I’ve been thinking a lot about veganism lately and for why it has maintained such a strong hold in my life when there are so many ex-vegans running around.
My own journey into veg*nism was long. I first went vegetarian when I was 11. Looking back, I’m honestly not sure why. I have always been interested in nutrition, and I thought that without eating animal flesh I would be healthy. This was also a part of my ill-fated attempts to get my parents to eat more heaIthfully, as well. I pretended to be vegetarian at school the entirety of 8th grade. I was terrified when, last minute, my dad decided to invite my friends over to dinner, because then they would know my secret. Thankfully, he made fish and no one even batted an eye. When I was in boarding school through my first year of college, I was vegetarian 8-9 months out of the year, but when I came home, inevitably gave in to home cooked goodness. I would figure that if the animals were free range and organic, they couldn’t have been treated *that* badly, and humans were supposed to eat animals, after all. It was only the treatment of animals in factory farms that really concerned me. I went vegan January first of my sophomore year in college after I had discovered the rant-y goodness of the Vegan Freak podcast and came to one very sudden, very clear conclusion; I don’t want to be eaten. Why would I eat another creature when I, myself, am terrified of the thought of everything that those poor beings we call “livestock” have to go though just made the decision clear.
So, I’ve been participating in a lot of vegan communities, largely online, and find that, true to stereotypes, are holier than though in many respects. I won’t lie, I understand the word “vegan” to be rooted in animal rights over dietary choices, so if I see a self proclaimed vegan wearing a leather jacket I will give them the side eye. But then again, I’m not perfect either. I still have a couple of leather shoes that I bought years ago and will wear on job interviews. I buy sugar that may have been refined using bone char. I will get upset if you try to argue that eating honey is vegan. I’ve accidentally eaten honey and not thought twice about it. In our own way, we are all filled with contradictions.
A year or so ago I joined the Sistah Vegan e-group and my notion of veganism and dietary choices completely switched from being an act of benevolence to the animals, to fitting into my larger anti-oppression liberation-oriented political ideologies. In the spring, I joined http://soulvegfolk.com and my love for Erykah Badu grew infinitely all of which helped me embrace and afro-centric vegan philosophy.
A lot of white vegan folks I have come across are very insistent that the only reason to go vegan is For the Animals. This is why I went vegan, 100%. I still think that it’s central to the cause. Most of these people understand the human rights implications of terrible diets and underregulated slaughterhouse environments, but not uncommonly, veganism for a lot of these folks veganism falls into a category of activism that I’ve heard called “the politics of helping.”
Although far from perfect, my vegan diet offers me the opportunity to resist the colonial influences that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and forced poverty has forced onto my people’s diets. Alicia’s post on lactose intolerance is a great example of the way that white folks have forced their diet, which works for their bodies, on to communities of color. In response, I’ve begun to see veganism as a means of resistance of colonial influence on my body. With the disproportionately high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and fibroid tumors in African America, taking accountability into our own hands seems like a great alternative to essentialist racial politics (see: the black heart pill).
Okay, so I’m not going to lie. I do eat a lot of white flour, white rice, and refined sugar, which is probably counterintuitive to the cause, damn, the cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World are damned tasty.
So, what is the “right” reason to go veg? I don’t have an answer. My political ideologies revolve around one simple hope: for beings to be able to live free. I’m a queer unemployed woman of color. I’m going to work to fight for my liberation and the liberation of others in tandem. I’m tired of hierarchical identity politics and the “oppression olympics.” If I didn’t understand my veganism to be inherently intersectional and liberatory, I wouldn’t still be vegan. I worry that holier-than-thou vegans who push the plight of animals above and beyond any personal and/or human rights benefits of veganism are doing nothing more than harming the cause.
Let’s just get people to go vegan, help them stay there, and work on teaching them about its many benefits.