I became a vegetarian in October earlier this year after watching the film ‘Vegucated’ on Netflix. It was initially my intention to go vegan, but after a week of trying that and finding it incredibly difficult, I decided I’d be better off going vegetarian first. Now I am trying to phase particular foods in and out over a longer period of time so that transitioning into a vegan feels less overwhelming.
Becoming a vegetarian has been surprisingly easy for me. I’d wanted to stop eating meat for a long time anyway, so although I’ve had the occasional craving for fish or a burger, on the whole changing my diet to a vegetarian one hasn’t been too much of an issue. I’m not an amazing cook, but I manage to get by and I still enjoy eating just as much as I ever did. My main problem is that I eat much more cheese now than I used to, as many vegetarian options seem to contain cheese as a meat substitute. In the New Year I still hope to become vegan but I know I need to improve my diet as a vegetarian first.
For me, my feminism and my diet are connected and can’t be separated. Feminism is about dismantling systems of oppression and the meat industry is nothing if not a system of oppression, and murder. Since I got my cat just over a year ago the idea of eating a sentient being with a personality just no longer feels acceptable, so there’s that too. Training as a counsellor has also made it difficult for me to ignore cognitive dissonance. Counselling work requires a great deal of introspection and personal congruence so inconsistent thoughts, beliefs and attitudes (cognitive dissonance), can no longer be easily dismissed. The fact that I like eating meat, but I like and respect the lives of animals means I have had to stop eating meat to eliminate my feelings of conflict. The World Health Organization has also highlighted links between cancer and red meat consumption this year, so knowing there are significant health benefits has made the change easier too.
I find most people accept my reasons for becoming vegetarian and are respectful about it. The most negative responses I have tended to receive have been indirect and are from people attacking vegans and vegetarians for being morally superior and preachy. Sometimes I’ve found such comments hurtful. I personally try not to push vegetarianism on anyone or to be judgmental about the eating habits of others, but I will defend my reasons for going vegetarian if I am asked about it. I can’t deny either that I’m happy when I hear that someone I know has become vegan/ vegetarian or even cut down on eating meat.
I’m very much aware veganism/ vegetarianism are often commonly associated with white, middle class people rather than people who look like me. I was thrilled to find out via the internet that there are plenty of non-meat-eating black and mixed race folk out there! I’ve noticed that vegan groups on the internet either seem to be all white or all black rather than integrated. A real point of tension in the animal rights movement is the fact that some white vegans/ vegetarians use controversial arguments such as the following to promote their agendas;
‘Well people used to be racist but look how things have changed now. One day people will see eating meat is wrong and stop doing that too.’
This was actually a comment I heard at work. There’s quite a few reasons why comments like this are problematic. One is that the woman who said this obviously has no understanding of racial issues. She thinks we are living in some kind of post-racial society, so she is hardly an ally to people of colour who obviously do still face racism.
The other problem is black people have long been dehumanized, treated like and compared to animals. This happened only recently in the media when Serena Williams received some negative backlash after winning the ‘Sports Illustrated’ Sportsperson of the Year award instead of the horse she was pitted against. White people also regularly use the historical enslavement of black people in their arguments against meat eating and the poor treatment of animals, using triggering images of the abuse of black people (which still happens today in different forms), and comparing this to the abuse of animals. Now while I don’t believe in speciesism, when white people who know nothing about race tactlessly use black people in their arguments for promoting better treatment of animals, this may well put people of colour off from joining the movement, or from mingling with white people if they do start to advocate animal rights. White supremacy has taught us that animal lives are worth less than human lives, so black people are of course going to push back against being compared to animals. This just looks like more racism and ultimately it is a demonstration of white racism because it shows how black people’s feelings are not important in their activism. Also a lot of white celebrities in the public eye promote animal rights while ignoring black rights, and the rights of people of colour in general. Again this doesn’t endear the animal rights movement to people who are not white, or encourage people of colour to want to join forces with white people in animal rights movements if they do decide to support animals.
White vegans/ vegetarians also do little to include people of colour in the movement more generally and working class people are often excluded too. People of colour and working class people need different kinds of arguments for changing their eating habits which acknowledge their backgrounds, and they may need different guidance and support when it comes to how to make the dietary changes too. PETA did a controversial veganism campaign earlier this year comparing feeding children certain meats to allowing them to smoke. It was a campaign designed to shame parents, ignoring the fact that many of them may be struggling financially and unsure about how to change their children’s diets. While I advocate going vegan I know it is not an easy choice when you are on a tight budget, and good dietary advice and support from a professional are a must, especially with regards to changing the eating habits of growing children. It’s also time-consuming to convert to veganism because of the meal planning and preparation, and this may cause extra stress for parents. We can’t just assume different groups don’t face different obstacles to changing their diets.
There is an excellent video here on why people from marginalized groups should consider veganism which I really recommend;
I’m hoping in the future there will be more easily accessible resources, support and catering for people who decide to go vegetarian/ vegan.
Well, it’s early days for me overall, but having gotten through my first vegetarian Christmas (which I really enjoyed), I won’t be turning back. I have no regrets about changing my diet. I definitely need to do some networking to connect with more vegetarians/ vegans of colour though. Will I ever make it to vegan? I hope so. When I’m ready to make the change I’ll watch ‘Cowspiracy’! Films seem to work as powerful prompts for change for me. I hope if you are reading this and considering becoming vegan or vegetarian as a New Year’s resolution that this piece has been useful to you. Good luck with any changes, diet related or other-wise!
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