Marie Fitrion is the owner of a Toronto-based catering company, Urban Acorn, which she runs with her husband. She also happens to be half-Haitian and half-Scottish. For Black History Month, she was kind enough to grant us an interview on topics ranging from running a business during a pandemic to racism in the vegan community. This is the first part of that conversation, which has been reproduced here with certain sections omitted for reasons of length and clarity.
So, specifically, I just want to start with something about Black History Month. How do you feel about the way people do BHM nowadays?
Not to be a cynic, but Black History Month is a very American thing, right? It was selected specifically due to their Civil Rights people and things like that, but it has trickled down into Canada because we share language, we share media, we share a lot of the same influences. I don’t know, maybe it’s different now, I mean, you’re in high school. You’d know better than I would. But when I was in high school, I didn’t learn anything about Black history. Like, nothing. Like, zero. So, I would say it’s a cool sentiment and if it gets people talking about what it is to be Black and Black history, I think it’s great, but I also think it’s kind of incomplete here in Canada. I don’t necessarily think that people are getting that Black History.
I see. So it’s almost a token month rather than properly done?
It kind of feels like a token month, a little bit. Yeah. It does. I mean, for example, I’m half Haitian. Other than Ethiopia, Haiti is like the first independent Black Nation, and they’re certainly the first slave revolt to win their independence. But nobody knows that. That’s not a commonly known thing. But it should be. We had a Governor General that was from Haiti for years in Canada, we send foreign aid to Haiti all the time. Part of the reason Haiti is the way it is, is because of that revolution, but we don’t talk about it, so there is a lot of Black history that’s just not mentioned, not discussed. Where would you even start? If you don’t know the basics about how these Black nations have been formed and how they are the way they are and some of the social problems that make it more difficult for them to continue, to grow and prosper, it’s very very difficult to have those kinds of conversations.
But I do definitely think it’s a bit of tokenism, kind of like pride month. You know, like corporations are all like “yeah, rainbows!” And then like August first, they’re like “screw the rainbows”.
This is something more connected to something you’ve wrote, you refer to unpacking our racialized selves, and a part of it you mentioned was downplaying elements of your otherness. Do you have any advice for people that are going through similar stuff as you?
I mean, I guess it depends on where you are in your life too, because obviously, otherness in high school is like a whole other thing. Right? Like, high school is all about – or maybe it’s different – but high school is all about trying to be as much like everyone else as possible. Blend in, don’t ruffle feathers, let’s just go under the radar, and some people do a better job of it than others, and everyone’s just kind of like faking trying to do their thing.
When you are othered, when you look different, when you act different, when you just are different, it’s harder to do that, and so for me, I’ve always stuck out like a sore thumb, even when I’m trying to be like everyone else. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve embraced the fact that I’m gonna come across different to everyone in every scenario. There’s not gonna be another Haitian/Scottish person in the room high-fiving me. We’re technically all like that, right? There’s no one that’s like you, Julian. And so as soon as you start realizing that the otherness is technically an experience that we all have, it just makes it easier to be like, okay, this business of all trying to act the same is BS and we should just try to be ourselves authentically and embrace the otherness, the weirdness, the uniqueness that makes us us, and I think that’s something that’s a little easier to do as you get older. I mean, if you can do it in high school, power to you, but I do know that socially high school is a little bit dicey in that sense but it does get easier as you get older.
So last year, there were a lot of big movements of Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd protests that really affected a lot of people in many ways that they don’t normally. So, what do you think the greatest change you made resulting from what happened last year?
You know what, I’m gonna keep it sort of vague book, but also personal, and say that last year really allowed me to let go of some toxic people. To just – do you know who Marie Kondo is? You know, the whole “let it spark joy”?
