Reclaiming Abuelita Knowledge As A Brown Ecofeminista

When I was going to college in Berkeley I lived in this extremely bizarre vegan co-op that was filled with white people that were “into trees” and vegan food. They had this thing called “Naked Pizza Friday” where anyone who was naked got the first grabs on vegan pizza. So this co-op was definitely a weird experience for me. I saw too many naked white bodies and even learned about vegan butter. I have blurry memories of these times, but I remember there was either an info sheet taped on the wall of the co-op or a conversation with a white person that introduced me to “eco-friendly” mxnstrual products. Now, I have never been disgusted or ashamed of my blood. However, when I heard about “eco-friendly” alternatives to mxnstruation in this bizarre white space I got lots of mixed feelings. I guess most of the feelings could be summed up as anger. It has taken me five years since the incident to understand why I felt so annoyed and angry when white people told me about eco-friendly mxnstruating.

The thing is, I DO care about the environment but I cannot stand it when white people pretend they are all connected to the earth and refuse to understand that many of us — Migrant Brown People — come from backgrounds where “environmentalism” is not talked about because we grow up doing unintentional “green” things. For some reason mainstream culture has done a great job of erasing people of color’s legacy on anything “green” or “environmental.” Mainstream media falsely frames sustainable practices as practices spearheaded by white people. A very annoying example of this is permaculture, a “design system” that you can learn if you have thousands of dollars — mind you, a lot of the principles of permaculture are practiced by people of color worldwide, from reusing water to wash dishes and water plants to using food scraps to enrich soil for plants. 

People of color that come from families that need to recycle and reuse to make ends meet have incredible amounts of knowledge. I know many folks that talk about sustainability in their communities and practice sustainable living, but our stories are not legitimized by books or newspaper articles nor are they studied in a Global Sustainability class. Acknowledging people of color’s legacy in the mainstream would undermine the classist, racist and xenophobic ideals that our society stands on. We pass down traditions and knowledge that are unintentionally green or sustainable. We do not call them “eco-friendly” practices, we just do them. I call this passed down knowledge, Abuelita Knowledge because so much of these “new age” practices are the ways in which my grandmas and elders live their lives .


Mi abuela cooking delicious vegetarian Peruvian food.

About three years ago I asked my Mama about how she caught her blood and experienced her moon. She told me about using rags, bleeding on old sheets, washing her moon rags by hand with her sisters and hanging them to dry in the sun. She told me that my grandma used to make her rue, anise and manzanilla tea to calm her womb aches and sometimes place a warm trapo on her lower abdomen. She also told me that the first time she used commercial pads was when she was 22 because her hometown in Peru did not get “modern” pads until the mid-80s.

Every day I feel like I have to reclaim and re-own practices that are usually considered white. I think that is probably the most annoying thing about being a Brown Peruvian Person. I have to constantly remember that healthy eating, biking, stretching, wearing second-hand clothing and even bleeding on a reusable pads are not white things. Colonization and displacement have created cultural amnesia. We are bombarded by advertisements, television shows, school books, religion and ultimately a ci$tem that makes us forgot that many of the practices that are sold to us as “modern” and “hip” have been practiced by our people/families for generations. It is painful to realize that some of these “new” practices have been sold to us in different packages. Reclaiming these practices is the process of working towards breaking down the appropriation of Abuelita Knowledge and feeling empowered to claim legacies. Reclaiming these practices is rerooting ourselves in our ancestral practices.

Real Food Power! With my Peruvian and Colombian cousins showing some real food love before cooking a delicious healthy meal for the family. Arequipa, Peru. 2013.

Real Food Power! With my Peruvian and Colombian cousins showing some real food love before cooking a delicious healthy meal for the family. Arequipa, Peru. 2013.

This patriarchal capitalist society is designed to keep us unhealthy. Specially all these white supremacist ideas that make people believe that conscious mooning is a white hippy thing, that giving birth to a baby under a tree is white, that gardening organically is white, that meditating is white. I really think that these false ideas create barriers to health that make many of us believe that these practices are so ridiculous and stupid so we end up doing the opposite of so called “white” things and end up hurting ourselves. We start believing that ancestral practices are not ours and we start seeing them as foreign. I refused to use any “eco-friendly” mxnstrual products for years because you know, that was such a white thing to do. I think there is this untold fear of becoming white for some Migrant Brown People, some of us are secretly scared of not being Brown enough.


Sun drying my moon pads

The process to having to deconstruct conceptions of health and reclaiming conscious moonstration is an enraging one. I constantly see my friends fighting to be able to be healthy and stay healthy, from weird infantilizing fabric used to make cloth pads to framing mxnstruation as a “woman-only” thing to lack of culturally relevant health information that includes herbs, sobadas and other traditional healing methods. There are plenty of health barriers that have been imposed on us by this $i$tem that is constantly framing sustainable and healthy living in white terms without taking into consideration the work that many of us and our families do everyday as accidental environmentalists. To me, charting my cycle, collecting my moon blood and refusing to take pain killers for womb pains are actions that make me feel real. Makes me feel part of a line of mxnstruating people that take care of our bodies organically and consciously. It is blood memory that makes me feel closer to my Grandmas and my Mama who tells me stories of rag washing in her parents’ home in Arequipa.

I can’t help but picture myself on a warm summer afternoon washing moon pads on the lavadero in my grandma’s backyard, next to my mom, maybe tossing some moon blood on my grandma’s plants and hanging the pads to dry on the warm Andean sun. Then going up to my grandma and complaining to her about womb pain just so that she pays attention to me and puts her wrinkly warm hands on my tummy and rubs it while saying love spells.

