Is it ethical to push for a plant-based / vegan world? Is the modern vegan movement dismissing entire people groups and cultures? What is "white veganism" and how does this often differ from vegans within the BIPOC community? How can we push for less animal consumption without addressing the food disparities within our broken systems?
Jen Rivera Bell and Ashley Renne Nsonwu are 2 vegan mamas, social media influencers, and strong advocates for intersectionality within sustainable living and policy change. They join Katie Kurpanek, Eco-Living Coach and Podcast Host, to share their personal experiences being vegan, how it's impacted their experience and perspectives on food, cultures, and family traditions, and also the vast disparities and inequities in our food distribution systems that must be addressed.
You won't want to miss a moment of this conversation, it's so eye-opening and inspiring. Many topics are addressed and we only had an hour to share as much as we could, so please see below for more resources if you're interested to learn more.
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You're listening to all things sustainable, where we unpack topics related to sustainable living, as well as how to apply specific actions to your own life. I'm your eco living coach and podcast host, Katie Kurpanek. Let's jump in. Hey, I have a quick question for you. How would you like to save money with unique discounts to nearly 20, and growing eco friendly shops and services, all for less than the price of one coffee per month, like less than $5 a month. One of the perks to becoming a patron of this show is having access to that growing bundle of coupons exclusively for my patrons and my coaching clients. And the updated versions of those discount codes are sent out every three months so that you can continue saving while you shop. Not only do you get these discounts as a special thank you for supporting the show. But you also have the privilege of joining these interviews live via zoom with a chance to have your own q&a with the guest speaker at the end if you want to. And if you can't make it, you still get access to the full unedited conversations with video because I upload the recordings of these interviews for patrons right afterward. So if this show has benefited your life in some way, and you want to support the work that I'm doing, or you're simply intrigued by all of those perks, and you want to enjoy those amazing discounts, check out patreon.com/all Things sustainable. It's linked in the show notes and you can sign up for as low as $3 a month. Okay, thank you so much for being here. And thank you to the amazing patrons who are currently supporting this podcast. This work would literally not be possible without you. Let's get back to our show. Hi, Friends, welcome back to the All Things sustainable podcast. I am so glad that you are tuning in today for another amazing episode. Within season three. We are covering in this series all things vegan. And so far, the series has been incredible. I know I'm biased, but I am so just very, very thankful to have had conversations with such amazing people. If you've missed any of the previous episodes, I won't give a very long description about what they are, but you're definitely going to want to go back and look at those and have a listen. They cover everything from setting up a foundation to have effective communication within any of your relationships but also especially when it comes to sensitive and sometimes controversial topics like this one. So that was the first episode with vegan psychologist Claire man. The episodes after that cover everything from physical health and nutrition to the connection between animal rights and human rights and then talking about our planet and our impact on climate change when it comes to our diet and all of our guests speakers so far have just been absolute experts in these topics, some of them even world renowned and critically acclaimed. So they are very powerful conversations. If you missed any I would highly recommend going back and listening to those. Today's conversation does not fall short in being just as incredible. I am so excited to dive into this with you. I had the privilege of interviewing two amazing influencers that I've been following for a long time and their experiences as a vegan across cultures, families and traditions. So today we have the privilege of Jen Rivera Bell and Ashley Renne Nsonwu joining us. Jen and Ashley are two incredible social media influencers, vegan mamas and passionate advocates for the Earth. Jen is Salvadorian and her husband is Cajun. Ashley is Black and South Asian specifically Indian and her husband is Nigerian. They both share their personal experiences in being vegan and how it's impacted their experience and perspectives on food, their cultures, their family traditions, and also really go into depth about the vast disparities and inequities within our food distribution systems. Specifically within the US that really must be addressed as part of the vegan conversation going into a little bit more depth about each person on Jen's website, which will be linked in the episode description. Jen describes herself as an indigenous mama with a passion for parenthood, food and sustainability. She is an intersectional activist whose focus is on community building and food justice. She is a partner to Zach and a mother to Luna and Cualli. Which if you have been following Jen, if you haven't, you really should go follow her like right now. Instagram, Youtube. She just shares so authentically about her experiences with her family and Luna and Cualli. I feel like I already know them. I mean, I've met them like virtually but I feel like I know that with the the amount that she just shares the amazing family that she's created and the traditions that they're diving into together the way that they advocate together as a family. Anyway, she has started her whole journey by sharing with her internet community via social media. I specifically found her on YouTube first, she has a lot of really helpful videos about raising a family being vegan, all of that. And Instagram is also a great place to connect with her as well. And she also has a podcast where she reads kids books and it's such a diverse collection of kids books. It's very inclusive, and I turned to her for a lot of recommendations for my own family. So thank you, Jen for the work that you are doing. Now to tell you a little bit about Ashley. Ashley is doing incredible work as well. She is an entrepreneur and an advocate for people of color animals and the environment who pivoted from her travel influencer career in 2019 to reduce our carbon footprint and educate her audience about sustainable and vegan living. This is all coming from her website, which is also linked in the episode description. She is the author of the digital cookbook Basic Ass Vegan. She's an on camera host for SHG living, which is smart, healthy green living. There's 13 episodes on that website, which will also be linked below on sustainable living, vegan cooking and smart home technology. She is a board member of climate power and the co founder of a pro planet startup company, which is launching soon. And she also shares with us in this episode about her next project that is coming up really soon that I cannot wait, especially as a vegan mama. So be listening for that Ashley works to inspire her community to bridge individual action with systemic change to help and animal exploitation protect our natural environment and improve the health of our bodies through sustainable vegan lifestyle changes, especially when communities of color are disproportionately being impacted by climate change and health problems. Ashley was recently invited to the White House by the President to celebrate the passing of the inflation Reduction Act. And she got to meet President of the United States Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris. And in her visit, she got to join so many other very talented social media creators that were also invited to the White House to be a part of this celebration. So both of these women are doing incredible work when it comes to advocating for sustainable change within all communities, advocating for justice and equitable food distribution within all communities. And so I am so thankful to have had them on this podcast. One term that I'm just going to clarify up front, if you don't already know it, it's used a lot just as an acronym within this podcast. So it's bipoc. So