You may have already connected the dots and understood that I am, indeed, a social justice queen. Much like my outlook on spiritual identity, my identity as a social justice advocate is an ongoing process through which I strive find my role in this important, complex work. This intersection of social justice work and spirituality has led me to a newfound interest in women’s spirituality, which includes goddess spirituality, ecofeminism, and other strands within women’s spirituality that emphasize peace and shared power for all.
In exploring a potential PhD program in women’s spirituality, I found a YouTube video of a faculty member, Dr. Alka Arora of the California Institute of Integral Studies, discussing the issue of speciesism as a core emphasis of women’s spirituality. In this wonderful interview–which just happened to coincide with my return to practicing veganism (through food)–I learned the multitude of ways we “wake up” to speciesism on both literal and figurative levels. Here are some of the most salient takeaways from this interview:
Speciesism is the power construct in which human animals dominate and abuse the existence of non-human animals and other living beings.
We literally wake up to speciesism when we do the following:
- wake up in the morning wrapped in a down comforter made with animals
- eating meat for breakfast or putting dairy-based creamer in our coffee
- getting dressed for work by putting on leather shoes or packing a leather briefcase
- go to work in an industrialized city that includes no other species except for humans (perhaps some birds) because humans have effectively wiped out entire species from existing in certain spaces
We figuratively wake up to speciesism when we do the following:
- ask ourselves why humans need to feel they are at the top of the animal hierarchy/”food chain” and ask ourselves why non-human animals don’t deserve to be free from humans
- examine the role of zoos, circuses, and animal testing in our society and consumer culture
- look at our consumption of meat and dairy as a collective systemic issue versus a series of individual choices
This philosophy began to make much more sense to me, as well as held me accountable as a social justice advocate, by offering these ideas:
- If we agree that humans should not participate in the domination of other humans, how do we rationalize human participation in the domination of non-human animals and the environment?
- If we believe that our own liberation is bound with the liberation of other isms (feminism, anti-hertosexism, homophobia, sexism, racism, transphobia, classism, etc.), how are we so easily missing speciesism?
- Veganism is a political and ethical decision that promotes dignity and respect to all species, which is considered different from someone who eats differently because of a gluten intolerance; the gluten-intolerant person has no choice but to adapt, but veganism is a choice that many have made through an ethical aim.
- The most privileged paradigm in our world–the white, male, European dominant paradigm–is based on theory that animal flesh is necessary for survival. However, other societies, such as Indian society, hold cultural values of respecting animals and avoiding meat, and these societies have thrived even without an emphasis on animal consumption.
Dr. Arora recommends three steps to begin examining the role of speciesism in our lives:
- Pre-change: Keep doing what you’re doing but bring awareness to it. Slow down, and with each bite you take or each meal you order, think of where that food came from and wonder which workers, animals, and links in the “chain” were affected. Dr. Arora says that when we slow down and pay attention, we’re more likely to look inward and not participate in something we recognize as harmful.
- Don’t feed into withdrawal symptoms: If abstaining from meat or dairy is difficult at first, you may think you need meat to function, but it’s like any other addition (coffee, drugs, alcohol, sugar, etc.): we can, and many people do, survive without it. Healthcare professionals or community support are vital in this change/transition.
- Education: Look at the intersections between the oppression of women, people of color, ecological devastation, and nonhuman animals and seek political involvement for those who are able to.
True to the social justice nature of this work, Dr. Arora acknowledges that there are vast issues of access for people to choose a vegan lifestyle. (Y’all, that shit is expensive, and my grocery bill has gone up since my return to eating this food, but I’ll always argue that healthy food for your body is as important of an investment as you can make). But for people in low-income, urban, or rural areas whose main access to affordable meals includes cheap food from animal products, we have the responsibility to work to create access in those spaces so everyone is able to have the option to participate.
People who know me already know that I’m not a social justice warrior who demands people tell me from whom and where their food comes; in fact, those people will know that I still participate in consumerism, capitalism, and corporations, as I am still learning to unravel my socialization and addition to that kind of culture after being raised in it. My clothes are not vegan; my office is not vegan; my car is not eco-friendly, so I am by no means claiming my expertise in this area.
However, if you’re like me, it’s good to start simple as Dr. Arora suggests. I am beginning week three of a strict vegan diet. I traded vanilla coffee creamer for almond milk, chicken tenders for tofu and tempeh, and eggs in the morning for banana oatmeal. Let me tell you: my body feels as great as it’s ever felt. I have been vegetarian and vegan at different points throughout my 20s, and I didn’t think I could ever do it. If you’re afraid, maybe start with a trial period. Can you go one month? One week? One day?
Speciesism will seem like another snowflake luxury of complaint to many people, but if you think critically about it, you might be surprised at your own resistance to change or your unexpected openness to it. Reach out to me if you’d like any support!