“A lot people say, ‘It’s cruelty-free,’ but nothing is really cruelty-free because of the people that are working.”
Alicia talks to vegan activist Amy Quichiz, the founder of Veggie Mijas, a U.S.-wide organization that gives women of color a place to meet and discuss their experiences with food. Topics covered include how to convince your family to stop consuming animal products, how veganism should be inherently intersectional, and how “cruelty-free” must refer to workers as well as animals.
ALICIA KENNEDY: This is Meatless, a podcast about eating from How We Get To Next. I’m Alicia Kennedy, a food and drink writer. I’ll be having conversations with chefs, writers, and more about how their personal and political beliefs determine whether or not they eat meat. This show asks the question, “How do identity, culture, economics, and history affect a diet?”
In this episode, I talk Amy Quichiz of Veggie Mijas, a national women of color vegan collective. We discussed why she went vegan, the need for community, and how she convinced her parents to quit meat and dairy.
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ALICIA KENNEDY: Thank you so much Amy for being here.
AMY QUICHIZ: Thank you for inviting me.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah. So, I grew up in Jackson Heights, which is a predominantly Colombian neighborhood. So, I’m Colombian and Peruvian, and growing up there I ate a lot of Colombian food, which meant a lot of meat, and then Peruvian food, which meant a lot of seafood. And growing up I always felt, like I always knew it was kind of wrong, but everyone around me ate it so normally, so it was just culture, I guess. And yeah, but I think that most of our foods can be vegan. So, you know, at the end of the day it was like beans and rice, with some platanos. So, it wasn’t always meat, and my parents didn’t always cook so much meat either. It was mostly when we ate outside as well.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. So, when did you become vegan?
AMY QUICHIZ: I became vegan my first year of college. I had friends that were vegans, vegans of color, and they were like, “Amy, if you’re all about feminism,” because I was like the women’s and gender studies, like, person, they would be like, “You have to stop eating meat.” So, I was like, “OK, like I don’t know how those things correlate but sure.” So, then I started watching Earthlings, and I was traumatized. I was like, “Oh my gosh, like, how can we do this to these creatures, like, they’re literally us, like, how can we hurt them in this way?” And I literally stopped eating meat or animal products because of the animals.
Later, then, to find out by reading Sistah Vegan and Sexual Politics of Meat and just seeing so much violence of, cycles of violence, not only because of the animals but because of the people that work in the farm factories and everything of that. I was like, “OK, this is, like, a more serious reason of why to be vegan and, like, why everyone should care.” Not that speciesism, doesn’t matter, but I feel like there’s so much more reasons that people don’t know, as well.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Absolutely. And what was the reaction like from your family, from, from the people in your life who weren’t pushing you to be vegan?
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah. So, at first, everyone’s like, “Oh my god, what happened? You came back gay and vegan? Like, what’s wrong with you?” And they were so surprised, they didn’t know, like, what was going on. And then I go inside the house, and I remember taking out all the dairy products out, taking out all the meat, and my mom’s like, “What’s happening, like, what are you doing?” I’m like, “We’re replacing all of this, we’re going to be fine.” So then we go to the supermarket and I literally replace every single thing, and then my parents were like, “Whoa, like, we didn’t even know these things existed.” And they got really excited as well, and started telling all of their friends, like, why it was important to be vegan, and ever since then, my parents don’t buy meat in the house, and we only buy vegan products as well. And my mom is so open to learning now, because I feel like, I always say this, like everyone thinks that veganism is very limiting but it’s actually like a whole new world to explore. Like, my mom now, she’s like, “Look at this vegan cheese I tried,” or, like, “Look at this vegan mayo that I just found,” and she’s so willing to explore and learn new recipes that involve veganism as well, and I think that it’s been really eye-opening for my parents.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. And can you talk more about how veganism is intersectional? Like, how, how it works with feminism or how it works with any other marginalized identity.
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah, of course. I believe that veganism intersects with every “ism” possible, because of the way that we view the workers. Like, when we think about how our products are being done, we usually, you know a lot people say like, “Oh, it’s cruelty-free,” but nothing is really cruelty-free because of the people that are working against it.
