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Race, Whiteness, and the Vegan "Exotic": Pleasure for Some, Pain for Others

I gave this presentation at the University of California, Berkeley on April 27, 2011 for the “Race, Space, and Nature” conference.

This presentation is about whiteness, racialized embodied experience, and how ‘exotic’ is experienced within certain psychic and physical spaces as pleasurable for some while painful for others.

I will be using the ethical and health consumption movement of veganism to explore how race, whiteness, and the ‘exotic’ operate. This is a larger part of my dissertation work that looks at how race and whiteness operate, are produced, and reproduced in particular vegan spaces and places in North America.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term vegan or veganism, these philosophies characterize people who do not believe in consuming animal products in their diet and non-dietary practices.

Most popular representations of veganism in the USA are depicted through PeTA campaigns, and the most current literary spaces that represent veganism can be seen in New York Times Bestselling titles, Kind Diet, Veganist (as seen on Oprah), and Skinny Bitch.

If you apply a critical race feminist analysis to these titles, you will quickly see that the authors- all white class privileged able bodied women, born and raised in the USA- write their vegan knowledge from a place that ignores issues of class and race and how this affects food access; also absent is how health and nutrition are more cultural than “natural common sense.”

A fundamental question that I have for my own research is: What is it about racial-class experience in the USA that lead some proponents of veganism to take a “race-neutral” approach to this alternative food philosophy while for others, the issue of race and class is not separate?

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