why is food so scarce in a country of excess, why are there people starving or malnourished in one of the richest countries in the world and what can we do about it? We need to start seeing health not as a luxury but as a right. We all have the right to be healthy. To live a life without heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. But we can’t do that without talking about what can help cure us of these ailments. When a McDonald’s cheeseburger is cheaper and more accessible than a bunch of broccoli, we’ve got a serious problem.

So vegans of the world, as we continue to talk to others about veganism and the benefit that it brings to our lives, let’s also listen to folks about why they can’t or won’t. They are valid reasons because it is the truth in people’s lives and it matters. We won’t be able to help more animals, the planet or the health of our communities without understanding the barriers that keeps them from making more vegan choices. Let’s listen and then take action with those who need it the most. Let’s make going vegan the easiest decision that they could ever make. Let’s support, guide and encourage instead of judging others for their perceived lack of discipline. And don’t act like vegans don’t do this because they do. 

Not everyone will go vegan but everyone can make more vegan choices. What are some other ways that we can support and encourage others to go vegan? Leave your comments of ideas that I missed.

Need more support going vegan? I started my own vegan transition coach business to support the Latinx community make more vegan choices. Contact me at ivonne.latina.vegana@gmail.com or send me a message through this post for more info.

 

 

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How to also become a Latina vegan: tips, tricks and advice

I’ve been getting quite a few questions about veganism and how I went vegan so in honor of Oakland Veg Week, I thought that I would share how I did it and then maybe some advice on how to transition.

So, I did write about my transition in my very first blog post. But I didn’t share how I did it, just why I did it. And the how is definitely just as important as the why.

The How

How did I do it? Well, I had a bit of a head start. I was vegetarian for a while, like 7 years, before I took the plunge and became vegan. I don’t know exactly how long because I stopped counting after about 3 years. But anyway,  it’s been a while since I’ve had meat but transitioning from a meat-eater to vegetarian took me about a year or so. I don’t remember how I did it; I don’t remember the details but I do know that I took my time. I probably did it the way that they say now, I took it slow. One meal at a time.

I also know that I failed miserably some of the time. I caved to the smell of fried chicken, milanesa and those little mini-burgers at McDonald’s (a number 1 with fries, please!). But as time went on, that desire started to vanish and eventually I didn’t enjoy the taste. The thought of eating another animal made me feel sick. And that’s my first how-to tip:

BE GENTLE AND FORGIVING TO YOURSELF!

You are going to do the best that you can every day. And every day will bring a new struggle, that birthday party that’s at your favorite meat-filled restaurant, the fiesta con la familia full of carne asada and even that intimate dinner with your significant other who still eats meat. All of these situations, and so many more, will bring on a case of social anxiety if you are too hard on yourself.

You are doing something against the grain, against the status quo. You are living out your beliefs in your everyday life, whether you become vegan for the animals, for the planet or just for your own survival through health. And even forvegan image 2 all the conviction in the world, you’re still going to slip. It’s okay. Just do better on your next food choice. When I went vegan, I didn’t ask if things had eggs, or dairy or anything else. As long as there was no visible cheese or dairy in it, I was good.
I wasn’t ready to start reading ingredients. Now, I do. I read every ingredient before I buy anything packaged that doesn’t have that beautiful “v” on the package. Sometimes I even Google ingredients on my phone if its not a familiar ingredient. You will get to this point, if that’s where you want to head. And this leads me to my next point.

THERE IS NO “ULTIMATE VEGAN”

So stop worrying about being perfect, because you’ll never get there and you’ll just feel bad for “failing”. We live in a meat-eating world. We were taught that eating meat and drinking milk was good for you, that it made you stronger. This was the messaging that we received, and still receive, from media, doctors, and some nutritionists. And so every plate revolves around animals. This is the norm, eating animals is the norm. And so because of this, everything will be connected to the meat, dairy or vivisection (animal testing) industry. So there is no ultimate vegan. Just be as vegan as you can be.

Maybe that means just not eating meat, cheese and dairy but you don’t check ingredients. Or maybe you don’t eat at non-vegan restaurants (if you have it like that, I want to move where you live!) or maybe you go all in and veganize your entire life, from food to clothes to beauty products. Thats great! All of these choices help non-human animals and human animals alike. All of these help the planet and your health. So don’t let others get you down, vegan or non-vegans. As long as you have las ganas to make the change and know why you’re doing it, just let that fuel you. Let that guide you into why you are doing what you’re doing.

The next how-to is:

BUILD OR JOIN A VEGAN COMMUNITY (probably have to build one if you’re not white)

As a person of color, this may be difficult. I’m just going to keep it real right now. Most vegan spaces are white. Like super white. Like blindingly white; Snow White. And that can be uncomfortable. It’s one of the reasons that I was hesitant to go vegan. I felt like the vegan community didn’t represent me.  Also the reason I started this blog was because I didn’t see any Latinas talking about being vegan or what it was like; how they did it and kept connected to their roots. I wanted to share my experience on this journey along with just sharing my life as a vegana. The only way I saw to be able to do this was to start my own community.

