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Healing Racism in the Vegan / Plant-based Community with Milton Mills, MD: PYP 357

In June, 2019, Dr Milton Mills gave testimony before the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee about their persistent recommendation to include dairy in our diets.

Dr Mills short presentation was not what I was expecting to hear.

Instead of just repeating the overwhelming body of evidence showing that cow's milk is not a healthy or suitable food for humans,  he put the debate in the context of racism.

He said, “I actually came here today to call out the racism that is inherent in the US dietary guidelines, but then as I got a look at this committee, I suddenly understood why it's such an intractable problem. This committee bears no relationship to the general American populace, and whoever put it together is clearly still practicing the optics of tokenism.”

After that, Dr Mills shared the evidence. He noted that that most non-whites lack the genetic variation that allows them to digest lactose. He pointed out that mandating the inclusion of milk in school lunches systemically harms people of color. And since African American women tend to be less prone to osteoporosis, insisting that this population consume dairy for calcium makes twice as little sense.

A couple of his zingers:

“We have no more reason to suck on the teats of a cow than we do to suck on the breasts of a post-partum weasel.”

“Drinking dairy for its nutrient content is equivalent to inhaling cigarette smoke for its oxygen content.”

Watch Dr Mills' 3-minute presentation here:

At a vegan conference in September, I ran into a plant-based policy advocate (white) whom I've known for a while. I mentioned Dr Mills performance with admiration, and she quickly cut me off: “He did no favors to the movement with his anger.”

I was too shocked to speak, so I let the moment slip away as she headed off down the escalator.

But it stayed with me.

When we deny anger to those who have been oppressed, in the interest of “effective communication” and “civility,” we're doing more than being strategic. We're invalidating their suffering, and we're actually propping up the status quo.

After all, it's very easy for society to oppress people in a civil and polite way.

While racism is obviously a problem “out there,” the question I had to ask myself was, “Is it a problem ‘in here'?” Because I hadn't registered that the entire nutritional guidelines panel was white – as I looked upon their faces, I didn't think, “That's odd – where are the people of color?” It just looked “normal” to me.

Until Dr Mills called it out.

And I'm not the only one in the plant-based community who has been blind to my own internalized racism. Dr Mills deals with this all the time in conversations at vegfests and conferences.

As he insisted during our conversation for this podcast, “I'm not a magic Negro.”

Meaning, he has no responsibility to suppress his anger, Jackie Robinson-style, to make sure my feelings aren't hurt and that I don't feel any discomfort.

In August, Dr Mills and Josh LaJaunie came to North Carolina for the Triangle Vegfest. The organizer, Helene Ann Greenberg, asked Dr Mills to speak about racism in the vegan community, along with vegan trainer Korin Sutton. Dr Mills asked me and Josh to join the panel as well, probably to help bridge the gap between his experience and that of the white folks in the audience.

Here's a hastily-shot video of that panel discussion:

Plant Yourself listeners and I have learned a great deal from Dr Mills over the years. He's taught us about comparative anatomy and physiology. He's educated us on the human gut microbiome.

And today, he shines a light on the internalized racism that lives in each one of us.

It certainly lives in me. And it makes me feel bad. And for many years, that was enough to keep me from doing the work of educating myself, of changing myself, to bring it to the light and expunge it.

Dr Mills has been a powerful ally of my soul, helping me recognize, acknowledge, and work on my own shit. Just as other allies have pointed out my sexism, homophobia, transphobia, disability-phobia, and others.

I'm not a bad person for having held these views. They are societally instilled, part of the culture.

The black American scholar Ibram X Kendi wrote an entire book, How to Be an Antiracist, to chronicle his own racism and how he came to challenge and transcend it, step by step.

We can't expect to be non-racist, or better, anti-racist, out of the gate.

Those of us in the plant-based and vegan communities, whose values center on compassion and harm reduction, naturally find it hard to see the parts of ourselves that are not compassionate. That do not advocate for justice. That are not kind.

Which is why I'm so grateful to Dr Mills for having this difficult conversation with me, so that I might stand as a proxy for all of us who strive to make the world a just, kind, compassionate, and loving place.

He talked about the “Michael Vick Double Standard” – how vegans are unwilling to forgive Michael Vick for his dog fighting even after he has repented and become an advocate for humane treatment of animals, while we are happy to forgive ourselves for all the cruelty we supported when we were eating meat and drinking milk.

He annotated the tropes about the scary, violent Black man, and showed how Michael Vick checks all those boxes.

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.

Links

Dr Mills testimony before the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

Triangle Vegfest Racism Panel

Dr Mills on Plant Yourself: Comparative Anatomy and What Humans Should Be Eating

Dr Mills on Plant Yourself: The Marvelous Microbiome

The NC Triangle Vegfest

How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi

White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo

The Black Image in the White Mind, by George M Frederickson

Korin Sutton

Black Vegan Leaders Mentioned in the Podcast

Aph Ko

Brenda Sanders

A. Breeze Harper

Omawale Adewale

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It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.

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Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Anthony Dissen – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Christine Nielsen – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Viktoriya Dolomanova – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Julianne Rowland – Stu Dolnick – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Wayne Pedersen – Leanne Peterson – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – RuthAnn Funderburk – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Stephanie Halmes – Bandana Chawla – Martha Bergner – Nikole Ramsay – Susan Ahmad – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Ashley Corcoran – Kelly Michiya – DeAnne Norton – Bonnie Lynch of Plant Happy Oregon – Sabine Kurtzhals – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Shell Routledge – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Brian Sheridan – Shannon Herschman – Cate Rolls – Linda Ayotte – Julie Lang – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – AvIvA Lael – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Tanya Lewis – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Kelly Baker Miracle – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Valerie Pelletier – Peter W Evans – Colleen Harrison – Justine Divett – Joshua Sommermeyer – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Valarie Hummel – Deb Coscia – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Günter Schmid – Marjorie Lewis – Kelly Moulden – Tricia Adams – Ian Cramer – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Rachelle Kennedy – Joan Bornstein – Diana Goldman – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – Hollie Butler – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – for your generous support of the podcast.

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This podcast is not underwritten by advertising, so I can experience complete editorial autonomy without worrying about pissing off the person paying the bills. Instead, I pay the bills, with your help. It's free for those who can't afford to pay, and supported by those who can. You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by . Click the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.

Music

The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.

Gratitudes

Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.

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3 comments on “Healing Racism in the Vegan / Plant-based Community with Milton Mills, MD: PYP 357

  1. Ann says:

    Knocking it out of the park with this one, Howard. It takes a warrior’s heart to step toward hard truths. Thanks for showing us how it’s done.

  2. Sara says:

    I very much appreciate this podcast. I’ve had these same conversations about Michael Vick with some other groups I belong to. And some of these are people that still eat meat. I mentioned the same thing ‘I’ve changed, you’ve changed – is it so hard to believe that he changed?’. I got nowhere. I know I’m racist. I try to at least be open to seeing it within myself, when it rears its ugly head, as it does regularly. I guess we can’t lead people to a place they’re not ready to be. We can only take responsibility and work on our highly imperfect selves. It’s a full time job in this shit show of a world.

    1. Howard says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Working on my highly imperfect self is actually a lot easier and more satisfying than my old strategy: pretending that I didn’t need to change. Glad we’re on the same team! 🙂

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