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5 Questions with Isaias Hernandez of Queer Brown Vegan

The face of plant-based eating is shifting. Across the United States, the number of people of color reducing their meat intake is surging. A 2020 Gallup poll revealed that 31% of non-white Americans had reduced their meat consumption in the past year, compared to only 19% of white Americans. Many are doing so out of concern for our planet’s health.

Whatever your ethnicity, sexual orientation or socio-economic background, whether you identify as a carnivore, a vegetarian, a flexitarian or a vegan–plant-based meals can bring benefits to you and the planet we share. More and more people are coming to this conclusion.

  • 70% of all the survey participants described “concerns about health” as a major reason for reducing their meat intake.
  • 49% described “concern for the environment” as a major reason for reducing their meat intake.

To learn more about this movement, we caught up with Isaias Hernandez, creator of Queer Brown VeganResponses were edited for length and clarity.

Isaias Hernandez, creator of Queer Brown Vegan, standing in a field filled with grasses and wildflowers

Surge: Tell us about your background and the history of creating Queer Brown Vegan. Brown + Queer, Brown + Vegan, Queer + Vegan—how do these identities intersect for you?

Isaias: I’m an environmental educator and creator of Queer Brown Vegan where I create introductory forms of environmentalism through colorful graphics, illustrations and video series. I truly believe environmental education is a human right. I created Queer Brown Vegan as an educational platform to empower young, and older, environmentalists to really activate their own values and to push themselves to learn about interconnected issues.

For me “Queer,” “Brown,” “Vegan” relate to my work because, as someone who grew up as a low-income, queer person of color, I didn’t know a lot about the resources that were available. As someone that was a person of color, there’s a lack of diversity in the environmental fields, most specifically in academic spaces and in institutions and organizations that are for full-time people.

What allowed me to include my queer identity was the idea of fluidity and nature and how that’s interconnected to living in multidimensional spaces... I know being queer is actually natural and it’s always existed in nature spaces. …The vegan identity is a lifestyle I choose to follow that recognizes that extractive systems like industrial agriculture and aquaculture have degraded our natural land and really harmed many humans and animals throughout the process.

Surge: Why is eating less meat important for the planet? How would you recommend others include more plant-based meals into their diets?

Isaias: It’s important for people to really shift. It takes so many natural resources to raise animals, and the amount of emissions released, not only impact the animals and the environment but also the low-income communities of color and rural areas near factory farms, are degrading. In recommending that people eat more plant-based, I think it’s about realizing how you can manage it through reductionism, which is reducing your active intake of animal-derived products, week over week or month over month. This is more sustainable and obtainable for many people.

Surge: Plant-based eating and protecting the environment are often framed as something “for white people,” or as inaccessible to or inauthentic to the cultural experience of people of color. Has that been your experience, too? Why do you think this perception exists?

Isaias: In my own experiences, it’s the fact that media and lifestyle movements have glorified mainly white individuals and white men. This also reinforces the idea that veganism is based off classism and affordability when in reality there are a lot of injustices in our food and nutritional systems. I call it “nutritional injustice” where many low-income communities lack access to fresh fruits and veggies, while industrial agriculture and the government subsidizes meat and dairy for food donation programs. There needs to be this conversation to advocate for more localized sustainable food systems, rather than these globalized food systems. For me, veganism isn’t about being better than and above others, it’s recognizing intrinsic relationships that both humans and animals carry, intertwined. And really understanding that the way we grow and raise our food, most specifically in industrial [agriculture] settings is very cruel.

Surge: Why is it important to center queer people and people of color in conversations about the environment?

Isaias: Centering queer people in the conversations on environmental spaces recognizes queer and P.O.C [people of color] communities have the highest rates of being vulnerable to climate injustices, like floods, hurricanes, fire season. We need to realize many people who are in the frontline communities are composed of queer and trans people. When we’re not diversifying this environmental movement of who’s being allowed to speak on their experiences or recognizing who’s the most affected, we’re doing an injustice. The reality is that these communities are really trying to build resilience and harness harmonious relationships with the land.

Indigenous peoples for so long have cultivated sustainable and regenerative methods to live with the land. While there are different cultures and values that Indigenous communities hold [that could include consuming animal byproducts], it is important that "intersectional veganism" focuses on encouraging others to understand those values. Our work should be focused on dismantling industrial agriculture and aquaculture that has been harming humans and non-human animals. There are Indigenous vegans that do exist and they are working alongside their communities, which is why we must center our focus on the main issue, which is the harmful globalized industrialized food system.

Surge: How do you stay connected to the Mexican dishes you grew up with as a vegan?

Isaias: It’s about being able to practice my cultural storytelling. More specifically, me and my mom cooking and [her] telling me all these different dishes and details that are really a part of this food, veganizing [traditional Mexican dishes]. There are so many vegan meat options that exist now.

Watch: Isaias making a vegan version of a traditional Mexican mole.