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READ

First read

· Harper, Breeze Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak

· Actions (you may skip over the crossed out sections [like this] within the text)

· Ko, Aph. 5 Reasons Why Animal Rights Are A Feminist Issue Link:https://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/animal-rights-feminist-issue/

Second read

(please read IN ORDER listed below; the 2nd essay is a response to the 1st!)

1. Singer*, All Animals are Equal”

2. Pollan, “An Animal’s Place” Link: https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/an-animals-place/

(note that this 20-year old essay uses outdated language for mental disabilities) 

*Note: I urge you to read Peter Singer especially carefully, as we will consult it throughout the quarter. Singer’s essay is the most well-known piece on animal rights, so you should know it inside and out!

Third read

1) Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, length: 19 pages (or less if you only read one of the two chapters here. Both are great, but if you must chose one to save time, that’s ok)

2) Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (length: 24 pages)


About the Authors (please read this for context!!!)

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Potawatomi tribe and combines her Native heritage with scientific training and environmental passions throughout her publications. She is a Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York, and author of books including Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013) and Gathering Moss (2003).

Kimmerer is a proponent of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which Kimmerer describes as a “way of knowing.” TEK is a deeply empirical scientific approach and is based on long-term observation. However, it also involves cultural and spiritual considerations, which have often been marginalized by the mainstream scientific community. Wider use of TEK by scholars has begun to lend credence to it. Kimmerer’s efforts are motivated in part by her family history. Her grandfather was a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, but received colonist schooling at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The school set out to “civilize” Native children,  forbidding residents from speaking their language, and effectively erasing their Native culture. Knowing how important it is to maintain the traditional language of the Potawatomi, Kimmerer studies and continues to speak traditional language because “when a language dies, so much more than words are lost.”

Her current work spans traditional ecological knowledge, moss ecology, outreach to tribal communities, and creative writing.

Aldo Leopold (born 1887) is often credited as the founder of modern ecology. When he published The 
Sand County Almanac
 in 1949 (you’re about to read a few chapters from the book), it became one of the manifestos of 20th century ecology.  Beyond its scientific distinction, the work is also recognized as a classic piece of American nature literature.

Leopold is one of the first American scientists to develop an ethical theory that includes non-human entities and nature itself in the purview of morals. As we’ve already discussed, his predecessors had claimed that moral consideration only applied to creatures capable or rationality, or possessing a soul, or belonging to a privileged species (eg humans), or having sentience or a telos, or because they are alive (biocentrism). Yet Leopold argued that membership in Earth’s community should be our ultimate criteria for extending moral consideration. And since everything is part of the community, everything should be valued and treated with reverence.  In this way, Leopold’s environmental ethics enlarged the boundaries of what ecologists mean by “community” to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. (This becomes the foundation of Leopold’s “Land Ethic”). You will notice how this perspective (based in science and ethical philosophy) also aligns with Indigenous wisdom (or TEK) like the views of Robin Wall Kimmerer … an example of the “convergence” at the heart of David Suzuki’s book as well! 

COMPREHENSION QUESTIONS*

* you are NOT required to submit responses to these questions, but you SHOULD take notes for yourself and be able to answer these after completing each reading. You will use your notes and insights from these questions to develop your 



Reading Responses



 

(due every 2 weeks in the quarter), so it’s important to take notes as you work through the readings. 

First read

1. What connections does Harper draw between anti-racist/anti-classist beliefs on the one hand, and “compassionate consumption” practices on the other? Give some specific examples of how she connects oppression of different groups (both human and nonhuman) within both contemporary and historical systems.

2. Why does Harper argue that mainstream “healthy consumption” and “eco-sustainable” messages are embedded in systems of white privilege? How does she work to overturn this in her own advocacy for compassionate consumption practices? 

3. Review Aph Ko’s “5 Reasons Why Animal Rights Are a Feminist Issue.” Are any of her 5 arguments particularly convincing, or unconvincing, to you? Explain your position.  

Second read

1. What does Singer mean by the term “Speciesist”?

2. According to Singer, what characteristic qualifies a being for moral standing? Explain his reasoning.

3. Does Pollan think that animals can feel pain or suffer? What distinction does he draw between “pain” and “suffering”?

4. Discuss Pollan’s views on the domestication of animals. Does he consider it exploitation/enslavement? Why or why not?

5. Some critics argue that the graphic images and shock tactics used in Animal Rights campaigns (footage like you viewed in these documentaries) is counterproductive, driving much of the public away from learning more about livestock production and laboratory practices.  Did you find the approach in these films effective? Or would you be more responsive to the “rational and tempered argument” Peter Singer promotes? What are the ethics of “witnessing” versus refusing to look?

Third Read

1. What kind of ethical philosophy does the story “Skywoman Falling” communicate? How is this Indigenous “creation story” different from other creation stories you might be familiar with (Judeo-Christian, Islamic, etc)?  

2. On page 9 Kimmerer states that in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger brothers of Creation.” How can humans learn from plants and animals? How can we humble ourselves to “listen” to the wisdom of plants or other creatures?

3. The ‘Gift of Strawberries’ (pp. 22-32) introduces the reader to the concept of “the essence of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity.” (p. 28) How can “the relationship of gratitude and reciprocity that has been developed increase the evolutionary fitness of both plant and animal”? (p. 30)

4. Why does Leopold include the anecdote from Homer’s ancient tale “The Odyssey”? How is his strategy similar to Peter Singer’s in using broad historical trends in human ethics to tell the story about our changing views towards nature and non-humans?

5. Re-read the last full paragraph of 266 thru the second-to-last paragraph of 267. Here, Leopold describes cranes more like a poet or philosopher than an ornithologist. Why does Leopold include this passage at the beginning of this reading? If Leopold simply wanted readers to care about conservation, why didn’t he just explain the scientific principles (rather than telling stories about these birds?)  What strategy is being used here, and what effect does it have on your as a reader?

6. What is Leopold’s critique of applying economic analysis to environmental thinking, practice and policy? Analyze his argument in detail. (see 283- 5)

Students will write a response to the assigned readings, films and other course materials covered since the last reading response. This is a place for you to record your thoughts about what we’re learning, and further develop the methods of philosophical analysis we will practice in class.  Assessment will be based on evidence that you have remained engaged in class and used each entry to develop your critical thinking, philosophic and ethical perspectives, and understanding of the issues and debates.

INSTRUCTIONS

Review the materials assigned since your last submission (2 weeks ago) and write a ~650 word response (longer entries are OK) that touches on the most important ideas/points from *EACH* day. High-scoring responses will integrate concepts from most or ALL assigned materials (although there may be some occasional discussions where you don’t incorporate the smaller/secondary readings or media if you already thoroughly covered the concepts in analyzing the primary/first reading from that day). At a minimum you must address the “main” reading or video (the first one listed in the module) for each day. And to earn an especially high score, you should also touch on the smaller/secondary pieces on the list for that day as well.

What do I write about?

Reading responses should record your thoughts and interpretations about what we’re reading, and further develop the methods of *PHILOSOPHIC* and *ETHICAL* analysis we’re practicing in class. What you choose to focus on is ultimately up to you, but it should be based on the assigned material, and ideally trace connections (or contrasts) between those materials. Please go beyond just summarizing the readings to really dig into the implications and philosophic dimensions of the issue. Assessment will be based on evidence that you have remained engaged in class and used each entry to develop your critical thinking, philosophic and ethical perspectives, and understanding of the issues and debates.  

Before writing your entry, you can consult the reading comprehension questions (on the daily Canvas modules); however, while these may be helpful to take into consideration, the idea is *NOT* to just answer a list of Canvas questions verbatim, but rather expand on the issues you find interesting, trace connections, and share your unique perspective on them. Also keep in mind that strong philosophic writing often does NOT reduce an issue down to simpler terms, but rather expands on its complexity and ambiguity, revealing additional perspectives, philosophical insights, and possibilities within that work. Responses that engage complexity and nuance in these debates will generally earn a higher score.


REQUIREMENTS 
(grades will be based on these elements)

· Length: ~650 words (longer entries are OK too!)

· Include materials covered in the last 2 weeks. Choose as least the “primary” reading (the first one listed in the module) for EACH day. This means there will be a minimum of 4 items included if we’ve had 4 full class modules since your last submission. 
High-scoring responses will integrate concepts from most or ALL assigned materials (although there may be some occasional discussions where you don’t incorporate the smaller/secondary readings or media if you already thoroughly covered the concepts in analyzing the primary/”main” reading from that day). 

· Take a philosophic or ethical approach to analyzing the material, rather than just summarizing it or focusing on scientific/technical aspects. Remember this is a class on ETHICS, so you should think and write like a philosopher!

· Try to trace connections (or contrasts) between the different materials, rather than discussing different issues for each reading/film featured in your essay.

· Posts should give specific evidence that you completed and understood the week’s assigned materials. This means directly responding to details from the reading (or podcast or film) so I know you completed it. Entries that do not specifically refer to points, arguments, quotes or scenes in the material, but simply lapse into generalizations or personal opinions, will receive a low score.

· You may include personal reflections & experiences related to the topic, but these should not displace the assigned reading.

· Demonstrate that you have remained engaged in class discussions but also developed your own, original thoughts

1

All Animals Are Equal (1974)*
PETER SINGER

*Adapted from the original version in Peter Singer’s 1974 “All Animals Are
Equal,” Philosophic Exchange: Vol. 5: No. 1, Article 6. Note that the current
version has been updated to replace antiquated language around mental
disability and references to “blacks and whites” used in the 1974 version.

* * *

In recent years a number of oppressed groups have campaigned vigorously for
equality. The classic instance is the Black Liberation movement, which
demands an end to the prejudice and discrimination that has made Black
people second-class citizens. The immediate appeal of the Black Liberation
movement and its initial, if limited, success made it a model for other
oppressed groups to follow. We became familiar with liberation movements for
Latinos, gay people, and a variety of other minorities. When a majority group—
women—began their campaign, some thought we had come to the end of the
road. Discrimination on the basis of sex, it has been said, is the last universally
accepted form of discrimination, practiced without secrecy or pretense even in
those liberal circles that have long prided themselves on their freedom from
prejudice against racial minorities. One should always be wary of talking of “the
last remaining form of discrimination.” If we have learnt anything from the
liberation movements, we should have learnt how difficult it is to be aware of
latent prejudice in our attitudes to particular groups until this prejudice is
forcefully pointed out.

A liberation movement demands an expansion of our moral horizons and an
extension or reinterpretation of the basic moral principle of equality. Practices
that were previously regarded as natural and inevitable come to be seen as the
result of an unjustifiable prejudice. Who can say with confidence that all his or
her attitudes and practices are beyond criticism? If we wish to avoid being
numbered amongst the oppressors, we must be prepared to re-think even our
most fundamental attitudes. We need to consider them from the point of view of
those most disadvantaged by our attitudes, and the practices that follow from
these attitudes. If we can make this unaccustomed mental switch we may
discover a pattern in our attitudes and practices that consistently operates so
as to benefit one group—usually the one to which we ourselves belong—at the
expense of another. In this way we may come to see that there is a case for a
new liberation movement. My aim is to advocate that we make this mental
switch in respect of our attitudes and practices towards a very large group of
beings: members of species other than our own—or, as we popularly though
misleadingly call them, animals. In other words, I am urging that we extend to
other species the basic principle of equality that most of us recognize should be
extended to all members of our own species.

2

All this may sound a little far-fetched, more like a parody of other liberation
movements than a serious objective. In fact, in the past the idea of “The Rights
of Animals” really has been used to parody the case for women’s rights. When
Mary Wollstonecraft, a forerunner of later feminists, published her Vindication
of the Rights of Women in 1792, her ideas were widely regarded as absurd,
and they were satirized in an anonymous publication entitled A Vindication of
the Rights of Brutes. The author of this satire (actually Thomas Taylor, a
distinguished Cambridge philosopher) tried to refute Wollstonecraft’s
reasonings by showing that they could be carried one stage further. If sound
when applied to women, why should the arguments not be applied to dogs,
cats, and horses? They seemed to hold equally well for these “brutes”; yet to
hold that brutes had rights was manifestly absurd; therefore the reasoning by
which this conclusion had been reached must be unsound, and if unsound
when applied to brutes, it must also be unsound when applied to women, since
the very same arguments had been used in each case.

One way in which we might reply to this argument is by saying that the case for
equality between men and women cannot validly be extended to nonhuman
animals. Women have a right to vote, for instance, because they are just as
capable of making rational decisions as men are; dogs, on the other hand, are
incapable of understanding the significance of voting, so they cannot have the
right to vote. There are many other obvious ways in which men and women
resemble each other closely, while humans and other animals differ greatly.
So, it might be said, men and women are similar beings and should have equal
rights, while humans and nonhumans are different and should not have equal
rights.

The thought behind this reply to Taylor’s analogy is correct up to a point, but it
does not go far enough. There are important differences between humans and
other animals, and these differences must give rise to some differences in the
rights that each have. Recognizing this obvious fact, however, is no barrier to
the case for extending the basic principle of equality to nonhuman animals. The
differences that exist between men and women are equally undeniable, and the
supporters of Women’s Liberation are aware that these differences may give
rise to different rights. Many feminists hold that women have the right to an
abortion on request. It does not follow that since these same people are
campaigning for equality between men and women they must support the right
of men to have abortions too. Since a man cannot have an abortion, it is
meaningless to talk of his right to have one. Since a pig can’t vote, it is
meaningless to talk of its right to vote. There is no reason why either Women’s
Liberation or Animal Liberation should get involved in such nonsense. The
extension of the basic principle of equality from one group to another does not
imply that we must treat both groups in exactly the same way, or grant exactly
the same rights to both groups. Whether we should do so will depend on the
nature of the members of the two groups. The basic principle of equality, I shall

3

argue, is equality of consideration; and equal consideration for different beings
may lead to different treatment and different rights.

So there is a different way of replying to Taylor’s attempt to parody
Wollstonecraft’s arguments, a way which does not deny the differences
between humans and nonhumans, but goes more deeply into the question of
equality and concludes by finding nothing absurd in the idea that the basic
principle of equality applies to so-called “brutes.” I believe that we reach this
conclusion if we examine the basis on which our opposition to discrimination on
grounds of race or sex ultimately rests. We will then see that we would be on
shaky ground if we were to demand equality for Black people, women, and
other groups of oppressed humans while denying equal consideration to
nonhumans.

When we say that all human beings, whatever their race, creed, or sex, are
equal, what is it that we are asserting? Those who wish to defend a
hierarchical, inegalitarian society have often pointed out that by whatever test
we choose, it simply is not true that all humans are equal. Like it or not, we
must face the fact that humans come in different shapes and sizes; they come
with differing moral capacities, differing intellectual abilities, differing amounts
of benevolent feeling and sensitivity to the needs of others, differing abilities to
communicate effectively, and differing capacities to experience pleasure and
pain. In short, if the demand for equality were based on the actual equality of all
human beings, we would have to stop demanding equality. It would be an
unjustifiable demand.

