Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 146
Isaias Hernandez of Queer Brown Vegan on environmental vegan activism, education, and more
Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan Podcast, episode 146. Environmental educator and content creator of Queer Brown Vegan, Isaias Hernandez, is on the show to discuss intersectionality, veganism and food insecurity, BIPOC voices in veganism, decentering whiteness in environmentalism and veganism, diversity and inclusion, and more.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to, no-BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Thanks so much for joining me today. My coaching team and I currently have a few spots available if you're looking to get consistent with your fitness and your nutrition. We are inclusive, anti-diet coaches who provide next-level accountability to stick to your health habits, and you'll improve those health habits way faster than if you used YouTube videos or an app or an accountability pact with your cat. So, head over to karinainkster.com/coaching to check out our programs and to apply for a coaching spot.
Today's guest is Isaias Hernandez. He's an environmental educator and content creator of Queer Brown Vegan, where he educates people on the intersecting climate crisis through a justice-oriented lens. As a Gen Z environmental vegan activist, he believes that the educational crisis is deeply intertwined with the climate crisis. His favourite vegan meal is vegan chilli relleno, which is a traditional Mexican dish of stuffed chili peppers. Here's our discussion.
Hey Isaias, thanks for joining me on the show today.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Karina Inkster: I would love to start with your vegan backstory. I feel like there's a lot of backstory we could go into here, but let's do the vegan one first. So, what's the vegan origin story for you? How did you come to veganism? And how long has it been?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, absolutely. So, I would start from the very earliest days in middle school. My sister was a vegetarian. She was in high school at the time, and she would order those PETA stickers, and I was so obsessed with them and I would always order them for free because you love free stuff as a young child. And I think I started to ask questions about like, "Oh, my God. This is a chicken. What are we doing with it?" And so, I think it wasn't until college when I further developed my knowledge base on non-human animals that I started to ask more questions about what we're consuming. And I took this very direct food system and agriculture course, and in a video it talked about the "organic meat." And I was so horrified that the meat itself that was being labeled as organic was still slaughtering and killing the animal.
And so, I think that was pretty much it for me. I said I love the environment. I want to protect the people that are working in these farms, but I also want to make sure that the animals stop being killed, and that the only way for me to actually understand it was to go vegan. And so, I think, for me, veganism really provided this very compassionate lens of it's not about me being more ethically superior than someone, it's just about recognizing that non-human animals deserve to coexist with humans in this society. And that's what really pushed me to go vegan. I actually started off with reducing things, and then slowly transitioned to veganism. And I remember when I graduated college on graduation day, I told my friends I was going to go vegan, and they all laughed at me. And they said that they couldn't see me being vegan. And now, it's been almost six years that I've been vegan.
Karina Inkster: That's amazing.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: So, there was somewhat of a transition from first hearing about what actually happens in our food system and where these products come from to then making that commitment that's now lifelong, basically.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, absolutely.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, I can relate to that, too. It took me a while to figure out that the meat and the dairy and the egg industries are all the same.
Isaias Hernandez: Yes.
Karina Inkster: Very cool. Well, can you tell me a little bit about the work you do? So, I was creeping your website and amazing social presence, but can you tell me and my listeners a little bit about what you do? Your environmental work, your vegan activism, the whole deal.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, absolutely. So, my work is actually under the moniker Queer Brown Vegan. And my mission is to inspire and educate people with climate science and to make it very accessible.
On top of the discussions around climate literacy, and to make it more appealable and accessible, is a component of adding my own experiences as a POC environmentalist, but also as a vegan of colour. And I've often realized that being able to be queer, brown, and vegan is actually really a huge blessing because you don't really meet that many queer brown vegans out there. And that's what really allowed me to build this knowledge base and open a base system where people can come in and learn through my page. And I really believe that, in being able to communicate climate literacy and making this accessible, it needs to be interconnected. So, when you're talking to someone about industrial agriculture, how do you draw this back into veganism?
Because I think, collectively, human society can say, "Oh, yes. That amount of animals that are being slaughtered is bad, and that shouldn't happen." So, how do we get those discussions to the other side around veganism? And so, I think that, from my own experience, coming from someone that grew up in poverty and having to really struggle and understand these resources, I wanted to provide a bridge for people to actually ask questions without being judged.
