Speaking Out

I've written before on the death penalty and our prison system as it pertains to children and people of color.  Anti-death penalty is another label (like vegan and pro-choice) that I am happy to use, a mantle I wear proudly.  I have more experience with the justice and prison systems than most who know me would expect, and I think that this experience informs and shapes my veganism-as-anti-oppression philosophy.  It is part of the reason I strive to buy organic and fairly traded produce and clothing, avoid retailers that rely on sweatshop and child labor, and buy handmade and local when possible.  It's all connected and in this imperfect, hyper-commodified, capitalist world, I want my dollars to do good work.

I mention all of this only because of a disturbing dream I had last night.  I was a lawyer working a trial in some German Expressionist courtroom.  I have no idea the whys or wherefores, or even the outcome of the trial.  The only thing that is still stark and clear in my mind is this moment: the judge, wild haired and crazy-eyed, stands and leans cartoonishly out over the bench at me.  He points at me, all imperiousness.  "Sometimes the only thing to speak to a man's innocence is that man.  That does not negate the fact of his innocence.  Ten years from now, when the lies are revealed and the truth is known, the world will look at you."

It was terrifying . . . and true

I realized as I awoke, that I am far too much the armchair activist and, that I need to start speaking my mind more.  Amongst friends, family, and colleagues, I often hold my tongue (which may seem surprising to those who know me!) in an effort to keep the peace.  Sometimes in an effort to keep a powerful conversation from being derailed, sometimes in an effort to just let something hurtful, ignorant, or wrong-headed slip on by because I am too tired, anxious, or angry to deal with it.  When it is the latter, I am not being honest with myself or with those I love.  And I am certainly not doing all I can to make my small slice of the world a better place.  So less commiserating with the converted in empty halls and behind closed doors and more honest engagement on issues that matter to me (in real and internet life).


Summer Reading

After Bechdel-ing my movie, TV on DVD, and book collections (recognizing that the Bechdel test is woefully inadequate for TV and books, given the general span of their story/character arcs), I decided to up the awesome chick quotient in my summer reading by focusing on books about girls (but not necessarily for girls).  So after a couple of weeks in Italy, I returned home eager to get reading.  I turned to my old friend, Bitch magazine for help.  With the assistance of the awesome Bitch community, Miss Print's Chicklit Reviews and the Amelia Bloomer project, I crafted a summer reading list that looked something like this:

Gravity by Leanne Lieberman
Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
Celine by Brock Cole
Kendra by Coe Booth
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Andromeda Klein by Frank Portma
Kiki Strike ("butt-kicking girl superspy") series by Kirsten Miller
Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale by Holly Black
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Anything by Tamora Pierce
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
The Alchemyst (sequels The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer) by Michael Scott
Cut, Sold by Patricia McCormack
The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines
Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
NoMANsland by Lesley Hauge
In a gilded cage by Rhys Bowen
Libyrinth by Pearl North
The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
The Burning Time by Robin Morgan
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters (the first book to be discussed by my dear friend Miss Print's new online bookclub!)

and to round out the YA binge,  Enlightened Sexism : The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done by Susan J. Douglas

While some of these are re-reads (the joys of re-reading an excellent book, I cannot put into words), I'm approximately 1/3 of the way through the list (in no particular order) and I could not be happier to have spent the last couple of weeks immersed in stories about well-developed, three dimensional, young women.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, kids need to see themselves realistically, lovingly, and empoweringly portrayed in the fiction they read.  As a teacher, if I'm to be able to recommend excellent, powerful, and just plain good books to young women, kids of color, poor kids, gay kids, trans kids . . . I need to make sure that I am actively searching them out.  Lazy reading means shoddy readers' advisory and a frustrated RMS.

As a side note to this . . . a blurb about internalized anti-feminist rhetoric: I haves it.  I realized sitting in Logan airport, on my way home from a weekend up in Boston, that I was thinking, as I read Enlightened Sexism, "I wonder what these people think of me."  Which is absurd and a tad ego-maniacal, because waiting to board a plane, people have a lot to think about besides me and whether or not I am a rabid, frigid misandrist.  But for more than a second, I wondered. 

I'm going to work on that.


Unity of Thought

I have a problem . . . yes, I know, I have many problems, but only one that I feel like addressing today so let's just go with "I have a problem," okay?  I tend to assume that people agree with me, or have any idea what I'm talking about at all.  I know the proverb about assuming and donkeys, but I have trouble internalizing lessons learned from pithy sayings.  So I'm generally quite surprised when I stumble upon discussions like the comments thread at this wonderful blog post over on Bitch's website.  Tasha Fierce write a great piece on positive portrayals of fat women on TV.  She cited Sara Ramirez's Dr. Callie Torres from Grey's Anatomy at the top of her list (having suffered through seen about 7 episodes of that show I have this to say: I hate Grey's Anatomy but, man, I love Callie!  If only the rest of the show could be as awesome as she is.)  What followed was a thread of fat-shaming (e.g., Sara Ramirez isn't fat because she's not gross!  Sara Ramirez is healthy, not fat!), fat-policing (e.g., Sara Ramirez isn't fat enough to count as actually fat!), and various and sundry other forms of utterly offensive derailment.