“Sana sana panzita de rana, si no sana ahora sanara manana.”

You see, for me, staying healthy in this unhealthy $i$tem means to constantly be (Re)claiming, (Re)creating, (Re)membering and (Re)imagining Abuelita Knowledge.

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Queer Brown Peruvian, D.I.Y. Fine Artist, Justicia Reproductiva Advocate, Abortion Doula in training, body-powered tattooist, photographer, biker, documentarist, tumblr-ist. I am also a D.I.Y. jewelry and reusable moon pad maker, check out my pieces. An overall Angry Queer Brown Freedom Lover Sin Verguenza Muxer. Follow me on Facebook.

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    • I’m white, and your anger is already unsettling to me. I don’t like to imagine how it feels to people who are connecting to this article.

      In this post, the author condemned a system in which ‘green’ is tied to product placement and something that a responsible white person should do.
      I may be wrong, but I don’t think the author is personally against white people being ecological nor is she guilting them for caring about the planet. What she is angry about is when they circulate the idea that they came up with these practices, and/or when they become ‘hip’ or trendy.

      No one is making you feel guilty. You are feeling uncomfortable in front of the anger of someone less privileged than you, which is different.

    • It’s really reductive and straight up inaccurate to claim that this article’s purpose has anything to do with white-shaming. This author makes some good (and undeniably true) points about how white people often erase and/or appropriate people of color’s histories and cultural knowledge. To completely miss that and assume that this article intends to foster white guilt, only serves to compound that problem and to further disregard and disrespect the cultural knowledge that this article highlights. Autostraddle is not a forum for white supremacy.

    • Just want to cosign everything said by LorelaiFox, rhymeriver and Anna. There’s no room for that attitude on this website (or anywhere, really, in our opinion) and definitely not in response to this amazing article.

    • what the hell does this have to do with brown vs. white? white peruvians and other white south americans live by this way too.. it has nothing to do with a race vs another race, you’re trying to equate a race with a certain lifestyle and culture which makes no sense since peruvians range from european to indigenous to african asian and various mixes in between in ancestry. your grandma looks white herself.. so what the hell are you talking about white people this and white people that, when my family is from chile and they are white and lived this kind of lifestyle too! oh and people in eastern and southern parts of europe live similar.. this has more to do with americans vs. people from the developing world/more traditionally based country

      • For me, this article points to a larger point about capitalism and technocracy. The system is built to atomise human beings and force people to exchange money in order to fulfill their basic human needs: barter, communal resources (including knowledge and tradition), close-knit extended families all need to be replaced by monetary transactions performed by isolated individuals (or small nuclear families). At the same time, every facet of life is chopped and screwed so that it can be commericalised. Mental health and well-being, excercise, RRRR, medicinal herbs (including bio-piracy), etc come under the aegis of the Western academy where they are studied or “invented” and then transmitted to the rest of the elite, then the moneyed middle-classes, and then for true mass consumption. It’s not a big conspiracy or anything, it’s just how the system works and perpetuates itself.

  1. Yes yes yes! Absolutely. Enough of hearing dreadloc’d white girls talk about how fun going WWOOFing in New Zealand was without thinking about whiteness and privilege, without copping to roles in the ci$tem (love that term).

    Environmentally harmonious practices are part of our genealogy as indigenous people and/or people of color. It is whiteness that “civilized,” colonized, and decimated our peoples and the land, and now its forgetful whiteness that wants to claim to be the saviors of the same people and planet they’ve engineered into disaster.

    This is my all-time favorite Autostraddle article.

    • Indigenous? Girl look in the mirror you look like any other Spaniard who colonized Latin America, you are part of the colonizers..

  2. As a white person who is learning how to live a more natural life, I am not in the slightest bit offended by what lalobaloca is saying here. In fact, I think it is quite beautiful and insightful. Just as “mansplaining” has become a thing, maybe “whitesplaining” should too. White people do often have a hard time owning up to their privilege, myself included. Pointing that fact out is not the problem. I don’t believe lalobaloca is saying it is wrong in any way for anyone to be more mindful of the environment. Just that acting like it’s a new, white invention is an incredibly narrow point of view.

  3. How come it’s mxnstruating? (Not a facetious question).

    Is it like womyn? Because the men in menstruation doesn’t actually have an etymological connection to the menfolk, it comes from the Latin menstruum, which in turn comes from the Ancient Greek katamenia, which is from katamenios (monthly).

    Also, this article is super interesting.

  4. Amen! since the beginning of time PoC have had RRRR systems that have been healthy for the environment and healthy for the body (invention of plumbing systems & self sustaining gardens), until colonialism ripped that apart, and put it back together to claim that they have created system for this innovative living. Now they’re taking those creations and marketing off of it, selling it at unreasonable prices (expensive healthy foods, eco friendly products) and then selling the unhealthy things at a low price, and then we get shammed for buying the easy prices.

    If you’re white, and this gets you angry, think of it like this. When Latin Americans carpool around LA SanAn Miami, we’re seen as a stereotype (jokes arise about how many latins can fit in a car) but then when white people carpool, they’re being eco-conscious. No ones saying to not be Eco-concious, just reflect about the stereotypes put on PoC when they’re being eco-conscious.

  5. It was really interesting to hear first-hand about how it feels to be on ‘other side’ of white-majority ecological communities.

