It’s Black History Month 2021, a time to look at the scope of representation and intersectionality of race and its effects on inclusion in plant-based events including but not limited to industry tradeshows, conferences, and now virtual events.
As the plant-based foods industry continues to experience exponential growth, we are also experiencing an emergence and acknowledgment of black voices. Black Americans are almost three times as likely to be vegan and vegetarian than other Americans. The black community has been practicing and engaging with plant-based foods since long before it was a hot topic. From combatting health disparities to recognizing overlap of oppressive practices plaguing civil rights and issues of animal rights; practicing a plant-based lifestyle is not only an act of resistance but vital to our health. It’s a means to survival making a plant-based lifestyle a solid choice.
If this is the case, why is there an observable lack of black representation at natural and specialty foods events, where the plant-based industry has a huge presence?
As diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) increases in prevalence as a corporate buzz word, many are pivoting to make their events more diverse and inclusive. First priority up, women. Take for instance panels that are often dominated by white males positioned as the industry experts. With growing awareness it’s safe to say there has been a shift. Women are increasingly offered opportunities to share their expertise on varying plant-based topics. An amazing leap forward!
As a woman of color, I applaud the efforts. However, as a black woman in the industry, I’m acutely aware of the lack of focus on diversity as it relates to racial diversity and black representation as part of the push toward inclusion. I’ve attended my fair share of industry events. My observation is that amongst a sea of “diverse attendees” the largest representation of blacks are there in a supporting role- working for the event site handing out branded tote bags, informational literature, or directing attendees to their sought-out destinations. When you look into the spotlight at the industry experts and featured speakers, however, there is a significant lack of black representation.
Societal narratives imply that a plant-based lifestyle is enjoyed primarily by stereotypical white demographics. These narratives are a disservice to the industry as a whole and are not accurate. According to SPINS, African Americans were one of the demographics most likely to convert to a plant-based diet. The black community has an underestimated, yet unique, and important perspective. One that does not limit us to speaking on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, a narrative that feels necessary when given the stage; in truth we are experts, thought leaders, business owners, and valuable contributors to the plant-based industry.
As the plant-based industry continues to grow and positively impact the earth, people, and animals it serves, I hope the industry takes a more proactive approach at closing the gap with the inclusion of black experts and audiences. Whether you are organizing, speaking or attending a plant-based event, we all have a responsibility to make our spaces equitable, diverse, and inclusive.
Before you organize or attend your next event, take inventory and acknowledge inequitable barriers that exist. As an organizer take the lead by setting quantifiable goals to improve diversity, ask for speaker recommendations from a diverse network, and instead of considering titles consider different experiences and points of views. As a speaker use your voice to insist on speaker diversity and make recommendation for speakers from diverse communities. As attendee, make it a point to attend events that are prioritizing diversity and if you notice a lack of diversity in the lineup let the event organizer know. It will take a bold and intentional act, incumbent on the entire industry. These are just a few ways we can move the needle increasing access for all of us to show up in these spaces and be recognized as experts and thought leaders, not only as it relates to DEI, but as passionate advocates making an impact on the industry as a whole.
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About the Author:
Ciara LaChaux is the Operations Manager for Plant Based Food Association (PBFA). She plays a key role in managing the varied administrative processes and projects that keep our organization running, working to ensure that all staff within the organization have the tools, information, and systems to do excellent work in service of our mission. Prior to her transition to PBFA, she served as Deputy Court Clerk II with the San Mateo County Superior Courts where she was an administrative rock star but also became known as the in-house nutrition and wellness advisor. Ciara is a certified Nutritional Therapist certified by the Health Sciences Academy and holds a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from T. Colin Campbell Center for
Nutrition Studies. Ciara is passionate about promoting the benefits of an individualized plant-based diet and encouraging the public to take a proactive approach to staying informed and holding their well-being in their hands. When she’s not providing operational support to our ED & the team at PBFA you can find her, cooking up plant-based meals, doing yoga to her favorite playlists, geeking out over self-mastery, and spending QT with her husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs and bearded dragon!