A Deep Dive into Vegan Activism & the Whiteness of Wellness with Katie Campisi

By Elisabeth Morgan

BOSTON2020, a year we’re all bound to remember for the rest of our lives.  A year that, though only 7 months in, will surely leave its impact on the world. Whether anyone has liked it or not, we have been forced to reevaluate what is important to us, learn and unlearn, a veil of ignorance no longer acceptable in the name of racial justice.

If we could somehow for a moment put aside COVID-19, we’d clearly see that the entire world seems to be on the forefront of a massive social change. But maybe it had everything to do with COVID-19 forcing us inside and away from our routine way of life. Maybe George Floyd’s murder was the final straw on the camel’s back that made us all break down, forced to see a system many of us have benefitted from for what it is, racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, working for everyone, except, anyone who’s not a heterosexual cis white man, and specifically against Black people. 

As vegans, it’s easy to feel as though we’re doing enough to fight oppression because we stand against some of the most gruesome industries in the world. Though if vegans aren’t fighting the good fight for oppressed human beings, then how could we possibly be living up to the moral guidelines that make veganism what it is?

Katie Campisi, founder of Bison Wellness and vegan of seven years, said that she went vegan after feeling tricked by the food industry and advertising, specifically when she read an article about how farmed salmon is dyed pink in order to look healthy. “I couldn’t continue supporting something that was so obviously unjust.” Campisi said her vegan journey started first with food, but then soon after, “you realize all these different aspects of your life are filled with injustice and it starts to spill into other things other than animal cruelty- you start looking at how people are treated.” 

The dark truth is that even if we leave animals and animal products off our plate and out of our lifestyle, if we’re unsure of where our food is coming from, then there’s a possibility that it’s sourced in a way that is cruel to human lives, and these human lives are most often Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). 

Campisi gave an example of food that vegans often overlook, “I’ve been reading a lot about veganism and the global south, we got really into quinoa as a country and even quinoa is something traditional from South America- and what goes into us getting so much quinoa? What goes into harvesting cashews for the people who have to harvest them? They burn their hands and they can’t afford to eat them.”

The best way to find out if our food is ethically sourced is to do the research on brands we know and love and to buy food from local farms. It is important to note that having access to this type of food is a privilege, and that many people, especially across America, live in food deserts which significantly impact BIPOC on a larger scale, this is just another way in which the food industry in America is racist. 

When it comes to veganism and racial justice movements, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement that has sparked recent protests not only all over America but around the world, Campisi said that across the board she does not think the vegan community has done enough to support the cause. 

She said, “I learned about exceptionalism recently, this term I hadn’t heard before, and this idea that I’m one of the good white people because I have good intentions because I posted on Instagram. That’s not enough and realizing that I wasn’t doing enough was really humbling.”

When someone only shows their allyship with the Black community through social media posts, without any real action taken to support the movement, it is known as performative activism. Performative activism increases someone’s social capital and does not support a cause directly. For instance, posting a black square on Instagram, but taking no further action.

“I think most vegans that I know have been awake to racial justice issues,” Campisi said. “But I think similar to me we’ve been in that exceptionalism mindset where, ‘well, I’m already doing all these things, I’m good,’ I think we need to do more.”

But what does doing more look like?

Campisi believes part of doing more means turning off auto pilot. For instance, she said that when she makes a decision to buy something, to read something, to listen to something, she would typically take what’s most readily available, “our system has always put white people at the top of that list.” In other words, white businesses, white authors, white podcasters, are always more readily available because of their white privilege and a system that supports them, whereas Black creators are pushed aside.

So now, instead of continuing that cycle, Campisi makes a conscious intentional decision to buy food that’s ethically sourced, to read books written by Black authors and purchased from smaller businesses, to seek out Black podcasters when she wants to listen to a podcast, such as personal finance, her favorite. 

Campisi suggests the podcast Journey to Launch for information on personal finance, and recommends this episode in particular which highlights the misinformation taught about what happened after slavery ended.