Still, one might cling to the view that the demand for equality among human
beings is based on the actual equality of the different races and sexes.
Although humans differ as individuals in various ways, there are no differences
between the races and sexes as such. From the mere fact that a person is
Black, or a woman, we cannot infer anything else about that person. This, it
may be said, is what is wrong with racism and sexism. The white racist claims
that white people are superior to Black people, but this is false—although there
are differences between individuals, some Black people are superior to some
white people in all of the capacities and abilities that could conceivably be
relevant. The opponent of sexism would say the same: a person’s sex is no
guide to his or her abilities, and this is why it is unjustifiable to discriminate on
the basis of sex.

This is a possible line of objection to racial and sexual discrimination. It is not,
however, the way that someone really concerned about equality would choose,
because taking this line could, in some circumstances, force one to accept a
most inegalitarian society. The fact that humans differ as individuals, rather
than as races or sexes, is a valid reply to someone who defends a hierarchical
society like, say, South Africa, in which all white people are deemed superior in

4

status to all Black people.1 The existence of individual variations that cut across
the lines of race or sex, however, provides us with no defense at all against a
more sophisticated opponent of equality, one who proposes that, say, the
interests of those with I.Q. ratings above 100 be preferred to the interests of
those with I.Q.s below 100. Would a hierarchical society of this sort really be so
much better than one based on race or sex? I think not. But if we tie the moral
principle of equality to the factual equality of the different races or sexes, taken
as a whole, our opposition to racism and sexism does not provide us with any
basis for objecting to this kind of inegalitarianism.

There is a second important reason why we ought not to base our opposition to
racism and sexism on any kind of factual equality, even the limited kind which
asserts that variations in capacities and abilities are spread evenly between the
different races and sexes: we can have no absolute guarantee that these
abilities and capacities really are distributed evenly, without regard to race or
sex, among human beings. So far as actual abilities are concerned, there do
seem to be certain measurable differences between both races and sexes.
These differences do not, of course, appear in each case, but only when
averages are taken. More important still, we do not yet know how much of
these differences is really due to [biological differences among] various races
and sexes, and how much is due to social/environmental differences that are
the result of past and continuing discrimination. Perhaps all of the important
differences will eventually prove to be social/environmental rather than genetic.
Anyone opposed to racism and sexism will certainly hope that this will be so,
for it will make the task of ending discrimination a lot easier; nevertheless it
would be dangerous to rest the case against racism and sexism on the belief
that all significant differences are environmental in origin. The opponent of, say,
racism who takes this line will be unable to avoid conceding that if differences
in ability did after all prove to have some genetic connection with race, racism
would in some way be defensible.

It would be folly for the opponent of racism to stake [their] whole case on a
dogmatic commitment to one particular outcome of a difficult scientific issue
which is still a long way from being settled. While attempts to prove that
differences in certain selected abilities between races and sexes are primarily
genetic in origin have certainly not been conclusive, the same must be said of
attempts to prove that these differences are largely the result of environment.
At this stage of the investigation we cannot be certain which view is correct,
however much we may hope it is the latter.

Fortunately, there is no need to pin the case for equality to one particular
outcome of this scientific investigation. The appropriate response to those who
claim to have found evidence of genetically-based differences in ability
between the races or sexes is not to stick to the belief that the genetic

1 Apartheid remained in effect in South Africa when this essay was published in 1974.

5

explanation must be wrong, whatever evidence to the contrary may turn up:
instead we should make it quite clear that the claim to equality does not
depend on intelligence, moral capacity, physical strength, or similar matters of
fact. Equality is a moral ideal, not a simple assertion of fact. There is no
logically compelling reason for assuming that a factual difference in ability
between two people justifies any difference in the amount of consideration we
give to satisfying their needs and interests. The principle of the equality of
human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans:
it is a prescription of how we should treat humans.

Jeremy Bentham incorporated the essential basis of moral equality into his
utilitarian system of ethics in the formula: “Each to count for one and none for
more than one.” In other words, the interests of every being affected by an
action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like
interests of any other being. A later utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick, put the point in
this way: “The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the
point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other”.2
More recently, the leading figures in contemporary moral philosophy have
shown a great deal of agreement in specifying as a fundamental presupposition
of their moral theories some similar requirement which operates so as to give
everyone’s interests equal consideration—although they cannot agree on how
this requirement is best formulated.3

It is an implication of this principle of equality that our concern for others ought
not to depend on what they are like, or what abilities they possess—although
precisely what this concern requires us to do may vary according to the
characteristics of those affected by what we do. It is on this basis that the case
against racism and the case against sexism must both ultimately rest; and it is
in accordance with this principle that speciesism is also to be condemned. If
possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use
another for his own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans?

Many philosophers have proposed the principle of equal consideration of
interests, in some form or other, as a basic moral principle; but, as we shall see
in more detail shortly, not many of them have recognized that this principle
applies to members of other species as well as to our own. Bentham was one
of the few who did realize this. In a forward-looking passage, written at a time
when Black slaves in the British dominions were still being treated much as we
now treat nonhuman animals, Bentham wrote:

The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire
those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by

2 The Methods of Ethics (7th Ed.), p. 382.
3 For example, R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (Oxford, 1963) and J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Harvard, 1972);
for a brief account of the essential agreement on this issue between these and other positions, see R. M. Hare,
“Rules of War and Moral Reasoning,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 2 (1972).

6

the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the
blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be
abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one
day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of
the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally
insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What
else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of
reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or
dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more
conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a
month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The
question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they
suffer?4

In this passage Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vital
characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration. The capacity
for suffering—or more strictly, for suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness—is
not just another characteristic like the capacity for language, or for higher
mathematics. Bentham is not saying that those who try to mark “the
insuperable line” that determines whether the interests of a being should be
considered happen to have selected the wrong characteristic. The capacity for
suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a
condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any
meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a
stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have
interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly
make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an
interest in not being tormented, because it will suffer if it is.

If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that
suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the
principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like
suffering—in so far as rough comparisons can be made—of any other being. If
a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness,
there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience
(using the term as a convenient, if not strictly accurate, shorthand for the
capacity to suffer or experience enjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible
boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some
characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary
way. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?

The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the
interests of members of his own race, when there is a clash between their
interests and the interests of those of another race. Similarly the speciesist

4 Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, ch. XVII

7

allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of
members of other species.5 The pattern is the same in each case. Most human
beings are speciesists. l shall now very briefly describe some of the practices
that show this.

For the great majority of human beings, especially in urban, industrialized
societies, the most direct form of contact with members of other species is at
mealtimes: we eat them. In doing so we treat them purely as means to our
ends. We regard their life and well-being as subordinate to our taste for a
particular kind of dish. l say “taste” deliberately—this is purely a matter of
pleasing our palate. There can be no defense of eating flesh in terms of
satisfying nutritional needs, since it has been established beyond doubt that we
could satisfy our need for protein and other essential nutrients far more
efficiently with a diet that replaced animal flesh by soy beans, or products
derived from soy beans, and other high-protein vegetable products.6

It is not merely the act of killing that indicates what we are ready to do to other
species in order to gratify our tastes. The suffering we inflict on the animals
while they are alive is perhaps an even clearer indication of our speciesism
than the fact that we are prepared to kill them.7 In order to have meat on the
table at a price that people can afford, our society tolerates methods of meat
production that confine sentient animals in cramped, unsuitable conditions for
the entire durations of their lives. Animals are treated like machines that
convert fodder into flesh, and any innovation that results in a higher
“conversion ratio” is liable to be adopted. As one authority on the subject has
said, “cruelty is acknowledged only when profitability ceases.”8 . . .

Since, as l have said, none of these practices cater for anything more than our
pleasures of taste, our practice of rearing and killing other animals in order to
eat them is a clear instance of the sacrifice of the most important interests of
other beings in order to satisfy trivial interests of our own. To avoid speciesism
we must stop this practice, and each of us has a moral obligation to cease
supporting the practice. Our custom is all the support that the meat industry

5 I owe the term speciesism to Richard Ryder.
6 In order to produce 1 lb. of protein in the form of beef or veal, we must feed 21 Ibs. of protein to the animal. Other
forms of livestock are slightly less inefficient, but the average ratio in the United States is still 1:8. It has been
estimated that the amount of protein lost to humans in this way is equivalent to 90 percent of the annual world protein
deficit. For a brief account, see Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet (Friends of The Earth/Ballantine, New
York 1971), pp. 4—11
7 Although one might think that killing a being is obviously the ultimate wrong one can do to it, l think that the infliction
of suffering is a clearer indication of speciesism because it might be argued that at least part of what is wrong with
killing a human is that most humans are conscious of their existence over time and have desires and purposes that
extend into the future see, for instance, M. Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol . 2,
no. I (1972). Of course, if one took this view one would have to hold—as Tooley does—that killing a human infant or
mental defective is not in itself wrong and is less serious than killing certain higher mammals that probably do have a
sense of their own existence over time
8 Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines (Stuart, London, 1964). For an account of farming conditions, see my Animal
Liberation (New York Review Company, 1975) from which “Down on the Factory Farm,” is reprinted in this volume
[Animal Rights and Human Obligations].

8

needs. The decision to cease giving it that support may be difficult, but it is no
more difficult than it would have been for a white Southerner to go against the
traditions of his society and free his slaves: if we do not change our dietary
habits, how can we censure those slaveholders who would not change their
own way of living?

The same form of discrimination may be observed in the widespread practice
of experimenting on other species in order to see if certain substances are safe
for human beings, or to test some psychological theory about the effect of
severe punishment on learning, or to try out various new compounds just in
case something turns up….

In the past, argument about vivisection has often missed the point, because it
has been put in absolutist terms: Would the abolitionist be prepared to let
thousands die if they could be saved by experimenting on a single animal? The
way to reply to this purely hypothetical question is to pose another: Would the
experimenter be prepared to perform his experiment on an orphaned human
infant, if that were the only way to save many lives? (I say “orphan” to avoid the
complication of parental feelings, although in doing so l am being overfair to the
experimenter, since the nonhuman subjects of experiments are not orphans.) If
the experimenter is not prepared to use an orphaned human infant, then his
readiness to use nonhumans is simple discrimination, since adult apes, cats,
mice, and other mammals are more aware of what is happening to them, more
self-directing and, so far as we can tell, at least as sensitive to pain, as any
human infant. There seems to be no relevant characteristic that human infants
possess that adult mammals do not have to the same or a higher degree.
(Someone might try to argue that what makes it wrong to experiment on a
human infant is that the infant will, in time and if left alone, develop into more
than the nonhuman, but one would then, to be consistent, have to oppose
abortion, since the fetus has the same potential as the infant—indeed, even
contraception and abstinence might be wrong on this ground, since the egg
and sperm, considered jointly, also have the same potential. In any case, this
argument still gives us no reason for selecting a nonhuman, rather than a
human with severe and irreversible brain damage, as the subject for our
experiments).

The experimenter, then, shows a bias in favor of his own species whenever he
carries out an experiment on a nonhuman for a purpose that he would not think
justified him in using a human being at an equal or lower level of sentience,
awareness, ability to be self-directing, etc. No one familiar with the kind of
results yielded by most experiments on animals can have the slightest doubt
that if this bias were eliminated the number of experiments performed would be
a minute fraction of the number performed today.

Experimenting on animals, and eating their flesh, are perhaps the two major
forms of speciesism in our society. By comparison, the third and last form of

9

speciesism is so minor as to be insignificant, but it is perhaps of some special
interest to those for whom this article was written. I am referring to speciesism
in contemporary philosophy.

Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age. Thinking
through, critically and carefully, what most people take for granted is, I believe,
the chief task of philosophy, and it is this task that makes philosophy a
worthwhile activity. Regrettably, philosophy does not always live up to its
historic role. Philosophers are human beings, and they are subject to all the
preconceptions of the society to which they belong. Sometimes they succeed in
breaking free of the prevailing ideology: more often they become its most
sophisticated defenders. So, in this case, philosophy as practiced in the
universities today does not challenge anyone’s preconceptions about our
relations with other species. By their writings, those philosophers who tackle
problems that touch upon the issue reveal that they make the same
unquestioned assumptions as most other humans, and what they say tends to
confirm the reader in his or her comfortable speciesist habits.

I could illustrate this claim by referring to the writings of philosophers in various
fields—for instance, the attempts that have been made by those interested in
rights to draw the boundary of the sphere of rights so that it runs parallel to the
biological boundaries of the species homo sapiens, including infants and even
mental defectives, but excluding those other beings of equal or greater capacity
who are so useful to us at mealtimes and in our laboratories. l think it would be
a more appropriate conclusion to this article, however, if I concentrated on the
problem with which we have been centrally concerned, the problem of equality.

It is significant that the problem of equality, in moral and political philosophy, is
invariably formulated in terms of human equality. The effect of this is that the
question of the equality of other animals does not confront the philosopher, or
student, as an issue itself—and this is already an indication of the failure of
philosophy to challenge accepted beliefs. Still, philosophers have found it
difficult to discuss the issue of human equality without raising, in a paragraph or
two, the question of the status of other animals. The reason for this, which
should be apparent from what I have said already, is that if humans are to be
regarded as equal to one another, we need some sense of “equal” that does
not require any actual, descriptive equality of capacities, talents or other
qualities. If equality is to be related to any actual characteristics of humans,
these characteristics must be some lowest common denominator, pitched so
low that no human lacks them—but then the philosopher comes up against the
catch that any such set of characteristics which covers all humans will not be
possessed only by humans. In other words, it turns out that in the only sense in
which we can truly say, as an assertion of fact, that all humans are equal, at
least some members of other species are also equal—equal, that is, to each
other and to humans. If, on the other hand, we regard the statement “All
humans are equal” in some non-factual way, perhaps as a prescription, then,

10

as I have already argued, it is even more difficult to exclude non-humans from
the sphere of equality.

This result is not what the egalitarian philosopher originally intended to assert.
Instead of accepting the radical outcome to which their own reasonings
naturally point, however, most philosophers try to reconcile their beliefs in
human equality and animal inequality by arguments that can only be described
as devious.

