As I write this, sitting at a little health and wellness cafe in Cape Town, I smile as I hear a woman who’s probably in her late seventies tell the manager that her meal “was delicious! You know, if you’d told me a few years I’d be a vegan, I would have said NOT ON YOUR NELLY! But I am really loving it.”
Me too, m’am. Me too.
In the wake of Joaquin Phoenix’s glorious award season, where he not only picked up accolades left right and centre for his role as Arthur Fleck in The Joker, but also used his acceptance speech platforms to speak out about climate change, racial inequality and animal rights, I am left feeling very inspired and motivated about both being vegan and sharing the vegan message. I’m ashamed to say it has not always been so. As we all were in the early days of conversion, I was the outspoken vegan. I shared everything I could online and was happy to chat and debate about my vegan story to all and sundry. As the years have passed, and especially since becoming a mother, I have found myself becoming less and less vocal about veganism.
In the early days of my vegan journey, I was very panicky and anxious about the state of the world and the plight of every single suffering animal.
I would have sleepless nights over the sheer audacity and stupidity of people who couldn’t see that the answers to everything wrong with the world was right in front of them – right on their plate! A couple of years later, becoming a mother not only blew my world open, but at the same time, made it so much smaller. Suddenly there was no time left for reading articles, watching factory farm footage and signing numerous petitions to save the world and her animals. If, and when, we left the house to interact with others, I was usually far too tired to explain, answer questions or justify the lack of animal products on my plate. When my husband gave up eating all red meat, chicken and pork and went pescatarian a few days after our daughter took her first steps, I no longer felt the overwhelming desire to make him understand why I was vegan – finally he “got it” and was on my “team”.
In 2019, I watched a few of my favourite vegan influencers opt out of the movement, usually for “health” reasons (read: disordered eating) and watched as the backlash against the vegan movement grew and grew in world media. Suddenly, more than ever, vegans were too intense, too extreme; vegan parents were irresponsible, dangerous and selfish; vegans were annoying and doing more harm than good to the planet; vegans were unhealthy; the vegan diet wasn’t actually that good for environment. A number of articles and meat and dairy industry-funded studies came out to cast a shadow on the light and hope that veganism had given me. Although I knew in my heart that all of the above was false and merely the outcry of an industry and people too afraid to make a real change, I thought perhaps it was best to not be so vocal about veganism. You know, rather keep doing my thing, quietly, and motivate change by example.
The thing is though, that if we don’t talk about veganism, animal rights and climate change, if we aren’t active in our views about it, people forget about it.
It’s far easier to sweep uncomfortable things under the rug, than to shine a spotlight on them. It seems that there’s always this unspoken decision to be made as a vegan: to either be the activist, to bring up conversations around food and the way we produce it; or to be inactive – the “nice” quiet vegan, who changes the subject when the topic is brought up, and doesn’t want to come across as being judgemental. I have been both. I have been the vegan protesting circuses on street corners. I have even been the vegan peering over the fence of the pig farm, trying to determine what the actual hell was going on back there that everything needed to be hid behind high walls, electric fences and warning signs – all which may have kept human people out, but failed to mask the screams of the animals stuck within. I have also been the vegan at the party who leaves the circle when discussions around veganism come up. I learnt how to pick my battles. If I can sense that real listening or change might come from a conversation with an open-hearted, intelligent person, I will become the active vegan. But if I feel that the energy of the person and the conversation is already close-ended, I usually opt to be inactive and to save my own energy for a more worthwhile chat.
But lately, as I emerge from the dust of early motherhood, inspired by the works and words of dedicated vegan and environmentalist activists such as Phoenix and Thunberg, I feel the urge to move towards being a more active vegan again; a vegan who speaks up for the animals, even if it makes me, and others, a little uncomfortable; a vegan who shares more about her cause on social media; a vegan who writes more articles such as these; a vegan who attends marches and vigils and continues to do the work needed to help not only the plight of the animals, but also the plight of humans and our earth.
If Joaquin Phoenix can stand up in front of the world and talk about animal rights, fully knowing and understanding the backlash that he may experience, yet still feel safe and protected by his very truth and convictions, than I can damn well tell do the same to everyone in my bookclub group over a bottle of chenin blanc.
I’m tying up the laces of my veganism and getting active again – who’s with me?
Keri is a freelance creative living in Cape Town, South Africa with her husband and baby girl. They share their home with a menagerie of animals including three dogs, a cat and a pond of inherited koi fish.