Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vegans Need to Get a Life

While I was marching against the fur industry last Friday, I was told to “get a life” by a passerby with several big Macy’s bags, just as I have been for about the past fifteen years. Some years they have Bed, Bath and Beyond bags, other times bright bags from American Girl, occasionally H & M or Bloomingdale’s, often a clashing mix of bags from different places on both arms. What I think I am to infer from this casual comment from this stranger (and all the ones before him) is that I, fully ambulatory and not on the hunt for brains, nonetheless lack key inner qualities that constitute what Mr. Macy’s would consider a life. People have also said this to me when I was protesting wars, and when I have spoken out against violence in general, and it’s always pretty predictable: a muttered comment as someone rushes past, meant to be heard but not meant to be discussed.

It’s a shame that they always hurry by so quickly, though, because it never ceases to make me wonder: what is a life? What does it mean to be alive? Most important perhaps: how does someone “get” a life if he or she is not in possession of it? I figured that those able to identify those without one must certainly have one, so I decided to look to them to find examples of how we can know that someone has a life. 

I was expecting it to be more complicated but I found a really simple and clear answer.

People with lives shop, especially on Black Friday.

Apparently getting statisticians at the National Retail Federation to rock back and forth on their heels with delight by pushing, elbowing and stampeding to grab DVD players, flat-screen TVs, tablets, towels and sweatshirts is confirmation that one is in compliance with life-having. Individuals imbued with the powers of animation offer ample evidence of their aliveness by driving in circles around parking lots, stalking exits for shopping carts, shouting directives at family members with the ferocity of an especially cranky General Patton, and basically pummeling or trampling anyone who happens to get between them and a toaster oven at a deep discount.

More cautious life-possessors shop at places with generous points of entry. The real rogues go to the stores with the individual doors.

How do you know that you are alive? Your adrenaline hormone has been released, prompting muscular and circulatory action.

Just try to stand in a line in the middle of the night facing a shopping emporium if you’re not alive. I’d bet that you couldn’t do it.

Being alive means that you participate in shared experiences with others of your species.

It also means that despite being a driven, eyes-on-the-prize kind of person, you are smart enough to know when to combine resources for mutual benefit.

One’s ability to push and point a shopping cart toward a particular destination is further evidence of possessing life-having properties.

If you don’t feel that fire in the belly to get what should be yours – and to push, punch, elbow and jab if necessary to get your hands on it – that should be a red flag, alerting you to look into whether or not you were endowed with a life.

You could ask yourself the following questions:

Do you care about others, even when how they are treated has no real bearing on you personally? You need to get a life.

Do you speak out against cruelty and injustice, even if your views are unpopular and unwelcome? You need to get a life.

Do your core values inform your actions despite how poorly you fit in with mainstream society? You need to get a life.

Hot damn, I think I have my answer.

Were the people I encountered necessarily correct in saying that I need to get a life? I don’t know, but if I had a dollar for each time someone told me that I needed one because I care about others, I might have the money together to actually purchase one at Best Buy. (Which department do you think it’d be in?) At the very least, I could stand in a giant crowd of agitated, aggressive people and give it my best try. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thanksgiving When Vegans (Almost) Rule the World

It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving is supposed to be about family, abundance and giving thanks for the harvest and yet a certain fringe group of people insist upon making it all about themselves and their own selfish agenda year after year. They practically ruin the holiday, too, with the rest of us having to be careful to not upset them.  

I’m talking about the omnivores, of course.

Once again, they will show up at your beautiful vegan Thanksgiving meal and expect to be fed. They are so presumptuous, too: it’s as though they expect their hosts to bend over backwards, catering to their unreasonable, finicky and downright bizarre dietary whims. Most of what they eat seems to be the stuff of fiction. I can’t even keep up with what they do or do not consider edible. Pigs? Cows? Chickens? Lizards? Cardinals? I have no idea. So many weird things that they eat, such peculiar habits they maintain. Omnivorism is like a cult. It’s as if they’ll eat anything.

They will show up, too, because inevitably your niece or your neighbor or your son will know an omnivore who is all alone on Thanksgiving and you will open your home to him or her because you are a generous person. It’s always a disaster, though. The omnivores are so conspicuous whether they try to draw attention to themselves or not, making everyone uncomfortable with their mere presence. We just want to enjoy our delicious meal in peace and yet there they will be, reminding us of all those unappetizing things that we don’t want to think about, especially at Thanksgiving.

Can’t they just give it up? Gah! So strident.

No, instead of being like everyone else, they’ve got to make it all about them and their extreme lifestyle. I swear, half of them do it just to get attention. To keep the peace, though, we have to just deal with it. What upsets me, though, is that the omnivores act like their weird habits are more important than my traditions. Having a vegan Thanksgiving is a beloved custom of mine. I really don’t care if honoring my family’s traditions is offensive to others but they insist that their ridiculous habits also be respected. Isn’t that unreasonable? And they seem to want the rest of us to feel guilty that they’re in the minority. How is that my problem? Next thing you know, they’re going to want their own Thanksgiving parade or something because la dee dah, they are just so special and unique.

