Being vegan is a feminist act – but not on its own

When your support for animals completely overshadows your desire to be compassionate to other humans, we've got a problem
By Bridget Hamilton  •  Sep 8, 2017 at 11:00am  •  Feminism, Health & Exercise, Race, Social Issues

Looking back, I can hardly believe how long it took me to go vegan. It seems crazy that I was an advocate for human rights for so long before coming to the conclusion that I should be advocating for animal ones, too.

Let’s be clear: I don’t think meat eaters are bad people. I was one for over 25 years, my boyfriend is, and most of my friends and family are, too. Plenty of feminists are meat eaters (although some people do argue that the movement requires vegetarian or veganism). This post isn’t here to shame meat eaters – in fact, it’s much more about calling out vegans who preach about kindness and peace whilst neglecting to be truly intersectional.

In my case, going vegan was part of my feminist beliefs – as well as for the animals, the environment and for my health. But I want to talk about why going vegan isn’t automatically a feminist act. It’s got to be part of a bigger picture.

 

The vegan/feminist link

The reason I believe many people haven’t gone vegan is because we’re so desensitised to the reality of what the meat, egg and dairy industry entails that it’s really easy to ignore what we put animals through. In recent years, though, news has slowly started to filter through.

In 1990, Carol J Adams published a book called ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat’, a text that Google Books describes as “the classic articulation of the hidden connections between meat eating and patriarchy, between vegetarianism and feminism. More than anyone previously, Adams drew connections between meat-eating and violence towards women – everything from sexualised advertising and objectification, all the way to the systematic use of hens and cows. Suddenly it felt distinctly ‘un-feminist’ to be complicit in the artificial insemination, drugging and abuse of female animals.

Just like the patriarchy, the dairy and egg industry has horrific consequences for males of the species too. With breeding, milk making or egg laying being the most sought-after qualities in an animal, male chicks and calves are disposed of without a second thought.

 

So surely everyone should go vegan?

Well if it’s practical, yes. But there are plenty of reasons why it may not be, and is it really up to me to judge someone else’s ability to go vegan, simply because I am one?

I asked in a vegan support group on Facebook, and here’s what they thought:

 

Most people said they would answer questions honestly but not push it

 

Although many feminists are vegan and vice versa, the two don’t always go hand in hand. Sometimes, the utter frustration felt by vegans at the injustice animals face is enough to make them forget the other injustices that exist in the world. When your support for animals completely overshadows your desire to be compassionate to other humans, we’ve got a problem – and it’s why vegans often get labelled as preachy and militant.

 

White veganism is a thing

Nobody sums up the term white veganism better than the brilliantly informative blog, Vegan Voices of Color. They say:

“White Veganism is a reference to mainstream veganism—which is, undeniably very white, narrow, one sided and ignores intersectionality. It aims to expose and erase the invisibility of oppression on other animal bodies to the masses, while simultaneously ignoring and being silent about the very visible injustice and oppression of black and brown bodies, femme bodies, or differently-abled bodies. Sometimes even utilizing the history of oppression on Black bodies and other oppressed groups as a tool to promote veganism.” Source

The selective attention span of white veganism has reared its ugly head publicly several times in the past few months, notably earlier in the summer when a vegan restaurant had its windows smashed in a protest demanding justice for Rashan Charles. The restaurant posted some questionable content on social media, including calling the protesters “animals” and using the phrase “all life matters”. They came under fire for seeming to care more about the damage done to their business – one that “aims to regenerate the basic values of human being”, apparently – than they did about the death of a 20-year-old black man.

 

vegans can still be racist, sadly (and just a massive dickhead)

 

PETA, u ok hun?

The act of being vegan is not ableist, but insisting that veganism can improve someone’s disability certainly is. That’s exactly what PETA did recently when they claimed that eating dairy products was linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder. Writer and advocate S.E. Smith wants us to call out this so-called ‘cure evangelism’, explaining that “disabled people are routinely and constantly subjected to [it], no matter what their disability is and whether or not they want to cure it.”

And let’s not even get into how sexist and misogynistic PETA are. We could be here all year.

 

Big fat nope

There are many other reasons why members of the disabled community would find it hard to follow a vegan lifestyle – including dependence on family members and carers to buy them their food, increased need for certain nutrients, less tolerance to dietary changes (expect to poo a lot more when you go vegan), and less tolerance of changes in routine, textures and lots of other stuff.

Michele Kaplan, a disabled vegan blogger, explains that many vegans simply don’t see the difference between a disabled person saying they can’t go vegan and an able-bodied or neurotypical person saying the same because they really love bacon. “It’s as if they hear both answers and their bullshit meter immediately goes off, not realizing that [one] is actually valid.” Calling bullshit on a disabled person’s experience is certainly not feminist, no matter how well meaning we believe it to be.

 

Your veganism must be intersectional

I’m lucky in the sense that I was an intersectional feminist before I went vegan, so it’s always been in the forefront of my mind to be respectful of others’ needs and views.

In fact, I’m lucky in so many ways. My white, cis, able bodied privilege is apparent whenever I eat and shop vegan, and my current wage packet allows me to buy far more than simple cupboard staples like lentils. The fact that I share a flat with my partner means I can cook when I want, and I can store all sorts of vegan treats easily.

Would I still want to persuade others to become vegan? Absolutely – but only by being an example. Forcing my beliefs on others is not an integral part of my veganism, and I don’t believe it should be part of yours either.

To paraphrase another quote slightly: My veganism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.

About the Author

Bridget was born in Gravesend, Kent and has a Masters in Radio Production and Management. She founded Verbal Remedy in 2013 and has also produced content for the Independent, Huffington Post and the BBC.

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6 Comments
  1. Great article, I would nonetheless like to add that in the link to the PETA article that you provided, they did not say that “veganism can cure” autism. They simply stated that removing dairy products from one’s diet may improve autistic behaviour. Improving and curing are very different concepts.

  2. i really appreciate this! i have struggled with my health for the last 6 years- so many allergies and food sensitivities- which i suffered a plethora of very painful symptoms. my diet is extremely limited and it prevented me from feeling like i could be vegan for a long time. i wanted to for moral reasons but felt that my body wouldnt let me. most of the foods i cannot eat are vegan staples (legumes, garlic, curciferious vegetables, nuts, onions…) i have gotten into many an argument on FB about this. it really upsets me when ppl say if you arent vegan you cannot love animals… this really hurts me inside. and even after explaining my health situation they were still so judgmental. the fact is that the world is full of so many diverse lives its never right to generalize and presume to tell another person how they feel inside (gas-lighting much). it has been so bad that i felt the victim of online bullying. all this did was make me not want to be vegan. now that i have finally found a good doctor and im actually healing im motivated to make the effort to be vegan- but im still not 100% bc its hard to not eat beans, soy, peas…

    • Content Team

      Really glad you liked the article! Nobody should judge you over your choices and your allergies 🙁 I feel like vegans are sometimes even more judgemental of vegetarians trying to be vegan than they are of meat eaters… it’s horrible 🙁

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