So, when I think about farm factories, I think about all the immigrant and brown folks that are working in the farm factories, and they’re kind of stuck there or else, like, they’ll be deported if they’re not working there. And they, you know, it’s not normal to kill animals every day, like they’re obviously going to have some kind of trauma of doing that. And then, while that, bringing that to the home, you know, then that becomes a cycle of domestic violence in their home, like that’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is just like environmentalism, right? And how we use all of these products and these products are, like, cutting trees to, like, grow more animals and like how that’s affecting people in the Amazon, and the animals in the Amazon.
Like, I feel like it just affects everyone, especially when we’re thinking about where the animals are being grown. Where the, you know, all the poop of the animals is going. Where’s that going? It’s not going anywhere safe, right? It’s going actually to the people that are, like, living, like the POC folks that are living around that area, and it’s affecting their health. So when I’m eating, I’m not just thinking about the animals, but I’m thinking about the whole process of, like, what it took for my plate to be there. And I think that if we look at it through that lens, I feel like more people can resonate because, you know, if you’re fighting for social justice but you’re still eating meat, like, where does your social justice lie?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. And so what inspired you to start Veggie Mijas?
AMY QUICHIZ: What inspired me to start Veggie Mijas was, after college, I didn’t have that many vegan friends. I was like, everyone’s eating meat around me, and I wasn’t feeling that inspired. So, I was like, I need to make a group of friends, but maybe not just me. Maybe other people need friends too. So, I started Veggie Mijas through that, through Instagram, just to, like, learn more recipes and to get feedback from other people. But then it started to be this whole collective of people wanting to do events. People wanting to, like, grow chapters in other cities.
And Oakland was the first one to be like, “We need a chapter here.” So, we started with Oakland, I was feeling it out, and they were doing amazing, they’re still doing amazing, that now we have like nine chapters opened, and we’re still continuing to open. We’re opening, we’re opened in Chicago, in Miami, in, like, Boston area, in LA, Oakland, Orange County, and now we’re opening, like, in Saint Louis, Missouri, where I never knew, like I was never going to go there. Maybe one day I will, and, you know, seeing the vegan community grow around folks of color is so important to me, that I’m just so grateful that it’s growing the way it is.
ALICIA KENNEDY: And so what was that evolution like, like for, did you anticipate it become like that much work? Do you have like a process for people starting chapters, and how did you create all that?
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah, so, I didn’t anticipate it at all. I remember the first person that I spoke to in New York, it’s so funny because my girlfriend she also does, she’s also creative, and I remember being on the phone with somebody and I was like, “Oh, I just want to do, like, an event, a potluck, here in New York City.” And she was like, “For what? Like, what’s the mission? Like, I don’t understand. Like, I don’t want to be a part of this, like this is not,” and I was like, I hung up. I was like, “Bye.” Like, I don’t need people like that to like, you know, you need people that inspire you around you. You can’t let negative people around you.
So, I was like, after that, I was like, you know what, this is going to grow. Like, this is going to be a big thing. Like, we’re going to make this happen. And I feel like at the, like, in the beginning, it didn’t, you know, I didn’t want it to be that, but then it just started growing with more people that wanted to do things. So, I think it takes a group, you know, it takes a group to be like, “I believe in you, and this is going to be something that, you know, a lot of people are going to want to be a part of.”
So when, you know, when I had the good amount of people that did want to do something, we were like, “Let’s start a starter pack.” My friend Ruby that’s in Orange Country was like, “I’m going to do name tags,” and now the name tags, like, work when people are like doing workshops and they have their names, like, literally just every little detail, like it wasn’t just me. Like, it was the people that believed in me and that believed in Veggie Mijas. So now, you know, I get on the phone and I start doing check-ins. I get on the phone with people who want to start doing chapters and, you know, express what Veggie Mijas is and what our mission is, and how like, you know, how much events do we want throughout the year and things like that. But I think it really does take people to work with. Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Absolutely. Do you have, like, a cohesive kind of political philosophy that, that every chapter has? I know you’re, you know, you both note, like, environmental justice and animal liberation, and how do you keep everyone, kind of, on the same page, if that’s even desirable? Like, or does, do chapters kind of have, push you in other directions or anything like that?