    Could I ask for clarification on a point I’m not sure I fully understood? When the author felt anger at the presentation of cloth pads as ‘eco-friendly’ alternatives, was it because something she knew to be traditional and attached to her legacy was presented as new or newly invented by that first-world white ecological collective?

    I’m asking because in my personal experience, as a white person mostly surrounded by other white people, I’ve never conceptualized or heard someone conceptualize cloth pads as a hype new thing that we’re doing now, but rather as a throwback to what, at the farthest, our great-grandmothers were doing, that we have reason to resume doing now because, among other things (like comfort), it wastes less (money and material).

    So is the article proposing that this type of collective frame in another way (than plain ‘eco-friendly’) the promotion of cloth pads and such, one that highlights the fact that these things are not innovations?

    I understand that this article is a heartfelt declaration that the author is inscribing her ‘healthy living’ not in the (short) legacy of western hippydom but in the entirely different space of her Peruvian heritage, and it is a manifesto for the recognition of the role the people of colour play and have played in sustainable living, and that facet already commands respect on its own.

    But I feel like the author shows two kinds of ecological practices : those done unintentionally by people of colour since time immemorial, and those done intentionally by white hippies (who are ignorant of the former), when I would argue there is a third: those done by the ancestors, often just three or four generations back, of those same white hippies. When I spend my day in the kitchen reusing table scraps in puddings and soup stock, I don’t imagine myself doing a hype thing (it’s not the most exciting activity anyway), I think of my great-grandmother, who collected all the breadcrumbs from the table every morning so that eventually she would collect enough to make a pudding.

    My point is, I absolutely think it’s important that stereotypes such as ‘meditation is a white thing’, ‘healthy eating is a white thing’ be debunked through reclamation, that they not be perpetuated by the attitudes of white ecologists, and that the immense legacy that people of colour have give to sustainable practices be recognized and given the respect it deserves.

    But practices of avoiding waste and being gentle on our bodies and the planet are also in the heritage of white people, and (even though there are problems with that too) I’m wondering how the position of this article on white ecologism and heritage relates to white people who inscribe their ‘green’ living in a (real or imagined) relation to how their great-grandparents lived.

    • I also think back to my far ancestors in relation to conservation, so I completely relate to what you are saying. My family were farmers and poor working class, so it would have been a way of life for them. However, those practices weren’t directly passed on to me. Once my family was in the states (in my grandfather’s generation), it was all about integrating into the “American” way of life. And, of course, with our white skin, that didn’t take but one generation. Now with me, only two generations down the line, there wasn’t much of that heritage left to directly pass down. I’m sure there are many different ways of relating to the issue, and I could be wrong, but my impression is that this article doesn’t discount that. It just points out a problematic area of not recognizing privilege within the “eco-friendly” movement.

    • I agree. I reckon the “value” gained from reusing resources by our ancestors some of whom were immigrants and driven from their homelands and came to another new place, was found because it was a valid way to make a resource go farther. And for most of those people of any racial background and ethnic mix, life was not a “first world lifestyle”, it was simply the business of finding enough food in one’s microclimate and community and making do with what was available.

      The author makes some great points about the pervasiveness of white privilege, short term memory and attention spans, reinventing wheels which most of our ancestors used for transport anyway, and the pernicious amnesia of marketing and how marketing can frame and censor the range of knowledge broadcast (and known) on a subject. Marketing exaggerates and distorts the truth from a variety of sources, and it often distorts it in the favour of white people, and ignores the heritage of people of colour. I hate the new age sustainable mission guilt trip with a passion when it fails to acknowledge what I am doing to be sustainable with my own resources and heritage. Successful survival exists despite marketing and short term memories and attention spans.

    • I totally agree. This made me think of my time visiting relatives in Ukraine, and reflecting on the fact that their poverty-based diets are considered a luxurious lifestyle here in Canada. Local, organic, homegrown plants and livestock. And yet, the poverty-based diets of North American (mass produced junk food) is too expensive in Ukraine, so those food items are consumed by wealthier people. It’s an interesting paradigm shift when we start looking at what poor people rely on in different cultures as a reflection of the political-economic influence of capitalism.

      • I don’t think poverty-based Eastern European diets would actually be considered luxurious in Canada, though. Most people living in poverty eat what they grow, which isn’t exactly premium quality organic produce. And they have highly repetitive diets based around the same staples used again and again, full of foods that often take ages to prepare time and ends up not being that great nutritionally in terms of vitamins / nutrients. There’s a lot of cheapish fresh produce during late spring, summer and early autumn, yes, but almost nothing during the other half of the year because imported produce is so expensive.

        • Oh, you’re absolutely right, I was just thinking more about the ideas of what is considered poor vs. luxury food in different cultural contexts. But yes, the specifics aren’t as glamorous. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Truth. As a highly-privileged, white (once dreadlocked, no joke) young woman actively working to live in harmony with the earth, pull my own weight in society rather than riding that privilege, and affect real change in a food system dominated by patriarchal corporatocracy… I could not be more grateful for my Granny Knowledge. My grandmother grew up in a Texas farm family of twelve children. You can bet they handed down, recycled, repaired, and wore out everything. They grew much of their food from their own garden and cooked from scratch. And my Granny caught her blood with rags until she moved to the city as an adult. Every conversation with her about the way things were gives me more hope that living well can be done without many of the trappings of modern society that are currently made possible by globalization, i.e. corporate neocolonialism.