if you haven't heard that term, BIPOC, it just stands for black, indigenous and people of color. And then also giving you a heads up here that there are some sort of uncomfy points that are brought up in this episode when it comes to racism and different racial experiences, and also different approaches and experiences with religion. So there are some topics here that are very, very worthwhile in exploring and understanding more, and it may make you feel uncomfortable. But I would encourage you that if it does, to lean into that and to explore, why does that make you feel uncomfortable, and there will be resources for you that are linked in the episode description if you would like to continue learning on any of these topics that we shared today. And you could also reach out to any of the three of us and we would be happy to continue to explore this conversation together as well. Because when it comes to justice for all and striving for a world where everybody is living with their basic human rights and dignities as well as even more than that, we have to address what makes us feel uncomfortable. And look at the vast disparities that are around us. Anyway, this is a powerful episode pushing for a lot of change. I am excited to get into it with you all. So without further ado, let's dive in. I am so excited to have this conversation today. Jen Rivera Bell and Ashley Renne Nsonwu, I should have checked with you first. Is that how you pronounce your last name Nsonwu? Yeah, okay, perfect. I have been following both Jen and Ashley for a long time. And it's just been wonderful to connect a little bit over Instagram and to finally make this podcast happen. So I've given my listeners a brief introduction to you both in the episode introduction, but if you would like to go ahead, I would love whoever wants to start. Tell us a little bit about yourselves, like who you are and what you're passionate about and the beloved people in your life and then also what was like a, you know, condensed version of your tipping point for adopting a vegan diet.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Sure. Wanna go ahead, Jen?Jen Rivera Bell:
Sure, I'll go ahead first. So my name is Jen. I use she her pronouns. And I'm a mama to two kiddos. And I live here in southern Louisiana with my husband Zach, with our two pigs and now three dogs. And our vegan story is probably my favorite vegan story. Like anyone, and it's we actually went vegan because we adopted our pet pig. And we, we got our pet pig at the worst time ever, both me and my husband were in college and I was living in a studio apartment. So obviously getting a farm animal was like the best choice in my life at that point. And funnily enough, like, you know, we got her and it was a terrible idea. Clearly, we lived upstairs, it was awful, it was chaos. She used the bathroom inside my apartment, because we couldn't take her out because I wasn't allowed to have pets, much less a farm animal. And so it was chaos. But within that chaos, we realize just how much of a personality she had. And she really was much like a dog and like, loved us and followed us around. And we were like, Wait, she's kind of like a dog. And does that mean we can't eat pork? And we were like, okay, yeah, we can't eat pigs anymore, because that would just be weird. And then from there, kind of spiraled, and we started watching a couple documentaries, and you know, going down that rabbit hole and realizing, you know, the sentient this of all these animals that we were consuming on a daily basis. I'm Salvadorian. And my husband is Cajun. And so a lot of our food culture revolves around pork. And so that was like a huge step for us to just kind of be like, Okay, we can't do this. And then, you know, we let go of chicken and pork and beef and all of that and realize that it was these animals that we did not want to be harming. And so from then it, you know, we kind of just went full circle, and we realized the environmental impact and kind of got into minimalist living, and then you know, all of the social issues that go along with it. And so that was really our tipping point is Mowgli, coming into that little tiny studio apartment and showing her personality and us realizing that these animals want to be free and be happy and just live? You know,Katie Kurpanek:
I love that story. That's beautiful.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Okay, so I guess I'll go next. So it's a little bit about me, my name is Ashley Renne Nsonwu. I'm a Black and South Asian, specifically Indian, environmental activist, vegan mom and an entrepreneur. And I use my platform to try to help other parents and vegan families try to navigate these challenges of raising kids on a planet that is rapidly changing. I have a one year old son, his name is Beyond and he is my world. And my husband, his name is Carl. He really, really, really wanted kids. I did not when we first got together, but you know, he took a chance and married me anyway, hoping that I would change my mind. And I did I came in. And it's like one of those cliche things where like, now I can't imagine my world without him. It's like, it's so true. Like when I became a mom, and it was just like life changing for me. And you know, bonus like he is a bonafide vegan foodie. It's like wild like, I just I can't get over just like how much he loves what I cook, especially because I never used to like to cook like my husband actually did all the cooking. And then I only got into cooking because my son loved our cooking so much. I was like, Oh, this actually satisfying. So now I enjoy cooking. And you know, it's because of this little guy and this response that I've gotten online from posting, you know what he eats that I actually decided to do a cookbook. So I'm publishing a vegan kid's cookbook. Yeah, next year, really excited. Gosh, thank you. And so it's basically going to serve as like a guide and a cookbook, that's just going to be filled with vegan kids recipes for like babies, toddlers and beyond the name of my son, and as well as Sustainability tips for for families. So I'm excited about all that. And I guess So what inspired me to go vegan. In the first place. I actually remember the exact moment. And it was because of cows. Growing up, I had honestly just never really questioned the dairy industry. You know, I was raised on dairy. It was just always a part of my life. And then in 2016, everything changed because I saw a video of a mother cow who was chasing down this truck that it just ripped her newborn calf away from her and I just remember her sad desperation and the pain and her wails and I cry. I cried because it was like in that moment that I finally made this connection that Oh, wow, animals are really not ours to explain why have I never thought about this and I just couldn't believe I never challenged you know, the normalcy of consuming milk that just wasn't made for us. Right. And so it's specifically made to nourish, you know, the baby of the mother who produced it, but I just never thought of it that way. And then I think becoming a mom made that even more real for me. Because when I became a mom myself and experienced breastfeeding and pumping for the first time, you know, every time I would pump I would just I feel so bad for cows. And it's been like, wow, yeah. You know, it's just it's messed up what they go through. So yeah, that's that's how I ended up going vegan, it was literally because of a cow who completely changed how I viewed, you know, the food system. So I went vegan that day, and I never looked back. Wow.Katie Kurpanek:
