“I did not know to recognize you as individuals when I bought you, but I know to recognize you as individuals now…”
I had been a vegetarian, and sometimes pescatarian, for more than 10 years before becoming vegan. Despite the length of my vegetarianism, in all that time I had not been inclined to go vegan. First, I really didn’t know too much about veganism and only began meeting a few vegans about five or six years ago here in Boston, none of whom had shared a compelling enough reason for their choice (at least not compelling to me). Further, I had no imagination for life without cheese or Cherry Garcia ice cream(!), and so I happily continued with my vegetarian ways. Then enters Carol Adams…
In a teleconference that WATER had with Carol Adams on March 14, 2012 (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual), the beauty of her veganism moved me to a new understanding of my food choices. I listened to the WATER audio recording some months after the actual event (these teleconference audio recordings are a great resource you should all access), and although I had been familiar with some of her work and had heard her speak before, I had not heard her talk about the compassion element of veganism. Her emphasis on increasing compassion, which I witnessed in action during her conversation with one of the listeners, was what moved me to my new practice.
In the teleconference, Carol began by delineating three points of connection between vegetarianism and feminisms. First, she points out that meat eating is central to the social and cultural construction of masculine identity in a patriarchal framework (see chapter one of The Sexual Politics of Meat). Secondly, she explains how meat eating makes animals absent referents in the same way patriarchy makes women absent referents. Both are made into consumable products that don’t have rights over their own bodies. We literally make animals into products by killing them and transforming their body parts into ‘pork chops, chicken wings, bacon, hamburger, sirloin, etc.,’ and likewise make women visually consumable through media and popular culture, and sexually consumable through sexual slavery. These mechanisms represent a structure of overlapping absent referents that reinforce the hierarchical structure and domination core of patriarchy.
Then in her third point Carol highlights the value of all of our existences, animals included, and our mutual interconnection in the web of life. She brings a compassionate viewpoint to our eating practices and helps raise the question of how it is that we could be eating other animals. Carol explains that compassion is bringing attentive love to our lives and the lives of all others and being able to imaginatively respond to oppression, including the oppression of animals. If we were willing to be attentive to animals’ experiences and asked them the simple question, “what are you going through?” eating animals and the food produced at their expense would be a lot more difficult. For Adams, how and what we eat is a practice of extending compassion, of being a human willing to hear the answer of what animals are going through and caring about it. This is what got me, this emphasis, this desire to be someone who extends compassion, even to non-human animals, and takes seriously the injunction that all oppressions are interconnected and bad for us all. So, Carol states, “Being vegan is a spiritual practice.”
And here is what did it for me: Around minute 34 of the teleconference, Carol and a Franciscan nun on the call have a beautiful and transformative conversation. The sister expresses her disbelief at the fact that even though she and her other sisters are vegetarians it had not occurred to them to become vegans, as St. Francis was known to be an animal lover. Nonetheless, she is now moved to become vegan and will be having a conversation with her sisters about it; her only problem are the 6 chicken’s wings that are in her freezer; “I guess I better eat them first before I become vegan,” she says. Carol’s response to her in that moment changed everything for me. After her initial reaction of “no, no, nooo,” and then quickly affirming that everyone has to make their own decision, Carol suggests that perhaps the sister could bury the chicken’s wings and in that way begin to incorporate the idea of the chicken’s being-ness; that during the burial the sister can say, “I did not know to recognize you as individuals when I bought you, but I know to recognize you as individuals now…” This was the moment that brought me to tears and sealed the deal for me. In that moment I knew that I wanted to practice being such a person. I wanted to be a person inclined to such beautiful compassion, compassion extended even to the chicken and its wings; and in that very moment I chose to adopt veganism as a spiritual practice.
I know the issues around food are complicated. I know we don’t all have the same access and choices, and that the reality of our contexts impact our possibilities. We have had rich discussions about these complexities here on FAR, see Amy Levin’s post, for example. At the end of the day, we all need to make our own choices, and we don’t need to judge one another for them; the point is not judgment, but the extending of compassion. Carol states that “stopping our eating of animals liberates us into new relationships,” to compassionate ones. I have experienced this to be true and I hope to continue to do so as I grow in my practice of veganism.
Thanks to WATER’s teleconference with Carol Adams, not only did I learn a compelling reason for being vegan, I encountered a woman whose very being was so compelling, so beautiful, I couldn’t help but want to follow. Cheese and Cherry Garcia are just not that appealing anymore!
Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology. She loves all things feminist. Finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters.