VB40 Archive

Mapping the vegan transition before I turn 40.

Activism, Nature Stories, VB40

‘Don’t tell me that, I’ll never go to Nando’s again’

Or why did the chicken cross the road…

As said by Nicky Campbell, Radio 5 Live DJ and “animal lover” this morning at around 7.56am. It was in response to an item on the Radio 5 breakfast show when the director of Omlet, the company behind the eglu and now a hi-vis jacket for chickens crossing the road, was asked what type of companionship chickens provide as pets.

‘You’re doing the chicken a disservice,’ said Johannes Paul, the director of Omlet, who make the jackets. ‘Chickens are great companions, they’re sociable, they come to the sound of your voice, they…’

Not hearing the voices

‘Don’t say that!’ shouted Nicky. ‘I’ll never go to Nando’s again.’ He then actually went ‘La La La La La…’ so as not to hear anything else the Omlet director said about the intelligence, sociability and sentient behaviour of the chicken.

And there it was. The meat eater’s response to the knowledge of cruelty and injustice: I don’t want to know. La la la la la. Rather than listen, and face the terrible knowledge of who, not what, these nonhuman animals are, it’s so much easier to maintain the dissociation.

It’s a strange one for Nicky Campbell. On his Twitter account, he calls himself an “animal lover” and retweets the stories of animal abuse from other Twitter followers.

If you are an animal lover, Nicky, I’d like to challenge you to think about the chicken in the way you think about your dog or cat. Just for five minutes. Think about the reasons not to eat chickens. Can you do it?

For many it can take strength of will to overcome all those obstacles to knowing–and feeling–what happens to the animals that are consumed for food and products. It is difficult, for so many reasons. To begin to face the truth about nonhuman animals, particularly those used for food, is to acknowledge your role in their ill treatment and abuse, before turning to a plant-based diet. That can be an emotionally traumatic process.

But small steps. As Johannes Paul pointed out, chickens are now in the top 10 pets kept in the UK. They are kept for companionship as well as by those people who want to harvest their eggs, often as a way to bypass the cruelty or antibiotics that are inherent in the egg industry. That means more people are living with chickens and seeing their personalities and having to face, perhaps, the choices of eating chicken, perhaps the most hard-done by of all the farmed animals we as a human species consume.

(By the way, the hi-vis chicken vest is not a new story – most other media outlets ran this story back in October 2013.)

Finding voice

After hearing Nicky Campbell do the ‘la la la’ to maintain his cognitive dissonance, I picked up my phone and wrote out a text to Radio 5 to comment on what had happened. And then I deleted the text, and carried on with my morning.

It was the same yesterday, when I posted on Facebook challenging people to ‘carry on, you have your bacon sandwich’ after reading about the tragedy of the pigs who are being live transported to the slaughterhouse in Toronto in the polar vortex that’s hitting North America, of temperatures as low as -23C.

There was the witness account of one pig having to be scraped off the side of the metal truck to which it had frozen with a big wooden panel. This pig was still alive. Most of the pigs had chilblains and purple frostbitten ears. The witnesses of Toronto Pig Save ran to the slaughterhouse to hear the worst screams from the pigs they had ever heard. Pigs who are as social and as intelligent as a three year old child.

And I wrote all this in my post on Facebook to share the story. And then I deleted it. La La La. Let people carry on with their bacon sandwiches.

Why did I delete both? Because I’m wary of being the vegan killjoy. I’m tired of living in a world of meat eaters who will not show compassion towards these nonhuman animals with needs, desires and a will to live, and who clearly suffer a great deal of pain at our hands.

Or rather, I was tired yesterday. Just very tired, due to work, starting running again, getting into a routine. And I do care what people think of me, and don’t want to alienate people. I want to ‘save face’. And am also, I suppose, coming to the knowledge that such anger is not productive in changing people’s attitudes. But it’s something I feel rise up now and then.

It all goes into the pot to think about, and help me answer the important questions. What can I do to stop this? What is the maximum impact I can have?

I thought that I was being less courageous. But silence isn’t always about losing your voice. It can be about having patience, and finding the right voice, much like a writer needs to sometimes not share what she is saying, to speak only to herself, hear the voice in her own head first, and then speak.