Just like anything else, food is part of our culture and when you make changes in that, it could feel like you’re isolating yourself, making yourself more marginalized. But I’ve learned that when you connect with other vegans of color, they understand your intersectional struggles. So search Meet Up or Facebook to see if there are already people in your area meeting and being in community with each other. If there isn’t anything close by, then build one! I know that sounds scary but it’s not. Just start a group on Facebook. It’s easy,  free and will help you keep on track. Just put yourself out there and watch the magic happen.

Community building is so important. It will be hard to continue without others who understand you and understand why you have made the decision to go vegan. It could even just be a completely online community (that’s where most of my vegan community is) that helps in finding vegan foods, spaces, support and resources. I can’t stress this step enough. Build. Your. Community.

Finally, the last thing is

RESOURCES, RESOURCES, RESOURCES!

vegucated 2One of the main things that keeps me vegan during the hard times, besides community, is the resources that help remind me about why I chose to be vegan. A major influence for me was the documentary “Vegucated”. This is hands down one of my favorite documentaries/films on veganism. I may seriously go watch it after writing this post. Lots of folks talk about how Earthlings is what made people vegan but I haven’t seen it. Don’t tell my vegan friends. Vegucated did that and continues to do that for me. The reason I love it so much is it’s one of the only videos I’ve seen on veganism that has a Latina! I know, I know. Seeing Tesla move through the film and have the film show the dynamics of being Latina and going vegan was really eye-opening for me. I felt her and her struggle, through and through. I felt connected to her. She talks about how hard it was because it felt like she was losing a connection to her family, to her roots. I totally understood that.

Resources are an amazing way to move towards being vegan all the time, or most of the time and to help remind you about why you became vegan. If you become vegan for the planet, Cowspiracy may be your Vegucated; the one film that you watch when you need that boost. It’s great film that touches on how agriculture isn’t talked about when we talk about environmental impacts even though it contributes more to global warming than the entire transportation system!

Another good one is Forks over Knives. That’s a great film on how changing the way you eat, changes your health. And I’m not talking about weight, like how much you weigh. I’m seriously talking about your health. Like do you have high cholesterol or diabetes. That health. No fat-shaming on this post. I don’t believe that weight equals health. I know some skinny people that have terrible health habits and fat people that are active and healthy! Plus, I also care about happiness. But that is another post for another day.

eating animalsIf you like to read as well, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is great! He writes about his journey into vegetarianism. What I love about this book is that it doesn’t feel like he’s trying to convince you to become vegetarian. He’s merely doing research in Big Ag and his research changes the way he looks at food and will change the way you look at food too.

Another classic is called The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Many attribute the changes in how people saw the meat-industry to this one book. It’s also a great book on the intersections of slaughterhouses and worker’s rights.

I’ve watched and read these books and movies countless times when I’m feeling low about being vegan. And that can happen. Maybe I had a rough day finding something good to eat. Or had one too many people crack one too many bacon jokes. Or maybe all I want is to go to a fast food joint but I can’t because they have no vegan options. So when this happens, I take a deep breathe and remind myself why I chose to be vegan. I turn on a film or start reading a book and remember that I didn’t choose to be vegan because its the new cool thing. I chose it because I wanted to live out my true self; live the life that best fit my belief that every sentient being has the right to live out their life. And so that’s what I do with my food and lifestyle choice.

These are just a few tips that helped me get through some of the tough times of being a Latina vegana in a meat-eating world.

Any tips that I missed that have helped you? Write them in the comments!

Feeling like you might need more support? Maybe one on one? Too overwhelmed to start your community? If you live in the Bay Area, I can help!

I am a vegan transition coach and can support you in making more vegan choices without having to do it alone. Email me at vonnie4897@gmail.com for more info and prices.

 

 

Family Love: a vegan latina in a meat-eating family

 

The Boo and I went to visit my family a couple of weekends ago. Well, we went to Harry Potter Land aka Universal Studios and also visited my family! A two birds, one crumb kind of situation which always works out great. Universal was not very vegan-friendly, I should write them about that, but my family on the other hand, had prepared a entire vegan brunch for me and The Boo! It was awesome. And this wasn’t no toast and coffee continental breakfast, this was a full on delectable menu: vegan quiche, zucchini pancakes, fresh fruit and of course, mimosas!

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Vegan breakfast courtesy of my godmother, my sista and my Tia!