Because we all know that, even before I went vegan, I had "questions" that maybe seem pretty obvious, but they weren't obvious because I was never given the education and the resources to learn. And so, my platform today focuses on collaborating with both businesses, institutions, and nonprofits, to advance the discourse around these climate-related topics and to bring veganism more into climate and sustainability spaces.
Karina Inkster: That's amazing. I think it's really important that you're focusing on the interconnectedness of all these different pieces. And there's so many. I mean, we could go down a major rabbit hole on just how all these things are connected.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: But that's amazing. Thanks for the info and for sharing. You mentioned growing up in poverty. Your parents moved or they came to LA from Mexico, right?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. So, my parents immigrated from Mexico back in the 1980s, and one of the earliest things that I remember is you don't recognize that you're poor or in poverty until someone points it out. And it was so funny to say this. I remember, and I'll say this relates back to food, is that I remember growing up and going to grocery stores, and they had discounted aisles in certain grocery stores. And these discounted aisles were often products that were near expiration date or they didn't sell, so they were marked into cheaper prices.
And I remember going as a young child to these corner aisles because I said, "Oh, this is what makes my parents happy, and it's cheaper for us." And I remember these kids were making fun of me for buying that food. They were saying, "Oh, he's poor. He doesn't have any money to buy real food." And that to me, obviously, as a young child, you don't recognize that one, it's bullying, but two, you don't recognize that food is food. It should be eaten regardless its expiration date.
We have food waste. It's such a huge issue. But I didn't know how bad it was until I started to realize, "Wow, I'm glad that I have all this access to food banks, churches." But then, you realize that the services that you are given is almost seen as, “Well, you should be thankful." Or people outside of you discriminate saying, "Oh, well, that's so sad that you don't have money to buy any food." And it really did hurt me. It made me feel like, "Well, am I less than? Or is it the fact that my parents didn't work hard in life that we live in this situation?"
But the truth is that it was very deeply systemic, and I didn't have the right words and language to describe it. And I think that's what really got me curious is that asking questions in the classroom led me to become an environmentalist and study environmental science and eventually go vegan and to really draw the links between veganism, food security, food justice, and community.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, absolutely. What are some of the links that you think of between veganism and food security?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, absolutely. So, one thing to realize is that, growing up, I remember asking this question when I was very young. When you go to food pantries and food shelters, the majority of the products that they give is dairy and meat. And then, you have, of course, highly processed foods. And I started to question why is it the fact that they barely have any fresh fruits and vegetables? You start to realize, when I was in college, that meat and dairy gets huge subsidies, meaning they get so much money, which is why our school cafeteria meals are very cheap. They subsidize it, the government.
They also subsidize these programs. And so, for the dairy and meat industry, it's like, "Well, we don't care about making less than $2 because we're still making a profit giving it away to poor people, and the government's paying for it, not us. So, we're ahead of the game."
And so, I think the links between veganism and food security is the fact that a lot of low-income communities that don't have access to clean air, to clean soil, to clean water are often communities that have high level rates of diabetes, health-related issues, but also lack of access to fresh and healthy foods. So, what veganism is basically saying is that, while we're also fighting for non-human animal liberation, we're also achieving and intending to give nutritious plant-based foods to low-income communities that have been often disadvantaged from the systems.
And I think veganism, to me, allows us to open this conversation around local systems that can provide us natural services, such as foraging, gardening, and micro-greens. These are all ways in which a lot of low-income communities have relied on getting a lot of their fresh fruits and vegetables. And I think veganism plays a huge role in saying that these products are not really good for us, the dairy and meat. They're actually destroying our communities, so let's actually take that power back and reinvest it into the land.
Karina Inkster: That's a really good point. It makes me think of an article I just finished writing right before we got on Zoom, basically. I sent it off to the newspaper editor and it's about going vegan or plant-based, which is the cool term apparently, even though I like using vegan for various reasons. Anyways, it's about going vegan specifically for climate and environmental reasons. And there's a bunch of research in there about what animal agriculture does to our environment-
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: ... and all this stuff, right? And then, how going vegan actually, as a bonus, it'll be great for your health and all this kind of stuff. But I did feel it necessary to put in a little bit about I'm speaking to readers who have the means right now to make decisions about their own nutrition, and I need to realize that not everyone is in that place, right? And food insecurity should be included in discussions about what's on our plates.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: But I mean even I glossed over it. I included this little paragraph, and then I just went on to talk about like, "Well, here's how you can go vegan."
