Most people don’t know this: veganism is an intersectional social justice movement. But animal and human rights activist Gwenna Hunter is on a mission to let people know!
Gwenna is both a Black woman used to challenging systems of oppression and someone with personal experience with food insecurity. Combined with spiritual experiences connecting to animals, she was inspired to create the first plant-based food bank in Los Angeles, Vegans of LA.
VKind spokesperson Shabnam Islam interviewed her to learn more. Let’s dive in!
1:00 - Gwenna’s background
Although she didn’t realize it until she moved away at twenty years old, Hunter grew up in a food desert in Cleveland, Ohio. She most often ate from the convenience store and Pop Eye’s Chicken.
3:28 - Vegetarian to feel better
In 2008, a friend invited her to try a vegan fast together. To her surprise, Gwenna found that the extremely painful menstrual cycles and concurrent breakouts she suffered from disappeared. Motivated to keep feeling better, she remained a vegetarian for eight years.
4:45 - Connecting with Compassion
In a dream eight years later, she felt connected with a cow as though she was her. She knew that cows experience love and felt incredulous about what we do to these creatures.
7:00 - “Everybody is a crazy vegan when they start”
While many new vegans want to share slaughterhouse footage on social media, this isn’t always the best way to share the message. As Gwenna has learned, the most reliable route to inspire transformation is advocacy with love, compassion and kindness.
9:10 - Personal experience with food insecurity
When Gwenna first moved to LA, she had difficulty getting a job and found herself living in poverty. One week, she only had five dollars to feed herself.
11:35 - Gaining professional experience with vegan food justice
Eventually, she acquired a job with Vegan Outreach and got involved with a vegan mobile food bank that collaborated with social justice organizations.
She realized how important food banks are to remove stress and obstacles for people who face food insecurity. And, she noticed how ironic it was that LA - one of the biggest vegan cities in the U.S. - lacked a vegan food bank.
16:00 - When the pieces came together
One day, a friend told her that a black pastor from BLM was doing a program with students about vegan food. When she met up with him for lunch, she shared her idea. As luck would have it, he already had a food bank. “Instead of starting from scratch,” he said, “Why don’t you take over mine?”
21:20 - How she defines “success” today
Gwenna now judges success by how she feels about herself and whether she is working towards peace and against the roles of power and hierarchy that keep both human and animal injustices alive.
23:30 - How intersectionality of social justice causes is at the forefront of her work
At the heart of her work with the food bank is the core conviction that food is a human right. Like other basic needs, she says, people shouldn’t have to work to have food, shelter and clothing. By sharing the vegan message as part of a broader social justice message, she is able to invite people into the movement.
25:40 - Communication strategies for advocacy: Connect animal rights to human rights
In her work, she has honed the ability to tailor her message to her audience. In particular, she has learned to explain animal rights by relating it to human rights. This is especially important to connect with people who feel like they are fighting for their own rights.
She asks people if they have ever experienced suffering and invites them to consider what humans do to animals with fresh eyes.
She points out that we use words like “bacon” to distance ourselves. But, really what we’re eating are babies, mothers, fathers, and siblings.
Given that Black and brown communities are already questioning the status quo with regard to human rights, she tells them, “Don’t stop there! Think about the whole system of food and animals.”
30:00 - Human rights and animal rights
In her own journey to veganism, she recognized that what cows experience is rape, slavery, depression, and their bodies being sold and used. She realized that the blueprint of human slavery and animal slavery is one and the same.
30:24 - Ask yourself, “What’s really in meat?”
Gwenna points out to people that there’s no list of ingredients on meat. It doesn’t reveal all the antibiotics and drugs that are in there. And, she’ll say, if you watch a video of how hot dogs are made, you might question that as well.
32:38 - Gwenna’s Recommendations
For those who aren’t sure about trying a plant-based diet, Gwenna recommends trying just one meal without animals.
With Gwenna’s personal and professional experience, insights and history of successful work, it’s no wonder people see her as a true changemaker.
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