As I started to think about my next post, my mind immediately went to the kindness and acceptance of my family and how I wanted to share that with others. For me, one of the major reasons that I was hesitant to go vegan was because of the people around me; my social circle. And no matter how far I may live, that will always include my family. And so when I went vegetarian, I got some shit from my family, and still do, but they were accepting. My Tia always making me special dishes without meat and saying “Esto es para la Minina!” and shooing others away who were trying to eat my specially-made dish. My mom stocking her fridge full of veggie treats so that I always had something to eat. At those moments, I felt like my decision was not making me isolated but making me feel more loved by the people that I love most in the world. Through food, they showed me that no matter how out of their comfort zone my decisions were, they would always support me in the ways that they could. And becoming vegan was no different. It took some time to adjust because, like me, it was new to them. But they tried and succeeded at making a delicious vegan meal. I’m part of a family of over-achievers. We don’t do anything at less than 100% and the menu above proves that. They really went above and beyond to make me and The Boo feel at home and loved through what they served us. No judgements and not as an after-thought but as the center of our gathering. It was beautiful and reassuring that my decision was not going to isolate me but bring me closer to those that I love.

I wondered if others were so lucky to have a family who supports your decisions or if I was one of the few.

STORIES OF TRANSITION

Earlier this year, I interviewed some amazing Latina vegans for a blog series, that I hope to finally put up this coming month, and one of the questions I asked was related to this topic: how did your family feel or react to your decision? And to my greatest surprise, all 3 of them said that their families were supportive. Some maybe more than others or supportive in their own ways but none said that their experience was overly negative. I was excited to know that most other folks had had similar experiences to mine, accepting families even at their most uncomfortable. It gave me comfort that brown families were accepting of values different than the ones they grew up with.

But then I had the thought that maybe it was just us 4 but i was wrong because The Boo’s family has been super supportive of his transition into veganism as well. His mom always makes us vegan Mexican dishes like ceviche de tofu, taquitos de papa and even for his birthday that just passed, his sister made him a vegan cheesecake! A vegan cheesecake! She’s a great baker and it was delicious.

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Vegan blueberry cheesecake. YUM!

So I started thinking about how we got so lucky to have families that were so willing to bend over backwards to make sure that we’re being included. And to be honest, I still don’t know. But there are a few things that I have noticed over the years that i think helped with making life transitions easier on ourselves and those we love.

TAKING IT SERIOUSLY

Sometimes I let things slide. Like I’ll eat something even though milk is an ingredient or I wasn’t able to find out if something was made using eggs or milk, just out of either laziness or feeling tired. And what I mean by that is a tiredness of having to say yes or no to something because it may or may not be vegan or honestly sometimes feeling left out of the mix. But those moments are now fewer and farther between because I told myself that if I wanted people to take my new lifestyle seriously, I had to take it seriously. Simple concept, I know, but sometimes common sense isn’t so common. And so when I started taking it more seriously, asking if it was vegan or if there was going to be vegan food, others around me started to take me seriously. At work, for instance, they’ll try and let me know if something isn’t vegan. Same with my friends about something they’ve made because it might have milk or cheese or even whey,  Thanks Boo Boo! So I’ve learned that the stronger you are about asking and saying no when something isn’t vegan, the more likely others will also take a stronger stance on your behalf.

Of course, that’s not a universal thing. There will always be those that like to make fun of you or trick you into eating something that isn’t vegan, yes even in your own family, but I’ve found that those people are rare. And it’s usually about them and not you or your new found way of life.

LATINX FAMILIES!

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me, The Boo and the rest of the fam!

I’m a Latina! Besides being lucky in my good looks and charm, I’m also blessed of having been born in a latinx family. If you can’t tell, I LOVE BEING LATINA! I don’t know about any other families from other backgrounds but Latinx families are super accommodating when it comes to food. In my family, we aren’t happy if everyone isn’t eating or drinking something as soon as they walk in the door. The first thing they say is “que flaca estas. Ahorita te hago algo para comer” and before you can say your not hungry, el pancito is in the toaster and the gallo pinto is in the pan.

My family shows love through food and I feel loved when I’m sitting around the table with my cousins and tias talking politics, literature and the funniest meme they saw on Facebook that morning, it’s not all serious talk, with a plate overflowing with something delicious that my Tia made.  My tia is the cook of the family. She’s even opening her own restaurant, WITH VEGGIE OPTIONS! YAY!

And the same was the case with this last trip back down to SoCal. We weren’t planning on heading to brunch at my godmother’s house but she invited us when she found out we were going to be in town and remembered and planned for  what was one of the best brunches I’ve had in a while because everything was vegan! I felt loved knowing that she, and others, went through the trouble of making something that was out of their comfort but were doing it so that The Boo and I had something to eat. So if you’re reading this, thank you! I appreciate  the support that you all give me so much even when you may think that it’s a little extreme. I feel like having a close family like mine and The Boo’s helped in having made the transition much easier; made the transition not just bearable but joyful. I was able to still partake in one of my greatest joys, eating, while living out my truth: that non-human animals shouldn’t suffer just so that we can eat them.

