Vegan Tamales Bring It All Together

To celebrate Cesar Chavez Day a couple years ago, I developed a vegan tamale workshop that explores social justice along the food chain. As participants cook together, we discuss the issues faced by various demographics and anchor them in the different components of the tamales, e.g. masa=farmers and relleno=farm workers.

Partnering with the nonprofit 18 Reasons (2017)

Conversations on food justice often focus on one group, like farmworkers and low-income consumers, so this approach allows to build on the pre-existing knowledge of participants and to expand their understanding of our food system. We stress the interconnectedness of the issues facing everyone along the food chain, and by extension, the common solutions and the need for a radical approach in working towards social justice.

All hands on deck (2016)

Participants also get to cook and eat vegan tamales, which seems to be the main draw. Whether they care about animals or their health, veganizing tamales is something that people get excited about. And what we show them is that we are not creating a novel dish but rather a more traditional, pre-Columbian one. As we peel away past European influences, we see how they echo the very changes happening today through forced migration and the corporatization and Americanization of Mexican food systems.

This workshop has been a perfect Cesar Chavez Day celebration, as we wanted to include animals in our consideration of those suffering in our food system. Cesar Chavez was a Mexican-American farm worker and a labor and civil rights organizer. After his death in 1993, he became a major American icon. Cesar Chavez Day became a national holiday (San Francisco has a yearly Cesar Chavez Day parade) and a movie was even made about his life. Sadly and predictably, most accounts fail to mention that he was a vegan and a strong advocate for nonhuman animals. At a farm conference in 1996, United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez said “Cesar took genuine pride in producing numerous converts to vegetarianism over the decades. You’re looking at one of them. He felt so strongly about it that sometimes I think he took as much personal satisfaction from converting people to vegetarianism as he did to trade unionism.”

Co-facilitator Chema Hernández Gil at our first workshop in 2016

It is not always clear from accounts whether Cesar Chavez was vegetarian or fully vegan. Chema Hernández Gil, who teaches the vegan tamale workshop with me, met Cesar Chavez’s niece last year; she confirmed that her uncle was vegan and told Chema that Cesar Chavez was so passionate about animal rights that when people would eat meat in his presence, he would make animal noises to unsettle them.

Learning about food justice as the tamales steam (2017)

The past two years, we partnered with non-vegans in organizing this workshop, and seeing their openness to a vegan message has been heartening. Next month we will present this workshop (slightly modified as it will be a demo) at UCLA. This time, a vegan professor invited us. I don’t know whether many of her colleagues are vegan, but the workshop has elicited wide support. I look forward to learning about the interests of students and faculty and connecting these with Seed the Commons’ perspectives on decolonization, radical food activism and animal liberation.

If you’re in SoCal, don’t miss it! Find out more.

Kneading tamale dough is serious business (2017)
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Car Culture and the Right to the City

A Cyclist Rants 

Yesterday some car was speeding towards the intersection to make a right turn while aiming to come into the right lane, where I was on my bike. Instead of just slowing down and merging behind me like someone who isn’t sociopathically entitled, the driver almost hit me from the left. My only recourse was to glare at him and proceed. At the red light, he rolled down his window and demanded what my problem was. I answered that my problem was that he almost hit me. His answer: “You need to stop smoking and put the bike down.” (huh?)

Riding a bike in SF is incredibly stressful and it’s really when people get in their cars that – sorry to say – they put on display the ignorance and entitlement that make up the American stereotype.

I say ignorance because most drivers here are completely clueless about the rules of the road. They’ll throw tantrums about cyclists running red lights (which I don’t condone) but drivers flout the rules of the road at a much higher frequency, posing a very real danger to people on bikes, pedestrians and people in wheelchairs.

I say entitlement because even if they do know the rules, they don’t care. There is a sense that the road is for drivers, the crosswalks are for drivers, the bike lanes are for drivers to double park in, etc. There’s a tangible attitude of “gimme ALL the space” and when people’s entitlement is challenged, they often become aggressive.

It’s not just biking that’s stressful. I live in a neighborhood with heavy traffic where there is no concept of pedestrian right of way. Getting almost hit at crosswalks, or being forced to walk into traffic because the crosswalk is blocked by cars, is a normal daily occurrence. People in wheelchairs are even more vulnerable to this anti-social prioritization of speed over safety and decency.

