Harmful Veganism/Vegetarianism Perceptions on Black Television

“Cheers to meat!” Hollywood exclaims, bumping a chicken nugget to the chicken nugget of Blue.

Last week’s Queen Sugar episode, “A Little Lower Than Angels,” wasn’t the easiest grain to swallow. Several subtle anti-vegan/vegetarian distasteful jokes came out of the woodwork. I watch television for entertainment, for mild escapism. However, this blatant disregard shared problematic limits of black lives matter movement, the problems associated from its lack of intersection when showcasing speciesism. Hollywood, an adult character, reinforces to Blue, a child character, that the cycle remains repeated, concluding that masculinity and meat go hand in hand. Furthermore, earlier, the child elicited joy at visiting the aquarium. Thus, in this single episode, a child is taught that some animals are for our viewing pleasure and others are for consumption.

For starters, I am a huge Queen Sugar fan. I love its compelling depth of characters, bravery in raising controversial past/contemporary issues, especially in the Southern setting (heart of oppressive black pain and struggle), and the all women directing initiative led by creator Ava DuVernay. I also applaud the range of brown and dark brown actors and actresses making up the cast, a less colorist diaspora than most television shows. In regards to this episode, it is evidenced more than ever the importance of black vegan characters on a fictional realm. We are at the age of Black Vegans Rock, at a time where black urban farmers are rising, and black vegan restaurants are coming up. On a show that is about redemption, purpose, and honor, you would think one person cared about animal welfare.

None of Queen Sugar‘s characters are self certified vegans. Originally, this wasn’t an issue. Again, I was impressed with the stories, the acting, the cinematography. However, this was the first episode, from three seasons, that made several anti-vegan/anti-vegetarian statements.

Now Vi is an excellent cook. Am I supposed to believe that she can’t prepare an epic seitan? Well, maybe she is too new to experimenting with it. Maybe she will create something better in the next episode. Still, Aunt Vi is a valiant taste tester. She would know if she was serving bad food.

“It takes one whole gallon of water to grow one almond,” says Ant, one of the pro black teen activists that Micah befriends, after asking Charley where is the “regular” milk. “California is the largest grower of almonds on the account of the drought though. Just food for thought.”

Somehow, Ant or no one else wants to discuss the unadulterated violence of slaughterhouses, of young calves being taken from their mothers for said “regular” milk, and the environmental harm caused by the ruthless meat and dairy industries.

In closing, Hollywood tells Violet that he respects her for eating better, but he needs his meat. He brings her a bowl of cauliflower rice. She believes it’s delicious. Yet the implication is that animal products are an ingredient– because low and behold veganism/vegetarianism is not tasty, flavorful food.

Sighs.

Queen Sugar also reminded me of an old Living Single rerun.

Then, decades ago, “Am I My Sister’s Keeper,” episode seven of season two aired. During a talk show segment on the dangers of consuming meat, Regine decides to become vegetarian. Yet, when Regine discards the meat of her roommates, Khadijah and Sinclair, out of revenge, they get even, filling the refrigerator and freezer with nothing but meat. Along with neighbors, Overton and Kyle, they plan a “meat only” barbecue. Both sides went too far with disposing each other’s foods, food being one of the most costly parts of living. However, Khadijah, Sinclair, and Max took it farther by waving their choices in Regine’s face– literally.

Hence, Living Single mirrored real life situations– family and friends who invite vegetarians and vegans over with intentions on conversion therapy. Some people believe that maybe ,while growing up, you didn’t have your meat prepared correctly. Maybe this is a phase initiated by white media– despite that historically Africans were naturally prone to diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and starches before American enslavement forced the eating of scraps from their slave masters. Nowadays, if you’re not eating ribs, hamburgers, and bacon, everyone seems ready to vilify and revoke your “black” card.

Still, Regine stuck by her lifestyle change.

Countless others and I also stand by veganism and will not be thwarted.

At least Girlfriends set up a solid positive example with Lynn Searcy, a biracial vegan. Her veganism is part of her– unique, distinctive, elemental. From the time of her introduction and remainder of eight seasons, she was a constant champion of animal rights.

I wish there were more black vegan/vegetarian characters. It would be an amazing, contemporary justice. Queen Sugar–which unlike other examples is currently on air– centers itself on political, social, economic, emotional, physical, and mental struggle of black lives. They have introduced LGBTQ characters. They have included a main character involved with police altercation. With Vi’s lupus diagnosis, comes a step closer to informing the public about the great benefits of plant based eating.

Moreover, I just want to be the viewer without feeling attacked or ridiculed. Veganism/vegetarianism shouldn’t remain tied up in these old, rehashed stereotypes, the butt of jokes. It doesn’t help anyone to find dishonest slander on a television show promoted for black people on a black owned television network. And yes, these characters eat animals almost every week (cringeworthy), but when it comes to plant based substitutes, they immediately rise to the occasion to speak against it.

Like earth loving Nova, a Queen Sugar character giving voice to those without one, I am passionately outspoken for the animals, for those sentient beings abhorrently bred in captivity. When it come to entertainment, however, we deserve seeing reflections of ourselves in a fictional capacity, someone who too cares about black lives matter and animal rights. Every single being deserves liberation. It doesn’t make sense for such glaring issues to be separate, to not be closely intertwined. The links are obvious and painful.

“The food we eat masks so much cruelty. The fact that we can sit down and eat a piece of chicken without thinking about the horrendous conditions under which chickens are industrially bred in this country is a sign of the dangers of capitalism, how capitalism has colonized our minds. The fact that we look no further than the commodity itself, the fact that we refuse to understand the relationships that underly the commodities that we use on a daily basis. And so food is like that.” – Angela Davis

Unfortunately, many use television and film including young children as a source of both education and guilty pleasure. There are not a lot of mainstream vegan/vegetarian programming, much less featured fictional vegan/vegetarian characters. Black vegan/vegetarian programming is nonexistent unless searching on the web. Thus, we must reframe the narratives to be inclusive and responsible. Otherwise, people would truly believe that veganism/vegetarianism is water wasteful, flavorless, and difficult.

Plus, a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, one of the largest forms of activism, goes beyond food digestion.

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