I tried to find some other stories of people who maybe didn’t have the greatest experience with their families but I couldn’t seem to find them, which may be is a good thing? But what was your vegan transition story like? Or if you’re thinking about living a vegan lifestyle, did this touch on some of your fears? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

#I’MNOTWITHHER: Why I still don’t want to vote for Hillary

I don’t like being told what to do. Ask my Boo. It makes me want to do the opposite of what you’re telling me to do just to spite you. Childish? Maybe. But I’m just trying to keep it 100.

This dislike of being told what to do extends to all aspects of my life. I’ve always been this stubborn, ask my mom. I’m like 100% sure I get it from her. But this dislike even extends to the political sphere and right now, the people living in this sphere keep trying to tell me what do: they keep telling me that I have to vote for Hillary Clinton for president.

But I don’t want to.

Why I’m Not With Her

I know what’s going on in the politics right now is scary. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee and what he stands for is bigotry. It scares me to think of the possibility of someone like him running this country. But that fear still doesn’t govern my thought process in who to vote for because, honestly, Hillary scares me too. She isn’t innocent and has blood on her hands. She too has said some harmful and problematic things about communities that I care about. She’s flip-flopped on important issues from immigration to LGBTQ issues.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people evolving, their beliefs changing with the times and as they learn more about other communities. I’ve evolved into a more progressive womyn myself, learning about the struggles of people who have lived different lives and I’m a better person for it but once I learn, I take it in, deep into my bones and it lives inside me forever. I don’t go back and forth, changing my mind because of what the political landscape looks like, whether we’re for or against immigrants, whether we’re for or against black folks, whether for or against poor people. I keep moving forward, hoping not to make a mistake and being genuine in my apologies when I do.

But she hasn’t done that. 2 years ago when unaccompanied youth were fleeing violence that the US helped foster in Central America was one of those moments I wish we could go back to and get an apology from her.

The stories that I read and heard from these youth, not just the violence they saw in their home countries, but also the violence they faced on their journey here to the US were horrific. I couldn’t imagine the desperation of their families to make that decision. And what the presidential nominee said was SEND THEM BACK. She said to send them back in order to send a message to the families that if they send their kids, they won’t be able to stay. Firstly, it’s actually illegal to just send them back. They have due process if they are from Central America and have the right to apply for asylum. Secondly, nothing to do with laws, is the lack of humanity as she said those words, knowing that her decisions and the foreign policy of this country have driven the violence and poverty in Central America, specifically the Northern Triangle, where these children are coming from.

But to send them back just to send a “message”, send them back to their potential deaths, is cruel. I don’t want a leader who just makes decisions without a sense of humanity. The destabilization of Central America, particularly Honduras where a majority of these young people are coming from, is due to the backing of a coup d’etat by the US, on the advice from  Hillary when she was Secretary of State.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The Latina Part of Me

intersectionalfeminsim

I’m not down with White Feminism. And before everyone gets in a tiffy about race-baiting or whatever so-called liberals and conservatives want to call it, White Feminism refers to the lack of intersectionality of certain feminists; the lack of race critiques to the oppressive structure. Race matters when talking about gender equity.

All that to say, Hillary is a white feminist. Her lack of a racial justice perspective in her feminism is alarming to me as a brown womyn, whose loved ones are also brown people. Her lack of intersectionality in thinking that reproductive rights and justice doesn’t include the mothers of the black men and womyn being killed at the hands of the police. It doesn’t include the mothers of the brown children being sent to the US from Central America and Mexico. When she so casually said to send them back on national TV, she was not thinking of the brown mothers. When she called black folks “super predators” she was not thinking of black womyn, black mothers. When she thinks about feminism, she thinks about white womyn, white mothers, middle class white womyn. And that scares me. My community will be forced out or forgotten no matter who wins the election.

The Vegan Part of Me

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I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed, or at least brought up, my distaste for capitalism. It exploits poor, working class folks, particularly people of color and especially undocumented folks. It uses their desperation to survive to its advantage. It over works them and under pays them. It sees them as dollar signs. It does the same to non-human animals as it does to human animals. It commodifies them so that it can make money.

Hillary is a part of capitalism.

She got her campaign money from millionaire capitalists that exploit the poor to get richer. She’s friends with these same capitalists that have put profit over people. And when she wins, she will owe these capitalists favors as a return in their investment to her election. Business people don’t invest in something that they don’t think will benefit them in the long run. Having a friend in the president is a worthwhile investment.

The exploitation of non-human animals is huge business. And if any campaign money came from big Ag, you better believe that our animal friends will not be thought about in the slightest when new protections need to be put in place to make more money. And neither will our beautiful planet. The only green that these folks want to see are dollar bills.

