One of my passions is organizing vegans of color in the animal rights movement, and incorporating an intersectional analysis of racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/classism/etc. into animal rights activism. It took me a number of years to understand myself as a person of color and to appreciate the importance of solidarity with other people of color. I am light skinned and also grew up in a community with a significant number of Asian-American families. I bought into the model minority myth. I lived primarily with my mom, spoke exclusively English, and to my understanding had a fairly assimilated upbringing. I didn’t understand myself as a racial “minority.”
Now, my mom, my sister Emma (who is also biracial), and I are all vegan and participate in animal rights activism. Over the last couple of years I’ve made a conscious effort to connect with other vegans of color (as well as queer and trans* people of color, but that’s another topic.) Intentionally elevating the voices of vegan POC is critically important. White vegans need to know that we are not going to tolerate racism in the movement, and omnivores from our communities of origin must be reassured that we don’t wish to abandon our cultural and familial traditions in being vegan. I see adapting our cherished traditions as an act of love and faithfulness, not betrayal. POC vegans speaking out helps to break up some of the largely monotonous white vegan noise. I like a vegan cheese pizza as much as the next guy, but vegan doesn’t have to mean colonized, commercially-produced foods. Our hotpot was made with simple, easily accessible, affordable ingredients (including four types of beautiful mushrooms!)
I’ve always thought that in Chinese culture, we have a very no-nonsense relationship with animals. When I was a child, I really liked to eat chicken feet for example. A chicken’s foot looks like nothing else but a foot. I think that there is a certain amount of cowardice in how many white Americans eat animals – heads and all other body parts detached, so that the flesh does not evoke a recently sentient, ambulatory critter. (Exception to this rule – hipster types personally slaughtering animals they raise in order to “get in touch” with their food. Still doesn’t make it better.)
Chinese and other Asian people are often targeted by white vegans (and white omnivores, for that matter) as more barbaric (“a subspecies” as Morrissey would say) for eating certain types of animals (e.g. dogs) that white Europeans/Americans are not accustomed to eating. And yet, the vegan population in China is the biggest in the world (>50 million, which is many times bigger than the vegan population in the U.S.) (Hear activist Wanqing Zhou talk more about vegan activism in China on Our Hen House.) Why is eating a pig, chicken, or cow so different from eating any other type of animal? Those critters are just as cuddly and smart as a dog or horse, but since we don’t keep them as companions it seems crueler. I’d like to see the mainstream animal rights movement addressing issues such as bear bile farming (a horrifically cruel practice, absolutely yes) without awful levels of racial targeting and generalizing.
Chinese hotpot is one of my favorite family traditions. It is a casual, social meal in the way that fondue or shabu-shabu is social, but is a much older tradition dating back hundreds of years. Our family would often eat it during the fall and winter holidays instead of a turkey or roast beef. And it’s a simple meal to prepare because the cooking is done at the table. If you are running chronically late (as I am, whoops) you can enlist your guests to help prepare some of the ingredients. Participation! This strategy also keeps the host from being trapped in the kitchen cooking during dinner parties, which seemed to happen to my mom a lot when I was growing up.
This is a format, not a recipe! This is what we did, but add whatever you fancy. You’ll want to get your ingredients and equipment from the Asian grocery store. We got everything from H Mart, a superstore in Aurora, which has an excellent selection.
-Portable butane stove (can also use for camping; be sure to heat the broth over a stovetop to conserve butane. Open a window for proper ventilation!)
-Small mesh baskets (traditionally one per person but you can share)
-Tiny sauce bowls
-Vegetables for broth base (we used carrots, red peppers, onions, squash)
–Vegetarian bouillon for a souper boost
-Gai lan, or “Chinese broccoli”
-Mushrooms (we used enoki, shimeji, shiitake, and king oyster mushrooms)
**mushrooms are essential. You will find an excellent and cheap variety of mushrooms at the Asian market – stock up!
-Cubed firm tofu (cut to 3/4″ cubes)
-Noodles: bean thread or glass noodles, rice vermicelli noodles, udon noodles
-[vegetarian meat or fish balls – my family would usually pick up some of these but we didn’t and it was still great]
-Finely minced ginger
-Cilantro (Deme’s addition!)
-Fried garlic oil (mince garlic finely and brown in vegetable oil)
-Vegetarian shacha sauce (BBQ sauce)
Dessert was red bean mochi, of course!
Luckily, there are groups and communities available if one wants to start unlearning internalized racism and connect with other vegans of color.
Deconstructing Whiteness is a POC-led but white-inclusive anti-racist discussion group. It is not vegan or animal rights-focused.
Vegans of Color provides a space for ranting, discussing, organizing. White folks are asked to join other groups.
Anti-Racist Vegans (white and POC members included) addresses racism in the animal rights movement and organizes activism that does not target POC.
Animal Liberationists of Color seeks to examine why POC make up only 3% of animal rights activists but 37% of the population. They are closely tied to Direct Action Everywhere.
Our Hen House interviewed Wayne Hsiung, an outspoken Chinese activist and organizer for Direct Action Everywhere. Listen to the interview here or read the transcript here.
Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project – 多多 seeks to build strong relationships between animal-loving communities in the United States and animal advocates in Taiwan and mainland China through the provision of financial and other resources for on the ground projects. These projects include humane outreach and education, spaying and neutering, legislation and rehoming.
Animals Asia I have mixed feelings about, because it is white-led and occasionally problematic, but they do good work.
Individual authors and activists to follow include: A. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project, Kevin Tillman of the vegan hip hop movement, fellow Denverite DJ Cavem, lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project and Vegan Mexican Food, Ayinde Howell of ieatgrass, cookbook author/chef/speaker bryant terry, and chef Miyoko Schinner.
Thanks for reading!