Saryta Rodríguez is the the editor of our newly released book “Food Justice: A Primer.” Saryta recently sat down with us to discuss the book and her work as a vegan food justice advocate.
Food Justice: A Primer is your newest book just released under the Sanctuary Publishers label. Could you tell us about the book?
Saryta: Food Justice: A Primer is a compilation of essays examining food justice from a variety of angles, including economic, environmental, ethical, and social. The essays range in tone, from academic to personal; and in scope, from local to global. I wrote roughly half of the essays, have collaborators who have written a few others, and in one essay I conduct an interview with someone who has worked with the MST landless workers’ movement in Brazil, the global peasants’ movement organization Via Campesina, and the Occupy the Farm movement in Berkeley, California. So he is sort of a co-author to that chapter, the focus of which is on land rights struggles.
What made you pursue this collaborative project?
Saryta: I have become increasingly aware in my food justice work, both when advocating for nonhuman animals and when advocating for the rights of hungry humans, that these camps are unnecessarily divided. While their goals are the same— to create a world in which everyone’s right to healthful food is respected and food is grown and distributed in a way that benefits the planet and all life forms on it— rather than sharing resources and collaborating, these camps tend to keep to themselves and even often demonize one another. For instance, those trying to feed hungry humans around the world often accuse vegans of being naïve, of imagining that everyone can just go vegan right now and that that would solve all food-related problems— neither of which is true. Meanwhile, vegans are often very disrespectful in talking to people who can’t go vegan right now for a specific reason, or who may not understand, for instance, why dairy is problematic because they are used to thinking of milk and eggs as items nonhuman animals “give” to us rather than items we take from them (and which require nonhuman rights violations such as involuntary pregnancy and kidnapping).
Therefore, one goal I had for this book was to try to bring these camps together. Another was to provide some basic information for people who aren’t in any specific camp, but would like to learn more about food justice in a broad sense and get some ideas on how they can contribute to it in their homes and their communities. Ideally, this will result in both more people getting involved in food justice and those who are already involved having a better understanding of the interrelationship between humans, nonhumans and our planet and how all three of these are negatively impacted by mainstream agricultural and economic practices.
Who do you expect will benefit from the topics discussed in the book?
Saryta: Those who are interested in food justice and want to contribute to it, but are not sure how, will benefit from some of these topics. For instance, there is a chapter on veganic farming that can help anyone with access to gardening grow food for themselves, their families, and their communities. Those who are interested in food policy work or helping with government programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) here in the US will benefit from understanding food justice from a racialized lens, such as in a chapter about food justice and race in the US. Such people would also benefit from understanding how legislation and policy are frequently used as tools to criminalize rather than assist the less fortunate, as explored in a chapter called “Food Waste, Feeding Bans and the Criminalization of Dissent.” Those who are interested in broader international trends and economic policy may be interested in an exploration of US-Mexico trade relations provided by another chapter.
Another group of people who will benefit are those who are already involved, but who may have an incomplete view of the picture, or may have been persuaded by either the nonhuman or the human side of things that that one side is more important than the other. Two chapters in this book clarify how nonhuman animal agriculture is an injustice to humans and nonhumans alike, while also wreaking havoc on the planet; meanwhile, humans working in these operations are subject to horrific conditions and low wages, which is addressed in the Introduction.
One of Sanctuary Publishers’ goals is to give back with every book sold. Who/what will the book be supporting?
Saryta: The book will be supporting “Casa Vegana de la Comunidad”, which is the latest project of Chilis on Wheels, a nonprofit organization devoted to feeding vegan food to anyone who is hungry. The organization currently has branches in Brooklyn, New York and San Juan, Puerto Rico; the Brooklyn branch also serves the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Casa Vegana de la Comunidad was founded in 2018 in San Juan, following Chilis on Wheels’s months-long food relief efforts after Hurricane Maria. It is the “home base” for Chilis on Wheels volunteers to cook and prepare food for distribution. There is also a spare room in which people from out-of-town can stay while they volunteer, and I am very much looking forward to pursuing that opportunity as soon as I have the necessary funds for a flight.
Casa Vegana is also the home of Silencio, a chicken who was rescued from my mother’s own hometown of Vega Baja! I sure hope I get to introduce them one day.
Is there a reason you chose “Casa Vegana de la Comunidad?”
Saryta: Well, for starters, I had already been following Michelle’s work for some time, and she is one of my personal heroes. (Michelle Carrera is the founder of Chilis on Wheels, and she contributed to the very last chapter of the Food Justice: A Primer, “Teachable Moments.”) I also desperately wanted to do something to help after Hurricane Maria, but did not have the money to go down there myself and do anything; so I thought the next best thing would be to give money to someone who I know is doing something “down there.” I am deeply ashamed that it has been nearly a year since Maria and I have still not been to Puerto Rico— my mother’s homeland, which I haven’t visited in roughly ten years— but knowing now that there is a community in place that I can work with to make a difference makes me happy, and even before I can join it in person, I want to do everything I can to support its efforts.
I have also volunteered with the Chilis on Wheels folks on the Lower East Side, but only once, because then I was sick for a while and later I had to move away for the summer. It got too difficult for me to commute to where they serve on time to be of use. So I am waiting now until I move to Brooklyn in the fall so that I can hopefully start working with them again.
About the Editor:
Saryta Rodríguez is an author, editor, and social justice advocate. Their past writings have focused on food justice, veganism, race, and gentrification. Saryta is the author of the book Until Every Animal is Free (October 2015) and also contributed an essay, “Move to Berkeley! and Other Follies,” as well as part of the Introduction (regarding the distinction between intersectionality and diversity) to Veganism in an Oppressive World: A Vegans-of-Color Community Project (published in November 2017 by Sanctuary Publishers). Saryta currently edits for Sanctuary Publishers, while also accepting unrepresented clients. Originally from Bay Shore, New York, they currently reside in Harlem.
Learn more about Saryta via www.sarytarodriguez.com