(A shorter version was published on the Animal Welfare Party’s website this morning)


Vegan Company

The delight of having vegan company! I made the decision early on not to use this space to write about recipes or concentrate too much on my individual vegan food practices (there are too many great vegan blogs out there already doing that such as Post Punk Kitchen and The Vegan Woman ). I wanted instead to write some journalism and/or shape some academic thoughts around vegan practices to be ready, down the line, to contribute to vegan indie media, of which there are also already wonderful examples such as Our Hen House and Free From Harm, and to shape my academic and creative outputs in responding to thoughts on veganism.

But sometimes the simplest stories are the most important. A friend has been staying for the last five days, one of the very few of my old friends who is also making the transition to veganism. This not only makes everything easier in terms of being hospitable—in fact, all friends who came to stay would be happy to accept vegan practice in food or drink choices while they stayed—but more so in the sharing and reinforcing of vegan principles and the mind space for vegan thought. To be ‘allowed’ to talk about it, rather than be told ‘don’t start’ or ‘I’d rather we start with the starving children’ (as if being vegan somehow precludes me from caring for other humans… such a common response, I’ve found already).

Sharing ideas and principles even with just one other person in a close space is incredibly rewarding and honouring (that feels like the right word). That we can discuss animal cruelty and how that impacts upon our life choices. How hard it can be sometimes, when all you want to do is walk into a shop and buy a pizza. In Melanie Joy’s terms (from her book on carnism) the world that my friend and I are ‘witnessing’ is a similar world, and that adds truth to my living. A world where we recognise the cruelty that goes into mainstream living practices. As Joy puts it, vegans are somewhat outside of that world, looking in. (Or, rather, inside, breaking out.)

In yesterday’s Guardian was a piece by Gary Younge on racism, which at the moment is in the news because of the treatment of the Roma in Sheffield and South Yorkshire (a story he’s been following for over a decade). That leading MPs such as Nick Clegg and David Blunkett have exposed themselves as ‘liberal racists’ in their treatment of the Roma people. The flourish Younge draws upon to make his point is that phrase “I’m not racist but…” which always precedes a racist statement.

I wonder what the speciesist version of this is? “I’m not speciesist but…” which is always going to precede some act of violence, e.g. “I eat meat / contribute to the animal holocaust / don’t think animals have rights, except our pets of course.” The thing about speciesism is that it is so invisible to most people that we don’t even need the qualification. Very, very few people believe the abuse and slaughter of billions of animals every year is anything to do with them; or don’t see it as a problem; or simply don’t think about it. Of course, I know this is structural—the system that profits from such abuse of animals as products survives through myth, invisibility and dissociation. But for people passing judgements of vegans, somehow it is not structural. Somehow we are not highlighting the structural inequalities that make our world violent and poor; somehow we are imposing our difficulties on the natural order of things.

Anyway… What was good about spending time with another vegan was the opportunity to offer and encounter support, both spoken and unspoken. Things begin to compost, turn, change. It has something to do with the weather, and something to do with the physical and verbal turning over of rich soil in the mind, of baking vegan chocolate cake and learning from others. We certainly didn’t agree on everything (honey, cruelty-free eggs, eco-socialism) but it was good to be having the conversations.

I’ve been criticised (or rather caringly cajoled) by friends for stating that I’d only really want to date and live with another vegan (or vegans! In a community). But spending time with another person in my home (I live alone) who is vegan has reinforced that sense of want, and need. It is not looking for an identikit lover or partner. It is knowing what the fundamental, non-negotiables are, for living a life aligned with your significant others, in creative, important, intimate spaces. And also someone who is a bloody good cook.


Veganism beyond food practices I: principles

I’ve just joined the vegan society. This is why – that veganism is a principle of being, not a set of food practices. This was written back in 1951 by Leslie Cross, which speaks to the reasons why I choose to be vegan. (via Gentle World)

Recently the Vegan Society adopted revised and extended rules which among other things clarify the goal towards which the movement aspires. The Society’s object and meaning of the word “veganism”, which have until now been matters of inference and personal predilection, are now defined as follows:

The object of the Society shall be to end the exploitation of animals by man” and “The word veganism shall mean the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.”

The Society pledges itself to “seek to end the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man.”

Membership in the Society is available to all who wish to see the object achieved and who undertake to live as closely to the ideal as personal circumstances permit. An Associate makes no promise as to behaviour but declares himself in agreement with the object. The door is thus widely opened, and the Society welcomes all who feel able to support it. Direction and management of the Society’s work, however, rest with the members.