      Yes to everything said in this article about environmentalism not being a white endeavor, and the need to acknowledge when white practitioners of eco-friendly practices are actually pulling from indigenous traditions (as we must if we are to live in a long-term sustainable way. Indigenous populations are perhaps the only humans to ever accomplish that feat in history thus far.) However, it hurt me a little to see such a harsh line drawn between white, middle class environmentalists, and ecofeministas – or maybe I just read that into it. There are undeniably way too many “eco-friendly,” middle class, white folks who are completely oblivious of the fact that they are not the inventors of some brilliant new concept. But let’s build bridges where we can. I’d love to swap some Abuelita/Granny Knowledge.

    • Or two generations back, for those of us whose grandparents weren’t raised in the all American suburbs of the 1940 and 50s. I can tell you they only ate fresh meat when the hogs were slaughtered, and maybe a Sunday chicken if there was an extra rooster. Te cow had to be caught and milked if there was to be milk. They fed scraps to the hogs and chickens, or tossed it into the manure pile. They plowed with mules, put up hay, and put up wild blackberries for winter. They had electricity when my dad was born but not a telephone line.

      While my grandparents are too frail now, the great aunts still put in a garden every summer and put up food in the fall. I’ve got a great-uncle who still goes mushroom hunting in the spring and deer hunting in the fall. In a recent survey in rural NY, something like 1 in 4 adults gardened or hunted for food. There’s at least one interesting study from the 1990s looking at the role of gardening in lives of older adults in rural KY –all those white folk were still gardening and had never stopped. Gardening was a tie to the land, to their culture, and (not least) it helped stretch the budget while providing better food than store bought. It was a way of life that persists in pockets, not as “save the earth” but as a culture that emerged from what it took to subsist on with not much money for generations, which includes being kind to the land. Sadly, that culture now also includes revering resource extraction and loss of community and meth… but that’s another story.

      This isn’t to deny the poster’s conceptualization and experiences. I totally buy that the green movement is advertized as white hipsters rediscovering the land and as a way to spend $$ (and I’ll be damned if I spend $25 for a fancy compost container when I can use any old bowl or bucket). But do remember that there are intersections of class and geography in there with race and to paint all of us who are white with the suburban Brady Bunch brush in a personal essay like this can feel like you are denying the meaningful experiences/stories we had with our grandmothers on making do.

      (But I’ve never asked about when pads made it into the budget. And boy, this was longer than I intended. And I left out the bit about informal economies being denied…)

      • Ok so for a good portion of my life I lived in rural Tennessee where there’s a lot of white poverty and a whole bunch of agriculture mostly done by white folk and their Central American migrant worker hired hands.
        Here’s the thing, though: that’s all well and good that your North American white ancestors were living off the land and were “poor, too” and stuff but they had the ability to live off the land because they took it all from brown people. Specifically, my brown ancestors—Native Americans. Those poor white farmers in Southeastern Tennessee are working (and ruining. cough cough) my ancestral homeland. Same damn thing in Missouri and the rest of the Midwest, up north (including in Canada), out west, and everywhere else. The “pioneers” took land, hunted my ancestors, etc. Everything they knew/know about American and Canadian land came from the original inhabitants, because without them, all of your ancestors would be straight up dead. And they returned the favor but slaughtering everybody and/or rounding them up and death marching them over to the leftovers of the land, the shitty parts that are impossible to live off of.
        So…yeah. It’s not really the same.

    • I would have guessed that hundreds of years ago, most women caught blood in some kind of reusable/washable cloth. I should add that I have no doubt that the traditions or ideas surrounding this would differ based on the culture and country of the women. But given that women have been menstruating since the dawn of woman-kind, and yet disposable pads and tampons have only been invented more recently, wouldn’t some form of this be a part of a part of the history of women living anywhere?

  6. Such a good article, thanks! Autostraddle, I feel like you’ve really upped the game over the past few days/weeks, I’ve read so many interesting and thought provoking articles about race. So many lightbulb moments, thanks for helping me to understand and be a little better.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. I especially feel you on this point: “[…] we end up doing the opposite of so called ‘white’ things and end up hurting ourselves. We start believing that ancestral practices are not ours and we start seeing them as foreign.” I’ve found myself doing that too often, denying myself healthy things by saying to myself “ugh, what a rich white lady thing to do.” I’ve shamed myself for doing things (that I know my mom and grandmother did – but without consciously realizing it), thanks to the way it was marketed. I love that you mentioned meditation, b/c that was actually a big hurdle for me recently.

    What a great article! Thanks again!

  8. thanks everyone for the support and also for calling out white privilege, i read the comment but i am just too fucking tired of wasting my previous time and knowledge trying to make people understand how white privilege works. also i’m glad other POC were able to identify :D always happy to feel interweb heart connections have been made <3

    • We are bonded by our shared Diasporas and history of colonization and our desire to never forget ourselves in lands old and new. I really felt this so hard when I felt shamed for hand washing my clothes after I moved to the suburbs. When a friend looked at me funny when she saw my grandma from Nigeria wash her clothes I tried to explain “that she just moved here from Nigeria, she been here for years it was never a “problem” until I moved. I had neighbors complain about her laundry lines in our backyard and I felt ashamed of her and my roots, I was 14 and foolish.