Oh my goodness, that's amazing. I love hearing everybody's stories, because it just it's always so different. You know, even if it's like, you know, both of you kind of had an animal who was your inspiration to becoming vegan, but such a different experience and a story and, and for me, it wasn't even animals first, it was like health reasons. And that's why like I love in this podcast series. So far, we've been covering every aspect I could possibly think of that relates to being vegan, and like, you know, physical health benefits and risks if there are any, and like the climate impact, and then animal rights and human rights and more. There's so much more in this series. And I'm trying to ask all of the tough questions. I'm trying to just come at this as like authentically and real as possible. And that's honestly pretty easy. Because I was there before, like, I was already thinking these things before, as I'm sure both of you were to because you said that neither of you really ever questioned like the normalcy of this. And eating animals was just what we did. So anyway, I have been thinking through like, you know, all the questions and thoughts I used to have putting them on the table. All that to say in this episode, I'm excited because we're gonna dive right into like, the deep stuff. And I know that in, in what we talked about today, kind of focusing on like, you know, ethics, family, traditions, culture, around food, all of that, everybody's still going to have their own opinions. Everybody listening, like their opinions may be different from ours. And that's totally fine. But I did want to hear because both of you are very like vocal about this on your social media platforms, through like Jen for you, Youtube, and podcasts and Instagram. And, Ashley, I know you also been over like on YouTube and Pinterest. And definitely Instagram is where I've been following you most right now. So, in this current time, more global awareness has been raised regarding social justice and human rights issues. And then, particularly in the United States that continued systematic oppression and racism, and all of those forms of injustice in the United States. So one perspective I've been hearing like, that I want to be very sensitive towards because I want to lead this conversation from a place of empathy. And a lot of people feel that pushing for a vegan world, you know, like a plant based diet for everybody is just another form of like a Eurocentric colonialism. And that this diet is like dismissing entire groups of people around the world and traditions, people who are geographically located in regions that are more conducive to like animal agriculture, rather than growing crops, or people who live in food deserts, and so they don't have the same access to healthy like vegan options. I guess I'm just throwing all that information out there. And I don't even have a well worded question other than just what are your thoughts on that, and maybe we can figure out just a flow of conversation from there.Jen Rivera Bell:
Um, so like, just one particular thing that I picked out of what you said, you know, like food deserts, for example, you mentioned that's why, to me veganism, like while for me, in particular, as an ethical vegan, animal rights is kind of like the core reasoning for it. But if your veganism doesn't have food justice, then it's not encompassing all that it needs to, you know, there are people here in the United States, we'd like to think of these, you know, faraway places where people don't have access to food, it's here in our communities down the road down the street. And so these people who want access to healthy foods want access to local foods that are rich and nutrients, but do not like are not able to get it. So if we're not battling those barriers, there's a whole gap in our activism, you know, like we have to tackle those things if we are truly trying to have this world where everyone's plant based, and you know, all of these things when guess what, at that grocery store, so many grocery stores, in my neighborhood, that all they have there is Buddha and cracklins. And guess what that's made out of extremely processed animal products, and that's all that there is to eat. And so for us to be like, wow, like, why aren't you eating? You know, all Have these vegan things when they're not even there, they don't even exist, much less fresh foods, you know, like we take it for granted, you know, as a privileged person who can just go into the grocery store and, and get whatever I want at the grocery, so many people don't live that reality. And for me to shame someone for not eating the way that I eat, when, you know, a lot of times they, they do not have that access. And so for me, personally, my veganism has to have food justice involved in it, for me to truly want, you know, this, you know, hypothetical vegan world that we're trying to achieve. And so, if we're not all looking at it from that aspect, we're missing a huge chunk of what we can do as being an activist as people who are speaking out.Katie Kurpanek:
Mm hmm. And before you dive in, Ashley, I'm curious, Jen if you could expand, what does that look like for you? Like, how does that focus take place in your life.Jen Rivera Bell:
So for every person, you know, whatever capacity that you have, is going to look very different. Whether that is going into the school systems, because oftentimes, at least in my community, we live in a town that has huge rates of poverty. And so oftentimes, school is where most of the children are getting their nutrition, their nourishment from that is the basis of where their calories are coming from. So oftentimes, it's going to the schools, and from they're going to the school board offices and seeing okay, why is it that our children are getting ketchup as a vegetable today? Or why is it that we're, you know, simple things like that, that, you know, oftentimes, like you mentioned, before, we live in a world where we don't question a lot of stuff. It's like, oh, okay, like, this is just what we eat. We're just so used to it. And just something as simple as that going to school and be like, hey, you know, why are these children not being provided something slightly more nutritious. And then from there, you know, that there's endless amounts of ways that we can advocate for different businesses that refuse to open in certain areas, because of, you know, maybe food stamps, availability, or whatever the case may be, there's so many different things that we can do, that are small steps, you know, it's not the solution, because there is no like, Oh, we're just going to do this, and everything's gonna be solved, but very small steps. And also, there are people oftentimes in the communities that are already working on this, on these sorts of issues. And so raising their voices rallying for those people who are already in the movement, and, you know, hearing out their concerns, hearing out what steps they're already taking, to to bring that progress over. Because oftentimes, especially when it comes to veganism, we see ourselves as the solution, when oftentimes there are already people out there who are advocating, we might not be listening to them. Whether that goes for, you know, black lives matter or trans issues, whatever the case may be these these activists already out there, we just need to listen, we need to listen to what it is that they're saying.Katie Kurpanek:
Absolutely. Ashley, what do you think about all that?Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Oh, I 100% agree. Gosh, with everything that she said, just going back to the food deserts issue. It's interesting, because it's like, okay, I understand where vegans are coming from 100% When they say, Hey, I want a vegan world look, I do too. But we can't move towards that without first addressing the issues, like at the very least acknowledge all of the intersectional issues that exist within, you know, veganism, and then we can work on solutions, you know, to help make that vision somewhat a reality one day, hopefully, right, but we can't do that without you first, acknowledging, you know, these problems. And, you know, these are issues that very much exist, of course, within marginalized communities, of course, and when you think about the modern day, you know, movement around veganism, and while I am an ethical vegan, the modern day version of veganism very much, you know, centers, the white perspective. And so when you center the white perspective in the veganism movement, especially, you know, if you're able bodied, if you are wealthy, if, you know, you're mostly just talking about only talking about animals, you're only talking about health, you know, then you miss out on the issues that exist in other communities that, you know, with people that don't look like you. And if we, and it just seems like such a misstep, because it works against, you know, your goals, right? Because if we want to work together to make this, you know, this beautiful future that we want, we have to include everybody and work with everybody to see how we can realistically make it possible for everyone. So, I know for me, like I'm really, really into policy changes, because there's only so much that we can do right as individuals. You know, because if you live in an area where you don't have access to nutritious Food, what can you do, you're only going to be able to eat what's provided to you. And that can only change with, you know, the