Treading (more) lightly: thoughts on Filipino America and veg*anism

In case you didn’t know (as if it’s unsurprising, given that I am of Filipino descent), I’m totally a lapsed Catholic. For a lot of reasons, most significantly my anti-racist/feminist/queer politics, I haven’t been involved with the church for a very long time. That being said, I do still appreciate the beauty of many church / religious rituals– especially after my grandfather passed in January, going to mass has been a way for me to work through my grief, in a place that was so dear to him. Maybe it’s been the recent visits to church, or my latent fear of being sent to that ring of fire (I may no longer be Catholic, but I still have a ton of Catholic guilt), but I’ve been observing Lent this year, and have been abstaining from meat on Fridays.

 

"California Roll" salad with miso-green onion dressing

It’s been surprisingly easy to keep meat-free on Fridays, since even before that I’ve been cutting down on meat consumption, at least when it comes to home cooking. My acquisition of the absolutely fantastic vegan cookbook Appetite for Reduction (so amazing, it deserves its own post with photos!), and my general turn to eating healthier and with less processed foods, coincided perfectly with Lent and so I’ve actually been cooking nearly entirely meat-free meals at home most days of the week. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone nearly meat-free– I have had short but failed stints as a pescetarian, as well as brief intentional periods of total meatless-ness– but in the context of my growing interest in and work around food justice, it definitely feels different this time around, in that I’m reflecting much more on how a meat-free diet has the potential to be an extension of a radical Filipino/American politics of decolonization, but also how it may not, as well.

Besides reveling in the health benefits I’ve reaped from keeping a mostly-veg*an diet, I  have really been trying to sort through my feelings about veg*anism and racial and social justice. I really respect and appreciate the the way that, for some, being vegetarian or vegan is part and parcel of their work in fighting institutionalized ‘isms: species-ism, ableism, racism, classism, sexism/homophobia, etc. As food justice advocates such as the lauded Michael Pollan have written, the general nastiness of the meat industry, not to mention the use of otherwise fertile farming land for cattle farms, is a large contributor to the global food crisis. I don’t know how many yoga seminars I have been to where this fact is illustrated by my veg*an yoga instructors, with varying degrees of graphic details and photos– while I disagree with some of their shock tactic methods of inciting guilt and shame (who knew yoga guilt could be just as bad as Catholic guilt?), I am generally on board with the call to end factory farms, for the sake of both the animals and for the hungry and obese people of the world who are suffering under the current food regime. This kind of veg*an political ethos, I think, has very much informed my recent refraining from preparing red meat at home now, and in my ongoing attempt to cook and eat ethically-sourced and environmentally-sound meat both at home and when eating out (Fish is another story. I need to start using my Seafood Watch app way more!)

But as Breeze Harper and the other bloggers at Vegans of Color have also pointed out, I’m also painfully aware of the outright racist and classist assumptions made by more “mainstream” (aka white) veg*an individuals and organizations in their campaigns for animal rights and so-called food justice. This post in particular really hit home, especially in light of my prior research on the US colonial regime’s display of  Igorot “dog-eating and head-hunting” at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair as evidence of Filipino racial savagery, in order to justify American “benevolent assimilation” of the Philippines. I hesitate to identify myself with a veg*an movement that doesn’t question its own internalized racial logic, and that uses the language of “us vs. them” or “enlightened vs. savage” to make its political and moral claims– rather than working for the decolonization and justice of all, these kinds of movements are reserved for the privileged, “enlightened” few who can then deem the rest of us (mostly brown) folk to meat-eating barbarity.

poster for 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

Also– and this is my biggest contention/concern– I’m still not quite sure how a veg*an diet fits in with a Filipino decolonial politics, in terms of the cultural appropriateness of a veg*an diet to Filipino culture. Definitely, I’m down for turning to a more natural diet with less processed, colonially-derived meats like SPAM, and of course want the Filipino people to have control over their food production, distribution, and consumption– that’s the essence of decolonization and the very meaning of food sovereignty, is it not? But wanting/working for those things isn’t the same thing as cutting out meat entirely from the Filipino diet, especially not fish, which historically has been the basis of many in the archipelago’s livelihood. Not to mention, can I really ever let go of the swine? Look at this pork-y deliciousness that is lechon:

 

(being inappropriate with lechon, September '10)

Perhaps my own gluttony is what keeps me from making a final jump into full veg*an territory– I’ll admit, I’m a weak soul. At the very least, this time has allowed me to more critically self-reflect on the ways I embody and live my politics on a very corporeal scale, and to think not only about why I fight for food sovereignty, racial and social justice, but also about how.

Posted on April 3, 2011, in decolonization and food sovereignty, food justice and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I struggle a bit with this as well — being brought up as a meat-eating Hindu (by meat-eating Hindu parents) but having lots of vegetarian family, I find diet is a fruitfulsite (pardon the pun) for thinking about resistance to colonialism and neoliberalism. In addition to your comments on the white elite conception of food justice, there’s this problem wherein promoter of political veg*anism don’t want to address the structural problems with access to food (especially in urban areas), which perhaps directly parallels the approach of “personal anti-racism” divorced from struggle against “entrenched structural racism.” I’m sure you have more careful and nuanced thoughts on that than I do on that. Thanks for the post, and we should hang out sometime :-)

  2. I came across this on a friend’s facebook page and remembered your post. http://filipinoveganfood.com/Home.html I assume your aware of it, but just in case.

  3. N- yes, I’ve been dying to try No Worries! There’s actually an SF Dishcrawler event there this month (http://noworries-eorg.eventbrite.com/) — pass it along to any Bay Area folks you think might be interested!

  4. Anand- yes, let’s hang out soon! I’ll drop you an email- we can chat over a veggie meal, perhaps?

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