      The pressure to assimilate into the homogeny of levi jeans and apple and superficial “money makes you whiter” trends can be exhausting, at least for me. As my family gained social mobility through increased income, I saw myself shedding A LOT of the eco-friendly practices, healthy eating that I grew up, especially the ones I learned from my grandma. I saw my assimilation to protect me from being the othered and when the trend swung back to everything my granny was doing, I became annoyed and like others said above me, I dismissed these actions as “White People™” craziness. I FORGOT MY HISTORY so I can eat that sweet American apple pie. Add an eating disorder and trying to get over it when my recovery has been radicalized to the detriment of my recovery, holy shit. I happier and confident now I just tired of explaining and explaining but I can’t help the spaces I’m in (for education!) and I can’t keep quiet either when bullshit like the first comment (thanks for deleting) is something I hear all the time in crazy creative ways.

      It’s a process and I want to thank you so much for writing this. I’m at a place that I crave and need more qpoc friends and TLC because I’m in a state of self-care and recovery and do not have the energy that I used to gently address the bullshit in the interactions I have in the very white queer circles at school, functions etc.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • As a Brown Peruvian, I teared up at work reading this, feeling all the feels, as this is so close to my experience. Thank you for writing this, you never know how exactly how great it is to find stories and feels similar to you, until it happens. Growing up in Miami and visiting Peru as much as possible, I love hearing about all the natural remedies and practices from my family members, it’s always been a way to feel connected to Peru, for me. At the same time, I dread saying I am Peruvian, especially to white people, who always rave about Peruvian food or their trips to Peru, I know they are trying to connect, but often times, I feel very fetishized and that they treat my culture is one big tourist attraction.

  9. Another part of the conversation is food gentrification. #BlackTwitter has been talking about this a lot. How when white people “discover” things like kale or collard greens, the price suddenly skyrockets, making those foods much more difficult for many people of color to afford.

    • Food gentrification, is sickening.
      Especially when it is done for profit. I adore cooking and trying out new foods, and the privilege that rich people are frequently unaware of when they appropriate cocina povera (poor peasant food, food of our poor farmer/grower/gatherer families whose “lifestyle” consisted of scraping by, making do, and being creative and resourceful with what they had, so by no means was there the breadth of choice and wealth that I and a lot of other people have now, as a “lifestyle”)and market it as a “discovery”, or “trendy”, is patronising and condescending.

      Not everyone has the privilege of choosing multiple ways of what to eat for their meals, (that is a first world lifestyle, having the option of more than one way of meeting one’s needs).
      I have lots of feelings about this. I also grow my food. I often say that if I lived in the desert or in some place where fruit and veges were unable to be grown, say, Mongolia, that I would be eating meat and be unable to be vegetarian. Surviving life on earth is totally relative to where you are on it, and those climatic/social conditions determine ones options.

  10. Oh yeah, one other thing; I really liked how this article talked about who ‘counts’ as ecological and I was thinking of how, on top of people, it applies to countries, too. When I tried to think of an ‘ecological’ country, I thought of Sweden or Denmark, so : countries of the global North who are known for implementing ‘green’ practices, when so many countries of the global South are far more sustainable than Scandinavia, and yet here in the North we don’t ‘count’ them as green.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this perspective! I think this article hits on one of the most insidious things about gentrification — that in order to broadly popularize/re-market something to a wealthier audience, the first thing that usually happens is making it seem “white” and therefore “acceptable.” As if things can’t be cool unless white people are heavily involved.

    • I’ve learned that in (US) America, *wealthy* white people must have all the good things. MUST!!!!

      I remember some Africa the County™ super root (African mango or konjac) that was really trendy in that it was very helpful for weight loss and I couldn’t with the marketing at GNC, who co-signs this stuff!?!?!?!

  12. I haven’t commented in YEARS but this article was too good not to join in the convo!!

    So much yes to growing up with practices that were/are eco-concious naturally! When I tell people that I didn’t wear disposable diapers as a baby, they make comments about if my parents were hippies… Umm no they weren’t but cloth diapers was all we had in my post-dictatorship/redonk import taxes country. And we didn’t even have washing machines or dryers! They all had to be washed by hand and hung out to dry. In a related tangent, when my parents were buying a washer/dryer for their house, they got the ones stacked on top of each other even though the laundry closet had space for them to be side by side. Why? So my mom could have space for her big lavadero hahahaha. The white supervisor was puzzled by it but went along, while the people actually doing the installation (aka latin american immigrants) totes got it.

    Also, being vegan I come across a lot of people and restaurants making cashew cheese. None of them have ever seen an actual cashew fruit (yes, there’s a fruit) much less tasted the DELICIOUS juice that comes from it. Tropical country for the win with our delicious fruits!!

  13. So good, thank you for this article! I lived in a co-op for a brief while, and all these eco-friendly things – keeping chickens, biking to work, composting, etc. – were so hip(pie) and trendy – the ci$stem (i love that term) can’t acknowledge that these “new” practices are just appropriated without credit to those who invented them, and repackaged to perpetuate capitalism and systemic oppression –

    Anyway – i still have a lot to learn but I am learning a lot from you, Autostraddle, and thanks for featuring this article. lalobaloca thank you for writing it!

  14. “I have to constantly remember that healthy eating, biking, stretching, wearing second-hand clothing and even bleeding on a reusable pads are not white things. Colonization and displacement have created cultural amnesia.”

    yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. growing up (poor) in the suburbs, all the things my family had been doing to SURVIVE weren’t considered cool until my last year of high school…then, it was a relief to finally not be seen as the weirdo, now it’s eye opening/crazy/inFURIATING how white folx co-opted shit i’d already been doing and made it whiter, and therefore more acceptable.

