If you’re looking for an intersectional view of veganism—and a leader who wears many hats—meet Dr. A. Breeze Harper. A national speaker who has given many workshops, she’s also a critical race feminist scholar in cultural food studies, and a strategic diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant with a heavy focus on animal rights, tech, and plant-based foods sectors. In addition, she edited “Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society” and her social fiction book “Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in White Rural New England” was groundbreaking in how it used food and veganism to explore racial oppression and rural identities.
Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society by A. Breeze Harper, $14.39 on Amazon
She’s currently at work on her third book, “Seeds of Sankofa,” which she describes as an “Afro-futuristic framing of what it means to have a future of veganism in the USA within the rubric of racial capitalism; the premise being that you can have an entirely vegan USA and still have human oppression as long as capitalism (especially based on the antebellum plantation model) exists as the only economic system.”
We spoke with her about her personal vegan journey, veganism through an intersectional lens, and tips for going vegan yourself.
What’s your vegan story?
I became vegan about 15 years ago, after I was diagnosed with fibroid tumors. I had been introduced to the book “Sacred Woman” which focused on plant-based dietary philosophy for people with wombs (as not all with wombs identify as girl or woman). Queen Afua, the writer, emphasized that reproductive health issues such as cysts and fibroids could be cured or alleviated through a holistic plant-based diet focused on super greens like kale, chlorella, and spirulina, coupled with whole grains and purified water.
Sacred Woman: A Guide to Healing the Feminine Body, Mind, and Spirit, $12.82 on Amazon
I was introduced to the book at work, after my colleague found me in a fetal position under my desk, suffering from killer menstrual cramps exacerbated by my fibroids. So, I began [a vegan diet], adhering to the regimen in Sacred Woman. I ended up curing my fibroids and this was verified via an OB/GYN who performed a special ultrasound, 2 in one year to verify that he’d never seen something like that before and [said], “Whatever you are doing, keep on doing it.”
It then occurred to me if I’d never been taught that what I eat can affect my menstruation so negatively—what else had been lied about? I dig deeper into vegans, going from dietary to understanding it politically, ethically, and historically. Dick Gregory’s work pushed me to start thinking about my own commitment to social and racial justice, as he was vegan and promoted veganism as a way to address multiple levels of oppression: against nonhuman animals and against the nutritional racism that [the] Black community [experienced]. This was powerful how he and Afua helped me engage in veganism through an intersectional lens.
How would you say you are trying to change lives through veganism?
I am not trying to change anyone’s lives as much as share my knowledge and awareness of how veganism can function as a decolonizing tool for our minds and bodies…and how to understand that the way non-human animals are treated is part of the machinery of systemic oppression (racism, sexism, classism) that often goes unrecognized by the mainstream.
What can people do to make their transition to veganism easier?
This is a good question and there is no universal answer. First of all, I come from a place of economic privilege—I’m lower middle class and I have access to food choices via Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and farmer’s markets. I have access to my own car and/or public transportation. I can really only give my suggestions within the positionality. My transition was made easier because I had the privilege of choice and access…and, I also had a supportive boyfriend (now husband). Be gentle on yourself, as most people don’t do anything 100 percent and make an overnight change.
Surround yourself with others with similar ethical beliefs about eating, as it can be hard if you are the only one. For a lot of us ethnic or racial minorities, we face being seen as “sell outs” or not appreciating our cultural foods (if they are carnicentric). Cultural identity is important. There are a lot of vegan chefs and blogs out there that connect veganism to one’s specific ethnic food ways.
Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed by Bryant Terry, $19.59 on Amazon
Make sure you are getting the nutrition you need for your unique body and situation. Everyone is different. Are you lactating? Make sure you are getting enough good fats, minerals, and calories to support yourself and your new baby. Are you a hill runner? Make sure you are getting plant-based sources of magnesium, protein, calcium, etc. that is necessary for optimal performance. If it’s in your budget or if you have access to health care insurance, think about connecting with a vegan nutritionist. I have a twin brother and he is a bodybuilder. His dietary needs are completely different than mine (a mom of 4 biological kids who is a hill runner and has been nursing nonstop for 11 years).
