Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 73.
Alissa Nash and GiGi Carter on Human Rights, and the increasing number of Black Vegans
You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 73. Alissa Nash and GiGi Carter are here to discuss increasing the number of black vegans, the scope of expression of veganism’s compassion, whether and how it should extend to human rights, and contributions ethnic cuisines have made to veganism.
Karina Inkster: Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go to, no BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Given what is going on in the world right now, there is no such thing as business as usual. As a listener, you know that in my business, I focus on veganism, fitness, nutrition and health; all the content I create is in those realms. Oh, and cats too. Actually I do post a lot of cat content! I really feel out of my lane here, but I did feel like as someone with an audience and as an ethical vegan who stands for compassion, I really should share some views that aren't directly related to veganism or fitness, but instead are related to the systemic racism and police brutality being acknowledged, called out, and fought against.
Social media posts, or an email newsletter, or even an opening remark on a podcast episode, they all feel like they're not enough; like they're barely scratching the surface. Which is true, of course, but silence is not an option, and we all need to work to make change happen. Silence is essentially an endorsement of the status quo. Since I'm clearly not staying silent on animal rights, I should apply the same standards to human rights.
I stand for compassion, equality, and bringing to light gross injustices. This goes for both animal rights and human rights. I have a societal advantage based on the color of my skin. I've spent the last few weeks in particular, trying to learn more about white privilege and racism inherent in both the US, which is currently front and center in the news, but also here in Canada. As I hope you've realized too, this learning is going to be a lifelong endeavor. It's honestly one that I'm ashamed I didn't start sooner.
So today we're going to shine a light on one segment of the vegan population, and that is black folks in the US. I'm honored to introduce our guests, Alissa Nash and GiGi Carter. Alissa Nash is a published author and founder of thatiswhatIdo.com, a strategic marketing firm for small business owners. While she started her career as a diversity specialist, this former VP of learning and development has spent nearly 30 years gaining knowledge and insight, into how to influence human behavior. She firmly believes that the change management, knowledge transfer, brand development, and strategic thinking skills of a variety of professionals are crucial to effective assimilation of systemic change initiatives.
GiGi Carter is founder of mytrueself.com, a socially conscious nutrition and wellness practice. She's an author, speaker, and consultant. GiGi is a licensed nutritionist in Washington State and a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. My True Self offers coaching, consulting, and courses related to adopting a whole food, plant based nutrition plan.
By the way, as I like to share about all my guests, Alissa's favorite vegan meal is vegan curry meatballs, and GiGi’s is chana masala. Part of our discussion today is the contribution ethnic cuisines have made to veganism.
Alissa and GiGi say, “by discussing and promoting veganism in the black community, we can help promote this growing trend in the community, explore how diverse people experience being identified as vegan, and ultimately, help more people adopt this healthier lifestyle and reduce chronic health problems. We are trying to turn the tragically disproportionate COVID-19 related mortality rate in our community into a wake-up call, to empower people to regain their physical health and wellbeing.”
One note before we get into the interview: much of what we talk about today is very complex, and we’re also on a time limit for our conversation. There will definitely be parts of the black vegan experience that we don't cover over the next hour. The lens that we adopted for this conversation was focused on individuals, rather than speaking to larger scale systemic disparities and barriers. As Alissa wrote in an email after our discussion, we want to “both acknowledge the systemic and economic reality faced by many, but also, the empowerment that comes from addressing issues that are within people's power to control”.
Alissa, GiGi, and I would like to point out that one thing we didn't get a chance to discuss is the toll that generational, systemic injustice has on people. Deliberately stripped of their culinary cultural heritage for centuries, and forced to survive on the scraps of their captors, black Americans face a unique dietary legacy, and a unique set of challenges. When compounded with and reinforced by disproportionately higher rates of poverty, poor government food policy that promotes disease, and lack of easy access to healthy foods or quality preventative health care, it would be naïve to suggest that there are easy answers to such complex issues. While the focus of our discussion is on the growing number of black vegans adopting a plant based lifestyle, my guests and I fully recognize that in addition to historic and cultural factors that affect eating habits, there are tangible, systemic issues that impact people's dietary options and choices. We didn't have time to get into the details of these in our interview, but I did want to flag this, because I don't want listeners to think that we forgot about these social justice challenges.
Without further ado: Alissa Nash, and GiGi Carter.
