For Whom Should Ethiopian Cuisine Be ‘Demystified?’: Vegan ‘Ethnic’ Cookbook Marketing and Assumed Whiteness

Earlier this year, I received a newsletter about the announcement of a new cookbook, Teff Love. After reading the marketing language for this new book, I decided that I would send the publishing company some of my thoughts ( which come after the snapshot I took of the newsletter below). First of all, I absolutely am not bashing the work and love that was put into Berns’ book and successful blog. As someone who has written and published manuscripts, I know that it takes a lot of work, time, etc for achieving such an end product. Instead, my focus for this post is looking at the communication style employed when marketing a book about Ethiopian cuisine and the assumptions made about the audience; I am curious about the ease in which terms like ‘demystify’ are used for non-White cultural foods.

TeffLove Email Image

I emailed the letter below to the publisher on April 1, 2015, after emailing them in March. I never heard from them and assume that they are incredibly busy with work and life, so I’m not upset or anything.

And let me give you another reminder that I am approaching analysis of the announcement of the book as a critical food studies scholar influenced by critical race feminist methodologies. I am using the advertisement as an exercise to explore unconscious bias within the mainstream ‘post-racial’ ethical consumption movement. Ultimately, I hope that it will be a useful tool for anyone who thinks about marketing cookbooks written by white people with culinary interest in non-White Eurocentric food ways.

My letter explores how exotifying certain non-white people’s cultural foods may be received as cool to the mainstream [white] vegan audience but triggering and traumatizing to those in the USA who are non-white and may even be non-white immigrants who are constantly reminded how they are exotic and don’t belong in a USA obsessed with giving full human-ship and citizen ship to white people. 

After the advertisement for Teff Love was released, there were quite a few conversations happening among vegans of color on Facebook. Many explained that they found the marketing language  of Teff Love to be problematic and frustrating; some folk talked about how a rather well know Afro-Caribbean vegan chef, known for only writing books and giving lessons about Caribbean cuisine, was unable to secure a cookbook deal for writing about French cuisine… because the publishers didn’t think an image of a Black woman could sell books about [white] French cuisine (yet, for some reason, white people are normally not told they can’t publish a cookbook about recipes that are non-white Eurocentric). This spurred a conversation about who is allowed to be an ‘expert’ on culinary practices and who isn’t…and what racial bias (implicit or overt) has to do with all of this.

I also want to make it clear that Berns has an excellent cooking blog and hold valuable culinary knowledge, so this is not bashing her work and love for vegan cooking. While I was trying to learn how to make injera, her video was quite helpful for me, so thanks Kittee. I also know that authors often do not have much control over the end product (i.e. their book, how it’s marketed, how it is edited, etc)

Below is the letter I sent to Book Publishing Co.

April 1, 2015

Congratulations on the new book release. 

I was wondering why the news release is worded the way it is. Is the audience assumed to be non-Ethiopian? Just wondering if the language used could be more mindful when talking about non-White cuisines. Words such as ‘demystified’ position Ethiopian cuisine as something that needs to be made ‘accessible’ for a supposedly and assumed non-Ethiopian (most likely white) audience of vegan cooking folk. When this new release came out, quite a few of us in the vegans of color community noted that though well-intended, the advertisement is worded in a problematic and culturally appropriating way. We were wondering why the cultural authority to ‘demystify’ a non-White cuisine ( that isn’t mystical to many of us who may have Ethiopian ancestry/are Ethiopian) is given to a seemingly white author; it’s not that white people cannot write books about Ethiopian or other non-white/non-European cuisine. Our concern is that too many times, white chefs and cookbook authors are uncritically allowed to write about any cuisine in the world while non-white cookbook authors and chefs are usually limited to only writing and publishing a book about cuisine from their racial/ethnic group (i.e. Black people write about ’soul food’ but it would be hard for them to find a publishing deal if they wrote about French or German cuisine). 

I speak from a scholarly and racial justice activist training, as someone with a doctorate in social science with focus on critical food studies and race, and as someone who has published academic work on the subject of food and exotic cooking. My research has been on the phenomenon of mainstream publishers making non-white/non-European cuisine/food products appear to be ‘exotic’ and ‘mystical’ that usually only a white chef has the ‘objective’ expertise to ’translate’ for a largely white audience who are assumed to not trust themselves when trying out ’new’ ‘exotic’ cuisines unless a white chef takes the lead. Lise Heldke, a white anti-racist critical food studies scholar writes about this in her acclaimed book Exotic Appetites. I also wrote about what it means to turn non-white vegans, their culture, their cuisine, into ‘exotic’ objects by mainstream foodie culture which is white, middle-class and ‘post-racial’. It has been used in many classes that look at studies of food as well as racial experience in the USA. Here is the citation:

Harper, A. (2011). “Knowing, Feeling, and Experiencing the ‘Exotic'”  in Alkon, Alison and Julian Agyeman. Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability. MIT Press. Cambridge: MA.

