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Food for Black Thought: Breeze Harper on veganism, identity

Addie Broyles

Breeze Harper, a research fellow in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of California, Davis, kicked off the two-day Food for Black Thought Symposium last week by speaking to the audience via Skype about her path toward veganism as a way to “de-colonize” her body, a concept that can be hard for the once-colonizers to understand, and how the current food conversation continues to represent white- and male-dominated ideologies.

These are subjects she writes about frequently on her blog, Sistah Vegan, which was the basis for her 2010 book by the same name.

Citing the work of Queen Afua and her book “Sacred Woman,” Harper explained her path toward Afrocentric veganism, which acknowledges that animal rights and social injustice go hand in hand, and that eliminating animal products from one’s diet can help reduce the risks for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure, health issues that disproportionately affect minorities.

She lamented the growing number of “hippiecrites,” people who on the surface champion environmental causes and social justice but overlook structural, covert racism that remains rampant in our “post-racial” society. “There’s this white savior complex of ‘saving’ the community from health disparities,” she says. “There’s this thought that ‘they’ can’t help themselves.”

Harper also explained why it’s important for everyone, no matter their self-identified race, to realize the connection between what we eat and the impact on those who produce or harvest it. Even something like chocolate could rely on cocoa that has been harvested by enslaved African children.