“So, why did you decide to become a vegetarian?” asked every first date ever. At the surface, it’s a fairly innocuous question. Easy fodder for conversation in an otherwise awkward situation. “Animals are friends, not food,” I’ll respond to keep it light. “Cutting out meat is the single best way to reduce your carbon footprint,” I’ll say if they seem genuinely interested. “Because corporate and governmental institutions are systematically destroying the environment and health of people living in poverty,” I’ll retort if I’m high on the right cocktail of feist and red wine.
In truth, my decision is a combination of all three. My vegetarianism, which started as a refusal to eat things with faces, has grown into a way of life that encompasses the personal, the social, and the political. For me, being a vegetarian is a feminist act. I became a vegetarian at the age of 14, right around the time I started discovering feminism. At that time, I didn’t make the connection between the two. I was a vegetarian, and I was a feminist, but they seemed unrelated. Now, 12 years later, they are inseparable.
My entire young life, I begged my mom to let me be a vegetarian. “When you’re older. Your brain is still developing,” she would tell me. The summer before high school, she finally gave in. I was the only one of all my friends to not eat meat, which at times made it hard, but there was never a question in my mind about whether or not to continue. This was my decision and I was sticking to it.
At that time, I didn’t realize how important this decision was. It was the first time I made a meaningful decision about my life. I exerted agency and stood by a moral choice. At that age, we are given few opportunities to make real decisions for ourselves. This decision was my first feminist act. It was my first step in taking control of my life, my morals, and my personal development. At 14, with the help from my mother, I made a huge choice about my body, my food, and my health that has lasted over a decade.
This decision was my first feminist act. It was my first step in taking control of my life, my morals, and my personal development.
In college, I befriended a horde of militant vegans, the ringleader of which was on a mission to single-handedly convert the world to veganism. I had many late-night conversations with him, red solo cup in one hand and an organic cigarette in his other, relaying connection between human oppression and the subjugation of animals and the need to end the meat and dairy industry in order to end human suffering. At first I thought this was a bit extreme, but now I see how developing respect for all living things illuminates injustices happening to other human beings.
We all love cats and dogs. In fact, if you don’t, I don’t trust you. We cry in movies when dogs get hurt, and fawn over funny videos of cats being weirdos. But there is a disconnect between ‘cute’ animals we keep as pets, and those we keep as livestock. So, is it possible that the fact that we love certain species of animals and kill others is connected to the ways in which society privileges certain groups of people, while dehumanizing others? For me, learning to respect all earth’s beings has resulted in greater compassion for all human beings. A part of being a good feminist is seeing all humans as valuable and deserving of respect, rights, and equality. In this regard, being a vegetarian has made me a better feminist.
As an individual, it sometimes feels impossible to make a meaningful difference in the current political and environmental crisis, but changing the way you eat is a small act of resistance. The meat and dairy industry is a top source of pollution and has acted as a huge hindrance to impactful climate change solutions. As consumers, we can say enough is enough. Even cutting down on meat and dairy reduces your carbon footprint, lessens demand, and contributes to a more sustainable future.
In the US right now, everything is political, even something as seemingly a-political as the environment. As political beings, we should be making decisions that reflect our values. In the age of anti-correctness, how do we combat offensive rhetoric? Call out racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. In the age of climate change deniers, how do we combat environmental degradation? We make better decisions that affect the environment. We use reusable bags, we take the public transportation, and we consume less meat and dairy. We lean into our morals, because nothing will cool down the planet like a bunch of organized and pissed-off snowflakes.
Finally, how is this all related to feminism?
Feminism stands to defend the most vulnerable. It looks beyond just gender to also examine race, age, nationality, ethnicity, class, ability, and the interaction of all these. People like to point to environmental degradation as equal opportunist, coming for anyone in its path; black, white, rich, poor. But this isn’t really true. Climate change is more devastating to people living in poverty, particularly people of color, who cannot afford to leave during evacuation warnings, replace their belongings and homes, or secure proper medical care. As a feminist, I am most concerned with these people. Eventually, yes, flooding, fires, storms, will be coming for us all, but right now, the people the most affected are the most vulnerable; the young, the old, the disabled, the poor. Eco-feminism is taking on this fight, and the rest of us should jump on board.
Being a vegetarian was a very personal choice, and it’s not something I push on anyone. However, I do encourage people to think about consuming less. I’m not perfect. I own leather shoes, occasionally eat seafood, and the thought of giving up cheese to go vegan gives me literal anxiety. But, having a mostly plant-based diet for the last 12 years has contributed, in a small part, to my personal fight against environmental and social injustice.
Now, excuse me while I hop off my high horse a go eat a grilled cheese.