Just some food for thought for you to consider as you advertise for this new book. You may gain a wider audience/fans if your marketing staff can be more mindful of the nuances of ‘assumed whiteness’ and covert racism when using certain words and phrasing when promoting new books. It’s also often helpful to enlist the help of people trained in critical race, critical feminist, critical gender, etc studies to look over marketing campaigns to ensure that the language used causes the least amount of harm to marginalized populations. I do this almost all the time to make sure, for example, as a person with able-bodied and cis-gender privilege, that my writing does not uphold systems of ableism and transphobia. Of course no writing can ever be 100% free from discursive violence, but it’s helpful to alleviate it as much as possible.

Thanks for your time and consideration of my thoughts.

My best,

Breeze

(Looking back at the letter, I don’t think it was probably the best idea to use the term ‘discursive violence’ as I assume most people would find it off-putting.)


 

4 years ago, I gave a talk about the vegan exotic and whiteness that may shed some more light for those who are new to this subject:

Now that you have spent time reading this blog post and maybe watching the video, here are some questions I have for anyone who has or is writing a cookbook and/or marketing one. My assumed audience for these questions are primarily those who have spent a fare amount of time in the USA, maybe even raised here. I acknowledge that people who have not lived here long enough or didn’t spend their childhood in the USA may not understand the complex nature of race, ethnicity, and whiteness:

  1. How do implicit biases, created by systems of oppression (racism, ableism, cis-sexism, classism), impact your cookbook writing and/or marketing?
  2. Even better, are you aware that most of us are untouched by implicit biases created by systems of oppression (racism, ableism, cis-sexism, classism) and that they impact your cookbook writing and/or marketing?
  3. How did your feel about this blog post and the letter I wrote? What were your initial responses and why?
  4. If you are a non-White person, have you ever experienced being exotified within the ethical consumption arena in the USA?
  5. If you are a white identified person, do you consider non-white cultures ‘exotic’ and ‘mysterious’ and why?
  6. Regardless of racial identification, have you ever thought about your response when learning, for example, and African American chef or cookbook author does not write about African American food, but something else?
  7. What has been your response when learning that a white chef or cookbook author has been labeled as an ‘expert’ for non-white ethnic cuisine in the USA?
  8. When asked to think about race and/or whiteness, as applied to food, what are your initial reactions and why? Is it new or something that you have already been thinking about?
  9. If you are a publishing company, perhaps you completely understand your market and maybe you know that the majority of your customers would respond more positively to phrases like “demystify” or “exotic” because you know the value and history those labels carry with that buying demographic.
    1. If that is the case, what are your thoughts on this letter? Do you find yourself having to make ethical sacrifices to make enough profits to keep afloat?
    2. Do you worry that integrating critical approaches to how systemic racism and other ‘isms’ impacts the culinary world (or whatever publishing world you are in that has nothing to do with critical approaches to systemic social injustices) may end up being “off-putting” to a majority that is thinking one-dimensionally about the topic being marketed?

Dr. A. Breeze Harper
Dr. A. Breeze Harper

About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project

Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business.


Like what the Sistah Vegan Project Does? Find out about our 2016 upcoming conference “The Role of Foodie+Tech Culture in an Era of Systemic Racism and Neoliberal Capitalism”. If you missed our Spring 2015, “The Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter” you can download the recordings with slides, here

Also, learn about our other projects and how you can donate to keep the Sistah Vegan Project alive and vibrant.

Want strong healthy hair and glowing skin? Black hair and skin care the natural way!

Black women and girls: My name is Dr. A. Breeze Harper. You can achieve glowing skin and strong healthy hair with a few simple steps. I want to share this wisdom with you. Will you join me?

PhotoBreeze

Dr. A. Breeze Harper without make-up, May 2013.

Dr. Harper, November 2012 with daughter, Eva Luna.
Dr. Harper, November 2012 with daughter, Eva Luna.
  • Learn how to combat breakage and strengthen your hair, no matter how long or short.