Karina Inkster: Hi, GiGi and Alissa. Thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Alissa and GiGi: Thank you for having us!
Karina Inkster: So glad to have you here. We have some really important discussion points today. And so I'd like to just jump right in. But maybe one thing before we get there is a little bit about your background. You are both in the health, nutrition, empowerment and the veganism spheres. I would love to hear where the veganism part factors in. I actually don't know your histories about choosing the plant based lifestyle; I'm getting to know you along with our listeners. Can you give our listeners and I a little bit of a backstory about how you came to discuss veganism in the first place?
GiGi Carter: This is GiGi Carter and I'll kick it off here. My history with veganism actually started back in 2012. In a nutshell, what I tell people is that I went vegetarian for health reasons and then went vegan for animal rights reasons. My story started off with basically five years of elevated cholesterol that I was, denying…I was in a state of denial. I got to a point where I was always tired. I was always fatigued. I had experimented with these master cleanses. You may have heard of it; I think Beyoncé went on it when she did Dream Girls or one of the movies. It's just this concoction of maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne and you just fast.
You're supposed to do it for like 10 days, and I think I lasted five. I would come off of the fast and I would eat just vegetable broth, raw vegetables and fruits before I'd go back to my “ healthy” diet. It wasn't quite as egregious as what some might refer to as the standard American diet, but it was more of a diet that's recommended by health experts: portions of chicken meat, low fat dairy and all of that. My cholesterol was still elevated; my overall wellness and health…I just didn't feel well. I was always tired and fatigued and just really wasn't really myself. I decided that one January, January 2012, after trying all these cleanses (I would go on the cleanse, come off the cleanse, go on the cleanse, come off the cleanse…)
I noticed that I felt my best when I was transitioning off the cleanse, before I started eating what my normal diet was. I said; this is ridiculous… I can't just go on a cleanse all the time. I have to figure out what's wrong. I ended up just making the decision that I'm going to go vegetarian, and that I would do it over the course of about six months. I started off by eating vegetarian twice a week, then three times a week. It took about six months before I kind of claimed myself as vegetarian.
One weekend in July 2020 (I was kind of vegetarian for about a month); I watched two documentaries back to back, and one was Forks Over Knives. The other one was Earthlings. Earthlings affected me so much that I walked into the kitchen and told my husband: “honey, we're going vegan. “ Or I said, I'm going vegan”. He said, “well, I will join you” (I was pleasantly surprised, but not too shocked because he was kind of moving in that direction anyway for health reasons.) So I went vegan. I said, this will be easy: no more cheese, no more eggs. Cause I was already vegetarian, I just kind of removed that from my diet immediately. I just went full board and started cooking whole food plant based meals. I not only reversed my chronic disease of elevated cholesterol, but I also just regained all this energy.
I started losing some unwanted pounds that I'd put on over the years, and eventually started bike racing. I was 42 years old at the time, so I was picking up a bike, racing with people half my age and doing pretty well in it. It just completely transformed everything about me, so much so that I ended up leaving my corporate career after 22 years, and going back to school to earn a Masters in Nutrition Sciences. I also became a Certified Personal Trainer. Now, my focus is on educating and helping other people take control of their health. I've authored a couple of books; one is The Plant-Based Workplace, and another is a children's book called The Spinach In My Teeth. I have a real passion around helping people move towards this plant based lifestyle.
Karina Inkster: That's incredible. Thank you so much for sharing. How about you, Alissa? Do you have an origin story for us?
Alissa Nash: Well, I can't quite claim to be as disciplined. I don't claim to be a vegetarian completely. I do know I haven't eaten beef since the mid nineties, so I don't do the red meat or pork. I do occasionally eat poultry and fish, but my revelation stems from my dad, who had diabetes when turning 60. We could not get him to eat any differently, so he basically just ate himself to death, because he wouldn't stop with the sugar intake. He wouldn't…and he might've said if he had to do that, he would rather die. So that's what he did. My involvement in this article that I wrote was when I was seeing all of the news reports of elevated mortality rates among black Americans. And they just say among black Americans, it's due to chronic health problems that are related to (but not entirely caused by) eating patterns. That is something we have in our power to control.
