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Veganism in the U.S. has become a contested space because of its exclusion of people of color. In
addition, it has been noted that mainstream veganism is not attentive to how oppressions are
intersecting. In concert with Carol J. Adam’s 1990 theoretical text, The Sexual Politics of Meat, which
theorized the ways meat production and consumption is integral to patriarchal domination, A.
Breeze Harper contributes an analysis of racism in mainstream veganism and has since continued
to investigate relationships between Blackness and veganism, illustrating how racism is also
integral to these politics. These critiques have provided a foundation for further thinking about
intersecting oppressions that the vegan movement should be addressing.
In a Mexican American context, a proliferation of writers and activists produced cookbooks,
scholarly texts, and cultural works that demonstrated how Mexican Americans have long been
consumers of a mostly plant-based diet. They began (re)claiming their ancestral foods and
highlighting its nutritional and medicinal value. The arrival of Luz Calvo’s and Catriona Rueda
Esquibel’s cookbook Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and
Healing embodies this moment. Another person who exemplifies this is Antonio Elias Lopez from El
Antonio Elias Lopez is a self-identified (vegan) Chicano cocinero. Lopez’s food history and
philosophy contributes to people of color’s critiques of mainstream veganism. In addition, his
history highlights the spatial dimension of intersecting oppressions as he stresses the importance
of barrios as sustainable environments. In other words, Lopez expands the concept of veganism to
include the rights and health of those who live in the barrio. Through his food practices, he
advocates for the barrio, exclaiming that everything one may need can be found there. The barrio is
a sustainable environment that can nourish its communities.
In this presentation, by focusing on Lopez’s food history, I explore following central
questions: Did the rise of Mexican vegan cuisine ignore or embrace the plant-based roots of
Mexican food and foodways? In terms of space and spatial justice, is mainstream veganism an agent
in gentrifying the barrios Lopez lives and works in? If so, are Lopez’s practices a form of resistance
and spatial justice? How? How do Lopez’s actions as well as those who live in this environment
contest mainstream notions of nutrition and food deserts?
To explore these questions I first map the conflicts between mainstream veganism and
vegans of color, particularly Mexican Americans. Specifically, I follow Lopez’s development as a
cook and of his evolving philosophy on food which is invested in remembering ancestral foods and
foodways. Second, I examine how Lopez transforms mainstream notions of veganism through
Priscilla Ybarra Solis’s concept of the goodlife. Ybarra defines the goodlife as a philosophy that
“embraces the values of simplicity, sustenance, dignity, and respect…the values…implicitly
integrate the natural environment as part of the community” and centers “the value of care to
replace destructive possession.” 1 Through the goodlife, I bridge together critical vegan studies with
decolonial perspectives on Mexican-origin foods by offering a way to interpret Lopez’s Mexican
veganism as goodlife practices.
(Department of History, University of North Texas)