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Racism in the Kitchen

“If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a speculum — it sucks,” Breeze Harper said to a predominantly twenty-something audience at the UO on April 7. “But the speculum is this commodity that came out of the suffering of African American slavery.”

The UC-Davis doctoral candidate, author, vegan and self-described black feminist scholar came to give the keynote address about food justice à la decolonial vegan politics and revolutionary black feminism for the 17th Annual Grassroots Environmental Justice Conference sponsored by the Coalition Against Environmental Racism (CAER).

Harper is the author of Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Health, Identity & Society, published in 2010. In her doctoral work she asks, “How is veganism as food justice affected by the lived experience of being a black, racialized, sexualized subject in the USA?”

Harper discussed the commodification of the black female body 200 years ago by Dr. J. Marion Sims (considered the father of American gynecology) who experimented on black female slaves without anesthesia. 

“I want to talk about this convergence of understanding these legacies, not just capitalism on our bodies, but commodification of the black female body and how particular African American vegan woman use vegan activism to decolonize their body,” Harper said.

Harper focused on Queen Afua, a prominent Afrocentric natural health practitioner who wrote the book Sacred Woman. Afua’s methods have helped heal thousands of black women (including Harper who says Afua’s methods decreased her fibroid tumors by 75 percent) from ailments that Afua believes are caused by a Eurocentric meat-heavy diet forced upon black slaves. In contemporary society, it is corporations, not the slave-owning establishment, that target African Americans with junk food, Afua argued and she said that the pre-colonial southern Egyptian plant-based diet is optimal for African-American health.

However, Harper also considers Afua’s claims are problematic in that they focus on socio-economically privileged black women who partner exclusively with black men.

“It is implied in Sacred Woman that the colonizers’ carnocentric and refined foods diet causes black people to have unhealthy relationships with their own sexuality and desires which are assumed to be heterosexual,” says Harper.

Harper believes that in Afua’s efforts to free the black community from the remnants of slavery, she falls into the trap of the colonized mind herself by focusing only on heteronormative lifestyles. Harper hopes, through her work with the Sistah Vegan Project, an online virtual community that “focuses on how a plant-based consumptive lifestyle is affected by factors of race, racisms, sexism, heterosexism, classism and other social injustices within the lives of black females,” that mainstream black vegan America will shake its exclusivity to include the GLBT community and interracial couples.