I basically did that with everyone. I was just like “do you spark joy”? You spark joy in my life when I’m around you, do you stress me out, or do you bring me happiness? And it’s not a very big criteria. I’m not saying you have to give me anything or do anything for me, I’m just saying, like “do I get excited when your name gets mentioned”, or am I like, “oh God”? I think that I had at some point mistaken having different opinions with just basic human decency, like, we can argue on toppings on a pizza, that’s fine, but if I’m saying “Black lives matter” and you’re saying “all lives matter”, that’s a problem because that’s not something I’m okay with. We’re not gonna be like “ah, we agree to disagree”. It’s like “no no, that’s a fundamental thing that we now disagree on, and it affects me – and my children”.
I mean, I know a lot of people have people in their lives who aren’t exactly getting with the times, so to speak, and they may never. Would you say that the right thing to do, but not the easy thing to do, is to cut those people out of your life, or do you think that there’s still a way to keep them in?
It depends on what we’re talking about. I think for me, I mean, those people were in my life for years, and the thing that made it change for me was that I have children, and I’m a grown adult, and I get to choose if I want to be in a room with those people, but my children won’t get to pick. So yes, it was a difficult decision, but it was actually very easy. My job as a parent is to protect my children. I also think that it’s always different when you’re not the one on the receiving end of that, so if it’s an “all lives matter/Black lives matter” argument, but you are not black, you might not care. I’m not saying that makes you a bad person, it’s just like you might be like “that’s not my fight to fight”. So you can choose. Do you want to have your racist uncle hanging out all the time, or do you want to be like, “yeah, I’d rather bow out”.
Kind of the idea you’re mentioning of America, with everything that’s happening, the idea of reaching across the bridge – do you want to grab the hand of a person who wants to stab you with the other one?
I’m all for collaboration and reaching across the aisle and figuring out how I can make things work, but there are limits to if that works, right? It’s like when people say stupid things in the media, and then as soon as you see the backlash, like people dropping them and the cancel culture – they’re like “I’m so sorry”, but are you sorry though, or did you just get caught, you got punished, and you don’t like it? You’re not sorry. Listen, I’ve catered for people who are staunch conservatives, I’ve catered for people of different religious affiliations, whatever, that’s fine. People don’t have to – but that’s very different than catering, like, a KKK party. I don’t know. I’m going so highbrow here, but OK. We’re not gonna do that. Like, I’m not catering your hate party.
Yeah, the Klan cookout’s probably not –
Yeah, the Klan cookout – I don’t know why you’re hiring me, I don’t know why you’re vegan, but we’re not doing that. Your vegan Klan cookout, you can keep it to yourself! That being said, in terms of intersectionality – now we’re going off topic a little bit – there are challenges and there are problems in the vegan community that are completely rooted in white supremacy.
So, I mean, every community has its issues, and has its history. Some people who, and this is not all vegans, of course, but some people who are very passionate about their activism have no problem comparing what happens to animals to, they’ll call it “The Animal Holocaust”, or they’ll call it “Animal Slavery”, and for somebody who doesn’t have ancestors in the Holocaust, who hasn’t had ancestors be part of slavery, might be like “yeah, that sounds like an accurate portrayal”. And for others, it’s kind of like “I understand what you mean, and I’m not saying that animals aren’t important, I’m just saying that, like, the word ‘Holocaust’ has a very specific meaning in most people’s heads”. The word slavery has a very specific meaning, and those point to a specific communities, and when you use those words and throw them around and start talking about – like – animals, it feels a little bit like a weird comparison that I don’t think most of us feel comfortable with. There are definitely some challenges within all communities, and the vegan community is no different.
That was the final “super heavy question”, this is a little bit lighter. Do you feel like people have a lot of misconceptions about Scottish or Haitian culture? What’s something that you feel a lot of people have wrong?
I mean, I picked my handle voodoo-haggis because people have so many misconceptions about both voodoo and haggis. And it was ironic because I’d never had haggis when I had picked the name, but everyone’s got an opinion on it. Same with voodoo, right? Everyone’s like, “oh, voodoo, that’s a religion”. And you’re like, “well yes”, but it’s also an amalgamation of all the African countries and all of their religions that were all kind of put together and so they all kind of form their own thing, same with language. But yeah, I think people don’t know a whole lot about those two countries.
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