“My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
-Flavia Dzodan, 2011
Content note for eating disorders, body hatred, mental illness, ableism, animal cruelty and misogyny.
I am in the process of cutting out animal products from my diet. I have been trying (and failing) to do so from the age of 15. Veganism and I have had an on-again-off-again relationship for 10 years now – we’ve decided to take it slow this time.
I got close last year, but after jet setting to Italy the taste of real Italian prosciutto has become a hard thing to forget. But slowly I am making changes. I’m finishing off my non-vegan makeup and toiletries and purchasing more environmentally friendly replacements. I’m trying extra hard to keep myself in check, reminding myself of the cost of the ham sandwich I made out of convenience and nothing else.
When I first decided to go vegetarian I did it because I watched so many animal cruelty videos as a teenager that I scared myself into it. Now as an adult, veganism has become both an ethical choice as well as convenience. My partner being vegan, and myself an omnivore, usually means spending money on food he can’t eat, so I’m learning to compromise with my diet. I don’t like to put too much weight on the ‘whys’ of my choice, just that I’ve gotten there now and I’m happy with what I’ve decided.
But as a freelancer and a casual worker, I’m also a low-income earner, and find myself getting hungrier and poorer with the less meat I eat. It is not an easy dilemma to solve.
I’ve made a note of liking and following several vegan groups on Facebook and Instagram, in the hopes that if I see enough veganism on my feed it’ll seep into my brain like 21st century osmosis. However, none of them mention the privilege involved with being able to cut out certain foods and follow this lifestyle. No one talks about the hard, cheap, and in some countries, slave labour that goes into harvesting foods that are deemed “ethical,” and no one talks about the fact that even with money, veganism is not accessible to everyone.
Scrolling through my Facebook feed really drove this home. In one group, someone posted an article titled “To Be A Feminist Is To Be Vegan.” The article discussed the cruel process of keeping female cows pregnant all their lives to ensure they’re always lactating and producing milk, and how a certain piece of equipment used on farms is distastefully labelled a “rape-rack.”
I made the mistake of reading the comments (I like to self sabotage, sue me) and saw how many women agreed that they were better feminists because they chose to stop having their tea with milk. I rolled my eyes at the arrogance of their self-certainty.
However, one woman shared that while she didn’t cook with or eat animal products, she still consumed them in medication for her chronic illness. She pointed out that putting down others for calling themselves feminists while not being vegan was unfair as all of our circumstances are different. I love-reacted to her comment, and I would’ve done so more than once if I could, because it was the first instance in a sea of superiority where empathy prevailed.
It’s a sad accident, that in the case for saving animals we’ve forgotten what it means to be compassionate towards people. And that in wanting to be better people, one-upping one another has taken precedence. It begs the question, when did being progressive become a contest?
A similar incident of bullying occurred just recently on a young girl’s YouTube account, where she was celebrating her recovery from an eating disorder and sharing the meals she had been eating. Most comments were positive and encouraging, but some criticised her for eating meat instead of recovering with a raw vegan diet.
For a young girl, who is impressionable and would no doubt be in a sensitive mental state, it’s a situation that calls for a bit more responsibility and consideration from adults before criticising.
There is almost certainly no humane way to get animal products, and the labelling of certain farm equipment is quite frankly offensive, but I have never thought to myself “You know what will make me a real feminist? Better than that feminist over there? Going vegan.”
We also have to consider that being vegan does not always translate to being ethical, especially if we have no consideration for where our fresh produce comes from. The 417 Visa states that all tourists between the ages of 18-32 must do 88 days of farm work in order to qualify for the 2 year working visa, however a survey last year found that the majority of people completing this farm work felt they were being exploited and were the victims of wage theft. These employers have no regulations and provide no training to their staff. Because there is no regulation this not only allows for several work place injuries, but also various cases of sexual assaults on young female backpackers.
The majority of agricultural workers and farm owners are males aged 53 to 59 (the median age is 40 for the rest of the workforce) compared to the median 23-year-old female temporary visa holder. The vast disparity in age as well as the threat of not being able to stay in Australia has made it easy for farm employers to take advantage of their employees, and the fact that this is legal has allowed for little to no ethics in harvesting ethical foods.
I would argue most people are in agreement that exploitation of animals or people, is not okay. But I’m also sure that a lot of people reading this would struggle going 100% ethical, for a number of financial, physical or even cultural reasons, but also because the practice of acquiring environmentally friendly foods wouldn’t allow for it.
Encouraging “positive” behaviours is one thing, but to demand it or shame others for not following the strict rules you live by is a different thing entirely. To bully people without taking a moment to consider whether or not it is inclusive for everyone surely goes against those things we stand for.
This is what I narrow my politics down to: what I do for the environment or for myself is because I am trying my hardest to be a good person in all aspects of my life. But my hardest will not be the same as someone else’s and my hardest will not be perfection.
My aim has always been to be the best person I can be, not better than you.
Vanessa Giron is a Latinx freelance writer and digital media strategist based in Naarm/Melbourne. She primarily writes on being a woman of colour and feminism, and how these things have shaped her identity as a modern Australian. She is a member of the West Writers Group with Footscray Community Arts Centre as well as a regular contributor for Djed Press. You can find Vanessa on Twitter @vanesssagiron or vanessagiron.com