Being feminist means being vegan. You can’t be a true feminist if you’re eating meat.
I read this comment on Facebook and it hit a nerve with me. My first reaction was, “Why should people be telling others what to eat and what not to eat?” The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me for many reasons.
The argument is that being a feminist means addressing all forms of oppression, including oppression of animals. The animal agricultural industry exploits animals. Female animals are forced to breed through artificial or manual insemination. Their youngs are taken from them prematurely. Female chickens are debeaked and grow to be too big for their legs to carry them. Pigs are penned in cages too small for them to move. The theory is that exploitation of the female animal reproductive system is very relevant to feminists fighting against the patriarchy and fighting for human female reproductive rights. Oppression of animals should intersect with oppression of women.
When vegans or feminists make statements like mentioned above, it can come off as very Western-centric, classist, and elitist.
I’ve never felt like going vegan or vegetarian, not because I didn’t understand the plight for animal rights, but because it is something I can’t identify with.
First and most importantly, Hmong culture is a very big part of my identity, and food is Hmong culture. We (family and friends) gather around food. Food is served at birthday parties, religious ceremonies, celebrations, and even during short visits to family. Food is part of family life.
So, why not substitute meat ingredients with vegan products?
Our ancestors cultivated the lands of Laos, Vietnam, and China for farming and livestock. We brought our culture with us when we immigrated to the US as refugees of war after the Vietnam War.
Religious ceremonies, like hu plig (soul calling), require eggs and the sacrifice of chickens and roosters. Other ceremonies involve sacrificial cows, pigs, and sheep/goats. We need chicken’s blood and feathers for the New Year to create a new shrine for our xwm kab. So, how should we perform or practice our religion if we go vegan? What about the cultural custom of dieting only on boiled chicken and herbs 30 days postpartum?
Meat has always been very precious to the Hmong. We don’t waste anything, so the dishes we cook during feasts are from the meat of the animals we sacrifice for religious ceremonies. Food we eat throughout the year are leftover meat from the same animals.
Vegans telling me to stop eating meat is like them telling me that I should not practice my culture or religion. Very White-centric and maybe even racist.
Secondly, I’ve always identified veganism with White hipsters. Just like how White feminism isn’t inclusive of the struggles of people of color, the LGBTQ community, or those with disabilities, just to name a few, veganism is very exclusive to those with privilege.
Many feminists in the non-profit sector (myself included) do not make a lot of money. My priorities are not to search for non-GMO, organic, whole foods, fresh produce and cruelty-free, vegan products or merchandise. My priorities are to make sure I can stretch my dollars to support my family until payday. Additionally, many people live in food deserts where healthy fresh food is not locally available. Who are we to judge?
There are indigenous people from all over the world whose survival relies on hunting, especially those from the Northern Hemisphere where the weather does not permit agriculture. These people live conscientiously and make less of an impact than vegan food being processed, packaged, and transported to sell at Whole Foods. Thinking back on my Grams telling tales of how my ancestors respected the earth and only took what they needed really hones in that not everyone who eat meat are exploiting animals. Not only that, but there are communities of non-indigenous Americans who live off the land responsibly and sustainably.
Additionally, there is a growing trend of vegans (not all) appropriating ethnic food and culture and claiming it as “hip” or “vegan.” This is more of an issue for me as an ethnic minority whose history is full of political and social oppression, colonialism, and war.
Lastly, I do not oppose veganism, but I am against vegans who think their way of life is better than someone else’s without understanding the person’s life dynamics and culture.
It’s not okay to judge or attack anyone whose lifestyle choices are different from ours. Whether someone chooses to abstain from meat due to religious or ethical reasons is up to them. Whether someone chooses to eat meat or doesn’t have the privilege to choose not to eat meat is also none of our business. Not everyone can afford to eat healthy. Not everyone’s body can thrive on a vegan or vegetarian diet. Many do not have the choices most with privilege do.
To say that a feminist is not a “true” feminist if they eat meat is counter-intuitive of feminism isn’t it? Let’s just tackle the problem of exploiting farm laborers before saying that going vegan is more ethical than eating meat.