All photos taken at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.
A couple of weeks ago, I began my morning—as I do every Saturday—by listening to the then latest episode of Our Hen House (at which I now serve as a Contributing Writer, whoo hoo!). Jasmin and Mariann, during their preliminary “Ramblings” section, discussed two articles that referred to veganism as akin to celibacy, the latter of which deemed it “a form of dietary totalitarianism,” a regime that “sucks out the joy” from eating.
Synonymous with celibacy is abstention—the act of voluntarily holding oneself back. Integral to totalitarianism is control—the exercise of restraint. The absence of joy connotes the absence of pleasure—a feeling of satisfaction.
I’m deeply familiar with this state of abstention, control, and lack of gratification surrounding food. My catchall term for this state? Eating disorder. In high school, I eagerly held myself back from consuming calorie-dense foods, in disgusted awe of those who dared to eat peanut butter sandwiches and baked goods. I controlled every calorie that entered my mouth, tracking each morsel of food on a macronutrient chart and making sure to restrain myself from consuming over 1200 daily calories. I gained no pleasure from eating, simultaneously overwhelmed during meals with the fear that I would consume “too many” calories, and with the stifled yearning to finally feel dietarily satisfied.
In contrast to the two aforementioned articles’ authors, as well as to this disordered mindset, veganism both reintroduced meaning into my life and aided me in viewing food as friend rather than adversary. Soon after discovering veganism, my obsession with not consuming more than 25 grams of fat per day paled in comparison to the urgent yet overlooked issue of animal exploitation. I strove to gain weight in order to combat the mainstream notion of vegans as frail, gaunt, and unhealthy. I found a sense of empowerment in voting with my meal choices against the oppressive system of animal agriculture, eager and proud to consume all of the edibles in the plant kingdom (even those I had before demonized, such as…gasp, full-fat coconut milk?!?!?). Most of all, I pushed away the shadow of gloom lingering over my restrictive, fanatic lifestyle, welcoming in the sense of purpose, the passion, the joy with which veganism imbues my life.
Emerging from my introverted hibernation (eating disordered depression proves quite adverse to quality social relationships), I found communion with the world around me, first and foremost through the non-human animals for whom I soon began to advocate. As an individual with access to adequate plant-based food sources and the funds to purchase them, I found the act of not eating the flesh and secretions as a logical extension of my newfound harmony with the broader world. In the words of Buddhist philosopher Joanna Macy in her book Active Hope, “When we perceive our identity as an ecological self that includes not just us but also all life on Earth, then acting for the sake of our world doesn’t seem like sacrifice. It seems a natural thing to do” (76).
Replacing the chickens on my plate with maple-glazed tempeh and the dairy-based cheese in my salad with aged cashew cheddar does not add any militancy nor detract any pleasure from my life. On the contrary, doing so has opened up a world of flavors, textures, and ingredient preparations of which I never before dreamed.
I completely understand that, for many individuals suffering from eating disorders, veg(eteri)anism can serve to perpetuate dietary regimentation. However, I’d like to introduce an alternate perspective to this unfortunate phenomenon, as well as to the authors of the articles in question (most likely neither of whom, as well-off white males, have had to face the same lifelong media bombardment dictating how female bodies “should” look). For me—as well as others featured in Choosing Raw’s “Green Recovery Series”—veganism proved integral in transforming my life from the empty one described in both articles into a vibrant, fulfilling one.
Veganism is not celibacy. Veganism is not totalitarianism. Veganism is a respect for all life put into practice in a world that frowns upon such respect, but that with our activism, won’t be frowning for much longer.
Until next time, Ali.