Outside of these actions, Campisi has joined protests, signed and shared petitions, altered the way she’s been using her social platforms, taken an anti-racism class for wellness professionals taught by Chrissy King, and been doing, “a mix of educating myself, listening to Black voices, and then a mix of specific actions. I’ve been sending a lot of emails and calling [city council members]… because I feel like within my seat, what I can do, it is a lot of applying pressure to the groups that we want to see immediate justice from in terms of police brutality.”

 By specifically emailing and calling elected government officials, we put more of an emphasis on the immediacy of the issue at hand. This is why templated emails and voice messages have been circulated on social media platforms.

Campisi has also made an effort to follow more Black creators on Instagram and feels as though she has already learned a great deal from them. She recommends following these accounts: @thenutritiontea @Iamchrissyking @tiffanyima @evyan.whitney @stephanieyeboah

At her day job, Campisi has made it a point to ask the tough questions. She said she’s been pushing her executives to explain how their activism is non performative, because to her it seems as though it is, and the company itself has received feedback from BIPOC that also incites that their activism is performative. “So, what are we doing to make recruiting feel like a legitimate punch for the best talent and wanting to elevate Black voices?”

 Campisi’s second job, Bison Wellness, is used to help people implement healthier behaviors and healthier habits into their lives, otherwise known as being a health coach, something she’s certified to do through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is currently working to make this business as inclusive and anti-racist as possible.

“What I’ve been thinking a lot about is the knowledge I have [of wellness and nutrition], where did I get it? And do I know the full story?” Something Campisi is particularly passionate about is body positivity but she recently learned, “that body positivity was founded by fat Black women. And it was not for white women, like me. I need body positivity, I think we all need it, but what I think we need is something different in the movement they created…my body does not look like the body that they’re trying to center in those conversations.” Admittedly, she said that she see’s representation of her body in the media and knows that many Black women do not. 

“I’m really focused on the history of intuitive eating, the history of these habits that I’m trying to help people with. Did white people I’m learning from co-opt these [ideas] from other people? Even thinking about things like meditation- these are taken from eastern cultures, and how can I learn more about the real history of this? Realizing that I have currently been perpetuating a circle of white people sharing things from white people… I need to break that. Turn off the auto pilot.”

Campisi feels lucky that she does not depend on her income from Bison Wellness, which gives her more of an opportunity to educate herself on how to navigate moving forward, and adjust her business accordingly.

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Our team here at VeganZine is dedicated to holding our fellow vegan businesses, as well as ourselves, accountable for following through in action to support not just the Black Lives Matter movement, but all racial and social justice movements. We like to remind others that educating ourselves on racism and not experiencing it firsthand is a privilege, and that these actions should be considered the bare minimum. 

VeganZine has created a list of Black owned vegan businesses in the New England area, and will continue this series of interviews on racial and social justice on our platform. Individually, the VeganZine team in their personal and professional lives has taken action in a variety of ways including attending protests, donating, signing petitions, and speaking out against racism on and off screen. 

 We encourage everyone to continue educating yourselves and others, speak out against injustice when you see it, join protests if you can (wear a mask!), donate, sign petitions, read books by Black authors, listen to podcasts by Black creators, support your local Black owned businesses, spread information, and constantly check to make sure your veganism is intersectional. 

Additionally, the VeganZine team is actively seeking Black voices from the New England community, please email hello@theveganzine.com if you are interested in writing for us! 

Stay safe!

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The Bison Wellness mission is to demystify the world of wellness through content and coaching. Katie, Bison Wellness’ founder will transform your big goals into attainable action steps. 

Bison Wellness’ offers Health Coaching sessions that are dedicated to support your needs. Some of their services include: meal outlines, grocery lists, accountability trackers, customized worksheets, and ongoing text or email support between sessions. 

For more information on Packages & Pricing visit the Bison Wellness website.