by Anne DeLessio-Parson
The hardest part of telling a story for me has always been: where to begin?
When folks ask me about my inspirations and interest in Eating for Liberation, I find myself thinking in nine directions at once.
My family. Food - usually too much of it - has always been a part of family celebrations and the holidays. My parents, sister, and my extended family have supported my food choices. I also grew up in a household where we talked politics and society at the dinner table. I believe it is by encouraging these conversations we see that the personal is political. My family encouraged me to explore the world with an open mind and open heart.
Books. I have always read. When younger, I voraciously read to escape. Now I read to nourish and replenish. Many books I love are included here, many others are not. Some of the most direct inspirations include Octavia's Brood, edited by adrienne maree brown & Walidah Imarisha, and Lilith's Brood. The Oankali, and how they eat.
My education in Milwaukee. We lived in Tosa (Milwaukee country) but after a week at the neighborhood school four blocks from our house, space opened up at 38th Street School. We rode the bus into the segregated city as part of the chapter 220 program. They sent the message peace works, and we prepared with great excitement when we found out Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu would visit. My sister and I then attended Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts and Milwaukee High School of the Arts, where I found music and the arts classes to be outlets for my soul. Milwaukee will always feel like home, and I still believe peace works.
My vegetarianism. When I was 9, I resolved that nine would be my favorite number. I also became vegetarian. I do not remember the details, but I do remember eating a hot dog at a zoo just before that. I more vividly recall eating New York deli bologna, when I was 11. I took a bite of the delicious rubbery stuff when I was alone in my grandma's kitchen, after peeling off the darker-pink outer casing. After one careful bite, I balled up the whole piece and shoved it in my mouth before anyone could see me. Then, a sledgehammer of guilt hit me. I vowed to keep this secret forever and ever. I would never eat meat again.
That was 23 years ago. I became vegan two months before my 34th birthday, although still have days where I am more vegetarian. Nine is still my favorite number, and I still think lovingly of my grandma whenever I think of that bologna. I never intentionally ate meat again, but technically, I broke both vows (accidents happen).
Argentina. Vegetarianism was not something I thought much about, but it was what I practiced for the five years I lived in La Plata. I volunteered and then worked for the Foundation for Sustainable Development, got CELTA certified and taught English as a second language at the Instituto Británico, studied political economy and met Mariela Cuadro at the Instituto de Relaciones Internacionles, and fell in love with the city. I gained a deep appreciation for the tradition of the asado, and especially for all the people who invited me to share the table even though I did not eat the meat.
US universities. My experiences at Boston University and Penn State gave me tools to understand the workings of the status quo and how we reproduce inequality through individual-level and institutional decisions. I studied political and then social theory, picked up on methods (statistics galore and surveys), and became increasingly interested in how the ideas developing in universities can be put into practice to support greater freedom. For my dissertation, I created El Estudio Veg Platense and surveyed vegans, vegetarians, and their partners to examine the ways that social ties relate to dietary practices and belief systems.
Teaching Food Justice. Professors in the department of sociology at Willamette University gave me the opportunity to teach Food Justice in fall 2017. Most of our readings came from Cultivating Food Justice, an excellent reader, and the thirteen students produced brilliant final projects where they shared the development of their philosophies on food.
Portland. The stores in this affluent city abound with vegan alternatives to meat and cheese, which made my transition to veganism much easier. It is also where I met Salimatu Amabebe at her launch of Black Feast, with food inspired by the essays of Audre Lorde (Sister Outsider). Salimatu's second Black Feast brought in the lyrics of Nina Simone. 'Nuff Said?
Friends and 'Strangers'. I am deeply grateful for the people in my life, especially the friends who have talked through early versions of this event and its many pieces. I also feel gratitude for all the folks I have encountered on travels, in my neighborhood, and in virtual spaces. It is through hours spent talking with 'strangers' that I have been left wondering: how do we re-conceptualize people we don't know, and begin to see each other as neighbors, on this one spinning home of ours? Food I believe is key.
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