It just concerned me that they were saying being a black American in and of itself was the problem, and not looking at the behaviors that are behind those numbers. I wanted to try to help put that word out there, because we all look at the same news, the same reports. If you're a little kid and all your hearing is “ well, the blacks are dying”.. Americans are hit hardest with this, and that. It's never about anything that you can change; none of the things that can empower you to live differently. It just makes it sound as if “no matter what I have, this is what's going to happen to me because I'm black”. That was my shift. What we're saying is we have some options. When we went back and we looked at the history of where the diet that a lot African Americans eat; where did that come from? How did we evolve into those lifestyle choices? What was it before the captivity that led to lack of food, lack of choices? What we were eating before slavery; going back to plant based diets. That was what you were eating, and what our bodies evolved to digest. That’s kind of my crusade; that's what I want to put out there.
Karina Inkster: That’s a super important message. I think it transitions really well into what we wanted to talk about, which is actually increasing the number of black vegans, not just in the States, but everywhere. This would apply in a lot of different areas. Maybe we can start Alissa, with you talking a little bit about the work that you two are doing, and the importance of increasing veganism in this population.
Alissa Nash: Some of the barriers for people are culture and perception. They hear “vegan”, and they’re thinking granola.. crunchy…nothing to do with me, that's not my lifestyle. When in fact, black American (maybe blacks everywhere. I don't know, I'm from America) are one of the fastest growing populations that are going forward with veganism. I started eating these foods because I belonged to a consortium that happened to be primarily attended by African Americans. We provided lunch, and some people said they were vegan. So we started working with vegan caterers on the side to accommodate them. As people started to see food, smell the spices and get that aroma; the non-vegans wanted to eat the vegan food, to the point that we actually had to set up rules because they were eating all of the food, and they didn't order the vegan menu.
Just being exposed to it had impact. So: non-vegans are eating vegan, I started eating all the food: Caribbean-based, Africa-based, Indian-based; all the foods they brought in, and they were delicious. The perception didn't fit the reality of what it is like if you do want to go towards the vegan lifestyle (whether you do it completely or maybe just phase it in like GiGi said) and gradually eat more and more vegetables, as opposed to fried foods or meat, or whatever is making you ill. You know, we can change it that way. Also, there are a lot of vegan restaurants out there. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is a fairly big city, and we have all of these new soul food related vegan restaurants. People aren’t necessarily aware of them if they're not already looking at that lifestyle. Promoting those is also something that I would like to do.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. You know, actually this reminds me of a client I have; maybe GiGi can speak to this for a sec. Her name is Ayanna, and she actually sent me a message earlier today. I wrote it down because I wanted to bring it up with you two. Here is what Ayanna says: “ as a black vegetarian of 26 plus years, I would definitely say there's a huge dietary and cultural barrier. I think a lot of my friends are afraid to give up the flavors they grew up with to become plant-based. There's also this insane myth; I can’t explain it, and it pisses me off so don’t even ask; that just eating chicken equals going vegetarian.” If you give everything up but chicken, it's still like the idea that you’re vegetarian. And then she says, “ finally, on that chicken point, the black people I know just cannot give up the chicken. What is with this?” Have you encountered this? How do you converse with people whose main barrier is giving up these foods?
GiGi Carter: First of all, I want to point out a couple of statistics that I came across. The Washington Post had an article (and I’ll get to your question here in a second). The Washington Post mentioned a 2000 research study that found that 3% of American adults identified themselves as vegan. 1% of Hispanic Americans identified themselves as vegan, whereas 8% of African American adults identified themselves as vegan. That really speaks to the growth of veganism.
There was a documentary (which I can send you the link to), that really talked about kind of the history of veganism and the plant based diet in African culture; as well, the article that Alissa wrote, which is very well though out and well written. I think that part of it is a little bit of the social proof phenomenon. You get people like Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z and Beyoncé; artists in the African American entertainment industry, and athletes as well, who are showing others that you can be vegan and be in great shape, be healthy, be vibrant, all of that. I think it’s helping people to become less afraid of not eating meat. I think what's interesting about chicken; there's a little bit of a stereotype around that. I think there's an assumption that all African Americans (or all black people) eat chicken, which is mildly insulting. It's very insulting.