The effect of this development is to make veganism unique among movements concerned with animal welfare. For it has crystallised as a whole and not, as are all other such movements, as an abstraction. Where every other movement deals with a segment – and therefore deals directly with practices rather than with principles – veganism is itself a principle, from which certain practices logically flow.

If, for example, the vegan principle is applied to diet, it can at once be seen why it must be vegetarian in the strictest sense and why it cannot contain any foods derived from animals. One may become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons – humanitarian, health, or mere preference for such a diet; The principle is a matter of personal feeling, and varies accordingly. Veganism, however, is a principle – that man has no right to exploit the creatures for his own ends – and no variation occurs. Vegan diet is therefore derived entirely from “fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal products,” and excludes “flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animal milk and its derivatives.”

In a vegan world the creatures would be reintegrated within the balance and sanity of nature as she is in herself. A great and historic wrong, whose effect upon the course of evolution must have been stupendous, would be righted. The idea that his fellow creatures might be used by man for self-interested purposes would be so alien to human thought as to be almost unthinkable. In this light, veganism is not so much welfare as liberation, for the creatures and for the mind and heart of man; not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.

Veganism is in truth an affirmation that where love is, exploitation vanishes. It possesses historical continuity with the movement that set free the human slaves. Were it put into effect, every basic wrong done to animals by man would automatically disappear. At its heart is the healing power of compassion, the highest expression of love of which man is capable. For it is a giving without hope of a getting. And yet, because he would free himself from many of the demands made by his own lower nature, the benefit to man himself would be incalculable.

(Leslie Cross was Vice-President of the very first Vegan Society, in the UK.)

Activism, Novel Writing, The Fire Bible, VB40, Writing

World Vegan Day (of the Dead)

“If you could plant one seed,” David asks Esther, “what would it be?”

He didn’t mean the seed of a vegetable or flower; but he suppose he might have, and that she would respond like that. She was always far more literal than he was. Her favourite joke was the one where a woman, after being with her boyfriend for two years, asked him, “Should we talk about the future?” And he replies, “what, you mean flying cars and things?” Even though for them it was the other way round. David was always the one worried about the future.

It was November 1st. It used to be the day before his birthday, when they remembered birthdays, when then was still a calendar. David carries an old almanac and records the passage of days in it. It was also World Vegan Day, he remembers suddenly, when there was collective action, when there were vegans, when there was something that resembled a world into which celebrations or commemorations could be brought to mind, with some conjuring of pleasure, peace. World Vegan Day. It made no sense any more.

“Any seed,” she says. She is thinking. She has crossed her legs and is pointing her toes. Beyond her the tall pines are swaying in a light wind that has picked up suddenly. He sniffs the air for scents, human, animal. There is only the sap.

“It doesn’t have to be literal,” he says. He is thinking all of a sudden of an article he read once, by an academic he used to like, someone who wrote about animals, he read it, he realises, exactly on this date, November 1st, many years ago. He was an academic then. He had begun to care. And then it all got fucked up anyway, and the world collapsed, but he’d been caught caring and it stuck, like that old childhood scare story of pulling a face one too many times and it sticking.

“The tasks we perform to reproduce our biological existence are all politically and culturally relevant,” wrote the academic James Stanescu, in his article. “What food to eat and how to eat it, what shelters to build and how to arrange them, what clothes to wear and when to wear them: these are markers or culture; these are all markers of the political.”

And he thought at the time–and what about who to love and how to love them? Who to communicate with and how we communicate with them?

“You know what today used to be?” Esther asks him, out of the green-blue sky that is still swinging, shifting behind her head. He is startled. He did not think she would know either what day it was in the old calendar, nor remember that they were once not the only two vegans on the planet. At least the continent.

“Dia de Muertos,” she says. He is confused. She cocks her head at him, smiles. “The Day of the Dead. In Mexico. Remember? They all get dressed up. Like Hallowe’en. They celebrate the lives of the family and friends they’ve lost.”

He is sitting cross-legged on the floor of the clearing. Below him he watches an ant, oblivious, walk across a grass stalk. Maybe she went to Mexico with other people, he thinks, before he arrived. But there were enough Mexicans in Santa Cruz to mark the occasion, of course. The students would have picked up on the theme.

“I remember,” he says. “You know it’s World Vegan Day, too. Was.”

