Long before I was aware of concepts like oppression and feminism, I learned about animal rights.
It started as love. I've had a deep love for animals for as long as I can remember, often preferring their company to that of humans. Growing up I could spend hours -- probably days -- sitting in the cornfields talking to mice, playing in the snow with my dog, or visiting the toads and turtles near my grandparents' summer trailer.
I also, for whatever reason, have never like the taste of meat. Even before I knew what it was.
I found out exactly what it was at age eight, when I witnessed a pig be butchered at my friend's farm. With a chainsaw. I ran away on the verge of an emotional breakdown, but later took the hooves home as a "present" for my mom in an effort to play it cool.
But to me it wasn't cool. I was horrified.
I started down my path of vegetarianism shortly after. Later on, in my late teens, ideas of animal liberation started to wend their way into my vegetarianism. In other words, it wasn't just out of a sense of love for animals, but of a sense of... well, I guess it'd be called justice, although concepts like rights and justice seem awkward when applied to animals. This was still long before I had any other sort of political awareness. I'd never heard words like feminism or anarchism or even liberation. It was more of a feeling. You know, daydreams of cows and pigs running through the meadows, free. Because they deserved to, not because I loved them.
I was vegetarian for many years, until someone asked me, "If you're concerned about animals, why do you eat dairy and eggs?" and proceeded to explain the horrors faced by dairy cows and chickens.
Soon after that, I became vegan. It was really difficult because cheese had been a staple of my diet for many years. I imagine my transition to veganism is what people who like the taste of meat go through when they become vegetarian. Being vegetarian for me was easy -- I wasn't really giving up anything that I actually liked the taste of. Going vegan was another story.
But a very enlightening story.
Going vegan was the first time I really paid attention to what I was putting in my body, the first time I paid attention to where my food came from, what was in it, how it affected me (physically, mentally, emotionally) and, how it affected the world around me (on a much deeper level than simply abstaining from eating animal flesh).
Going vegan was a life-saving self-intervention. Raised on processed foods -- junk, candy, rarely a fresh vegetable -- I continued to eat like that until well into adulthood. I didn't know any better. Being mindful of what I put in my body made me more mindful of how to care for myself. It led me directly to the ideals of DIY health care.
Going vegan was also one of the most effective ways of learning how to balance my own needs/desires with the world around me -- a quality that evolved into other areas of my life. It led me to discover the ideals of social justice, feminism, and, later, as I continued the process of learning and unlearning, the politics of anarchism. Anarchism as in mutual aid and support, cooperation, freedom from coercion and oppression.
Veganism is also what taught me to consider concepts of love and compassion as I live out my politics.
It was 10 years ago that I decided to go vegan. Several years back, just as I started having issues with the word "feminist," I started struggling with the word "vegan," as it seemed to be increasingly equated to say, replacing real cream cheese with Tofutti cream cheese, rather than a movement focused on animal suffering and exploitation.
Even more problematic in terms of self identity is that for the past year, I've been eating eggs and dairy. My politics of liberation and love for animals are still integral to my identity, but after years of refusing the advice of health practitioners from all across the spectrum (from conventional medical doctors to naturopaths to herbalists...) I decided to see for myself whether chronic health conditions would improve if I started eating things dairy and eggs. I'm deeply conflicted about this, and am trying to sort through all of those thoughts and feelings.
(If you're curious, I'd say I'm not sure, but am pretty certain that the emotional/mental cost of feeling shitty about my choices is probably outweighing any possible health benefit. I also want to point out that it's been very rare, in my experience, to encounter a health practitioner of any sort [conventional or holistic] who is well-informed on nutrition and health, so please be critical of anything someone is telling you about health and eating and do a lot of research/self-education.)
I'm running out of steam, but wanted to end with this. In my thinking and exploring of these ideas, I came across this blog, and this framing of veganism I appreciated:
...[V]eganism itself is not a privilege. That is, living a life that "seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose" does not necessitate privilege. The vegan philosophy is to cause as little harm as possible. It's not about abstaining entirely from all harm. Living as a human in a community with other humans causes some harm to some animals. Veganism is not about being pure and clean. It's about refraining from harming animals as much as you can, given your abilities.
Not only does the framing of veganism resonate with me, so does what I sense as a tiredness in the words.
It's tiring to deal with people's defenses when it comes to veganism and animal rights politics. It's tiring responding to accusations that veganism is a "privilege." Tiring to try and break through people's defenses to engage more deeply about food politics, our (individual and collective) relationship to eating, to the level of who has access to healthy food and who doesn't... Tiring explaining that just because veganism has been commodified and come to mean (in the mainstream) expensive vegan junk food that doesn't mean that's what it takes, or what it means, to be vegan. Tiring explaining that vegan food is plant food, is beans, is rice, is in other words not something that requires any more money than not being vegan. Tiring to see how infrequently veganism/animal rights are even considered in progressive and radical organizing/communities.
For now, I'm going to return to those daydreams of pigs and cows running free, and find the energy for step 2.