businesses and pop and governments changing. So I'm more so interested in like, how can we get businesses to step up to, you know, help make this possible? How can we include the government to make more vegan friendly policy changes, because without the help of, you know, corporations and businesses, you know, changing policies and making it accessible to people who currently don't have access, and this is just never going to happen, it's just not realistic. So it's just, it's just very important to make sure you include, you know, the voices of people who, you know, don't have access to this lifestyle, instead of erasing them. You know, obviously, me as an ethical vegan, I very much care about animals and animal welfare. And, you know, my veganism centers around the welfare of animals, and I have a problem with the consumption of animals and treating them as products. But we can't expect to solve any problems on a global scale without addressing the horrific industries behind it, and the capitalistic nature of the movement that comes with the direct harm of bipoc communities. So intersectionality is an important discussion. And I think that, you know, Nuance is just lacking in general on the internet, but especially with like the modern day vegan movement, and we have to make sure we're including everyone in the conversationKatie Kurpanek:
on 100%. And it sounds like both of you had mentioned, you know, policy change as a huge proponent in getting this, all this movement forward, and being able to be more inclusive of all people and bring just what should be equitable to everybody, to the table. So it sounds like voting is a huge piece of this, like those who are able to vote using their voices in that way. And then, you know, like campaigning signing petitions, I would imagine using your voice, like physically present, if you're, you know, marching, you're bringing attention to something like that. But do both of you have suggestions for how else you personally push for policy change, or have had experience with like your community in that form.Jen Rivera Bell:
So like what I have mentioned, of just going to the school system and the school board system here, for us personally, we are in one of the most impoverished area in terms of funding for our school system. And, you know, every year we have cuts, and every year, it's worse and worse in terms of being able to provide not only adequate education, but also food, you know, like I've mentioned, like, that is a huge deal here. And so being able to go, and again, I'm a regular person, I'm not any sort of like, super famous politician that I'm able to just be like, Oh, we should do this, and people are just going to do it, it's really having these one on one conversations with people who do have the power. Because oftentimes, I think that we forget that, so much of the policies that we have in place are created by our local government. You know, we have issues at every state government, and I am, you know, one of those loud people that talk about it all the time. But the reality is that we do have a lot a lot of power when it comes to our local government and, and being able to elect these people who are making huge decisions, especially when it comes to the budget, which a lot of the issues are around who gets money and who doesn't. And why. And so I feel like for me, in particular, you know, being able to go talk to these people directly. And oftentimes, at least with the people that I've met, they're very nice people who do want changes, but sometimes they may have been led in the wrong direction, or think that this might just be easier because everyone's you know, kind of okay with it. Or maybe no one's rattling the cages enough. But doing simple things like that can really alter the way that that people in power see us, which you know, are the people who they are trying to serve. And so something as simple as that can really be so impactful in changing, you know, even if it's one day out of the week to be able to provide more greens on their plate or being able to add water instead of just milk with their lunches, like something radical like that, you know, simple things that again, my whole childhood all I had was a glass of milk with my lunches, and I actually never liked drinking it, so I just didn't drink anything. And so something as simple as like, Hey, can we allow them to use a water fountain when they're eating? As simple as that, that can change the trajectory of of something as drastic as their everyday lunches.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Yeah, and That's actually where I was gonna go to, you know, start them when they're young, right? So I feel like if you can completely change the school systems, you're going to impact you know, future generations going forward and how they're able to adopt, you know, plant based food into their lives and just lifestyle changes in general. And, you know, it makes me think about how when I first enrolled Beyond in school or daycare, whatever you want to call it, and it was really interesting, because I told them, you know, hey, he's vegan, will you be able to accommodate this? And, you know, they're like, hey, yeah, you can, you know, work with the chef, we will give you the menu in advance, and you can just look at what's on the menu, and then bring in, like, vegan versions of, you know, whatever's on the menu, or you can bring in like vegan ingredients to replace like the, the, you know, the dairy options, or the meat options that are on the menu. And it just sounded really complicated. And so I was like, Hey, I'm just gonna pack his lunch every day, you know, and just call it a day. And then, you know, I asked about a beverage options. And I was like, you know, he loves water. So he's good with water. They're like, oh, well, you know, it's required by the state that they drink milk with their food. And I said, required by the state? And I was like, Okay, well, he has a dairy allergy. So what are you going to do about that? And they said, Well, you know what, we're not going to, we're not going to force you to bring no milk or have a third milk. So it was just like, wow, like, there, there has to be cha- policy changes, because to require the school system to serve milk as a beverage, to me is just ridiculous. And we have to also understand that this is a power play, right? Because who's in the government's pockets, the dairy industry is in the government's pocket, the meat industry. So you have what's called, you know, lobbying. And so you have meat lobbies, you have dairy lobbies, and they are very powerful, because they have a lot of money. And it's just, it just goes to show that sometimes, when an industry has a lot of money, billions of dollar industries, they're able to influence policy in a way that, you know, a lot of us who want to see positive changes cannot. And so I've actually been looking and researching into, you know, why can't we have a lobby, why can't vegans have like some one massive lobby so that we can influence policy changes. And I think that that's a real conversation that maybe we need to start having in the vegan community to try to figure out how we can implement widescale policy change through the power of, you know, our money in our groups that we form, to, you know, talk to the government and kind of go toe to toe with the meat and dairy industry. Because until we're able to do that, I don't see how we're going to be able to get the government to budge because they are making this a requirement in schools, you can see it in the school system, you see it in the school lunches, you see it in, you know, the fact that it's required to they're required to serve milk as a beverage. And it's ridiculous. Like, why would you require milk over water? Water is so nourishing, it's so it's so good for you? Why would you require milk over water, especially with all of the research that shows, you know how damaging milk can be for our bodies. So it's going to take, it's gonna take a really big effort, as individuals, what we can do is put pressure on, you know, our government officials, we could put pressure on corporations to step up and try to influence policy changes. And one example of that is Impossible Foods. And I know that's controversial in the vegan community, because, you know, some vegans might say that, hey, Impossible Foods are not necessarily healthy, right, but they are very popular, and they have a lot of money, and they have a lot of power. And they were able to help California actually put a huge sum of money towards implementing or expanding the plant based and sustainable food options in California, so they did that with the help of Impossible Foods. So regardless of how you might feel of a particular company, I think it would be really helpful to reach out to a lot of companies and put pressure on them to use their power and they're there their profits, to try to implement policy changes, because we're going to need the help of these corporations, we're going to need the help of the government is going to take the work of all of us kind of like coming together to kind of implement while widescale change. And unfortunately, money is a big driver of that. So I think that's one cool idea that we can can do as individuals. If we're not willing to, you know, go to school systems or go to our elected officials. We can very easily Send out social media, you know, messages, tweets, you know, comment on corporations posts, and like really urge them to play a bigger role in policy changes.Katie Kurpanek:
