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vegan anniversaryAs of this week, I’ve now been vegan for nine years! In late August 2005, I transitioned from being vegetarian (I’d gone veg at age 12), to being fully vegan. (Note: You can read more about my transition to veganism and the ethical, emotional and spiritual reasons behind it in my essay in Defiant Daughters).

This morning, reflecting on my veganism, I decided to put together a list of nine things I’ve learned since going vegan nine years ago:

1. Going vegan means becoming part of a very special community of human animals.

When I first went vegan, I was an assistant counselor teaching sailing at a summer camp on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I was surrounded by hot dogs, burgers, mystery meat, chicken wings…typical stuff they serve at summer camps. I knew one or two other vegetarians, but I didn’t have any vegan friends. It was lonely and confusing to try to navigate going vegan by myself, but as soon as I got to college, I instantly joined vegan communities. It felt amazing to spend time learning from and spending time with other like-minded people. Now, I spend time with other vegans (one of whom is my partner) every day. Over time, this sense of community has only grown, and it’s one of my favorite things about being vegan.

2. The vegan movement still needs a lot of work.

There’s a whole lot of sexism, racism, homophobia, body shaming, and other crap in the vegan movement that shouldn’t be there. I’ve seen it from various perspectives over nine years, and what I’ve come to recognize is that not everyone approaches veganism from the same angle of trying to move away from all forms of oppression. The HSUS “hoofin’ it” hypocrisy is just another example of a mainstream “animal welfare” organization that takes a different approach to veganism than I (and many other vegans) do.

3. Veganism can be really, really easy.

I’ve been surprised by how easy it is to live as a vegan, in every way.  I really don’t think about how to be vegan. It’s so second nature to me, I don’t even remember what it felt like not to be vegan. I understand and empathize with new vegans, or those who struggle to make compassionate choices in our non-vegan world, but to be honest, I really don’t struggle at all anymore. It’s like breathing. I think that’s amazing.

4. Ex-vegans may be difficult to understand, but we have to be compassionate towards them.

I’m learning to be more compassionate towards ex-vegans, including those who find it necessary to broadcast their “change of heart” over social networks, blogs, and sometimes mainstream media. I feel a lot of sadness and grief about those who no longer wish to live their ideals, or whose ideals have somehow changed to condone cruelty and oppression towards other living beings. On some level, it just makes no sense to me. Still, as a vegan movement, we really need to figure out how to stay compassionate towards non-human and human animals, and find ways to keep the door open for any who may one day choose a vegan lifestyle again.

5. Going vegan for health reasons alone usually isn’t enough to keep someone vegan.

I used to work at a raw vegan holistic retreat center, and every week I’d see a new “vegan” who did it by going fully raw or just for the health benefits. A week later, they heard about new health benefits from eating raw goat cheese or some tiny fish ground up into capsules, and they’d jettison their veganism for the latest health trend. True, there’s health benefits associated with removing animal protein from your diet, but if the only reason someone is vegan is health, that probably won’t last long. We need to be honest about the fact that you can be pretty healthy on a non-vegan or vegan diet, so if that’s the determining factor, it’s usually not enough to keep someone eating plant-based for long. As a vegan movement, we’ve got to emphasize health benefits as well as the moral, environmental, and ethical reasons.

6. A lot of people feel threatened by vegans–including vegetarians, pescatarians, paleo folks and so-called meat-eating “environmentalists”.

This is something that surprised me. I try not to push my veganism on anyone, in great part because it isn’t effective, but I won’t hide my values. It’s really hard for me to listen to high-minded talk about being paleo or a meat-eating environmentalist or vegetarian, when I know that these things still contribute to animal suffering. But I’ve also found that a lot of people who fit into the above categories just don’t want to be shown their hypocricies. They feel threatened by veganism, or just not ready to embrace it. It’s weird, but it something we need to recognize and tailor our activism to address.

