On veganismAnd why everyone just needs to add some intersectional theory to their diets...
Veganism is almost always taken to be nothing more than a restriction on one’s dietary choices. To the newcomer, this might seem to be the case.
In my case, I dipped my toes in, thinking it’s a mere puddle, but the bottom gave way and I was left submerged in an ocean of interwoven relationships and narratives. As I tried to swim to the surface, I was instead thrust deeper into a never-ending quest to transform myself and the world around me.
What does all this mean?
It means that while I became vegan as soon as I realised cows can only give milk when they are pregnant - a fact that leads to the exploitation of their reproductive organs for the production of milk - I stayed vegan only because I realised I had been socially conditioned to think of cows as “for the use of humans only”; as walking milk factories; as necessities to satisfy our nutrition.
I realised it was similar to the conditioning my grandparents’ generation went through when most Indian women were expected to marry and pump out babies; their labor a necessity for our survival.
It was similar to colonial beliefs that suggest the colonised have no ability to govern themselves and must be ruled by white men who were naturally superior by virtue of being white. Exploitation was a necessity for the good of the empire. If they didn’t rule us, surely someone else would.
It was similar to cultural beliefs that led some races or castes to see others as so different than them that they needed to be governed by a different set of rules altogether (as was the case with Jim Crow laws in the US or the Manusmriti in India).
Such social conditioning led my grandparents’ generation to celebrate the birth of a son. The dairy industry today sends its sons straight to slaughter.
Veganism has never been a question of species, sex, race, religion, or caste. Veganism transcends these ideas of compartmentalised hierarchies by looking for structures of violence and then rejecting them in favour of something better.
Organisations promoting veganism are called anti-Hindu or Islamophobic for the same reason witches are burned alive or atheists are shot dead - because structures of power fight back against any form of reform. Lincoln, MLK, Harvey Milk, Chico Mendes, Marielle Franco and Avijit Roy - all went against the grain and ultimately paid for it with their lives.
Opposition to reform can take far more nuanced positions as well:
Non-vegans (out of good intentions) bring up the question of the unethical treatment of farm labourers or the lack of workers rights in a certain polity as a critique of veganism but one cannot justify the enslavement of non-human animals simply because human exploitation exists.
Some say there are bigger problems out there and that the lives of farm animals aren’t important - but this is a straw man. The assumption here is that the violence against farm animals happens in isolation, cut off from the rest of the world, when in reality, there is a great overlap between the conditions that lead to patriarchy, psychopathy, violence against women and minorities, the destruction of the environment, and the treatment of farm animals.
We’re conditioned to seeing the world as a fragmented collection of isolated incidents, when in reality, it’s all the same great, big, tangled mess of existence.
Veganism offers the lens of anti-speciesism to see the world as an interconnected and interdependent web of life, as opposed to a binary, human-centered, and male-dominated world.
It took us thousands of years to understand the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. It’s taken us many more to understand the world does not revolve around humans.
Most vegans I know don’t try to go beyond a simple change in diet. Many vegans eat plant-based for their health for the same reason most meditators I know meditate for better emotional resilience or greater productivity at work, not total liberation from Samsara.
To each their own.
The point is not to discard an entire philosophy because the majority are satisfied with the puddle.
The opposite is also true - one cannot look up to veganism as a one-size-fits-all solution to all of the world’s problems. I’ve often found that the cultish flavour of certain vegan circles goes hand-in-hand with the inability to look past the diet.
But I guess everyone has to start somewhere.
There are many more intersectionalities worth exploring and I’ll keep bringing them up. For now I’d highly recommend reading the works of Carol J. Adams, especially The Sexual Politics of Meat.
Images created using Midjourney.