She looks at him, and doesn’t turn away. “It still is.”

“Is it?”

She leans over and takes his hand. “While we are still here. Yes.”

“So it’s the day of the dead too,” he says. “Still.”

“And your birthday,” she says. She smiles. “Well, tomorrow of course. Did you think I would forget?”

He laughs despite himself. Why despite? Because, outrageously, there is the hope that she has made him a present. Even a cake? No, impossible. But a present. And for a moment he has a surge of pleasure in his gut, that rushes through into his chest, that it is all okay, that it is still 2014 or 2017 before they lost the sanctuary, and he has to turn away because there are at least two conflicting measures of hurt and love in his face and to be the spectacle of grief, all of a sudden, on this day, when she is being so caring, would drive him insane.

She sits back, turns away. It was too late, anyway.

“Mourning,” she says, after a while, after they have both listened to the absences of the forest for a little while, long enough. “Corpses. The seed of remembering the dead.”

So we don’t lose any more,” he says quickly.

“So we can get on with loving,” she says instead.

She stands up, and offers her hand. He takes it. She pulls him up, and then walk a little way, leaving their gear, but no-one is close, they have smelt nothing, heard nothing, they are safe here tonight. They walk a little way through the trees, the dead pine needles soft underfoot, and they find a small rise from where they can look back down over the valley they have passaged. And they are both thinking, he knows, of their flock and pigs, of Bruce and Django, of Pale and King, of Lucy, of each of the animals they had taken in and cared for before the raid happened, and they were all slaughtered, and he could hear the moans of the three cows, a sound people used to think was normal, but what was ever normal in that world? And for some reason he thinks of a woman who was a friend once, who became over-dependent, and manipulative, and how he spent weeks frustrated with her, angry, until he learnt the Buddhist trick of carrying around with him a spoon to pick up and put down again like unwanted thoughts and emotions, to wash the spoon when done with, in forgiveness. To forget. How much energy and life he wasted on anger. And yet if he met the people now who took his animals, who slaughtered them with no compunction nor grace nor compassion, he would kill them, still. Carve their hearts out with that spoon.

“I didn’t think you’d come up with an abstract noun,” he says to Esther.

She laughs as loudly as she had done in a long while. Doubles up, even. He laughs too. She stands, kisses him.

“And there was me thinking I was not the romantic,” she says.


Later, before it gets too dark, he begins to write in the new bible. He is recalling as well as he can the words he remembers from that article he read on this day however many years ago–seven or eight, he thinks. But no, he can work it out. Today is November 1st 2018. So it could have been, only… he was in Santa Cruz. Working. It must have been 2013. The year of the badger cull in England. The year Tyson Foods sold their production to the Chinese. The year he thought it had begun, this awakening to what they were doing. The year before he had the idea for the sanctuary. Or rather, he smiles, not the idea, but the compulsion, and the accident of Bruce, the feisty Toggenburg, a beautiful sage coat, once he’d recovered from the abuse, once they had fed him, and gained his trust.

So he recalls as well as he can. It is the right subject, full of earth, and soil, and sadness. It is a lesson he wants the future to remember that he remembered.

Earth Ch. 23 V.3: Seeds of Mourning
“Mourning sets up connections. The most obvious one is toward the precarious life we are grieving. But mourning also has the possibility of introducing a community, a social reality of those who also mourn the passing of that life. We who mourn other animals, particularly those killed by humans for humans, are going to have to risk much for our recognition of that mourning. The first hope is the more we talk about it, the more we risk our social intelligibility, the more we will find others who will mourn with us, we will find others who understand the loss of these others. As we strive to make ghostly connections to slaughtered animals real, we will also make connections with others. In this sense, the social intelligibility of mourning is never permanent, but exists at every iteration of mourning. It can be changed at any moment, and every time we iterate that grief is a possibility for that change.” – James Stanescu, Summer 2012.

Mourning is perpetual, he adds in his own coda to this Verse.

Can one live in perpetual mourning? He looks up, sees Esther whittling at another icon. He remembers the touch of her hand, the hardness of her skin. Her words from earlier. While we are still here. Yes.

(Extract from a work in progress, a novel about boy-meets-girl as the world collapses and their attempts to build a sanctuary for animals in the new future)

Image (C) Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals


Saving face with home-made cake (or loneliness, Pt.2)

“I didn’t take you for a baker,” one of my students said, after I’d offered some vegan carrot cake round the class yesterday morning.

