By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Writer
Black vegans have been in the spotlight a lot lately and local activist Miko Brown said it’s more of a movement than a moment. Brown is Director of Social Justice Initiatives for Farm Sanctuary, America’s premier farm animal sanctuary and advocacy organization.
THE OBSERVER recently caught up with Brown, who has dedicated her life to exploring animal exploitation in relation to social change and food justice and raising awareness for the cause.
Q: When and why did you become vegan?
A: I became a vegan in 2013 after someone I met through AmeriCorps told me about how animals are treated and harmed in our food system. After that conversation, I spent the weekend watching documentaries about the realities of our food system and reading as much as I could. One of the books that particularly stood out to me was a book by Dr. A. Breeze Harper called “Sistah Vegan: Black Women Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society.”
“Sistah Vegan” is a compilation of contributions from black vegans detailing their own journeys and sharing reflections on their experience and understanding of veganism.
At the time, especially, after my experience with AmeriCorps, serving in different communities and gaining deeper insight into the various injustices that exist in our world, I felt a sense of helplessness about how all these issues seemed to be so huge and pervasive. As I read about the experiences of contributors to “Sistah Vegan” and learned more about veganism in general and the issues in our food system, I began to see veganism as something tangible that I could do that was relevant. intersection of many important issues. for me and that I cared about.
I realized I couldn’t wave a magic wand and fix all of this, but here’s something meaningful I can do every day. I felt truly empowered to be able to embody and practice my values of care, justice and compassion, and to do so holistically in a way that reflected an awareness of a deep sense of interconnectedness with all life. I had no idea at the time that it would become so central to my life and work, but I’m really glad it did.
Q: How has the change impacted you?
A: It really helped me to be more deliberate about my body and what I consume and put into it. It has helped me think more critically about the ripple effects of the choices I make when I have the freedom to be more intentional about those choices and to choose in line with my well-being and my values. . It has also helped me to connect and be aware of a larger world that exists outside of human experience that includes plants and animals, and to live in a place of deep reverence and respect for all life. I’ve also been blessed with powerful experiences in bonding and building community with other vegans of color around how we find great ways to honor and perpetuate our cultures and our family traditions through vegan recipes. I have really enjoyed seeing and hearing about the positive health benefits family members have experienced after also incorporating more vegan meals into their diets.
Q: How do you see veganism seen/accepted in the black community?
A: Veganism has long been alive in our communities and is part of African and African Diaspora cultures. There is a 2021 article from Yes! Magazine that talks about the “unsung Caribbean roots of the vegan food movement” and Rastafarian spiritual practices and traditions around “ital” food that incorporate veganism as a way to deepen our spirituality and connection to the earth. There have also been a number of articles in recent years indicating that black people in the United States are more likely to be vegan or vegetarian than people of other races.
Personally, I’ve met a lot of black vegans who are vegan for health or spirituality and have been vegan for a long time. Tracye McQuirter, author of “Ageless Vegan” and “By Any Greens Necessary” and creator of the 10 Million Black Vegan Women initiative, has been a vegan for 35 years and is thriving. There’s Naijha Wright-Brown and Brenda Sanders, lifelong vegans and co-founders of the Vegan SoulFest in Baltimore, which draws thousands of people. Omowale Adewale and the team that organizes Black VegFest in New York attract and develop a beautiful community of black vegans there. We also have black vegan producers Eugene Cooke and JoVonna Johnson-Cooke in Atlanta. Not to mention all the amazing black-owned vegan restaurants across the country. Every time I come home to Texas, I feel like there’s another black-owned vegan restaurant. I also loved seeing that Chef Tamearra Dyson of Souley Vegan was the first vegan chef to win against Bobby Flay on the TV show “Beat Bobby Flay”.
Q: How has your own veganism been viewed/accepted?
A: Within my own family, I was skeptical about being vegan at first, especially since my mother’s family immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago and food is one of the main ways in which we can experience and advance our culture. But once they realized that we could veganize our recipes while sharing and enjoying food as a family, it was really special to see all the amazing vegan dishes we cook together and they cook for me when I come home and visit. I think veganism is also becoming much more mainstream as people see it as a way to improve their health and feel the benefits for themselves and their families.
Among black vegans, we also have scholars such as Aph and Syl Ko, co-authors of “Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters” and Christopher Sebastian McJetters who articulate powerful frameworks theoretical to reflect on veganism, anti-darkness, racial justice, and the possibilities for holistic dismantling of systems of oppression.
Q: Tabitha Brown recently visited Farm Sanctuary. How did this happen and how did she help increase the visibility of black vegans?
A: Tabitha Brown spent Mother’s Day with us this year, choosing to visit Farm Sanctuary in Acton to meet some of the animals, show them some love and learn about their stories. During her visit to the shrine, Tabitha said, “That’s the definition of freedom here: minding your own business, living your life.”
Tabitha has been so incredibly influential when it comes to the visibility of black vegans because Tabitha has been so open about Tabitha’s background and experience in a way that has helped normalize being black and vegan and has helped more people become aware of veganism. Tabitha is also an amazing chef who cooks phenomenal recipes that have helped many people feel more comfortable going vegan, or at least incorporating more vegan meals into their lives. Tabitha Brown co-owns a vegan restaurant in Los Angeles called Kale My Name, is a New York Times #1 bestseller for the book “Feeding the Soul,” which shares Tabitha’s vegan journey, and publishes a vegan cookbook for the first time in the fall which will be called “Cooking by the Spirit”. Tabitha is on a roll and we love to see it. There are so many black vegans opening restaurants, publishing cookbooks, and pioneering the movement. It’s really wonderful to see someone as positive and inspiring as Tabitha among them.
Q: How can individuals “do their part?” »
A: There are many meaningful ways to contribute to a more just, sustainable and compassionate food system. Through community-supported agriculture, or CSA, local farmers offer “shares” to the public. The share translates into a box of fresh produce delivered to you each week during the farming season. It’s a great way to support local farmers and know that your products come from farm workers who are paid and treated fairly.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has a program called Fair Food Program. The Fair Food program is a groundbreaking partnership between farmworkers, farmers and big food brands that leverages the buying power of brands to end decades-old human rights abuses in the fields, from sexual harassment to forced labor. You can help extend the program’s life-changing protections by visiting their website https://fairfoodprogram.org/ and following @fairfoodprogram on social media.
Food Empowerment Project has a chocolate list app that shows which brands of vegan chocolate they recommend and which brands to avoid so your chocolate doesn’t come from child labor or forced labor. Some stores display the Chavez the Rabbit sticker on FEP-approved chocolate. You can also follow the Food Empowerment Project on social media @foodempowermentproject.
It’s important to recognize that our food choices, when we have the freedom to make them, matter. But not everyone has the freedom to make food choices that align with their well-being and values. That’s why it’s critical that we work for system change to promote fair and equitable access to food choices, including vegan food choices. Advocating for policy change at the local, state, and federal levels is another great way to influence change. We have an Action Center on the Farm Sanctuary website farmsanctuary.org where you can sign petitions about our ongoing advocacy campaigns and learn more about relevant legislation.