7. Random people will be very supportive of veganism, even if they’re not vegan, and that’s wonderful.

I’ve been so surprised and humbled by how many people have supported my veganism, even if they aren’t vegan themselves. In my day job, I do marketing for tech startups, and a few weeks ago had lunch with an amazing CEO who suggested we eat at a local vegetarian place for our team’s group lunch meeting. He’s not vegetarian, and I didn’t even know he remembered I was vegan (I may have mentioned it once, but again, it’s like breathing to me, so I don’t even notice anymore when I’m outing myself as veg). I was the only veg person who attended the lunch, but everyone went for it because they wanted to be supportive of my lifestyle. It was incredible, and completely unexpected. My non-vegan family has been also incredibly supportive, as have non-vegan friends. It makes me feel really lucky and grateful.

8. Having a vegan partner is really, really nice.

I know there are amazing vegan-omnivore relationships. I believe it can work, as long as you share other values. Truly, I have no judgement about this. But for me personally, it’s just been so unbelievably nice to have a partner who is vegan. (Side note: You should read her blog!)

9. Being vegan means constantly learning and improving.

lauren Ornelas, Mark Hawthorne, Food Empowerment Project, and others have helped me see that being vegan means constantly improving and learning. It’s not ok to be a vegan who consumes products that perpetuate cruelty towards nonhuman or human animals (like chocolate created through slave labor, or palm oil that contributes to destroying orangutan habitats, for instance). I want to be a better vegan in great part due to those who challenge me to grow. I thank them, and humbly accept that I need to continue researching and learning and adapting my lifestyle to be as compassionate as possible, knowing I won’t be “perfect” but can always strive to do my best.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you’ve learned since going vegan in the comments.

 

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Gay Marriage on Queer Vegan Food

At time of publishing of this blog post, there are currently 17 states in the United States that allow gay marriage (this is not including Utah, which recently allowed gay marriage for a very short window of time). In the movement for “marriage equality,” we have seen states allowing gay marriage, then having it taken away, only to have it restored later (California). We’ve also seen states that allow gay marriage, get it taken away, and have those unions validated but possibly will have no future marriages in the foreseeable future (Utah). Lastly, we’ve had states allowing gay marriage and having it indefinitely–thanks in part to the strikedown of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). If you’re keeping up (as we LGBTQ folks and our allies try to), whenever a state allows gay marriage, history (herstory!) has shown it may or may not stick.

In the wake of all of this, I feel it is necessary to express some serious concerns I have about a little-talked about side effect of the hokie-pokie dance of same-sex marriage legalization and de-legalization in various states: I call it, “The Gay Marriage Speed Trap.”

While I understand that the majority of gay marriages these days are between folks who have been in love forever and have been just waiting for the law to catch up (bravo to them!), many of us in queer communities either 1) haven’t wanted marriages for various political/social reasons and/or 2) haven’t been ready (ex/ we are in new relationships and/or feel we want to wait until we are older to make this life decision).

It’s really stressful as a young gay person to have states in the United States randomly allowing gay marriage for short windows (like Utah). It puts a LOT of pressure on us young gays or gays in new relationships to get married right away–after all, it may not come back for a year, five years, or potentially ever–so there’s a weird rush to go down the aisle ASAP. I wonder, don’t we deserve the same opportunity to deliberate about marriage as our straight compatriots?

My concern is that in the rush for marriage equality, many of us need to take a step back and look at what marriage means and whether it is right for us–especially right now. For my friends and fellow LGBTQ community members who have been with partners for many, many years, and have been planning nuptials in their minds forever–swift legalizations of marriage are wonderful. I am so thrilled for them, truly. But for those of us in our twenties, or for whom marriage wouldn’t be in the cards at this time no matter our sexual orientation, sudden legalizations of gay marriage (that may or may not be temporary as in Utah) can feel like a whole lot of pressure to get married before we’re ready.

As a pure coincidence, I recently traveled to Utah to spend the holidays with my partner Courtney and her (gay-friendly) family during the short window that gay marriage happened to be legal there. I did not anticipate the barrage of messages I received from distant friends and relatives who wondered if Courtney and I were planning to get married while in town! It hadn’t even occurred to me, but it makes sense that those who are not super close in relation would potentially think we were headed to The Beehive State to get hitched.