But She’s Making History!

I don’t care. Honestly, I really don’t. Because if you think about it globally, we are far behind on this front. There have been plenty of female leaders of other nations. Even my little Nicaragua had a female president in like the 90s! I’m pretty sure her politics weren’t that great but that’s neither here nor there. The point is we’re behind!

Plus, since she’s a white feminist, and as I am a brown womyn, I will not benefit from her success. Her lack of intersectionality again erases my very existence and my struggle as a latina women. And just like having a black president didn’t suddenly bring black folks out from under the thumb of oppression, neither will having a female president bring women out of the thumb of oppression, especially POC womyn.

To Vote For Her or Not To Vote for Her, That is the Question.

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I still don’t want to. It took me about 2 weeks to finish writing this and I’m still not convinced nor do I think I will ever really be convinced. I don’t like to do things that go against my beliefs and particularly my conscience. It makes me feel uneasy and guilty about my decision. That feeling is what made me go vegan in the first place.

I keep seeing people saying that we have to support her so that Trump doesn’t become president, that she’s better than Trump. What I’m not hearing, which I think is telling,  is that we should vote for her because she would be a good leader. That she would be good for the country. Maybe if someone laid it out that way, laid out what kind of president she would be beyond just that she is better than Trump, maybe it would make a difference to those of us who are disenchanted with this two-party system. Those of us who are tired of voting for the lesser of 2 evils.

But even with all that, I may vote for her but I will do it with my head hung low, and with shame in my heart. I will not do it joyfully but under the pretense that without my vote, Trump will win and my community will be at risk. I will vote for her without joy because I’m being forced to vote for her; because I didn’t have a choice. My choice for president wasn’t given a fair shake and now those of us at the bottom will suffer for it. And those around the globe will also suffer.

I know that at the end of the day, the power lies with the people. We just have to show others that too so that the next election, we have an actual choice, not just someone who is slightly better than the other. That the Bernies and Jill Steins of this country actually have a fighting chance of becoming the leaders that this country needs; that they don’t have the political party system against them, rigging the game, giving an unfair advantage to the leader that they want in power because then, our votes don’t matter. Our voices will not be heard.

So who knows who I’ll vote for. I’m still not sure. All I know is no matter who wins, I’m going to keep fighting. I’m not moving to Mexico or Nicaragua. I’m staying right here because the work isn’t done, not even close. No matter who wins, the work continues.

Womyn’s Month: stories from latina vegans

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Cover of Viva Vegan! cookbook 

I was hoping to get this post up for International Womyn’s Day, but alas, my schedule got the best of me, along with my bouts of not wanting to do anything that I have to use brain power. But I figured that I’m not a ruler follower and I want to celebrate womyn every day. So here I am not on my original timeline but excited to be writing.

In this series, I interviewed 3 latina womyn that have been vegan, asked them why and how its been since they became vegan, some have been vegan for decades! I am excited to share their thoughts and advice on their experiences of being latina vegans and some of the resources that helped them continue on this journey. They also discussed how their identity as vegans intersects with their identities as womyn of color.

But before the series gets published, I want to set the stage for vegans and latina vegans first.

The Numbers: how many of us are there?

I started doing some research because I was interested in how many vegans there actually are in the US and within that small community, how many were latin@. I couldn’t find anything super recent but I did get excited to see the numbers.

So from a couple of studies and articles that I read, it was pretty clear that in the US, 5% of the population identify as vegetarian, that’s 16 million!, and half of that, so 2.5%, identify as vegan. This was up from 2.3% of people who identify as vegetarian. That means that in the last 10 years, the vegetarian community has doubled, which also means that the vegan community has also grown tremendously!! This is pretty exciting news.

Now because my series is on self-identified womyn, I thought I should include numbers by gender breakdown, gender in this write-up will be in the binary because that’s what is given but if there is any other studies out of the binary, please link them in the comments. In the study done, 79% of self identified vegans were womyn! 79%! And though I know that has a lot to do with the issue of masculinity and how its tied with meat consumption, the whole “real men eat meat” bull, I was really surprised at how high the difference was. But this is just for veganism. For vegetarianism, there is a more equal breakdon between the 2 genders studied.

Something that I found interesting as well is that people who identify as Latin@,  I have an inssue with the identification of Hispanic and so will use Latin@ but I just wanted to say something because that’s what they use in the study. The study shows that 8% of vegetarians/vegans identify as Latin@! 8%! I was pretty excited about that because it means that there are roughly 600,000 of us out there, eating veggie meals and living veggie lives! And I’m sure that number has grown in line with how big the vegan community has grown in the last couple of years. This percentage is actually the highest in ethnic breakdown with white folks only making up 3% of those that participated in the study. I thought that this was super interesting because we always see this as a white person thing, or at least I did. I’d love to read more on the study and a follow up study on the complexities of these questions, because household income was all over the place with folks on the lower end of income and middle of the road income at the same percentage. Does this mean that not eating animals was a chioce or was it because of lack of income to buy meat? 

