25 December 2006

On Being Vegan

When I was about eleven I told my family, "I'm vegetarian now." After a lot of hassle from them and one guilty Arby's roast beef sandwich, we began a tradition of them teasing me relentlessly for my food choices at every oppurtunity. At that time, I chose to stop eating meat because I thought that if I couldn't go out and kill it myself with my bare hands, I had no business eating it.

At sixteen I traveled to Jordan to spend the summer with family. I decided to give the vegetarian thing a break at that time, because I didn't want my aunts and Tata to go out of their way cooking for me, and because I rationalized that because the meat came fresh from some nearby farm, it was less inhumane for me to consume it. When I returned to the states after three months, I kept on eating it. And I didn't stop until over four years later. [I think it's also important to note that some of the politics that were so important to me in middle school and early high school gradually began to become less important to me during this time.]

Shortly before my twenty-first birthday, my new boyfriend began to interrogate me. Why had I become vegetarian? Why had I stopped? Why didn't I just take a look at this PETA video real quick? My response to these questions was to become very angry with him and to fight with him, asking him to leave me alone because I had other things to worry about. Telling him I didn't want to talk about this topic because I did not wish to be depressed about it. But, in a conversation about the rights of animals to not be used for human benefit, what is the depressing part of it? The fact that it happens, or my own complicity in it's happening? What can I control? Can I control an industry that is powerful enough to stand up to Oprah? No. Can I control my own actions? Do I make my own choices about the industries and companies I give my money to? Yes, I do.

I began to ask myself difficult questions, and I decided to become vegan because of the answers to those questions. For many of us who are of color and/or first/second generation, being vegetarian or vegan is generally unheard of in our families (Hindus are obvious exceptions to this rule). Vegans are posited as these flaky white hippies who are so absorbed in their own self-congratulatory ecstasy that they are blind to all other struggles. Vegans are seen as people without priorities, who see fit to criticize struggling families for feeding their kids mac and cheese and who describe animal subjugation as the "new" racism. Please believe that I am not saying that vegans like this don't exist; they do, and I don't appreciate them. For me, animal rights is one of many social justice issues that don't make sense without each other. We have to ask ourselves why we think it is okay to consume and use animals. Because we have always done it? Because our parents taught us to? Because we believe animals to be inferior to humans? Who else in our world has been made subservient because of similiar weak justifications? Who benefits from our collective inability to ask ourselves these hard questions?

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