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: So, it's an important piece, I think.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, and I think you were mentioning the idea of how do we address food insecurity and veganism at the same time because it is a very contentious topic. And I think we both can agree that we would not tell someone who is 12, 13, 14, or 15 to go vegan that lives in a household where their parents control their financial liberation. And for some of that, and I think what we need to understand, not we, but people in general, is that challenging your parents about diets and cultural settings, or whatever you may call it, can lead to violence or can lead to just very harsh environments. And so, when you're asking a kid to go vegan, that is a very complex issue versus an adult where we can say that my friends that don't struggle with getting access to plant-based foods, I said, "You can do that."
That is not divisive. That is not controversial. You have the money. They make six-figure salaries. They're able to do that. But I think that's where we get this fine line of how do we validate that there are poor people who can go vegan and then there are people who are poor who can't go vegan. And the idea is, like we said, growing up in poverty in an urban area is way different than growing up in poverty in a rural area. Can it be done? I'm sure it can. There are case studies out there. But I think every situation is unique for every individual. And which is why I went vegan after 21, is that I had the full financial freedom, and I had a salary to pay for what I wanted, versus in college, I barely had any money. And so, I chose convenience over time and everything like that. And that's something where I do regret not going vegan earlier, but I don't think that everyone has the same story.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. I think that's the case in anything, really. Everyone has a different story. It's important to keep that in mind. So, in terms of the climate change crisis, environmental side of things, you also mentioned there's an educational crisis that goes along with this. So, can you tell me a little bit about that? What's the educational piece here?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. So, as an environmental educator, as someone that really loves education, just teaching people, is that the amount of information that is being put out there, the very first moments and the very first impactful memories that a lot of children have are in the classrooms. Not to say it's outside or with their families either, but public education in America, specifically in the US, has declined so much that we are seeing the mass resignation of teachers, low-quality test scores due to standardized testing, and the defunding of active arts and also creative programs that are happening. And so, what's been happening now is that kids, those who grew up in poverty, have a harder chance to get into university, but also to complete their four-year degree in university. So, what that means is that when you have less people of colour that are already disproportionately affected from getting into higher education, you have less communicators, you have less people that are walking into those communities that know their communities to talk about the climate crisis.
And it's not to say that the communities that are poor and in poverty don't know. I think they can realize saying, "Yeah, there's a lot of environmental health issues here, but what am I supposed to do?" And I think that's where we're losing a lot of these educators because of the crisis that we have today. There's not a reinvestment going into our public programs, and that to me is dangerous because that means that the less information that is being inputted into communities, the more likely that they're susceptible to misinformation, disinformation, and so on.
As we're seeing how democracy in the United States is currently being reviewed and undermined, it is important that we continue to bring coalition and also programs to teach these young people because this is what we're potentially losing. And so, people get triggered from the word climate crisis that are in rural or moderate conservative areas because, to them, that challenges the whole belief that they grew up in. And so, I think we need more people from different sides and political spectrums to step into the climate environmental space to be able to communicate that and to actually tie in and make those solutions happen locally for their communities.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. That's a really good point. So, the populations that might have some of these challenges around education, I mean, everyone does to some degree, I'm sure. Sometimes, I feel like those are the populations that are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. And the best term for that is frontline communities, in which frontline communities are basically communities of people who are the ones that are the most affected by the climate crisis. And to think of it more, not even conceptually, but more direct, you think about people in poverty, majority of black, indigenous, people of colour, people who are queer and trans, people who are disabled, people who are undocumented, people who are immunocompromised.
And so, what ends up happening is that, as the climate crisis continues to worsen, it's going to affect these low-income areas. And these low-income areas already do not have the infrastructure or resources to be able to build a sustainable future.
So, what that means is that when climate disasters strike, whether that's a wildfire, whether that's flooding, the programs that are used for governmental assistance, like FEMA and other things, already have so many issues with funding.
