You know it is bound to be a good day when you come home from school to find mammi and abuelita at work in the kitchen, cooking up a smell so savory and full of spice that you’re convinced the entire neighborhood can smell it, too. As your mother takes the pork chuleta and drops it into the sputtering oil, your grandmother is already onto the next pork chop, dipping it into the egg batter to prepare it for the breadcrumbs. As they feverishly move their hands from one action to the next, their lips move at that same lightning speed to keep up with the melodies playing through the stereo. Working in this steaming kitchen, they are full of energy and joy. Standing in this steaming kitchen, you realize this is probably not the ideal time to tell them you’ve decided to stop eating meat.
Food is as integral to culture as art or music is. All kinds of people, from the Mayas to the Rastafarians, have made food a central part of their traditions and society. Throughout history, food has also served as both a weapon of oppression and as a form of resistance under oppressive systems. Although it may seem the two work completely independent of each other, food and oppression are inextricably linked. On an institutionalized level, there is a large discrepancy as to not only who has access to fresh and nutritious foods, but who has the financial means with which to obtain these foods once access is granted. These issues of access and means primarily affect Black people, Indigenous people, and other People of Color.1 From food deserts to food insecurity to food swamps and everything in between, the institutionalized control of what BIPOC can consume is a tactic in keeping oppressed groups subjugated. But food and marginalization are also intertwined on deeply personal levels. Food—specifically the experience of cooking—is a method of connection and bonding with not only others, but with oneself. This is especially true for BIPOC. Cooking is an exercise in autonomy, a radical act in a society whose oppressive systems are constantly stealing autonomy from marginalized people.2 When the dominant culture works tirelessly to force assimilation, cooking can be a way of holding onto one’s culture. Cooking with and for others is a tangible symbol of connection, family, and healing. For BIPOC, it is a unifying experience of love through food.
For LGBTQ+ BIPOC, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is inextricably tied to being BIPOC, just as food is permanently linked to being BIPOC. As an LGBTQ+ BIPOC, one’s existence stands at a crossroads in which these two identities intersect. Navigating all kinds of spaces—especially family spaces—as an LGBTQ+ BIPOC makes for an experience specific to BIPOC, an experience with added layers of oppression that White LGBTQ+ people do not have to face. When looking at the statistics of discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, it is clear that BIPOC are most heavily impacted across the board: LGBTQ+ youth of color experience a disproportionate rate of homelessness, just as Black transgender women experience an extremely disproportionate rate of violence and murder (so much so that many argue this violence against Black trans women constitutes an epidemic).3’4 Often times, it seems that these two identities– being LGBTQ+ and being BIPOC– are not allowed to coexist; compounding the oppression that comes with being LGBTQ+ and being BIPOC can make it feel like merely surviving and existing in the world is impossible. Similar to food, the institutionalized control over who BIPOC are allowed to be and how they are allowed to self-express creates a system in which oppressors readily police the identities of marginalized peoples. This system brings about another cosequence: marginalized people turning against each other and policing the identities of other oppressed folks.
As a result, often times people in BIPOC communities deem the LGBTQ+ identity and the plant-based identity as two identities reserved exclusively for White people. Researcher P. S. Cheng has considerably explored this idea of queerness as something only White people can own. In a 2011 paper, Cheng states that “Many Asian Americans view homosexuality as a ‘white disease.’ . . . the very idea of being ‘gay’ and ‘Asian’ is an oxymoron.”5 Although in Cheng’s context queerness is seen as a “disease,” it more often feels as though being LGBTQ+ is more like a privilege reserved for White people, as if BIPOC cannot afford to liberate themselves sexually because of their need to also fight against racial oppression. A similar mode of thought is followed with plant-based living. A plant-based lifestyle is often deemed as a way of life reserved for wealthy White people with a little too much extra money on their hands to spend on foods like alfalfa sprouts and kale. This logic is not without some truth. Considering who gets the media spotlight when covering plant-based living (namely young, White social-media influencers, indie-hipster-gentrifiers, Hollywood powerhouses, etc.,), it is easy to see how many people fall into this trap.
These challenges create a world in which plant-based queer BIPOC often find themselves having to “come out” twice: once as queer, and another as plant-based. More often than not, both are hard pills to swallow for BIPOC families. Amy Quichiz (@imsecretlyacat), a bisexual and vegan writer, organizer, and speaker, and founder of the collective Veggie Mijas (@veggiemijas), touched upon this in her piece for digital media group Elite Daily:
When I came home that summer, I told my parents I was vegan. ‘¿Y qué es eso, no vas a comer mi comida?’ my mother said, stressed. I knew where she was coming from—I had just came out as bisexual one week before, and was now sharing another side of my identity.6
For many, as time progresses, families are understanding and grow to accept these identities. But many other times, families do not. This is where Instagram’s extraordinary power to connect people worldwide comes in. Instagram has allowed for plant-based queer BIPOC to have a space in which to connect, laugh, share knowledge, and stand in solidarity with each other when the offline world will not allow it.