I think it comes down to: why would someone want to go vegan? You have some people who are going vegan for health reasons; they don't want to follow in their parents' footsteps of whatever chronic disease they had. But then you've got other people. I think this is becoming more of a growing population where it's almost like a social justice issue; in that when you see what's happening in not just the United States, but Western countries in general; where there are food deserts, or there's only so many like options of these fast food restaurants that serve these artery clogging blood pressure raising type foods; they see what's going on: these foods are cheaper, they're more accessible. They're more likely to be served in a workplace cafeteria, or a school, or even a hospital cafeteria for that matter.
They’re getting trapped in this cycle; the cycle of sickness and this dependency. I think it's becoming a place where people are just getting pissed off. They don't want to play in that space. They don't want to be a part of that; not to mention they see what's happening with the environment. Now with this pandemic, not only has this pandemic exposed the disproportionate prevalence of people of African descent having higher rates of chronic diseases and thus being more affected by COVID; they're also seeing the injustice around this vicious cycle. So they're wising up to it and they're like: “you know what; I don't necessarily want to be a part of this. I don't want to play in this space anymore. “ I think as you start looking at more and more young people in particular, they're moving away from that and they're moving more towards that plant based lifestyle.
Karina Inkster: This is a super important point. GiGi, you just mentioned COVID and some of the conditions that potentially make it more deadly for people. Can you touch on that a little bit more?
GiGi Carter: What we've been seeing, and we've been looking at it very closely in the United States, is that between 95 and 97% of the hospitalizations that are happening for COVID (people whose illness is so severe they have to be admitted to the hospital), they have comorbidities, which is typically two or more chronic conditions. A lot of times, things like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease kind of go hand in hand, or obesity and Type 2 diabetes go hand in hand. You've got people with these comorbidities, or two or more chronic conditions that are being hospitalized. That’s kind of the first step; then whether they recover after being hospitalized or they don't make it, so they pass away. There are a disproportionate number of African Americans who have died; who have been hospitalized and also died.
Some politicians and others may argue the healthcare system, in that it hasn't served the African American community. They’re right; that is true. There have been several studies and several articles written about how black people are discriminated against in the healthcare setting, but from my lens and where I like to come from, and what I do, I don't even want that person to have to even need healthcare; in the sense that healthcare should be for acute situations. If you're out hiking and you slip on a rock and sprain your ankle, that's what healthcare is for. Healthcare should not be for prolonged sickness. It's sick care because of a lifestyle- related condition. Even though that's true that there's a disproportionate number (and this is where I get really fired up and I'll let her comment too), is that we have to really educate and empower; help people empower themselves, so that they can take control of their health and not have that chronic disease condition. If they do get exposed to COVID, it runs its course just like any other normally healthy person would, if it happened to them.
That’s what I would like to see. Obviously it would be great if there was no such thing as COVID, but you know, that's maybe another discussion for a different podcast.
Karina Inkster: Fair enough.
Alissa Nash: Consider what’s going on with COVID; there's also the fact that you're living with this chronic diseases. You’re living with a lack of stamina and headaches, obesity, and you’re tired. You're not enjoying the time that you have on this world. Why do you want to live like that? I do have an issue: your only solution to me is that I need to work at your system, that wasn't set up to benefit me; rather than talk about things that I can do in my own life to help my own health, so that I don't even need to be on all that medication and stuck in a system that doesn't serve me. I'm not saying don't do systemic changes. Of course, we all deserve to have equal rights; but at the same time as a person, you get to decide how much of your existence do you want my hands of a system that's not serving you. You could do things on your own, which will make you feel healthier anyway.
Karina Inkster: Wow. That is super powerful. So is this the kind of work that you are doing with people, the kind of empowerment side for individuals to take responsibility for their own health?
Alissa Nash: Gigi works exclusively with health, wellness and food; that's her specialty. I am trying to be more of a generalist. I'm working with people who are trying to push the educational divide, and make sure that there's tutoring available for people; making sure people understand the financial services. I mean, there are reasons you don't get a loan. If you don't understand the system, then you don't know how to work it. That is that you can take control of and improve on your own. I've talked to some people about the mortality rate in maternity; childbearing, that entire process. I'm working with the doula, and it's all about understanding how that process works and what steps you can take outside of traditional medicine, to make the experience better for you. That's kind of my focus. It's all about empowering us to take back our own health, lives, and financial freedom.
Karina Inkster: Amazing. And then GiGi, you're working hands-on with the health piece.
