On Going Vegan
I’ve been writing a fair amount on my personal blog about how we as advocates for social justice can both advocate change and accept ourselves as imperfect. I think this is one of the harder things to do and often leads to infighting in movements. But there are times when we simply cannot be any better than we are due to things outside of our control. How to deal when those times pop up?
To address a concrete example: I care a fair amount about the environment and about animal rights. I was a vegetarian for a few years and I still label myself as such because I only eat sustainably farmed and ethically raised meat, and it’s very rare for me to get those, so the vast majority of the time I eat vegetarian (plus it’s easier to say that to friends and family than explain the whole thing). However I recently have been adding more meat to my diet again. This is because I tend towards anemia and when I don’t eat meat it impacts my health. I also have an eating disorder, and so while I know that there are other alternatives these are extremely difficult for me to incorporate into my diet, and sometimes can lead to very strong negative reactions such as purging, self-harm, or restriction.
I also know the benefits of veganism. I have heard about how much more sustainable it is than meat-eating, and I know the conditions in which dairy cows and chickens are kept. I know that logically if I don’t support the conditions in which animals for meat are raised, I should not support the conditions that these animals are kept it. But I also have a very limited diet and most of that diet consists of things that include animal products. This is not really my choice. This is my eating disorder’s choice. If I were to choose veganism I am 99% certain that it would trigger full relapse and lead to hospitalization. Unfortunately for me, this is not a choice. Many people might tell me that if I really tried and chose health and environmentalism and animal rights I could make the switch to veganism, but at this moment I need to prioritize my own mental health and safety. I can only hope that at some point in the future I may be able to move more towards my values.
So I am left in a situation in which I am sometimes criticized because I cannot live up to my values and in which I often feel guilty myself because I am not acting as perfectly as I would wish. I look at articles like this one and feel so inadequate. So what do I do? How can I cope with the fact that I am simply incapable at this moment of acting in accordance with my values? Something that we need to remind ourselves over and over and over is that being able to act in accordance with your values is a privilege: some of us have to expend all of our energy to simply survive. And when you are part of an oppressed group, you have to remember that when you fight for yourself YOU ARE FIGHTING FOR AN OPPRESSED PERSON. Self-care is fighting. Forgiving yourself is fighting. Creating more shame and guilt for someone who is already oppressed? This is continuing your own oppression and by extension all oppression.
We all have limitations, and especially because of intersectionality and the vast array of causes we might wish to support we have to choose where to spend our resources. None of us can be a perfect advocate for anything and none of us can be an advocate for everything. Especially in America, one of the largest methods of oppression is the drive for achievement and the purposeful ignoring of all factors that may keep someone from achieving. When we apply this drive to ourselves and our activism we are doing everyone a disservice. We are simply accepting the status quo of guilt and self-hatred. It is far more meaningful to accept our inabilities and to continue trying, compassionately and carefully with ourselves. When we are not perfect, the best we can do is forgive.