In finding the study and articles, I was so excited to move forward with my series and get them out into the world to be shared and contemplated.

So keep an eye out for my Latina Vegan series coming to a computer, phone or tablet near you!

<3,

Ivy

 

Citations:

Here’s where I found all these numbers! Take a look!

Vegetarian/Vegan 2012 numbers

Vegetarian/Vegan 2006 numbers

 

 

Latina, vegan and Buddhist?: my journey into Buddhism

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Lotus

I was raised Baptist. It was an interesting upbringing, now that I look back on that time in my childhood. People waiting for the Holy Spirit to enter them, others speaking in Tongues and me, with my little yellow tambourine, grooving to the praise music. I loved going, mostly because of the tambourine and praise music. I loved to sing, I still do, and so I always wished that there was no sermon but just a couple of hours of singing. I enjoyed church as much as any child would.

And then, as I got older, I realized that going to church just wasn’t as fulfilling as it used to be. I had never felt the Holy Spirit, I never spoke in Tongues and God never answered any of my prayers. By the time I was in high school, I really fell off the Christian bandwagon and tried to stop going to church. That was difficult since my mom was devoutly Christian and went to church every Sunday. So I kept going and still enjoyed the community that I had built in my time there, the friends that I had made and even the idea of being Christian; the compassionate, non-judgmental aspect of being Christian. But I wasn’t seeing that being put into practice. Granted, I was a teenager at this point and I think that most teenagers are judgmental so looking back, I’m not sure what I expected. But none the less, I was turned even more off to the idea of Christianity. But the major turning point was actually my brother.

My brother, during this time, had started getting into trouble, skipping school and not coming home for days on end. I saw how much my mother suffered during that time, praying to God that He would help my brother. Her prayers weren’t answered. I saw the powerlessness of my mother during that time, the lack of help from the church and just a sense of hopelessness that nothing could save my brother. I never wanted to feel that way, waiting for some invisible being to come save me from whatever fate had in store for me. I wanted to be in control of my life, not wait for destiny to take what it wanted from me. That’s when I started looking into other schools of faith and I came across Buddhism.

On a side note: My brother is great now! He has 3 of the cutest kids that have ever lived, a wonderful partner and 2 smart and beautiful step-children.

Dipping My Toe in the Buddhist Pool

I actually don’t quite remember when I first heard about Buddhism. I always remember it being in a world religions course that I took one of my first couple of semesters in community college, but I honestly don’t know. But I do remember buying a Buddhism for Dummies book which was totally confusing, overwhelming, and so different than my Christian upbringing that I totally thought that it was Satan pushing me toward this pagan belief system and God testing my faith, that’s how deep I had internalized that evangelical crap. So I closed that book and went Godless for a couple of years. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in a high power, I so wanted there to be someone all-powerful looking out for me, this little gal in this big, scary world. But I didn’t believe that He was this vengeful, punishing God that rained down brimstone and fire if you had questions or even doubts. I just believed in Him without going to church. I stayed that way until I moved to San Francisco when I was 24.

Going Back to Old Habits

When I moved to San Francisco in 2008, I didn’t know a soul. I moved up to the Bay Area from Fontana, CA to go to school. And I wanted to get away and experience something new without having to move too far away from my comfort zone. But moving where you don’t know anyone is tough and so you fall back into habits to find people that you can connect with and a group to belong to. My fall back was religion, specifically Christianity. So I found a group on campus that not only spoke in a language that I was familiar with, Christ, but also did community work and volunteering, which was super important to me. I enjoyed the community of people, as people. I enjoyed the already built community of people that it gave me but honestly, the Christian part of it was really unfulfilling. It could have been the same group of people coming together to talk about sandwich-making techniques and I would have enjoyed it just as much.

It was in this moment that I realized that I was looking for community and not faith. So, I started volunteering and getting to know the people in my classes and towards the end of my college years, I had made a great group of friends. People that I connected with, whose company I enjoyed and just people who I had a good time with, even when most of that time was spent going over Organic Chemistry notes at midnight in a 24 hour Starbucks. I still talk to some of those folks and some are even followers of this blog (Hi Friends!). And I felt fulfilled…until I didn’t.