They literally are telling people that it's going to take months to rebuild their homes, or they discriminate against loans about who gets loans versus whites and black, indigenous, people of colour. So, what ends up going to happen in the future with these frontline communities is that there will be high-level rates of death, there's going to be high-level rates of displacement, but also there's going to be massive environmental degradation and toxins released in those lands. So, what we can do, as individuals, is start to educate ourselves on what are the current communities that are already so affected here in the United States from the climate crisis, and how can we rebuild?
Because right now, what we see in Louisiana, there are people being paid by the government to relocate because they're saying, "This is going to be flooded in the next 10, 20 years. So, you should start relocating now. We can't really offer you any help." And these are indigenous communities that were their own areas, their own tribal nations, and now they're being asked to move.
Karina Inkster: Wow. I did not know that. This is news to me.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: I think we're going to see a lot more of that.
Isaias Hernandez: Absolutely.
Karina Inkster: Here in Canada, it's pretty similar in populations that are affected by effects of climate change. So, the education piece, how do you see that? How is that going to move forward? What are some of the things that you're doing, or that you see folks doing effectively?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. So, as an environmental educator, I really use this term called evidence-based hope. It's coined from one of my favourite mentors, Ellen Kelsey. And evidence-based hope within environmentalism isn't about this wishful type of thinking, but it's a sense of optimism that celebrates the continued momentum and work that is being done there. And I work with the Solutions Journalism Network to report on climate solutions because, as an educator, I think that the media has done a really good job at "problem identifying" and having this very fatalistic approach.
When you hear the term climate crisis, we can all agree, probably the news stations has said the worst wildfire, or the worst drought in history, all of these things. And we consume that, but then a lot of us don't really see what's happening on the ground. And so, I use education to distill those climate solution stories and saying, "Look, this is what a community did to help reduce heat waves in the areas. They planted trees."
Did it cost the government or the city money? No. Planting seeds is free. And so, these are examples where I feel that if we're able to turn around the ways in which media is reporting about the climate crisis, I think that would make so many people feel more empowered to get involved locally, but also to feel that there is a future versus I can't do anything as an individual. It's too late. Let it burn. And I think I try to validate that feeling of this doomist and very despairing lens, but I also think that a lot of us here have the solutions to our communities. And sometimes we look so much through this global policy level, but we're not looking within our own individual and city levels.
Karina Inkster: That's a really good point. Actually, in research for this article I mentioned earlier, I came across some stat that 60% of folks in a certain area, it might have been a few states in the US, believe that it's entirely the government's responsibility to prevent further effects of climate change and curb the current crisis. That's a problem. That's a problem-
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: ... because then you're not taking any individual action into account at all. And then, I also feel like when you do start educating folks about individual actions - like going vegan for example, very effective - it's like when you start telling someone, "Oh, you can get great results from working out 10 minutes a day." They're like, "Nah, you can't. That's not enough." They feel like, "Sure. Well, I could do this thing, but it's not going to really do much. So, what's the point?"
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, exactly.
Karina Inkster: How do you respond to that thinking pattern?
Isaias Hernandez: Well, I think the best way to respond, often, is understanding where they're coming from. Because I think when I was younger in college, I feel like I would not be able to debate someone who's conservative or moderate back then. Now, I can. I will, and, to a certain extent, I have my own boundaries. But I think you need to understand because it's not really related to them culturally, they're not willing to do that, right? You used the example about working out. Let's say, you had someone that had diabetes or has been dealing with a lot of health issues saying, "This can actually help you." And they're like, "What do you mean?" And then they say, "Wow, I feel great after the workout." And I think following up with those communities and making sure that there's actually a metric, not to success, but a metric of measuring how well they're doing, that means that they can take action on the local level.
And I think the long-term momentum is that it's not about seeing the solution right then and there. It's going to take decades to see it. But I think that's where, I think, community comes in mind is that a lot of times, people who say this are disconnected from their community, I can ask, probably, a lot of us here, and even myself, do you know your neighbour? And a lot of people would be like, "No." And why is it the fact that we don't know our neighbours? Well, because a lot of the times we're like, "Well, we don't want them to murder us, or we don't want them to be weird or think that we're weird."
