Three years down the line, I didn’t expect to take this turn.
Despite the fact I never really was that strict of a vegan, I would love to have treats here and there, eat according to my context and experiences ( because really when one is in the middle of rural France, with minimal money and no cooking facilities, suddenly Lidl blue cheese didn’t seem like a sinister choice)
Yet still, the politics of plant based remained salient. I was a vegan because I was taking a stand against an industrial farming complex, which devalues the lives of workers and exposes them to contaminants, anti-unionisation threats, and the trauma of murdering and consistently witnessing the murders of other beings. To add onto this the level of industrial waste produced by particular animal farming is completely indicative of the neoliberal drive for profit, rather than securing food, water and land access to most of the world’s poor.
It seemed like the politics of veganism aligned with the values I held closely to me. I held dearly to the hope that prefiguration was key to transforming the world around me. How could I combat such an overwhelming and agonising anxiety? Rearing its head at every turn. Every time I would close my eyes to sleep, there it would be sitting in the dark and glaring at me: Climate change.
Even wit the ethics of alterity aside, the CO2 emissions from industrial animal farming are exceptionally higher than that of plant based agriculture, with beef resulting in 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g of meat. The fact that 96% of land mammals are either farmed animals or humans, demonstrates how the lack of regard for biodiversity is another devastating effect of human over consumption.
The problems of entire planet laid heavy on my mind, but how can anybody conceptualise the weight of the world alone? How could anybody really stuff the weight of the world in their hessian bag, and solve every problems by carrying their bag for life? I had watched enough documentaries to tell me that going vegan was the only reasonable choice. In this minefield of toxic contaminated earth space, plant based choices are the filters and purifiers of conflict.
The conflict really felt like it was my own. The first step to offsetting the privileges of living a comfortable life of food and financial security in the UK was admitting I was responsible for the lives of my sisters and siblings in the new world, left facing direct environmental destruction. A destruction made in the hands of duppies from old world pastures. The most immediate, and yet passive way to resolve this conflict was to stop consuming meat and animal products. This was my way to take a stand.
Throughout the past three years of grappling what it meant to be part of the vegan community, I have oscillated between places of absolutism and astuteness to the places filled with release and a lack of self control. In every space of veganism I placed myself in, I found comfort in the idea that my choices not to eat animal products were the solution to the crises of the world around me. I surrounded myself with vegan culture as much as possible, my online spaces were flooded with vegan groups, I attempted to convert friends and preach a message of veganism around me, I even wrote my university dissertation about the experiences of vegans of colour, in a framework of coloniality.
It felt fine to introduce myself as a vegan, but secretly I knew that I wasn’t even living up to my own standards of ethical purity.
In the summer of last year, I was truly in the height of love. My friendships had felt crystallised in such a way I’d never known before, I had such a great appreciation for my work life (some parts less so much), I had had such a beautiful experience seeing my sister graduate from her PhD, and spent time seeing my family open up in new ways, a profound vulnerability which I felt blessed to experience for the first time. I even had the true privilege of driving through the mountains and rural towns of France to Italy with my best friend, and certainly the love of my life at that point. Saying yes to the things I knew I shouldn’t exactly being saying yes to, but context certainly became crucial. For example, eating an all vegan meal made sense at home where I could have control over my choices, but in a remote valley with no places to buy our own food, the choice to be vegan was non-existent. Still, where I could control my diet, I would. But what did my veganism mean to me, when things felt like they were beyond my control? What did my veganism mean to me through pain?
There is no room around me in which to be still, to examine and explore what pain is mine alone
—no device to separate my struggle within from my fury at the outside world’s viciousness, the
stupid brutal lack of consciousness or concern that passes for the way things are
In times of feeling lost and seeking wisdom, words of Audre Lorde will always be resonate. This particular extract from “The Cancer Journals” comes at a part of Lorde’s experiences with white women and the trivialisation of Black women’s pain, that she is both “immortal” and “born to die”. The idea that Lorde is forced between two poles of living, and womanhood, her rages about the world around her and entangled to the deeply personal pain of cancer. Knowing what is your pain and what is pain that the rest of the world feels entitled to dictate is still a personal conflict.
Although my experience is incommensurable with such a vast and life changing experience of cancer, it is safe to say my own personal life has recently felt like it was falling apart in ways. After living in a relatively free and stimulating life, I found myself more isolated and lonely than I could ever remember. I had moved away from all my friends, I couldn’t afford to continue studying Anthropology and so found myself severed from these ways of thinking and learning. My home life and work life were thrown into hostility, in ways I don’t need to share in this blog, but all were contributing to my diminishing self-esteem. Finally, a nail in the coffin of what felt like true darkness and confusion, my partner and I broke up. The grief of our experiences truly pushed my sadness into a new place of desolation.
Suddenly, the only things I could ask of myself were taking my medication, trying to eat food in the day and getting out of bed. After an initial surge of saying yes to absolutely every outing I could, going for runs, going swimming, praying, cleaning, drinking, laughing very loudly at work, flirting and smiling at everyone; my walls began to break down. In the brief period where I was making choices to be vegan, and to stop smoking, it felt empowering to have control. But I then reached a crossroads, where letting go seemed to be my only option to move through the pain of my situation. Ruminating on all the things of my life which were doused in shame, the only way I could know compassion was to be within my present and to feel whatever I felt.
SO, there I was after a particularly difficult and draining shift at work, I was sat in heavenly desserts waiting for a waffle I had bought . It was covered in milk chocolate, tonnes of strawberries and Stracciatella, and so was I. As I sat there and I felt an overwhelming calm to myself.
How kind of me to eat my feelings? How kind of me to for once eat out of the pleasure and joy I know for myself? Rather than out of an obligation and guilt for the world
Again I found myself carving out this space where I could begin to know which pain was my own, despite moving through my choices with consciousness and compassion, the burden of entire world is not defined by my personal choices.