  • Discover how postpartum hair loss can be remedied without medical treatment or expensive alternatives

  • Learn how this one simple and cheap natural oil can grow your hair, add hydration, and is also excellent for your skin

  • Learn how easy it is to ‘go natural’, with the right shampoo, oils, herbs, and conditioner

My name is  Dr. A. Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project. I have been complimented often about how much my hair grows and how much my skin glows. I do not go to hair salons or spas, and nor have I worn make-up for about 15 years.  I will teach you what foods and herbs you can take, as well as put on your hair and scalp, that will help your hair grow, become stronger, and healthier.  I will also focus a portion of this webinar to growing you hair back, after giving birth. Postpartum hair loss is all too common amongst women. I know women who had children 2 or 3 years ago and continue to have hair loss and thinning problems. With a few tips from me, they were able to grow their hair back.

Date: June 30, 2013

Time: 10:00 am PST/1:00pm EST (USA Time Zones)

Cost: $30.00

Spaces Left: 27 out of 30.

Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes (approximately)

Technology requirements: a computer with a fast internet connection and a free WebEx account (my webinars are hosted through WebEx, so if you don’t want to call a regular phone number to access it and then pay per minute, you can join the webinar with a password via a free WebEx account). You should have speakers or headphone to hear. I will be using video and audio so participants will be able to see and hear me present. The webinar will be recorded and available to access for free for you who have registered, to refer to as long as you desire. There will be Q&A at the end.

How to pay: please sent payment to my PayPal account. My email associated with that account is breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com. In the memo field please type in “hairjune2013”

About the Instructor: Dr. A. Breeze Harper is the director and founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, a organization dedicated to critical race feminist perspectives on veganism, as seen through the collective experiences of Black North American females. Dr. Harper started the project in 2005. She holds degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard University, and University of California-Davis. Her innovative ability to integrate the use of educational technologies to analyze Black female vegans food and health philosophies earned her the Dean’s Award from Harvard University in 2007 for her Master Thesis work: this is an honor only bestowed upon one candidate per program.

Dr. Harper’s knowledge about diversity within the field of food and wellness has marked her as a highly sought after paid consultant and speaker for many American universities. She has given many keynote addresses including at Boston University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Oregon, and Southwestern University. She teaches students, faculty, and staff how and why people have unique relationships to food and wellness and how these relationships are impacted by race, socio-economic class, gender, sexuality, and ability. She has published extensively, including Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health and Society (Lantern Books 2010). She graduated summa cum-laude from University of California-Davis with a PhD in critical geographies of race and food.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified practitioner or medical doctor. Please consult with your practitioner before trying any of the foods or herbs that I recommend.

"How do you like Germany so far? I mean, you're Black": On [Anti-]Racism and Food Erotica

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Breeze Harper, 2012 New Years Eve at a club in München. Failed afro attempt. Ended looking like a ‘poodle.’ The Afro just wouldn’t stay up. LOL.

On December 30, 2012, I went to one of the few cafes open on Sunday in Germany. The manager tried to speak to me in German, but I failed big time and answered in Spanish. I do this weird thing that when I’m spoken to in German,  I respond in Spanish 50% of the time. Weird, no? Talk to me in Spanish and I will respond in English 50% of the time. Anyway, I digress…

…The manager ended up speaking to me in Spanish and English. After a few minutes of chatting about where I learned Spanish and what I am doing in Germany, he bluntly said, “How do you like Germany so far? I mean, [because] you’re Black.” I replied that I get stared at all the time, but I’m still enjoying myself. He folded his arms and shook his head, “Germany is full of Nazis once you leave the metropolitan [München] area. They are racists.” He shook his head, “I don’t really like it [here in Germany]. I don’t have a problem with anybody, black, white, whatever, but they do.” I have to admit that this is the first time I have encountered someone living in München, during my trip, who  offered to share this particular interpretation of Germany with me. I couldn’t agree with him about Germany being ‘full of Nazis’, as I have only spent most of my time in the metropolitan area. I was wondering how he was even defining the word ‘Nazi’, or was that his way of explaining that he encountered a significant number of white Germans who are ‘xenophobic’?

I told him that I get stared at in the USA all the time, once I leave most cities and enter mostly white areas, so my Germany experience is not a surprise for me. I was unable to read his ethnicity, but he  did not ‘pass’ as white– or, rather, how I have come to define ‘whiteness’, which is in the USA socio-historical context. He had an olive complexion and black hair.