  15. I love this article so much more than anything I’ve read online in the last few months. Although white (and my privilege being something I am aware of at all moments of everyday), my mother grew up in rural Ireland during the 1940’s. Her lifestyle was as you describe your mother and grandmother’s lifestyles as well, as is her concern with the way this unconscious way of living (ie. this was not contrived or thought about as a way of making a fashion statement but rather all they knew as life) is being commercialized and exploited by the hegemonic structures at play. She slept on straw, grew all of their own food, raised their own meat and dairy, made their own soap, and sewed their own clothes as well as we’re not introduced to “modern” menstrual control methods until moving to Canada in the 80’s. I’m going to show her this article right away – thank you.

  16. I think this article was a great read for me & a nice reminder of where “green” and “eco friendly” practices came from. Not out of trend but out of necessity. I can see the emotional tie to the subject & completely understand it. Just today my jaw literally dropped to the floor when someone tried “educating” me on my culture. I’m completely open to discussion & sharing history. But not when the basis of my knowledge of my culture is being disrespected. With that said, the tone in this article is a little harsh. Particularly “…specially all these white supremacist ideas…” section. I don’t deny that certain groups of people have privileges while others do not. However, I feel perhaps the wording was not necessary & it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I still think the article was great & really made a clear point about the origins of “green” and “eco-friendly”. Thank you for the reminder.

  17. This was an amazing article. It really spoke to me because I had similar issues when I was involved with the environmental movement. But you have articulated it all so well.

  18. “Colonization and displacement have created cultural amnesia” – Yes, yes, yes! I loved reading every word of this article. Amazing.

  19. This is a great perspective that more people should be exposed to. I’m glad I read this because it’s not something I thought about before. I do agree with rhymeriver that for some white people it is about a throwback to what all of our grandmothers did too… I know my grandma did. There was a time when no women anywhere had disposable menstrual products. I know America and Europe probably got them first and that is consistent with pretty much the rest of what white people considered to be “progress” and “upgrades” in society. I’m just really thankful that I have grown up in a time when I didn’t have to feel weird reverting back to more “alternative” choices in life. I think that more and more young people in America are appreciative of this although I know there are also still a lot who just see these things as novelties and ways to participate in something that is cool at the moment. And me? I am just trying to question everything that is marketed to me in this country and decide for myself what is the best way, what is something that I need or something that I don’t. I’m concerned for the future of the world if people continue to allow a society to tell them what to buy or how to take care of themselves. Anyhow, thank you for bringing this subject up. It’s not something that many people will realize or talk about.

  20. Oh, this is good.
    I’ve definitely thought about this recently wrt food gentrification by hipsters.
    I live in a really hipster-y town, and a lot of things the hipsters get from the local Whole Foods-type store is what my Southern father, who grew up very poor, and his family eat, and I always thought those types of food were foods that you didn’t let people know your family ate…greens, grits, etc.
    I’ve been making a shitload of fry bread lately, and someone told me I should open a fry bread food truck because fry bread has been really popular when I’ve served it to hipsters in my home. But then I was thinking about it, and it would be the biggest slap in my ancestors’ face (my GRANDMOTHER’S face) to be a part of gentrifying a food that was born out of genocide and heaps of oppression. And that made me sick to my stomach.

  21. I agree. I reckon money = power. And whoever is holding power can be any ethnicity/race, and so far, white colonists have been very busy in:
    New Zealand
    South Africa
    Hong Kong
    India…. which come to mind and doesn’t preclude others I haven’t mentioned

    which is where a lot of anti colonialism sentiment comes from.
    I think that the author is more than aware of the intersection of Race + Power + Wealth equation, however making the variables in the formula as clear as can be can sort out the speculation from various truths…

    • the comment I was responding to has vanished? my equation should read Race + wealth = Power.
      Colonialists knew this very well and erased a lot of wealth and power in the folks that they were colonising.

  22. I totally agree with everything you’ve said about the assumed whiteness of all environmentalist culture. I feel like it also feeds into a larger discussion about the assumed whiteness of many “alternative” cultures (goth, punk etc.)

    However, where I live (Toronto), I feel like there’s generally very little support for using cloth pads from anyone, white or not. Generally people’s reaction when/if they find out that I use them is usually disgust…

    I feel like if someone is an advocate for reusable menstrual products, they pretty much feel the need to explain why these products are better to everyone, even and especially to white people.

  23. Lalobaloca said

    “You see, for me, staying healthy in this unhealthy $i$tem means to constantly be (Re)claiming, (Re)creating, (Re)membering and (Re)imagining Abuelita Knowledge”.

    This makes so much sense if you have come from a culture that is Peruvian and have come to live in a white ish culture in the U.S.

    To not have your knowledge and ways reflected around you as “the way”, as something obvious and valuable, I understand why you are reclaiming and recreating your Abuelita’s knowledge.

    And I am not wanting to take away from the importance of what you are saying, you have found many people myself included who agree with you, but I can’t help thinking of what Bra alluded to, and to live in the U.S, each person’s diaspora is different, but can have similarly disorientating and culture shaming effects. I am thinking too of the slave trade – taking people from their land and situating them in another land as a much compromised second class citizen and making them slaves of another and wondering if they survive. There is a lot of ignorance as to cultural traditions, and to have a culture claim that it is the reason for sustainability is a major joke. Sustainability is many cultures success. I would be reacting similarly to Lalobaloca.

  24. “I saw too many naked white bodies”. What was offensive to her? The fact that they were naked or the fact that they were white?