While neither of us feel at all ready for that step in our lives, I’ll admit: I thought about it. The “lack” mentality that sudden gay marriage legalization and then de-legalization causes is a real force with which to contend. A friend of mine got married in California before Prop 8, as she worried that if she didn’t before it passed (it was about to go through), she wouldn’t get the chance for a while. She told me she felt that she wasn’t truly prepared, and that the marriage wasn’t really right–but because of the legal situation, she felt it was necessary to make that quick decision. I also have friends from Connecticut who got married as soon as it was legal, but weren’t ready, it turned out, and had a nasty time trying to get a “gay divorce.” To be fair, “non-gay” marriages happen all the time under false pretenses, but these legal marriage speed traps do feel like a uniquely queer scenario. While it’s impossibly easy to get a “straight marriage” any time of the year in any state, getting a gay marriage isn’t always such an easy feat in each state. Can you blame some of us for rushing in before we’ve really considered if we’re truly ready?

The bottom line is that it’s super unfair that we LGBTQ folks have to deal with this. We deserve to get married to those we love when we feel ready, and to know that marriage will be there for us in the future. Those who claim to be “neutral” about same-sex marriage (I’m talking straight folks who aren’t openly homophobic but aren’t pushing for marriage equality, either) need to understand the serious implications on our psyches, hearts, and lives that having limited to access to marriage creates for us, including the feeling that many of us need to “grab marriage while we can.”

While we can be excited for rapid spread of same-sex marriage to many states, my hope is we can also remember to really evaluate whether a) we think marriage is right for us at all and b) whether we want to get married right now, just because we can, and it might not come back for a while (or ever) in a given state. I greatly hope that one day, this won’t be an issue–all states will have marriage equality, and will give gays and straights the same opportunity to deliberate and choose whether marriage is what they desire. I hope that our straight allies will support us in our efforts to gain the equal opportunity as they have to choose marriage out of love, and not out of fear that it will be soon taken away. I expect and hope herstory will be in our favor on this.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this. xoxo

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Never Read The Comments On Queer Vegan Food

The infamous “Never Read The Comments” tote bag guest poster Jamie J. Hagen spotted after Vida Vegan Con this year.

Today, Queer Vegan Food readers are in for a major treat: a really amazing guest post by writer/activist and scholar Jamie J. Hagen. I’ve long been a fan of Jamie’s writing and strong feminist-vegan social media presence, and am SO excited that she volunteered to share this personal and important post about the feminist implications of comment sections on online articles and blogs.

Jamie’s discussion is drawn from her experience as an editor of queer lady site  Autostraddle, and other sites. As a speaker at Vida Vegan Con this year, Jamie led a discussion about how to keep comments sections respectful AND maintain healthy discourse. It’s got my wheels spinning; How do online communities enforce respectful commenting while simultaneously encouraging healthy debate?

I’d love to hear what others think about the comments sections in blogs and whether you think Jamie is right that feminist spaces can benefit from a well-enforced comments policy. Her great questions allow us to consider our own experiences with comments sections, and I’d encourage anyone who feels moved to share to do so.

And now, the post you’ve been waiting for… ~ Sarah

Why I Read The Comments: A Feminist Argument For The Value Of An Engaged Comment Community

By: Jamie J. Hagen

As a freelance writer I’ve received incredibly adamant advice to read the comments. I’ve also received incredibly adamant advice not to read the comments. The worth in responding to comments is a somewhat contentious and confused topic, often overshadowing the potential value of an engaged comment community.

During my time as a Contributing Editor to the girl-on-girl culture website Autostraddle I became a big fan of the potential for conversation and community in the comment space. As a regular writer and reader of the website, I value Autostraddle’s efforts to promote a “safe-space” conversation with a well thought out comment policy.

Their comment policy begins, “We have really funny readers, and we love getting to know you and hearing your opinions. Dialogue with readers is so important to us, in fact, that we are working hard to make sure that Autostraddle remains a safe place for discussion as we get bigger and better.”

Covered in their policy are issues such as bad faith, fat phobia, and trans* inclusion and this has led to many constructive, fun, lively conversations moderated by Autostraddle community moderators. Further vegan, queer food for thought: Some of the members of Autostraddle’s comment community became best friends and even lovers during Autostraddle sponsored events and other offline venues. Some readers aren’t out as queer anywhere but online. Some readers don’t find support for their thoughts and feelings as queers anywhere but on online. Knowing the editors, writers and the comment community are all invested in creating a space to support queer readers who may not find that type of support anywhere else is constantly lauded by many community members.

