More than a decade ago, I took a job at one of the largest animal rights organizations in the world. They were, after all, one of the main reasons I went vegetarian in the mid-90s, and why, in middle-school, I refused to dissect animals and instead presented science projects about the pitfalls of vivisection. That organization helped lay the foundation that fueled my activism, in animal rights and other areas, in my late teens and 20s, and for that I will always be grateful. But here’s the thing—when I started that job, I wasn’t vegan. And that’s OK.
Becoming vegan took time, and even though I had been vegetarian for more than half of my life, I still had a lot to learn. So, I took it one step at a time and relied on people’s kindness as I restructured my diet and lifestyle. I followed the “2% rule”—a controversial, but often cited theory among some vegans that animal ingredients listed in the “less than 2%” category of prepackaged foods could, for various reasons, be overlooked. It allowed me flexibility while I transitioned from vegetarian to vegan. I also didn’t throw out every item I had containing animal products. My combat boots from high school, a few old wool sweaters, and a hand-me-down comforter made with down didn’t automatically get donated to the thrift stores. Our budget was tight, as our household was two people with one low income. And frankly, it made more sense to save our money for vegan ramen and Miller Highlife than toss out our blankets.
Over time, our household and lifestyle became more and more vegan. If someone had told me on my very first day working at this organization that I had to toss all my hand-me downs and old shoes, or I had to cut out processed sugar because of bone char, or I couldn’t dine at restaurants or eat food from facilities that were not completely vegan, I would have turned around, walked out the front door, and never looked back. Fortunately, the majority of people I met understood the value of time and flexibility. In the office, our campaigns emphasized asking restaurants and schools to implement “Meatless Monday” to reduce their carbon footprint as opposed to asking large-scale food service industry players to go completely vegan. We were urged to eat vegan options at restaurants that were in no way vegan establishments to show there truly was a demand for vegan food. We were highly focused on making vegan options accessible, low-cost, and practical, which brings us back to the 2% rule.
This all leads me to where I am in my life now. I work in higher education, co-own a small publishing company, am gearing up to start grad school, and, recently, my wife and I added a baby to our family by way of adoption. In other words, my life has changed drastically in the last six months, and I am relying on that same flexibility I was graced with a decade ago. I have to reevaluate where my energy goes, what my days look like, and what things I have to let go of, even if it’s just temporarily. To be honest, most days protests fall into that last category. Don’t get me wrong—I want to take my kid to protests, whether they are against the new primate lab at the University of Washington, or a march against police brutality, or a protest against deportation. I want these things to be a part of my kid’s childhood because they are a part of my life. Just not right now. And I’m OK with that.
It doesn’t mean I’ve given up my morals, or that I am less of an activist. I am the go-to person in my office when people have questions about veganism, or vegetarian recipes, or how to eat a more plant-based diet. I still tell people to take their conversations elsewhere because I don’t want to hear about eating dead animal carcasses when bacon is being discussed. I am still the person who will make plans to take friends and family to vegetarian restaurants when I am the one in charge. However, I believe in self-care and know myself well enough to admit that when the baby is cranky and I’m running on four hours of broken sleep, there is no way in hell we are going to go to a demo. I am grateful for my friends who understand that choice.
There is no shame in taking a step back and refocusing when trying to figure out how to live with change. It’s been my experience, however, in the activist-driven movements I have been involved with, that stepping back and refocusing is often met with resistance. Claims of betrayal to the cause and shame are thrown around carelessly. The sentiment of “If I can do it, everyone can!” seem to abound without taking into account individual circumstance and our personal privileges. The names of activist super stars drop like the rain falls in Seattle, with undercurrents that if we aren’t all Cesar Chavez, we might as well pack our bags and go home, because how dare we have the audacity to be a part-time activist. But here’s the thing: only Cesar Chavez was actually Cesar Chavez, and he didn’t win movements alone. Movements are made by thousands of people, working on all levels, doing what they can. I will continue to add my drops to the bucket when able, but I am not going to fault myself for stepping back when I need to, and refocusing, even if that takes me a few years. I’m sure I will go back to more frequent protesting eventually, and, in the meantime, I’ll ask you as a fellow vegan activist to keep the animals in mind as you work tirelessly for animal liberation, and to let go of judging those of us who couldn’t make it out to the protest some days.
Posted in Family Life