Unable to sleep one night, about a month before I left home for university, I found myself falling, much like Alice, into a Rabbit Hole that would change my life forever. But instead of through soil, I fell through a vortex of YouTube videos, and instead of emerging in Wonderland, I tumbled further and further into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the United States Dairy Industry.
The next morning I woke up and announced to my family that I was vegan.
What that meant to me then, and what it has come to mean to me now, four years later, are truths enfolded within that brilliantly romanticized process of discovering oneself.
Writing about my experience with veganism has been something I’ve kept on the back-burner for quite some time, partly because I try my best not to be “pushy” or “preachy” about something a lot of people still consider a “radical” life choice, and partly because I wasn’t yet able to explain why I felt so compelled to ascribe to the practice in words that didn’t belong to someone else.
“I went vegan for the animals. I stayed for the environment. The health benefits are a bonus.”
That was my mantra.
It still holds a lot of truth in it, but understanding my personal connection to them—what those words truly mean to me—has taken some time. About four years time, to now feel confident in sharing an articulation of my own.
To zero-in on veganism as a “diet” is to strip it of all meaning and validity beyond a “limitation” or “restriction,” so I simply refuse to start there. As are all the wondrous -ism’s of the world, it is a devotion to an awareness. In practice, it can look vastly different for us all.
Watching video after video of dairy cows being violently artificially inseminated, beaten, and having their babies taken away from them the second they’d given birth, it seemed viscerally obvious to 18-year-old me that what was going on at industrial dairy farms in America was completely immoral. Disgustingly so. I couldn’t believe I’d been so ignorant.
It was the slap in the face that awoke the ache I’ve spent four years trying to sooth.
Only a few months prior, a friend of mine at school had gone vegan, and I’d done nothing but tease and belittle her about it alongside our peers.
Weren’t the slabs of meat wrapped up in plastic at the grocery store already dead? Doesn’t it not harm the cows to milk them? Where are you going to get your protein? It says there right on the Food Pyramid that we need it!
I was programmed to perfection.
Invariably, the questions we ask say a lot about the assumptions we hold true. The ones I asked then assumed anthropocentrism: human interest as the omnipresent Trump Card.
Particularly, they assumed that the only possible thing wrong with eating animals was personally killing them, that drinking cow’s milk was fine so long as tugging on udders caused no pain, that the environment was rather irrelevant to agriculture, and that money wasn’t the driving force in disseminating cookie-cutter diet charts through the education system.
Unravelling these assumptions was the beginning of my journey to discovering my own ethics. I was forced to ask myself: what do I really believe? What way of being in this world do I feel is right?
I am often asked whether or not I feel more “energetic” since going vegan, and the short answer is yes. I do now.
The long answer is that, when I first went vegan, this was not the case at all. I moved into my dorm room, opted out of the meal plan, and survived off of instant noodles, potatoes, and peanut butter for an entire year.
Deciding to simply “follow the rules” of a vegan diet won’t make you happier and healthier. It’s veganism as an ethics that grounds your practice, that drives the choices you make for the sake of your body and the world around you.
What has come to increase my energy, both mentally and physically, is the excitement at “finding myself”—at discovering and practicing, on my own terms, the beliefs I wholeheartedly hold true, and the actions in accordance with those beliefs that grow my mind/body in ways I am proud of.
I feel more energetic because, in going vegan, I discovered the value in cooking and eating mindfully; in listening to what my body needs, not what plans, scales, or socialized standards tell me it needs.
Most importantly, I finally asked, ought we to live with the intention to contribute to this world as much as we are taking? To live as part of the world-system, not as conqueror of it?
While I no longer hold back in “preaching” the things I believe, I think it is important to always remember that nothing in this world is one-size-fits-all. Even when it comes to yourself.
On the personal level, what worked for you this day, this week, this month, might not be what you need the next.
In private and public discourse, we must remember that everyone has different relationships with their mind, body, food, animals, environment, and the planet at large; that much of our relation with food is emotionally-charged; that each of us is a localized body with a variance of fluctuating conditions of existence and being in the world-system; that gender, race and class are not irrelevant to these relations.
Food privilege is a very real thing, and must always be kept in mind and in dialogue.
Going to Whole Foods and buying every replacement/mock product under the sun for ten times the price is not available to everyone. A vast variety of produce 365 days a year is not available to everyone. Being “choosy” about the food you put in your body is not available to everyone.
Veganism being a “costly” lifestyle is a fallacy wrapped up in these sorts of assumptions. At its core, being vegan is being plant-based and sun-powered—the body as part of the Earth, not dominator of it—and plants are about the cheapest shit you can buy. Mock products are a luxury the same way anything you can’t grow in your backyard is.
Knowing where to find local, cheap produce is about the best piece of advice I can give to people making the transition on a budget. If you need or desire mock products to help you along the way, then you have to be able and willing to pay a bit extra for it. But if you are in the position to buy them, you are probably also in the position to healthily sustain your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs through plants alone—so indeed they are a luxury! It helps to remember that.
This same socio economic consideration must be made for all vegan practices, such as within the clothing and cosmetic industries. I cannot say this enough: SHAME IS NEVER PRODUCTIVE! It is a tool of repression, and we must always choose respectful pedagogical practices.
In my own life, I do my very best to abstain from purchasing fast-fashion and products tested on or made with animals. I am in the privileged position to do so, and so I believe I ought to.
However, it is always about intention, not being perfect. To grow at all, we must be open to learning, to being wrong, to not knowing, and to admitting when we find ourselves in these positions of vulnerability.
Veganism is about finding what works for you to live intentionally, respectfully, sustainably, and responsibly. It is about questioning your assumptions, and living your morals as they speak to your individual position in food and world-systems.
I pin-point the night I went vegan as the night that propelled me towards the anti-capitalist, left transnational feminist perspective I am proud to practice today, because it forced me to start asking these questions of myself. It was the night I began discovering the beliefs that drive me, and letting go of the assumptions that dragged me blindly along.