But the truth is, in times of crisis, your family who doesn't live with you or your followers on Instagram will not save you from a climate disaster. What is going to save you are the people next door. And that's what makes you resilient in this system. So, I think it's about acknowledging that a lot of us have distrust in our communities, but also acknowledging that we feel like we can do something if only we were meant to be together or work together on these issues.
Karina Inkster: Wow. So many great points. So, a lot of community-wide, getting-people-together initiatives might actually be one of the answers here.
Isaias Hernandez: Yes. The biggest thing that brings people together is food. There needs to be more events with food, and there needs to be more, not this romanticization of bringing everyone together, but allowing us to speak our truths about what's happening. I think the best way to communicate this with groups that typically don't like "political things" is relating it back to the basic fundamental rights of human rights, like the earth rights. It's not political or divisive to say everyone deserves clean air and water and soil. If we don't want to make it a race thing, I guess, if they want to go that way, but it's like that should be true for everyone. So, those are things where I think we need to have more of those discussions of, but it is really hard to build those communities at times.
Karina Inkster: Well, you're doing the work. It's pretty amazing. Very impressive. Speaking of impressive, I saw that you were featured in Vogue with a whole bunch of other young, very well known environmentalists and vegans, Billie Eilish included. So cool. So, what was the process? And it was a group event, right?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. So, I think one thing to know is that I'm a consultant for Support And Feed. They are nourishing communities with one plant-based meal, and it's owned by Maggie Baird, which is Billie Eilish's mother. And I've been working with them the past year, but Billie, as her daughter, is a very huge advocate for the planet, but most specifically veganism and against animal agriculture. And they came to her to ask her about the Vogue shoot and about sustainability and climate change. And she said, "Great. I want to do this digital cover, but I don't want this to be all about me. Can we bring activists together?" And so, when the Vogue team actually reached out, yeah, I was really impressed. When they reached out to me, I said, “wow!”
Very privileged, of course, to have been the only man in that shoot with aspiring and so many amazing women that were on set. And talking to her, which wasn't seen in a lot of the videos, actually, behind the scenes that we're talking, Billie's really great. She's just a normal 21-year-old that's just doing her own thing. She's really talented, and she loves to really advocate for the people, the planet, and the animals. And I think it taught me a lot about how celebrities and entertainment influencers can use their platforms for social good, and it doesn't dilute from their messaging, it doesn't make them horrible, it just makes them acknowledge that, as they have these platforms and resources, they can share this as net worth for themselves.
Karina Inkster: See, look. I'm only in my thirties, but in a lot of ways I feel old when it comes to social media, especially. It's not a big part of our business. We do everything with SEO on Google, so we're just on social media for fun.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: By the way, it's been a great way to connect with folks, including yourself, who are in the same sphere and doing amazing work. But I still feel like I don't a hundred percent get it. Somehow, I feel like I'm behind the times. I'm not on TikTok. Our clients for fitness and nutrition are all older than me. They're all at least 45, usually older. So, I feel like there's this whole world of, I hate the word influencer. But you know what I mean when I say influencer, who actually have fantastic opportunities to reach the masses and to educate and to help people make decisions about their food and how to affect the planet. I just feel weirdly behind the times, even though I'm not that old.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. No, I think it's a very new landscape. And even myself being on TikTok, I'm in a weird time because I'm 26. I was born in 1996, and sometimes I swerve between millennial and Gen Z. It's a very unique and weird time because I'm not that old, but I'm also not that young.
Karina Inkster: You're right at the cutoff between the two.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, the cusp. So, it's weird because sometimes millennials are like, "It's a millennial thing to me." And I'm like, "But I'm a Gen Z. It's a Gen Z thing." So, I don't really know. I think '96 to '97 babies got really screwed over or something because I was born when the computers were out in terms of the old computers. So, I got to experience the development of MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, and there's people who are two or three years younger than me, and they're like, "Oh, I was never on MySpace." So, then I'm like, "Was I the last generation to experience MySpace?" Who knows?
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Well, I went vegan 20 years ago when I was 16. And back then-
Isaias Hernandez: Wow.
Karina Inkster: ... there was no Instagram and no Facebook. And it was very different than just being able to search, hey, what restaurants can I go to? The Happy Cow app and all that stuff. It was a very different landscape.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: But I'm actually glad that there's more ways to connect with folks now.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, absolutely. And also salute to all the OG vegans out there because-
Karina Inkster: The OG vegans.
