Language Matters



I often speak about the importance of language, I emphasize that the words we use matter. As vegans, for example, it is more truthful and impactful to say "I don't or won't eat (insert animal product here) instead of "I can't eat (insert animal product here.") The truth is, you can/have the ability to eat any food presented to you (aside from those that cause allergic reactions, of course), but, you, as a vegan, do not need eat animals. By saying can't, you suggest restriction, missing out. Saying you won't or don't makes it clear you are making a choice. It empowers the vegan sharing the sentiment and helps the listener understand that vegans don't feel deprived.


This weekend I attended the Plant-Futures Symposium, "Exploring the Future of Plant-Centric Food Systems" and was lucky enough to hear Tracye McQuirter speak. Among the many brilliant things she shared what I would like to highlight here is the use of the phrase food apartheid instead of the phrase food desert.


Each continent on Earth has deserts, a desert, by definition per Merriam Webster is "arid land or a desolate and forbidding area." Would you say that accurately describes any place people actually live? I wouldn't. You've likely heard the phrase "food desert" to describe some low-income, non-white areas of cities. What this phrase calls out is the lack of availability of fresh fruits and vegetables/healthful food choices in those areas but this phrase makes it seem like an unfortunate result of circumstance. This is where this phrase falls quite short.


During Tracye's talk, I was introduced to the phrase food apartheid. This is a much more accurate way to describe what is actually happening in these areas. Food apartheid address the systemic and racist barriers in place to ensure residents of some areas in our country do not have access to health-promoting foods. We can't just chalk it up to there being no fresh food in these neighborhoods, race, economics, and politics all tie in here.


Karen Washington, a food justice activist, highlights yet another aspect of this issue. Often, when new businesses do open in areas populated primarily of people of color, those businesses are opened by people coming in from other areas. What could these neighborhoods look like, how could these residents live better, healthier lives if people with the funds came to these areas and invested in the residents who are ready there and willing to launch businesses right where they live?


I am still learning and what I have included here is a very, very basic look at this change in language around food and the inequalities that exist. I would love to hear any suggestions for books, talks, articles, documentaries...etc. please feel free to post them in the comments below for the benefit of all readers.


Veganism is an ethical movement and yes, the focus in the definition of veganism is on the non-human animals but if we think about what is truly means to be vegan, to fight oppression and hold a belief that kindness is at the core of our existence, we can't ignore how interconnected we all are. Social justice needs all of us, if we can change the systems of oppression, of both human animals and non-human animals alike, imagine what a place this world could be. Idealistic, sure, but just because this movement seems so big doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue and create change. Those suffering the most need change now.


To learn more about Tracye McQuirter click her name to be directed to her website or here for her 10 million black vegan women project.


I'm looking forward to your suggestions, if you have questions, please post those in the comments as well.



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