I come out of my writing hole to write a response to La Chola’s most recent post on veganism and cruelty towards farm workers and the hands that feed us. I can relate to alot of what she is saying (more on this later), but what mostly prompted me was this:
Is a vegan lifestyle really a “cruelty free” lifestyle? Why is it so easy to prioritize cruelty inflicted on animals over cruelty inflicted on brown people? Why can people list a whole litany of wrongs committed against animals by the food industry–but at the same time those people “never really thought” about what happens to the workers?
As a person of color, a Mexican, a Mexican who virtually all my relatives built their houses and everything else they have by working in the fields and bodegas, and most recently a vegan, I have worked/lived/loved with farm workers. Some of then are vegetarian or vegan. And it’s not easy to prioritize cruetly against animals over brown people-but there shouldn’t be a reason to prioritize, to say one is more important than the other. Many many of the activists I know who work for social justice, work for immigrations rights, work for worker’s rights, are against the border wall; are veg*ns. Yes I do agree, like a friend once told me when I was complaining about an awards ceremony to look at gorillas at a zoo that was part of a human trafficking conference, everyone does not see the connections like I do. But I will not continue to inflect pain and shed blood on animals because I cannot stop the cruelty against workers. I gave up meat, simply enough, because I felt it was violent. A few years ago, I took an oath to live a non-violent life as part of the 100 days of fasting: a response to the Minutemen’s presence in the Rio Grande Valley, organized by LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1989. I often thought of what that meant, being a survivor of domestic violence, in an overly oppressive culture where even being a feminist or calling oneself a Chicana gave you dirty looks. And I also thought of Cesar Chavez, his commitment to workers, to the people, and his decision to become a vegetarian which lasted the last 25 years of his life. He saw the connections between violence against animals and violence against people, he saw the cruelty in both the animals he chose not to kill to eat and the treatment of farmworkers. (Take that people who say I’m not a real Mexican because I’m veg*n)
But I don’t have to name famous activists who see the intersection, Vicki “Hasta La Vicktoria”, radical childcare extraordinary xicana activist & friend, is an ethical vegan, volunteer for the CIW and along with alot of radial cool feminist vegans (how many adjectives can I use?) have taken part in the local boycotts along with CIW. Most, if not all, of the events I have organized or helped organize (Mujerfest, Voices Against Violence Vigil, Homenaje a Nuestras Muertas, RGV Zine/DIY fest) provide cruelty free food.
Can I bring myself to say with a straight face that I no longer eat meat because I care about ending violence against animals?
I can say with a straight face that I do not eat meat because I an non-violent, because I truly care about ending violence-I can say in society, I can say in my community, but I’ll say that I want to end violence within my own family.
How do I make eating vegan/vegetarian a political choice about liberation without making the sacrifice one set of beings make with their bodies more important than another set of beings?
I don’t think we have to make that choice.
I never wanted to call myself a vegan because I didn’t want to be labeled, didn’t want to be seen as “hardcore”, didn’t want to be compared/aligned with hardcore vegans I have known and because I thought it would be difficult being working poor/being Mexican and being a single parent with no time ever ever to eat veg*n. I gave up cheese after being vegetarian for a while (being lactose intolerant I had already stopped eating anything diary) like Joselle did at Mutual Menu, because of the feeling of revulsion. And for the longest time I simply said, I don’t eat meat, then I don’t eat meat or any meat by products then I don’t eat meat, byproducts or dairy, and yes that includes butter (I honestly didn’t know butter was a dairy).
I’ve talked before on how growing up meat was a luxury. Meat was for special occasions. At family gatherings, the fajitas, cabrito was for the men. At birthday parties, you knew the family had money if they were serving carne guisada or fajitas. If they served chicken, or heaven forbid, tuna sandwiches, you knew they were working it. My mom would buy those 5 pound tubes of ground beef and would work that baby for two weeks for a family of six, using smallest possible amount and still have meat for dinner because it was a status-we have meat to eat for dinner, we are not starving. We are making the food stamps last. We are working it. If lunch or dinner was rice and beans, it was because we couldn’t afford meat, because it was all we had. If we were having rice or arroz con leche three times a day, it was because we were running low on food and back then the government still gave out these big boxes of powdered milk that lasted forever. And thank the heavens for those big blocks of cheese that feed us for weeks.
So it only follows that it was a hard decision to say I will no longer eat meat. Was I crazy? How many years did we wish to eat meat, to have that “status” to only go back to eating poor? When the meat was given to the older brothers/cousins/uncles already setting up the connections in my mind at 12, how could I go along with it willingly at 25?? I was met with crazy stares from family; coworkers said I had gone “radical” and “hardcore.” My son’s father told me, and continues to tell me, that I “better not be turning his son vegetarian*” because he is Mexican and has to eat meat to be big and strong. (*I note that it sounds almost homophobic in nature).
I promise this post has an end.
As many women probably do, I had an eating disorder for most of my teen and adult life. Food was the enemy I could not get away from. Friends have told me that veganism is just another eating disorder, or a way to frame an eating disorder to appear acceptable. I can honestly say that for me, it’s not a form of e.d. While being a vegetarian/vegan I have never binged and/or purged on meat products. I do realize that this can be true for others, or to slip means to eat meat or meat by-products being part of their e.d. and I understand that this is part of living w/ an e.d. I cannot say I haven’t slipped since I became veg*n, but not on meat products and that it, for me, is not used to mask an eating disorder. What I’m trying to say also is that it was difficult on the level of food being central to my emotional stability, mental health and depression. What I am NOT trying to say is that veg*nism “cured” me or that I no longer think I suffer from e.d. since I stopped eating meat, because that is simply not true. These choices are not easy ones. They are built on one another, and I understand the difficulty in working out all the sides. And yes yes yes veg*nism and vegetarianism was only one layer of the long (life long?) healing process for me.
*I feel like I am exposing alot of myself in this post and I retain the right to take this post off, or delete it. You can contact me at noemi.mtz at gmail. I will not respond to hate emails.