Isaias Hernandez: ... you all had soy milk in the early days, and now vegans here are privileged. Everything's basically vegan now, you can get it.
Karina Inkster: Pretty much. Oh, yeah. We had the old-school TVP chunks. That was our protein source. Now, people are like, "What's this TVP I keep hearing about?" That was all we ate back in the day.
Isaias Hernandez: Wow.
Karina Inkster: So, what's some other directions that you want to take? Are there any projects that you're working on right now? Anything exciting that's going on in the world of activism and veganism?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. I would say that I'm trying to get more involved in animal rights conferences. So, if you're listening, feel free to hire me. I think that there's a really huge opportunity for people within animal rights movements to team up with environmental-led movements because I think there's the same synergy of addressing the biodiversity crisis. And I feel that often at times, it seems like environmentalists and animal rights activists butt heads, but I think that if we work against each other, we're going to let the same oppressors who are disjoined, not just the people and the animals, to win. So, we don't want that. And so, I really want to be able to do that. And the other thing is I'm writing my book. So, hopefully, there's more updates on that end.
Karina Inkster: That's exciting. I am in this conversation saying, so when's a book coming out? So, I'm glad you mentioned that.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. Basically, the update to the book is that I'm pitching publishers these upcoming months. Hopefully, I'll get a book offer from them, and then finish writing it for the next year, and then it'll be out soon. So, it's been taking me a long time, I think as a first-time author, but I think I'm really excited to see where it's going to go.
Karina Inkster: Oh, that's super exciting. I'll tell you right now, I pitched 69 literary agents and I heard from one of them-
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: ... who was into it and ended up getting published. So, don't give up.
Isaias Hernandez: It's a process, for sure. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: It's a process, but it'll be worth it. That's amazing. Very cool. So, what are some other things that you're involved in? The conferences piece is something that you want to get more involved in. Are you doing some consulting work with other organizations at the moment?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. So, I currently do some consulting, and I'm working on an independent media series that exists on video. I think one of the biggest things, as an "influencer," or digital creator, is funding for our careers. I think we can all agree that these platforms don't pay themselves. The work that we do deserves to be valued very highly. And unfortunately, that doesn't always translate. And so, I think I've been really working on just finding ways to have sustainable income where financial security should be prioritized for everyone to have access to pay, rent, and everything like that.
Karina Inkster: That's a good point. Yeah. There's not a necessarily direct correlation between followers and income or products, services, that kind of stuff.
Isaias Hernandez: Exactly.
Karina Inkster: So, that's a really good point.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: Yeah.
Isaias Hernandez: Definitely. Yeah, and hopefully my other five goals as a human, human-to-human, is I just got my permit, which is really great, and trying to get my license-
Karina Inkster: Nice.
Isaias Hernandez: ... these upcoming months, and then adopt a dog companion friend.
Karina Inkster: So, I assume, as a vegan, that would be a rescue.
Isaias Hernandez: Yes.
Karina Inkster: I'm just making that assumption right now.
Isaias Hernandez: Yes, rescue for sure. Adoption all the way.
Karina Inkster: Nice. That's exciting.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, I'm really excited. Hopefully, though, in the upcoming months. But for now, I'm just envisioning myself being able to coexist with a non-human animal in this space.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. That's really cool. So, as your moniker, Queer Brown Vegan, do you connect a lot with other folks who either feel like they don't have other connections within certain communities or just need an outlet, so to speak, for someone who gets it?
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. I think it's actually really interesting. I get it from all sides. Some are queer, and they don't really know that many queer people, or people of colour that typically don't see a Latin environmentalist, or you see a vegan and an environmentalist, and they're like, "There's not that many environmentalists that are vegan. Why is that?" And it is fun sometimes to have these different people that come up to me, and they follow me for certain reasons, whether that's queer content, or just my identity, or sometimes it's about veganism and animal liberation.