The other day, someone commented on my post about my Tollwood experience, wishing that my in-laws move somewhere in which I would feel ‘at home’ versus a ‘racialized other.’ I appreciated their concern about me not feeling as comfortable or ‘at home’ as I should be in predominantly white spaces, but in my opinion, my in-laws shouldn’t have to move anywhere for me (or anyone else who doesn’t look like the ‘tribe’ of a particular region) to feel ‘at home.’ I would like to see that my in laws ‘stay’ and that Germany’s white collective consciousness continue to ‘move’ more forward, towards a creation of an unconditional love for all people who exist in these [socially constructed] borders of the German nation. Let’s remember: Germany has come a long way since the era of nationalized and institutionalized white supremacist Nazism. The mere fact that I can travel to here, get around the city, and be alive at the end of the day is an indication of a ‘move’ of national consciousness. But I am still really thinking about the cafe manager’s brief conversation with me and his strong use– maybe even inflammatory (?)– of the phrase, “Germany is full of Nazis….” Actually, in tandem with this, I think this about my own homeland: “USA is full of white supremacists who have no problem publicly displaying their enragement about the POTUS being non-white.” Fresh in my mind is the Facebook page that depicts Obama being lynched, with the caption “Rope”, instead of “Hope”with the sentence, “Hang the bastard.”

But, I am hopeful. The other day, while waiting for the S Bahn (subway train) at Rosenheimer platz , I saw an advertisement on one of the many widescreen monitors they have on the subway walls. Portrayed was a ‘brown’ man accidently bumping into someone at a biergarten. He trips and accidently touches the shoulder of a white woman sitting down. The white man across from her becomes very angry and violent that this ‘brown’ man touched her. He grabs the brown man and is about to beat him up. The image freezes and then pans out to show that all of Germany is watching and will NOT tolerate such racialized and violent responses/behaviors to this ‘brown’ man’s sincere mistake. I didn’t know this was going on until the captions were translated for me. Has anyone else seen these ads? I have been trying to search for them on the Internet all morning.

Food Erotica!!!!!

On New Year’s Eve, I visited a shopping center dedicated to edible yumminess. My end goal was the new vegan shoppe called Boonian. Not all the photos below are from Boonian. The first ones are from Boonian. I spoke with the founder and he is from South Dakota, USA. I ended up eating a seitan sandwich and broccoli salad for lunch.

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Sandwich: Seitan yumminess from Boonian.

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And array of vegan wines offered by Boonian….

And wishing these were vegan……

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[Webinar] Black women’s hair CAN grow: Food and Herbs to grow you hair

“Webinar: Black women’s hair CAN grow: Food and Herbs to grow you hair”
Despite the myth about it being difficult to grow and manage your hair without relaxers and thermal straighteners, black women’s hair can grow and this webinar will teach you how to do it. Growing your hair and having a natural (i.e. afro) is possible through holistic vegan and herbal methods. In this webinar, I will teach you what foods and herbs you can take, as well as put on your hair and scalp, that will help your hair grow, become stronger, and healthier. In addition, I will be teaching you how to care for your hair from a pro-vegan perspective. I will also focus a portion of this webinar to growing you hair back, after giving birth.

Postpartum hair loss is all too common amongst women. I know women who had children 2 or 3 years ago and continue to have hair loss and thinning problems. With a few tips from me, they were able to grow their hair back.

Date: August 25, 2012 Time: 10:00 am PST

Cost: $29.95

Duration: 1 hour

Technology requirements: a computer with a fast internet connection and a free WebEx account (my webinars are hosted through WebEx, so if you don’t want to call a regular phone number to access it and then pay per minute, you can join the webinar with a password via a free WebEx account).

How to pay: please sent payment to my PayPal account. My email associated with that account is breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com. In the memo field please type in “haircareAug25.”

Disclaimer: I am not a certified practitioner or medical doctor. Please consult with your practitioner before trying any of the foods or herbs that I recommend.

Where do toddlers get vegan protein?





Where do toddlers get vegan protein?  Watch the video below to see one of many fun and nutritious possibilities!

Ingredients:

2/3 c to 1 c of hemp seeds. I like 1 c to make it creamier and thicker but you can do 2/3c if you want it to be lighter. I use Organic hemp seeds from Nutiva

Pint of Strawberries

1c of water
1/2 tsp of raw ground vanilla bean.

4 ice cubes
3 pitted dates (more if you want it to be sweeter)

Directions: in a high quality blender (you need a high quality one to ground the hemp seeds finely and smoothly. I used a Vitamix) until smooth (about 1- 1.5 minutes). Pour into ice cream machine.

Nutrition of 3 tbsp of hemp seeds provides this : 11g of protein; 174 Calories. 13.5 g of fat (1g is sat). 0 Cholesterol. 1 g of fiber. 16% RDA of Iron. 23% RDA of Zinc. 48% RDA of Phosphorous. 48% RDA of Magnesium.

