Event Recap of Vegan America: Race, Food, and Politics, 3/27/18
On March 27, a panel of two scholars, an activist-philosopher, and a former NFL linebacker-turned-vegan icon assembled to discuss race, food, and politics from a vegan or plant-based perspective. Marion Nestle (Paulette Goddard Professor and Professor Emerita, Nutrition and Food Studies, NYU), Renan Larue (Assistant Professor of French Literature, UC Santa Barbara), Syl Ko (co-author of APHRO-ISM: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters), and David Carter (Founder, 300 Pound Vegan; Retired NFL Defensive Lineman) engaged with concepts of black veganism, animal rights, and capitalism.
The panel was moderated by Yanoula Athanassakis (Assistant Vice Provost for Academic Affairs; Director, Environmental Humanities Initiative), and after her first question regarding the politics of food, Marion Nestle responded, “Everything about food is political.” Nestle and Larue linked food corporations to lobbying organizations; Carter discussed food deserts as places where there are no grocery stores and while there may be restaurants, those are very unhealthy. Ko and Carter further discussed the subsidization of beef and other animal products through policies like the milk law, which requires that public schools serve cow’s milk to their students. This legislation creates an alternate understanding of what is food and what is not “food proper” as Ko said, which reinforces consumption practices that damage the environment, mistreat non-human animals, and oppress marginalized groups.
Then Ko presented the fact that not all humans have always been considered human, and that the human-animal binary serves as a framework for understanding subjugation of other species as well as our own. Athanassakis asked what the panelists saw as the role of veganism as a disruptive force against existing structures of power. Nestle, Larue, Ko, and Carter discussed systems of control that exist in the food industry, such as racism, sexism, and specisim.
The panelists then took questions from the audience, who turned the conversation to the future of veganism, pondering questions of the role of capitalism as a force in the vegan future. One audience member proposed the idea of multiple vegan Americas coexisting, to which the panelists responded. Ko and Carter discussed the fragmentation within the modern vegan movement as a diversification of reasoning for veganism or a plant-based lifestyle — rationales such as environmental, anti-capitalist, animal rights, and health.
Listen to the full event below, starting from David Carter discussing the environmental impact of Christopher Columbus’ initial voyage to America, in response to the first panel question, What are your thoughts on the relationship between food, animals, and politics?