Inspired by BFP
So, a number of things have me thinking about vegetarianism/veganism. One, as noted above, are the thoughtful discussions BFP has about potentially becoming a veg*n.
Another is the nature of my work. Invariably, when I talk about my dissertation, I talk about conditions in poultry processing plants. For the workers, there is exhausting, dirty work, at unbelievable speeds. There is routine underpayment of wages. There are supervisors who treat you as if you are nothing. There is the huge company that will do almost anything--legal or extralegal--to keep workers from organizing. There is the exploitation of the most vulnerable workers. There are the "chicken" rashes, bone splinters, musculoskeletal disorders, cumulative trauma disorders, cuts and amputations, slippery, fat-slick floors, extreme temperatures, dealing with frightened, live chickens and dead ones that rest in a "fecal soup."
Here are the hands of a 22-year old man who works in live hang.
What happens in live hang really troubles me. The workers are scratched, pecked, and defecated upon. Frustrated and hurt, they take their anger out on the chickens. They throw the birds against the wall. They break their necks. One employee told me that once, a chicken scratched him so deeply, he took out his pocket knife and stabbed it.
I am also struck by this merging of memories that my mind has done. The first dates to the serious burns I suffered when I was twelve or so, the memory of seeing my skin actually blister and become translucent.
The second occurred when I was pledging. One of my line sisters, Ginger, was a vegan (I didn't even know the word back then). We loved her but thought she was so out there--she used to sit in our meetings drinking rice milk and twisting her short fro into what would soon become the beginning of locs. For one of our meetings, we decided to pick up some Popeye's chicken for dinner. Initially, it was in the car with Ginger and another of my line sisters. I was in the car behind them. Ginger flagged us down and three or four cars pulled over on the shoulder of the freeway; we all knew something terrible must have happened.
Ginger got out of the lead car, marched to where I was sitting and thrust the chicken into my lap. "Here," she said. "I cannot stand the smell of cooked flesh." We rolled our eyes, mumbled about how dramatic she was, and continued on. But her phrasing stuck with me. And sometimes when I have meat and I watch as it cooks, I am turned off by the blistering and browning of the flesh, remembering how horrible my own ordeal was.
Finally, I think an animal-free diet would work wonders for my health and my son's. He doesn't really eat a lot of meat, but his digestive system is in a mess and has been since he was small. He's on a 30-day glycolax prescription right now to ease chronic constipation and soiling.
But I am afraid. I have sworn to myself several times that I'm going to give up meat, one animal at a time. And I'm scared to do it. I think it is the result of this that BfP mentions, "many black feminist vegans I have read/talked to say that veganism is unfathomable as a choice to most of their community."
First, I spend an inordinate amount of time cooking. It relaxes me. I love trying new recipes. I love seeing things emerge from a group of ingredients to a beautiful, tasty whole.
But I also cook to nurture. I know that's problematic--to encourage people to seek comfort in food--but it's something that I know and am hesitant to unlearn. I cook for people I love. I cook for families when they are bereaved. I cook for friends when they're having parties. I cook when my closest friends and I are sitting around doing nothing. I cook for the kids at my summer job. It is something I like to do, something I take pride in, something I am comfortable with.
So imagine the idea of shaking all that up. What if people don't like my cooking anymore? What if I'm no longer good at it? What if I can't share meals anymore?
And then there is the outside resistance. My family looks at me crazily or with smirks when I bring it up. The other day I tried to discuss it with my mom. She stopped in the middle of sweeping and looked at me. "Why would you do that?" she asked. She sounded genuinely offended.
"Think about the processing industry, for one thing, Mama," I said.
"elle, I work in a plant and I eat meat." That threw me, gave me the feeling I get when I see people appropriate others' struggles/pretend to know more about others' plight than the people themselves. Did I sound like I was contemplating it for purely academic reasons? Was it a luxury I could afford to think about when so many other people cannot?
So there are times when I "don't feel right" about eating meat and others when I "don't feel right" about the idea of giving it up.
At this point, however, I have vowed to at least try.