When writing for other websites I seek to bring this same ethic in responding to the comments. For example, while writing for PolicyMic.com it was made clear that promoting our pieces by engaging with the commenters was encouraged, essentially required, to be a successful writer for the site geared towards a millennial crowd working to create a bi-partisan political dialogue.

From the perspective of someone who has been involved in Autostraddle and other feminist comment spaces I pitched the “Comments Are Your Friend” workshop for the vegan blogging conference Vida Vegan Con II conference in May of this year. As I imagined the workshop, it would offer a space to create a conversation about whether people read the comments, why or why not, and how we can make sure we participate in self-care when writing and commenting about the personal as political. Only after learning I’d be welcomed to host the comment conversation at Vida Vegan Con II did I discover the “Never Read the Comments” tote for sale at Portland‘s vegan grocery story Food Fight – so there‘s that!

At the workshop I opened the conversation for all to share their experiences with comments. Many attendees spoke to the difficulty of discussing vegan politics on personal spaces such as Facebook, but agreed there was a valuable opportunity to educate readers on the web about veganism by simply responding with a non-judgmental factual comment when possible. Attempting to change the minds of those trolling websites to get a rise out of writers certainly seems a fools errand, but a well-articulated comment left in response to a nasty or confrontational comment may reach dozens or even hundreds of readers.

Jamie Hagen and Laura Beck of Vegansaurus and Jezebel At Vida Vegan Con Conference

Jamie Hagen, Laura Beck of Vegansaurus and Jezebel and panel participants at Vida Vegan Con Conference

It’s hard to ignore the impact of gender-based and homophobic attacks endured by female and queer writers online. The recent campaigns by Facebook and Twitter to address violent and repetitive rape threats and the posting of rape videos on their networks speaks to the extent of the problem. Because of this reality, I feel those of us with the ability to build and structure a more feminist space in a blog’s comment community should consider and explore taking the time to do so.

Writing about queer politics, vegan politics or any other ethically charged topic can lead to some difficult and exhausting conversations. Creating a valuable comment space requires work, a well-developed comment policy and the ability to enforce it.  Whether a writer chooses to read or engage with the comment community will vary on context, time commitment to community building and meeting the needs of her own self-care.

Do you have experience engaging with constructive conversation in your comment space? If not, do you think a comment policy and more active engagement from regular readers and writers could shift the tone of a comment space?

Jamie Hagen

Jamie J. Hagen is a writer and doctoral student of Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts, Boston with a focus on gender and feminist security studies. As a freelance writer Hagen has covered queer and vegan politics, news, and culture for publications such as RollingStone.com, One Green Planet and Autostraddle

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Defiant-Daughters_1542

The book Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and The Sexual Politics of Meat, to which I contributed an essay, was published this month. Centered around the work of one of my all-time favorite authors and thinkers, feminist animal rights scholar Carol J. Adams, this collection of 21 essays by diverse women celebrates the legacy of Adams’ book The Sexual Politics of Meat and discusses new perspectives on these topics.

Writing my essay for the anthology was an incredible and challenging experience. It enabled me to reflect on the history of my personal coming out, including times that felt confusing, difficult and only sometimes hopeful. Being completely open about my sexual orientation has been a challenge at times and I’ve struggled with closeting myself in scenarios I discuss in my piece. Writing about coming out as vegan and LGBTQ for the book felt like another coming out. As many of us know, coming out is a lifelong process. Coming out in this essay was a gift and a powerful experience for which I am grateful.

In honor of the launch, various contributors, folks at Lantern Books, and Carol J. Adams hosted readings and events across the United States. Due to several happy coincidences, I was able to attend three of the readings/events to celebrate Defiant Daughters: a reading at The Last Bookstore in LA, attended by my brother Asher–the subject of my essay; a party at Mooshoes in New York, attended by some awesome New Yorkers and Carol J. Adams herself; and a reading at The Wooden Shoe anarchist bookstore in my current hometown Philadelphia, attended by a childhood friend and some rad Philadelphia vegan Twitter friends.

