Saturday, January 25, 2014

Veg-Life and Privilege

Something I often ponder is the relationship between privilege and the vegan life.  I guess there are two branches of this issue in my mind.  First, what about all of the other suffering going on in the world?  I disregard any commentary that says caring about animal welfare is an insignificant pursuit because animals aren't as innately important as humans.  Animals are defenseless against the harm inflicted upon them by people, and I generally don't engage in any kind of debate about that, because it boils down to personal belief.  So that's not what I'm talking about here.  What I am talking about is, outside the debate as to whether animal's lives matter, why focus so much energy on animal cruelty, when  poverty, violence, discrimination, war, and countless other problems plague communities, countries, and the planet at large?  Am I doing enough to impact real change through this vegan lifestyle?  I think my first answer is that I won't ever feel like I'm doing enough.  As a Women's Studies major in college, I became incensed by inequity - things bothered me at a fundamental level, and I wanted to stop reading, get out, and do something.  When I started teaching, I realized that Gandhi's words, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," resonated with me even more deeply.  My students faced many challenges, both in and out of school, and although my life experiences differed vastly from theirs, the best thing I could do was to exemplify empathy, perseverance, tolerance, and dedication every single day.  Similarly, being vegan is a way of embodying an ideal of peace and refusing to accept cruelty at an essential level, and it pervades the choices I make daily.  This lifestyle serves as a basic groundwork for what I will and will not agree to or participate in just because it's the status quo.  What I'm saying is, I believe the first step towards change is living out your values in a very basic way.  I love the line from Man in the Mirror- "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change."  There are other ways I look to impact change each day.  As a teacher, I work to provide special education students with the same opportunities as their general education peers.  I seek to expose injustice to my students, while also promoting the idea that one person can make a difference, and leading students in developing their own activist philosophies and designing service projects dedicated to problems they care about solving.  Can I solve all of the world's problems?  No.  But I can live in a way that embodies certain values.

The second part of my inner monologue questions whether being vegan is realistic for the population at large.  A lot of what I write about - gourmet cookies, vegan restaurants, vegan beauty products - sometimes seems inconsequential when viewed through the lens of economic disparity.  I'm fully aware of the privilege associated with this sort of life.  I deliberately take a light-hearted approach to veganism in order to debunk stereotypes and to show that being vegan does not have to signify being miserable and deprived.  I do think about individuals who are living in regions where vegan-friendly foods are not as readily available, and people and families who are just trying to scrape by.  I do think that healthy eating is something our country needs to work on in general-- to me, paths towards eating more fruits and vegetables and consuming less soda and fast food are all in the same vein as the veg-life.  And those conversations are most important in low-income communities, where fast food chains are often the most widely-available food option, and healthy choices are harder to come by.  To me, it's another glaring form of inequity.  Do I expect everyone to become vegan?  No, but I do look for change that leads to a greater availability of healthy food choices.

My eighth graders always liked to say things along the lines of, "It doesn't matter if you don't eat meat.  There are plenty of other people who still do."  We could say that about any individual effort to impact change, whether it's participating in a 5K charity run or volunteering in a soup kitchen.  I choose to believe that the actions of one person do make a difference.  Whether or not that difference is immediately clear, the reverberations of our actions can never fully be known.


  1. You've missed a huge aspect to the advantages of being vegan. Aside from your observation that veganism [as it exists in the U.S. today] tends to be a 'high end' or expensive undertaking, consider this: if we fed humans with all the food we feed to cattle and factory farmed animals, we could easily feed the entire planet. In other words, veganism (along with population control) is the ANSWER to the worldwide famine issue, as well as reducing greenhouse gases (methane) and curtailing destruction of irreplaceable habitats and species displaced in order to clear land to grow cattle-feed crops.