GiGi Carter: I work directly with individuals one-on-one, but I also do work with organizations. It'll be more in a group type setting, whether it's a nonprofit, a school or a business or company. That education is typically for kind of a larger audience versus the one-on-one coaching that I do. I just believe that my philosophy when I'm working with someone is that I want them to walk away with the knowledge, the know-how, and also the enthusiasm. That is my goal in moving towards this lifestyle and really reaping the full benefits of it, because it's so transformational. The stories that I profile on my blog and then the testimonials from some of my clients and people that I know who've made this change; it has benefits beyond just your health (as I’m sure you know Karina). You feel the health benefits in terms of more energy, weight loss, reversal of chronic disease; but then there's this other kind of more spiritual benefit that I think a lot of people experience. They surprised that it's happened, where they just feel more connected to their values and to other inhabitants on the planet. And so it's all goodness, you know, and I want to help people move down that path.
Karina Inkster: That's absolutely right. I've noticed that, what you're saying about expanding your spirituality, or whatever words you want to use around compassion. Someone might start being plant-based purely for environmental reasons or health reasons, but then it expands from there and they start saying, “Oh, well actually now my brain kind of operates differently….I'm thinking differently.” Causes or concepts are now being thought about and they weren't before. I think that's a really important point.
I would love to get your take on this whole compassion sphere. A lot of people throw around terms like “intersectional veganism”, which I actually think is super important, but then there's another camp that is not into this concept. I have some vegans in my sphere who think that being an intersectional vegan means you're putting humans first, and you're somehow taking away from animal rights.
I actually found a really interesting definition of intersectional veganism on veganvoicesofcolor.org. I found this website a while ago, but when I looked it up this morning before our discussion, it wasn't there anymore. I don't know if it's just a link that's not working or if the website isn't around, but Vegan Voices of Color was around at one point…so just indulge me for one second here. Their definition of intersectional veganism is: “intersectional veganism means that we do not just seek to end animal agriculture as it takes the lives of billions of animals every year. It means that we also seek to advocate for farm workers that grow our plant based foods in conditions that are horrendous, and anything but cruelty free. It means that environmental and food injustice related to animal agriculture is accounted for, and actively sought to be dismantled. The claim that intersectionality creates divisions in veganism speaks to the larger issue of white veganism; either completely not caring about human issues or taking the ‘colorblind approach’, oppression cannot be subverted through oppression. When this form of activism is employed, it smothers the growth of any movement. The ethical sincerity is questionable of anyone who chooses to only recognize one thread in the entanglement of oppression.”
I found that a really powerful definition. I'm thinking now of current events, like the murder of George Floyd, for example. How do you to see veganism’s scope of compassion extend to things like what are happening right now in the States? I mean, should it extend to human rights? And if so, how?
GiGi Carter: I absolutely think it should. I think anyone that goes vegan and feels that spiritual connectedness can't do anything but extend it to human rights, because that inner connection that you feel for animals has to extend to other humans. With the things that are going on in the US; the systemic racism and oppression, that's been happening for hundreds of years. You see it. You can Google Fannie Lou Hamer to watch a video of what she went through, just to register to vote. You can look up all these historical figures; Martin Luther King, the people that he worked with…. a lot of people died. A lot of people suffered just for some basic rights.
Just because it's not as overt as it was back in the sixties doesn't mean that it doesn't exist today. And like I said earlier, we have studies that have been published within the last few years that show disparities among black people in the US. I've seen some chatter on social media about it: it shouldn't extend to human rights; you're diluting the message of animal rights, etc. I think it's very narrow- minded. When I was watching (I'm going to digress here to make a point) Earthlings back in 2012, for the first time, there was a scene of a cow getting ready to be slaughtered. They zoomed in on his eyes.
That’s when I think the connection was made for me, because when I saw the cow's eyes, the fear in his face, I saw my dog Malcolm. That’s when I said: “ oh my God; there's no difference.” That's when the light bulb went off: there's no difference. That cow wants to live their life; procreate, take care of their young. They want to live the way we want to live. We’re taking their life because we like the taste of meat. It could be a chicken, it could be a pig, it could be any kind of animal, and so that’s when the connection made was made. Why can't that same connection be applied when you're looking at George Floyd, with a white cop’s knee on his neck, die right in front of our face? Why can't you have that same feeling of anger of hurt, of sorrow, all of that? Why can't you have those emotions? I would go so far, and I know this is the No Bullshit podcast, as to say, if someone claims they're vegan, and can't extend that same love and compassion to other humans, they're not really vegan.
