Origin: San Antonio
Emiko Badillo came to Portland with her husband and no money, looking for a quiet, vegan-friendly town where she could ride her bike.
The Portland she found was not what she'd been sold.
While excited about the communities for vegans in town, she also felt alienated, and surprised by frequent questions about her race. As she describes it, Portland "forced" her to find her niche, in the form of her Southeast Portland vegan grocery, Food Fight!, and an activist community called Vegans of Color.
Badillo, 39, hopes that Portlanders can make the connection between animal rights and human rights, and get just as fired up about a protest as they do about a new imitation cheese.
WW: How did you decide to start Vegans of Color?
Emiko Badillo: Before I moved, I wasn't aware how Portland really was. I never experienced racism in the way that it is here. I made connections with other people of color, and then I was kinda like, "OK, how can I bridge that with veganism?" To me, veganism and animal rights fit within the bigger social-justice world. I felt there was a need to start a group where vegans of color could get together. Because I was feeling alone, and I assumed they were, too.
And you found them!
I've found a lot of them! One woman I met recently said she moved here because she knew there was a Vegans of Color group.
Do you think Portlandia has been helpful or harmful to Portland's image?
I think it's done more harm because people really believe it. It's almost like how veganism has become the easy butt of jokes. We're trying to battle that Portlandia view. And show there are still a lot of cultures and histories in this city, and state that they are being pushed out because of this image of an idealized thing people think Portland is. You come here, you can live in a nice house, drink coffee all day and live a really nice life. And it's like, sure you can do that if you're within a certain means and most likely white.
How does that image play out in Portland's culture?
There's a general inability for Portlanders to individually accept being a part of the problem and doing anything to help make it better. People think the city is perfect.
Are Portlanders becoming vegan more frequently in a way that's removed from animal rights?
Yeah. It's a bummer, because it's hypothetically causing fewer animals to die, but there's also a cost to how people are doing it. There are a lot of upper-class, single-focus vegans who just don't make the connection between human and animal rights and social justice in general. I feel like if you have compassion, you're almost there.
Does that put you in a difficult position because you have a store selling vegan products to support your mission?
Yeah, we're a store and we sell stuff, so we're tied to the capitalism. But veganism itself has become more consumer-based than political, so it's become even more of a battle. Trying to spread any sort of political message through the store is so hard.
How do you respond to someone who says veganism is a lifestyle that's not easily accessible to lower-income groups?
Not seeing it as a "lifestyle" is the first step. The fad is what people know now. That's separate from animal rights. And it's doing more harm by showcasing products. The way it's marketed, you need to look a certain way and be in a certain financial class to be vegan. The bigger animal rights groups need to get more inclusive. PETA is terrible.
You mean because PETA packages animal rights so closely with celebrity?
Celebrity, body-shaming, straight-up racist ads. There was a project where they were gonna put signs on the Mexico-U.S. border that said, "If Border Patrol doesn't get you, the American diet will."
Wow. So let's say you're a low-income teenager in the inner city. How can you make veganism work?
Cooking. You just have to reset your mind. You don't need all those products. You have the means to cook simple, whole foods. Not "Whole Foods"! You can live simply on bulk grains and beans. You don't need meat analogs and fake cheese.
If you're ever mistakenly served something containing animal products in a restaurant, do you send it back, knowing it will be thrown away?
If I were with someone who could eat it, I would give it to them. But I don't hang out with that many people. Being vegan doesn't mean you're perfect.
Do you ever encounter any Food Fight! customers who you want to send back?
Yeah…as the vegan fad has grown, we have to provide what people want, and it's killing us a little every time. We have this new vegan cheese, and people are so passionate about it. We post about the cheese on Facebook, and it gets 300 "likes." Then we post a film screening for a social-justice group we support, and no one cares. They just want the cheese.
Previous New Portlander Interviews: Slices from the Fresh Meat Column