AMY QUICHIZ: I think it’s a constant conversation, and it take a lot of work to have these conversations with people. You know, because we learn from each other, and I’m not to say that these are all, like, my rules, like, my guidelines, but, you know, we feed off of one of another. So if another person like really cares about environmentalism, like, in Miami they’re going to have an event about, like, cleaning the beach and how important that is for veganism. I’m like, “Great,” like, “You have beaches over there.” Like, “Go do that,” you know. So, it really depends on like what people are inspired of, like what people really care about and everybody has a space for that in Veggie Mijas.
If you care about, you know, zero waste lifestyle, like, you can have your own segment and talk about that, and it’s really about giving each other the space to grow and to learn from one another. And in terms of the guidelines, like, I know that, I know that a lot of people believe in different things but that’s why we have conversations about it. And if something comes up, like in the field, that we’re saying, we’re going to have, we’re going to collect these questions and come back to our group and be like, “What do we say when a person is saying this.” That way we’re all on the same page.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah, I noticed that you have, there is a no waste event in Philadelphia coming up.
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: And it’s going to take place in kind of an anarchist space, and, for me, it’s always really interesting to think of does veganism have an inherent politics, and is that close to, probably, anarchism? So, like, what are your thoughts on that?
AMY QUICHIZ: Definitely, definitely. I feel like, I always think about, what does the revolution mean? And if the revolution means that, you know, we’re going to fight for our rights and at the end of the day we win, so then how are we going to survive? Do we have the tools to survive? Do we know how to grow our food? Do we know what kind of herbs are, like, in the ground? Do we know what’s poisonous or not? I don’t know, these little things that literally connect to veganism and how we’re going to grow our own food and, you know, base, base our own surviving through the lands.
Like, we are all always depending on other people, right? And I feel like that is definitely the, like, a thing of anarchism. Like, Angela Davis, she’s like, “I don’t understand why people are not vegan,” because at the end of day the people that view animals as something to eat, that means, like, we’re viewing them as products, and that falls into the consumerist act of like us, you know, not viewing animals as equal or just, you know, falling into the productions, the means of productions kind of thing. And I feel like that is completely 100 percent right, like we can’t live in a world where we’re fighting for social justice while viewing animals as less than others.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, and so, how do you see, kind of, a decolonized food system? Do you see that, what does that like to you?
AMY QUICHIZ: I feel like, you know, once I became vegan, I obviously was, like, really into fake meats, you know, to transition and stuff. And I still love my fake chicken nuggets here and there, but I really try to, like, keep a plant-based diet, which is a plant-based lifestyle, instead of, you know, just vegan, because vegan could be like everything. Like, fake meats and everything. But if we focus on a plant-based lifestyle, I feel like it connects to your roots, it definitely connects to your roots.
Before colonization, we didn’t have the meats that we’re eating now, mass-produced, and if we did have meat it was done in a different way, right? But most, like, a lot of indigenous cultures, we don’t have meats, like, regularly like that, and I feel like if we do focus on decolonizing our diet or our lifestyle, like, what does that look like? It looks like going back to our ancestor roots. So, for me, like, it’s been a mission, like, entirely. Like, I just found out there was like 300-something Peruvian potatoes, like, and I’m like, I’ve literally only had like three. Like, that’s literally part of it, you know, and finding out what your parents used to eat, and your grandparents used to eat, when they didn’t have meat.
And how, like, it’s just been a whole completely, like, a whole complete ride for me, because I remember when I first turned vegan, I brought quinoa to the house, and my Dad just laughed at me, and I was like, “Why are you laughing?” He was like, “I used to eat this when I was poor, and my mom used to just cut apples in it, and we would just eat it when we had nothing else to eat.” And I’m like, “Damn,” and now quinoa’s being sold like so much money and everyone’s hyping it up, like all the hipsters, like, they’re all eating quinoa. Meanwhile, it’s literally like poor food in Peru, right? So, I feel like the way that decolonizing your lifestyle is literally just going back to your roots, asking a lot of questions and asking where your food came from as well.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. I think a lot of people use that, that aspect of quinoa to discredit veganism and to claim that it is always stealing and never looking at, you know, the cultures where it, the food comes from, that it’s making staples and making expensive. And I was kind of thinking about this today because Jay–Z and Beyoncé announced that they would like everyone to go vegan, and immediately of course on Twitter people were like, “Do you know how inaccessible veganism is, blah, blah, blah.” So, what is your response to that, because I’m sure you hear that a lot. Like, “Oh veganism is just for rich people,” like it’s a lot of, you know, “Pricey quinoa that’s, you know, ruined conditions for farmers in South America.” That sort of thing. So, yeah, what is your response to veganism is for the rich?