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That’s me with my brother Asher at the Defiant Daughters reading at The Last Bookstore in LA.

The thing is, while I had written about personal sexuality topics before, I had never read my work to crowds in-person prior to these readings, and this experience was scary for me. I have found that it is a lot easier to hide behind a byline or podcast interview than stare into the face of a crowd and speak openly.

Though I’ve said the words “I’m a lesbian vegan” so many times in writings and podcasts and to my nearests and dearests, reading them to strangers and loved ones aloud, in-person at the various Defiant Daughters events felt surprisingly vulnerable and scary. Everything about the readings was exciting and terrifying, like getting swept up by a gust of wind and falling in love and suddenly realizing I forgot to wear pants all at once.

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Contributors to the anthology Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals and The Sexual Politics of Meat

Seeing my fellow contributors looking dapper and speaking with confidence, I mistakenly assumed that I was the only one who felt so nervous about reading (I’ve since spoken with fellow contributors and we’ve realized we’re not alone in having felt nervous!) Since there were so many of us who contributed to this anthology, we never got to have a “team huddle” so to speak, save for mass e-mails of encouragement from Lantern editor Kara Davis. This morning while listening to contributor Jasmin Singer’s take on the launch on the Our Hen House podcast this week (Note: all proceeds from the book go to the invaluable work of OHH, yet another reason to order your copy if you haven’t already done so!) including a discussion about how nervous she was before this reading, I realized that even those who seem completely outwardly confident can feel butterflies when it comes to public speaking on tough personal topics.

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Carol J. Adams, author of numerous books including The Sexual Politics of Meat speaks at Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC.

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Mooshoes Defiant Daughters launch party sandwich board advertisement.

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That’s me, reading my essay “Brother Knows Best” at The Last Bookstore in LA–in front of my brother!

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Defiant Daughters Contributor Jasmin Singer at Bluestockings Bookstore in NYC.

Anyone who’s listened to Jasmin speak over the past decade at myriad vegan events or who has heard her on her podcast knows she seems at home in front of an audience. This is why I found it so powerful and brave for Jasmin to admit that she also felt so vulnerable reading her essay, which touches on some of the same coming out themes as mine.

I am definitely a beginner when it comes to performing in public, and feel much more comfortable hiding behind a podcast or the written word. Sharing our personal truths in front of a group of people–strangers or otherwise– is intense. Public speaking expert Josh Pais did a great video interview with his B-school mogul wife Marie Forleo on how to overcome fear of public speaking. Pais described the “rush” of energy that we feel before we get in front of a crowd as part of the excitement and energy inherent to delivering our truths to a crowd. Pais’ advice–to let ourselves feel our fear and emotion fully to allow it to pass naturally–has been helpful for me in the three speaking events I’ve done for this book.

In a way, publishing with so many wonderful women has been the most humbling experience. Many accomplished speakers, activists,  PhD candidates, artists and writers are among those who grace Defiant Daughters‘ pages. In my rush to appear like an “author,” I felt shame that I wasn’t already comfortable in my skin in front of a crowd like so many of the other contributors. I shuddered at a lot of the pictures and videos of myself from the events. I felt body image issues come up when I saw unflattering images of myself, mouth agape while speaking, and cringed when I saw myself on video. I’m afraid I’m not as suave as I’d have hoped, but I’m learning to sit with the discomfort of these feelings. They are my own issues to move through, of course, and I didn’t realize how much I still have to work on in the public speaking, body image and self-love departments. This realization of what I still need to learn is one of my biggest blessings of this work.

Though I blog at Queer Vegan Food and am out to everyone I know, coming out to new people does at times still feel intense for me. What this experience of being involved with Defiant Daughters has taught me is where I am as well as where I want to be. I want to be able to overcome my shyness so that my work can focus on helping human- and non-human animals. I am committed to overcoming my personal insecurities around being visible in order to be a more effective voice for the voiceless.

Have you ever felt nervous about speaking in public, or coming out in any context? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Ellen revealed on her show that she is no longer vegan.

Gay icon Ellen Degeneres broke my heart a little bit today when she casually revealed during a recent segment on The Ellen Show that she’s no longer vegan. In an interview with Grey’s Anatomy actress-come-backyard chicken wrangler Ellen Pompeo, Ellen Degeneres said:

“We have neighbors who have chickens, and we get our eggs from those chickens because they’re happy.”

