A feminist may be defined as someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, but in the words of poet Emma Lazarus: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
This idea can and does refer to women in sexual slavery in Thailand, the Chibok girls, or a child in Canada who is unable to represent their gender identity because of bullying. But without downplaying the importance of these issues, I’m not referring to their freedom in this article – I’m talking about pigs, turkeys, cows and chickens. I’m speaking of foxes and minks and racing horses, and the cats and monkeys used for testing shampoos.
While hundreds of millions of animals are caged, tortured and killed for our aesthetic pleasures, we’re all complicit. This is why I practice abstinence from animal products.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
There are plenty of reasons to become vegan. Being a vegan means someone who abstains from eating, wearing or using any and all animal products. This means meat and dairy. It includes fish and eggs. It also refers to leather and honey. I became vegetarian in 2003, then vegan in 2014. Originally, I was concerned about what I was putting in my body such as steroids and growth hormones. Quickly, I realized that I love animals and I don’t want to hurt them. No, I never worked in the slaughterhouse, but every single time I ate ham (my previous favourite) or chicken strips, I was voting to keep hurting them and financially supporting those who did.
Up until last year, I kept eating dairy products despite being allergic to them. It finally clicked that female dairy cows are kept perpetually pregnant in order to lactate. Their sensitive udders are hooked up to machines that suck the milk – milk that was intended for their calves. And where did the calves go? As a feminist, I realized it was something I couldn’t support. Yes, I love cheese as much as the next person: brie and havarti used to send me into fits of joy. But once I decided it was food for baby calves – which I am not – I simply let it go.
I met a turkey at a farm sanctuary earlier this year. His snood engorged bright red as I approached and he fluffed up his feathers in a flirty manner. Looking into his eyes as he clucked his tongue in appreciation of my touch, I could only feel grateful that I hadn’t built the cells of my body off his siblings’ flesh. Even as I was leaving, he followed me towards my car. Grocery shopping that evening, my gag reflex kicked in as I stumbled upon a cellophane packet of ground turkey meat. Only $5.65.
There’s plenty of books and documentaries showing that veganism is good for your health. There’s lots of evidence that eating meat and dairy has a huge impact on the environment – more so than any other industry! By choosing to go veg, you lessen your contribution to the plight of our planet. We all know that global warming is a phenomenon which disproportionately affects women.
All in all, for me it’s an ethical choice. Just as the labour and student movements fought against apartheid in the 1980s, I challenge those who call themselves feminists to take up the meat, dairy, and leather industries as part of their cause.
Now, I get that veganism can be seen as a privileged choice. I’m not decrying the people around the world or even in rural Canadian communities who may rely on meat, especially if they’ve hunted it themselves. I also understand the cultural significance of many meat-related foods. Food is meant to be shared, and it forms the backdrop of so many celebrations around the world. But we must find a balance between maintaining culturally significant celebrations while not participating in cruel practices.
Feminists are fighting important and worthy battles globally as well as in their communities, their places of work, and their schools. The good news is that joining the anti-speciesist movement requires no additional time, energy, or money. In fact, I believe that you’ll gain energy by not digesting all that heavy food and save some money along the way. All it takes it a choice: when putting food on your fork, spoon or hand three or more times per day, choose something that doesn’t contribute to the problem. When you buy new shampoo, moisturizer, or lipstick, take literally one moment to check for any number of animal-friendly symbols on the packaging (the happy bouncing bunny is just one). The choice is easy and delicious.
Speciesism is the idea that humans have greater moral rights than non-human animals. That because of a set of standards we created, humans are somehow more valuable than all other animals.
Sounds a bit like racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia does it? Do you hear echoes of cis and ability privilege?
To me, it just sounds like one more tale told by the patriarchy.