Jumping Head First into the Buddhist Pool

Fast forward to Thanksgiving of 2015, when that feeling of unfulfillment started creeping back in. I wasn’t sure what it was. I had, and still have, a wonderful partner, a supportive family and a job that was helping me fulfill my want to create a more just world. And yet, there was a something off. Granted, I was going through a time of transition, and still am, and so that had me in a bit of a limbo and I hate being in limbo. Limbo is not my friend. It makes me feel out of control and I don’t like that feeling. So when I feel out of control, I like to try to take extra control over other parts of my life. I started focusing on my vegan diet, cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I took extra control of my work, holding myself extra accountable and making sure to hit every goal, no matter how minute. That never really works for me because I end up being more about the details and details are never ending. Everything can be made more perfect. And so because of all the obsession with control, I was losing more control. This is usually when I start going back to church, start reaching out to God again and yet, I already knew what the results would be. Fake faith, unfulfilled needs in the long-term. So I decided to follow a different path. The worst thing that could happen is I ended up where I always did: short-term fulfillment until the next rocky path.

I reached out to a friend, who I knew was a practicing Buddhist. Actually, she’s the only person I knew at the time that was. She was kind enough to chat with me and connect me with folks from a local Buddhist community here in Oakland. I should also state that this was not the first time I had contacted this friend about her practice. We’d talked before but again, that Baptist indoctrination really scared me and I didn’t  follow through. Within a couple of hours, I was chatting with a person from the local community center and setting up a time to meet with her and talk  more about the Buddhist practice.

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What Nichiren Buddhists chant, morning and evening.

Getting Down With Buddhism as a Former Baptist

I started learning more about the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and I liked what I learned. I started chanting and building community; all of the things that I used to do when I was Christian with one difference: I felt fulfilled. I felt that this particular belief system aligned with my ideological beliefs as well. That it takes faith and action to create change, not only in your life but also in the world. And people didn’t look at me weird when I said that I was vegan. They understood because part of the belief is that suffering should not be tolerated and that to make another suffer is against the belief of world peace.

The other thing that I liked about my experience was that a lot of folks came from different backgrounds. There was a diverse group of black folks, latinos, white, trans, queer, jewish, baptist, catholic. It was wonderful to see the different kinds of folks, all in one room, building community together in the name of world peace. The latina side of me was ecstatic. Lots of POC to build a Buddhist community with. I felt like I had found a place to belong. Where I didn’t have to hide my social justice side from my faith side and from my scientific side. They all came together, in harmony, in this place called Buddhism.

I’ve been attending meetings, I’ve been chanting and learning since my first meeting back in November 2015, and up until the point I have only seen positive changes in my attitude, my confidence and in the direction of my life. Even though I’m still in a state of limbo, I feel more in control of my life. My circumstances haven’t changed but my perspective has. I see the light at the end of the limbo tunnel and I’m actually looking forward to what it holds. I look forward to building more community, chanting my worries away and enjoying more of what makes life worthwhile.

For more on Nichiren Buddhism visit: http://www.sgi-usa.org

P.S. There are some folks who call the SGI, or Nichiren Buddhism, a cult. It scared me at first but honestly, I’ve only met wonderfully supportive people and have felt no cult-ish vibe. Though I think a lot of religions feel cult-ish at times. BUT if you see me about to drink the Kool-Aid, slap it out of my hand.

Latina Vegan Hugs Trees: discussion on climate change

 

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Me in Big Sur hugging a beautiful Sequoia, I think.

I’d like to say that I’m a pretty outdoorsy person. I enjoy being in the open air, feeling the breeze against my face; hearing the birds chirp, even though I’m scared of birds, weird I know. But my favorite, absolute favorite, thing to do: HUG TREES!

I love trees. They are fascinating! They survive under even extreme conditions, they live hundreds of years, oh the stories they could tell, and die nobly and become nutrients in the earth to continue to help their tree friends and family. THEY. ARE. AWESOME and I love hugging them. I just get the overwhelming feeling to hug a tree and I go for it. I’ve crossed barriers in Muir Woods to hug a giant Redwood, I almost spilt my coffee to hug one. I go wild over trees. My goal for 2016 is to become an amateur Arborist, or the more scientific term Dendrologist.

So as you can tell from my love of trees, and all living beings, why I would want to discuss CLIMATE CHANGE.

Yes my friends, it’s true. The climate is changing and not the normal changes that happen over decades and centuries. This is person-made and person-maintained and person-evolved climate change. Yikes! And anyone that tries to argue otherwise is just trying to live up to the “ignorance is bliss” saying. But like someone I know who used to say “just because you don’t believe in the devil, doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in you”, so just because you don’t believe in climate change, doesn’t mean that it’s not real. I don’t believe in the devil, to each their own, but I do believe in climate change because there is evidence of its existence. It’s real and it’s here. And this is not one situation of “to each their own” because people believing in the devil doesn’t hurt me but people not believing in climate change hurts me and every other living being on this planet. And I got a problem with that. So, I wanted to write about and discuss the environment and share my thoughts.

Killing our planet, I don’t think so.