While I was admittedly saddened that one of our amazing vegan-queer icons is no longer a vegan, I am glad that Ellen admitted to her egg eating, because I think her belief that eating eggs from chickens that are “happy” is common among the elite Eco-conscious set in Hollywood and beyond. The belief goes a little something like this: Happy chickens = happy eggs = we can all eat eggs and no longer be vegan but still be ethical eaters, because, hey, the chickens are happy, right?!

While many would never eat flesh and went vegan because of the horrifying ways that the egg industry is tied to the poultry industry and the dairy industry tied to the meat and beef industries, some consider the notion that there are in fact cases where chickens happily give up their eggs to humans and that these chickens and these eggs are somehow ok to eat. Whether you’re in favor of an Abolitionist approach to veganism or if you fall into The Humane League camp that spends its time and money advocating for cage-free “humane” eggs (which it turns out is an almost meaningless category when it comes to whether cruelty is involved), the truth is that backyard chicken farming can be downright dangerous for humans, especially in some cities where unsafe lead levels may get into eggs eaten by humans. The New York Times recently reported in an article entitled “High Lead Found in City-Sourced Eggs” that backyard eggs–what Ellen referred to as eggs sourced from “happy” chickens–can test very high for detectable levels of lead within the city limits:

Preliminary results from a New York State Health Department study show that more than half the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike store-bought counterparts. (Source)

I believe that there may be conditions where chickens are raised kindly by humans. I have seen these conditions with my own eyes, on friends’ farms and at farm animal sanctuaries like Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Woodstock, NY, which is where all proceeds from the upcoming Queer Vegan Cookbook will go. I will not use this space to debate whether a chicken can be happy giving up its eggs to humans in any circumstance. What I want to share is that many, many vegans are considering eating backyard eggs, raw “humane” milk (I see this a ton in the raw food movement, especially while I was working for 2 years at an all-vegan rawfood retreat center where many folks who visited and who worked there chose to eat trendy raw animal products). As a vegan movement, we need to address this issue with intelligent studies and science showing the dangers of eating backyard eggs, the environmental impact of advocating for backyard eggs, and the gross potential for mistreatment of chickens when they stop producing eggs.

Carol J. Adams suggested I title this “Why Celebrities And ‘Happy Chickens’ Don’t Surprise Me,” which in retrospect is a much better title. While I commend actresses and performers for wishing to care for chickens and treat them humanely, I wonder what will happen to these chickens when they stop laying eggs, or if they find lead in the eggs? I have a hard time thinking that every Hollywood eco-conscious person will suddenly want pet chickens once they stop producing–will they then justify turning them into “happy” humane chicken meat? It’s a slippery slope.

I am grateful to Ellen Degeneres for all of the work she has done to help animals, even if I disagree with her choice to eat backyard eggs. I am glad that she has come forward with her egg-eating, and hope that we can use her story as a springboard for having a real discussion about the implications of backyard chicken husbandry.

What are your thoughts?

[Note: There is also a pretty major discussion going on over at Vegansaurus, where I posted another version of this article. I'm glad this is being talked about!]

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Finding a Niche For All Animals: A Conference honoring the ecofeminist work of Marti Kheel held at Wesleyan University

This weekend, I attended a conference honoring the life and work of late vegan ecofeminist scholar and activist Marti Kheel. The conference took place at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and was organized by Wesleyan professor Lori Gruen and one of my personal heroines, Carol J. Adams.

Marti was the author of the classic ecofeminist book Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective, which, according to Marti, “seeks to heal the divisions between the seemingly disparate movements and philosophies of feminism, animal advocacy, environmental ethics, and holistic health.” What drew me to Kheel’s work as an undergraduate at Vassar is that it outlines an ecofeminist philosophy that acknowledges the crucial roles of empathy in activism. It has always made intuitive sense to me to apply my “feeling” self to my activism.

The late ecofeminist vegan Marti Kheel.

I love how Marti explained that killing animals is wrong on “logical” grounds, but that we can also argue that one’s feelings about animals, compassion for their lives, and empathy for others’ suffering are valid reasons to be in favor of a plant-based diet.