The dude yesterday was big, burly, aggressive and straight up intimidating. I’ve had drivers shout out me, honk at me, accelerate within inches of me, just for being on the road. As a pedestrian, I’ve been called a bitch for simply walking on a crosswalk when I had a green light, because it forced a driver to have to slow down. When I was recovering from pneumonia and couldn’t walk fast, trying to cross the street within the allotted number of seconds was a nightmare. I don’t know how people with less mobility deal with it.

Reclaiming the city and reclaiming the streets is not just about land trusts, public parks, urban farms and so on. It’s also about ditching this car culture, funding public transit (I’ve been to plenty of “third world” countries with better transit than SF), funding better infrastructure for people who walk and bike, driver education (SF bike coalition, a large and influential bike advocacy organization, does not prioritize this but I am convinced it is key and can be effective if done properly), and probably, unfortunately, better enforcement. (Of course, a big problem with enforcement is the anti-poor and anti-cyclist bias of SFPD.)

Because at this point it’s pretty damn difficult for people to get from Point A to Point B without spending money or putting themselves at risk. Our daily movement is taxed, mostly to support the fossil fuel industry. We live in a tiny city with great weather, we could make it into a paradise if we prioritized the needs of the many instead of those of the few.

entitled driver
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Farmers’ Love and Soy Myths: More Nonsense to Retire in 2018

No, veganism doesn’t require destroying the Amazon, and no, farmers’ “love” for animals doesn’t justify killing them.

The Guardian published an article titled Cows are loving, intelligent and kind – but we should still eat themIt follows Rosamund Young, a farmer who wrote The Secret Lives of Cows. She bonds with her cows, observes the richness and complexity of their social and inner lives, and even provides this memorable quote “The animals themselves are by far the most qualified individuals to make decisions about their own welfare.” She also brings her cows to the slaughterhouse, despite this being the most extreme and violent opposition possible to the decisions that cows would make for their own welfare.

Allgäu Ruminant Dairy Cattle Cows Cute CowThis trope of the farmer who loves their animals and has a zen-like maturity about death has been fed to us for a loooong time. Already in 2000, I remember meeting a guy who, upon learning I was vegan, told me he had been vegan for a while. He had started to eat meat again when he met a farmer who really, really loved his animals – but would kill and eat them. He figured that if the farmer, who really, really loved his chickens, still ate them, it was a green light for him to also eat animals. We’re supposed to see farmers as the example to follow, since they are actually in close communion with animals whereas us urban folks have led a disconnected life of Disney movies and supermarket food.

It would be just as ludicrous to look to men who beat and rape their wives as experts on the validity of women’s emancipation or on how to treat women. They live with them right? And they love them. So if they think patriarchy and male domination of women is ok, then it is. There is so much to deconstruct here in the concept of “love” when applied by a dominant class, but what I want to comment on is the soy – yet something else that is peddled out like truth again and again.

Rosamund Young justifies killing animals because “Britain’s climate and geography make meat production the only truly sustainable land use on its grasslands. Her slopes are too steep to grow crops and vegan diets dependent on imported soya beans from ex-rainforests don’t appear to be sustainable”.

First, vegan diets do not necessarily depend on soy. I spent most of my years as a vegan living in Switzerland and for the most part I ate very little soy. When I did, it was not imported from monocultures in South America; it was organic soy that was grown in Europe. When small farmers and other anti-vegans of that milieu speak of the evils of soy in the Amazon, they conveniently omit that most of that soy goes to feed cattle. Granted, they are not advocating for European cows to be raised on soy either, but that is the inevitable result of the consumption levels in the West today. Grass-fed “beef” is land-intensive. Its proponents sometimes give lip service to the idea of decreasing meat consumption but never center that message in their work.

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Egyptian breakfast with the fava-based ful medames. Delicious, vegan, and lo and behold! Not a soybean in sight.