Karina Inkster: I agree. I'm totally in support of that concept. I mean, don't you think that it's one of those things where just because we're focusing for a second on human rights, it doesn't mean that we're forgetting or invalidating the suffering of animals. What if vegans all fought not just for animal rights, but also for the rights of marginalized humans? Aren’t we actually furthering the vegan cause by doing that, by creating more safe spaces for humans to potentially be open to our message?
Alissa Nash: That's kind of what I was thinking when I was writing it. Again; I am not vegan, but I do know people who are, and I've heard them say, like, for instance, a woman in my book club. She was really upset because she went to a store, a restaurant, and she was asking if they had something gluten free, or whatever it is she was wanting. The proprietor was very dismissive. He stated, “we don't entertain that nonsense here”. She’s always saying that when she tries to eat out, she has such a hard time finding the foods that she wants here. To me, that sounds like a marginalized identity. I would think that if you're a vegan, especially in certain parts of the country, you probably experienced (I mean it's not a knee to your neck, they didn't kill you), but you do experience discriminatory behavior based on what people perceive about you, based on what you choose to eat, that's still marginalization. I mean, don't do it just because you want to help me; do it because you want to help all of us. Nobody should have to feel othered because of how they look, or how they live their lives, or any reason if you're not hurting anyone else.
GiGi Carter: Karina, I would say too, that you're right. I think the vegan agenda can be expanded when we create that bridge to human right. You have a large population that understands, and agrees and believes in human rights and fights for it, but they haven't quite made that same connection to animals. And what better way to create that bridge, then through human rights to help them say: “you know, your capacity to love others can not just extend to humans, which is extremely important and necessary, but it could also expand to include other sentient beings. “ You can have that dialogue better. You can better have that conversation with someone when you have that bridge, and that common thread of human right. That was really for me, what did it, because when I saw the cow and I thought about Malcolm, my oldest dog, and I saw his face… I love (Malcolm has since unfortunately passed away), but I loved that dog like he was my son.
I know a lot of people who have pets who have that same kind of love for their pets. When you know that you've got more love in your heart to extend to other beings, you see that and you feel it in your core; that's when I feel like that's where that value connection aligned for me, and that spiritual awakening happened. If you've got that bridge with someone who has that same passion towards human rights, and they could expand that love to other beings, what a wonderful world this would be. I think that's a commercial or a song.
Karina Inkster: That's an excellent point. Racism right now has been put on the table—as it should be. I mean, really it's about time. But there's also sexism, homophobia, a whole bunch of other human focused oppression tactics. I think the point we are all making here to our listeners is; if you're focusing on one or all of these aspects, you're not invalidating the suffering of animals. Just because you're trying to eliminate human oppression doesn't mean that we're just automatically giving up on eliminating animal oppression. GiGi, what you said about bridging this gap, if that's what you want to call it. I think that's a very important point.
So, what does this look like in practice? In theory, this all sounds like waving a magic wand. Of course all vegans would be acknowledging racism and other types of human oppression, but what does that look like in practice? Do you have any hands-on kind of ideas or constructs about what this might look like in our daily lives?
GiGi Carter: I think this is where (this applies to vegans as well as non vegans), it is this idea of exposure. If you grew up in an all-white neighborhood, went to an all-white school, went to an all-white church, and you just don't have the experience or exposure to black people or people of color; or you've had limited exposure, I think it should start with reaching outside of what you would normally surround yourself with, and immerse yourself in that other race or culture to experience it. I think part of that, I know for vegans in particular, is to maybe even consider reaching out to ethnic cuisines and restaurants, which have made significant contributions to veganism. Alissa, you could talk more about specific restaurants. The restaurant scene in Charlotte is very rich in terms of black vegan restaurants, but pretty much any black vegan business, black vegan films and documentaries, books are all very relevant to immersing yourself into that culture, to really try and understand it better.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely.
Alissa Nash: I was going to say something similar. It's really, like she said, just about exposure and getting to know people from different backgrounds. I was at a March yesterday, and it was pretty equally split between the races; everybody was just talking. Just like people, you know? Sharing ideas, sharing thoughts, and that I think, is how you get to know people enough that you can just have an impact just by being. You’re not going out of your way to swoop in and save anyone, but just by understanding what the world might look like from someone else's eyes, and just being an ally, just being a friend, be a person. If you hear somebody saying something that you don't agree with, you can correct them. If you just don't respond, don't laugh at the joke or disapprove of the comment, they start to go away because now it's not cool. They're not getting the reaction that they expected, and we can all do that.