As a first example, I take William Frankena’s well-known article “The Concept
of Social Justice.” Frankena opposes the idea of basing justice on merit,
because he sees that this could lead to highly inegalitarian results. Instead he
proposes the principle that:

all men are to be treated as equals, not because they are equal, in any
respect, but simply because they are human. They are human because
they have emotions and desires, and are able to think, and hence are
capable of enjoying a good life in a sense in which other animals are
not.9

But what is this capacity to enjoy the good life which all humans have, but no
other animals? Other animals have emotions and desires and appear to be
capable of enjoying a good life. We may doubt that they can think—although
the behavior of some apes, dolphins, and even dogs suggests that some of
them can—but what is the relevance of thinking? Frankena goes on to admit
that by “the good life” he means “not so much the morally good life as the
happy or satisfactory life,” so thought would appear to be unnecessary for
enjoying the good life; in fact to emphasize the need for thought would make
difficulties for the egalitarian since only some people are capable of leading
intellectually satisfying lives, or morally good lives. This makes it difficult to see
what Frankena’s principle of equality has to do with simply being human.
Surely every sentient being is capable of leading a life that is happier or less
miserable than some alternative life, and hence has a claim to be taken into
account. In this respect the distinction between humans and nonhumans is not
a sharp division, but rather a continuum along which we move gradually, and
with overlaps between the species, from simple capacities for enjoyment and
satisfaction, or pain and suffering, to more complex ones.

Faced with a situation in which they see a need for some basis for the moral
gulf that is commonly thought to separate humans and animals, but can find no
concrete difference that will do the job without undermining the equality of
humans, philosophers tend to waffle. They resort to highs sounding phrases
like “the intrinsic dignity of the human individual”;10 they talk of the “intrinsic

9 In R. Brandt (ed.), Social Justice (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1962), p. 19
10 Frankena, op. cit. p. 23

11

worth of all men” as if men (humans?) had some worth that other beings did.
not,11 or they say that humans, and only humans, are “ends in themselves,”
while “everything other than a person can only have value for a person.”12

This idea of a distinctive human dignity and worth has a long history; it can be
traced back directly to the Renaissance humanists, for instance to Pico della
Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man. Pico and other humanists based
their estimate of human dignity on the idea that man possessed the central,
pivotal position in the “Great Chain of Being” that led from the lowliest forms of
matter to God himself; this view of the universe, in turn, goes back to both
classical and Judeo-Christian doctrines. Contemporary philosophers have cast
off these metaphysical and religious shackles and freely invoke the dignity of
mankind without needing to justify the idea at all. Why should we not attribute
“intrinsic dignity” or “intrinsic worth” to ourselves? Fellow-humans are unlikely
to reject the accolades we so generously bestow on them, and those to whom
we deny the honor are unable to object. Indeed, when one thinks only of
humans, it can be very liberal, very progressive, to talk of the dignity of all
human beings. In so doing, we implicitly condemn slavery, racism, and other
violations of human rights. We admit that we ourselves are in some
fundamental sense on a par with the poorest, most ignorant members of our
own species. It is only when we think of humans as no more than a small sub-
group of all the beings that inhabit our planet that we may realize that in
elevating our own species we are at the same time lowering the relative status
of all other species.

The truth is that the appeal to the intrinsic dignity of human beings appears to
solve the egalitarian’s problems only as long as it goes unchallenged. Once we
ask why it should be that all humans—including infants, mental defectives,
psychopaths, Hitler, Stalin, and the rest— have some kind of dignity or worth
that no elephant, pig, or chimpanzee can ever achieve, we see that this
question is as difficult to answer as our original request for some relevant fact
that justifies the inequality of humans and other animals. In fact, these two
questions are really one: talk of intrinsic dignity or moral worth only takes the
problem back one step, because any satisfactory defence of the claim that all
and only humans have intrinsic dignity would need to refer to some relevant
capacities or characteristics that all and only humans possess. Philosophers
frequently introduce ideas of dignity, respect, and worth at the point at which
other reasons appear to be lacking, but this is hardly good enough. Fine
phrases are the last resource of those who have run out of arguments.

In case there are those who still think it may be possible to find some relevant
characteristic that distinguishes all humans from all members of other species,
I shall refer again, before I conclude, to the existence of some humans who

11 H. A. Bedau, “Egalitarianism and the Idea of Equality,” in Nomos IX: Equality, ed. J. R. Pennock and J. W.
Chapman, New York, 1967.
12 C. Vlastos, “Justice and Equality,” in Brandt, Social Justice, p. 48.

12

quite clearly are below the level of awareness, self-consciousness, intelligence,
and sentience, of many non-humans. l am thinking of humans with severe and
irreparable brain damage, and also of infant humans. To avoid the complication
of the relevance of a being’s potential, however, I shall henceforth concentrate
on humans with severe and permanent brain damage.

Philosophers who set out to find a characteristic that will distinguish humans
from other animals rarely take the course of abandoning these groups of
humans by lumping them in with the other animals. It is easy to see why they
do not. To take this line without re-thinking our attitudes to other animals would
entail that we have the right to perform painful experiments on humans with
severe brain damage for trivial reasons; similarly it would follow that we had the
right to rear and kill these humans for food. To most philosophers these
consequences are as unacceptable as the view that we should stop treating
nonhumans in this way.

Of course, when discussing the problem of equality it is possible to ignore the
problem of mental disability, or brush it aside as if somehow insignificant.13
This is the easiest way out.

What else remains? My final example of speciesism in contemporary
philosophy has been selected to show what happens when a writer is prepared
to face the question of human equality and animal inequality without ignoring
the existence of mental disability, and without resorting to obscurantist mumbo
jumbo. Stanley Benn’s clear and honest article “Egalitarianism and Equal
Consideration of Interests”14 fits this description.

Benn, after noting the usual “evident human inequalities” argues, correctly I
think, for equality of consideration as the only possible basis for egalitarianism.
Yet Benn, like other writers, is thinking only of “equal consideration of human
interests.” Benn is quite open in his defence of this restriction of equal
consideration:

. . . not to possess human shape is a disqualifying condition. However
faithful or intelligent a dog may be, it would be a monstrous
sentimentality to attribute to him interests that could be weighed in an
equal balance with those of human beings . . . if, for instance, one had
to decide between feeding a hungry baby or a hungry dog, anyone who
chose the dog would generally be reckoned morally defective, unable
to recognize a fundamental inequality of claims. This is what
distinguishes our attitude to animals from our attitude to imbeciles. It
would be odd to say that we ought to respect equally the dignity or
personality of the imbecile and of the rational man . . . but there is
nothing odd about saying that we should respect their interests equally,

13 For example, Bernard Williams, “The Idea of Equality,” in Philosophy, Politics, and Society (second series), ed. P.
Laslett and W. Rundman (Blackwell, Oxford, 1962), p. 118; J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pp. 509—10
14 Nomos IX: Equality; the passages quoted are on p. 62ff.

13

that is, that we should give to the interests of each the same serious
consideration as claims to considerations necessary for some standard
of well-being that we can recognize and endorse.

Benn’s statement of the basis of the consideration we should have for
imbeciles seems to me correct, but why should there be any fundamental
inequality of claims between a dog and a human imbecile? Benn sees that if
equal consideration depended on rationality, no reason could be given against
using imbeciles for research purposes, as we now use dogs and guinea pigs.
This will not do: “But of course we do distinguish imbeciles from animals in this
regard,” he says. That the common distinction is justifiable is something Benn
does not question; his problem is how it is to be justified. The answer he gives
is this:

. . . we respect the interests of men and give them priority over dogs
not insofar as they are rational, but because rationality is the human
norm. We say it is unfair to exploit the deficiencies of the imbecile who
falls short of the norm, just as it would be unfair, and not just ordinarily
dishonest, to steal from a blind man. If we do not think in this way about
dogs, it is because we do not see the irrationality of the dog as a
deficiency or a handicap, but as normal for the species, The
characteristics, therefore, that distinguish the normal man from the
normal dog make it intelligible for us to talk of other men having
interests and capacities, and therefore claims, of precisely the same
kind as we make on our own behalf. But although these characteristics
may provide the point of the distinction between men and other
species, they are not in fact the qualifying conditions for membership,
to the distinguishing criteria of the class of morally considerable
persons; and this is precisely because a man does not become a
member of a different species, with its own standards of normality, by
reason of not possessing these characteristics.

The final sentence of this passage gives the argument away. An imbecile,
Benn concedes, may have no characteristics superior to those of a dog;
nevertheless this does not make the imbecile a member of “a different species”
as the dog is. Therefore it would be “unfair” to use the imbecile for medical
research as we use the dog. But why? That the imbecile is not rational is just
the way things have worked out, and the same is true of the dog—neither is
any more responsible for their mental level. If it is unfair to take advantage of
an isolated defect, why is it fair to take advantage of a more general limitation?
I find it hard to see anything in this argument except a defense of preferring the
interests of members of our own species because they are members of our
own species. To those who think there might be more to it, I suggest the
following mental exercise. Assume that it has been proven that there is a
difference in the average, or normal, intelligence quotient for two different
races, say white people and Black people. Then substitute the term “white” for

14

every occurrence of “men” and “black” for every occurrence of “dog” in the
passage quoted; and substitute “high l.Q.” for “rationality” and when Benn talks
of “imbeciles” replace this term by “dumb whites”—that is, white people who fall
well below the normal white l.Q. score. Finally, change “species” to “race.” Now
reread the passage. It has become a defense of a rigid, no-exceptions division
between white people and Black people, based on l.Q. scores, not withstanding
an admitted overlap between white people and Black people in this respect.
The revised passage is, of course, outrageous, and this is not only because we
have made fictitious assumptions in our substitutions. The point is that in the
original passage Benn was defending a rigid division in the amount of
consideration due to members of different species, despite admitted cases of
overlap. If the original did not, at first reading strike us as being as outrageous
as the revised version does, this is largely because although we may not
consider ourselves racists, most of us are speciesists. Like the other articles,
Benn’s stands as a warning of the ease with which the best minds can fall
victim to a prevailing ideology.

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B R A I D I N G

S W E E T G R A S S

R O B I N WA L L K I M M E R E R

Indigenous Wisdom, Scientif ic Knowledge,

and the Teachings of Plants

A h y m n o f l o v e t o t h e w o r l d .
— E L I Z A B E T H G I L B E R T

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n a t u r e / e s s a y s $ 1 8

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with
the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces
the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass,
Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of
a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of
our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can
hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity
of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

“Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about the natural world from a place of such abun-
dant passion that one can never quite see the world the same way after having seen
it through her eyes. In Braiding Sweetgrass, she takes us on a journey that is every
bit as mystical as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.”

—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things

“Robin Wall Kimmerer shows how the factual, objective approach of science can be
enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people. It is the way she captures
beauty that I love the most—the images of giant cedars and wild strawberries, a forest
in the rain and a meadow of fragrant sweetgrass will stay with you long after you read
the last page.”

—Jane Goodall, author of Seeds of Hope and My Life with the Chimpanzees

“Everyone who cares about the environment—and everyone else, period—should
have Braiding Sweetgrass on their table. It captures the true reverence between Native
Americans and the earth, the relationship that we need to survive.”
—Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper, Onondaga Nation and Indigenous Environmental Leader

Ro b i n Wa l l K i m m e r e r is a mother, scientist, decorated
professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi
Nation. Her first book, Gathering Moss, was awarded the John
Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. Her writings
have appeared in Orion, O Magazine, and numerous scientific
journals. She lives in Fabius, New York, where she is SUNY
Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology,
and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples
and the Environment.

Author photo © Dale Kakkak
Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker

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© 2013, Text by Robin Wall Kimmerer
All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book
may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher: Milkweed
Editions, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 300, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415.
(800) 520- 6455
www.milkweed.org

Published 2013 by Milkweed Editions
Printed in Canada
Cover design by Mary Austin Speaker
Cover photo © Cindy Hughes
Author photo by Dale Kakkak
14 15 16 17 18 5 4 3 2 1
First Paperback Edition

978-1-57131-356-0

Milkweed Editions, an independent nonprofit publisher, gratefully acknowledges sustaining sup-
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Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data

Kimmerer, Robin Wall.
Braiding sweetgrass : indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants /

Robin Wall Kimmerer. — First edition.
pages cm
Summary: “As a leading researcher in the field of biology, Robin Wall Kimmerer under stands

the delicate state of our world. But as an active member of the Potawatomi nation, she senses and
relates to the world through a way of knowing far older than any science. In Braiding Sweetgrass,
she intertwines these two modes of awareness— the analytic and the emotional, the scientific and
the cultural— to ultimately reveal a path toward healing the rift that grows between people and
nature. The woven essays that construct this book bring people back into conversation with all that
is green and growing; a universe that never stopped speaking to us, even when we forgot how to
listen”— Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-1-57131-335-5 (hardback : alkaline paper)
1. Indian philosophy. 2. Indigenous peoples—Ecology. 3. Philosophy of nature.

4. Human ecology— Philosophy. 5. Nature— Effect of human beings on. 6. Human-plant
relationships. 7. Botany— Philosophy. 8. Kimmerer, Robin Wall. 9. Potawatomi
Indians— Biography. 10. Potawatomi Indians— Social life and customs. I. Title.

E98.P5K56 2013
305.597— dc23

2013012563

Milkweed Editions is committed to ecological stewardship. We strive to align our book production
practices with this principle, and to reduce the impact of our operations in the environment. We are a
member of the Green Press Initiative, a nonprofit coalition of publishers, manufacturers, and authors
working to protect the world’s endangered forests and conserve natural resources. Braiding Sweetgrass
was printed on acid- free 100% postconsumer- waste paper by Friesens Corporation.

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For all the Keepers of the Fire
my parents

my daughters
and my grandchildren

yet to join us in this beautiful place

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Skywoman Falling

In winter, when the green earth lies resting beneath a blanket of snow, this
is the time for storytelling. The storytellers begin by calling upon those who
came before who passed the stories down to us, for we are only messengers.

In the beginning there was the Skyworld.

She fell like a maple seed, pirouetting on an autumn breeze.* A column
of light streamed from a hole in the Skyworld, marking her path where
only darkness had been before. It took her a long time to fall. In fear, or
maybe hope, she clutched a bundle tightly in her hand.

Hurtling downward, she saw only dark water below. But in that
emptiness there were many eyes gazing up at the sudden shaft of light.
They saw there a small object, a mere dust mote in the beam. As it grew
closer, they could see that it was a woman, arms outstretched, long black
hair billowing behind as she spiraled toward them.

The geese nodded at one another and rose together from the water
in a wave of goose music. She felt the beat of their wings as they flew
beneath to break her fall. Far from the only home she’d ever known,
she caught her breath at the warm embrace of soft feathers as they gently
carried her downward. And so it began.

The geese could not hold the woman above the water for much
longer, so they called a council to decide what to do. Resting on their
wings, she saw them all gather: loons, otters, swans, beavers, fish of all
kinds. A great turtle floated in their midst and offered his back for her

* Adapted from oral tradition and Shenandoah and George, 1988.

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4 Planting Sweetgrass

to rest upon. Gratefully, she stepped from the goose wings onto the
dome of his shell. The others understood that she needed land for her
home and discussed how they might serve her need. The deep divers
among them had heard of mud at the bottom of the water and agreed
to go find some.