Marti was a fantastic, determined, strong-minded activist, and a cherished friend to many within this movement and beyond. It was inspiring to see the ripples of her influence through the words of many of her friends and colleagues who spoke at the memorial the first evening of the conference. After a documentary shown about her life and work and a wonderful speech by Marti’s friend and colleague, The Sexual Politics of Meat author Carol J. Adams, other folks stood up and spoke about their personal connections to Marti. Many at the conference had worked very closely with her, including those who were active with Feminists For Animal Rights (FAR), a group Marti created based on her vision. Others had volunteered with Marti for animal rights causes or had been influenced by her during their academic and activist careers. While I did not speak at the memorial, I am lucky to say that I did have the privilege of meeting Marti several years ago while I was living in the Bay Area (she was a raw vegan and we met at an Oakland raw foods event organized by a mutual connection) and we kept in touch as I worked at a raw vegan center which she had visited before we’d met.

Just after meeting Marti, she instantly connected me with queer vegan women’s events she organized in the Bay Area, and we corresponded over e-mail about holistic health, and things related to a book project my partner and I were (and still are) working on about the intersections between holistic health, veganism and LGBTQ communities. The last time I heard from Marti was on October 5, 2011 in an e-mail letting me know she was sick with cancer and that she wanted to help more with our book, and that I should e-mail her questions and ideas quickly because time was of the essence. A few weeks later, on November 19, 2011, I got news that Marti had died. While I hadn’t known Marti as well as others in attendance at the conference, and we were only beginning to discuss and collaborate on ideas, I have been so humbled and grateful that even while sick and facing the end of her life, Marti was immensely committed to helping others and advance the vegan movement.

Heartwarming stories were shared at the memorial portion of the conference including a beautiful story Carol J. Adams told about how Marti began her animal activism as a young person refusing to pose in the family photos unless her family’s pet cat could be included. Several members of Marti’s family were in attendance, and shared how her compassionate approach to veganism influenced them and made more inspired to question aspects of their own lives.

Carol J. Adams speaking at the Marti Kheel Conference.

Panels at the conference referenced Marti’s Ecofeminist work and discussed how Marti’s compassionate approach to activism was infused in every aspect of her life.While the conference was primarily academic in nature–terms like “praxis” and “problemetize” were included in many panelists’ talks based on papers they’d written for the conference–there were great inclusions of practical approaches to activism that I found heartening and inspiring. My friend Lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition gave a great talk about how her work with FEP considers food justice as a complex issue that requires looking beyond simply checking to see if ingredients are vegan. We must ensure that they are ethically sourced, as in the case of her nonprofit’s commitment to identifying truly ethical vegan chocolate companies that do not trade in child slave labor. (Note: Please sign the petition asking the makers of Clif Bars to disclose where they get their cocoa beans!) Lauren also discussed the importance of a vegan activist approach that is respectful to the needs of diverse communities.

Absolutely inspiring, witty and brilliant vegan duo Mark Hawthorne and Lauren Ornelas.

Theorist Greta Gaard spoke about ecofeminist theory and practice, and mentioned queer sexuality in the context of animal rights (which I loved).  Other talks I found inspiring included pattrice jones’ discussion of her queer-run animal sanctuary Vine Sanctuary, and about how they have all of their important meetings standing up in the barn while surrounded by animals. patrice said a line which really rang true: “All the stuff we really want is free.” patrice said to share with paleo dieters and purported feminists who eat meat: “Tell them that eating meat is something you do to someone else’s body without their consent.” What a powerful and accurate thing to say!

The first evening of the conference was catered with delicious vegan sushi, appetizers and gluten-free vegan treats from a local Connecticut vegan bakery:

Vegan sushi and chocolates served at the Marti Kheel conference.

Mushroom polenta cakes served after the memorial portion of the conference.

Lunch on Saturday was 100% vegan and delicious.

