Veganism, Intersectionality and the Issue with Labels

“Are you a feminist?”

I asked my then-boyfriend, via text message.

I remember sitting in my women’s studies class waiting anxiously for his reply.

When it finally came, it wasn’t what I expected.

I don’t know. What’s in it for me?

Although disappointment is what I feel now as I reminisce about this moment, betrayal is what I felt then. Only I didn’t know enough to call it that or begin to know why I felt this way at all.

I felt alone and unsupported. That’s the best way I could describe it at the time.

In hindsight, I was hurt a lot more than I cared to admit to myself. I was hurt that this man I thought would do everything for me, rejected to be part of a group that had my best interests in mind. A group that simply sought to offer me equal rights in our society. He didn’t want to be an ally to such a simple request.

To this day I don’t know for sure if it was applying the label to himself or being in favor of equal rights that didn’t interest him.

It could have been both too.

I’m going to be optimistic considering I spent years with this person and say that it was probably a label issue.

I personally have no problem with labels. I’m a vegan and a feminist.

But I know a lot of people have problems with sticking those kinds or any kind of labels to themselves.

I get it. The same label can make you feel trapped while it makes another feel free and proud.

Some labels are too hard to bear in some communities and sometimes precisely because of the communities that wear them.

The vegan movement certainly is a good example of that. A lot of people can’t dissociate the meaning of the vegan label from the negative connotation (imagined or founded) that those who wear it have.

It’s a problem in rallying people to the cause and it’s also a problem when it comes to intersectionality.

If you’re not familiar with the term it refers to the idea that systems of oppression are not independent of each other but rather that they interrelate and thus any form of oppression can’t be eliminated without fighting all of them.

When I asked my old boyfriend the feminist question a few years ago that’s when I opened that Pandora’s box for myself.

When I become vegan a few years later, that’s when I started looking at the contents of the box and realizing that I had been as bad as he had seemed to me.

I saw how pieces fit in the giant intersectionality puzzle.

I cared about being a feminist because feminist issues touched me as a woman. There was nothing in it for him.

I could afford to not care about animals for all these years just like he could afford to not care about being a feminist.

I realize now that sometimes the roots of oppression go so deep that we can’t recognize how we’ve grown from and with them.

Myself included.

It’s a scary thought but one that needs to be addressed.

In the past years I’ve learned to care, a lot, about people and animals and it’s overwhelming to think that there’s more.

That there’s always more. More ways in which I should care.

I’m learning that having the luxury to not have to care about certain things means that I should care even more about them.

What do you think?


*I’m by no means a scholar and that familiar with intersectionality theory so please feel free to chime in and correct me or to add to the discussion. Those are simply some thoughts that circle in mind lately.

Thanks for reading!

*Photo Credit: Pedro flickr Creative Commons 2.0

The Ex-Vegan Conundrum

Will I ever be an ex-vegan?

That’s a question I’ve been pondering on these past few days.

My short answer is no.

My long answer is this very post.

Obviously no one knows what the future holds. Humans have the (sometimes aggravating) capacity of changing their mind and evolving. It’s part of what makes us very unique animals.

Our ability to think, reason and exercise compassion is at the root of the very decision to become vegan.

For some reason that I find very hard to understand, that same ability is also responsible for people going back on their convictions.

I have spoken briefly about this in my Breaking Up with Veganism post but I feel it’s worth mentioning again, in the U.S the number of ex-vegans/vegetarians is 5 times greater than the number of current adherents to the lifestyle.

The vegan movement is clearly better at bringing people on board than keeping them in their ranks.

A lot can be said of those who abandon the vegan ship. Often not so nice things are expressed about them by the community that welcomed them with open arms in their pre-vegan days.

This chastising of ex-members is seen as cult-like and it’s not hard to figure out why.

The “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” and “you were never really part of us to begin with if you quit” doesn’t look good for any organization.

There is a common theme in the vegan community of brushing former members away on the basis of “you were never really vegan if you quit; you were just plant-based”.

Of course there is some truth to that but it’s an oversimplification that doesn’t explain everything and all cases.

Yes some people were in it purely for health reasons. It’s easy to understand why they quit if they feel their health is compromised.

It’s however harder or impossible to grasp how the most ethically focused and militant vegans out there suddenly turn their backs on the animals.

This is the real ex-vegan conundrum.    

The fact that somewhere down the line our ethics and moral choices can change.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, it is human to evolve.

Our moral compass can change.

Truth is, like a real compass, it can be affected by many variables.

I believe the main one to be survival.

Humans and non-humans animals have an inherent will to survive. We can be violent, aggressive and downright murderous if need be.

If we feel we need to I should say.

At some point a vegan re-evaluates his/her choices in light of some new belief that they are in danger. True or imagined it doesn’t matter.