Which, seeing as how this is Bitch, an awesome feminist media outlet, left me completely shocked and awed.  If you know me, then you know my stance on body acceptance (see my review of Body Drama) and I did not expect to see the conversation take such a negative turn.  Color me naive.

Luckily, Tasha up and wrote another post giving a little Fat Acceptance 101 to the Bitch audience.  Enjoy, it's awesome.

So have you noticed a trend lately?  The last few posts have all been me saying, essentially, "Hey, why isn't everyone on my page, here?  What the heck?"


Following up on Labels

There's a great blog I read, Love Veggies and Yoga that featured a review of some raw vegan bars yesterday.  Before I had even finished reading the post I hopped over to Amazon to see if I could order some.  I could!

Product features:
  • Raw Crunch Bars are a delicious nut based uncooked, unprocessed nutrition boost bar,
  • No Artificial Ingredients
  • Stabilizes Blood Sugar
  • High Protein
  • Vegan
Sounds awesome . . . except they are full of honey.  Honey is not vegan.  Come on, Amazon, or Raw Crunch people, or whoever wrote that up.  Mislabeling isn't cool.

**I promise to return to books and media shortly.  Sorry for the long-cut through the dietary ethics woods.**


A somewhat disjointed rambling on food ethics

My summer is halfway over . . . that's not as depressing a thought as it could be.  I've done some traveling, seen some old friends, seen my family, and rediscovered both the library (oh lord, that's embarrassing) and my kitchen (slightly less embarrassing, after all, I've been busy).  I've spent the better part of the last month getting into raw food.  I figure if I start out now, I'll be well-equipped once winter sets in.  We'll see how that works out for me.  As I've worked my way towards 60% raw, I've noticed some interesting trends in the blogs, forums, and communities I've stalked for information.

As a vegan I label.  I label myself, I label foods and products, I label others.  Mostly I label them "vegan" and "not vegan."  I don't eat honey.  I don't eat oysters.  I don't buy leather/silk/wool goods.  These things are "not vegan."  While there may be debate around them (honey, mostly, unless you are an idiot) there is none for me and every vegan I know.  When honey was the only animal product I ate, I was "not vegan."  I got sick of explaining that I was vegan except for honey, and eventually the arguments I was using to except honey didn't hold water with me anymore.

That said, I acknowledge that veganism is a journey and a process and that I cannot live a life free from harm.  Bugs are killed in the production of fruits and vegetables, small rodents are killed in the harvest of grains.  Jetblue's seats are leather.  But just because animals die in the harvest of grain does not mean that I should also eat a cow.  After all, all of those animals died in the harvest of that cow's feed, and the cow suffered and died as well.  If I'm working towards doing no harm, there is an obvious choice there. But I do acknowledge that there may be no vegan perfection.

I've noticed a distinct disdain for labels in the raw food communities I've been perusing.  There's definitely a sense of "you do what you can do" and "we each do our best."  And I respect that to a point.  But when you make the conscious decision to eat an animal product, how is that doing your best?  If you disdain labels, but call yourself vegan (for convenience's sake?) and eat honey, you mislabel me.  You mislabel veganism.  You spread the idea that vegans eat honey, or (for those fish-nomming veggies out there) that vegetarians eat fish, and I can no longer rely on that label to help me move through this omnivorous world a little more smoothly.  Hello, Tom's of Maine.  So while you may call yourself vegan and eat honey and be totally okay with that, when you spread that idea around you make other vegans' lives just that much more difficult.

Which brings me to my actual point . . . organics.

The difference boils down to, I think, whether you see your food choices as a personal matter.  For me, my ethical veganism is not personal.  It's not about me.  It's about this world we all share.  It's about doing what is right and best for everyone.  Going vegan is one of (if not the) best things you can do the environment.  Choosing local, fairly traded, and organic goods is the best way that I can support sustainable agriculture and the rights of farm workers.  I do not pay attention to those lists that tell you which produce gets an organic pass because I buy organic not to stop myself from ingesting pesticides, but to stop them from being used.  Many of the fruits and veggies get a pass because they are thick skinned and pesticides do not penetrate.  That doesn't help the people growing, picking, and packaging that fruit.  It doesn't help the fields and forests.  It doesn't help the insects and wildlife.  My food choices affect other people and living things.  I can't ignore that.  Do I only buy organic?  No, of course not.  Sometimes it's not available, sometimes I can't afford it, sometimes it's the choice between organic or local.  But I do try to make the best decision for everyone, not just for me.

It all comes down to intersectionality and social justice.  If I want to work against oppression, I want to work against it in all of its forms.  I have no problem with everyone doing what little they can because every good decision helps.  It's the fact that this discussion is largely absent from the raw food communities I've been participating in that gets me.  It's absent from a lot of vegan communities, too.  But I've found places like Vegans of Color and the Post Punk Kitchen forums that take a much wider view.

As I discussed this with Patrick Eamonn the other day he looked at me expectantly, silent when I finished.  "Oh, I see," I said.  "I should start that conversation."