Thank you both so much for sharing your perspectives and suggestions, really powerful suggestions for how individuals can get involved because I think sometimes, myself included, we can look at the news, we can look at, you know, these huge systems, the infrastructure that's around us, the government that we don't feel like we always have power to change, especially without a whole bunch of money at our disposal. And it can feel very, very hopeless. But then I remind myself that Impossible Foods, for example, like you shared, Ashley, the reason that they have become so popular, the reason that they have so much money is because of consumer demand. Like, if we're the ones who are demanding more plant based options, and totally agree, like the argument about processed versus like, you know, whole foods that are not processed like that, if we just put that aside, the reason that they are so popular is because we've demanded it, so our voices do matter. And I love both of your suggestions, especially with like, getting involved in our school systems, you know, with our kids, just kind of putting questions in people's heads to like the teachers like, why, why is this a thing in the classroom? Like, you know, who could they talk to, that maybe they have more influence within their school, like board of directors and everything? So, thinking kind of on the flip side of this question, though, let's say that we did, you know, push for so much more like education and awareness and policy change, and we were successful. And so now, there are more equitable, you know, accessible options out there for all people to have a vegan diet, just with like, healthy plant based foods. The flip side, I guess would be, is that, like, what are your thoughts-- Is that still another form of like, Eurocentric colonialism? Is that, I don't want to use the word right, Because right is a very, like, just vague term. But is that ethical to push for that? Do you think that it is erasing people's cultural identities to even be pushing so hard for like a vegan diet?Jen Rivera Bell:
Um, so I see that from like, so many different angles. So on one hand, I don't think it's ever right for us to go to, you know, the indigenous Inuits in Alaska and be like, hey, stop eating the the seals, I just, none of us have the right to do that just period. But on the flip side, apart from these cultural groups that do survive primarily on animal products who are isolated in these locations where there is no even capacity for them to be growing spinach and all of that-- the majority of our food, as people of color has stem from heavy plant food. You know, being an indigenous person from El Salvador 90% of the food that we ate traditionally was vegan, it was on accident, but it was vegan food, arroz con frijoles, and gala vasa. All these amazing, delicious food that I was able to like rediscover, because it was like, Wait, all of this super terrible food that was pushed upon us was actually through colonialism. And that's the case with a lot of people. And so I think that that's been a really cool aspect of veganism, that I was able to reconnect with my ancestral foods in a way that I never would have. Because I was able to realize all of these foods that were deemed as, you know, Comida India, in my terms, Indian food, as they would say as an insult to us. Because, you know, if you have money, if you are Americanized, you can eat McDonald's, you can eat Burger King, you can eat whatever if you go to the city, but my food is deemed as poor people food because all you're eating is rice and beans and whatever. And so to me to be able to acknowledge that and be able to be so proud of that food. I think it's done the opposite. And that's not the case for everyone. I know that there are people who come from cultures where, you know, animal products are higher on their desirability, even pre colonization, but for us that just wasn't the case. And so being able to eat these foods, and not only just enjoy them because they're bomb as hell, but just like also feel so connected to my ancestors like this is what they ate. This is what they grew. And so I can totally see how some people can push for veganism from a white veganism perspective and it can be so toxic. But on the flip side, I think that a lot of us are able to reconnect with our ancestral foods and that in and of itself is super cool.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Yeah, I, I definitely agree with that. Because, like for Okay, I'll use Africa as an example. So I'm my, my father is Jamaican and Black American, my mother is Indian, both cultures on both sides of the family have ties to veganism. Right? So, you know, we think about my mother being from India, we think about my father being half Jamaican, and then on the other side, Black American, going back to Africa, you know, it was actually colonialism that brought that introduced, you know, meat heavy diets to the continent. And so, you know, it's not really about going vegan as, as much as it is about going back to veganism. And like she said, it's like really about getting in touch with like, your, your ancestral roots in a way versus being, you know, forced to, you know, join this like new vegan movement, many of us and in terms of a bipoc individuals are actually seeing veganism as a way to kind of reconnect with our roots. So I 100% agree with her on that front. And then, you know, we're talking about indigenous populations. It's interesting, because I've heard some people, you know, say that vegans talk about how, oh, yeah, everyone needs to go vegan, including, like, indigenous people and indigenous people get harassed, but like the people that I know, I don't know, maybe it's because I'm Black and Indian, like, I don't see anybody in my community, you know, harassing indigenous people, about veganism. So that might be a white veganism thing, which is white veganism is actually a term that I learned from Isaias Hernandez, also known as Queer Brown Vegan, on the internet. And when I first learned it, I was like, Oh, wow, that actually makes sense. Because I know, you know, from my standpoint, or at least in my community, you know, we've always understood the intersectionality between, you know, veganism and other issues. And we don't force these beliefs on, you know, other people and other cultures, especially cultures who don't have access to this lifestyle. Because, like we were saying earlier, it's not accessible to everyone and the system, the food system worldwide is is not designed for veganism, it's not. And so trying to force this on to people who don't have that kind of access, or it's not a part of their culture, or, you know, they live off of land and, you know, hunting is a necessity for their survival, that how does that help, you know, you have to understand that veganism is not just about animal rights, it's also about human rights. And if you're talking about basically killing people, because you care about animals, then you're not really vegan, because you can't fight for animals without also caring about human life. And if somebody requires hunting in order to survive, then you're literally saying, Go eff yourself, you know, die, because you need animal you need to hunt animals to survive, and that just doesn't fly. And anyone who puts that kind of pressure or shames other cultures require hunting, to literally live their lives. It's ridiculous. And it's just it's definitely a white centric point of view. And it comes from privilege and not compassion. And so, you know, and then there's the the fact that indigenous people all over the world pretty much have their have had their cultures, you know, robbed, robbed from them have had had it stolen or had it whitewashed, degraded, you know, all because of colonialism. And so, you know, with veganism being an ethical stance, it's just important to just remember to also remember to have nuance in every conversations that you have and like really be considerate of other people's traumas and experiences and realize that your ability to be vegan is not the same as somebody else's ability to be vegan. And especially when we're talking about cultures that have had their cultural identity literally torn from them and shred to pieces over a number of years, you know, if this is their way to be connected to a culture that hasn't been completely destroyed, then let them be like, I didn't, I don't get that. Like I said, like, just as hasn't been an issue in my community of vegans. So when I hear people kind of bring that up, it's just it just baffles me like really, this is what we're doing. We're harassing indigenous communities. About them hunting. That's So let's let's stop doing that guys.Jen Rivera Bell:
Yeah, yeah. So I think it's so interesting actually, because I've had the same exact reality of like, my vegan friends are cool. I don't know who y'all are talking to, but that sounds awful. Like, and then I hear these horror stories of these like racist vegans, and sexist vegans and all of these isms that I'm just like, I thought, I thought like, we love chicken so much we don't eat them, like, can we please have the same decency with other human beings and like, love that because I mean, and again, I guess that that, that goes back to like, you know, us having these identities and so we're able to see people more wholly, I guess, like fully as human beings. I don't know, maybe that's our wild thought that people have humanity. But it's so true. Like, how how is it that you're fighting so hard? For let's say, for example, the life of a chicken or the life of a cow, but then you can't look at another human being and give them that same decency? It's just baffling.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
It is baffling. Yeah, like, like, like you said, like I did my, my vegan friends are cool. I mean, I don't have very many, but like the vegan community that I surround myself with, especially online, like we don't, we don't have those problems. Always. So it's always so wild hearing that would I guess so when I first came across the term white veganism, I was like, What is this? This is a thing, okay. I don't know those people. I don't know those vegans.Katie Kurpanek:
I'm so glad that both of you don't, and that you haven't had to be harassed or, or treated in any of those ways that are honestly just so the opposite of what it even means to embrace being vegan, like that should just be living compassionately. And, you know, not causing any unnecessary harm to anybody, any living creature. And I'm hesitant to even say this, because I think it's a whole tangent that I don't know if we even have time for in this episode. But my take on this, like, maybe the root of the white centric veganism, I think that like you said, so much of this colonialism that has already like, spread through different countries, different continents, it's impacted people, it's brought meat and, you know, dairy products, even the more like processed foods into those parts of the world where that was not a thing before in these cultures, it, it comes from a very, it's all very religious focused, too, because I think that all of-- this is where I'm like, I don't know if we want to go here-- But in in these forms of colonialism, it's all almost always been with a very religious mission. And I think that, for a lot of white people who have grown up, this is just like, the norm, like certain ways of living, this is just normal in white communities. I think that the savior complex is a really big deal. And I think to me, that's why there's a root of white vegans trying to push this on everybody and mandating it from all people, groups, even indigenous cultures. Like, it's because of this deeply rooted savior complex that like, we have to save the world. And whether that's from a religious perspective, or it kind of bleeds into other areas, like, we need to make you think like we think, we need to make you eat like we eat, even from a very well intended, like, you know, good hearted place. Like I understand the the perspective of feeling like, okay, climate change is nearly irreversible at this point. Like, there's so much damage that we've done. So I feel a sense of urgency sometimes to like, Okay, if, if we know that a vegan diet would drastically change what's happening to our planet, then like, we should all do that. But I think again, you can easily fall into a savior complex, especially if it's been very normal in you know, your upbringing as a white person, so I'm just gonna leave that there. What if you have any thoughts? I'd love to hear them and if not, we do not have to go there.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
I will just say like, I totally get it like as somebody who went vegan for animals, I totally understand why, you know, I understand the notion behind you know, white veganism and trying to save all all the animals and trying to, you know, save the world from itself. I mean, literally, like humans. So climate change that has been caused by human activity is very real, and going vegan can help with that. I mean, the facts are there like the stats Are there that, you know, the meat and dairy industry, on the low end, right? is causing 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions? And that's a conservative estimate, with estimates being as high as 50%. So, I mean, if you mean to tell me that, like, if everyone could change their diet, and go vegan that could literally save the planet, I get it. It's like, why not? Do it just make sense? You know, but the world just just doesn't work like that. And, you know, at the end of the day, it's really hard because I get it, I have so much passion. But when it comes to veganism, I, I don't like what's happening to animals, it crushes me, sometimes I feel like I'm living in the twilight zone that this is even happening, that we live in a world where this is okay. But we also have to understand that like, at some point, we weren't vegan, right? At what point we weren't vegan. And we didn't know, we didn't understand, like, this world just wasn't designed for a vegan lifestyle. And so it's going to take a lot of work to help shift that perspective. And it's not something that you can just force on people. And it's unrealistic, to, you know, get so angry at people for not thinking the way you think you didn't grow up thinking this way, either. Many people did it. So, you know, it's just, it's just, if you want to be realistic about it, like you have to be compassionate, you have to be gentle. And you have to be understanding. And, and, and, and really understand that not everyone can think the way you do and some people won't even go vegan for the same reason that you went, like, you know, it hurts my feelings. Sometimes when people say, Oh, I don't care about the animals, like I just care about the planet, or I just care about my, my health. But you know, you can't force your ways on people. But what you can is do your best, and try to, you know, help tackle like the bigger issues, which is the policy changes that need to be made. And you know, the corporation's the greedy corporations that need to change their ways. So, you know, do what you can do as an individual and try to create change in the way that you can, but don't do it in a way that oppresses other people. Because that's not vegan. We can, that's not compassionate. So that's my take on it. That's how I feel. And it's a nuanced conversation. It's a very complex conversation, and I don't have all the answers, and no one person does. But it's just, I think it's our duty to just try our best to do what we can without harming other people in the process.Jen Rivera Bell:
Mm hmm. Absolutely. And I think that, like you had mentioned, that whole concept of the white savior bleeds into every thing, not just veganism, but like I said, you know, if you see these issues that are happening nine times out of 10, the person from the marginalized community is out there is out there yelling about it. But we're not listening. And so we don't have to swoop in and be like, Oh, I have the solution to all of these problems. It's like, Hey, what are the solutions that you have been already thinking about for all these years that no one's been listening? Let me uplift you with that. And another thing that you said of this, like, what is right, what is not? Right, and how that stems from colonialism, and Christianity and all all of these concepts. And just like a small example of that, is, I've gotten so much angry comments about the fact that my children will eat their food with their hands, or will eat, like, straight up, like with a tortilla. And it's like, they're, they're doing it the wrong way. Right. They're not eating with a fork and spoon. It's like, My people have literally been eating with a tortilla Or, you know, like, that's how, like we've eaten. And to me, that's the right way. I'm not gonna go judge some, you know, white American family and be like, Why aren't you eating your spaghetti with? This is so wrong, like, no, let let people do what they see fit, like in terms of that. Because, like, like you said, like, that just like, reminded me so much of like, what is right, what is wrong, and we say that with a capital, you know, R what is Right? And nine times out of 10. If you dig a little bit deeper, it's like, oh, it's colonialism that made us think that, oh, it was Christianity that brought these ideas and made us think that what we do as a people is wrong, you know, and that's just, you know, so much unpacking that needs to be done there. And it takes years for us to like, really realize, like, Oh, I've been doing this, or I've been saying this or I've been thinking this of people when really it was just a mindset that was forced upon me and wasn't even my idea anyways, and you know, that goes to the veganism like, oh, what you mean, his burger is actually a part of a cow's body. Like I never even thought about that. And it's just like, questioning, questioning. We have to question everything, even within the vegan community. Okay, why is it that we say things like that? Why is it that we think that way? Because there's always room to grow. We're not at this finite point of like, oh, I'm a zero waste vegan activist and like, I'm done, I have all the answers. We, there is no point that we get to when we're done. And I know that it sucks a lot for people because they're like, Okay, I'm Zero Waste now. I'm vegan now. I'm doing this now I'm minimalist, and it's like, Okay, now what it's like now that guess what, there's another documentary you could probably listen into. And there's like a bunch of other issues as to why this is a problem, you know. And, like you said, we don't live in a vegan world. We don't live in a zero waste world, we don't live in a world that is conducive with that we have to break down the structures that are there and rebuild them again, so that it is easier to be zero so that it is easier to be vegan, because right now, for a vast majority of people, it's not convenient. It's not easy. And sometimes it's not even possible.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Yeah. Well saidKatie Kurpanek:
yeah, absolutely. I'm just I'm so every time so far that I've had these conversations on this podcast. I'm just so deeply grateful that I can talk with so many wonderful people who have incredible experiences and knowledge to share. And this conversation has been just filling me up so much. And I'm, I'm just thankful for everything that you both shared. I know that we're starting to run low on time, but I did want to hear, let me see if I can condense. I want to put like one last question out there. And then also, my like routine question I asked everybody, you both touched on this a little bit with your families and how like, being vegan does not mean that you have to give up all these foods that you love, like you know you if anything, you have expressed that you've actually found a new appreciation for cooking or for your like, you know, your family histories and cultural recipes and all that. And Ashley, you're putting together an entire Vegan Cookbook that I cannot wait for for kids. So if you could share from like a parenting perspective, what has it been like to, you know, raise your vegan families? What are you like, hyper focused on or aware of these days, or what's something that's like challenging that you've encountered, you've shared already some like school challenges. But I would love if you could share that. And then also like, wrapping up the episode with one to three actionable steps that our listeners could take, to just deepen their understanding about veganism, across cultures and across family traditions.Jen Rivera Bell:
So I think that I'm coming from a super privileged corner, because I have the best family, y'all. And I say that all the time. And I feel so awful because I get questions all the time of like, hey, you know, my mom is harassing my children in order to eat something I have zero experience with that. My mom who's sitting right there trying to feed me more food is awesome with the kids. And she's been eating plant based for several years now. And the rest of my family is so accommodating. And anytime that I go to my cousin's house or my aunt's house, they always have like soy milk for us or like some vegan cheese so that we can make grilled cheese. And so I think that that has put me in a corner where I hardly even have to think about veganism, especially from the fact that we also homeschool our kids. And so we are, we don't have to deal with that extra barrier that a lot of parents have to deal with. And so for me, you know, my family Salvadorian. And for them to be able to be like, Oh, just bring some of your cheese and we'll make your pupusas, or Zach's family who is traditional Cajun people. And they're like, Hey, did you bring your chick'ns so we can make this for you? And they're just so loving and awesome. And will be like, Oh, honey, don't eat that one. That one has milk in it. I made you this one. You know, it's, it's something that I know, so many people don't have. And so anytime that I get these questions, like I honestly don't even know, because I'm living almost kind of like in a bubble really. Like sometimes I'm like, wow, like, it's almost too easy. Because everyone's like, Oh, we're making s'mores, but we got the kids, their marshmallows and their chocolate, so don't worry about it. And so being able to be that lucky that I just float in the world, almost as if I'm not vegan because everyone's so accommodating. I'm just like in this little bubble of veganism and everyone's just like super cool about it. That honestly, I don't know those struggles that many people have to face.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
And I will say on my end from the perspective of a vegan mom, one thing I want other parents to know is to not go into this uneducated. I mean, you can go into this uneducated, but when you do, make sure you are going into it with a purpose of learning everything you can about nutrition, because even without being vegan over like 90% of Americans have a nu- nutrient deficiency. And that's because comprehensive nutrition information education isn't a priority in schools. And it's especially problematic when you're talking about plant based nutrition that especially isn't being taught to our kids. So when you are going into veganism, you know, it's very important to like treat it just like you, you would like trying any new diet, like when you were younger, right? Like you didn't, you weren't just born understanding how to cook meat, you weren't just born, you know, cooking, how to how to, sorry, you weren't just born, knowing you know, intuitively how to make meals, like you had to learn these skills, like from your parents or from, you know, watching other people, pop culture, what have you, like, you've learned this as you grew up. So when you go vegan, it's the same thing. It's like you having to relearn this all over again. So, you know, educate yourself on nutrition, educate yourself on vegan cooking, because you're gonna get the biggest health benefits from being vegan by learning how to cook your own meals. And it's just amazing. Because going vegan, I feel like my world has opened up to a whole plethora of new ingredients, new spices, new herbs, new foods that I just never even thought to try when I wasn't vegan. And I realized, like looking back on my diet before I went vegan, and it was it was very minimalistic and lacking. And