Related Reading: How Do Vegans Get Enough Protein?
What was your biggest challenge when going vegan, and how did you deal with it?
I have to be honest and say I had not many challenges. I was confident in my decision, as I was in so much pain from my tumors and didn’t want a hysterectomy like my relatives, who had the same issues at such a young age. A big challenge for me is that I’m a black feminist theorist. Integral to my studies is how race and gender shape experience in the USA—this includes veganism. When I first transitioned, it was hard to navigate a world of post-racial post-class vegan blogs, sites, books, etc. that assumed everyone was [a] white middle-class person who had that type of relationship to food. Furthermore, a big challenge was trying to integrate intersectional approaches to veganism without being told “race and gender have nothing to do with veganism.”
What are your best, most practical meal-planning tips for vegans?
Again, I can only speak for myself and from a place of economic and geographical privilege. Gain nutrition knowledge. If it’s in your budget, don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of plant-based options. Go online and learn how to make something from a recipe blog if you are able to.
Also, there is a lot of hype about packaged vegan foods. Yea, they are convenient, but they are uber expensive and you don’t need to purchase that. I make most of my food from scratch. Buying organic vegan made ice cream, cookies, burgers is expensive and I prefer to just make my own and I love it. It’s like chemistry.
As a busy mom (3, 6, 8 and 10 year olds) I often don’t have a lot of time for breakfast for myself in the morning. I am into smoothies as a meal replacement in the morning. I will steam of bag of kale for 5 minutes and then throw it in the blender with 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds, 1/3 cup of hempseed (hulled)—which is 20 grams of protein—a big chunk of fresh ginger, chlorella, spirulina, a whole grapefruit, 1 or 2 pitted dates, lots of fresh mint leaves, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, some water. It’s nutrient dense and a complete fresh meal. I’m not really into protein powders.
What are some of your favorite vegan dishes?
[A] homemade tempeh dish with pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, garlic, and basil, slowly stewed. I really enjoy making my own ice creams out of hemp seeds and dates as “fuel” for my hill running. I like combing 1 cup of hulled hemp seeds, lots of fresh ginger, and a few dates and turmeric. It’s high in protein, minerals, and ginger and turmeric are anti-inflammatory.
What are your favorite food indulgences?
Definitely vegan and ethically sourced chocolates (at least 72 percent dark) and homemade vegan ice cream.
Who in the vegan movement inspires you?
What are some of your accomplishments you feel especially proud of?
I am proud of my work on “Sistah Vegan,” as well as the last 12 years of integrating racial justice and inclusion into vegan culture studies and practices. I’ve come a long way. When I first started with Sistah Vegan, mainstream vegan USA was irritated and annoyed that I dared to bring in race and gender into what was constructed as an “objective,” “raceless,” and “genderless” practice/philosophy. There was much hostility— primarily from white people, when I first proposed the “Sistah Vegan” book anthology.
I’m proud that I didn’t just run away and instead, proposed this ‘radical’ idea that being racialized and gendered in a white settler patriarchal nation like the USA will produce a different relationship to most practices—even veganism and animal rights—when we collectively look at Black folk vs white mainstream—or men vs other genders. I am proud that I was able to have multiple vegan pregnancies and have the confidence to do them, as well as create webinars for pregnant people who want to be vegan during pregnancy as well as lactating. I’m also proud of creating a specialized diversity, inclusion, and consulting service that focuses on veganism and plant-based businesses and organizations.
What empowers you in your work?
Knowing that it’s alleviating suffering.
What do you wish every reader knew about veganism?
It’s a type of ethical philosophy that does encompass diet, however, it is not the only thing. Veganism is tasty, fun, and for many, can improve many nutritional related diseases. However, it takes time to transition to a new anything, so just be gentle with yourself and try not to surround yourself with those who are judgemental and enjoy pointing out every little thing you do WRONG (supposedly) as you try to figure it out.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Header image courtesy of Dr. A. Breeze Harper