Isaias Hernandez is an Environmental Educator and Creator of QueerBrownVegan, an educational platform that seeks to provide introductory forms of environmentalism through graphics, illustrations, and videos. His interest for environmentalism started when he was growing up in Los Angeles, California where he faced environmental injustices that eventually led him to earn a B.S. in Environmental Science at University of California, Berkeley. Through his passion for education and research, he seeks to provide safe-spaces for like-minded environmentalists to advance the discourse of the climate crisis.
Unhide sat down with Isaias to learn more about his journey and what it means to be QueerBrownVegan.
Unhide: Where did your vegan journey begin?
Isaias Hernandez: My vegan journey started back in college when I took a food systems and agriculture course, and I learned about the rise of slaughterhouses due to economic growth. And we discussed two topics, one being humans, especially migrant farm workers that are undocumented having security, deportation, and work at these slaughterhouses, who have adverse mental health issues. And the other factor was animals being harmed throughout the process. This really made me look into the idea of how industrialized systems, whether it's agribusiness specifically, were creating this global environmental injustice problem. And so that really led me into asking myself where I can take initiative to reduce my own consumption? And slowly I did this journey where I just reduced my dairy and meat consumption and eventually went vegetarian and then transitioned to veganism over the course of two to three months.
How did you end up transitioning into being in vegan advocacy and education? Was there a specific moment where you realized it's what you needed to do?
The moment I stepped into advocacy and education was post-graduate college. Being in different spaces most specifically in animal rights spaces, I didn't really agree with a lot of rhetoric that was being used to frame different types of communities, most specifically indigenous communities. And so for me, I used this advocacy and education from an environmental background to provide cohesive and really clear illustrated information that industrial agriculture is one of the largest issues that really prevents people, especially indigenous, to have land, food and seed sovereignty. My focus is to decentralize these globalized food systems that are unsustainable. And so I would say that graphics really came into play to help educate that and then video series to give more information, to create interconnections and to encourage people to reduce their meat and understand where their meat is coming from. For me, I knew that my meat was industrial and I didn't know any local farmers in my area, or I did, I just didn't know where to get that. So that was really my moment to realize hopefully people can reduce rather than to transition to this one lifestyle.
In your mind, what does it mean to be "queer brown vegan"?
I think it's that you have these different layers of values of who you are as an individual and different identities. I apply this framework of queer ecology. I don't really exist within one set of binary systems. I exist in different layers. And so in that unpacking of those layers for me is to explore what liberation means in different spaces for different people and asking myself, like, what does my role as an educator queer brown vegan look like? I've mostly been an educator to provide that introductory forum because I really believe that I'm still doing this journey of unlearning and relearning at the same time. And having these three values that I've grown up with my entire life in Mississippi being a person of color was really hard for me to just to create safe spaces. I wanted to create a space where I felt safe and others feel safe to ask these questions, regardless if you're vegan or not because this is what really gets us started with ideas of activism or revolution or theories of liberation. So that's really what I've been grounded in.
I love that. What do you wish people knew about veganism who aren't familiar with it?
I would hope that people understand that veganism is also addressing and advocating for total liberation of humans and animals. Especially Black, Indigenous people of color that are vegan, have this extra layer of providing, fighting for food justice and addressing food apartheids in many low-income communities of color that don't have access to healthy fruits and vegetables because the fight is to advocate for animal nutritional and environmental justice. I think sometimes that is depicted in different ways, especially with the media portraying it as a diet or sometimes only animal rights. Intersectional veganism or intersectional environmentalism plays a huge role in the work I do. And so that is something that I've really been trying to obviously not push for, but also understanding that there's different sides. So I am always trying to educate people and start off with what they know and what they don't know and tell them I'm still learning and this is a process.
What are you up to now and like what are you hoping to achieve in the vegan space in the near future?
I'm actually currently writing a book on zero waste veganism and environmental justice. And so in this book, I'm trying to make the links between the industrial animal agriculture creating an environmental injustice and how that's really affected our soil from communities of color. And also the migrant farm workers who are actively being displaced. I really hope that people push themselves to learn more about the reasons why industrial animal agriculture is such a huge issue through the lens of human and animal and environmental justice.
What's your favorite thing about doing this type of work?
My favorite thing about doing this type of work is I get to meet so many different vegans that exist in different spaces. There's especially a huge community of like Black, Indigenous, People of Color that I've met via online, whether it be New York or LA or different countries. It's interesting to see different vegans come from different backgrounds and really speak on their experiences directly with industrial agriculture. And so in sharing those discourses or conversations, I'm more able to become more of an active listener and really approach the work with a more holistic lens rather than this is the end all be all situation.
What do you hope people take away from seeing your videos?
Fierce curiosity. I know, for instance, I always ask questions, that's the best way I learn. So it's not necessarily telling them, you need to know this information or else you're a bad person, but rather ask yourself , well, what does it mean to localize food systems that are environmentally just for ecosystems? And so this obviously extends itself to understanding what Indigenous sovereignty means. And so helping more people take that into their own education so then they are able to really develop a more holistic lens or view of just approaching or talking about issues in the environmental field, whether it's agriculture or animal rights, human rights, or other subjects that are just all interconnected to the exploitation of our natural resources and people.