“The other day, I heard that one of my colleagues at work was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Well, serves him right. He has been consuming dead corpses every damn day for lunch. Every other week, he’s telling us how he went to some restaurant or BBQ party and had ‘the best ribs ever.’ Well, we reap what we sow. I don’t need to worry about colon cancer shit because I’ve been vegan for 12 years and am never going back to being a dead corpse muncher.”
Since becoming vegan, I have run into these above types of stories and/or comments a plethora of times. My initial response is both sadness and disgust, mixed with a lot of confusion. I find a lot of these comments entrenched in anger and rage, fundamentalism and judgmentalism. It’s a strange ‘narrative’ one uses to convince themselves that their born-again-veganism (as most folk who are vegan now were not born and raised into it) saved them from fatal or incapacitating illness. It’s as if they forget that there was a time in which they too ate animals or animal by-products and had a completely different consciousness than they do now.
I have been thinking about how to respond to these types of comments for a few years now, and today, I finally felt like sitting down and giving it a try. Instead of writing a long analytical article, I thought I’d switch up the narrative and write it from this perspective:
“I just received word that Carla was diagnosed with brain cancer. No surprise; she’s had that Smartphone glued to her ear during the last 5 years that I saw her on break. That’s why I never use those damn things and just have a hardline at home. And I’ve sent her several articles telling her how people in sweatshop like conditions make her phone and that mining for the minerals and metals to make her phone destroy the environment and pollute communities. But no, we reap what we sow. And to top it off, she is a die-hard vegan who is always telling us that eating animals will be the death of us. I used to tell her, ‘I’ll stop eating my locally raised egg sandwiches when you stop buying from technology companies that exploit people and pollute the environment.'”
For me, whether it’s vegans shaming/blaming non-vegans who are diagnosed with colon cancer, or omnivores blaming/shaming vegans diagnosed with brain cancer for using Smart phones made with exploited labor, these types of “I’m the most ethical person on the planet, and that is why you got cancer and I didn’t” narratives are really just missing the point; such narratives fail to deeply critique our own narrow focus on a one-method-as cure-all for all the world’s complex problems. Our own self-absorbed narratives often seem to just make us feel better and more superior, when in fact, we may be more part of the problem than we realize.
I remember watching Capitalism, A Love Story by Michael Moore. There was one segment about the mother who was fighting to get justice after her 2 year old died from eating contaminated cow flesh. I remember encountering the opinions of several vegans who basically responded in this manner to her loss: Well, giving your child animal products is child abuse and cruel. I wonder if she cares about how many cows died so her kid could eat a hamburger. Meat eating is unhealthy and cruel, so what did she expect? The underlying message that I heard was that this mother deserved no sympathy and that she and her child got what they deserved for not being vegan. Speechless. For me, this type of behavior is off-putting and the antithesis of thinking holistically, lovingly, and mindfully.
Why do so many of us get some type of sick satisfaction, when those who don’t follow our personal ‘rules for being a good human being’ end up getting sick, hurt, etc.? Why is it so hard to connect with all suffering and pain? Why is it so conditional?
(Next month is the Sistah Vegan Web Conference. Sept 14, 2013. 10am-6pm PST). Go to www.sistahveganconference.com to learn more and register).
About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project
Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business. Find out how you can donate to the Sistah Vegan Project.