Loon dove first, but the distance was too far and after a long while
he surfaced with nothing to show for his efforts. One by one, the other
animals offered to help— Otter, Beaver, Sturgeon— but the depth, the
darkness, and the pressures were too great for even the strongest of
swimmers. They returned gasping for air with their heads ringing.
Some did not return at all. Soon only little Muskrat was left, the weak-
est diver of all. He volunteered to go while the others looked on doubt-
fully. His small legs flailed as he worked his way downward and he
was gone a very long time.

They waited and waited for him to return, fearing the worst for
their relative, and, before long, a stream of bubbles rose with the small,
limp body of the muskrat. He had given his life to aid this helpless
human. But then the others noticed that his paw was tightly clenched
and, when they opened it, there was a small handful of mud. Turtle said,
“Here, put it on my back and I will hold it.”

Skywoman bent and spread the mud with her hands across the
shell of the turtle. Moved by the extraordinary gifts of the animals,
she sang in thanksgiving and then began to dance, her feet caressing
the earth. The land grew and grew as she danced her thanks, from
the dab of mud on Turtle’s back until the whole earth was made. Not
by Skywoman alone, but from the alchemy of all the animals’ gifts
coupled with her deep gratitude. Together they formed what we know
today as Turtle Island, our home.

Like any good guest, Skywoman had not come empty- handed.
The bundle was still clutched in her hand. When she toppled from
the hole in the Skyworld she had reached out to grab onto the Tree
of Life that grew there. In her grasp were branches— fruits and seeds
of all kinds of plants. These she scattered onto the new ground and
carefully tended each one until the world turned from brown to green.

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5skywoman falling

Sunlight streamed through the hole from the Skyworld, allowing the
seeds to flourish. Wild grasses, flowers, trees, and medicines spread
everywhere. And now that the animals, too, had plenty to eat, many
came to live with her on Turtle Island.

Our stories say that of all the plants, wiingaashk, or sweetgrass, was
the very first to grow on the earth, its fragrance a sweet memory of
Skywoman’s hand. Accordingly, it is honored as one of the four sacred
plants of my people. Breathe in its scent and you start to remember
things you didn’t know you’d forgotten. Our elders say that ceremonies
are the way we “remember to remember,” and so sweetgrass is a power-
ful ceremonial plant cherished by many indigenous nations. It is also
used to make beautiful baskets. Both medicine and a relative, its value
is both material and spiritual.

There is such tenderness in braiding the hair of someone you
love. Kindness and something more flow between the braider and the
braided, the two connected by the cord of the plait. Wiingaashk waves
in strands, long and shining like a woman’s freshly washed hair. And
so we say it is the flowing hair of Mother Earth. When we braid sweet-
grass, we are braiding the hair of Mother Earth, showing her our loving
attention, our care for her beauty and well- being, in gratitude for all she
has given us. Children hearing the Skywoman story from birth know in
their bones the responsibility that flows between humans and the earth.

The story of Skywoman’s journey is so rich and glittering it feels to
me like a deep bowl of celestial blue from which I could drink again
and again. It holds our beliefs, our history, our relationships. Looking
into that starry bowl, I see images swirling so fluidly that the past and
the present become as one. Images of Skywoman speak not just of
where we came from, but also of how we can go forward.

I have Bruce King’s portrait of Skywoman, Moment in Flight, hanging
in my lab. Floating to earth with her handful of seeds and flowers, she

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6 Planting Sweetgrass

looks down on my microscopes and data loggers. It might seem an
odd juxtaposition, but to me she belongs there. As a writer, a scientist,
and a carrier of Skywoman’s story, I sit at the feet of my elder teachers
listening for their songs.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9:35 a.m., I am usu-
ally in a lecture hall at the university, expounding about botany and
ecology— trying, in short, to explain to my students how Skywoman’s
gardens, known by some as “global ecosystems,” function. One other-
wise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General
Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate
their understanding of the negative interactions between humans
and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students
said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were
third- year students who had selected a career in environmental pro-
tection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They
were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the
land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they
were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between
people and land. The median response was “none.”

I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education
they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and
the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day—
brownfields, factory farms, suburban sprawl— truncated their ability
to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes
impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked
about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what
beneficial relations between their species and others might look like.
How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustain-
ability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like? If we can’t
imagine the generosity of geese? These students were not raised on the
story of Skywoman.

On one side of the world were people whose relationship with the liv-
ing world was shaped by Skywoman, who created a garden for the

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7skywoman falling

well- being of all. On the other side was another woman with a garden
and a tree. But for tasting its fruit, she was banished from the garden
and the gates clanged shut behind her. That mother of men was made
to wander in the wilderness and earn her bread by the sweat of her
brow, not by filling her mouth with the sweet juicy fruits that bend the
branches low. In order to eat, she was instructed to subdue the wilder-
ness into which she was cast.

Same species, same earth, different stories. Like Creation stories
every where, cosmologies are a source of identity and orientation to the
world. They tell us who we are. We are inevitably shaped by them
no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness. One story
leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banish-
ment. One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good
green world that would be the home of her descendants. The other
was an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to
her real home in heaven.

And then they met— the offspring of Skywoman and the children
of Eve— and the land around us bears the scars of that meeting, the
echoes of our stories. They say that hell hath no fury like a woman
scorned, and I can only imagine the conversation between Eve and
Skywoman: “Sister, you got the short end of the stick . . .”

The Skywoman story, shared by the original peoples throughout the
Great Lakes, is a constant star in the constellation of teachings we call
the Original Instructions. These are not “instructions” like command-
ments, though, or rules; rather, they are like a compass: they provide
an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map
for yourself. How to follow the Original Instructions will be different
for each of us and different for every era.

In their time, Skywoman’s first people lived by their understand-
ing of the Original Instructions, with ethical prescriptions for respect-
ful hunting, family life, ceremonies that made sense for their world.
Those measures for caring might not seem to fit in today’s urban
world, where “green” means an advertising slogan, not a meadow. The

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8 Planting Sweetgrass

buffalo are gone and the world has moved on. I can’t return salmon
to the river, and my neighbors would raise the alarm if I set fire to my
yard to produce pasture for elk.

The earth was new then, when it welcomed the first human. It’s
old now, and some suspect that we have worn out our welcome by
casting the Original Instructions aside. From the very beginning of
the world, the other species were a lifeboat for the people. Now, we
must be theirs. But the stories that might guide us, if they are told at
all, grow dim in the memory. What meaning would they have today?
How can we translate from the stories at the world’s beginning to this
hour so much closer to its end? The landscape has changed, but the
story remains. And as I turn it over again and again, Skywoman seems
to look me in the eye and ask, in return for this gift of a world on
Turtle’s back, what will I give in return?

It is good to remember that the original woman was herself an
immigrant. She fell a long way from her home in the Skyworld, leav-
ing behind all who knew her and who held her dear. She could never
go back. Since 1492, most here are immigrants as well, perhaps ar-
riving on Ellis Island without even knowing that Turtle Island rested
beneath their feet. Some of my ancestors are Skywoman’s people, and
I belong to them. Some of my ancestors were the newer kind of im-
migrants, too: a French fur trader, an Irish carpenter, a Welsh farmer.
And here we all are, on Turtle Island, trying to make a home. Their
stories, of arrivals with empty pockets and nothing but hope, resonate
with Skywoman’s. She came here with nothing but a handful of seeds
and the slimmest of instructions to “use your gifts and dreams for
good,” the same instructions we all carry. She accepted the gifts from
the other beings with open hands and used them honorably. She shared
the gifts she brought from Skyworld as she set herself about the business
of flourishing, of making a home.

Perhaps the Skywoman story endures because we too are always
falling. Our lives, both personal and collective, share her trajectory.
Whether we jump or are pushed, or the edge of the known world
just crumbles at our feet, we fall, spinning into someplace new and

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9skywoman falling

unexpected. Despite our fears of falling, the gifts of the world stand by
to catch us.

As we consider these instructions, it is also good to recall that, when
Skywoman arrived here, she did not come alone. She was pregnant.
Knowing her grandchildren would inherit the world she left behind,
she did not work for flourishing in her time only. It was through her
actions of reciprocity, the give and take with the land, that the original
immigrant became indigenous. For all of us, becoming indigenous to
a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care
of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.

In the public arena, I’ve heard the Skywoman story told as a bauble of
colorful “folklore.” But, even when it is misunderstood, there is power
in the telling. Most of my students have never heard the origin story of
this land where they were born, but when I tell them, something be-
gins to kindle behind their eyes. Can they, can we all, understand the
Skywoman story not as an artifact from the past but as instructions for
the future? Can a nation of immigrants once again follow her example
to become native, to make a home?

Look at the legacy of poor Eve’s exile from Eden: the land shows
the bruises of an abusive relationship. It’s not just land that is broken,
but more importantly, our relationship to land. As Gary Nabhan has
written, we can’t meaningfully proceed with healing, with restoration,
without “re- story- ation.” In other words, our relationship with land
cannot heal until we hear its stories. But who will tell them?

In the Western tradition there is a recognized hierarchy of beings,
with, of course, the human being on top— the pinnacle of evolution,
the darling of Creation— and the plants at the bottom. But in Native
ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger
brothers of Creation.” We say that humans have the least experience
with how to live and thus the most to learn— we must look to our
teachers among the other species for guidance. Their wisdom is appar-
ent in the way that they live. They teach us by example. They’ve been
on the earth far longer than we have been, and have had time to figure
things out. They live both above and below ground, joining Skyworld

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10 Planting Sweetgrass

to the earth. Plants know how to make food and medicine from light
and water, and then they give it away.

I like to imagine that when Skywoman scattered her handful of
seeds across Turtle Island, she was sowing sustenance for the body and
also for the mind, emotion, and spirit: she was leaving us teachers. The
plants can tell us her story; we need to learn to listen.

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The Gift of Strawberries

I once heard Evon Peter—a Gwich’in man, a father, a husband, an
environmental activist, and Chief of Arctic Village, a small village in
northeastern Alaska— introduce himself simply as “a boy who was
raised by a river.” A description as smooth and slippery as a river rock.
Did he mean only that he grew up near its banks? Or was the river
responsible for rearing him, for teaching him the things he needed to
live? Did it feed him, body and soul? Raised by a river: I suppose both
meanings are true— you can hardly have one without the other.

In a way, I was raised by strawberries, fields of them. Not to ex-
clude the maples, hemlocks, white pines, goldenrod, asters, violets, and
mosses of upstate New York, but it was the wild strawberries, beneath
dewy leaves on an almost- summer morning, who gave me my sense
of the world, my place in it. Behind our house were miles of old hay
fields divided by stone walls, long abandoned from farming but not yet
grown up to forest. After the school bus chugged up our hill, I’d throw
down my red plaid book bag, change my clothes before my mother
could think of a chore, and jump across the crick to go wandering
in the goldenrod. Our mental maps had all the landmarks we kids
needed: the fort under the sumacs, the rock pile, the river, the big pine
with branches so evenly spaced you could climb to the top as if it were
a ladder— and the strawberry patches.

White petals with a yellow center— like a little wild rose— they dot-
ted the acres of curl grass in May during the Flower Moon, waabigwani-
giizis. We kept good track of them, peeking under the trifoliate leaves

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
Created from washington on 2021-03-28 11:37:47.

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23the gift of strawberries

to check their progress as we ran through on our way to catch frogs.
After the flower finally dropped its petals, a tiny green nub appeared
in its place, and as the days got longer and warmer it swelled to a small
white berry. These were sour but we ate them anyway, impatient for
the real thing.

You could smell ripe strawberries before you saw them, the fra-
grance mingling with the smell of sun on damp ground. It was the
smell of June, the last day of school, when we were set free, and the
Strawberry Moon, ode’mini- giizis. I’d lie on my stomach in my fa-
vorite patches, watching the berries grow sweeter and bigger under
the leaves. Each tiny wild berry was scarcely bigger than a rain-
drop, dimpled with seeds under the cap of leaves. From that vantage
point I could pick only the reddest of the red, leaving the pink ones
for tomorrow.

Even now, after more than fifty Strawberry Moons, finding a patch
of wild strawberries still touches me with a sensation of surprise, a feel-
ing of unworthiness and gratitude for the generosity and kindness that
comes with an unexpected gift all wrapped in red and green. “Really?
For me? Oh, you shouldn’t have.” After fifty years they still raise the
question of how to respond to their generosity. Sometimes it feels like a
silly question with a very simple answer: eat them.

But I know that someone else has wondered these same things. In
our Creation stories the origin of strawberries is important. Skywoman’s
beautiful daughter, whom she carried in her womb from Skyworld,
grew on the good green earth, loving and loved by all the other beings.
But tragedy befell her when she died giving birth to her twins, Flint
and Sapling. Heartbroken, Skywoman buried her beloved daughter in
the earth. Her final gifts, our most revered plants, grew from her body.
The strawberry arose from her heart. In Potawatomi, the strawberry is
ode min, the heart berry. We recognize them as the leaders of the ber-
ries, the first to bear fruit.

Strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply
scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your
own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
Created from washington on 2021-03-28 11:37:47.

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24 Planting Sweetgrass

a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And
yet it appears. Your only role is to be open- eyed and present. Gifts exist
in a realm of humility and mystery— as with random acts of kindness,
we do not know their source.

Those fields of my childhood showered us with strawberries, rasp-
berries, blackberries, hickory nuts in the fall, bouquets of wildflowers
brought to my mom, and family walks on Sunday afternoon. They
were our playground, retreat, wildlife sanctuary, ecology classroom, and
the place where we learned to shoot tin cans off the stone wall. All for
free. Or so I thought.

I experienced the world in that time as a gift economy, “goods and
services” not purchased but received as gifts from the earth. Of course
I was blissfully unaware of how my parents must have struggled to
make ends meet in the wage economy raging far from this field.

In our family, the presents we gave one another were almost al-
ways homemade. I thought that was the definition of a gift: something
you made for someone else. We made all our Christmas gifts: piggy
banks from old Clorox bottles, hot pads from broken clothespins, and
puppets from retired socks. My mother says it was because we had no
money for store- bought presents. It didn’t seem like a hardship to me;
it was something special.

My father loves wild strawberries, so for Father’s Day my mother
would almost always make him strawberry shortcake. She baked the
crusty shortcakes and whipped the heavy cream, but we kids were re-
sponsible for the berries. We each got an old jar or two and spent the
Saturday before the celebration out in the fields, taking forever to fill them
as more and more berries ended up in our mouths. Finally, we returned
home and poured them out on the kitchen table to sort out the bugs.
I’m sure we missed some, but Dad never mentioned the extra protein.

In fact, he thought wild strawberry shortcake was the best pos-
sible present, or so he had us convinced. It was a gift that could never
be bought. As children raised by strawberries, we were probably un-
aware that the gift of berries was from the fields themselves, not from

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
Created from washington on 2021-03-28 11:37:47.

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25the gift of strawberries

us. Our gift was time and attention and care and red- stained fingers.
Heart berries, indeed.

Gifts from the earth or from each other establish a particular relation-
ship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate. The field
gave to us, we gave to my dad, and we tried to give back to the straw-
berries. When the berry season was done, the plants would send out
slender red runners to make new plants. Because I was fascinated by the
way they would travel over the ground looking for good places to take
root, I would weed out little patches of bare ground where the run-
ners touched down. Sure enough, tiny little roots would emerge from
the runner and by the end of the season there were even more plants,
ready to bloom under the next Strawberry Moon. No person taught us
this— the strawberries showed us. Because they had given us a gift, an
ongoing relationship opened between us.

Farmers around us grew a lot of strawberries and frequently hired
kids to pick for them. My siblings and I would ride our bikes a long
way to Crandall’s farm to pick berries to earn spending money. A dime
for every quart we picked. But Mrs. Crandall was a persnickety over-
seer. She stood at the edge of the field in her bib apron and instructed
us how to pick and warned us not to crush any berries. She had other
rules, too. “These berries belong to me,” she said, “not to you. I don’t
want to see you kids eating my berries.” I knew the difference: In the
fields behind my house, the berries belonged to themselves. At this
lady’s roadside stand, she sold them for sixty cents a quart.

It was quite a lesson in economics. We’d have to spend most of our
wages if we wanted to ride home with berries in our bike baskets. Of
course those berries were ten times bigger than our wild ones, but not
nearly so good. I don’t believe we ever put those farm berries in Dad’s
shortcake. It wouldn’t have felt right.

. . . .

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
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26 Planting Sweetgrass

It’s funny how the nature of an object— let’s say a strawberry or a pair
of socks— is so changed by the way it has come into your hands, as a
gift or as a commodity. The pair of wool socks that I buy at the store,
red and gray striped, are warm and cozy. I might feel grateful for the
sheep that made the wool and the worker who ran the knitting ma-
chine. I hope so. But I have no inherent obligation to those socks as a
commodity, as private property. There is no bond beyond the politely
exchanged “thank yous” with the clerk. I have paid for them and our
reciprocity ended the minute I handed her the money. The exchange
ends once parity has been established, an equal exchange. They be-
come my property. I don’t write a thank- you note to JCPenney.

But what if those very same socks, red and gray striped, were knit-
ted by my grandmother and given to me as a gift? That changes every-
thing. A gift creates ongoing relationship. I will write a thank- you
note. I will take good care of them and if I am a very gracious grand-
child I’ll wear them when she visits even if I don’t like them. When
it’s her birthday, I will surely make her a gift in return. As the scholar
and writer Lewis Hyde notes, “It is the cardinal difference between
gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling- bond
between two people.”

Wild strawberries fit the definition of gift, but grocery store berries
do not. It’s the relationship between producer and consumer that changes
everything. As a gift- thinker, I would be deeply offended if I saw wild
strawberries in the grocery store. I would want to kidnap them all. They
were not meant to be sold, only to be given. Hyde reminds us that in a
gift economy, one’s freely given gifts cannot be made into someone else’s
capital. I can see the headline now: “Woman Arrested for Shoplifting
Produce. Strawberry Liberation Front Claims Responsibility.”

This is the same reason we do not sell sweetgrass. Because it is
given to us, it should only be given to others. My dear friend Wally
“Bear” Meshigaud is a ceremonial firekeeper for our people and uses a
lot of sweetgrass on our behalf. There are folks who pick for him in a
good way, to keep him supplied, but even so, at a big gathering some-
times he runs out. At powwows and fairs you can see our own people

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
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27the gift of strawberries

selling sweetgrass for ten bucks a braid. When Wally really needs
wiingashk for a ceremony, he may visit one of those booths among the
stalls selling frybread or hanks of beads. He introduces himself to the
seller, explains his need, just as he would in a meadow, asking permis-
sion of the sweetgrass. He cannot pay for it, not because he doesn’t have
the money, but because it cannot be bought or sold and still retain its
essence for ceremony. He expects sellers to graciously give him what he
needs, but sometimes they don’t. The guy at the booth thinks he’s being
shaken down by an elder. “Hey, you can’t get something for nothin’,”
he says. But that is exactly the point. A gift is something for nothing,
except that certain obligations are attached. For the plant to be sacred,
it cannot be sold. Reluctant entrepreneurs will get a teaching from
Wally, but they’ll never get his money.

Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass pickers collect
properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their com-
munity. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well- being of
the wiingashk. The braids are given as gifts, to honor, to say thank you,
to heal and to strengthen. The sweetgrass is kept in motion. When
Wally gives sweetgrass to the fire, it is a gift that has passed from hand
to hand, growing richer as it is honored in every exchange.

That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their
value increases with their passage. The fields made a gift of berries to
us and we made a gift of them to our father. The more something is
shared, the greater its value becomes. This is hard to grasp for societies
steeped in notions of private property, where others are, by definition,
excluded from sharing. Practices such as posting land against trespass,
for example, are expected and accepted in a property economy but are
unacceptable in an economy where land is seen as a gift to all.

Lewis Hyde wonderfully illustrates this dissonance in his explora-
tion of the “Indian giver.” This expression, used negatively today as a
pejorative for someone who gives something and then wants to have it
back, actually derives from a fascinating cross- cultural misinterpreta-
tion between an indigenous culture operating in a gift economy and a
colonial culture predicated on the concept of private property. When

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
Created from washington on 2021-03-28 11:37:47.

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28 Planting Sweetgrass

gifts were given to the settlers by the Native inhabitants, the recipients
understood that they were valuable and were intended to be retained.
Giving them away would have been an affront. But the indigenous
people understood the value of the gift to be based in reciprocity and
would be affronted if the gifts did not circulate back to them. Many of
our ancient teachings counsel that whatever we have been given is sup-
posed to be given away again.

From the viewpoint of a private property economy, the “gift” is
deemed to be “free” because we obtain it free of charge, at no cost. But
in the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it
creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its
root, reciprocity. In Western thinking, private land is understood to be
a “bundle of rights,” whereas in a gift economy property has a “bundle
of responsibilities” attached.

I was once lucky enough to spend time doing ecological research in
the Andes. My favorite part was market day in the local village, when
the square filled with vendors. There were tables loaded with platanos,
carts of fresh papaya, stalls in bright colors with pyramids of tomatoes,
and buckets of hairy yucca roots. Other vendors spread blankets on the
ground, with everything you could need, from flip- flops to woven palm
hats. Squatting behind her red blanket, a woman in a striped shawl and
navy blue bowler spread out medicinal roots as beautifully wrinkled as
she was. The colors, the smells of corn roasting on a wood fire and sharp
limes, and the sounds of all the voices mingle wonderfully in my memory.
I had a favorite stall where the owner, Edita, looked for me each day.
She’d kindly explain how to cook unfamiliar items and pull out the
sweetest pineapple she’d been saving under the table. Once she even
had strawberries. I know that I paid the gringa prices but the experi-
ence of abundance and goodwill were worth every peso.

I dreamed not long ago of that market with all its vivid textures.
I walked through the stalls with a basket over my arm as always and
went right to Edita for a bunch of fresh cilantro. We chatted and laughed

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
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29the gift of strawberries

and when I held out my coins she waved them off, patting my arm
and sending me away. A gift, she said. Muchas gracias, señora, I re-
plied. There was my favorite panadera, with clean cloths laid over the
round loaves. I chose a few rolls, opened my purse, and this vendor
too gestured away my money as if I were impolite to suggest paying. I
looked around in bewilderment; this was my familiar market and yet
everything had changed. It wasn’t just for me— no shopper was paying.
I floated through the market with a sense of euphoria. Gratitude was
the only currency accepted here. It was all a gift. It was like picking
strawberries in my field: the merchants were just intermediaries pass-
ing on gifts from the earth.

I looked in my basket: two zucchinis, an onion, tomatoes, bread,
and a bunch of cilantro. It was still half empty, but it felt full. I had
everything I needed. I glanced over at the cheese stall, thinking to get
some, but knowing it would be given, not sold, I decided I could do
without. It’s funny: Had all the things in the market merely been a
very low price, I probably would have scooped up as much as I could.
But when everything became a gift, I felt self- restraint. I didn’t want to
take too much. And I began thinking of what small presents I might
bring to the vendors tomorrow.

The dream faded, of course, but the feelings first of euphoria and
then of self- restraint remain. I’ve thought of it often and recognize now
that I was witness there to the conversion of a market economy to a gift
economy, from private goods to common wealth. And in that transfor-
mation the relationships became as nourishing as the food I was get-
ting. Across the market stalls and blankets, warmth and compassion
were changing hands. There was a shared celebration of abundance for
all we’d been given. And since every market basket contained a meal,
there was justice.

I’m a plant scientist and I want to be clear, but I am also a poet
and the world speaks to me in metaphor. When I speak of the gift of
berries, I do not mean that Fragaria virginiana has been up all night
making a present just for me, strategizing to find exactly what I’d like
on a summer morning. So far as we know, that does not happen, but

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
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30 Planting Sweetgrass

as a scientist I am well aware of how little we do know. The plant has
in fact been up all night assembling little packets of sugar and seeds
and fragrance and color, because when it does so its evolutionary fit-
ness is increased. When it is successful in enticing an animal such as
me to disperse its fruit, its genes for making yumminess are passed on
to ensuing generations with a higher frequency than those of the plant
whose berries were inferior. The berries made by the plant shape the
behaviors of the dispersers and have adaptive consequences.

What I mean of course is that our human relationship with straw-
berries is transformed by our choice of perspective. It is human percep-
tion that makes the world a gift. When we view the world this way,
strawberries and humans alike are transformed. The relationship of
gratitude and reciprocity thus developed can increase the evolutionary
fitness of both plant and animal. A species and a culture that treat the
natural world with respect and reciprocity will surely pass on genes
to ensuing generations with a higher frequency than the people who
destroy it. The stories we choose to shape our behaviors have adaptive
consequences.

Lewis Hyde has made extensive studies of gift economies. He finds
that “objects . . . will remain plentiful because they are treated as gifts.”
A gift relationship with nature is a “formal give- and- take that acknowl-
edges our participation in, and dependence upon, natural increase. We
tend to respond to nature as a part of ourselves, not a stranger or alien
available for exploitation. Gift exchange is the commerce of choice, for
it is commerce that harmonizes with, or participates in, the process of
[nature’s] increase.”

In the old times, when people’s lives were so directly tied to the land,
it was easy to know the world as gift. When fall came, the skies would
darken with flocks of geese, honking “Here we are.” It reminds the
people of the Creation story, when the geese came to save Skywoman.
The people are hungry, winter is coming, and the geese fill the marshes
with food. It is a gift and the people receive it with thanksgiving, love,
and respect.

But when the food does not come from a flock in the sky, when

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
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31the gift of strawberries

you don’t feel the warm feathers cool in your hand and know that a life
has been given for yours, when there is no gratitude in return— that
food may not satisfy. It may leave the spirit hungry while the belly is
full. Something is broken when the food comes on a Styrofoam tray
wrapped in slippery plastic, a carcass of a being whose only chance at
life was a cramped cage. That is not a gift of life; it is a theft.

How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the
earth as a gift again, to make our relations with the world sacred again?
I know we cannot all become hunter- gatherers—the living world could
not bear our weight— but even in a market economy, can we behave “as
if ” the living world were a gift?

We could start by listening to Wally. There are those who will try
to sell the gifts, but, as Wally says of sweetgrass for sale, “Don’t buy it.”
Refusal to participate is a moral choice. Water is a gift for all, not meant
to be bought and sold. Don’t buy it. When food has been wrenched
from the earth, depleting the soil and poisoning our relatives in the
name of higher yields, don’t buy it.

In material fact, Strawberries belong only to themselves. The ex-
change relationships we choose determine whether we share them as
a common gift or sell them as a private commodity. A great deal rests
on that choice. For the greater part of human history, and in places in
the world today, common resources were the rule. But some invented
a different story, a social construct in which everything is a commod-
ity to be bought and sold. The market economy story has spread like
wildfire, with uneven results for human well- being and devastation for
the natural world. But it is just a story we have told ourselves and we
are free to tell another, to reclaim the old one.

One of these stories sustains the living systems on which we depend.
One of these stories opens the way to living in gratitude and amazement
at the richness and generosity of the world. One of these stories asks us
to bestow our own gifts in kind, to celebrate our kinship with the world.
We can choose. If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow.
When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become.

In those childhood fields, waiting for strawberries to ripen, I used

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
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32 Planting Sweetgrass

to eat the sour white ones, sometimes out of hunger but mostly from
impatience. I knew the long- term results of my short- term greed, but
I took them anyway. Fortunately, our capacity for self- restraint grows
and develops like the berries beneath the leaves, so I learned to wait. A
little. I remember lying on my back in the fields watching the clouds
go by and rolling over to check the berries every few minutes. When I
was young, I thought the change might happen that fast. Now I am old
and I know that transformation is slow. The commodity economy has
been here on Turtle Island for four hundred years, eating up the white
strawberries and everything else. But people have grown weary of the
sour taste in their mouths. A great longing is upon us, to live again in a
world made of gifts. I can scent it coming, like the fragrance of ripen-
ing strawberries rising on the breeze.

Kimmerer, Robin. Braiding Sweetgrass : Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants,
Milkweed Editions, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/washington/detail.action?docID=1212658.
Created from washington on 2021-03-28 11:37:47.

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23

3

SOCIAL JUSTICE BELIEFS AND ADDICTION TO UNCOMPASSIONATE
CONSUMPTION

F TOOD FOR HOUGHT

A. Breeze Harper

I grew up working class in a blue-collar town. Since my teenage years, I have been a fervent literary activist
when it comes to antiracism, anticlassism, and antisexism. However, I was never able to understand how
eco-sustainability, animal rights, and plant-based diets could be integral to my work. I honestly thought that
these issues were the domain of the privileged, white, middle- and upper-class people of America. Sure, it

, I had thought with ignorance and prejudice. was easy for them Race and class struggle is not a reality for
them, so they can “waste” their time on saving dolphins, whining about recycling cans, and preserving
Redwood trees while my Black and brown brothas continue to be denied “human rights” because of the

.color of our skin
It has been only in the past several years that I realized that eco-sustainability, nonhuman animal rights,

plant-based diets, and human rights inextricably linked. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it has been the are
of the message—via the white, class-privileged perspective—that has been offensive to atone and delivery

majority of people of color and working-class people in America. Though there are many factors that prevent
people of color and working-class people from practicing plant-based diets, eco-sustainability, and more
(such as environmental racism, financial stability, connections food has to ethnic solidarity, and so on), this
chapter focuses largely on why people of color engaged in antiracism and antipoverty social justice work can
strengthen their understanding of social justice by taking a critical and often difficult look at how our
consumption choices—dietary and nondietary—may actually be hindering our social justice activism.

I know that health problems due to improper nutrition and knowledge about food are not specific to
“ethnic diets,” such as postindustrialist Soul Food among Black people. A significant number of people in
the U.S. are suffering from improper nutrition and inadequate health care. My research interests are specific
to the intersections of health disparities, and perceptions of social justice, animal rights, environmental
racism, and critical race theory as it pertains to Black- and brown-identified people in North America.

I have experienced personally over the past few years how a purity of diet and thought are interrelated. And
when Americans become truly concerned with the purity of the food that enters their own personal systems,
when they learn to eat properly, we can expect to see profound changes effected in the social and political
system of this nation. The two systems are inseparable.1

The above quote is by Dick Gregory, civil rights activist, comedian, and nutritional liberationist, who has
spent much of his adult life advocating that people in America—particularly African-Americans—cannot
obtain social justice until we begin to question our postindustrial, unhealthy dietary practices and foodtrue
beliefs. Gregory believes that the sugar-laden, meaty-dairy, high-fat-saturated, junk-food diet of Black2

America is at the root of many of our social justice problems. Gregory’s concerns, voiced decades ago, ring3
especially true for today’s Black population in the U.S., whose health has been compromised due to our diets
and inadequate health care. Gregory states:4

I personally would say that the quickest way to wipe out a group of people is to put them on a Soul Food
diet. One of the tragedies is that the very folks in the Black community who are most sophisticated in terms

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AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

Jennifer Atkinson
Jennifer Atkinson

24

of the political realities in this country are nonetheless advocates of “Soul Food.” They will lay down a
heavy rap on genocide in America with regard to Black folks, then walk into a Soul Food restaurant and
help the genocide along.5

The implications of this brotha’s words are profound and unsettling—especially since Soul Food has been
rooted in how many Black-identified people embrace or define their “Blackness.” However, it is with6
Gregory’s words that I feel I must scrutinize how collectively our health and consumption practices (food as
well as nondietary) are frequently contradictory to our social justice beliefs, in the Black community as well
as other communities engaged in antiracist and antipoverty social justice work in the U.S.

Let me start with our overconsumption of sugar products. The Dunkin Donuts slogan “America runs on
Dunkin” scares the hell out of me. The suggestion that a country prides itself on being “nourished” on donuts
and lattés is rather curious. Since entering the workforce in 1994, I’ve witnessed my friends and colleagues
become depressed, restless, and irritable when they don’t get their coffee and pastry in the morning. Wait a
minute! Aren’t these the same traits shown by a heroin or cocaine addict in need of a fix? I’m mesmerized by
the American work culture. These sugar- and caffeine-induced mood swings are deemed normal. What
would a colleague do if their officemate displayed these characteristics, then excused himself with “I’ll be
fine once I snort some cocaine”? He or she would most likely be reported, fired, or arrested. Isn’t it
hypocritical to respond differently to illegal drugs or alcohol as opposed to our addictions to legal drugs and
health-decaying junk food on the job?

I used to eat at least three donuts per work day. When I first moved to Boston in 2000, twenty-three years
old, thin, and exercising religiously, I naively thought that as long as I exercised four times a week I could
load up on as many sweets as I wanted. Simultaneously, I’d wonder why I was experiencingmysteriously
highs and lows, apathy, paranoia, depression, and insomnia. I was a sugar addict! I was going nuts and didn’t
even realize it was my addiction to sugar-drenched foods that was causing severe disharmony within my
brain chemistry.7

William Dufty, author of , is convinced that yearly increases in sucrose (refined cane sugar)Sugar Blues
and beet sugar consumption are the reason why emotional disharmony—such as depression—has drastically
risen within the United States. Likewise, from historical times to the present, the First World initiated civil8

unrest and legalized slavery—starting in the 1700s—to get our fix of sugar products. In addition, we’ve9
taken fertile land and used it to grow a plant of which the end product for a majority of people in the United
States is a nutritionally deficient substance. Sugar consumption in the U.S. has gone from ten pounds per
year per person in 1821 to 150 pounds per person. In addition, an estimated one hundred million people10 11

in the United States drink coffee in the morning, “a total of two cups of java every single day.”billion 12
What happens to an entire nation if a majority of the population goes from taking crack or heroin a few days
per year to every day and in high quantities? Dufty argues that sugar might as well be “dope”:

On summer vacation, I hitchhiked thousands of miles and lived on Pepsi Cola in those large,
economy-sized nickel bottles. It was not until I visited the South for the first time that a girl turned me onto
something called “dope.” They served it at soda fountains with lots of crushed ice, vanilla flavoring, syrup,
and soda. Up North it was called Coca-Cola.13

So, how does this tie into social injustices such as exploitation, classism, and racism? Well, authors such
as William Dufty and Sidney Mintz both theorize that the African slave trade started because of sugar. I14
argue that slavery manifested itself in multifaceted ways, too: the obvious one is the enslavement of Africans
and other indigenous populations. However, addiction is another form of slavery. As Derrick Jensen notes,
“to be addicted is to be a slave. To be a slave is to be addicted.” What happens if a significant number of15
people in the world’s “most powerful” nation are sugar-addicted slaves? Are sugar and caffeine addictions
truly the reason why the British Empire fell?

A majority of Americans are dependent on sucrose, bleached flour, high fructose corn syrup, flesh food,
and caffeine. Therefore, what does it mean that “America runs on Dunkin”? Who and what are we hurting,
deceiving, and stealing from to bring us our powdered-sugar donut, that Coolatta, or that ham, egg, andCo

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Jennifer Atkinson

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cheese English muffin? Recent research shows that we’re hurting ourselves and exploiting and enslaving
others—nonhuman animals and humans—in a way that is similar to colonialism; similar to when many of
our African ancestors were torn from their communities and shipped to the Caribbean and Americas to chop
cane for the production of sucrose and rum for addicted Europeans: an entire nation whose civilization rested
on the shoulders of the savage African and indigenous American slaves to harvest their drug.16

It is 2009, and sugar consumption continues to increase globally. Sucrose is a toxin and has no nutritional
value to the human body. Particularly, since sugar cane is grown upon thousands17 Isn’t that a little strange?
of acres of land to produce sucrose. Eight hundred and thirty million people in the world are undernourished,
and 791 million of them live in so-called developing countries. Hence, what nourishing foods could these18
acres potentially grow if (a) sugar cane were no longer in high demand from the U.S. (as well as the rest of
the top consumers—Brazil, Australia, and the EU) and (b) the land was used specifically to grow nourishing
foods for the population in the global South?

Back to breakfast in the United States . . . a Dunkin Donuts meaty dairy breakfast meal, such as the
Supreme Omelet on a Croissant, not only has 38g of fat, 590 calories, hydrogenated oils, sugar, and bleached
flour, but the production of this food encompasses multiple layers of suffering. Production of addictive
“civilized” substances such as refined sugar, processed flesh foods, chocolate, and coffee take away and
often pollute land that could be used to grow whole foods that can feed the malnourished and starving human
beings of this planet. Even more important, human beings nonhuman animals and the ecosystem sufferand
greatly because of our First World addiction to unmindful human, egocentric consumption.

Many people do not know this (I include myself, when I used to eat meat), but the pig that had been
enslaved and eventually killed, mutilated, and processed to become part of America’s Dunkin Donuts
breakfast sandwich (or any other pig-filled meal) required a lot of water to be raised and eventually
slaughtered. Pig farming—along with all nonorganic meat and dairy farming production—is overconsuming
and contaminating the world’s water supply. “Farm animals directly consume about 2.3 billion gallons of19
water per day, or over 800 billion gallons per year. Another 200 billion gallons are used to cool the animals
and wash down their facilities, bringing the total to about 1 trillion gallons.”20

This cannot be taken lightly. You like clean drinking water, right? Every single being on this planet
requires water for survival. Yes, this includes , your grandbaby, your family cat, your best friend, theyou
turnips in your garden, and the physician that you may seek medical services from. I recently learned that the
World Resources Institute predicts that at least 3.5 billion people—that’s more than half of us—will be
struggling with water shortages by 2025. Water is likely to join oil as a primary cause of armed conflicts.
Already, multinational corporations have used their power within donor nations to force indebted nations to
privatize some water resources. This is just one example of how, yet again, those who are already oppressed
will be hurt the most by environmental crises. Around the world, women and girls are those mostly
responsible for obtaining household water.21

Yes, my brothas and sistahs in the United States, even if you’re one of the many human beings on the
planet who aren’t concerned with nonhuman animals rights at this point in your antiracism and antipoverty
praxis and spiritual path, your consumption of unsustainably produced animal products may not only be
increasing your chances for cancer, obesity, and heart disease, you may be (in)directly oppressing and22
causing suffering to people who . I was astounded to learn that the poor and people of colorlook just like you
have a much higher chance and likelihood of suffering and dying simply because they don’t have rightful
access to clean water, water that has been polluted and/or misused for our American addiction to flesh foods.
To give you some more perspective on how much water is used in animal farming, here are some statistics:

Five times as much water is used for irrigation to grow animal feed grains compared to fruits and
vegetables.
4,500 gallons of water are needed to produce a quarter pound of raw beef.
8,500 square miles is the size of the dead zone created in the Gulf of Mexico by fertilizer runoff carried
by the Mississippi River from the upper Midwest.
17 trillion gallons is the amount of irrigation water used annually to produce feed for U.S. livestock.23

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I must elaborate once again that those who will potentially suffer and/or die from lack of clean water
access will be the poor and people of color. My brothas and sistahs in the struggle, that could be .you

There was a time when I didn’t realize how much is at stake if we continue to overconsume animal
products, which have been proven to be not only unnecessary in the diets of most people, but a threat to24
our personal health because of our overconsumption of them. This is no small matter; a majority of
Americans—especially Black, brown, and indigenous people—suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart disease,
reproductive ailments, and colon cancer at rates higher than the white population. Health is suffering in the25
United States:

50 percent: how much less dietary fiber Americans consume than recommended (note: animal products
contain no fiber, which is necessary for prevention of diabetes and colon cancer).
$37 billion: the annual cost of drugs to treat high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
$50 billion: the annual cost of coronary bypass operations and angioplasties (just imagine what we
could do with that money if it hadn’t been spent on diseases that stem significantly from unhealthy
meat, dairy, and junk-food diets).
24 percent: how much lower the rate of fatal heart attacks is in vegetarians compared to
nonvegetarians.26

If nonorganic and nonsustainable animal farming is causing this much pollution and jeopardizing the
water supply to the point that 3.5 billion people will be struggling to find clean water, why should we stand
for such environmental racism, degradation, and pollution in communities of color and working-class
communities in the U.S. and abroad? We all know too well what happens to the economically poor and
people of color during environmental disasters . . . we get the sh*t end of the sh*t stick first.

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, the consensus among Black Americans was that
the Bush administration’s less-than-stellar response indicated just how pervasive institutional as well as overt
racism and classism still are in the United States. Black America and our antiracist allies cheered when
hip-hop artist Kanye West bravely said on live television, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.”27
However, if the Bush administration’s lack of quick and effective rescue actions indicate that he “doesn’t care
about Black people,” what do the consequences of our own unmindful, uncompassionate, and/or
overconsumptive dietary practices say about how we care about ourselves? About the plethora of people in
the global South who are starving and dehydrating, enslaved for our American addictions? About our own
Black and brown communities here?

Let’s reflect on how our own overconsumption, unhealthy, and environmentally unsustainable
patterns—indoctrinated as normal—are collectively contributing to the suffering of ourselves, nonhuman
animals, and the ecosystem. We speak of how addictions to illegal drugs and alcohol can ruin entire families
and neighborhoods within households and communities in the U.S. However, let’s look deeper into ourselves
and ask how flesh food products, cane sugar, caffeine addiction, and overconsumption in general are not
only destroying our beautiful bodies, but Black and brown families, neighborhoods, and communities,
locally and globally, along with the global ecosystem.

Interestingly, such consumption may be linked to how many of us, from the past to the present, have dealt
with institutionalized racism. bell hooks writes:

We deal with White supremacist assault by buying something to compensate for feelings of wounded pride
and self-esteem. . . . We also don’t talk enough about food addiction alone or as a prelude to drug and
alcohol addiction. Yet, many of us are growing up daily in homes where food is another way in which we
comfort ourselves.

Think about the proliferation of junk food in Black communities. You can go to any Black community
and see Black folks of all ages gobbling up junk food morning, noon, and night. I would like to suggest that
the feeling those kids are getting when they’re stuffing Big Macs, Pepsi, and barbecue potato chips down
their throats is similar to the ecstatic, blissful moment of the narcotics addict.28

Why is she bashing Big Macs? Well, in addition to contributing to our collective health ailments,C
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American fast-food, flesh-based meals actually mean that land must be deforested for grazing cattle that are
slaughtered primarily for fast-food hamburgers in the United States. Forests also recycle and purify our29
water. Tropical forests actually produce a substantial amount of the earth’s oxygen supply:

An ever-increasing amount of beef eaten in the United States is imported from Central and South America.
To provide pasture for cattle, these countries have been clearing their priceless tropical rainforests. It
stretches the imagination to conceive how fast the timeless rainforests of Central America are being
destroyed so Americans can have seemingly cheap hamburgers. In 1960, when the U.S. first began to
import beef, Central America was blessed with 130,000 square miles of virgin rainforest. But now, only 25
years later, less than 80,000 square miles remain. At this rate, the entire tropical rainforests of Central
America will be gone in another forty years.30

Many human communities indigenous to tropical forests are starving to death; native rainforest tribes are
being wiped out. I was startled and saddened to realize that America’s addictions and overconsumption are31
in collusion with environmental racism and cultural genocide of our own brown and Black indigenous
brothas and sistahs as well as the working poor, locally and globally. Once I learned these truths about the
fast-food industries, I felt betrayed by restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King. McDonald’s was
always promoting its food through this “happy-go-lucky-I-care-about-kids” clown (a.k.a. Ronald
McDonald). However, it seems they only cared (in terms of profit) about the kids whose parents supported
this “death foods” industry by treating their children to Happy Meals—foods not only produced without
eco-sustainability in mind, but also contributing to today’s diabetes and obesity crisis among children. Brain
nutrition specialist Carol Simontacchi wrote in 2000, “according to the McDonald’s Nutrition Facts, the
child’s soft-drink portion is twelve ounces, and the small size is sixteen ounces. The child’s serving of
Coca-Cola Classic contains nearly ten teaspoons of sugar.”32

Our unmindful consumption is not only harming our own health in the U.S.; we are supporting the pain,
suffering, and cultural genocide of those whose land and people we have enslaved and/or exploited for meat
as well as sucrose, coffee, black tea, and chocolate, too. Unless your addictive substances are labeled “fair
trade” and “certified organic,” they are most likely supporting a company that pays people less than they
need to live off, to work on plantations that use toxic pesticides and/or prohibit the right to organize for their
own human rights.

Take a look at your diet and the ingredients of everything you put in your mouth. Is your health suffering
because of your addiction to sugar? Is your addiction causing suffering and exploitation thousands of miles
away on a sugar-cane plantation, near a town that suffers from high rates of poverty and undernourishment
simply because that land grows our “dope” instead of local grains and produce for them? I wonder, has
America confused our addictive consumption habits with being “civilized”? The British who sipped their
sugary teas considered themselves civilized, despite the torture and slavery it took to get that white sugar
into their tea cups, along with the cotton and tobacco they used.

Collectively, maybe we in the U.S are too addicted to see clearly, to see past the next fix. This addictive
behavior has occurred for centuries. Sadly, those who were originally enslaved to harvest sugar cane
(Africans and indigenous Americans) are now enslaved in multiple ways: as consumers of sucrose,
hormone-injected processed meat and dairy products, and junk food. This enslaved palate—along with other
nutritionally dead foods such as bleached white flour and partially hydrogenated oil—has helped to foster an
astronomical rise in health disparities (obesity, heart disease, diabetes) in African-American communities
that far exceed the health statistics of white America.33

Statistically, Black folk are far sicker than white Americans. Unfortunately, institutionalized racism and
the slave health-deficit, which are manifestations of the inequities of Black slavery in America, are key
reasons why so many Black people struggle daily to get access to proper health information, food, and
resources to maintain optimal wellness. Health disparities between Black and white Americans are one of34
the worst legacies of slavery and colonialism.

This is why compassionate and environmentally sustainable health and nutritional practices be partmust
of our antiracist and antipoverty praxis in our own fight against the continued colonization of our Black and
brown bodies and the ecosystem. If in Black America, health and nutrition are still suffering because ofC

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institutional racism and colonialism, we should be the first people to want to prevent this from happening to
anyone else who is now on the receiving end of American addiction and materialism-induced
neocolonialism, neo-slavery, and neo-imperialism in the developing world. This means supporting our
indigenous cousins in the tropical forest, Coca-Cola factory workers in Latin America, and exploited and
abused cane sugar harvesters in the Dominican Republic, because, yes, we Black, brown, and working poor
American folk were in similar positions when we were enslaved for European sugar, spice, and cotton
addictions, as they are now.

I ask you to envision that you are a slave in the 1700s, on an American plantation. How would you feel,
after your wife or son had just been sold and you’re suffering from emotional and physical trauma, when
those who benefit from your slave labor tell you that they don’t care about your pain and agony because their
addiction to sugar, cheap cotton, and tobacco is worth more than you? This is a serious question, because the
same can be applied today, except now would be asked the same question by a plantation worker in theyou
global South harvesting sugar, cocoa, coffee, or cotton for .you

The time is now. We must extend our antiracist and antipoverty beliefs to all people, nonhuman animals,
and Mother Gaia. Yes, unless the cane sugar you are consuming is labeled “organic” (as well as “fair trade”),
our collective overconsumption of and addiction to cane sugar also helps destroy—not nurture—Mother
Gaia’s ecosystem. Phosphorus-laden fertilizers that run off the sugar fields destroy the land and water.35

Let’s talk about soda. In the U.S., addiction to sodas such as Coca-Cola not only loads the body with empty
calories and nutritionally dead substances, such as refined sugars and caffeine, but consumers who support
Coca-Cola may unknowingly encourage a corporation that supports torture, kidnapping, and murder of the
workers to ensure that people in the U.S. will never be without their effervescent drug. Murder? Torture?
Kidnapping? Weren’t these the same methods used in European imperialism to create an African and
indigenous-based slave economy?

The SINALTRAINAL, the Colombian food and beverage workers unions, have attempted to organize the
[Coca-Cola] bottling plants. But the bottling companies, in response, have contracted Colombian
paramilitaries to do their dirty work—meaning the murder, kidnapping and torture of hundreds of union
organizers, forcing many to live under 24-hour death threat. . . . [T]echnically, neither Coca-Cola USA nor
Coca-Cola Inc. own the bottling plants. They intentionally maintain less than 49 percent of ownership for
the purpose of distancing themselves from these activities. That said, they maintain control of the board in
terms of voting rights and membership. And more importantly, the bottling plants exist only because of
Coca-Cola.36

Also, in terms of clean water rights, how much water in soda production, such as Coca-Cola, is being
used, just for the taste of it? It’s striking to me that racially and socioeconomically oppressed minorities in
America, who continue to experience institutionalized and overt classism and racism, are collectively
complicit—and usually unknowingly—in being oppressors to our brothas and sistahs of color and the poor
from afar because we buy without knowing how it got to the store. I ask you to envision this: You are an
employee at your local plant. You have fought long and hard to finally have the opportunity to organize.
This is incredibly important to you, because you firmly believe that everyone at your plant has the right to
organize. Now that I have familiarized you with Coca-Cola’s practices, how would you feel about drinking a
can of Coke like you usually do? Is it okay to support Coca-Cola now? Another scenario: If you’re an activist
in the eco-sustainability movement, ask yourself how many times you and/or your peers have had a meeting
about environmentalism while drinking Coca-Cola. Crazy, no? This isn’t judgment on my part. I’m simply
asking you to rethink your perceptions of activism by reflecting on how and what we consume in America
connects to suffering and lack of human rights far away.

Coca-Cola is one example; our addictive dependence on sugar from the Dominican Republic is another:

Each year, approximately 20,000 Haitians cross the border into the Dominican Republic to work on sugar
cane plantations, whereupon they are subject to forced labor, restrictions of freedom, inadequate livingC

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Jennifer Atkinson

29

environments and dangerous working conditions. The U.S. is the largest consumer of Dominican Republic
sugar.37

Now, let’s take a deep, calm breath. Perhaps this is your first exposure to how potentially devastating your
consumption habits have been. It’s okay if you start feeling angry because you’ve been lied to for so many
years about where your food comes from. It’s all right if you start feeling shame or guilt because of how
many people and nonhuman animals have suffered, due to the standard American diet and nonfood
consumption patterns; these feelings are normal. Maybe you are like how I was, years ago, unmindfully
indulging in refined sugar and flour pastries, Dr. Pepper soda, Hershey’s chocolate bars, grilled ham and
cheese sandwiches, and Hostess cupcakes, while simultaneously being dedicated to obliterating sexism,
heterosexism, classism, and racism in my home country of America. I don’t know why it took the first
twenty-seven years of my existence to begin to understand that I was living a half-truth as a social justice
activist. Perhaps it’s because many of us who were born and raised in the U.S. are immediately indoctrinated
to believe that addiction, ecocide, and overconsumption are a normal part of our lives.38

Granted, the words , , and were not explicitly used during my K–12addiction ecocide overconsumption
education. However, the school texts I read, the movies my friends and I watched, the food (and nonfood)
advertisements my twin and I consumed, never told us how many human and nonhuman animals have been
maimed, tortured, killed and/or enslaved for our individual freedom to choose a ham croissant in the
morning, non–fair trade Dunkin Donuts iced coffee to cool us down in the summer, or a T-shirt made of
cotton harvested by an Uzbek child laborer. Damn, at that time I thought that, now that I’d gained the right to
consume these products, was racial equality, not neocolonialism. Little did I know that American societythis
is a continuum of colonialism and imperialism driven by the collective addiction of material acquisition.
These materials are usually stolen then extracted from the land as a natural resource, then drastically altered
into a controlled, artificial, and addictive product perpetuating a life-killing imperial ideology we call

. This [American] empire dictates that the corporationscivilization 39

enslave those whose labor is necessary for this theft [of natural resources from the land]. . . . [T]hey force
the remaining humans to live under the laws and moral code of the occupiers. They inculcate future
generations to forget their non-occupied past and to aspire to join the ranks of their occupiers, to actually
join the degradation of [their bodies] and of the landbase that was once theirs.40

It was within this perspective that I initially built my social justice beliefs. Never did I fully look at how
my perception of antiracism and anticlassism was clouded by this.

Ultimately, we must deeply consider, do our addictions and other forms of consumption contradict our
antiracist and antipoverty social justice beliefs? For twenty-seven years, my practices did, simply because I
did not see the reason why I should even question whether my consumption contradicted my activism or
understanding of equality.

We live in a crazy time, when people who make food choices that are healthy and compassionate are often
considered weird, while people are considered normal whose eating habits promote disease and are
dependent on enormous suffering.—John Robbins, Diet for a New America

When I was diagnosed with a tumor in my uterus in 2004, aged twenty-seven, I actively began engaging in
research to learn how it was possible I could have a tumor in my uterus at such a young age. Afrikan holistic
health practitioners, such as Queen Afua, opened my eyes to a world of lies, pointing to how the hormones
and antibiotics in meat and dairy, refined sugar and wheat flour, nonorganic produce consumption, and
environmental pollution were at the source of my reproductive ailments. Furthermore, Afua suggests that the
womb of the African-descended woman in the U.S. suffers from disease not just from the toxicity of the
standard American diet, but also from four hundred years of trauma induced by slavery. She implores

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Jennifer Atkinson

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women of African descent to understand that much of our pain has come from our ancestor’s wombs being
raped and forced to breed slaves and breastfeed the slave master’s children; we have silenced that aspect of
our spirits that needs to be healed.41

Queen Afua’s wisdom and my learning about American food (that eventually manifested as disease in my
womb), health disparities, and environmental racism in the Black community were the impetus for my
transition into practicing social justice for Mother Gaia and all of her inhabitants. Discovering this led me to
uncover an American system of lies founded for the sole purpose of maintaining production and profit based
on an entire nation’s addictions. Such a system, I believe, is at the root of the health-disparities crisis
affecting low-income people and people of color in the U.S.

European colonizers and imperialists argued that it was their right to enslave, maim, rape, and/or kill many
of our great-great-great-great-great grandmothers to support their addiction to cotton, sugar cane, and
caffeine. Is our perception and practice of freedom and liberation defined through support of materials and
foods produced through the ‘s system of domination, exploitation, and genocide? If you honestly feelmassa
that obtaining access to prime rib steak (rather than the parts of the animal didn’t want), buyingmassa
Starbucks non–fair trade coffee, or using expensive bath and beauty products containing animal byproducts
that have probably been sprayed in animals eyes and/or forcibly injected into test animals who have only
known a life of hell, is your right, I implore you to think again. How can this creation of suffering—because
we believe we deserve to engage in materialism and overconsumption to show we’re “no longer
shackled”—be anybody’s right?

In , Charles Patterson argues that humanity’s capacity to enslave, torture, and maimEternal Treblinka
animals led certain groups of humans to accept a natural hierarchy of animal species and the inferiority of
certain human beings; and that they themselves were the “superior” race/gender—that is white,
class-privileged males—and had the right to do with all other human beings, nonhuman animals, plants,
minerals, etc., as they pleased. This attitude led to the Nazi Holocaust, Native American genocide, African42
slavery, and the medical experimentation and abuse of people of color and the working poor in America,
such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the forced sterilization of poor women in America. Patterson’s
research conveys an example of how we in the West constitute a society based on violence, oppression,
misery, and domination that has led to an ongoing societal trauma from the microscale to the macroscale for
all of us—whether we are the oppressors, the oppressed, or both. I see this clearly in how we collectively43
consume and how we rationalize why it is okay if our products come from a place of suffering, violence, and
inequality.

Contrary to what we’ve been taught, many of us in the U.S. do not need meat with every meal in order to
be healthy or get enough protein. This is one of the first myths of nutrition we must acknowledge: that
protein can only come from an animal-based diet. Just as most whites during antebellum America believed
they couldn’t live without the benefits of African slavery, so it’s a misconception that all human beings
cannot live without meat protein derived from enslaved nonhuman animals. If you think a cow is the only
way you can get protein, then how does the cow itself get protein? This big, beautiful animal is an herbivore.
Some of the most powerful and strongest animals, such as elephants and horses, are herbivores. Like
elephants and horses, the human digestive system is suited for a plant-based diet. The current medical44
research on proper whole-foods, plant-based diets makes it clear that we’re not designed to be healthy by
consuming the standard American diet of junk food and meaty, dairy-saturated meals, but rather by eating
diets high in whole grains, greens, and fiber (remember animal products contain fiber).do not 45

Though it may not feel like it at the moment, you’re not being asked to give up anything; you’re being
asked to reflect on your possible addictions to unhealthy materials, acknowledge this, and discover how
life-giving alternatives can strengthen your body and community’s social-justice goals. If you’re one of the
many people in America who support fighting racism and poverty, what good is this effort if the planet’s
water and land are so toxic in fifty years that no living thing can live on them, due to our collective
addictions and poisonous lifestyles? A human being cannot live without water for more than a week, and
oxygen for more than a few minutes.

What I’m asking you to consider deeply may seem like a lot. I know I felt I was being asked to give up
everything at first, too. When I met those “crazy, tree-hugging” environmentalists and vegetarians (and the
occasional vegan) for the first time, while attending Dartmouth College from 1994 to 1998, I couldn’t believe

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they thought they had the right to tell me I shouldn’t be eating Kentucky Fried Chicken or taking
thirty-minute showers or buying GAP clothing. I naively thought withWho the hell were they to tell me this?
prejudice. . I realized nearlyThey’re just bored overprivileged rich white kids who do not have real problems
a decade later that they simply weren’t trained or well read enough in antiracist and antipoverty praxis to
deliver their message to me in a way that connected to my social justice work as a Black working-class
female trying to deal with sexism, classism, and racism at Dartmouth. Though I would have appreciated a
much more culturally sensitive delivery in their message—and cultural sensitivity is something I think the
largely white, middle-class, eco-sustainable, and alternative-health movements in the U.S. need to work
on—these kids’ concerns were not only real, but substantial; it was their white, middle- and upper-class,
privileged perception of health and eco-sustainability that made most of them unable to connect to
working-class people and to Black and brown people like myself.

My experience with this is not singular. Researchers such as Rachel Slocum, Saskia Poldervaart, Arnold
Farr, Narina Nagra, Chithra Karunakaran, and Liz Appel have argued that predominantly white, liberal,
social-justice initiatives—from community food organizing and antiglobalization protests, to veganism, to
dismantling the prison-industrial complex—are often entrenched in covert whiteness and white privilege that
are collectively unacknowledged by white-identified people engaged in them. This has blunted the
effectiveness of these movements’ outreach and intent to people of color like myself, who perceive the tone
and delivery of their message as elitist and colonizing. I believe this is one of the key reasons why so many46
people of color in the U.S. feel that ethical consumption is a “white thing” only and don’t delve into how it
will help our antiracism and antipoverty praxis.