Karina Inkster: I would like to consider myself an ally. I also realized that I have a lot of education left and I'm trying to do my best. What you just said about reacting or responding in certain ways and calling people out, I think that's super important. Do you have any other tips for allies like myself?
Alissa Nash: I think it's important to remember that you have to approach people as people and individuals in order to get…in order to communicate what the group is experiencing. Generalization is going to happen. We're going to say: “this is what the black community is experiencing…”, as if we are all part of a piece. It's not a monolithic thing anymore than it is for the white community. You still have to get to know person as a person, but if I'm working next to you, I have the same job you have, why would you assume that's necessarily my life? Try to see people as people. Don't assume that you know what a person thinks, or what they want, based on your perception of their group identity. If you're approaching them on a personal level, keep it personal. I hope that makes sense. That’s my piece.
GiGi Carter: I think, too that it helps to really try to imagine why things are the way they are. Things are the way they are because they got that way, right? Understanding more about the history I think is really important. I know in the United States, it started off with years of slavery. When you think about what that means, and then how that transitioned to the civil rights movement, to where we are today. When we talk about ‘black lives matter’ and then people say ‘ all lives matter’, it’s really unfortunate that it minimizes and dismisses what's happened. I think the history is really important to really understand it, and to really try to imagine yourself in it. I think people who go vegan for animal reasons, or at least have tapped into the animal rights part of it (whether they like you said earlier went vegan for environmental or health reasons but they have tapped into the animal rights rationale for being vegan); I think you’ll get this, because you have put yourself into the animal's shoes. You've imagined yourself in a gestation crate, what a pig goes through, laying there in a gestation crate, not being able to move. You've imagined yourself in that situation. You've imagined yourself being hung up by your feet, and your throat slit on a chicken line. You've imagined that. You already know that. Do the same thing here. Go back; there are several documentaries, several movies, several video, free videos on YouTube, Amazon Prime videos, Netflix, all of that. Immerse yourself into what that experience was like. Then, approach it from that angle. What can I do? What can I do to make a difference as a white ally? You’ll figure it out; you'll get it.
Like what Alissa said, it's about speaking out and just saying, “ that’s not funny,” with an insulting joke. It might be something subtle that you witnessed at a store; why are you following him around, but you're not following me around? Why do you think he's going to steal, but you don't think I'm going to steal? It’s those kind of subtle interactions that happen; these micro inequities that happen to black people, day in and day out. I think really just understanding the history, putting yourself in the shoes of what black people have gone through, and really imagining yourself; and then looking for those micro inequities that happen day to day, and speaking out against them.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. That’s amazing. I think your point about vegans who have tapped into the ethical piece of why we are doing what we're doing; we might already have started this on some level, or we might have experience with this, in putting ourselves in another's shoes, and just relating to pain and suffering and oppression. I think that's a really interesting point. Also, your point around the all lives matter. I don't even want to say it; it's so bad, but I feel like it's just a misunderstanding in a lot of cases. ‘ Black lives matter’ is not saying that other lives don't. It's kind of like the intersectional veganism concept, isn’t it? There's a little bit of a parallel there, in the people who are not into intersectional veganism, or somehow thinking, “ well, if you're now talking about human rights, somehow you're saying animal rights are out the window now”. It’s not exclusive. It's not mutually exclusive. I think there's some parallel there, perhaps. I don't know. What do you think?
GiGi Carter: I love the analogy someone used about one person's house is on fire. You call the fire department and the fire department comes out. You want them to throw water on your house, but your house is not on fire.
Karina Inkster: Oh, that is a great analogy.
GiGi Carter: It’s the same thing…..
Alissa Nash: I think they put out ‘all lives matter’ to purposely dilute the message. The people who started that know what they're doing; they just want to deter the conversation, and they don't want to have that conversation. For the people who are coming out…I was reading somewhere the argument was that the police kill already white people, so black people just got something good. If you feel that way, then you should be marching with us. The police aren't supposed to be killing on our people. It’s not okay. When we militarize our police department, they may come after people they feel comfortable brutalizing now, but we don't know what the future holds. You are arming them, to be able to come after you as well. Having a fair police force benefits everybody in the country. We’re not saying ‘ don’t kill us, kill you’. I don’t understand how people will have a problem with that.