I feel like that's what really brings people together is that I don't really isolate myself. I really try to be as versatile as possible to the extent in which I know my specialty. And so, I think this intersectional identity or interconnected values I have as an individual has led for people to start asking other questions about that. And I found correlations that people that are queer are more likely to be vegan. So, that's pretty cool.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. Okay, so how about this? I've heard things on both sides. So, folks have come on the podcast, BIPOC folks particularly, who weren't necessarily vegan, but we were talking about things like white supremacy in the fitness industry, and I'm coming from the fitness angle. We've done entire podcast episodes on what is fucked up about the fitness industry-
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: ... and diversity and inclusion are big pieces of that. Anyway, so, there have been some folks who have been on the show who see veganism as a white privileged thing. And then, there's other folks, usually BIPOC educators who say, "Well, no. Actually, we're out here trying to educate people to say that, sure, there might be some cultural background influences-"
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: "... but it is accessible to anyone." So, I've heard pieces from different angles. And I'm interested in your take on veganism and maybe someone's cultural background accessibility.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: All those pieces. We talked about it a little bit, but not really obviously.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing to address is the reason why a lot of general society thinks veganism is a white thing is the ways in which media, entertainment, and art centres whiteness. If I ask you a question, what are three vegans that come on top of your mind that are the most famous? A lot of people will probably say, Greta Thunberg. She's vegan. She's really great. But a lot of the time, it's white people that come up to your head. And it's not to say that it's bad that you thought that, nor the people that we listed are bad because they're white. It's the fact of how much of unconscious bias that we consume in media that centres these conversations. And so, you look at a black and brown person, you're like, "They're less likely to be vegan because it doesn't seem like they care about those things."
But actually, it's been documented well in history that concepts around Rastafarianism that is rooted in black ecology and animal and human liberation comes from Jamaica. And this is before the terminology veganism was coined by Donald Watson. So, I think there's a lot of different layers to explore in which I see the validity of people saying it's seen as a white thing.
But I also see the validity as an environmentalist of colour. I'm vegan, and it's also been practiced in some form in literature and history in my culture because I think animal liberation isn't a binary thing. It exists on the spectrum. And I think a lot of indigenous communities and also communities in Latin America understood the idea that animals were sacred. Now, if we're going to get into a, not argument, but conversation of, "Well, they did consume the animals." That's right.
But they also had an understanding of not wanting to breed and continuously have this industrialized mechanistic lens, which is why I think that, when we look at industrial agriculture and factory farms, we have to think about them as products of white supremacy and human supremacy. Because at the end of the day, agribusiness industries were founded by typically white men. But the idea to argue is that privatizing and devaluing land and not seeing the fungi, fauna, and flora as the sacred living systems, but instead as capital, showcases the ways in which we consume our food today.
And I think when people are saying, "Well, it's a human supremacy thing because everyone wanted this." Indigenous communities never wanted to be colonized, nor did they ever agree nor advocate for these industrialized systems to exist today. What exists today is these neoliberal governments, especially in the global north, that pushed these mechanistic systems to say, "Let's think about economic GDP growth, job security, and food for everyone. That's what we want to do. We'll go under that guise."
But the reality under that rhetoric was the fact of massive inequality, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, the massive slaughtering of animals, and also the exploitation of undocumented farm workers. So, today, I think that when I talk about veganism, I need to talk about white supremacy, not because it's like, "Oh my God, you're taking away from voices of the non-human animals," but to address the fact that it is important that we accurately address and label these topics. Because, at the end of the day, when we constantly use these topics to run human supremacy, well, you know that that translates back into the violence and harm towards black, indigenous, people of colour.
Sure, we may say as individuals, "Oh, all humans are evil," but we wouldn't harm someone, right? But there are people who will get influenced by that terminology and say, "You're right. It's when all those black and brown people came to my community that started to just take all those resources."
And then, start to create this type of violence. That's where it's dangerous, and I think that whenever I've called it out in animal rights spaces, I think they take it personal to themselves to say, "Well, this is about me. I'm the issue." And it's like, "No, no, no. It's not that you are the issue. It's that you're upholding a system that is known to be harmful towards my community, and we are the ones that are actually fighting against white supremacy, which is why we need you to be able to address it and to be able to team up with that." But instead, I think it's easier for, unfortunately, a lot of predominantly white animal rights activists to not talk about white supremacy because that means that they also need to interrogate their whiteness and what they've upheld.
