This is maybe a little outside my usual wheelhouse, but I’m irritated by the lack of response from…anyone about the (not at all shocking) revelation that Thug Kitchen is written by two middle-class, pretty, white people.
I’ve been vegan for a long time (coming up on 7 years, and vegetarian for 11 before that). My foray into veganism coincides, more or less, with my feminist awakening, though I did not draw any parallels for several years. Rather, I was just trying not to
be an asshole contribute to unnecessary suffering. I’d always been an animal lover and had stopped eating animals at age 9 when I realized how absurd it was that we ate cows because we didn’t consider them sufficiently cute but didn’t eat dogs because they met some arbitrary cuteness standard. Eggs followed in my mid-teens, and veganism happened just before I turned 21.
In those early days I had yet to encounter the idea of intersectionality, nor interrogated my own sites of privilege–especially racial privilege. My progressive politics were pretty rudimentary. As I ventured further into both intersectional feminism and veganism I started to see that they weren’t all that compatible in a lot of ways. I don’t want to make this post into veganism and race 101 because there are vegans of colour writing far better than I ever could on the subject. You should go read them.
What I do want to talk about, however, is mainstream, white veganism’s collusion and tacit acceptance of cultural appropriation and the overwhelming whiteness of veganism. The first time I saw something from Thug Kitchen posted on Facebook I knew it was by middle-class white people. Not just, as my friend S., pointed out, because only someone immune to the racial violence out of which “thug” emerges would use it in such a manner. But because the voice feels insincere, like some play-acting (of what the bloggers think Black people sound like, I have to assume). And because the authors were conspicuously absent. And because it has that self-congratulatory, self-perceived edginess of a white girl with a ukulele singing a Dr. Dre song in front of a whole bunch of white people. And because a whole bunch of white people on the internet loved it.
Thinking of mainstream vegan cookbook authors I can only think of three who are not white. One of whom, Bryant Terry, does incredible food justice activism alongside putting out beautiful cookbooks. Yet his name rarely comes up in conversations of veganism and vegan cookbooks. And I’ve certainly never seen anything of his passed around Facebook with the glee that Thug Kitchen, with its faux-edge indicated by “motherfucker” punctuating and accenting such groundbreaking dishes as quinoa with cranberries, garners.
Another issue is the number of books published every year that are basically some version of “White American Lady Cooks ‘Ethnic’ Food” whether themed by country or one whirlwind tour. There can be a fine line, it seems, between appreciation and appropriation, especially where food is concerned. But there are authors whose entire careers seem to be based around presenting the food of cultures they have no attachment to with a vegan spin, with no understanding or reverence for the role of food in culture and identity, the sanctity of recipes passed down generation to generation to generation using traditional foods and methods to feed and nourish families and communities, the sacred nature of commensality, of shared experience and knowledge.
Along with examining the ways in which access to food is gendered and racialized in our culture, we need to look at how the ways we talk about and think about and approach food can be alienating and exploitative by turns. We need to examine the ways we think about people who are not vegan for reasons of access or culture and recognize those as valid reasons while working towards structural changes to mitigate the damage of meat and dairy-heavy diets (for example, abolishing CAFOs while changing lobbying and subsidy laws to make the meat and dairy available to lower-income people and those living in food deserts less disastrous for the planet and the animals). And we need to vote with our dollars and our energy. We need to stop supporting twee white people borrowing a “thug” aesthetic (whatever the fuck that means beyond some racist dogwhistle) and support vegan authors of colour bringing their culture and food heritage to life in vibrant and beautiful ways.
UPDATE: When I wrote this I couldn’t find responses from anyone (aside from one not very in-depth piece on Jezebel) but since then there have been some great responses from POCs that you should read. I should also say that there may have been responses happening on Twitter but I am essentially Twitter illiterate so I may have missed them. If I did, that’s on me and I apologize. Mine shouldn’t be the loudest voice being heard on this topic though I’m glad to see it’s sparking some interesting conversations.