My advice to you? Just ignore them. Let them keep living in their little fantasy world. If they try to engage you in a debate, change the subject. It’s their fault that they have chosen to be so removed from reality but you still don’t want their bizarre lifestyle to take over your lovely event. Take control. Smile and ask them to please pass the sweet potatoes.

You don’t deserve to have your holiday ruined because of an omnivore at your Thanksgiving table. Enough is enough. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Personal is Political: Veganism is a Feminist Act

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from the motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton

I was born a feminist. I’m not sure where it came from – perhaps my dynamo of a grandmother, confident to the core – but growing up, I never thought that I was anything but a complete equal to everyone else. I was a natural feminist and when I learned that there were was a real need for it - that there were those who believed in arbitrary, illogical and repressive hierarchies - the fire within me to correct injustices was found its fuel source. When I saw kids throw rocks at squirrels, heard people make bigoted remarks, witnessed others being treated unfairly, my hands would involuntarily ball up into tight little fists. Even if I wanted to keep quiet, to not attract the ire of that bully down the block who threw rocks at the squirrels or the loudmouth at the bar years later, I physically couldn’t do it. It’d be like asking a volcano to please not explode. My feminism and my passion for equality and fairness were always fully interwoven and integrated.

Now here is the sad part, the whole falling out between me and mainstream feminism that left me so disappointed. I will concede that maybe I’m na├»ve. It’s quite possible that I’m just out-of-synch with the world around me. I have come to accept that I am stubbornly idealistic sometimes. This is all possible.  


When I came of age as a feminist in college the idea of intentionally adopting a patriarchal system of oppression was unthinkable. This is not to say that I was perfect by a long shot: I have a virtual walk-in closet chock full of skeletons just accumulated from the Booze Era of my life that lasted from ages 19 to 26. Even with a mean hangover, though, the idea was that I was trying to dismantle vicious systems of tyranny, not benefit from them. The thought of consciously participating in a fundamentally unjust and violent power structure once I knew about it would have been akin to keeping slaves simply because I could.

Animal agriculture is a historically and essentially oppressive one, one that asserts at its very root that “what’s yours is mine” if you don’t happen to be a human. Your milk, your eggs, your life. This is an entrenched patriarchal conceit, born of domination, and the idea that women, feminists at that, would accept this particular status quo is strange and troubling to me. That they would adopt it and wrap it in the parlance of quasi-feminist empowerment is especially unsettling. Yet I see photos of women with weapons standing over dead animals, grinning victoriously. I read grandiloquent accounts of slaughter, including one in which a woman was quoted as saying that she felt like “a goddess, an Amazon” after killing a chicken with her own hands. (Oh, and a knife.) I hear women speaking with obvious pride about shooting deer, killing the animals they have raised, taking them apart from limb to limb. Less overtly inspired by bloodlust, I know of avowed feminists who could “never” give up “their” cheese, who don’t pause to reflect on the lives of the chickens on the plate in front of them at their favorite Thai restaurant, who say that they consider their preferences first as a matter of self-empowerment.  

Here is the thing: when feminists are accepting and embracing the tools of oppression, it’s time to reevaluate things. Ladies, you have co-opted your own feminist principles and replaced them with maintaining your comforts instead.

Feminism is a social justice movement, one that asserts at its core that females are equal to males. No one deserves violence, injustice, suppression, and inequality simply because she was born with X and Y chromosomes, just as no Jews deserve persecution just because of the lineage they were born into or people of color deserve it because they are not Caucasian. We know this. Why are the animals people exploit and kill – those who were born to circumstances outside of their own control, just like all others – excluded from the sphere of consideration by otherwise thoughtful, kind, and progressive people? Because unrestricted access to animals is their right, damn it, and they will guard this privilege to the finish.

Feminism is about many things and it differs from interpreter to interpreter. I get that. If feminism implies through word and deed (or is also complicit by the lack thereof) that some females are more equal than others, though, this crosses into the troubling mentality that supports slavery and selective, self-serving habits over moral consistency. When females of different species are forcibly impregnated and have their babies and milk taken from them in an enforced cycle of pregnancy and birth until they are considered worthless, that is a crime against them and it is gendered. This is institutionalized, state-sanctioned violence and exploitation. Wouldn’t a feminist naturally take a stand against such abuse? Wouldn’t a feminist naturally not aid and abet such heinous cruelty? Wouldn't a feminist naturally disavow such distinctly unenlightened and unnecessary violence? 

I am a feminist because I believe that all beings were created equal. I am a feminist because I reject the common practices of patriarchal violence, no matter how culturally ingrained they are and beneficial they might be to me.  I am a vegan because I am a true blue, proud feminist. We have to be honest to ourselves and honest to each other: are those of us who believe in social justice going to go the distance for others or are we just going to remain in our own comfort zone? Are we going to be fearless as we create this new world order or are we going to accept business as usual, choosing comfort over challenging ourselves to be true champions for sovereignty of the body and spirit?   

Despite how disappointed I have felt by other feminists over the years, I am still one in my heart and soul. This won’t ever change. I am just ready for other feminists to step up to the plate and take the animals off of it. We have to never let go of a commitment to tenacious compassion.

We are the ones. The future of the world rests in the hands of the powerful and fearless vegan feminists.