Their health may be declining, their circle of friends shunning them or whatever else. The important point is that they are stuck weighing their own survival and well-being against another creature’s.

The big question is: if someone believes intently that going back to eating animal products will help them survive or improve their quality of life and also believes that it is wrong to do so, when does convictions break?

When is the breaking point appropriate?

For my own life my answer is: never.

Even if for some reason I came to be in such a position with such beliefs in my head, I wouldn’t do it.

It’s an extreme position and very possibly a seemingly unwise one but I simply can’t imagine just giving up.

I don’t care if being put on this planet is supposed to mean that I should survive at all cost. I don’t care if everything and everyone I see only care about themselves.

I would rather reject nature and what it means to live on this planet if my only option is causing death and suffering.

In the end, I don’t blame people for thinking differently.

It’s a hard world we live in.

What do you think?

Do you see yourself ever being an ex-vegan?

Are you an ex-vegan?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

*Photo Credit: Marco Bellucci flickr Creative Commons 2.0

17 Years Old Vegan Activist Rachel Wojciak- Feature Fridays

 If you had asked me a year ago if I thought I would be doing everything in my power to fight for those who are voiceless, I would have told you that you were insane. However, today I spread the vegan message through my two Instagram accounts, @hclfrachel and @rachelwojciak, and I make YouTube videos regarding veganism as well (the channel is also named Rachel Wojciak). I donate to animal sanctuaries that have rescued animals from farm factories and raise awareness about the cause through peaceful protesting, such as wearing shirts advertising veganism in public. My message is currently reaching around 2,700 people, and I wish I had a voice large enough so that the whole world could hear me. However, when I started my vegan Instagram back in September, I never thought I would gain over 100 followers, so there is hope!

I fell in love with nature when my father and I took hikes and went camping as a child. Those memories are still present in my mind today, and I am grateful to have had an upbringing where nature played such a profound role in my childhood development. I have loved animals for as long as I can remember, and I even wanted to be a veterinarian when I was 3. After discovering the vegan lifestyle via YouTube, it simply didn’t make sense to me anymore to continue on consuming meat and dairy. I loved the animals far too much to cause them any more suffering and pain, and I wanted to put a halt to the destruction our planet faces every day.

So, I made the switch over to veganism back in September! While there are endless health benefits to a vegan lifestyle, such as the 38 pounds I’ve lost, the decrease in migraines, my acne vanishing, never being sick, etcetera, the most rewarding benefit has been my life coming full circle. I now finally practice what I preach, regarding love and peace. I can say I love animals and truly live a lifestyle that proves it, not otherwise. The love that developed for Mother Nature as a child has matured greatly, and this lifestyle is a reminder of that every day. All of the lessons I learned as a child finally add up in an honest way living this lifestyle.

While I am a much happier person vegan, being vegan in a world filled with so many non-vegans can be quite discouraging. My parents are not vegan, my boyfriend is not vegan, no other individual in my high school is vegan. It can seem so overwhelming to be part of a minority that receives so much hate from those who don’t understand the lifestyle. With that said, my message to any other individual who is new to the vegan lifestyle or who is currently struggling with this problem is to stay positive. While there are so many heartbreaking atrocities to be depressed over, crying is not going to promote any change. Besides, there is so much to be hopeful for!

While the number of animals slaughtered every day for human consumption is staggering, it is important not to be discouraged by it. If you are reading this very article, you have already discovered veganism in some way shape or form! That in itself is progress. Us vegans know for a fact that millions of other individuals would not continue to consume meat and dairy if they knew what went on in terms of producing it, so all we can do is spread our knowledge regarding factory farming and the vegan lifestyle. Unfortunately, not everyone will transform into a vegan overnight, but that is to be expected. As long as you have brought up the topic of veganism with an individual, you have planted a seed of thought in their head. Odds are even if they don’t transition over to a vegan lifestyle, they will certainly look at meat and dairy products in a different light.

Other than staying hopeful, my other big pointer would be to spread the vegan lifestyle in a positive and loving manner. Lead by example! Some vegans struggle with turning away individuals from this lifestyle, simply because their method of spreading information is too aggressive. While your heart is in the right place, it is beneficial to check if you would appreciate somebody presenting this information to you in the way you are delivering it yourself. Be a positive example for veganism! Lead by love, positivity, patience, and kindness. While it may be frustrating at times, don’t be discouraged by others and their excuses not to transition over to a kinder lifestyle.