And there's no such thing as being a non-speciesist or non-racist. It's about being anti-racist and anti-speciesist because what we live in is a racist and speciesist world that is under the umbrella of white supremacy, not this idea of human supremacy creating these hierarchical roles.
Karina Inkster: Okay, can you come on the podcast every week and teach us things? Because seriously.
Isaias Hernandez: I hope so.
Karina Inkster: So many good points. I don't even know where to start. But I now also see what you're saying about all the interconnectedness, white supremacy, speciesism. I would also add the patriarchy into that and a whole bunch of other isms. They're all connected. And I think not a lot of folks consider those things. And as you just mentioned, the fitness influencers or the vegan influencers are mostly white. And that's what we're exposed to in mainstream media and social media. And so, amplifying voices of BIPOC educators and activists, I think, is a huge part of what the vegan movement needs specifically.
Isaias Hernandez: Yes, absolutely. And I think this would actually avoid these concepts of veganism being a white thing, or people of colour not wanting to try veganism because they already are horrified by the messaging of certain white animal rights activists that are literally saying horrific things and derogatory things about people of colour. So, why not put us in those spaces, not de-platform, but decenter those voices, and start to recenter? And I do think that the animal rights movement is actually, in itself, already fragmented, but I think that it's losing a lot of power within these dominant spaces that have upheld so much whiteness. And I think seeing the introduction of me and other black and brown vegans, they don't like that. And I know they don’t like seeing my face when I talk about these things, but I think this is what needs to be able to happen to have these conversations about equitability, anti-racism, and speciesism at the same time.
Karina Inkster: Where do you see the vegan movement going in the next few years in that direction? Diversity inclusion? I feel like there's certain positive things going on at the moment, but where do you see it in three to five years?
Isaias Hernandez: I think in three to five years, there'll be definitely more diversity when it comes to having representation of black, indigenous, people of colour. I know that I'll probably be one of the bigger names out there for sure. But I think, in terms of the space, I think one of the critiques and concerns I do have is recognizing that the concept of veganism is a philosophical and liberation approach, meaning that I don't want everyone to think about these technocratic solutions that plant-based capitalism will save the world. I agree. I do think that there should be options for plant-based, like plant-based meats or yogurts or whatever you want.
But I also think that that will not change the food system if the same food system is continuously killing non-human animals, and we're relying on that same food system to provide us with these resources of wheat and vegan subsidies or products. I think what needs to happen is that this system needs to be overturned, but I think that's going to take some challenges because that also threatens vegan capital, which a lot of vegans hold. And so, I do fear for the future about what does sovereignty mean for vegan businesses in the world, and that, to me, I feel like not many of them are going to be able to answer that question.
Karina Inkster: Interesting. I never really considered that before. Also, the connection here of the human workers involved in producing this food, human rights violations, potentially, all of those related issues.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. They're already out there. There's a lot of vegan companies that are under fire for human exploitation that are black and brown people, like myself. And so, now that I'm a vegan, I have a platform privilege. I know that my white colleague friends that are vegan, which I love them to death, won't say anything about it. But I will because those are my people, and I have the right and agency to say I am not going to let you claim yourself to be vegan and talking about these ethics and justice when you're exploiting people who look like me, and you're serving people that don't look like me and saying, "We're a great company." And so, I do think there's going to be a lot of tough conversations to be held, but I do think this is where accountability is needed for all corporations. It's not a bad thing. It's about improving ourselves and making us look better.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. And you're on the front lines doing the work again.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. I'll be there at the conferences, yeah.
Karina Inkster: Oh, yeah, for sure. Well, Isaias, is there anything else that we haven't covered? Any important points that we've missed?
Isaias Hernandez: No. I would just love to say that we cannot liberate ourselves from this ecological or climate crisis without our community. And staying active in our respective industry does not make us less than in any political movement. But you can change that space you're in by actively addressing these types of harmful, oppressive behaviours.
Karina Inkster: Well said. Just well-spoken, in general. Amazing to have you on the show. Thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it.
Isaias Hernandez: Yeah. Thank you so much, again.
Karina Inkster: Isaias, thank you again for speaking with me. Make sure you're following Isaias on all social media platforms at Queer Brown Vegan, and check out our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/146 for all the direct links. Thanks for listening.