Karina Inkster: Honestly, even if it didn't affect us, it's still just ridiculous that not everybody is getting involved here. Actually GiGi, when you were talking previously about one of our points, you mentioned (just in general) contributions of ethnic cuisine. So just kind of pivoting a little bit, and I'm assuming these include African, but also Caribbean and Indian and Mediterranean and things. I'm interested in hearing your take on how these different ethnic cuisines have actually contributed to veganism as a movement.
GiGi Carter: I mean, when you look at a lot of the dishes that are a part of the countries, whether it's Ethiopia… one of my first experiences with a vegan restaurant was an actually an Ethiopian restaurant. The Ethiopian cuisine and the food, the berbere spices. I mean, just unbelievable.
Karina Inkster: You're making me hungry. It's one of my favorite cuisines. It's so good.
GiGi Carter: Caribbean cuisine, too. It's one of those things where we have to acknowledge that a lot of us that have traveled to places that don't necessarily have “vegan restaurants”. I mean, I went vegan in Mississippi. I was living in Mississippi for eight years of my life. During that time, I was a vegan for more than half of it. I would travel for work, and I would go to small rural towns or sometimes college towns. I would find ethnic restaurants that I would go to, and just be blown away by the food. It was vegan; it was plant based vegan. So for these restaurants, I think we really need to acknowledge and appreciate and give them our patronage. Let’s spend our money there, you know? It’s great that Burger King has the Impossible Burger, you know, whatever. Let’s go to these restaurants that have whole foods, plant foods, vegan foods, with these amazing, amazing flavors,
Alissa Nash: ….especially coming out of the quarantine. So many small restaurants are really going to struggle to reopen. So if anyone's listening and thinking, “well, I want to try this”; maybe try it from one of them, and help them stay afloat a little longer.
Karina Inkster: That's a great point. Would you say that a lot of these cuisines actually kind of have veganism in some form built into them?
Alissa Nash: The ones that I'm thinking of, yes: they are completely vegan. I mean, that was the whole point of opening. One woman, I love her food. She was a chef in St. Louis. Now she's moved to Charlotte, and she wanted to retire, but she started making stuff at the Farmer's Market (cakes and stews and that), and she got so much demand for her food, that she broke down and just opened the restaurant. She’s tired! She came out here to rest, but people love the food so much. It was a thing that you had to get to the Farmer's Market early and stop by her booth, or she would sell out.
Karina Inkster: That's impressive.
Alissa Nash: Yeah. It's so delicious. It really is.
Karina Inkster: That's fantastic. Well, I'm going to leave it here. I feel like we could do a whole series on veganism and ethnic cuisines and all of the issues right now that are going on, especially in the States. I kind of feel like I'm over here in Canada watching things, thinking “ Oh my God, what can I do?” I feel so helpless a lot of the times, you know? I think a lot of what we talked about, even in the vegan sphere and educating ourselves, being allies, these are all extremely important points. We’re going to have show notes for this episode where our listeners can go. Alissa, I'm going to link to your fantastic article. I'm going to have lots of resources and of course, links to connect with you two. Maybe you can give us the best URL, or the best place to get in touch with each of you, for our listeners.
GiGi Carter: My website is mytrueself.com
Alissa Nash: My website is thatiswhatIdo.com.
Karina Inkster: Perfect. We’ll have those in our show notes and our listeners can connect with you there. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. Thank you so much for taking the time. I really love that we got to have a discussion and that you came on the show.
Alissa Nash: Thanks for having us, Karina.
Karina Inkster: GiGi and Alissa, thanks again for joining me today. We have some amazing resources available for our listeners at our show notes, where you can also connect with Alissa and GiGi: nobullshitvegan.com/073. We're linking to Alissa's excellent article: ‘ Rations No More: Reclaiming Our Health after COVID-19’, as well as videos, articles, and film suggested by our guests, on the growth of veganism in the black population; also on systemic racism and the history of black Americans. Again, that's all available at nobullshitvegan.com/073. Thank you for being part of our audience. Thank you for continuing to fight for animal and human rights. And please share this episode with your networks.