From collectives to individual users, hundreds of plant-based queer BIPOC are establishing their online presence and putting themselves in the business of creating what can be considered a digital “safe space” for plant-based LGBTQ+ BIPOC. Here, they can find others with whom to share both the struggles and joys of being a queer plant-based BIPOC. For Sasha Merci (@sashamerci), Instagram is a place for her to share the short one-woman-show style sketches she makes, including the one she made about being both plant-based and Latinx, released just days before Thanksgiving of this year. In it, she “comes out” to her mother, confessing that she won’t be eating meat this Thanksgiving. Seeing their “mother’s” (Merci in disguise) heartbreak at the news, her “brother” (again, Merci in disguise) gets involved, and a mix of Spanish and New York English arguing ensues.7 Although a hilariously light-hearted sketch, Merci truly highlights the tension that can arise during holiday time for plant-based BIPOC.
While Merci uses humor to tackle the unique struggles that come with being Latinx and plant-based, queer couple Seven (@forrests_big_balls_420) and Forrest (@theytorade) decided to approach the struggles that come with being a plant-based LGBTQ+ BIPOC by taking matters into their own hands. Together, they created their own queer plant-based food collective, Fag-to-Table (@fag.2.table). The collective’s goal is to build “community and healing through food”, and they offer all kinds of amazing sliding-scale services, from home delivery to pickup and even catering. The collective’s Instagram account is complete with behind-the-scenes cooking shots and photos of dishes so delicious it’s enough to awaken your appetite.
Johanna Toruño (@johannareign), a queer plant-based Latinx artist and founder of The Unapologetically Brown Series (@theunapologeticallybrownseries), uses her artwork to celebrate the existence of queer Black and Brown folk and simply BIPOC in general. She describes herself as “a visual artist utilizing public space as [her] gallery,”8 with her pieces covering a range of topics, from calling out ICE agents and border patrol to celebrating iconic queer activist Sylvia Rivera. However, whatever the topic of her piece, she keeps the empowerment of Women of Color at the forefront of her work. On her personal page, Toruño celebrates and normalizes queer Latinx love through openly sharing her experiences as a queer woman from El Salvador and talking about her relationship with her partner (who, in fact, is Amy Quichiz!). Toruño also frequently talks about being plant-based on her account and shares plant-based recipies cooking tips.
Another Instagram powerhouse is Veggie Mijas (@veggiemijas), a nation-wide collective dedicated to creating spaces for plant-based women/femmes/non-binary folks of marginalized identities to gather, with the goal of viewing plant-based lifestyles through an intersectional lens (a lens that is often absent in White-dominated conversations about being plant-based). The Veggie Mijas website describes the organization’s focuses as “sharing space, relearning ancestral practices through foods, share our plant-based recipes, and provide access to information our community needs.”9With twelve chapters in cities including Phoenix, New York City, and Chicago (among many others), the Veggie Mijas community is growing quickly. Using approaches that range from trips to local farms to hosting meet-ups complete with food and poetry, the team at Veggie Mijas is working tirelessly to bring food justice to the people. And still, with all the Veggie Mijas team does offline, they still manage to maintain a strong online presence, especially through their Instagram page. From #MijxLunes, in which they introduce their followers to a Veggie Mijas organizer, to #CocinandoCon, in which they highlight dishes and recipes straight from the Veggie Mijas community itself, their work on Instagram allows BIPOC and queer BIPOC to engage their full and authentic selves with the plant-based lifestyle, just as their work offline does.
Although I’ve highlighted only a few organizations and people, there are countless other people sharing their lives on Instagram, posting photos of their queer love and plant-based dishes for their friends and family to see. They too are doing important work by capitalizing off their privilege of being “out” and being openly themselves, and in the process helping normalize being plant-based, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC. Instagram, and the people who use it, have created a space in which queer plant-based BIPOC can feel connected, feel recognized, and feel at home in the plant-based movement. These Instagram users are not only making room for plant-based folks of marginalized identities to enter these typically White-dominated spaces, but also allowing others to see themselves in the plant-based movement. It is people like Amy, Johanna, Seven, Forrest, and all the other folks sharing their truest selves online that help others not only feel less alone, but also finally feel comfortable being their truest selves as well.
- From this point forward, I will refer to Black people, Indigenous people, and other People of Color collectively through the acronym BIPOC. This acronym allows for the unique struggles Black people and Indigenous people face to be recognized rather than erased, as by the acronym POC (People of Color) alone.
- Here, I would like to acknowledge the privilege that comes along with seeing cooking as an expression of autonomy. For many folks, especially for BIPOC, cooking is associated with work, whether that means having cooking be one’s form of income or forcibly being the primary cook as a result of gender norms. However, I hope that cooking of nearly any form can soon be seen as a way of healing. When you engage in the act of cooking, you inevitably exercise creative control in transforming the ingredients in question into a dish. Almost regardless of the context, the fact that it is your own hands at work is a sacred experience.
- Page, 2017.
- Human Rights Campaign, Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2018.”
- Patrick S. Chang, “Gay Asian Masculinities and Christian Theologies,” CrossCurrents 61, no. 4 (2011): 540–548.
- Amy Quichiz, “Being Vegan and Latinx Made Me Feel More Connected to My Roots,” Elite Daily, October 14, 2019.
- SashaMerci (Sasha Merci), “How to ruin a Latinos Thanksgiving!” Instagram, November 26, 2019.
- Johanna Toruño, “Johanna Toruño Creates A Space For Artists Of Color On Social Media,” October 8, 2018, Bustle Media.
- ”Our Mission,” Veggie Mijas.