At this point, I have been a vegetarian in some form for most of my life. I started when I was 10 years old after I learned how people cook lobsters and while my diet has varied some over the years, I have mostly stuck to the vegetarian eating habits. (I do occasionally eat local seafood now, mostly salmon from the area but that’s not 100% the point right now.)
I often get a few questions when people find out I’m vegetarian – am I vegan? Is the rest of my family vegetarian? And when people find out that I’m actually a bit of an odd duckling in my family (because I am the only one who doesn’t eat meat), they often ask how and why I became one.
I became a vegetarian at age 10 because of an idealistic notion that becoming one was the right thing to do and a mild terror that came with realizing that lobsters were cooked alive. (I still can’t eat lobsters but that’s in part because I’m also utterly creeped out by them.) And I stayed one for various reasons – environmental reasons, ethical concerns, habit, and at this point, I don’t know if my stomach would really be able to switch back without me being utterly sick all the time.
And while I’m 100% here for the ethical treatment of animals and so much more, I’m definitely not here for the ways in which mainstream animals rights movements are oppressive nor am I here for the shaming people who are not being vegan or vegetarian. Mahealani Joy wrote about four different ways that animal rights movements are oppressive, writing in particular about how many movements often value animals over the lives of marginalized people and how these same mainstream movements are also built upon colonialism. I definitely recommend reading their piece to really understand this issue.
Fighting for animal rights is incredibly important and is a fundamental part of who I am. But when doing so dehumanizes, oppresses, and shames people, I can’t help but wonder what good that does. There are so many reasons why someone would not be able to be a vegan or vegetarian – not being able to afford to, literally not being able to (some people would not be able to survive on a vegan or vegetarian diet), living in a food desert, etc.
Everyone CANNOT be vegan. Some because they’re poor and live in food deserts. Others because of health reasons.
— IsⒶJennie (@IsaJennie) March 11, 2016
Classism and ableism widely impact animal rights movements and it’s so important to realize that just because people fight for justice in different ways, they’re not terrible for it. I don’t think that it’s inherently contradictory to eat meat and fight for animal rights – not everyone can work in the same way in this fight and other struggles as well. I think we need to spend less time shaming others about their eating habits and focus a hell of a lot more on the industrial meat production and corporations that are simultaneously leeching the environment and causing great harm to many different animals.