Depending on who you talk to, veganism is either the social movement that will solve the world’s problems and usher in a new utopian society where humans and animals live in harmony with a flourishing ecosystem, or it’s an annoying dietary fad that’ll go the way of the Atkin’s diet. My experiences with the ubiquitous diet are manifold, and my motivations are mainly health and environmentally based. If I cook and eat without animal products, my skin is clearer, I have slightly more energy and I don’t have to feel guilty about the calories I ingest from beer or the tacos I eat by the half dozen with my friends. However, the all-or-nothing, restrictive, almost puritanical cultishness behind what should be a change that makes you feel good about yourself and your mitigated impact on the planet makes this regime seem more like a four-letter word. Because of the privilege and judgment that can sometimes rear its ugly head in classes like “vegan lit” (which I’m currently enrolled in), I choose not to identify as a vegan at all.

The class is a comparative lit course that necessitates discussion. I find myself having to rein in the comments that constantly spring to mind over questions such as “Do plants have feelings?” It seems like a course-wide pity party that discusses all of the ways in which vegans are put upon by meat eaters and the fierce arguments for a plant-based diet. This is not to say the attitudes sometimes exhibited in the course are representative of all vegans, nor do I think all meat-eaters are defensive in their consumption of animal flesh. In fact, I think politicizing diet is an unfortunate by-product of an age where everything has a series of wider implications that cannot be avoided, and it results in a hailstorm of guilt and finger-pointing.

Daily Nexus / Nathan Campos

Coming from the perspective of environmentalism and sustainability makes it easier to sit back and analyze the confusion. A plant-based diet saves about 600 gallons of water per capita, daily. That is enough of an impact to mitigate any guilt I have about killing cute and fuzzy animals. I’ve also seen chickens slaughtered and eaten them anyway, so I’m confident in my ability to confront the real source of meat as opposed to fooling myself into pretending the hermetically sealed packages in the supermarket were never alive. The focus on animal ethics is one of the factors that makes this argument so personal. People who eat meat are called murderers. Well, to some extent, we all are if we live in developed countries. Every bit of privilege we have is built on the backs of someone in another country, and no amount of fair trade buying will change that. I don’t think it’s inherently right or wrong to eat animal products; we’re clearly evolved to have at least the option, whether or not we decide to pursue it.

In fact, I think politicizing diet is an unfortunate by-product of an age where everything has a series of wider implications that cannot be avoided, and it results in a hailstorm of guilt and finger-pointing.

However, the extent to which we consume meat — every meal for some of us — and the way in which animals are raised is not only morally repugnant (in the case of animal husbandry), but it is also extremely harmful to our planet and to human health. I think this is the root of the problem, and guilting someone into a diet (no matter how beneficial it may be) will never be effective.
I have yet to even touch on the fact that college-aged women who eat restrictive diets have much higher rates of eating disorders. It’s almost no wonder, with the diet’s link to fitness and the association of an act so simple as eating linked with cheating. I remember telling a friend I had eaten a hamburger on a drunken night, and she literally gasped. With that reaction, who wants the stigma?
I’ve decided the most effective way of avoiding controversy is to identify as vegan-ish. I have a co-op membership I use happily, and I take pride in buying fair trade whenever I can. However, this privilege comes from the fact that I am a student lucky enough to have multiple jobs and no children or family to feed with picky diets or cravings for dino nuggets. (That’s what kids eat, right?) Yes, it can be cheaper to eat a plant-based diet, but that requires the planning and access to healthy and whole foods that not every American has, and the privilege behind assuming this is currently a feasible choice for everyone is part of the reason I often leave class feeling disheartened and painfully aware of the demographics of UCSB.

At this point, veganism is a concept surrounded by controversy. To utter it is to invite speculation, comments on the most personal of activities and judgment. I believe people, in general, do want to make a difference, and I don’t want to be actively judged. Even so, to politicize every bite is as unhealthy as eating a triple cheeseburger every day. Instead of focusing on what people are eating, let’s expand education on the choices we have and make sure that all of those choices are as healthy for the planet and its inhabitants as possible.

Sebastianne Kent wants you to have fun eating your veggies!