Going back to soy, people love to wag the finger at vegans but genetically engineered soy is ubiquitous in processed foods consumed by non-vegans. On the other hand, even in the United States, many of the soy products marketed specifically to vegans are non-GMO. And it’s not like pulses don’t grow in the UK. Before they were snubbed as low-class, beans and peas were staple British foods. They’re still grown – now as feed for cattle and for export. Britain is one of the largest exporters of fava beans and Egypt, of all places, is one of its main markets. It’d be wiser for the British to learn to make the delicious Egyptian ful medames and keep their fava beans at home.

You can run around in circles justifying cruelty, but the litmus test is this: would you be ok with dogs being raised and slaughtered like cows? If not, it befalls you to explain why you draw a line between cows and dogs.

There are plenty of veganic growers in the UK, in fact I’ve been told that one of the reasons veganics are more accepted and developed in the UK than in the US is precisely because of the relative lack of land. I hope to see the Guardian start covering their proposal for a compassionate and sustainable food system.

Visit Veganic World for interviews with veganic farmers.

Read my short Defense of the Humble Bean.

 

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White People in the Caribbean?

When I moved to the US, I was surprised by the common representations of Latinos held by Americans (including by American Latinos). Latinos are often thought of as racially homogenous and Latino is likened to a racial category. Like the United States, Latin America is racially diverse, so this is as ridiculous as thinking that the citizens of the US are racially homogenous.

In Latin America, like in the United States, Indigenous lands and peoples were colonized by Europeans. Like in the United States, Africans were brought as slaves to many regions. Like in the United States, Latin America continued to attract immigrants from different parts of the world after the end of the colonial era. Consequently, there are people who are of Indigenous, Black and European descent, with various combinations of the above depending on the specific history of their region and family. There are also people of Middle Eastern, Asian and other origins. So yes, there are white Latinos. There are even Asian Latinos.

In Mexico, the majority of the population is Mestizo, which refers to someone who is a mix of European and Indigenous. Since many of the Latinos in California are Mexican or Central American, they often are the face of “Latino”, to the extent that white and Black Latinos are sometimes not recognized as such. But even in Mexico, there are white and Afro-Mexican populations.

This conflation of an ethnic category with a racial one largely stems, in my opinion, from US-centrism. Part of this is the sense that diversity is the purview of the US and that all people south of the border are the same. US-centrism also shapes how the categories of “white” and “people of color” are conceptualized and delineated. I plan to devote a post to discussing the US-centrism of American racial categories and when and how it leads to confusion, but in the meantime, I want to leave y’all with this great commentary:

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Feminism and Islamophobia

I started writing about feminism and islamophobia in response to a comment online, then decided to post here instead. The connection with the rest of my posts may seem tenuous, but this blog started on a recent trip and a common thread through all of my travels has been…. drumroll… Islam. Yes, strangely. From my first observations of the double standards to which we submit different countries to the inevitable conversations with tourists and locals alike.

Feminist from a Muslim background here. I am less PC than many Americans and have no interest in cajoling sexists from any culture. Having said that, I get annoyed by the islamophobia in feminist forums and in the conversations of Westerners about sexism, and especially by the pseudo-caring for women’s rights when it serves a racist agenda by men who normally do not give a second thought to the rampant sexism in their own societies.

Rape or any violence and discrimination against women should not be excused, whether committed by Muslims, men of the Global South, men of color, or anyone else, but it is very important to recognize how these issues are selectively used and blown up to support racist narratives.

Muslims are a diverse group of people, with differences based on culture, urbanity/rurality, class, etc. Furthermore, ideas don’t always cluster in the same way throughout all cultures. For example, my dad is very conservative. His parenting allowed no boyfriends, no male friends even, no miniskirts, etc. But precisely because of this mentality, he thought it was extremely important for his daughters to study and be successful in their careers, so that they would not be dependent on any man and thus maintain their dignity. This contrasts sharply from the mentality of Muslims from other cultures who also value modesty, but think that girls shouldn’t go to school or have jobs. When I say that Muslims are a diverse group, I don’t just mean that different people are at different places on a spectrum of conservatism and sexism. I mean that the spectrum itself is not linear and there are not only quantitative but also qualitative differences within it.