 If you used 1 c of hempseeds that ice cream has about 35-40g of protein in it.  WOW!

Sistah vegan on Maca, gettin' your vegan libido on, and finishing her PhD

 

In this video I talk about Sol Raiz organice Maca powder that I have been taking to create healthy libido, postpartum, and grow my hair back. I also update people on how I’m trying to handle “nursing on demand” and the challenges of being the primary caretaker of 2 children under the age of 3, while living in a nation in which there isn’t much structural and institutional support to help mothers (or the primary caretakers of pre-school age children which usually do end up being females).

The brand of Maca I by is by Sol Raiz:
solraizorganics.com/

 

Black Vegan Mammy-ism: Sacrificing My Emotional Health for the Vegan Status Quo

In this video I talk about how I struggle with not being a “mammy” when it comes to accommodating the emotional needs of particular white vegans who do not extend mindfulness to me when they talk to me about ‘their’ post-racial view of veganism. THERE ARE TWO VERSIONS OF THIS VIDEO AVAILABLE. HIGH DEFINITION FOR FAST INTERNET SPEED AND STANDARD FOR SLOWER INTERNET SPEEDS.

HIGH DEFINITION:

STANDARD DEFINITION:

Here is a useful article to read to understand more about what I mean by “mammyism” . I don’t agree with a lot in this article, but it does give a basic premise of mammyism:

Abdullah, Afi Samelia. “Mammy-Ism: A Diagnosis of Psychological Misorientation for Women of African Descent.” JOURNAL OF BLACK PSYCHOLOGY 24, no. 2 (1998): 196-210.

Vegan Consciousness, Structural Racism, Solidarity:"It's not about you as an individual racist."

Update: Before watching the video about “‘It’s not about you as an individual racist’: Veganism, Structural Racism, and Solidarity” I just wanted to say that if my work has benefited you, or you have enjoyed watching my critical race scholarship and/or health advice over the past few years, I’m wondering if you can return a favor. My fellowship to pursue critical race and critical vegan studies at the doctoral level was not renewed for 2011-2012, through University of California, Davis. I would like to finish my PhD and need some help. I know the goal may seem overwhelming, but I have about a combined support network/friends/followers of 1000 people (through Facebook, blog subscribers, and Twitter followers). If you could spare $10 to $25 a piece, then this goal could be met I think. Paypal email donation: breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com or go to the right side top of the screen and click on donation link.

UPDATE: As of June 13, 2011: Donated: $2700. Needed for completion of goal: $7,300

In this video I reflect on the past week of people who have written me, conveying to me, “I don’t really get what you do,” because they themselves “don’t judge people by the color of their skin.”

I try to compassionately explain that my research activism focuses on “structural racism” and “racialized effects”. How do these affect vegan philosophies, whether you consider yourself racist or not? How does structural racism (and other “isms”) affect vegan rhetoric, vegan outreach, vegan consumption, the vegan body ideal, etc?

Most importantly, I read from my dissertation intro and share with you the 6 core questions I am investigating in my work.

Here also is another video that explains more in detail, that Sistah Vegan phd funding I need help with:

Critical race vegan studies PhD: Help a sistah out!

In this video I am asking for your help. My fellowship to pursue critical race and critical vegan studies at the doctoral level was not renewed for 2011-2012, through University of California, Davis. I would like to finish my PhD and need some help.

I know the goal may seem overwhelming, but I have about a combined support network/friends/followers of 1000 people (through Facebook, blog subscribers, and Twitter followers). If you could spare $10 to $25 a piece, then this goal could be met I think.

Paypal email donation: breezeharper (at) gmail (dot) com or go to the right side top of the screen and click on donation link.

UPDATE: As of June 5, 2011:

Donated: $1157

Needed for completion of goal: $8,843

Deadline: September 2011 (so I Can register for 2011-2012 academic year)

Other creative ways to help would be to buy a personalized signed copy of Sistah Vegan book directly from me if you don’t already have a copy or want to give it as a gift. Click on the image of the book on the right if you want to do that.

I also had one person ask if they can pay me to speak to their social justice group, via video Skype, for an hour. They agreed to pay me to do that, so that is another possibility.

I’m also open to doing paid talks and lectures that are no more than a 2 hour drive from where I live. Could fly out if I were not in my 3rd trimester, but driving there is still an option.

If you’re asking the question, “Why should I fund this woman? What has she done?” Please refer to my CV so you can see the type of person you are investing in and how ‘productive’ she can be 🙂
http://web.mac.com/sistahvegan98/research/Curriculum_Vitae.html