Thursday, December 13, 2012

I'm a Bad Vegan, or My Visit to Farm Sanctuary

A few weeks ago, my family and I spent a day at the farm - Farm Sanctuary to be more specific. This is something of a rite of passage for a new vegan. Practically every vegan book, blog, or website I’ve read is plastered with images of the author curled up with cows, draped over pigs, and nuzzling goats. I was starting to feel like a vegan deadbeat, and not for the obvious reason that I haven’t posted in, ahem, months. So, when my sister spotted a Vegan Thanksgiving Feast at the Orland Farm Sanctuary, we put on the closest thing we have to outdoor-wear and headed north.

Upon arrival, we were treated to vegan donuts, coffee and tea, while Tara Oresick, the Shelter Director gave an all too brief presentation on a handful of that year’s rescued animals. I found this to be the most successful presentation of the day, with Oresick truly giving a voice (and a name and a history) to those who can’t speak for themselves. I could feel myself connecting to the aforementioned cows, pigs, and goats as she described the circumstances that brought them here. Could there be anything more endearing than a goat named Scribbles? Or, a chicken and a rooster who have improbably found love? Maybe for some people.

I have a confession to make: I’m a vegan who doesn’t like animals. As I’ve already expressed here, I did not become vegan because of my love for animals, or a horrified epiphany that chicken is chicken. I became and stay vegan because I don’t want to contribute to our dysfunctional agriculture system and its MO of cruelty, because it is the single most effective thing you can do to impede global warming, because it vastly decreases my risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and because my skinny jeans are three sizes smaller. But, I still feel like a fraud because I don’t fawn over creatures that used to be my food. Becoming vegan hasn’t changed the fact that I find them smelly, boring, and interchangeable. Perhaps if I spent more time with them, I would come to discern the feisty hen from the flock, but after 20 minutes of awkwardly patting various animals on the head, I was good.

This is not a popular sentiment among vegans, and one that will surely earn me the title of “Bad Vegan” from some of my plant-based comrades.  But, I don’t think this is true. Veganism cannot be an exclusive club; it has to welcome everybody. We don’t want our beliefs to be rare and exotic (well, maybe just a little), but pervasive. And if we’re going to achieve ubiquity, we have to dismantle these definitions of what it means to be a “real” vegan. There are lots of reasons why people adopt a vegan diet: it sounds like a cool thing to do in college, or you want to do something challenging for Lent, or 17 years after Clueless you’re still trying to emulate Alicia Silverstone, or you really love animals. The end result is the same, so why does it matter how you got there?  Deifying those who became vegan for the “right” reasons alienates those who stumbled upon it. Some people smirk when I tell them that I became vegan on a whim, but there might be one person who connects to my unconventional path. And that’s one person more than before.