When I discovered that there would be a presentation on intersectionality, I was very, very excited. As a bit of background, I am a woman of colour and a vegan. In all honesty, I have experienced that most events that are geared towards discussing veganism do not interest me, as many of them blatantly disregard the importance of intersectionality and are geared towards a mostly white, neoliberal, upper-middle class audience.
Therefore, Harper’s presentation seemed like a very promising opportunity for a fresh, new perspective on veganism that keeps in mind other equally important oppressive systems such as sexism, classism, and racism.
Harper’s presentation discussed her thesis, which was still a work in progress. I personally thought that her introduction to the presentation could have been better rehearsed, but its content was great nonetheless. Harper’s thesis critiques the work of Queen Afua, writer of the book Sacred Woman, which sees veganism as a way to decolonise one’s self and to “heal the black womb.” Queen Afua speaks of a matriarchal society in Southern Egypt, long before colonization and slavery, where women were seen as sacred, and where the most sacred bond was that of a mother and her child.
This society also had a plant-based diet. In contrast, is the European society of the same era: a violent, patriarchal society. Therefore the question is raised: Why do we look towards European, or otherwise, white, Western cultures, in order to heal the black womb? Why do we look towards the violent, patriarchal culture of the colonisers? Harper explained how during slavery, the black womb was seen as a unit of production, much like a factory that is good for nothing more than breeding slaves. The body of the black woman, therefore, is in need of healing from generations of abuse. For this reason, Queen Afua advocates a return to the vegan diet of matriarchal Southern Egypt.
That said, my main issue with Queen Afua, which was a topic touched on (but not thoroughly enough in my opinion) by Harper is how heteronormative and cis-sexist it is, as well as how it assumes that the black woman is naturally partnered with the black man and returns to the concept of a nuclear family which consists of a black woman, a black man, and their children who are seen as the future of a black nation. As Harper is queer and also in an interracial marriage, I expected her to discuss how problematic this view is, and was disappointed that it wasn’t discussed with more depth.
However, I was very happy that Harper discussed in depth the problem with veganism and classism, which also is not discussed enough by Queen Afua. Being vegan, and being able to live on a healthy vegan diet, is a privilege, as most people do not have access to things such as fresh produce, etc. I was especially happy that Harper advocated food justice movements such as the Food Empowerment Project.Part II
Another very, very important point that I really was thankful that Harper discussed was the concept of “cruelty-free” food. Many foods and products seen as “cruelty-free” are derived at the expense of workers in less developed countries who work in slave-like conditions, and therefore to truly produce “cruelty-free” products, one must also look at the source. This is a topic that in my opinion is usually ignored by most vegan speakers, and for this reason I was very happy that she discussed it.
All in all, I really enjoyed Breeze Harper’s presentation and think that it was a very educational and eye-opening experience for all those who attended.
– Naomi Sianturi