  25. Thissss! My mother is Indian, and I’m painfully aware of how the ‘Indian-ness’ I tried to hide growing up in order to ‘fit in’ with ‘white culture’ is now trendy. Henna, sari fabrics, bindis, vegetarian and vegan food, incense, the list goes on…
    For example, as a kid I was teased after turning up to my (actually very multicultural) school with henna on my hands after attending an Indian wedding on the weekend, but these days henna is a ‘hippie’ ‘boho’ fashion statement. White girls everywhere are buying it up and Tumblr is awash with poorly-done henna art because henna is sahhhh trendy – except when it adorns the brown people who created it.

  26. Thank you for writing this article. I’m a mixed chicana and an educator with an environmental ed non profit. (I’m also an alumna of the Berkeley Student Coops!). A lot of my work in East Oakland high schools has been focused on not coming in and telling people what they should do and how they should live their lives, but being a support system for whatever community action they decide helps their community. I have to catch myself when I feel like interjecting and saying “If you want to make *insert oakland school name* more sustainable you should do XYZ”. Usually when I step back and let students use their knowledge of their school’s/community’s culture, they blow me away with what they accomplish.

    (lalobaloca, if you’d like to connect, message me. We are always looking for people to collaborate with!)

  27. “Sana sana panzita de rana, si no sana ahora sanara manana.”

    Ah! My parents would sing this to me whenever I was in pain, haha. Such lovely memories. This article is basically everything my parents have always complained about when it comes to the white-based green movement. Thanks for writing this!

  28. I feel quite hurt by this article. As a white, British person, it may just be that I have a totally different perspective on both race and environmentalism.
    I feel hurt by the assumption that just because I am white, my mum and grandma didn’t have to reuse and recycle. I was brought up in a house where the environmentally friendly things we did/do, are because we needed to save the money, but saving the planet is just an added bonus.

    And the assumption that if I wanted to share anything I’ve discovered recently that has been helpful to me, then I would be claiming that as a white thing and denegrating other people backgrounds. When in fact, when I talk to people about environmental issues, I believe that I don’t take their race into consideration.

    So, yes, I feel hurt, I have never considered recycling to be something just for one race. But from a completely different perspective, that could just be my privilege, that I have completely not noticed before. Makes me feel things, so a good article in that sense. I dunno.

    • I feel the same way, Orange!
      I was afraid to comment on this article because I didn’t want to sound insensitive or like I don’t recognize my own privilege. Thankfully, you’re way more articulate than I am.
      I’m white. I’ve been using cloth pads or a diva cup since I was a teenager because of environmental (and health) concerns. I don’t understand how, as a white person, I’m perpetuating a colonialist or “white supremacist” values by trying to be more earth-friendly. I also don’t understand how wanting to eat well (eating kale, collard greens, etc.) makes me part of gentrification because I’m white.
      I think that it’s important to hear everyones experiences, especially if they make me uncomfortable, because that’s how we grow, right? I just feel that the author is saying all white people are colonialists when they use *anything* that has been used by poc. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just “whitesplaining”?

      • White person who has spent some time in the mainstream environmental movement here. Here are my thoughts in response to your comments (anyone, especially folks who have personal experiences dealing with the shittiness of white supremacy, please feel free to correct me)

        It’s not that you (or me), individual white person, are doing “eco-friendly” things that maybe our parents or grandparents did to make ends meet, it’s that many individual white people and the broader environmental community as a whole (which is super white) spends a lot of time congratulating itself on discovering these “eco-friendly” things that communities of color have been doing for years, ignoring or purposely erasing the history of those communities doing those things, and *then* having incredibly frustrating and offensive conversations about how to “outreach to” communities of color and “get them to care about the environment.” Way too often, that “outreach” amounts to translating some fact sheets into spanish, and showing up uninvited in communities of color to “educate people” about sustainability, because even if people are already doing these things (which the people doing this work often would have no idea about), it doesn’t count unless they’re doing it because they care about the polar bears.

        So, sure, it’s fine to recycle and use cloth pads and whatever, and it’s fine to talk about your personal reasons why you do so. But don’t expect the people you’re talking for to give you a pat on the back if you monologue at them about having recently discovered kale and its health benefits and thank you for educating them.

        Also, believing you “don’t take race into consideration” when making an environmental argument (or really, when saying anything) is a mistake. Environmental issues are hugely, hugely bound up in race (do a google about “environmental justice”). It’s like saying you don’t “see” color, when it clearly exists and has enormous impacts on the way the people you’re talking to experience the issue and the world.

        • i 2nd everything Libbyjo said, and just wanted to butt in with one more thing–look, it’s understandable to have your feelings hurt reading about how white supremacy has negatively impacted the author’s life. when we read about someone’s pain, and think about how we might have somehow had an (unintentional!) part in it, of course it’s gonna make you feel a lil bad! when i read the description of the white co-op, my emotional reaction was definitely “shit, i could have been that naked white asshole eating pizza, i feel bad about that”

          however. our ENTIRE culture is devoted to white people’s feelings! this author has created a rare space to be like “hey! your white people feelings are literally OPRESSING ME and i wanna talk about it!” so, stepping in and being like “but this makes me feeeeel badddddd” (to unelegantly paraphrase) is not necessarily the most constructive comment, if ya see what i’m sayin.

          discussions of decolonization & opression too often get co-opted by white folks guilty feelings, so just a suggestion to let that sad sensation sink in–that’s your conscience recognizing we live in a racist society!–but then maybe not sharing it right then and there.

