B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Picture of Codi, Head Chef, stirring a pot with ingredients laid out around.

Decolonizing Veganism With The Seasoned Spoon

Written by
Emi Habel
and
and
April 25, 2022
Decolonizing Veganism With The Seasoned Spoon
Picture of Codi, Head Chef, stirring a pot with ingredients laid out around.

On March 22nd, the Seasoned Spoon announced they would be hosting their final event of the 2021-22 school year: “Decolonizing Veganism”, a cookbook tour and recipe demonstration highlighting the work of Black, Asian, and racialized chefs. The event, hosted on April 4th by Education and Outreach Coordinator, Ev, and Head Chef, Codi, aimed to explore the white-centricity and colonized paradigms within veganism through the question: in what ways can we decentre whiteness in meat-free living? Knowing this question had been brewing and rumbling aimlessly in my head for the past few months, my wonderful editors, Nick and Brazil, suggested I attend the event and write an article about the workshop.

Although I don’t affiliate with the mainstream vegan movement anymore (for reasons I believe will boldly stick out as you read this article), I’ve been trying to live a lifestyle that minimizes human, animal and environmental harm for the past six years. However, as a white person I am part of, and benefit from, the centering of white and European ideals, voices and practices inside the vegan movement. As Lisa Betty, one of the authors whose works Ev referenced, explained in Veganism* is in crisis: “the issues of whiteness within veganism as a social (justice) movement is at its roots, not just its branches…It was not liberatory, intersectional, radical, or decolonial.” While the responsibility to seek education and do the work to be anti-racist must be actively and personally taken, it can’t happen within the individualistic constructs of neocolonialism. That is, it can’t happen without the voices of others and of those who have first-hand experience.

That’s why workshops like the one hosted by the Spoon provide such great opportunities to come together and hear real stories around real food. Especially now during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis (yes, it’s still a crisis), finding ways to safely connect in-person is always a privilege I hold close to my heart. In a similar vein, many of us may not have had the opportunity to visit the Seasoned Spoon (or the Spoon, as many have nicknamed it) yet, with the pandemic as the main culprit. Ev told us about the Spoon’s origin as the Stone Soup Project, which was run by OPIRG in 2002 to challenge the food service monopoly that Aramark had at Trent University–a monopoly that still exists today, with the only difference being that Trent replaced Aramark with Chartwells. Stephanie Spencer, a third-year student at Trent and member of the Sadleir House board, explains this issue further in their article “The Seasoned Spoon: A Food Haven on Campus”, and expresses a frustration and anger shared by many students concerning Trent’s exorbitantly-priced food services. 

To our left, Codi was setting up a table with ingredients for the tofu curry and mustard greens recipe he pulled from Bryant Terry’s cookbook, Afro-Vegan, one of the three recipe books highlighted tonight. Whether sub-textually or explicitly, each of these cookbooks explore the influence of colonization on their respective cultures and traditional foods and how the techniques and ingredients used within their cuisines have had to be adapted throughout history.

(Picture of three cookbooks from left to right: Afro Vegan by Bryant Terry, Indian (-ish) by Priya Krishna, The Plantiful Plate by Christine Wong)

Codi then began discussing  the West’s tendency to appropriate dishes from other cultures, often with very minimal responsibility towards authenticity, like the substitution of key ingredients or techniques without doing the work of understanding the tradition(s) and cultural legacies behind them. In doing so, many Western cooks are (knowingly or not) missing the opportunity to honour the creators of those meals and the communities who have personal and specific relationships with preparing, eating and sharing food. Such ignorance and penchant for whitewashing stems from colonization, with examples ranging from the disruption of Indigenous soil and depletion of Indigenous foods globally, to the avaricious policies and forced labour it implemented within its food system that feeds from the extortion of Black, Indigenous and racialized farmers, producers and communities across nations. As Alicia McLeod mentioned in their op-ed The Erasure of Canada’s Racism in Public School Curricula, “excluding Canada's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade from the educational curriculum has left damaging consequences on the lives of Black youth in Canada” and continues to fuel to white ignorance and racism. It’s only evident, then, that food sectors and food practices within Canadian society would also carry this racism, ignorance and readiness to whitewash.

I found this article by Michael W. Twitty titled “The Unbearable Taste: Early African American Foodways” to be helpful in providing me with more details on the food systems developed by enslaved Africans from coast to coast, and how new “American” ingredients had to be incorporated, or often used as substitutions, within traditional dishes. Changes and alterations, whether as direct products of colonialism or location and seasonal challenges, are bound to be unavoidable. So, Codi spoke to us about the importance of educating ourselves on finding culturally-appropriate, sustainable substitutes. In early Ontarian April, this looked like frozen collard greens and spinach from the freezer (courtesy of Trent Vegetable Gardens’ latest harvest) instead of mustard greens.