“If you’re vegan, you probably need to make your own,” said another. “Otherwise you’d never have any cake at all.”

“There’s one place,” I explained, “in Newcastle’s Grainger Market, the Health Box, that makes vegan cakes. But it’s only on certain days. Tuesdays or Saturdays, I think. So yes, I bake my own quite a lot.”

I’d originally made the cake for finishers at the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon, but I was marshalling a way from the finish line and didn’t want to leave my spot, as cheering on the runners, fast and slow, had become an important and enjoyable role. So I had too much cake on my hands for personal consumption, and I brought it into work/class.

Cake was already on the curriculum, however. It was one of the students’ birthdays, and the others had bought her a chocolate caterpillar cake, possibly the hardest of all the food types to resist–for me, anyway, having been brought up on sugary foods, chocolate and cake (my mother worked for Nestle, so brought home plenty of goods, and was also an excellent baker herself).

“It’s probably the worst thing you could give up being vegan for,” said the same student, pointing to the caterpillar cake. “It’s even shaped like an animal.”

It brought a laugh, but it’s rather a relevant point. So much food we eat doesn’t look like the animal from which it came. As I read somewhere recently, it is strange that meat eaters pillory vegans for having ‘fake’ foods that look like ‘meat’ such as sausages and burgers, when these, in their ‘original’ forms, are completely artificial shapes and bear no resemblance to the animal they came from.

Which is not a problem with vegan carrot cake. Although if it were shaped like a face of some sort, it would be, perhaps, a saving face. That’s because, as Jessica Greenebaum from Central Connecticut State University, suggests in the journal of Humanity and Society, we vegans use a number of “face-saving strategies” to maintain our social relations while managing vegan living.

Most people strive to create an image of the self in a positive light; people don’t like to be shunned, discredited, or have people respond to us aggressively. For the vegetarians and vegans in Greenebaum’s study, it was “critically important to represent vegetarianism and veganism in a positive light in order for their audience to listen and accept what they hear” (312). Many of them, when first becoming vegan, would be proactive, blunt, advocating for change in powerful and emotional terms. But nearly all found this didn’t work:

Stephanie (vegetarian) concurs: “I learned along the way that the majority of people have no idea how the animal gets to that plate. They are just completely ignorant about that. And when I start talking about it they just tell me to shut up.” Many of the participants were told at some point during their tenure as vegetarian or vegan they they were “wrong,” “biased” or “making it up”.

According to Carol Adams, in Living Among Meat Eaters, this is no real surprise, because such facts are “experienced emotionally by the omnivore.”

In a way how could they not be? If the meat eater knows what is going on and doesn’t care; or if the meat eater doesn’t want to know, because they know that it would change their entire life, and they don’t want their life to change… either way, the realities of the Animal-Industrial Complex (warning: Graphic Images) would be an affront and challenge to their, they believe, absolute core values of living. That animals have no rights. That we have a right to eat meat and other animal products, regardless of the ways in which those products are produced.

What happens is that, to steal from Sara Ahmed’s work on feminist killjoys, the vegan or vegetarian is seen as the killjoy, the problem, for speaking out, or even simply embodying their values. When a woman/feminist points out something is sexist, she is belittled, seen as tiring, ruining everything. The same goes for the vegan, in my experience.

And this is alienating. As Greenebaum goes on to say: “Since many of the vegans in the study have felt alienated from the mainstream society, they recognize the threat of standing out and being rejected by omnivores after adopting a vegan lifestyle” (315). According to one of the participants, Leah (vegan), “the marginalization takes place in two ways. You marginalize yourself and others marginalize you:

When you decide to be vegan, you choose to in some ways marginalize yourself. There are assumptions about where you stand politically, but there are also assumptions about how you marginalize yourself and how you don’t take of other things. So you don’t get invited to other things as much because there’s an assumption that you are not going to go along with it or you want to go along with it. In addition to having people not invite me, I’ve also cut my social circle down. My partner has a lot of non-vegan friends and I don’t like to go to their events. I don’t even like to go to my partner’s mom’s house because I won’t have anything to eat there.

I understand this, as do many others struggling with being “vegan in a non-vegan world“. Would you want to go to a party with a load of sexists and racists? I guess not — you’d end up playing with the dog. For a vegan, well, at least for me, going to a party full of meat eaters is a party full of speciesists. I don’t particularly want to go there either, especially when food is a central part of the event (e.g. a friend’s summer barbecue). How do you negotiate this?

