Y’all, I have a confession to make.
I think I’ve written here and there about the fact that I used to be vegan, and I’ve gone a little bit into why I chose veganism, and why it’s a choice that I actually would like to make again at some point in the future. What I have elided from these discussions is the fact that when I was vegan, I was That Annoying Vegan.
You know the one.
Belated apologies to all the people who knew me when I was vegan.
Food politics is a fraught and complex debate. There are layers of classism and ableism that go on with assumptions about what people can eat, what people are capable of preparing, what kinds of foods people have access to. When I was in the foodie movement, a big part of the work that I did was working towards universal accessibility. Making more choices available to people so that they could actually have an opportunity to make those choices. And that included everything from getting fresh foods into food deserts, to recipe testing to find things that could be easily prepared in short amounts of time with minimal kitchen equipment.
There are still people in the movement who are doing that, which I think is awesome, and I support them when I can. But a lot more of the movement is about lecturing people. There’s a baseline assumption about people, that everyone has access to the same things and the same disability status and is in the same social class and doesn’t have children and doesn’t…and so on. And so you get these absolutely insistent and ludicrous demands that are just laughable, and those demands turn people off, because they send the message that the movement isn’t for them.
That’s why I left the movement; because I felt like I was trying to provide people with options and the power to exercise those options and the people around me were either leaving people out for not meeting their standards, or making demands about what people should do and not considering context at all. ‘Community outreach’ turned into ‘well, you should eat fresh vegetables with every meal. What’s that? There’s no store that carries vegetables in your neighbourhood? Well, you should go to another neighbourhood. What? There’s no public transit? Well, drive, obviously. You don’t have a car? Get things delivered!’ and so forth.
I believe that everyone has the capacity to make informed decisions, if provided with the tools to do so. And I trusted people in the communities I worked with and for to be able to make their own choices. A lot of people wanted to be able to make the choices being dictated by the food movement, but were not empowered to do so, and were understandably unimpressed by the lecturing. How does being told what to do help? How does being informed that you are doing things wrong help? How is being told to accomplish the impossible going to accomplish anything? You can’t get blood from a stone, and you can’t get organic grass fed in the depths of minority neighborhoods, either.
Which explains why there are groups like Vegans of Color that are focused on specific issues that are not being discussed or tackled, not just in the food movement, but in the veg@n movements and the animal rights movement. Because, well, these movements can be pretty alienating if you are not someone who fits within some very specific parameters. And it’s unfortunate that these discussions need to take place in separate spaces that are specifically designated for them, that it’s very difficult for people to have these conversations in the mainstream foodie/animal rights/veg@n movements, because people are clearly just not ready for those conversations.
It’s so much easier to say ‘well, everyone should just buy local’ and to leave it up to ‘everyone’ to figure out how to do that. It’s all about putting the burden on individuals, instead of attacking the institutions that contribute to the lack of choice. Are some folks in these movements going after institutions? They absolutely are, and that is absolutely great, but at the same time, they are alienating a lot of people with the rhetoric they are using when they are not talking about institutions. People who are alienated tend to, understandably, reject that which is alienating them and create their own movements, sometimes redundant ones.
And when these people then say ‘well, you should partner with us’ to correct that redundancy and get more efficient, is it really that much of a surprise that people say ‘no’? Why should people who have been repeatedly abused for not being good enough, for not trying hard enough, ‘partner’ with the very people who commit that abuse? Especially when the ‘partnership’ so often takes the form of a dictatorship that doesn’t consider community limitations, cultural values, and other issues, but rather assumes that a cookie-cutter solution (‘here, have a community garden!’) will magically bring everyone into the fold?
I used to tell people that not eating animal products is easy, and that anyone who ‘claims’ to ‘need’ animal products just isn’t trying hard enough. That making complex vegan meals is really quite simple, and I didn’t see what the big production was. That everyone should become vegan immediately, overnight. I would roll my eyes when people bought, consumed, or discussed animal products around me. I would stridently insist on kicking up a fuss at restaurants. I ran roughshod over food allergies, disabilities that can limit food choice, parenting issues.
I was That Vegan. The annoying one that will not shut up, that centers ou own experience in every conversation, that assumes if ou could do it, so can everyone! You must just not care about [animals/the environment/God/etc.] if you can’t commit to going vegan right now. I mean, really, what have you been waiting for.
And That Vegan is one of the core problems with the movement. I shudder to think of the number of people I turned off veganism forever with my ferocious evangelism.