There’s a new vegan stereotype in town and Food Fight Grocery is trying to change that. This week I got the chance to speak with Emiko Badillo, a co-founder of a small vegan store in SE Portland. The original purpose of our interview was to talk about increased amount of access to vegan food in Portland, and the change in the culture of the vegan community.
However, instead of focusing on access, our conversation was quickly drawn to how local vegan communities have changed in recent years. Badillo told me, “it’s become more of a lifestyle kind of thing where as before it was more of a animal rights movement and a boycott against animal products and the animal agriculture industry.”
Food Fight Grocery was founded by Emiko Badillo and Chad Miller in 2003. Badillo told me the story of their beginnings, “Chad and I when we first started it, we’ve been vegan since ’97 and started the store in about 2003. but when we moved her to Portland in 2002, still it was known as a place that had vegan options and you could eat easily being vegan. So we started the store because we wanted a place where vegans could shop where they would know that everything is safe and they wouldn’t have to worry about ingredients, and they wouldn’t have to support a store that also sold you know animal products or meat and dairy, so they know that their money is going somewhere they believe in and can trust.”
But now with new information coming into light about the meat industry, many have begun to question the norm of eating meat. With everyone from health professionals to documentary filmmakers examining the risks of eating meat risks, many have been inclined to “turn” vegan. This has led to a rapid growth in the vegan population, which many would claim is “mainstream veganism.”
Badillo spoke about this, somewhat annoyed by the topic. “[We] try and separate ourselves even more from the mainstream veganism. It’s not very inclusive thing. I hate calling it a movement because that makes it sound political, but veganism has distinctly changed.”
She described this new wave veganism as more of a “health kick” than a political action, like that on which veganism was first founded on.
“You know when you talk to anyone now and they picture what a vegan to be or look like it’s generally a white middle-class, healthy usually female person, so it’s kind of a way to separate ourselves from that and be more of an inclusive space. And we are trying to support groups with outreach and fundraising, even to groups that might now have much to do with veganism, because we want to show that there are vegans that aren’t just apolitical, healthy upper middle class white people.”
She felt as though it wasn’t veganism for the right reasons: “(I) think it’s less focused on politics and the ethical side of it and animal rights so it’s a lot more healthy lifestyle choices”
Food Fight espouses a mission of education and inclusivity. Originally hoping to show that veganism is not necessarily healthy, as its stereotypes lead many to believe, she explained that “a lot of people mostly think of [Food Fight] as a vegan junk food place.”
Since the birth of Food Fight, they have achieved their original mission. She began talking about the future of Food Fight Grocery. “That’s a good question actually,” she exclaimed while chuckling, “because that’s something that we’re always–like over the past few year we’ve been really struggling with, because of our original mission to show that vegan food is good and accessible. And now that mission is pretty much done.”
“So now we have to figure out what our mission is,” Badillo denoted. “It’s kind of an internal battle now because we always try to maintain our ethics and our individuality with the store by not giving into that kind of mainstream idea of veganism. [That is what] kind of separates us, and well it turns some people off sometimes. Because we put our personalities into it and make it real public, and our personalities are very different–we come from a different background which isn’t mainstream–and so we tend to not do a ton of things that other people do and that’s just us and that’s our own choice.”
She continued, “It’s kind of a way to separate ourselves from that and be more of an inclusive space and we are trying to support groups with outreach and fundraising even to groups that might now have much to do with veganism because we want to show that there are vegans that aren’t just apolitical, healthy upper-middle class white people. So that’s our super not public mission now trying to differentiate ourselves from the what people think vegans are and what vegans do and what vegans support or don’t support.”