Ivory of vegan myths debunked fame (who is an all-star, best ever vegan conference buddy, the best a gal could ever hope for!) and I met in NY Penn station (I came from Philly, she from Brooklyn) and traveled to the conference together. We had the amazing good fortune of meeting some really wonderful new friends Andrea and Danielle at the conference who convinced us to stay with them in Branford, CT (near Wesleyan) and have a late-night persimmon and almond milk Greek yogurt party instead of staying at a hotel. It did not take too much arm twisting ;) We had a wonderful time bonding, chatting about our paths to veganism and how we all love plants (PLANTS!)! It was amazing to find some queer vegan women kinship and make incredible, thought-provoking, hilarious new friends!

Vegan lady friends! L to R: Danielle, Andrea and Ivory!

All-organic, fair-trade coffee was served with some soy mylk on the side.

Ecofeminist Greta Gaard speaking about Marti Kheel.

Wesleyan University’s beautiful campus.

Posing after lunch with my heroine and friend Carol J. Adams.

I got to meet Ali, fellow Vassar woman and author of the fabulous vegan food blog Farmers’ Market Vegan!

Ivory, Andrea and I had a great time at the conference!

One activist spoke about her ethical dilemma in not being able to find a vegan infant formula and needing to procure one immediately for her infant in the ICU. She said the D3 in the product was sourced from lanolin, which is from sheep, and that choosing that product was very difficult for her but ultimately was what was necessary to save her son’s life.

After the panel, I commended the activist for finding compassion for herself in this difficult situation, and I suggested the option of reaching out to infant formula brands that use all-vegan ingredients except for the non-vegan D3 and asking them to use vegan D3 in products now that it is available. This was something the panelist had not considered doing, and I think it’s a good example of where businesses and academics can work together to find solutions to problems.

I currently work for a vegan business and have worked for other vegan businesses in the past. I believe in the importance of academia and the influence of scholarship in shaping ideas that later become practiced throughout activist movements, however I also feel it is crucial that we connect the dots and work with businesses to provide vegan alternatives. I think a more vegan-friendly marketplace is a great goal for academics and non-academics (lay people?) alike, and was grateful for the chance to discuss this with her.

My former professor/friend Jill Schneiderman and others admiring the next generation of vegan activists.

For me, Finding A Niche For All Animals involved honoring Marti Kheel and celebrating her legacy, meeting new friends, seeing old friends, connecting with visionaries and a rare and incredibly sweet private lunch with Carol and Ivory in which we discussed our work and plans for the future. I leave with a renewed inspiration that vegan activism must always come from the love and empathy we have inside us that extends outwards to those around us. Thank you for reading.

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A recent post in the rad queer ladies’ blog Autostraddle named Queer Vegan Food a top queer food blog. (Hooray!) Since the post went up, I’ve gotten a bunch of new readers, many new blog views and comments on older posts. I mention these things because I’m really grateful that more LGBTQ people are checking out this blog. Not all of the food blogs mentioned in the Autostraddle post were vegan or vegetarian, and while I respect the diversity in our community on all levels, I do feel strongly that a compassionate diet deserves a place at the queer table, so to speak.

I created Queer Vegan Food because I wanted to contribute to broader discussions about the interconnections between oppression against LGBTQ folks and against non-human animals. I believe that people of all sexual orientations can benefit from a compassionate diet, and that there are particular overlaps between the marginalization of queer human animals and our non-human animals companions, and I wanted to use this blog to talk about and help each other understand them.

I’m glad that more queer ladies may find my blog thanks to Autostraddle. I hope that this will continue to be a blog where people of all orientations and genders feel welcome.

Since I created this blog, I’ve heard from numerous people on all ends of the sexuality/gender spectrums who feel similarly passionate about these connections. I’ve read many inspiring pieces online that inspire me to keep learning and sharing about this topic. Check out what some of our queer community bloggers are doing in the realm of vegan food, culture and activism:

  •  Our Hen House has a section called The Gay Animal which addresses queer-vegan interconnections.
  •  Ari Solomon and others participated in a Veg News discussion that is a great primer on many of these issues.
  • My friend and former Vassar classmate Rachel Lee authors the hilarious and amazing blog Vegan Gluten Free Karaoke. Tegan and Sara karaoke and vegan food? Yes please!

I appreciate that this blog can add to these discussions. I thank you for reading, and hope to keep sharing recipes and ideas that broaden the discourse on how we can nourish our communities and ourselves.

Image.

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