Ever wonder if veganism is as inclusive as some advocates purport? For many, the answer is nope. Enter Vegan Voices of Color. Founded last year by two passionate students, Aaron Luxur and Unique Vance, this organization provides resources to spread much-needed awareness about the connections between various forms of oppression—namely, the oppression of animals and the oppression of people of color. Vegan Voices of Color strives to fill that void and “link culture, race, income, and ethics together under the solidarity of social justice.” As part of their group’s advocacy efforts, the duo presents inspiring talks at universities and conferences (they were recently featured speakers at the Sierra Club’s Summer Grassroots Training for Environmental and Social Justice Activism), and publishes articles focused on inclusive approaches to intersectionality, particularly within the scope of veganism. VegNews sat down with Luxur and Vance to gain more insight into the important role Vegan Voices of Color plays within the animal-rights movement.
VegNews: What was your inspiration to become vegan?
Aaron Luxur: Growing up, my family always emphasized to pay attention to your teacher. I took that very seriously, and I paid attention to everything my teacher did. In third grade, I noticed my teacher was always eating very colorful, vibrant fruit and vegetables—which was so different from what I was eating. So I asked him, “Why do you eat this way?” and he said, “Because I don’t want to hurt anyone.” He explained to me that in order to eat meat, you have to hurt an animal, and that is when I started to make the connection between the food I eat and the animals those foods come from.
Unique Vance: Food and food security was always an issue growing up. In Compton, CA, we didn’t really have access to organic or non-GMO or fair-trade food. And I grew up loving sugar and meat and dairy, and was always sick. I went to several doctors, and finally one told me that I might be allergic to dairy. That started my path. I always kind of thought vegans and vegetarians were annoying, but when I met Aaron and we started an environmental club, I started to learn more about our food system, and that was where it all started.
VN: After you decided to ditch all animal products, what were your initial experiences like in the vegan community?
AL: I joined a lot of vegan Facebook groups when I became vegan to connect with people who were passionate about the things I was passionate about, but eventually I started noticing that there were a lot of comparisons being made between animal slavery and human slavery. Mainstream veganism was really being divisive towards minority groups, because it was encouraging us to forget about our own struggles and focus solely on just the animals’ struggles.
UV: I was very excited about finding people to connect with online, but I also found a lot of racism and found those comparisons to be offensive, because many people making those comparisons didn’t have the cultural ties to those forms of human oppression. We wanted to be able to advocate for our communities and talk about how the oppression of animals impacts the health of our communities from an intersectional standpoint.
VN: Was that your inspiration to start Vegan Voices of Color?
AL: I started to realize through research that veganism can be a way to heal and empower the black community. Which was very different from the veganism I was originally exposed to. I started to think about how we could connect our peers to the issues we cared about and were learning about, so we started Vegan Voices of Color.
UV: We really wanted to be able to advocate both for our communities and to our communities about the importance of veganism for the environment and our health. Vegan Voices of Color has given us a platform to advocate for food justice, environmental justice, and animals—while creating an inclusive space for people of color within the vegan community.
VN: What have you found to be the most effective way to do outreach about veganism?
AL: Cooking food for people, definitely! I realized that people are afraid to sacrifice three things: taste, texture, and tradition. People don’t want to give up food that they connected to important events in their lives, like holidays. So I like to show that they can still eat all of their favorite foods, but made from plants.
UV: I agree. Cooking food is a great way to reach out to your community. As well as sharing your knowledge through conversations with people about how animal agriculture impacts the environment and animals and our health.
VN: Since cooking for others seems to be a major way you do outreach, what would you cook for someone who is not yet vegan?
AL: I would find out what they like and make it for them—because anything can be made vegan and be just as tasty, if not tastier, and no one has to die for it!
UV: I would probably make pizza with Miyoko’s cheese because everyone loves pizza and it can be just as good made vegan.
VN: Other than Vegan Voices of Color, what resources would you recommend for people to learn more about intersectionality within the vegan movement?
AL: There are so many out there now! A few of our favorites are Aph Ko of Black Vegans Rock, A. Breeze Harper of The Sistah’ Vegan Project, and Christopher-Sebastian McJetters at Striving with Systems.
UV: Also The Food Empowerment Project and the Vegan Feminist Network!
Sarah McLaughlin is an editorial assistant at VegNews who can’t wait to see what’s next from Vegan Voices of Color.