In honor of Earth Day 2021, Yahoo Life is profiling some of the many advocates leading the charge to save the planet today: young BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) activists fighting for climate justice through an intersectional lens.
Amy Quichiz, 26
Brooklyn resident, food-justice advocate and founder of Veggie Mijas, "a plant-based collective of folks of color who gather in order to talk about our plant-based lifestyle and our marginalized identities."
What was the moment that inspired you to get behind this cause?
I first came into the vegan world through a very white lens, so it wasn't until I found more vegan folks of color [that I] realized how our views were a bit different because of our backgrounds — of being working-class or having food inaccessibility. I literally just wanted a group of friends and then it…kind of just exploded organically, to where now we have over 12 chapters and everyone's doing so much work in their own communities based on food justice and environmental justice.
Why have you chosen food as your way into fighting climate change? What’s the connection?
I got introduced to the idea because I noticed that there was not a lot of access to healthy foods in my community… So, food justice and climate justice are related in many ways. For example, when we're looking at farm factories, where are they located? They're located near where Black and brown people live. And that is not a coincidence. And they have so many health issues because of the farm factories around them. And that is a climate issue and also a racial issue… there's just so many ways they intersect and continue to oppress black and Brown people.
How else is climate-change activism intersectional — and why do you think it needs to be viewed as such?
It needs to be for so many reasons. Environmental justice, in general, has been highlighted by most indigenous and Black and brown people that are continuously doing activism work. And especially, like, I'm Colombian and Peruvian. and there have been a lot of incidents where [those] governments even kill off a lot of activists that want to protest for the environment. So, there's that aspect, globally. And the way that it intersects here in the U.S. is on so many levels, like how in my community [healthy] food isn't as accessible. If you're not viewing food justice as a movement that is intersectional, you're not looking at the whole picture, because what is in the center is Black and brown people.
Can you talk a bit more about the "white lens" of veganism?
I turned vegan in college [after being] introduced by my friend who's Dominican. She gave me this really amazing book called Sista Vegan, so I learned about veganism through the perspective of Black women. And then I started realizing the impact of food justice and also joining vegan clubs, which were often white. I was like, there's no way I'm going to go back after seeing animal cruelty. But even through those spaces, there was so many times where I felt like there was just something in my gut that just didn't feel right [about the approach to activism]. Like white vegans putting themselves in cages with a bunch of blood and saying that fur is bad — when you didn't take into consideration, like, I don't know, people that have been in literal cages. There are so many messages that just didn't get across, because of their privileges.
What about the approach some take to understanding animal oppression — by comparing it to human oppression?
I think that comparing people to animals is just not a thing. Like, when we're looking at the many issues that Black and brown people face, they are not going to be thinking about the animals. Like I'm not going to be thinking about animal issues when my mom [might be facing] immigration issues. There has to be a line… But that is not to say that it's not just as important, because people need to hear what animals go through and people need to know how that affects us, as well… like how the trauma of killing animals affects us… Who are those people? Those are mostly Black and brown people working in farm factories. So, we can't ignore that the parallels exist, but we do have to differentiate… and not shame people for not caring about animal issues when Black and brown people have so many things to worry about and are constantly just trying to survive.
How do you manage your anger or resentment towards other generations who are leaving yours with this climate-change mess?
[Try not to] feel bad about not being able to break cycles… and saying to yourself, it's not all up to you. And then continuing to believe that you're not the only person doing this work — like I'm not the only person talking about veganism or talking about food justice. I always think about how organizations that came before me have been doing all of this work and continue to do the work.
Finally, what’s your best tactic for getting people to consider veganism?
Number one, I think it's about making folks reflect on how it can impact their life… So, for example, for me, it was about reflecting on the foods that were around me… like having just a Popeye's and Taco Bell near my house… and comparing that to, like, your ancestral foods. That’s important because then it becomes more personal rather than just being like, "Oh, go vegan!" People want to connect to it. And that is so important because at any point you can look at cheese and be like, "Oh, I want that cheese," but you have to be really committed [to not have it] and you have to have your own reason. I think food justice, like I said, connects with every issue. So if you're really passionate about women's rights, immigrant rights — any rights — you can literally direct it to food justice. So I always encourage people to look into that, and see like, how, if they're fighting for all of these social issues, why isn't animals — and the people affected by farm factories — one of them, as well?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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