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Today’s guest post is from my friend Hana Low, a tireless vegan activist, radical nurse-to-be, and force for change for human- and non-human animals. I’m grateful to Hana for submitting this amazing guest blog on whether vegans should get the flu vaccine. While I’m definitely glad that I got my flu shot–this is a particularly rough flu season, even for healthy, young people–flu vaccines are definitely a complicated topic from a vegan perspective, as they are not currently totally vegan.

As vaccines can be a sensitive topic on the internet among vegans and non-vegans, I’m posting this with the disclaimer that, overall, I very much believe in them, and spend a great deal of my time working to improve vaccination rates nationwide. As always, only respectful comments will be allowed. Any comments including personal attacks on either myself or Hana will not be admitted. I’m also not interested in generating a major debate about whether vaccines in general are awesome. There’s (unfortunately, in my opinion) plenty of other places to engage in those discussions elsewhere on the internet.

With that being said, I invite you to enjoy Hana’s thought-provoking post and invite you to share your questions and comments at the end.

Flu vaccine on Queer Vegan Food

Guest Post By Hana Low: Vegan Musings On Egg-Based Vaccines

Last week, Queer Vegan Food’s Facebook page posted, “Got a flu shot. Yay medicine. Just wish vaccines were all vegan…,” which expresses my complicated feelings about the ubiquitous use of animal products in this messed up world. Animal exploitation is so commonplace that animal (by) products are used in the production of everything from bicycle tires to glue. I agree with what Erik Marcus writes in The Vegan Guidethat we must do what we can to reduce harm (including harm to humans) wherever possible, and not obsess about attaining some impossible level of veganness in a flawed world.  (Better to spend the energy feeding and educating nonvegans, I say.)

I had to get a flu shot for nursing school, and no vegan version was available to me. Because viruses like the flu need host cells to replicate, both the nasal flu mist and the shot are typically produced in chicken embryos, and have been for decades. This is a problem: for the chickens who would need to produce hundreds of millions of eggs for the vaccine doses, for people with severe egg allergies, for public health professionals concerned about vaccine shortages in the case of avian flu, for immunocompromised patients, and for the environment.

Clearly, we must develop egg-free and animal free alternatives. Some options being developed replicate the viruses inside plants (!) or in vitro animal systems. The Picky Veganin a great post about her decision whether to get the flu vaccine as a vegan, writes that in vitro animal cell systems are still not vegan, but I would happily take a flu shot developed in vitro, because it would not have required the continued use and harm of a sentient being. I do think that the ideal, if scientifically possible and medically adequate, would be growing the vaccine in plant-based systems or consensually obtained human cells sustained on animal-free cell culture media.

The use of eggs in our flu shots is disturbing, and some folks have cited veganism as a “religious belief” that should exempt them from occupational requirements. Though my veganism guides my thinking and decision-making every day, I felt okay about getting the shot because the purpose was to protect vulnerable patients (though in my community-based dream nursing job, I wouldn’t need to get the shot anyway.) Some may disagree with me, but I interpret a refusal to get the vaccine for work as violating vegan principles of causing least harm, because by being unvaccinated health care workers could expose patients to infection and indirectly kill them.

The Picky Vegan mentioned taking a flu treatment, the antiviral Tamiflu, which, because it contains gelatin, is not vegan. However, if the difference between staying miserably, dangerously ill and getting well informs someone’s choice to take a medication, I would still affirm them identifying as vegan. As a public health type, I support preventing illness rather than treating it, even though vaccines aren’t 100% effective. Other vegans may forgo the vaccine and risk the non-vegan meds, rather than definitely take a non-vegan vaccine, which is their choice, though hopefully medical/scientific development will alleviate this problem.

We should absolutely develop human-based and in vitro alternatives to vivisection, which is better for animals but also for human health and safety. I think it’s up for individual people to decide where they fall in terms of medicines and vaccinations. We shouldn’t police one another’s choices because we don’t know one another’s medical needs and life experiences. As vegans, there are some good reasons for and against the flu vaccine. Some may decide their priority is preserving their and others’ heath, whereas other people may decide they aren’t at an occupational or health risk and go without. They should consult their healthcare providers and make that decision on their own consciences. I believe we all should do the best we can to reduce harm to all living beings, have grace for one another, and ride on!

[Editor’s note: For more great perspectives on the vegan vaccine debate, I recommend Choosing Raw’s post, Vaccinated and Vaccinated, Revisited, The Picky Vegan’s Vegan and the Flu Shot. Also, if you’re looking for a free and secure way to track and manage your vaccine information, I recommend using the app BeImmunized.]

hana for cavp

Hana Low is a queer and genderqueer ethical vegan of color living in Denver, CO. Shortly after becoming vegan they became interested in feminist-vegetarian politics and the connections between veganism and other struggles of liberation. They believe that veganism should not only sustain non-human animals and the environment, but also the human workers who produce our food, and that embracing the rich variety of plant-based foods on our planet is integral to building a sustainable future and healing one another from generations of unhealthy eating. Hana supports anti-violence work in the human realm as a board member and volunteer for the Colorado Anti-Violence Program, which works to end violence against and within LGBTQ communities in Colorado. A nursing student at the University of Colorado, they aim to bring intersectional analysis and radical gender/sexuality inclusion into often conservative medical practice. After graduating, Hana hopes to support first-time families in child development as a nurse home visitor for the Nurse-Family Partnership. And, because happy folks make for healthier communities, they also enjoy making art (musical, visual, and verbal), dancin’ the night away, sharing delicious food in good company, and two-wheeled transport. Follow Hana on Twitter

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As I sit here on a plush mauve couch in a stranger’s warm, well-lit living room drinking fair trade organic French Press coffee with soymilk and stevia, typing away on my computer, I feel really, really grateful, lucky and blessed.

