I grew up on the East Coast in the 1960s, and I became a vegetarian as a teen, a lifestyle unlike the majority of people in my suburban community. At that time, I strongly felt that being aligned with a mainstream, meat-eating society was unjust; primarily because the amount of resources needed for meat and poultry production was/is significantly more than what is necessary to produce food for a healthy, plant-based diet. Tassajara Cooking by Edward Espe Brown, and Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé, were books that influenced me during that time. In the mid-1970s and early 1980s, I attended college; lived in three states; studied dance and visual arts; and worked with students at Rutgers.
Fast forwarding to the 1990s, I walked away from an active life in Hub City and a position at a civil rights law firm in NYC, moving cross-country to the Sonoran Desert.
I became a foster-parent; then a mother by adoption; and now I’m a nana. I have been employed for twelve years as a social worker. Prior to that, I did criminal defense mitigation work; behavioral health support for needle exchange clients; and advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS. We have also been involved with rescue work benefiting animal companions.
Three years ago, I became the second Black woman ordained in our Chán (Zen) order. From a spiritual point of view, the vegan lifestyle compliments Buddhist practices for moving beyond an illusory sense of self, as we say, to ultimately embrace Śūnyatā (emptiness or openness). I must confess that I did not become completely vegan until Dec. 2015. Why go vegan after being vegetarian for so long? In part because my commitment to ending the suffering of sentient beings, at least as far as what I ate, had been inadequate.
Why shouldn’t I, a person of relative affluence compared to people in impoverished communities around the world, take my diet to the next level? How might I have been complicit in the suffering of other beings? Buying cage-free chicken eggs?Yeah, that still promotes suffering.That half-and-half in a breve latte? Not okay, really, when milk from a cow was designed for her calves. Acres of land used to graze cattle and other animals that could be used for other purposes or left alone? Clean water appropriated by the beef and poultry industries, or fish farms, when people are forced to drink unsafe water from contaminated pipes? Thanks, but no thanks.
Circling back, the reasons for becoming a vegetarian, for me, were the reasons to become a vegan. It wasn’t too difficult once I became a hard-core, incredibly diligent, label-reading consumer. Little did I know initially that as an added bonus, giving up dairy would improve my overall health. And really, when we are blessed with many options, why not do what is best for the greatest number of human and non-human beings? Fortunately, where we live in Southern Arizona, there are opportunities to purchase reasonably priced fruits and vegetables from groups like the Borderlands Food Bank’s Produce On Wheels Without Waste, or the Market on the Move, since we are so close to Mexico.
What’s my advice if you’re considering veganism but worry that it’s too extreme, difficult or expensive? I am the only vegan in my household; however, everyone at home now eats more fruits and vegetables, so it’s all good. There are lots of materials you can find online like Black Vegans Rock; or just Google Black Vegans to find sites like Vegans of Color; or go to a library and check out a book or two. You can even find free or low-cost vegan books for your Kindle on Amazon. Speaking of money, I have found that I have a little more change in my pockets since I don’t eat so-called convenience foods from places like Starbucks or the corner mart.
Still not convinced? Try meditating on the idea that human and non-human beings are interdependent; that all beings suffer; but the good news is, you can make positive choices to diminish the suffering of others as you become healthier.