Overall, stay positive! While there is an overwhelming amount of information to be depressed about, just remember all of the new individuals who discover veganism every single day. The world certainly is changing, and the vegan message is spreading. The animals need us and the planets need us, which is why I will never stop fighting for this cause, and I encourage you to do the same! Veganism is not something to be ashamed about because it is not openly accepted by others. Do what you know in your heart is right, and don’t back down because this lifestyle isn’t the popular opinion. I am so blessed to have discovered this lifestyle, and I will continue to fight for it every single day. The animals and the planet desperately need us, and I will always make sure that I’m doing everything in my power to protect them and to put an end to the destruction of these beautiful souls and this beautiful planet.

*Photo Credit verkeorg Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Young Women Will Change the World (New Series on Influencers)

I woke up this morning to these two news:

  1. A young women was burned alive in Rome by her ex-boyfriend while by-standers did not help or call the police
  2. Pakistani women are standing up against a new law proposition that would let men “lightly beat” their wives #TryBeatingMeLightly

There is sadly nothing new or shocking about these two headlines. It’s not like there isn’t similar news everyday.

Actually, just yesterday I read about a 16 year old girl shot dead by her boyfriend while she was babysitting her 3 year old niece.

It’s not like Middle Eastern women haven’t been under attack by government officials for years either.

I’ve heard horror stories of violence against women ever since I’ve been aware of the news.

I have also had actual women tell me their stories. The most poignant one coming from a medicated schizophrenic women flatly telling me how her ex-husband killed her children.

The point is, there is still a lot of work to do to get equality.

I was a feminist long before I became vegan.

As it goes for most social movements, they can be both mutually exclusive and not, depending on the person.

It sounds strange but it’s actually quite common.

I don’t remember who it was but some guy activist in the #Blacklivesmatter movement was arrested on charges of women trafficking and prostitution.

In a similar fashion, feminists are not typically vegan as well as vegans are not all feminists.

The root of oppression may look the same but its expression takes different forms.

We develop a particular attachment to a cause from our inherent disposition.I would even say depending on our possible gain from the advancement of said movement/cause.

Veganism is somewhat different in that sense. The direct benefit from adhering to its ethical principles is pretty elusive, especially to the general population.

I do believe however that we are slowly moving away from activism derived from the personal experience of oppression.

The latest generation, mainly those born in the late 90s and early 2000s, are quickly catching on to the need for activism on animal’s behalf. Young women, especially, are leaders in this new movement on social media.

I see more and more teenage girls raising awareness on Youtube and Instagram everyday.

Many people decry that today’s youth is mindlessly addicted to social media but I say that this very same “addiction” is the best thing that could ever happen.

Our generation has tools for reaching the masses in a way that is unprecedented.

While all you may see are young girls idolizing the likes of Kylie Jenner and other models, I see 14 year olds from all over the world posting about body positivity and the impact of animal agriculture on our planet.

There is still hope and it is in the hands of those that had no voice for most of this world’s history.

If you are a young women trying to change the world with social media, please get in touch. I will do one feature a week on my blog to celebrate you and raise awareness about the work still left to do.

If you are interested, leave a comment or get in touch with me on the Contact page.

Thank you!

*Photo Credit verkeorg Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

The Puzzle

A couple of years ago I gave my mother a puzzle for Christmas. It’s been sitting in a corner unopened ever since. Every time I’m visiting I can’t help myself and I playfully tease her about it.

It got me thinking about people and puzzles. We probably all have tried completing at least a puzzle or two in our youth. Cute kittens in a basket 100-pieces puzzle certainly springs to my mind.

Much of life is a puzzle in itself, starting without a doubt with our very existence. Why is there a little me on this big planet?

My point is, we get a wide variety of puzzles of all shapes and sizes handed to us just because we exist, here on Mother Earth.

The difference lies in how we each deal with puzzles.

First, lets consider the box itself. Some people, like my mom, leave the box in a corner forever. Who knows if they’re even going to bother opening it in their lifetime?

 Then, you have people who actually open the box.

I would say they fall into two camps. Tossers and organizers. Are you the type who dumps the pieces on the floor and starts digging through? Or are you more of a “let’s set everything on a table and organize the pieces by color scheme in neat piles”?

Mind you, both types are as likely to quit as they are to finish.

In terms of solving the actual puzzle, again, you have different styles.

There’s the overachievers who won’t stop until they’re done. You have the “routine” solvers who will spend 10 minutes everyday on it, until completion. You have the “let me do it alone!” vs the “teamwork is dreamwork”. Strategists “if this color goes there than this goes here” vs trial and error die hards.

Obviously what is true for puzzles doesn’t necessarily translates to real world problems. However, I think it applies to a lot of them. Many issues about ourselves and the world we inhabit are sitting in their puzzle box in a dusty corner of our mind. There is stuff that will stay in that corner until the day we die. Other issues will take precedence and we will work on those instead. Sometimes we will accept help, sometimes not.