I’ve traveled to many countries, and a lot of what’s reported about Muslims also exists in countries that are of other religions. Understanding then why the media selectively focuses on some cultures is very important. (Hint: galvanizing support for imperialistic wars/xenophobic immigration policies)

Furthermore, I do think that while we fight for change and reject the fallacies of cultural relativism, we also should be humble and recognize the complexity and beauty of other people alongside the norms we wish to change. Obsession with one’s pet social justice issue can put blinders on as to who people are, what their world is, and seeing that battle mode is not always the best mode. Cultural obtuseness is not conducive to effective communication.

Around the world, people have grown up with patriarchy as something as normal as the air they breathe. To reject patriarchy therefore entails some privilege. For a man in a village in Peru, for example, to take for granted that there should be a strict division of labor, and that his wife should not travel freely or show interest in sex, does not mean that there aren’t wonderful things about him or that he is inferior to westerners. Western culture has been (and continues to be) sexist, but our privileged conditions, which have come at the expense of other societies, have allowed us to work towards changing social norms. (I dislike using Western culture as an umbrella term when speaking about sexism, since I grew up in an extremely patriarchal Western country and realize how diverse the West is).

Since feminism should be about women first, it may seem a non-priority to afford men open-mindedness and recognition. However, the attitude I’m cautioning against affects women as well. Women do not exist as entities separate from – or merely subjugated by – their families, societies and cultures. When you plop yourself into a woman’s world armed with the assumption that her husband beats her, or that her veil is necessarily synonymous with myriad roadblocks, you risk insulting and alienating her and not only the men in her life. Openness to others’ realities can help prioritize one’s battles and avoid weaponizing feminism to prop up power imbalances, oppression and discrimination. Unapologetic feminism is one thing, hubris and a lack of intercultural interest are quite another.

 

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Pope in San Cristobal

Big day today! The pope is in San Cristobal and will be giving mass here, then in a sports stadium outside the city, and finally in Tuxtla. I’ve been having difficulty using Twitter so here are a few pictures.

For the past couple weeks, people from autonomous communities had been camping out in front of the cathedral to bring attention to their requests.IMG_20160207_164257060_HDRIMG_20160207_164249776_HDRIMG_20160207_164245588

Police in the Zocalo on Saturday, preparing to kick out the remaining campers.IMG_20160212_153242603_HDR

Indigenous women selling their products to the police.

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Prohibited objects at the entrance of San Cristobal. El San Franciscan thinks some lucky selfie stick salesman has an in with the local government.

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A warm welcome by Coca Cola FEMSA. If I weren’t here studying milk I would be studying soda. At the risk of being flippant – genocide is ongoing and it tastes like sugar.

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Get your minion in time for mass!

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I was told that wearing one of these T-shirts would get me into mass for free.

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On milk and food aid

As I sat on a bench to wait for a friend, I struck up a conversation with an indigenous woman holding a baby. She was curious about what I was doing and wanted to know about my study, so I began to speak of my questions regarding food aid. When I got to milk, she confirmed that “people don’t drink milk”. She went on: most people in indigenous communities don’t drink milk, but some who receive government aid may drink what they receive. However, she said that government food aid, or “despensas”, are met with the suspicion that they may be the government’s way to try to make people ill. Given the history and political context of Chiapas, the distrust is understandable.

An idea crossed my mind – was it possible that the distrust is compounded by negative reactions to the foods dispensed? For example, if lactose intolerant folks experience discomfort upon drinking government-issued milk, it might make their hypothesis more convincing.

Unfortunately, my friend arrived and the conversation was cut short. I wasn’t able to probe further but it was clear that according to this woman, despensas are not broadly welcomed, at least not for direct consumption. What many do is sell items on the market, as evidenced in the pictures below. I took these at the San Cristobal market, where stands selling “not for sale” government foods are a common sight.

From what I’ve learned so far, despensas typically contain fortified tuna, instant soups, canned tomato puree, oil, sugar, rice, simple fortified cookies, and fortified milk. I conducted a lengthy interview today with the owner of my hostel and her impression of the general acceptance of despensas was different. On the other hand, she converged on the question of milk in indigenous communities – it is not widely consumed.

I’ll leave you with a compelling picture she painted of the changes underway. I asked her to create an image comparing a typical child’s post-weening diet in 1950 and 2016. Instead, she created two images. In 1950, children in San Cristobal and indigenous communities were drinking atol and pozol; in 2016, children in San Cristobal are drinking milk, and children in communities are drinking soda.

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