But wait, there's more! My co-presenters Maeve Connor and Jamie J. Hagen and I are committed to expanding the dialogue initiated yesterday into a semi-permanent blog/web project that addresses the intersectionality of veganism and AR with other social justice movements. And we want participants and contributors! We haven't nailed down any firm details yet, but we will be updating the Vida Vegan Con Facebook page as well as maintaining an e-mailing list of interested contributors and readers. If you weren't able to attend but are interested in participating in this project, please drop me a line and I'll make sure you are in the loop! My email address is:
Download/View Handout (pdf)
Food is an emotionally and politically charged issue- it’s hard to think of any element necessary to human survival as fraught with meaning and currency as that of obtaining, preparing, and eating food. Whether we like it or not, we as vegans are making an enormous political statement via our diet- one that, as we all know, can be interpreted very differently by different people. As the politics of food are interwoven with all aspects of life on this planet, we as vegans inevitably find ourselves in stories like the ones truncated on your handouts. However, like these stories, our perspective is just one facet- our goal in moving veganism forward is to inspect the other facets of those stories.
Despite the unavoidable reality that our ethical choices are inevitably political ones, there are a distressing number of those who would use the cause of ethical veganism or vegetarianism as an imperative to say and do things that insult, demean, or exclude other vegans, future vegans, and vegan allies [handout]. It’s our imperative as vegan activists to be cognizant of intersectionalities between our movement and other social justice movements, and to check that kind of exclusionist thinking in our own community through constructive and mature dialogue.
But why? Even though we’ve embraced a lifestyle that, through its political nature, often thrusts us into situations with various minority or so-called “outlier” communities, why is it our responsibility to validate or connect to those other communities? There are two very simple reasons, and they’re same two reasons why many of us went vegan in the first place: Firstly, the ethical belief that it’s the right thing to do. Secondly, the strategic belief that it’s the most sensible thing to do.
Speaking ethically, it is my personal firm belief that the fundamental conceit behind most forms of oppression is the institutionalized belief that an aspect or attribute of one form of life is inherently superior to that of another—be that aspect gender, race, sexuality, wealth, or species. Therefore, it is our moral imperative as able and ethical people to say “No” to that conceit, and to challenge it at every opportunity. As vegans, we can recognize the ethical approach- many of us are here today because we examined our own ethics and adjusted our lifestyles accordingly. As vegans we recognize the dignity and autonomy of sentient life- and this includes our fellow humans.
But in addition to just plain being the right thing to do, integrating veganism with social justice movements is a winning strategy. The best that a movement in complete isolation can hope to achieve is to sustain itself. When movements are open to all, including and especially allies, we can be more successful together. For example, Betty Friedan is known for being instrumental in kick-starting third wave feminism- but she is unfortunately also known for being dismissive of or downright hostile to queer women, working class women, and women of color. Third wave feminism could not grow, develop, or affect real change in society until it was propelled by a true spectrum of women and male allies. Similarly, veganism can only go so far if we insinuate that all other struggles are secondary to those which our ethics have deemed important to us.
Unlike other movements, veganism has an unusual advantage in that our allies have the opportunity to actively join us by adopting an ethical diet and compassionate lifestyle. Which is why it’s that much more important that we are good ‘ambassadors’ of veganism. And as we all know by now, we are de facto ambassadors of veganism to most of the omnivores who meet us, whether we like it or not. If we act our ethics- and our ethics are compassion- we will demonstrate that veganism is a natural extension of the social justice that our allies and ourselves seek. If, however, we make derogatory statements or take actions which “other” and alienate those around us, we paint all of veganism in a negative light.
You may not personally espouse all the beliefs that each of your allies do, and that’s okay- just as there are many reasons to be vegan, there are many reasons to join or support another movement. As long as you find the one that works for you, then the only thing that matters is your consideration and support. You may also make mistakes- although you may never say something like our ‘bad vegan ambassadors’ did, you may make a faux pas and insult an ally. That’s okay, too- just like veganism, being an ally is a journey, not a destination. What’s important is that you apologize, learn from your mistakes, and move forward. Being an ally is not just about giving support, it’s about acknowledging that you are there to learn from others, and showing humility accordingly.
Ultimately, when in doubt, you can always ask yourself: is this helping the animals? It’s kind of a vegan joke, I know, but it’s also a pretty good way to gauge whether you’re taking yourself too seriously and whether your open-mindedness can spark an interest in veganism in your new friends.