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah. So, I think that, I think that when we view veganism as for the rich, that kind of concept, I feel like most people think that it’s just eating fake meats and fake, you know, like replaceables, kind of things. But when you’re eating a plant–based lifestyle it’s completely different.
And I’ve asked my parents this because my parents are the one that do the shopping and stuff, and they’re like it’s so much cheaper, like, to have a vegan lifestyle, because the meats are so expensive, like we don’t think about how the meats are expensive or how, you know, the milk is expensive. And then it comes out the same, like if you’re having plant–based lifestyle and, you know, your regular meat style, depending how much meat you eat. Come on people. You don’t need that much meat. But yeah, I think it’s the same, and it’s also like what, like, how much did white people tell you in order for you to believe that, you know? Because at the end of the day, if we’re going back to our roots yet you’re having that kind of concept, like, how much did white people take from you? Right? At the end of the day, how much did white people brainwash you to tell you that it’s expensive and you can’t have it? You, out of all people, can’t have it?
And I know that there’s many stories out there, like, vegans on a budget, and there’s so many videos about how people, you know, with food stamps and like all of these resources that they can have, you know, just their regular beans and rice with platanos, and create new ideas, and I think, like, that’s the lack of it. Not having the dishes that they can make with veganism. You know, even the word veganism, people are scared of the word veganism. That’s why I mostly say plant-based because, you know, it’s easier for people to grasp, you know, because white folks have made veganism inaccessible. So, I think that it’s just questioning your, where your food can come from and how, like, who’s made you think that way.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. And are your studies right now, because you’re in grad school, NYU, and does that have anything to do with veganism or with your work with Veggie Mijas?
AMY QUICHIZ: Actually no, but it can. I feel like, like veganism can go with everything. So, I studied at Syracuse University, women’s and gender studies and sociology. Now, looking at it, maybe one day I can teach about domestic violence or have domestic violence workshops, anti–domestic violence workshops, in like farm factories or something like that, you know? It can all, always, intersect. I don’t think that I can never say, like, it doesn’t, but what I’m studying in, and what I’m going to study in NYU, is global affairs, meaning international policies throughout the world and really focusing on non-profit work. Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Cool. So you mentioned a couple of books earlier, Sistah Vegan and Sexual Politics of Meat, which are both like canonical vegan books.
AMY QUICHIZ: Amazing. Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. Are there any other, like, books or like movies or anything that’s really influenced your, your journey in veganism?
AMY QUICHIZ: No. I would say those are the only two, but however I do have a list on Veggie Mijas, the website. It’s veggiemijas.format.com, and there’s resources of a bunch of books that people can read. I’m currently in the mission of buying Farming While Black, I’ve heard it’s amazing so I’m definitely going to buy it. I think it is really important to read stories focusing on brown and black folks, just because, you know, we don’t hear those kinds of stories, so I definitely want to get in to that.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Awesome. So, to you, is cooking itself a political act?
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah. It definitely is. I cook mostly just with my girlfriend. I feel like I can’t cook alone, I don’t know, it’s so weird. Everyone’s always teasing me like, “Oh you’re Veggie Mijas but you can never cook alone,” like, I’m like, “I don’t like cooking alone.” I feel like we’re most, like, it’s all about community to me. And I feel like it’s so beautiful cooking with other people, especially people that you love, because food really connects people, like, of course. Like, so many pot lucks, so many of these events are food-based and so many people come together, and I think that’s so beautiful, and I think that food really is a revolutionary act.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So, we’re kind of, right now, a day into 2019, what is your, like, goal for Veggie Mijas for this year?
AMY QUICHIZ: I think my goal is just for people to get together and make community out of it. I think that I don’t expect anything more, and if something more happens, like, that’s great. But I’ll always remain, I’ll always remain to the mission of Veggie Mijas, which is really just people connecting. Like, I’ve heard so many stories, like, here in Veggie Mijas where, like, two people meet and they’re instantly best friends and, like, they go to J Balvin concerts and like get ratchet together, like, you know, so, it’s like, it’s literally making friendships out of food, and I think that’s all I want for Veggie Mijas.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Thank you so much Amy.
AMY QUICHIZ: Yeah, thank you.
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