plant based Apartheid : Oatlywashing Settler-Colonial Violence

24 MARCH 2021 

What is more fundamental to a people’s history and culture than their food? What is Social Justice without advocacy for the non-human world? This is really how Sarah Shaweesh’s passion for Vegan Palestinian food began. It was born from her desire to share the beauty of Palestinian food and its traditions that that have been created, cultivated and cooked in my indigenous homeland for thousands of years. Sarah wanted to champion our cuisine, recapture it and let the spotlight fall on the wonderful ways and generations of traditions and recipes of my ancestors, with a vegan twist.

Two years since its founding, it is a blessing that Khamsa, as a community-centred café, continues to share these culinary histories and the ethos of veganism with locals and a growing network of plant-based food organisations wishing to make Sydney a better, and more ethical, place to live and eat. Yet for some plant-based organisations, their idea of advocacy for animal welfare is rooted in their complicit disregard for human life brought on by their direct involvement in settler-colonial violence processes in Palestine.

One of these organisations is PlantX, a self-proclaimed digital face of the plant-based community offering customers across North America thousands of vegan product-lines. Recently, with $11.5 million worth of assistance from Israeli firm Psagot Investment House Ltd, PlantX has announced plans to expand the Company’s e-commerce platform into the apartheid state regime of Israel.

Keeping in mind that Israel’s economy is inextricably linked from its military occupation and colonisation practices, Psagot’s investments represent numerous violations of international law and their repercussions; one of them being their 2016 investment in a shopping mall under construction in the Ma’ale Adumim colony, in the West Bank.

It’s also important to highlight the very unfortunate fact that often Israeli companies producing vegan and plant-based products are also directly complicit by way of selling its products in supermarkets in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, operating its own supply-chains and consumer markets in the west bank to settlers and the IDF on the back of indigenous Palestinians. Some plant-based companies based in Israel-Palestine are even owned by Israeli settlements. These are the same companies whose products PlantX will be selling. 

In the same context, many of these companies’ vegan products such as hummus, tahini, mujadara, shushbarak and others are appropriated as “Israeli” national cuisine. These vegan Palestinian staples have existed for millennia and appropriating them as Israeli national cuisine is an intentional practice of erasing my people’s indigenous culinary identity. At the same time, Israel’s deliberate destruction of Palestinian crops and extensive use of herbicides  have devastated Palestinian farmer livelihoods and heightened food insecurity for indigenous populations and refugees in the largest open air prison in the world, the Gaza strip.

 

One of the products being sold on PlantX is Oatly, the Swedish Plant-based milk company that was a staple for Khamsa beverages. I emailed the company to express my grievances in expanding their market to the Apartheid regime (via PlantX) and their response was a tokenistic gesture of the need to ‘spread sustainability practices across borders’. I used to love Oatly milk. The flavour is well rounded and delicate, with a distinct toasted-oat flavour that sets it apart from every other version I tried. But when a company sells its product to a market under a state that vegan-washes its colonisation practices, and proudly mislabels Palestinian cuisine as a form of cultural genocide, suddenly Oatly doesn’t really taste the same.

Today will be the last day Khamsa will be stocking Oatly.

Think of Others,

Sabab ElShai

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