I think it’s so interesting when folks say that we’re killing the planet. I actually disagree. The reason? Homeostasis.

Homeostasis is a scientific term for keeping everything in balance. Our bodies do this through different mechanisms constantly to make sure that our bodies are running optimally. For instance when we eat something with sugar in it, our livers secrete insulin to store the sugar for later use because having too much sugar in the blood causes a lot of complications and not having enough is dangerous too so it stores it for when you need it. But when your liver doesn’t produce enough insulin, or any at all, it can’t store the sugar and so the sugar in the blood is off balance and is the cause of diabetes. And so our bodies like everything in moderation, to keep everything in balance.

Like our bodies, the planet is an organism, albeit a big organism but none the less an organism, and it wants to keep the balance. That’s why we’re seeing these changes in weather and temperature; the earth is trying to keep everything balanced, balance the pollution and the warming atmosphere. At least, that’s my theory and to go with that theory, our high rate of polluting the air and water, cutting down my beloved trees, and digging for oil on land and in the sea is not killing this planet. Oh no, it’s killing US. We are going to go extinct waaaay before this planet will die. This beautiful planet that we call home will kill us before we kill it. How do you think it has survived for millennia? Survival of the fittest, right. Well, the planet can definitely live without us, it might actually be better off, but we sure can’t live without it.

What’s vegan gotta do with it? 

Welp, my friends, being vegan helps not only our bodies and the animals but it also helps the planet. I watched a movie on Netflix a while back called Cowspiracy. Maybe you’ve watched. If you haven’t, please do, it was really good. It gave me the last push I needed to become vegan. But what I like about the film is that it’s not meant for you to become vegan/vegetarian but it’s meant to show the impacts of our agricultural system on our planet and how this one major contributor to climate change is never discussed. The main guy starts the film with trying to find the main contributing factors to climate change and finds that our animals agriculture system is helping to kill us in more ways than just our health. And so to find out more on the subject he  calls on major environmental groups around the world to ask them about the impact of agriculture and no one has a clue or they choose not to answer the question. There was nothing on their websites or social media pages that even hints at the fact the agriculture is the main contributor to climate change, THE main contributor. More so than fracking, car usage etc.

I don’t want to spoil the film if you haven’t seen it but let’s just say that being vegan, or even just lowing your intake of meat, helps sustain our planet.

It’s always about race. Always.

Race always has a role to play in the injustices happening in our community and the environment is no different. The bias that is internalized against people of color allows for injustice to go unchecked but I didn’t understand how race played a role in the environment before and so caring about the environment didn’t really cross my mind. Honestly, I used to see caring about the environment as white people shit. To me, they had nothing else happening to them besides the killing of our planet. I saw too many folks deported, killed, jailed in my community to think about saving the environment. But honestly, just like everything, people of color are hit hardest, even environmental injustice.

 

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Photo taken from ACLU

Flint, Michigan is a current example of this. About 60% of the population of Flint is POC and about 50% are living below the poverty line, according to Census data. So majority poor, POC (mostly black folks) are being hurt by this crisis. So the polluting of a water source has impacted a black, poor community more than any other. Plus, if the only way to get clean water is to buy it, who do you think will ahve unlimited access to clean water? Rich folks. Poor folks will be limited in how much water they can drink, cook with, bath in etc.

But we can bring this closer to my home in the Bay Area: the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA. That plant spews all of its crap into the air and those that live nearest, within 1 mile of the refinery, are 80% people of color, according to an Al-Jazeera American report on the refinery. Also stated in that report, a quarter of the folks that live in that area are living under the poverty line. So again, poor, people of color are being impacted the most by environmental pollution. For this example, it includes, high rate of asthma, cancer and polluting of natural resources. This in the world of organizing is called Environmental Racism because the impacts of the pollution are felt disproportionately by poor people of color. SO, people of color, including myself, should and NEED to care about the environment because just like anything else, we are the community that are most impacted by pollution. 

 

We’re screwed, aren’t we? 

I hope not! Though I’m no environmental scientist. But what I’ve heard is that there is still time to maintain where we’re at. There’s no going back to where we were but we can stop from going forward and that has to be the goal. Though I just read an article about how Stephen Hawking said that the only way to save our species is to start colonizing another planet. I think that’s just running away from the problem we made and start to destroy another planet in our galaxy but that’s neither here or there.

What I do want is to know that I’m contributing as much as I can and even going beyond my own comfortability in making sure that we can save ourselves from ourselves. So luckily, I’ve already gone vegan for the animals, for my health and now for the environment. I’ll also continue to educate myself on other ways to make change, like ride my bike more and walk when I can, recycle and compost, and buy local as much as possible. These are small when looking at the big picture; a tree in a large forest. But isn’t it better to start saving trees, one by one, then to do nothing at all?

How are you contributing already or what are ways that you want to start?