If you’ve been checking the news lately, you have probably heard that Boulder and other parts of Colorado were recently hit damn hard by a historic flood. 

I moved to Boulder a few weeks ago. I wrote a post about it. Courtney and I had just moved into our new apartment four days before the floods hit.

At about 2:30am on Thursday, I awoke to Courtney telling me water was coming up through the floor (we chose a first-floor apartment–oops!) and that we needed to take action. The flood definitely came by surprise.

We have a really sweet landlord who coached us through the necessary steps to leaving the place–putting as much of our stuff as we could up on shelves and on top of the fridge and kitchen cabinets, turning off the power fuse box to avoid electrical issues, putting down towels wherever we could. Twitter confirmed roads were closed and there wasn’t a possibility to go anywhere outside of our building during the storm, so we brought our sleeping bags and blankets to the third floor of our unit and texted with friends in the area to see if they were out of harm’s way, and prayed for those were were vulnerable to the storm. We snapped a selfie to commemorate the crazy evening (look–we’re the Instagram generation!) and then tried to get some sleep in the hallway.

Flood evacuation selfie: 2:30a

Flood evacuation selfie: 2:30a

After some half-sleep, we were rescued by our landlord’s friend, a nurse who showed up in his shining black Subaru while there was a bit of a break in the rain. He took us to a nice home a few blocks away owned by a mutual friend of theirs, which also became home to other flood refugees. I am grateful for their kindness and generosity.

I checked the news and contacted friends and started getting a sense of the true devastation of the flood. Towns and homes destroyed. Our apartment was wrecked by the flood water, but thankfully we were able to grab our laptops, passports, a change of clothes and some rations. Nothing was destroyed that can’t be replaced.

I have to give a big shout-out to Tasty Bite, who miraculously sent me samples of their products to review right before the storm hit. I grabbed some of the yellow bags quickly on my way out, and have been so glad I did! Lots of delicious, easy-to-prepare quick meals have really helped out in a pinch. Tasty Bite will be my new go-to camping or emergency food supply, for sure. It tastes great and doesn’t even require cooking, though I have heated it up and served it with fresh greens.

Best flood food ever.

Tasty Bite is the best flood food ever.

The past few days have meant rebuilding in many senses. Courtney and I have since gone over to our apartment and pulled out soaked drywall, cabinets, and baseboards. Our landlord brought a crew of folks to get started on the construction, and has been amazing in every sense, working quickly to help us get back into our apartment–cross your fingers it’ll hopefully be next week.

Boulder and nearby towns are wrecked–roads destroyed, paths muddied, homes ruined–but there is a sense of resiliency as volunteer crews have already formed to help people and animals cope with the storm’s wake.

It’s been humbling to think of how many have been hurt by this storm. Boulder Pride was slated to happen today, and I agree with the organizer’s decision to postpone it. Now is not the time to party; it’s the time to restore, help out, and rebuild.

As I work remotely, I’ve been able to get some work done amidst this flood chaos, and have been touched by the kindness of the clients with whom I work who have witnessed this from afar.

The muddy Goose Creek path in Boulder, CO.

The muddy Goose Creek path in Boulder, CO.

The Goose Creek Greenway trail filled with mud after the flood.

The Goose Creek Greenway trail filled with mud after the flood.

The Boulder waterways are muddy and in need of repair after the flood.

The Boulder waterways are muddy and in need of repair after the flood.

The iconic flatirons enshrouded in clouds the morning after the flood.

The iconic flatirons enshrouded in clouds the morning after the flood.

A lot of places in Boulder have opened up again, including gyms, Whole Foods, and other local businesses. Life goes on. There is a lot of work to be done to repair what the flood has done to this city and its people, but it’s heartening to see some things springing back to life.

I have been blessed and lucky to be safe and to have been helped out by some truly kind and lovely folks, as well as to have such amazing friends and family who have checked on us and offered love and support from a distance. Thank you, sincerely–it means the world to me.

I hope to post more updates as things progress. Thanks again for all of your love and support, and for reading. xo

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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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ErinRed1

Amazing vegan activist/radio host Erin Red and her entertainment co-host Laura Yaz invited me to do a guest appearance on the radio show Erin Red Radio to cover the recent controversy surrounding Ellen DeGeneres and “happy eggs”. It was a great discussion (my interview starts about 1 hour in) and a great show. I was honored to participate and invite you to check it out!

photo-full

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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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