Within our discussions was the baseline understanding that “veganism”, as a trend/movement/lifestyle, is another direct product of colonization, with capitalism fueling the cruelty and commodification of non-human beings that vegans strive to fight against. Without colonization, and without capitalism, veganism as a movement to stop animal cruelty would be obsolete. We spoke about how, while the consumption of plant-based foods is universal, the need to make it a dedicated lifestyle derives from the meat, dairy and egg industries and capital greed–not from the consumption of animal products as a natural part of our entire ecosystem. Thinking like this leads many white vegans to create the false dilemma that anything but the empire of colonial capitalism is to blame here. We’ve probably all heard about the “angry vegan” trope, but the “racist vegan” is a far worse reality. All too often, white vegans such as myself mask our racism, ignorance and microaggressions as “activism”, expressing disgust at ethical Indigenous practices around hunting and fishing worldwide. Factory farming under the hand of greed and dominance is a far cry from the sacred practices of Indigenous hunting and fishing that should not be disrupted, under any pretense, by settlers.

(Picture of Ev sitting behind a laptop as they talk to students) 

Ev shared with us some of the works by Dr. Margaret Robinson, a Queer Mi’kmaw scholar and activist from the Lennox Island First Nation. Dr. Robinson speaks at length about the relationship between “Indigeneity and veganism” and the barriers to creating an “Aboriginal veganism”, among their other works on the intersectionality of mental health, race and sexuality. 

White activists have often failed to see how they are perpetuating harmful dynamics and enacting colonialism, both by attempting to control Indigenous people and assuming that veganism and Indigenous worldviews are incompatible…the phrase “all my relations” summarizes a view rooted in Mi’kmaw culture that humans aren’t a separate, special being, or superior to others. We’re part of a network of related creatures. It’s a focus on the communal rather than the individual. To have integrity we need to honor those relationships.
-
Dr. Margaret Robinson

By now, the simmering tofu curry smelled delicious and Codi had disappeared in the kitchen to blend his personal addition to the meal– black sesame seed soy milk. While soy milk has become an established replacement for dairy products in vegan and non-vegan circles alike, Codi reminded us of its long-standing place in Chinese cuisine and shared with us his memories of drinking it as a child and thinking how different it was from the commercial soy milk most are familiar with. This sparked conversations throughout the night about the exotification of cultural foods that fuel “health trends” within veganism, like the sudden over-consumption of açai, avocados and almonds at the detriment of forced human and non-human labour, ecological disruptions and “resource” depletion. 

If you’re more of a visual and auditory learner like me, the docuseries Rotten on Netflix dives deep in the food supply chain to “reveal unsavory truths and expose hidden forces that shape what we eat.'' I recommend episodes Avocado War and Bitter Chocolate

Back at the Spoon, the discussions concluded and all of us were then sent home with a serving of the tofu curry and a cup of black sesame seed milk. Full honesty here: I couldn’t wait to drink mine and sloppily enjoyed it on my way down the stairs to the bus terminal outside Bata, where I might have accidentally spilled some on Winnie’s coat (sorry, girl). We were even given “loot bags” filled with a packet of Haw Flakes, pineapple cake, Oolong tea, housemade Pho spice mix and a soup spoon, all of which (barring the spice mix) were from Minh's Chinese Grocery store on 430 George Street North (accessible via bus lines 11 and 6), a family-owned business where you can find anything from various kinds of dried seafoods and mushrooms to kimchi, snacks, mangoes and ready-to-eat meals. 

(Picture of Pho spices, soup spoon, Haw Flakes and Oolong tea)

To decolonize our knowledge, beliefs, habits and actions towards others is a continual process that involves actively working to decentre whiteness by coming forward with respect and humility to form meaningful, reciprocal relationships with Black, Indigenous and racialized people who have first-hand experience and knowledge. In order to properly showcase cultural foods, the Spoon is launching a new program next year, “Menu Takeovers”. The organization hopes that: “by inviting different student groups into our kitchen, we will get to learn about their culinary heritage while providing customers with a taste of someone else’s home”.

To send us off into further learning, Ev shared with us the sources mentioned during the workshop (and a few extra resources):

Julia Feliz’s interview with The Vegan Rainbow Project and other pertinent works

A. Breeze Harper’s chapter in “Cultivating Food Justice” and other pertinent works 

Lisa Betty’s “Veganism is in crisis” and research in the “Link between veganism and white supremacy

Dr. Margaret Robinson’s aforementioned works, “This Indigenous scholar chose a vegan diet to honour Mi'kmaw teachings” and “Is The Vegan Movement Ready to Reckon with Racism?

On Instagram:

@schoolnightvegan (specifically this post)

@spices.and.spoons (these two posts especially)

@littlericenoodle

@okonomikitchen

@thecanadianafrican (especially her "Appropriation" highlight reel)

@veganzinga

@jensplantbase

B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Written By
Sponsored
B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish

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