I am vegan. This is one of my truths that took quite a while to discover. I wish I could say that it was ethics that brought me to my awakening, but it wasn’t, at least not initially. I was vegetarian for about 8 years and I was the kind of vegetarian who thought vegans were “extreme”. I was also guilty of using the shameful “But I love cheese too much!” excuse to resist going vegan. But in 2007, while struggling with my Crohn’s disease, I decided to see a naturopath (my experiences with natural medicine will most likely fill another blog post entirely) who urged me to remove dairy from my diet. I balked at first. My beloved cheese! However, I now had an actual medical reason to go dairy-free. Since it was dairy all along that had stopped me from going vegan, I decided it was finally time…eggs, honey and gelatin went too. Though I got nothing else out of my visits with the naturopath, I will admit that she was right about one thing: going vegan improved my health. I was able to much more easily manage my Crohn’s disease with a dairy-free diet. I am also living proof that you can have IBD and be a vegan (obviously, IBD affects everyone differently, though, and I recognize that).
In addition to feeling better physically, I felt more at peace. For so long, I had lived with such a cognitive disconnect, professing to love animals while still participating in and supporting the system that tortures and exploits them. I began to learn more about the horrors of the dairy industry and the ridiculous myth of “humane” meat and eggs. Slowly, I began to transition my wardrobe and makeup to vegan items. I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy at first. You don’t realize just how much we use animals until you start to rid your life of the cruelty we impose on them. Initially, winter items were the most difficult for me. Having just moved from Virginia, I was facing my first Chicago winter and I was terrified. I learned to layer and amassed a collection of fleece socks and cotton scarves and hats. I even found a super warm (albeit ugly) parka from Land’s End for the most bitter days. Shoes were also a bit tough at first, until I figured out where to look and what to look for. Now I can zero in on a hot pair of vegan heels in a second. (Tip: There are so many vegan options on Endless and DSW; just check in the under $50-60 price range. Also, Madden Girl is almost always vegan. Same goes for Michael Antonio and Two Lips, just watch out for the suede.)
It does take a bit more time and planning to be vegan but it’s easy once you get the hang of it. I know that there are certain things I can only get at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s so I make a list and once there’s enough on it, I’ll make one big trip. I buy in bulk a lot. I stock up. This goes for makeup too. As a femme and performer, that’s one area that can still be pretty tough, but it’s getting easier, thanks to sites like Cruelty Free Face and companies like Urban Decay and Sugarpill Cosmetics who clearly label which of their products are vegan. I wait for sales (Sugarpill has them often!) and then stock up on colors. Costuming is definitely more difficult for me than for my non-vegan dance sisters, as tribal belly dance accessories are frequently adorned with feathers or shells and belts are often leather. This, of course, is where craftiness comes in. It also helps decrease procrastination. I don’t have the luxury of leaving costuming to the last minute because there are often items that require special ordering. I can’t run to Walgreen’s right before a show and grab some lipstick to go with my color scheme. This is far from a big deal.
I do not lead a life of sacrifices. I eat a more nutritious and varied diet now than I ever did before going vegan. I actually like cooking now! I’m not deprived or malnourished or humorless. As a queer feminist, the life I live is fully aligned with my ethics. I fight for those who are oppressed and exploited, human and non-human alike. And I look damn fierce doing it, too.
(L.O.V.E., which stands for Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation, has some really great resources for going vegan. Check them out!)