I think, in many ways, veganism is definitely a puzzle box we all have in our minds. For most people, it’s sitting in a corner and will stay there forever. Others will open it, look at a few pieces and give up. Some will work on it very slowly, alone, piecing it together for years.

I’m here with my completed vegan puzzle and I wish everyone would complete theirs. It feels so good to look at the final image. However, I know that some people will never bother taking the box out. I also know that most don’t want to be reminded that they have this puzzle somewhere. Of those who do have it out in the open, most don’t want to be told how their pieces go together.

Vegan activists have it hard. People are all at different stages of their puzzle. It takes a huge amount of finesse to be able to cater to all. Some boxes were willfully thrown in the trash, others are lost in the attic, some have just begun looking through the pieces.

No matter how painful it might be to watch others disregard their puzzle, how annoying it is to see how the pieces they are staring at go together without being allowed to tell them, how frustrating it all is, I will do my best to cheer everyone on, regardless of where they are and how they go about solving their damn puzzles!

*Photo credit Jesus Abizanda flickr Creative Commons 2.0 

How do you use your voice?

Have you ever walked by a homeless person without even looking?

I do, multiple times a day. I live in a city filled with them and I go downtown on a regular basis. Unless you live in a rural area and have never been outside your village, you know what I’m talking about.

There is this moment when you make the conscious decision to ignore. After all, there is too many of them and barely any change in my wallet.

It’s easy to forget about them after a while, you just get used to seeing people sleeping on the waiting benches in the metro (what we call the subway in Montreal).

Homeless people are usually sitting down somewhere, they may hold a sign but that’s it. No voice to be heard.

Their protest is a silent one, if it even exists.

That’s how it usually is. I say usually because something amazing happened today.

I heard a voice. Loud and clear.

During rush hour, the metro full of people, minding their own business.

A voice emerged, there was no way people could ignore it.

Yet they all did. Everyone pretended not to hear.

“I have something very important to say”.

That’s how he started his speech.

I thought great, another day, another crazy on the metro.

“I want to wish you all a great afternoon and a beautiful day”.

Ok, he’s crazy. Who wishes strangers a beautiful day? Obviously he’s on drugs or something.

The rest of his monologue went like this:

“Look at my eyes. Look at my eyes. I’m clean. I’m sober. I’m not drunk. I’ve slept outside the past two nights. My hands are burned from the cold. It hurts. I haven’t had a shower in days. I need 15$ to eat two meals and have a bed to sleep in tonight and a good shower. That’s all I’m asking you. Have a good day”

During his speech nobody moved at first. The words seemed to hang over our heads, forcing their way into our consciousness. Everyone was half-frozen, daring to look at his face in a side way glance than quickly looking away. Subtly trying to gauge what others were doing.

Was it ok to actually pay attention?

Someone made the first move, walked proudly towards him and handed him money.

Most of the people did give him cash.

The metro stopped, the homeless man left with a warm thank you, on to the next train.

I looked around, seeing some laugh quietly to themselves, others remaining as passive as ever.

I realized, that homeless man had more dignity than all of us combined, even more than those who silently handed him money.

How many of you, in his situation, would stand up and state the facts, make your voice heard loud and clear?

I never thought about it before today. If I was homeless, I’d be those kinds of people who hope silently for better days, of being seen by generous souls.

How sad is it that?

I don’t want to be like that. Too ashamed of using my own voice in a situation of life and death? Literally (it’s cold enough to die of hypothermia in Montreal).

The truth is as humans we have a unique tool that no other specie on the planet has, our voice. Our ability to speak up. To get heard.

Both literally and figuratively. Eyes reading words or ears picking up sound. A brain to put it together.

I take this gift for granted.

There will sadly always be more reasons to speak up than to be silent. Yet, we have the indecency of forgetting all too often that we not only have a voice, but can use our voice.

Of all the -isms waiting to be talked about, there is one that is particularly important to me. One that should be important to all of us.

Speciesism.

Why should we care about non-human animals when our own specie is plagued with all forms of oppression?

Because while our voices may be oppressed, we still have them.

They don’t have any. 

Speaking up about them, speaking up for them is looked down upon, even by vegans.

Being a *gasp* militant vegan is supposedly bad for the cause. No one will want to join us if we tell them what they’re doing is wrong.

“Good vegans” should be content with just being vegan. Stay on the sidelines, your sole existence is a silent protest. That is enough.

Good vegans are like the homeless sitting on the sidewalk. People walk past them fast, avoiding them as much as possible. Once in a while, they glance at their sign out of the corner of their eye.

Militant vegans are like the homeless man in this story. They look for an audience, state the facts. They make people uncomfortable, make them giggle nervously.

In the end, which gets the results they need?

Do you use your voice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Credit: David Blackwell Creative Commons 2.0