Fifteen years ago today I split a bowl of ice cream with my friend Stacy, hours before I graduated high school. It was the last time I’ve knowingly eaten non-vegan food. Fifteen years! That day we said, ‘Let’s try to be vegan until the Earth Crisis show in two weeks.’ Like many activists, I got involved through hardcore music in the mid-90’s. I never would have imagined that 15 years later Earth Crisis would send out a message about one of my projects. But here I am. Also my book with Isa, Appetite For Reduction, peaked in the top 100 of ALL books on Amazon. I’m incredibly fortunate. I’m writing about this not to brag, but to pass on the lessons I have learned.
My introduction to veganism was through the militant animal rights movement. I became the super activist that ate, slept and breathed animal rights and veganism. I went to jail more than once for protesting. I chose nutrition as my undergrad major because of veganism. I was angry and motivated! The way that animals are treated is horrendous and I wanted to do as much as possible.
Then one day while I was still a teenager I was at a group dinner on a boring Saturday night. One kid was drawing pictures of everyone and mine had a voice bubble that said, ‘vegan vegan vegan vegan’ over and over again. It was accurate. I had become that person. I was living the joke->
-How do you tell the vegan at a party?
-Don’t worry they will tell you.
Not long after that I moved to Penn State University for the last 2.5 years of my nutrition degree. Struggling to find an affordable place to live I moved into the living room of some Anarcho-Feminists. My reading broadened from Peter Singer and Edward Abbey to Malcolm X and Emma Goldman. Oppression of animals was obvious; institutionalized oppression of groups of people much less so. At PSU I was President of the Alliance for Animal Rights and active in my department promoting veganism, but my analysis had changed. I recognized world wide struggle and my own race and gender privileges. I never forgot about veganism, but I became active in the anti-capitalist, anti-globalization movement that roared into the 00’s.
You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself. –Sick of it All
At a grad school that actively promoted vegetarianism and was the most diverse place I had ever been, I learned even more about my place in the world. I traveled to Chiapas and smuggled art back for a radical Catholic group that raised money for the Zapatistas. My veganism never waned, but I was less interested in being defined by it. Not long after that I was teaching and working in South Central Los Angeles with a slant toward social justice. Vegan nutrition went to the back burner.
Then about two years ago I got re-energized. It seemed that more people were vegan than ever. Isa contacted me about contributing to her newest book. I suddenly got more requests than ever for private consultation for vegans. And here I am.
You must be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi
I’m now applying the vegan label to myself and my projects: vegan dietitian, vegan athletes, vegan nutrition, etc. But my worldview is expanded from ten years ago. And while my place in the world is bigger than it was because of the opportunities I’ve had, I’m still just one person. There’s only so much I can do. But what I can do is significant: lead by example. Be a healthy, positive vegan that pushes people to think about their choices and how it affects other living beings without pushing them to blindly adopt my ethics and actions. And knowing how my life and privileges affect others. There’s a whole world of oppression out there beyond humans over animals. Read a thing or two (or hundred?) about those struggles, too. Never stop learning because the day you are convinced that you know enough about everything is the day you become a new-age wacko. And we don’t need any more vegans like that…
So if you are new to veganism and angry about how animals are treated, I’m with you. My advice is to channel that anger into something positive. Berating My Trainer Bob about eating egg whites does not save any animals. I don’t want to get on the old-guy soapbox here, but the kids in the mid-90’s who didn’t find positive channels for their anger about animal abuse stopped being vegan. And their criticism of near-vegans probably brought down a fair number of them, too.
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about my readers’ projects! If you are working on something related to this post-and not just veganism- please let me know in the comments.