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Sistah Vegan: A bunch of inarticulate black women vegans?

I found this new review of Sistah Vegan quite interesting: URL:

Apparently, the reviewer didn’t like the “unprofessional” writing style of the contributors and feels that it makes sense that the writers aren’t writing professionally because they are only “vegans” and not “professional writers.” And what an interesting conclusion, given that this reviewer has no idea that many of these contributors consider themselves “professional” writers (and well, some don’t) The reviewer writes:

That being said, I found the collection to incredibly uneven. I think to a certain extent all anthologies suffer from this, but it’s heightened here by the fact that none of the contributors are professional writers. They’re vegans in all kinds of work, which is great from a well-rounded background perspective, but not so great from a reading one. While some of the essays inspired me, and even brought me to tears, with their lyrical writing, some of the other ones made me want to break out my red pen and edit like there was no tomorrow. Most fell in the middle of the continuum, but the very middle of the book felt especially weak, and after a couple back-to-back essays I briefly considered giving up. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, since the final few essays were some of the best! Anyway, my point is that this is a book you read for the ideas, not for the writing. Source:

It’s amazing how such a comment is not objective, but actually reflects the “writing education” of a white middle class American who doesn’t realize the there are a plethora of different styles of writing and that just because it doesn’t parallel hers, shouldn’t be dismissed. And notice how she tells her audience that they SHOULD read Food Matters instead of Sistah Vegan if they want to learn more about food issues and conscious eating. Sistah Vegan project is about how race-conscious approach affects eating and relationships to eating (in this case, vegan eating).

I also have explained the Sistah Vegan Project thousands of times now these past 5 years: it’s not about if one SHOULD be a vegan or not. I have explained numerous times that the project is an example of how racialized-gender experience in the USA affects how one understands and comes to their food practice. In the case of Sistah Vegan, I’m looking at how vegan philosophy is affected by the racial-gender experience of Black women in the USA who are ‘race-conscious’ in a way that is absent from popular vegan books such as Kind Diet, Quantum Wellness, and Skinny Bitch, as well as omnivorous books such as Omnivore’s Dilemma and movies like Food Inc.

However, the reviewer’s  reading of Sistah Vegan is reduced to (and this is my interpretation of the covert message of her analysis): a bunch of inarticulate black women who don’t know how to write and need a good editor and that you’re better off reading a “professional” [post-racial and class-neutral] approach to food such as Food Matters. And she is completely dismissive of the spiritual and religious roots that many of these contributors have had for transitioning into veganism; much of these women speak of spiritual roots in a more Afrikan spiritual understanding. But, it’s dismissed as “New Age”– this tells me the reviewer has no understanding of how significant spirituality has been for Black women as a way to find strength in this most difficult situations (including living in an ongoing racist America).

For people who are already contemplating cutting out animal products, especially for African American women who might worry about appearing ‘white,’ I think this is a great book. But it’s a bit too confrontational and extreme to convert the masses. Also, there are a couple essays that are very New Age, which might confirm the stereotypes that non-vegan readers have about ‘those crazy vegan people.’Source:

Sistah Vegan is not perfect and I welcome constructive criticism, but I feel like this reviewer completely missed how her own racial, class, and gender experience informed her perception of who should write about veganism, who is considered “professional”, and what is worth reading for YOU to know about “conscious eating.”

Usually I have sat on the sidelines for the past 5 years, listening to a significant number of mostly white middle class post-racial or race-unconscious vegans misinterpret my work. But today, I do not feel like sitting on the sidelines. This review completely dismisses the intellectual contributions that these 27 black vegan women have made to a very race-neutral and class-neutral white middle class dominated movement in the USA.

And notice how she says that the audience of the book isn’t her (a white woman vegetarian), but for Black women. Well, to clarify, my book is for everyone and not for only Black Americans. She’s implying that her non-black blog readership would not enjoy reading a book about Black female vegan experiences because it’s not their experience? So, just read “Food Matters” because it’s your [race-neutral and class-neutral] experience with food reading and it’s professionally written (without all that Black vernacular).:

So! I’m delighted to have this on my shelves, but it won’t replace Food Matters as my go-to recommend book for non-vegans curious about ethical eating. If you’re already a vegan, or already interested in social justice, you’ll find much to think about in these pages. But otherwise, I’d highly recommend reading Mark Bittman’s book instead. (If I could magically make everyone in the world read one book, Food Matters would be the one.) Source:

And exactly who has the privilege to read about food books like Food Matters if they aren’t really interested in the links social justice has to food? How is it that ethical eating is not connected to social justice anyway? (That’s how I read her take when she suggests reading Food Matters).  The reviewer does not deeply engage with the implications of how racialized consciousness inform these women’s vegan experiences, writing styles, or belief systems around food choices… and neither does she engage with the implications of how her own white racialized experience is the filter through which she analyzes Sistah Vegan.

P.S. No one is calling Eva a racist. I am trying to point out ‘raced-classed’ consciousness. If you say “I am white,” I believe (as a critical race theorist) that you are saying a lot. To become a ‘race’ (white, black, etc) in the USA atleast, means that you have gone through socialization and processes of racial formation that affect your CONSCIOUSNESS. When I say I am a black female, I know that it means I have gone through socialization, racial formation, certain embodied experiences that have brought me to where I am now with my consciousness. I have no issue with admitting up front that my discursive analysis of Eva’s review of Sistah Vegan is directly affected by my black-female working-class consciousness; race is not simply a ‘color’. Race is a psychological process; it is a socio-spatial-epistemic process. When one says they are a white woman, or a Black man and “this is my take on this or that”, that SAYS A LOT. Once again, this critique is not saying anyone is RACIST, but saying how racial formation, socialization in a country (at least the USA) built on racialized hierarchies of power, racialized spaces, etc., will literally create raced-classed-regional relationships with how one views the writing style of a book and what is considered “professional.” That lack of acknowledgment around the concept of “professional”, as well as the socio-historical context of black women being called inarticulate, unprofessional, illiterate, etc is what is under critique. The reviewer seems to be unaware of the social and historical connotation of calling a particular black writing style as unprofessional. My dialogue about this is trying to bring this to light.

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