I am a biracial black vegan and visual artist, born in Europe and raised in Louisiana. My overlapping identities influence my creative and activist work by consistently challenging me to explore connections within systems and ideologies.
A life-long animal lover, I first explored vegetarianism when I was in elementary school; I tried again in middle school and high school but didn't have the knowledge or resources to stay vegetarian for more than a few months at a time. When I was vegetarian, I usually defaulted to eating some form of bread and cheese, and I didn't have a critical analysis around my choice. I just knew I loved animals and didn't want to contribute to their suffering, and that eating them wasn't in line with that core understanding.
I spent time on animal farms and grew up riding horses; but I didn't make the connections between animal exploitation, entertainment and food systems until many years later. I studied studio art and geography at the University in Alabama, and spent a semester abroad in New Zealand. Traveling gave me new perspectives on race, culture, language and meat consumption and more experiences on farms that would eventually lead me to the path of veganism.
In 2010 I had a critical awakening that challenged my beliefs and my actions. I was helping out on a sheep farm in New Zealand, and a friend of a friend's working border collie was pregnant with puppies-- a perceived inconvenience. The puppies were born on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning, the friend of my friend drowned them all. This was really upsetting for me, and I was told that it was the only choice and somehow better for the puppies. Later that day we had lamb for lunch and I started to realize the lack of alignment in my feelings and my consumption choices. How could I be distraught about one and on the same day eat the other? About a month later, when I was back in Louisiana, I decided I could no longer eat lambs.... or cows or pigs or chickens or turkeys, and I went pescatarian. I remembered how isolated I felt as a vegetarian in my childhood so I thought this choice might be an easier compromise.
2011 was the year I adopted my canine companion, Zoey. Living with her further broadened my understandings of sentience and compassion.
Zoey and I moved to Oakland, California later that year, and that's where I first encountered veganism and got curious about food and food systems. There, I met my partner, Jack, who was raised in Fiji between a seafood restaurant and a cow and sheep farm; he shared my curiosities and concerns about food and went pescatarian too. We took a trip to Fiji in 2012 immediately following a cyclone. The cyclone significantly limited the availability of fish as food, so we ate almost all vegetarian meals and actually felt pretty good. While there, we also did some snorkeling and diving that opened our eyes to the sentience of underwater creatures; I realized that eating fish and other sea creatures wasn't in line with my values either. So upon our return to Oakland, we both decided to become vegetarian.
A couple of months into going vegetarian, I found myself eating meals comprised mostly of bread and cheese again, and I was feeling pretty miserable. Knowing that my symptoms were coming from lactose intolerance, I decided to cut out dairy as an experiment. It went well, for a couple of weeks at a time, and then I would have pizza and felt miserable again. I was pretty lost as to how to cook without dairy, so I started following vegan recipe blogs and trying new restaurants.
When I was cookbook shopping, I stumbled upon and bought a copy of “Sistah Vegan: Food, Identity, Health, and Society: Black Female Vegans Speak“ and reading that was incredibly powerful for me. It opened my mind to the many layers and systems connected in animal oppression and also gave me the language to articulate my own journey into veganism. I went on to read books including Majorie Spiegel’s “The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery“ and Carol J. Adams' "The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-vegetarian Critical Theory" that further fueled my curiosity and my commitment to veganism. I shared these books with Jack while he simultaneously shared other resources and perspectives with me, and we fully embraced veganism together in 2013.
Jack and I partner in art and design through our joint project, EastRand Studios; we use painting, design and photography to share imagery promoting compassion and challenging systems of oppression. In 2015, I did the sketch and watercolor images and Jack did the design magic for The Vegan Praxis of 'Black Lives Matter' Conference. That piece is what got us connected with Aph about doing the branding and web design for Black Vegans Rock! I really love this platform, and the movement building that's happening here, and I'm stoked to be able to bring my creativity to it.
I love to travel and explore global perspectives on veganism and animal rights. In 2014, Jack and I lived and worked in Fiji and we've since explored more of the south pacific, U.S. and Southeast Asia. We currently live in Oakland, CA with Zoey, who is now also vegan.
Creative portfolio: www.aliseeastgate.com