Until I made the connections on my own, I too felt this way. However, I realized that the message made
sense but was usually lost in an oppressive tone that reminded me of another form of trying to colonize
people of color to live in a way the white class-privileged people deemed as civilized and healthy. I was also
weary of the message of Euro-Anglocentric “healthy consumption,” because I remembered that cow’s milk
has been constructed in America as “healthy for everyone”—despite that myself as well as most Native
Americans, Asians, and African-Americans are more lactose intolerant than white people. I thought these
kids at Dartmouth were preaching yet another ethnocentric message about health and food that assumed
everyone was from a Euro-Anglocentric ancestry, could digest the same things as them, and had monetary
stability to make it happen.

As you read this, maybe you’re asking yourself the same thing: What right does she have to ask me to
strongly consider how my current consumption pattern impacts my goal of abolishing race and class
oppression? To ask the ways in which our own American consumption practices are frequently diametrically

Let’s go back to the 1700s antebellum South. Howopposed to our antiracist and antipoverty practices?
many whites angrily asked abolitionists: What right do they have to take away my freedom to have access to

Most of us know that the answer was, .cheap cotton and labor? No damn right at all
Now, are we going to emulate the European colonizers and American slave masters from centuries ago

who thought they had the right to kill or enslave people and damage the land to fulfill their addiction to
material goods? Or will we start transitioning into antiracist and anticlassist lifestyle, philosophy, and
practice that will cause the least amount of suffering for our bodies, our friends, family, and all life on this
planet?

I’m not asking you to consider wakingup tomorrow morning and becoming a raw foods vegan who only
buys local organic produce and has access to your own land to grow your own food. Such a suggestion
would imply that everyone on this planet no longer has to battle the poverty, environmental racism, and
sexism that make this transition incredibly challenging—a reality that the white, class-privileged,
eco-sustainable, and alternative foods movements in the United States tend to ignore. What I’m asking,
instead, is for you to perhaps reflect on how you can start consuming with compassion within your own
economic, health, and geographical situation. Veganism works for my particular situation because I’m able to
buy most of my food, unpackaged, from local, organic, and eco-sustainable resources. However, you may be
one of many folk who must reflect on whether it’s more ethical and environmentally friendly to get protein
and essential fatty acids from tofu shipped across the world in plastic and an avocado trucked all the way
from Mexico, or from free-range chickens’ eggs that come from a town forty-five miles away? In an ideal
world, people who want to practice whole-foods veganism would have access to local and
eco-sustainably–grown plant-based foods that would give them all the nutrients they need—without the use

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of animal products or the waste of fuel and resources to package, process, and ship produce around the
globe.

Our antiracist and antipoverty praxis must promote a break from addictive, ecocidal, uncompassionate
consumption. Our praxis for social justice must center on ending our addictions and ecocidal habits.
Addiction is the opposite of fully living. We must choose to live fully—not simply survive—and understand
that we’re not sacrificing anything by ridding ourselves of old addictive and unmindful habits that are largely
based on the colonizer’s imperialistic and uncompassionate consumption practices and value system.

I understand that many of us have our ethnic and racial identities embedded in the foods that we and our
families have been eating since colonial times. We are scared to lose these. However, there are many ways to
be Black without eating the traditional Soul Food diet. There are thriving communities of color throughout
America that are rooted in holistic healing and have adapted their ethnic identity to more plant-based diets
from their people’s indigenous philosophy colonization, while simultaneously practicingbefore
eco-sustainability, decolonization, and respect for nonhuman animals. These communities wholeheartedly
know that “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house,” nor will his concept of food production
or abuse of natural resources and nonhuman animals. They have chosen to live and thrive in ways that the
postindustrial Soul Food and junk-food diets could not holistically support.

I emphasize this because I’ve met many people of color who are misinformed that eco-sustainability and
plant-based diets are a “white thing”; that it goes against what makes them Black, Asian, Chicano, Native
American, and so on. However, this is simply not true. I believe that much of the confusion stems once again
from lack of cultural sensitivity from the mainstream ethical-consumption movements, whose tone and
delivery make it seem like it’s part of white, class-privileged identity. However, I do ask you, How did our
ancestors eat colonization? For example, was our concept of Soul Food destroying our body temples?before
Was our concept of consumption polluting our water? Was our concept of equality similar to that of the
colonizer’s model of consumption? Many people of color in African communities practiced plant-based
holistic nutrition and herbalism and didn’t aspire to join the ranks of their occupiers and degrade their own
bodies and the land that was once theirs. Today, many of these communities exist in America and quite a few
are rooted in Blackness (many from an Afrikan holistic philosophy).

For example, many African Hebrew Israelite communities throughout the U.S. practice holistic health47
and nutrition. The Queen Afua network throughout America teaches sistahs how to reclaim our reproductive
gifts by decolonizing our wombs from the colonial diet and recentering our bodies and spirits through
Afrikan/Egyptian-centered, plant-based diets and eco-sustainability. And though I may not agree with48
these communities’ entire philosophies (they appear to be quite heterosexist, while I am LGBTQ supportive),
these communities have chosen to live and thrive, and break the addictions we learned from colonialism.

But what does “live” mean?

Choosing to live means that we no longer support the system as it is. Choosing to live means that we cannot
eat much of the food in our supermarkets, breathe the air in many of our cities, allow our groundwater to be
polluted by toxic wastes, or sit back and wait for the nuclear holocaust. The Addictive System asks us to
accept these things—and more—as inherent to being because they are inherent to the addictive, nonliving
system in which we live and hence, “reality . . .”. The Addictive System asks us to become comfortable
with actively participating in our own nonaliveness. Addictions take the edge off, block awareness that
could threaten our seeming equilibrium, and allow us to grow, and keep us too busy to challenge the
system. [Addictions] are essential to the system. . . . It is caring to confront the disease in the individual,
and it is caring to confront the disease of the system. By definition, addiction of the individual.has control
By definition, addiction of society.has control 49

Confronting unmindful consumption and addiction is a challenge, but it is not impossible. Looking back, I
feel blessed that I was able to confront my addictions, learn moderation with shopping, and question where
my goods come from. My health is much better and my understanding of how my own antiracist activism
must be directly linked to all social and environmental justice issues is now clearer and indisputable. Most
important, I learned how to heal my womb from the ravages of colonialism and slavery that have greatly
impacted the reproductive health of us women of color, who have lost the wisdom of our ancestral midwives
due to colonialism and/or slavery.

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1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.
9.

10.
11.

Even as I write this, I continue to challenge myself and question my own habits and perceptions of social
and environmental sustainability every single day. Compassion and awareness of the suffering we potentially
cause to ourselves, those we love, nonhuman animals, and the environment constitute an ongoing journey.
For me, whole foods veganism—inspired by Queen Afua—was a logical starting point because it
simultaneously alleviated my own bodily suffering, the suffering of nonhuman animals, and the ecosystem.
However, it isn’t surprising to me that nearly four years after being diagnosed with a fibroid tumor and
questioning the lies I had been taught about food, health, and American social justice, I am still learning.
Hell no, I’m not perfect! Yes, I know that the transition to mindful consumption is challenging and often
frustrating, isolating, confusing, and alienating at first, particularly if you are not part of class-privileged
communities in which access to healthier lifestyles is easier, or if you have family members of color who
feel you are “trying to be white” by rejecting your mama’s southern fried chicken in favor of hummus or
quinoa.

However, we must come to terms with the fact that the foods we’ve grown accustomed to—that have even
helped to create the concept of our ethnic identity—may actually be feeding the machine of neocolonialism;
that we remain enslaved to a system that thrives on our addictions and mental, physical, and emotional
illnesses. Access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, proper nutritional information, and community
gardens is currently very difficult in most low-income communities and communities of colors. This may50
prove challenging for many whose food choices are limited to Jack in the Box, White Castle, convenience
stores, or grocers that do not sell fresh produce. In addition, TV food advertisements aimed toward people of
color convey unhealthier items than those aimed toward whites, which potentially makes unlearning51
current concepts of food and nutrition difficult.

However, we must challenge the norm. We must no longer accept the lack of healthy food resources,
community gardens, and nutritional information in our neighborhoods. People of color have organized at the
grassroots level to bring necessary social justice changes to our communities that many found inconceivable,
such as abolishing slavery and getting the Civil Rights Act enacted. We boycotted the bus line to desegregate
the buses and it worked. I know this is not going to happen overnight, but maybe if we start now, we will be
able to get what we need to have access to local and eco-sustainable goods for harmoniously balanced
plant-based lifestyles for our children. Let’s start now.

Here are some of the things we can do:

Organize and petition to get natural foods co-operative grocers or natural chains (like Whole Foods) to
consider coming to your neighborhood but charging people fifty percent less for the food.
You don’t have to be from Georgia to benefit from the resources on the Black Vegetarian Society of
Georgia’s home page ( ).bvsga.org
Look at Queen Afua’s site ( ) to learn about healing our wombs and overall health,queenafuaonline.com
mind, body, and soul through whole foods veganism.
Contact organizations such as Oakland Food Connection ( ), or The People’sfoodcommunityculture.org
Grocery ( ) in Oakland, California. Ask them how you can get started inpeoplesgrocery.org/content
bringing healthy but low-cost human rights–oriented foods to your community.
Try to bring eco-sustainable and food education workshops that connect to your communities’
antiracism and antipoverty agendas to your school, community center, or church. Go online to www

to get some good ideas..Blackbrowngreen.com
Because there’s a tendency for people of color to think only white people do this, share with your
friends and family the literature that has been written by people of color that connects antiracism,
decolonization, and freedom to plant-based diets, respect for animals, and eco-sustainability. These
sites will be helpful as well: , , and www.Blackbrowngreen.com vegansofcolor.wordpress.com www

..soulvegfolk.com
The Food Project ( ) helps to teach young people from diverse backgrounds aboutthefoodproject.org
food activism and eco-sustainable living.
Check out Solidarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence at , an e-newsletter.www.pelicanweb.org
The Eagle Eye Institute ( ) teaches urban youth about the power of nature andeagleeyeinstitute.org
eco-sustainable philosophy.
Greenaction.org is a site about health and environmental justice.

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11.
12.

13.
14.

15.

16.

17.

KillerCoke.org is a site that references the human rights abuses of Coca-Cola.
Check out United Poultry Concerns ( ) to learn ways to teach yourself and yourupc-online.org
community about how and why chickens suffer.
Check out The Compassionate Living Project (compassionatelivingproject.org).
To learn about current slavery, read Kevin Bales’s Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global

. If your local library doesn’t stock it, have them request it from another library.Economy
Check out Bryant Terry’s recipe and food justice book, Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and

( ).Creative African-American Cuisine www.bryant-terry.com/site/books
Check out Althea’s Raw Mocha Angel blog. She has great recipes and ideas for raw, vegan, and
gluten-free living: .therawmochaangel.blogspot.com
California Food and Justice Coalition: .www.foodsecurity.org/california

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4

ON BEING BLACK AND VEGAN

Delicia Dunham

It’s lonely being vegan in a world where ninety-nine percent aren’t. Most people neither know nor care what1
vegan means, and even those who claim they do more frequently do not. Still, for many of us, there is no
other option. We’re in it for the revolution, for the liberation of animals.

The world can be even lonelier for a vegan when you’re Black and female. Imagine the small numbers of
us there must be. We’re unique beings for sure, so we’re isolated. And our culture, if not culture , ares
typically far from supportive of the life we have been called to lead. So we find our vegan selves existing in
states of duality, conflicted and torn, wearing masks over our faces as we try to fit in, even as we do not.
This, in addition to the dual states we already exist in as regards our race, our gender, and our sexualities.

Involvement in animal-rights issues as a Black woman for me means injecting myself into a subculture
where Black women are rare. It means going to protests and holding signs decrying abuse of animals and
wondering why no other Black people are there, also raising their voices. It means going against the grain of
my own cultural norms to participate in the bigger social issue of eradicating animal torture. It means using
my one Black voice to try to sway an entire Black Nation, in one fell swoop.

The duality exists in that my own Black popular culture, as fed to me through hip-hop and the media, tells
me that I am neither good enough nor Black enough unless I am exploiting animals (women included). I
must be ever-rocking the chinchilla coats (i.e., chinchilla animals as fabric products rather than as living,
breathing beings), ever-sporting the finest leathers (i.e., killed cow carcasses as outerwear), and
ever-welcoming of Black women shaking their ass for cash or to have a credit card swiped down its crack (as
in Nelly’s “Tip Drill” video). Further, I should go onstage pulling Black women bound in chains and call
myself a Dogg (i.e., Snoop). And I should be dissing, if not totally ignoring, anyone who dares to call me out
about my choices (e.g., Beyoncé when confronted by PETA). I must do these things or I am less than Black.
I must do these things to maintain my rep, my swagger. I must support Black sneaker manufacturers (like
Russell Simmons) by buying the leather wares that he peddles, and I must do this while ignoring the fact that
he refers to himself as a “vegan.” Because, after all, Russell is Black. And to be Black in the greater hip-hop2

culture is to be notoriously nonvegan.3
Before we delve deeper into these and other examples of what is nonvegan, let’s clarify and define its

opposite: vegan. Vegan is a word that was invented in the United Kingdom in 1944 by Donald Watson and
Elsie Shrigley, founders of the Vegan Society. This couple defined veganism in a memorandum:4

[T]he word “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is
possible and practical—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other
purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of
humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all
products derived wholly or partly from animals.”5

The goal of the Vegan Society is to provide advice on living free of animal products for the benefit of
people, animals, and the environment. To vegans, anything that does not meet this definition of vegan is not6
vegan.

Thus, we get back to nonvegan Black culture and the co-opting of the label by those with their ownvegan
agendas, with disregard to the true meaning of the word and what it entails. The problem with many Black
women who label themselves as vegan, in my experience, is that they aren’t. They may claim to be vegan but
they are merely concerned about avoiding certain animal products for superficial health or so-called spiritual
reasons, paying little to no attention whatsoever to the detrimental impacts of their consumption decisions on
nonhuman animals and on environment. For example, many of these so-called vegans eat honey, saying it’s
good for them and listing ways in which it benefits their health. Never do they mention, or express any

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EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 12/15/2017 1:25 PM via UNIV OF WASHINGTON
AN: 801051 ; Harper, A. Breeze.; Sistah Vegan : Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society
Account: s3432366

  • cover
  • Harper_Sistah Vegan.pdf
    • S Vegan_Intro.pdf
    • S Vegan_3 copy