I have lived alone for the most part of the last five years, apart from my cat, Misha. It’s a significant social trend – rising from 17% of households in 1971 to 31% today. It is a theme that keeps coming back to us, intermittently reported upon by The Guardian, as a result of our economic model and austerity, the Joseph Rowntree foundation as part of changing childhood patterns, and by Psychologies as the loss of communities.
I feel alone sometimes, and sometimes it’s not comfortable. Sometimes that is to do with what Sara Ahmed in the Politics of Happiness calls the loss of an affective community, as my core social group all age, pair off, and have children* — something I have not done, and may not do, and therefore the ideals we have of the “good life” diverge. We no longer attach ourselves to the same ideals that we did when we formed as a group, 20 years ago next year (fun, careers, futures, support, care). I understand from my female friends that this is even tougher for women, losing their core social communities, to which they were bonded by affects of pleasure, empathy and “feeling affective together”, to be replaced by constant talk of children.
And I’ve started to feel — although how much this sense of feelings can be trusted at face-value should be questioned — divided from my core social group through my choice to go vegan. I am struggling with their choice of continuing to consume animal products, and in particular, to socialise their children into eating animals (or as Matthew Cole, a sociologist from the Open University, put it recently at the Animal Machines conference, “how to eat their friends”).
I’m working on a letter on this subject, addressed to my friends, for the Letters to a New Vegan project. But it was lovely the other day to hear from a friend that he is publishing a new vegan cookbook from the author Chandra Moscowitz; and even though this is a growing area of his job, he had the care to suggest that his foray into vegan publishing was some sub-conscious means of continuing to bond with me through an affective connection around something that was important to me. In one instance, it changed what I was going to write in that letter (“desert all your friends! make a stand at the annual summer barbecue! show their kids some PETA videos!”) into something much more thoughtful, less aggressive and less arrogant, on my behalf.
It was a moment of feeling less alone. I’m very glad my friend picked up the phone. And I’m glad he’s been thinking along those lines. It made me consider how I have reached out to my friends — through bringing gifts for their children, through setting up a trust fund, even through considering the roll of Manny, which is now too bloody popular to even get a book-from-blog out of it — to re-bond myself into their affective lives, as their lives change. And how I can remain open to their reciprocation even as our moral views on animals differ.
That is, and something else I want to research, is to let go of the vegan anger towards others. Save that for the ex-vegans, I guess 😉 I actually believed I didn’t have any of this ‘vegan anger’. But I think it’s just simmering as frustration. Often, particularly, with those I think who love me, and so cannot understand why their love does not change them along the lines of my principles I share with them. But that’s something else to unpack, later.
Any feelings of loneliness I have are certainly not caused by going vegan. But an added isolation that it has brought — of leaving one affective community before finding another — does create a sense of isolation that is an added difficulty in developing compentency in vegan living.
Especially when in fact that was not what I meant to blog about today. I was trying to figure out some thoughts on the fact that feeling lonely, exacerbated by living alone, often makes it very hard to stick to my vegan food practices, because of the way I grew up in a home that reached for food as comfort against feelings of inadequacy, isolation and overwhelm (love using that word as a noun). Guess I’ll have to save this for another day.
Today, I’m looking forward to Christmas and my friends cooking a vegan Sunday lunch for me from the new cookbook, as I read to their daughters from the books I will have brought them.