who knew who knows what kind of nutrient deficiencies I actually had before I went vegan, because I would argue that a lot of vegans become almost like borderline experts on nutrition, because of all the pressure people put on them to, you know, be perfect because there's this assumption that when you go vegan, you're going to lack all the nutrients that you need to survive and thrive. And so you have to be on it, you have to be on it to know all of the nutrition information when you when you go vegan, but some people don't, you know, there's still some people who don't understand that you need to supplement with B 12. And I have to tell them, like, hey, like, this is something that you actually need to supplement with. And, you know, don't get offended when people try to tell you that, oh, you know, vegans have to supplement like, okay, so what do you everyone should be supplementing, it's not just the vegan thing, like don't, don't let those jobs like get to you. It's actually like a problem for everyone, regardless of the diet, but you know, for parents, like really, really, really get to know and get educated on nutrition, you know, there are books out there, there's plenty of education online, I actually, you know, took a course on it, I did a plant based nutrition program, and they had a whole section on, you know, childhood, new nutrition. So the information is out there, you just have to do your research, just as you would anything else that you were, you know, trying, for the first time and you know, just really get comfortable with it. And don't Don't, don't get intimidated by it. There's plenty of resources out there, there's groups out there that are designed to, you know, help people, there's actually a really good Facebook group called the vegan baby led weaning group. So if you're a vegan parent, if you have like a child, and you want to do baby led weaning, and you want to raise your child vegan, that would be a great group for you to join. There are plenty of resources out there and plenty of other people out there doing it. And it might not seem like it. And that's probably because a lot of vegan parents don't want to admit that they're raising a vegan child because of all the backlash that people give vegan parents when they say that they're raising a vegan child, which is unfounded, but the support is out there and you just have to find those resources. And you know, just don't give into the feeling of being alone because you're definitely not there's huge community of people who want to raise vegan families and let's be real because of all of the environmental concerns because of climate change. This is where you know, we are headed, you know, you are going to have a lot more people are adopting this lifestyle, whether it's for animals, whether it's for health, or whether it's for the sake of the planet, so it's out there, you just got to you just got to find the information in the communities.Katie Kurpanek:
For sure, thank you so much. Yeah, I am excited for this podcast to go out there so that this can be one form of information and resources for people to turn to and then for your book coming out and then both of you have just like such rich, amazing social media platforms I have so enjoyed watching them for not even just watching that sounds so weird, but like, you know, engaging with your social media for a few years now. And Jen you were like one of the first people that I stumbled across when I went vegan and was trying to figure out like I do this for myself, let alone have like a vegan pregnancy and then breastfeeding and just kind of every step of the way. So yeah, I will have all of your contact information and social media stuff like that linked in the episode description so that people can find you as well. But are there any final things that you want to share a resources you would point people towards, and I can link those in as well.Jen Rivera Bell:
Not necessarily a resource, but just something to take away is that we're going to make mistakes on this journey, whether it's in parenting, whether it's with veganism, and we can't beat ourselves up to the point that we're having, like, enormous amounts of negative self talk, because it's not beneficial at all. We just have to learn from it. And I think that it's so beautiful, when someone is able to call you in, not call you out and be disrespectful. But when someone's like, hey, like, did you know this? And this affects this in this particular way. And it's like, wow, like, Thank you, I appreciate it. Like, it's one of the things that I love most about my community online is that I can get someone who I can very clearly tell is has good intentions. And it's trying to be informative, and tell me something that maybe I sent incorrectly. Or maybe I worded it in a way that was disrespectful to a community and I'm like, Oh, wow, thank you. Like, I appreciate that. And I can move on and learn from it and, and not take it as a bad thing. And I think that so much with being in the activism world or being in any, any space where you're trying to grow and improve, we feel like we have to be perfect. And if we're not perfect, then we've ruined it. And especially when you have you know, more than 30 followers on Instagram, everything has to be curated and perfect and you can't mess up. And that's just not the reality. And just knowing that we are going to make mistakes, and that we can learn from them and that other people can learn from them too. And that's super awesome. When we, when we express that we didn't make a mistake, we kind of mentioned that before with our kiddos like, they have to know that we make these mistakes, and other people have to know this because otherwise people can get the wrong idea that these people are online or like these perfect like, can do no wrong creatures when that's like the furthest thing from the truth. So just acknowledge the fact that you're going to make mistakes that then know that you're going to learn from them too.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Oh, that is so true. I think what's worse than making a mistake is doubling down on it instead of just acknowledging that you made the mistake and working to improve it. So I thought that was fantastic advice. And just like one last piece of advice, not necessarily a resource, but I know something that really helps keep my family you know, connected is like just tapping into our, our roots, you know, so, you know, my baby is Nigerian, Indian, Jamaican and Black American. And so we make sure to like stock our kitchen with vegan cookbooks that tap into that rich food history of those cultures. So that, you know, he can grow up understanding, oh, okay, cool like this. They're like, My roots are rich in like vegan, vegan foods, and like, this isn't abnormal. This isn't weird, you know, this is this is a part of like, my, my family history. And you know, and he can grow up with a very, you know, advanced palette, having experience the different flavors and textures, and just wonderful colorful foods that come from the different cultures that that, that he is made up of. So I'm really excited to be able to share, you know, all the different cultures that are in our family with him. And other families should do the same. You know, really try to look for cookbooks that reflect your your family history. And I think that's a special way to, you know, connect your culture to your vegan values.Katie Kurpanek:
That's wonderful. Thank you so much. I'm going to try to, well, I'll reach out to both of you too and see if you have any, like favorite vegan cookbooks, or something that you would want me to like, share with our listeners. And I can put that as well in the episode description. But it has been such a joy to talk with you both and to hear your experiences and just like the wisdom that you have, thank you for the work that each of you are doing in your own communities and on social media reaching like a much broader audience too. So it is so meaningful and so needed, and I'm just really thankful to be able to share space with you both.Ashley Renne Nsonwu:
Thank you. Thank you for having us.Jen Rivera Bell:
Yes, for sure. Thank you so much for having us.Katie Kurpanek:
I hope you enjoyed today's episode, and if you did, I would love it if you would share it with a friend. Spread the word over your social media, or simply leave a review wherever you subscribe to this podcast to help others find it as well. Thank you so much for being here. I'll catch you next time.