As Greenebaum summarises: “Initially, many of the vegetarians or vegans used traditional tactics of confrontation, but they found that it was not an effective way to get people to listen to them. Aggressively defending this identity created boundaries that left them feeling isolated. They created strategies that proactively protect relationships with omnivores using technique that ‘save face’ for all involved in the vegan encounter” (322).

Which is why I bake vegan carrot cake and share it around. First with a very accepting running clubplant-based athletes are welcomed as perfectly normal, I’ve found, in their search for improved nutrition and fitness. And now with work and students. That by baking something that tastes good — “It’s just like a normal carrot cake, for normal people,” said my student — it’s something that is positive about veganism and about my lifestyle choices, while also planting some seeds of how veganism isn’t unbearable or lonely or, in the end, too difficult.

If the food system makes it “possible, even necessary, to not think about the production and quality of food, particularly food that comes from animals” (323) then offering alternatives, and using those alternatives to talk about the reasons why veganism is a healthier, happier, more compassionate way of living, is a way forward for vegans and omnivores.

[Update 29/10: more people thinking Veganism via Sara Ahmed’s Feminist Killjoys concept, such as James Stanescu on his blog]

Greenebaum, J (2012) Managing Impressions: “Face-Saving” Strategies of Vegetarians and Vegans. Humanity and Society 36(4).


Vegan in the midst of loneliness

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.


Vegan Before 40 – the beginning

In my magazine journalism class the other day I was discussing with two students their future plans, and the possible need to have an online presence for themselves if they want to go into any communications, journalism, PR role.

We were discussing what types of blog they read and write. One of the fears of blogging is to do with how hard it can be to maintain the motivation and momentum: blogging every week or every day, keeping an audience. It can seem like a real burden. So the idea of time- or post-limited projects has become quite interesting, e.g. 40 Days of Dating, or closer to home, 144 Acts of Writing. Discussing this, one of my students mentioned he used to read a blog called 400 Before 40 – that is, a blog counting down 400 days until the blogger became 40. I sort of laughed, but something fizzed inside me. Why?

Because when I got back to my office — I thought so — the student has mentioned it to me on the very day when I had 400 DAYS UNTIL I WAS 40. Freaky? You bet. I was a little freaked out for a few days there. Until, strangely, or not so much, a 40th birthday dinner with a friend, when we discussed its arbitrary nature. Of course, Irvin Yalom and the existential psychotherapists don’t think so — every anniversary or ending such as this reminds one, or rather resonates, with the fears of growing older and of death. I’ll admit, it got me thinking, and not in a positive way.

But then I was also thinking, all along… and what could I blog about until I was 40?

It wasn’t until I attended the excellent Animal Machines symposium at Sheffield University that it all sort of clicked. That is, I want to enter into the field of Vegan Indie Media (as the people at Our Hen House call it) as a writer; I also want to write about veganism in some sort of academic frame. Meeting people such as Matthew Cook and Richard Twine, who are doing just that, helped me begin to shape together some ideas.

Richard Twine is working on vegan transitions, interviewing people about their shifts towards vegan living, and, using Practice Theory, interrogating the meanings, materialities, and competencies that one requires to become adept at anything, include ‘being’ vegan. Discussing our own vegan transitions later with a colleague at Sunderland, the idea was then almost on the tip of my tongue. And then, later that evening, looking at the Vegan Before 6 (VB6) book on my shelf, given to me by a friend, it came together.

Vegan Before 40.

So here it is. The beginning. A tracking, an archive, an exploration, an intervention into a new vegan world. And blogging about it as a means of thinking it, as Lauren Berlant puts it in a recent interview with Jennifer Cooke about the uses of her own blog, Supervalent Thought, to develop her theories, they “are thought by way of writing, and not just thought in writing” (Berlant and Cooke 2013: 969). Or in Twine’s terms, of developing new skills (the articulation of a personal vegan ethos) as well as understanding the meanings of veganism, and perhaps, developing new materialities as well (networks of other vegan writers/readers?).

Berlant and Cooke (2013) ‘Transformations and challenges in politics, teaching, art and writing: An interview with Lauren Berlant’, Textual Practice 27:6, 961-970.