Entrepreneur, Safiya Robinson, is using her role as a creative cook, writer, and speaker to nurture communities and encourage educational conversations surrounding ancestral methods of healing and systemic structures. Fervently championing the world of women, Safiya uses her personal identity and social media platforms to inspire a new way of thinking.
'sisterwoman vegan' is Safiya's plant-based social enterprise, providing supper clubs, food education, and private catering, with a focus on the richness of knowledge found in African diaspora culture and traditions. Safiya continually serves up a healthy dose of profound and engaging content through online resources and regular events fostering safe, communal spaces, for critical thinking. By tapping into her own experiences of mental health and body positivity, Safiya provides an earnest alternative to the way we approach wellness in modern day societies.
We spoke with Safiya about her reasons for starting sisterwoman vegan, and her journey into reestablishing what beautiful and honest conversations can look like.
Hello Saf, could you tell us what inspired you to start sisterwoman vegan?
sisterwoman vegan is a result of me coming into myself and all the experiences that I’ve been through along the way. It’s about wellness, food justice and injustice, critical healing conversation, and health.
I launched sisterwoman vegan in 2018 a couple of weeks before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was around this time that I was looking into my ancestral ways of healing through food in relation to mental health and so the birth of sisterwoman was very much linked to that experience and journey of acknowledging all parts of myself. I was first introduced to veganism six years ago when I came across a page on Tumblr called YoungBlackandVegan, prior to that I hadn’t really seen anyone who looked like me who was vegan. I wasn’t aware of the many pre-colonial African diets that were plant-based.
How has your relationship with food changed over time?
Growing up I had a terrible relationship with food and my body; I spent 15 years trying to lose weight and punishing myself. My mum is an ex-model so it was very difficult to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem in our household; food became a coping mechanism which I used as a way of dealing with my problems. Going vegan was the first time I felt positive about a diet change, I didn't feel restricted, it allowed me to relearn what food is and what it can provide.
Society doesn’t encourage us to love ourselves as we are, particularly when it comes to body image
I think about teenage Saf often, how she didn’t love herself and how that was never discouraged. Society doesn’t encourage us to love ourselves as we are, particularly when it comes to body image. And I think that has a lot to do with capitalism - people who love themselves spend less money on changing themselves. Capitalism needs there to be a mindset of lack otherwise we wouldn’t buy and consume in the manner in which we do. Thinking that we are without is our default state, when in fact we arrive on this planet whole.
How do you feel about your body today?
I’m currently at my heaviest, (quarantine eating!) and my connection and relationship with my body and with exercise is in the best place it’s ever been - I see it in such a different way. I modeled for a swimwear campaign earlier this month, for @you.swim and when I was looking at the photos, and looking at all my “flaws”, I thought how there are women half my size who wouldn’t post something if it had one dimple. And in that moment I realised I really have come a long way. I’m modeling a swimwear campaign at my heaviest. 14 year old Saf would have laughed me out the room just for suggesting it.
What sources of encouragement have helped you embrace this sense of self-worth and love?
Fundamentally Black women have helped me so much to see myself and be represented in spaces that I’ve been able to create, observe, and be a part of. It’s a beautiful, healing experience to be around Black women, and to know that anything in my life is possible, that I’m not alone in my journey and what I’m going through is not unique. Community is necessary for growth, seeing who there is and following in their direction, being able to share pain, share trauma has been a key part.
As a Black woman, I have a responsibility to talk about the rights of other Black women. If I have a platform to represent women who don’t have that space, then I’m going to use it.
I spend a lot of time thinking about who or what younger me needed. I have been able to use outlets like Instagram, which are famously known for being toxic spaces in regards to body image, to curate a space to champion people who look like me and represent for people who look like me. When I see someone doing something great, my first instinct is to shout them out loud, to give them their flowers.
It excites me finding images of Black women’s beauty being celebrated, Black women being loved out loud, Black culture and creativity being championed and developed. My Instagram stories are full of Black women, women who are curvy, images that you are not necessarily seeing in the mainstream but who are representative of what I find beautiful. It brings me joy.
What role has religion and spiritual practices played in your life?
My parents are both spiritual, but I rejected it for such a long time. All the things I was taught faith was for, like goodness and kindness, I was unable to see in them. I thought to myself 'it doesn’t work, these people are still able to cause pain and not empathise'. It took a lot of hard work to understand the context and conditions of my parent's life. My Mum is African American and my Dad is mixed Jamaican English; they were raised with realities, seventies racism, serious econo