        • nicoleslaw, I totally see what you’re saying. I don’t see why it’s harmful to question exactly what we (the white people) are doing wrong and to ask for clarification as to the authors feelings towards white people and what we can do to be better.
          I also don’t like that anytime a white person asks for clarification on an article about the experience of people of colour, that person gets scolded multiple times.
          My feelings from the article were that anytime a white person does something to try and be environmentally friendly they are perpetuating colonialist ideas and appropriating the culture of poc.
          From Libbyjo’s comment, I understand that the problem is about white people doing “outreach” and “omglookwhatidiscovered” rather than with individuals trying to be more earth conscious.

          • Reading this back I see I was having one of those days where I feel weird about social class. Just a personal thing I’ve felt since childhood. People talking about the privilege of having money makes me defensive because of the lack of that privilege I grew up with. Obviously as a white person i never experienced how those things intersect. Thank you for responding so politely and for sharing this article.

    • I think what the author means isn’t that “no white people’s family did this”, rather that they’re frustrated that we’re putting all of the credit to white people when these practice were rather universal before, but especially prevalent in societies closer to nature. So I don’t think you should feel targeted; this article was especially referring to white people grabbing a thing and saying they’re the ones who invented it, while then selling the eco-friendly thing in a new package and a ridiculously high price.

  29. I love to read an article written by a Latin, I`m from Colombia and I follow autostraddle daily. I wish there were a site like this for Latin countries.

    Hugs from Colombia

  30. Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the challenges.
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  31. What a stuff of un-ambiguity and preserveness
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  32. Wow, this article is kind of how I feel about QUEER culture in general. I’ve said this many times to people and they’ve agreed, there seems to be an ‘elite’ attitude given off by large groups of queers (read: white queers who went to women’s colleges, studied feminism/queer theory, etc.) who want to pounce on everyone else who isn’t quite up with all the queer lingo or trends. I’m queer because I just am. I’m tired of being made to feel ‘less queer’ than people because I don’t want to throw glitter on my face every day, or because I enjoy working on things that “mainstream” “normal” “hetero” people (whatever the fuck that means) can also enjoy.

    Amen to this article, and then some.

    • Oh sorry, I guess I need to also specify that I’m a “queer” “person of color” who also belongs to a religious minority that I identify strongly with just so I can prove that I’m minority enough to say whatever I want.

  33. I love this! You’ve summed up why I’m back in Greece starting up (slowly, slowly, and gathering strength from rants like this) A Grandmother’s School… honoring and seeking out all those knowledges and practices that got squashed, lost, demeaned, destroyed… My grandmother passed before I could learn them from her…And, yet, there are elders whose knowledge I seek out. We all need them…And, whiteness and how its practiced and lived shifts across borders… and exists in poverty too

  34. this was amazing. this has helped me so much. completely identify and needs to be said. WRITE MORE.. I WANT TO READ WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAYY !! where can i ?

  35. I grew up in Russia, I am white, all people in eastern Europe are white and also live by the old “eco Friendly” traditions. My mom did not have disposable pads in the Soviet Union until the early 90s. My grandmother does all the green things that are advertised to us now, but she does them instinctively.

    White people had ancestors too, just a couple generations ago they were too “echo friendly”, blood rags, bartering, organic food, all that. That was the way of life for everyone pre industrialization. So it’s not that white people are not acknowledging the Peruvian ways or indigenous ways, their own ancestors lived by the same traditions as anyone on this planet before we got machines, advertising agencies etc etc. Its not an issue of ethnicity. Its an issue of having been cut off from our ancestors by the “progress” of the 20th century. Humans made a mistake, that hopefully can be corrected. Our cultural believes are now solely based on the trends offered to us by advertising agencies. These days the trend is to be green and sustainable – ancient ways of life now packaged in pretty bottles with slick “echo friendly” plopped on the front. Yes, some people who follow the trend do have an air of self-righteousness about them, but a lot of people do it because they care about the future of their children. They realize that maybe their funny grandma was right all along. So, as soon as the trend is over, are we going to forget and move on to something else? Maybe not, maybe the babies of current “green” mamas will grow up doing things like their mama did. I hope so. I don’t see anything bad about that. There’s your deep connection. It should be cultivated.

    I think there is an awakening, and the fact that more people are meditating and being more conscious of their actions is a positive step forward and I don’t think anyone should be discouraged from it. Perhaps we can restart our traditions as a world community.

    (BTW, I think everyone is aware and grateful for the tradition of Yoga and meditation and I don’t think white people take credit for it like the article suggests…)

    • In Peru there are many white people, who live like this too.. this has nothing to do with white vs. brown.. but the writer seems to be replying to american (white) people.. idk, because I can tell you the less wealthy white people in peru live similar lifestyles to what she’s talking about

  36. I am glad so many people are connecting with the piece! I think I saw a couple of people asking about where they can find my work, here are some link:

    I have not read all the comments, specially the ones that start with ‘how not all white people….’ or how ‘white people have ancestors to..’ the list goes on. We all know that ALREADY, so if this article made you uncomfortable or sparked something in you, you might want to think about WHY it bothered you, sit on it and keep it in. It is very problematic that an article that does not center white voices gets so many comments that center white experience. Just a thought!

  37. Thank you for your moving article. It has changed the way I think about some of these marketed eco-friendly products. There’s always this movement in mainstream culture to isolate people from our heritage, our bodies and each other. We’ve really lost something valuable – all of us. Thank you expanding my horizons in the scope of human experience.

    • You obviously didn’t read the article. At no point does the author argue that technology is bad, or that old ways are automatically the right ways. You need to go outside and come up with an intellgent response.

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