Acceptable Ways to Change Identity in Non-Fiction

What do you do if you’ve sensitive information about individuals or locations that you need to have in your non-fiction story, and yet you’re worried about lawsuits or giving away details that might expose that individual or location to prosecution of even violence. Well, the world of non-fiction has long provided conventions that writers can use to avoid incriminating identifying information. These can include (in no particular order):

  1. Changing the individual’s name, and if necessary age. It is not generally considered proper to change the sex and race. However, it is entirely appropriate not to assign sex or race. For instance, an investigator can be called “L.” throughout and no instances where a “he” or a “she” is required in a sentence need to be used. If the individual’s race is an essential component of the story—that the workers relate to the investigator because he is black, for instance—then other identifying characteristics would have to be blurred so that the investigator is not compromised.
  2. Changing the individual’s body size, color of hair and eyes.
  3. If the location or property involved is easily recognizable from descriptions, changing its location or features of the property.
  4. For ease of telling a story or disguising individuals, create composite characters.

It is not generally acceptable to change the action involved: in other words, going undercover in a chicken slaughterhouse can’t become breaking into a laboratory. The reader needs to feel that they are being provided with the essential truth of what happened and that the characters’ actions and reactions were accurately reported. The author must tell the reader whether individuals, places, or other identifying features have been changed, and why.

Call for submissions: Vegana

latina_veganaAre you Latina* and vegan?

What makes our experiences as Latinas possibly different than others? Or have you found it to be harder to be a Latina in the vegan world?

Lantern Books is looking for contributors to an anthology on the experience of being both Latina and vegan. It is time for our voices to be heard!

Your piece should be a personal story rather than an academic paper—you don’t need any footnotes or references. Rather than a chronological recounting of how you became vegan, feel free to write about connections between your veganism and your culture, or any conflicts. You can write about animal welfare/animal rights, your experiences in activism, food justice, worker’s rights, sustainability, or how you have woven family recipes into vegan masterpieces. The more specific your story is (tell one story), the better.

 

For example, one contributor relates the racism encountered while working in animal rescue:

“Living in a low-income area, I often acquired stray animals or animals from a plethora of problematic situations such as neglect, abuse, and backyard breeders. When I reached out to the animal rescue community for help, the first thing I often heard was, “The owners are Hispanic, right?” It was not until I was involved in this world that I began to understand some of the sentiments that motivated the anger toward these people, toward my people. The situation was so overwhelming that at times it was easy to fall into the these people discourse. But I knew better, I was these people.”

 

Another contributor talks about the food made by the women in her family:

“In my family food was, and still is, a token of affection and love. If we weren’t feeling well, my mom’s caldo was the cure. My great-grandmother, Abuelita Martina, would say, “Always keep salsa on your table, mija. It’s our secret to looking young.” And my grandma’s tortillas could always make everything right in my world. As a Chicana, I felt like I was rejecting all that these women had given me by going vegan. As though I was judging them and their ways by refusing their dishes. But I wasn’t judging them by no longer wanting to contribute to a social construct that I found heartbreaking, or at least I wasn’t intending to.”

 

A third discusses the the impact of language on how we see animals, and how we view “Mexicans” whose families lived in Texas since Texas was part of Mexico:

“The way we all use language is incredibly important, and not just in describing ourselves and our culture. For an organization like Food Empowerment Project, a food-justice non-profit that I founded in 2007, we take this very seriously. Clearly, we try our best, but we know that there is always more to learn regarding how we use certain terms, especially when it comes to issues involving animals and humans. Although many animal people do understand our need to avoid referring to animals in laboratories as “lab animals” or cows raised for milk as “dairy cows,” not everyone understands our need to be careful with words like “America.””

 

To get more ideas, please refer to Lantern’s 2010 anthology SISTAH VEGAN: Black, Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society.

The piece should be between 2,500 and 5,000 words, and in English.

Regrettably, we cannot offer payment, but royalties from sales of the book will go the Food Empowerment Project.

Please send your questions and submissions to martin@lanternbooks.com.

*We are using the term Latina to refer to those with Mexican, Central and South American, and Caribbean backgrounds. If you don’t love the term “Latina” but this description fits you, tell us all about it in writing!